“We still had not fully grasped that we had been finally torn away from our families and homes, that for us there would be no return. We could not and did not want to understand that all we had read and heard about had finally happened to us. The screams with which the ordeal started were ringing in our ears: “Jews out! All men out!” Innocent and unsuspecting men were beaten with rifle butts, old men were trampled on, their faces bleeding, the skin of their faces shredded where their beards had been ripped out. These pictures were imprinted forever in my memory, images which always returned to torture and torment us during our imprisonment.
Despite all these events, we did not want to abandon our hope of life. Hadn’t the Gestapo promised us that as voluntary workers we would be well treated? With uncertainty of what had happened to my father, with the thought of my sorrowful mother, with the worry about my remaining siblings, I finally fell into a restless sleep. The next morning we were shocked and startled awake by whistles and screams, “Get up! Out onto the Appellplatz! (Literally “the place where prisoners or troops lined up for roll call”.)
Newly arrived Polish prisoners at roll call in Buchenwald concentration camp. [United States Holocaust Museum]
Newly arrived prisoners are assembled in the Appellplatz (roll call area) at the Melk concentration camp in Austria.
So called group leaders showed us how we had to stand, while opposite us a hundred youths arranged themselves in formation. They were counting in a military fashion and marched out to the camp flanked by SA guards with cocked rifles. Jewish underlings approached us and instructed us how to line up, be counted and how to march off. The camp had been partially built by prisoners who had been there for several months and they were now partially responsible for its administration. The SA had appointed a Jewish Elder in overall charge and he had chosen his block and group leaders. For better or worse, the prisoners were at the beck and call of these leaders. Prisoners were allocated easy or heavy, pleasant or dirty jobs depending on the liking or antipathy they evoked. These group leaders introduced the newcomers (our group comprised several hundred people) to the discipline of Grünheide Forced Labour Camp.”