Pulling in favours – working the system

EXCERPT FROM THE LONG NIGHT

Grünheide

Ernst’s father was suffering from ill health at Grünheide so Ernst used his connections to get him signed off work and hopefully safe passage back home to the ghetto. Pulling in favours required a knowledge of the camp hierarchy, including those Jews who had been given limited authority over certain affairs.

“Every few weeks an SS doctor came to the camp and reviewed the medical reports. He also decided whether those who were too sick to work should remain or be sent home. When the doctor next came, the medical orderly wanted to do his best for my father and have him declared unfit. He warned me, however, that the Ältester would have to be present and give his consent as well.

Our Judenältester Sorski from Kattowitz was not exactly malicious but he really imagined that the SS had chosen him to be the Judenältester because he was superior over the others. He acted with supreme self confidence in his “role”. Since I was occasionally able to send letters secretly, I also came into contact with him and he sent some letters through me. He checked me thoroughly and when he recognised my reliability he began gradually to trust me.

One Sunday, when I knew he was in a good mood, I went to his room and made my request. I sought for Sorski’s understanding for my father’s current circumstances since he could hardly work because he was in such pain. I impressed upon him that as a son I could not remain indifferent to my father’s suffering. Sorski, still in a good mood, replied, “If he is ill I have nothing against it, provided that the medical orderly puts him on the sick list.” I thanked him and left the room very happily. Now, I had to obtain the medical orderly’s agreement. I knew only too well that many similar requests had been submitted. There were still people in camp who still had concealed diamonds and jewellery with which they wanted to purchase their freedom to at least return to the ghetto.

dulag-transit-camp-concentration-camp

Prisoners transferring between Reichsautobahn camps or returning home would likely have gone via the Dulag transit camp. Photo shows a Dulag transport departure [Foto-Theuergarten Krakau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

In a subsequent conversation, the medical orderly enquired about my financial circumstances at home. I told him truthfully that we could not bring any money with us because we were overtaken by events when we were seized and taken away. I reassured him that my mother still had some trinkets. After that he suggested that I write to my mother and tell her to give a few hundred marks to his father. His father would confirm in a coded letter that he had received the money, and once this had been accomplished he would try to put my father on the sick list. He also promised to speak up for my father and make it clear to the SS doctor, whose decision was absolute and final, that my father was unfit for work and to approve his release.”

Camp hierarchyGrünheide campJudenältesterSurvival
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