Buchenwald, Schlieben, Flössberg, Mauthausen
Translated from Hungarian by Agi and Stephen Casey, Sydney,
edited by John Casey
The Hungarian guards took us to Austria on the 7th of November. We went from Györ over the border to a small village. There they put us onto trains; into normal, regular passenger wagons. In Austria, the Hungarian soldiers guarding us gave us over to German soldiers. The German soldiers gave us some typical German bread, the rectangular type. It was like a brick. We did not know what to think, we thought this would be the food supply. They didn’t give us any other food but everybody had brought something to eat: bread, salami, etc. I had my rucksack too. We were not hungry.
The train took us to Buchenwald. The journey lasted a few days, but we did not stop anywhere. When we arrived at the concentration camp, there was a sign over the gate: Arbeit macht frei (Work makes one free). We had to line up in an open area, which had a building opposite. People walked around in striped uniforms. They asked us in German where we came from; who we were. We told them we are Hungarians. A man came around, also in striped uniform, who spoke Hungarian, and shouted to us: “Eat everything you have, because they will take everything away! Do not leave anything! Eat everything!” We could not understand what he meant, or why he was saying that. From my rucksack, I gave him two or three half-kilo salamis. In that rucksack I had my wallet, the last photos that I took from home -- the photos of my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law and my own -- and my harmonica. I put the rucksack on the ground and told him: “Salamis; eat them; just give me back the rucksack and what is in it -- the wallet, and harmonica”.
Then they took us to another room where everybody had to completely undress. We had to step up onto low benches. Men came with clippers and shaved all our hair: on our head, under our armpit, on our belly, wherever there was any hair. Then a second man came with a can and a brush, and painted our whole body with a liquid. The liquid stung! Later they told us that it was a disinfectant. I was in a good condition and weighed about106 kg. After the clipping they took us to the showers. It was a pleasant warm shower. We thought this is a good sign. Then we had to go further. We complained that our things were left wherever we took them off. “Don’t worry” we were told, “just go”. In the next room everybody received a small packet. In it there was the striped uniform, a shirt, a pullover type with “KLB” in large letters, “KONZENTRAZIONLAGER BUCHENWALD”. Then we had to go further. We had to give our name, and where we were born. I was told: “From now on your name is not Ferenc Kornfeld, but 87795! Learn that in German, in Slovak and in Hungarian, because you have to identify yourself whenever you hear that number.”
They told us this in every language. The people who wrote in the register told us all that. They were prisoners themselves who had come earlier to the camp. They took us to a tent, and they put us in groups according to our numbers. We were all friends. Fifty-two of us were from Dunaszerdahely, so in that group were fifty-two Dunaszerdahely boys. Nearly all of us were 20 years old, nearly all of us went together to the same school. We knew each other and we were friends, so we hoped to stay together. They took everything from us, even our names.
A young man in striped clothes came over to us; he was the one who had spoken to us in Hungarian before, but he did not recognise me now as I was shaved bald and in the same striped gear. He was shouting and asking about the person who put his rucksack on the ground, as he had it. It was mine, and he handed it over. In that sack was my wallet, my harmonica and the photos of my parents.
There were common criminals, murderers and thieves, in concentration camps too. They were called the “Blockältesters”. They were the “Kapos” (bosses). As they were murderers, they had black triangles on their uniforms. The Kapos hit and slapped all of us.
But I was not in Buchenwald for long. They took me to another place. A place, they explained where truly “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes one free); where one has to work but we will have more liberty than in the main camp. They took us to Schlieben, one of the sub-camps of Buchenwald in another part of Germany, beside the HASAG (Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft-Metalwarenfabrik) factory. The Leipzig HASAG factory was, after the I.G. Farben and the Hermann Göring Werke, the third largest German factory complex that used concentration camp labourers. Until 1944, they operated four camps in Czestochowa. After the summer of 1944 they established concentration camps next to every HASAG factory.Schlieben memorial
Schlieben, where they made Panzerfaust, tank grenades. The factory was in the forest. In another part of the town was the so-called “Gieserei”, where they poured the blasting agent into huge cauldrons, which they mixed or cooked and then poured in the grenade heads. It was a sort of plastic looking material: Trinitrotoluene (TNT). It is highly toxic and burns the skin if you touch it. We were the one who assembled the tank grenades, which were about one meter in length and consisted of three parts and they were fired from the shoulder.
In Schlieben there were many nationalities. Under the number on their uniform everybody had a triangle. That triangle classified prisoner according to their backgrounds. The red triangle meant communist, anarchist and other political prisoners; brown, gypsies; lilac, a religious sect that did not want to fight (usually Jehovah witness); green, criminals; pink, homosexual; blue, foreign forced labourers; and the yellow Star of David was for Jews. In the triangle, letters indicated the nationalities: P for Poles, T for Czech etc. As I spoke German, I tried to engage in conversation with prisoners from other countries. With the Czechs it was easy to make some contact, but not so with the Poles. In the Gieserei, where they were pouring that material, nearly all of them were Poles. One night, the Poles blew up the Gieserei. Fortunately we were in the camp and not at work, as hot shrapnel was flying everywhere. But now it was not possible to work there anymore. The Germans had to find something to torture us with, so they made us do some unnecessary work: we had to gather about ten thousand pipes, put them in boxes, let them be carried away to another place and there we had to unload. They drove us hard, they beat us in Schlieben, but they did not shoot us.
I was a “Vorarbeiter “ (foreman) at one time. Then three men escaped from Schlieben: a Hungarian and a Czech, but I can’t remember the third one. But they caught them, bought them back. At this time I was still in good condition and the Germans picked me out, and said that I will be the Kapo for those three men. They had to work in the camp, chopping wood for the kitchen. I was glad to get a Kapo armband as it went with double food ration. Only that mattered, nothing else.
Without exception, the Kapos all had big sticks. They continually shouted and they hit people on the head and the neck, particularly if they wanted to impress when a German was approaching. When I learned that I would become a Kapo I knew that I would be given a stick. In the morning everybody went out for work, and I went with those three to cut the wood. I told them to start working. But they told me that I should cut the wood, as they do not want to work. I told them that we have to do it as they had sent us out here to cut the wood. I raised my stick. At that moment, all three came towards me with axes in their hands, and declared that they would rather cut me to pieces than the wood. I was more scared than any other time in my life. I was begging with them to work, so they told me I should do it; I should cut the wood. So I started to do it; sweated on it. I was in good condition, and worked like a horse: cutting, sawing and making firewood. And they were sitting there, laughing at me, even commenting about the quality of my work. In the evening, the Germans came to take away the wood that those three should have chopped. When they saw the wood, they said it was not enough (as I had done it alone). So the German beat me up. “What sort of Kapo are you”, they asked, “why didn’t you use the stick?” They told me I should beat the other prisoner and then they would work. I could not tell them that those three came at me with axes. I was scared. The next day, we went out again to chop wood. I was begging them, “Do you want them to beat me to death? You have seen what I got yesterday. Please help me and I will help you”. So all four of us worked and by the evening everything was all right as we had cut enough wood. We were far from the others and nobody checked us during the day. So in the evening I got the promised double portion of soup, vegetables and black coffee, but not the bread. The bread was always the same for everybody.
At Christmas-New-Year’s Eve of 1945 and we still were in Schlieben. We were glad when for Christmas as the cooks got two days off. We thought that the food would be different; perhaps cold cuts, like salami etc. So, was it? No. For two days we got nothing and had to work day and night. Same thing happened on New Year’s Day. The cooks went home, but we were working day and night. We could not even move around as the Germans also decreased the number of the guards and kept us locked in.
Suddenly, without any warning, one afternoon in January 1945 they collected us together, put us in open cattle wagons, covered us with tarpaulins and transported us somewhere. We went into the mountains and as it was cold, we were freezing. We arrived in Flössberg. It was another sub-camp of Buchenwald and also next to a HASAG factory. Around the camp perimeter were wire fences. In the corner and in the middle there were watchtowers.. The lighting was directed to inside of the camp. The wire fences were electrified, with high voltage currents. But, the area inside the camp was totally empty, nothing was there. They marched us in and put us in groups. The German guards’ barracks were outside the camp. Inside we had absolutely nothing. Then we had to dig the foundation for the barracks, which would be our accommodation. First three days we were digging, picking and shovelling the foundations. And every evening there was the usual Appel (roll call or headcount). Rain or shine, we had to stand for Appel. They counted us and when they finished, we could go “home”. Home meant the place where we were digging during the day. We went into the holes we had dug and we huddled together to keep warm with our bodies. Sometimes it was snowing, sometimes the wind was blowing, but the worst was the hail. We cared about each other. We had nothing, only that hole. So we continually changed places; those who were on the edge came to the middle after a while, then we changed places again. In that state we had to go to work again next day. At four in the morning, the sirens started to blare.
We received food at the workplace. In the morning, four of us got one kilo bread, so 25 grams each and some black water (you couldn’t call it coffee) in a mess-tin,. At lunchtime beet soup, from a type of beet used for animal feed. While we were in Schlieben we even had a bit of pepper in the soup and it was a bit thicker. Not in Flössberg. Here it was only that animal beet. Occasionally there was some rice or corn, or one spoonful of some vegetable. We didn’t really know what it was, but we were glad that we had something. In the evening, after work, again that black water, the so-called coffee. The bread what we got in the morning was for all day, so we had to divide it into the morning, lunch and evening meal rations. The “Vorarbeiters” and Kapos got double portions. In the beginning they built latrines in and outside the camp. We could go there, but we had to hurry, could not spend too much time there as the Vorarbeiters were watching us all the time.
When we arrived in Flössberg, I had a Kapo armband, but I did not have a group to lead. Every Kapo had to gather their charges, but I had nobody. I showed my armband to the Dunaszerdahely boys, and thirty-six friends came over to me, and so I said that they are my group. I had to count them and form a unit, etc. As soon as we finished with the barracks, it turned out that the Germans wanted to build the same factory as in Schlieben. My thirty-six people became the ”Waldkommando”; we had to prepare the ground. When the wagons arrived we had to unload them. The Germans watched us. They generally rode motorbikes, which could be heard from a distance. When they arrived they said “machts’ weiter” and we worked harder. But when they went for a beer, and we saw that no Germans were around, then we stopped. We would just talk, usually about food, about what mothers would cook when we arrived home, etc. There was only food on our minds. One boy told us about the lovely goulash which his mother cooked, the other about the carp stew, or the sholet, and the fine pastries. One day we were talking again and did not notice the German commander arrive, on horseback. I was in the middle of the circle as the Kapo. Everybody had stopped working and we were just talking. He came to me, tore my Kapo armband off and beat me. My time as a Kapo had ended, and the whole group was sent back to the camp.
He accompanied us on the horse, so nobody could go anywhere else. We were sent straight to the Appelplatz (the place where roll call took place). I was sent to the front, about thirty meters ahead of the group. It was late in the afternoon, around dusk. The other squadrons started the “Appel”. It was a day of rain and hail. He picked two Polish Kapos to beat me. They came with their thick sticks and beat me for the amusement of that German. They trashed me terribly; my spinal column became damaged. I had to stay there on my knees. I remember I leant on my hand as it hurt so much, but I had to raise my hand again and they slapped me again. They nearly killed me and left me there on my knees until the next morning. It was hailing and my garment was frozen to me. Next morning when they told me to get up I could not move. Two people helped me, but I could not straighten myself. I could not stand up. They took me to the “Revier”. Revier was the name of the hospital. In the hospital they put me on a table and tried to straighten my legs. Three doctors were prisoners as well. One was a Hungarian, the other a Czech and the third a Pole. The Hungarian’s name was Gyuri (George) Elfer. After the war he worked in Budapest, in St Elizabeth Hospital as a department head. The Czech was Jiri Urban and I lost him after the war. But I cannot remember anymore the name of the Polish doctor. They three of them tried to straighten my legs. They tried to start some conversations with me, and I answered all three in their own language. I understood that I had to lay still. They kept me there for a few days. One of them was always coming to feed me and we spoke a little. They didn’t have any medicine to give me. Gyuri Elfer spoke Hungarian and good English, the Czech doctor spoke Czech and German, and the Pole spoke Polish and French, so the three of them could not communicate well between themselves. On one occasion Gyuri Elfer asked me to interpret for them. So, in the end I stayed in the hospital and became the interpreter. That saved my life. If they had made me go out to work again, I would not have lived through it as I was very weak and no longer got the double portions of food.
In the hospital we had a little Hungarian boy, George, from Ujpest. He was a thin,180 cm tall, Jewish boy, only fifteen years old. We asked why he was there in the adult camp. And he told us, that he was brought here with his mother, who told him that when anybody asked him about his age, he should say that he was sixteen. That saved his life, as he was put among the men. But he was such a child, always asking childish things. He would say things like “Tell me Feri, when I go home, will our little dog and cat be there? I loved my cat so much, he was always wandering away to the neighbours. I am sure I will find him there. I am sure my mother will be there by the time I get back”. We all liked that little boy. One day he got sick with oedema. We didn’t have any medicine, only some scissors, scalpel and gauze. That was all. George’s backside was swollen. Gyuri Elfer asked me to help: ”Feri, please hold the kid’s hand firmly. Tell him that I have a son of his age too. It hurts me to operate on him as much as it hurts him. But he has to endure this; he should not cry out, this is the only way to save him. We will try to operate on him.” They laid him on the table, I held his hand and explained what they will do. Elfer cut with the scalpel and pushed on the wound but nothing came out. Than Jiri Urban took the scissors, made a bigger cut on his backside, and reached inside, and then the puss started to flow. The kid put up with it and did not utter a word during the operation; he only bit my hand. I will never in my life will forget how he suffered. After a few days, I had to feed him.
In the meantime, we realised that the front was getting near. We heard the constant rumble of the bombs, and aeroplanes were flying over us constantly. In Flössberg we finished the “Panzerfaust” factor, so now they allocated us to work in the factory . We were no longer the “Waldcommando”, instead we were now an assembly group, or Panzerfaust filler group. Then came April 13 1945. That special day is carved into my memory forever. That night the Americans bombed the factory and destroyed it, but not one bomb fell on to our camp. The American’s information was that good. We could not go back to the factory to work, as it no longer existed. So they took us away. From Flössberg we travelled in cattle wagons, about seventy, eighty in one car. Before they locked us in the wagons, they scattered sugar crystals into our palms. The striped jumper I wore had two pockets, and I put the sugar in one and licked the remainders off my palms. We went through Czechoslovakia and Austria. I saw and remembered the station names. They took us back and forth, up and down. They probably did not know what to do with us, as the end was near. People in the wagon were devouring their sugar . I only wet my finger, put it in the pocket and then licked it off.
We were on the train for sixteen days. Sometimes they opened the doors, so we could throw out the dead. We jumped out, laid down in the snow and devoured it. If there was a little puddle, we laid on our stomach and drunk from that “water”. We did not get anything to eat or drink. The first day when somebody died, we put the body at the back and left it there. Later we realised that the cold air came from cracks in the bottom of the wagon, so we put the bodies where they covered the cracks. But as the number of bodies grew, we didn’t have to look for the cracks any more as the whole floor was covered with the dead. We were sitting on them, laying on them, sleeping on them, so we did not feel the draught from the cracks anymore. We had nothing to eat.
In that state we arrived in Mauthausen on April 29 1945. Fifty-two of us from Dunaszerdahely started; three of us arrived. Simi Günfeld, Marci König and I. Simi and I were in a better shape so we put Marci between us and helped him. We saw from down at the station in Mauthausen that the camp was up on the hill, and was 5 kilometre away. We dragged poor Marci with us, but he still said that he could not continue anymore. He said “Just let me sit down and wait until the end of the line”. About one thousand, two hundred of us started from Flössberg, and only about two hundred of us arrived. Our only earthly possession was a spoon, which we had sharpened at one end with a stone so that it finally also became a knife. A dead horse was on the bank of a ditch. “Hang on” Simi said “I’ll bring something.; you hold on to Marci.” So Marci and I were trotting along with the others. In the hoof of the horse is a triangle, the blacksmith usually cuts out. This time Simi cut it out. It was like a chewing gum. He cut it in three to have something to chew until we arrived to the camp. Marci was pleading “let me sit down and wait till the end of the line”. We could not carry him anymore and said “Marci, you have to promise, that by the end of the line you will stand up and follow us.” Yes, I will come” Marci said and sat down. Later we saw him on his hands and knees as he started to get up. But a 14-year-old SS guard, just a boy, shot him. He was about 40 meters from us. “Los, geht’s weiter’’ (Come on, march), was all the young guard said to us.
We arrived in the camp. The first thing we inquired about was whether the crematorium was functioning. They said, no, which was a great relief, as we figured that they would not gas us (by this time we had heard about the other camps). We were covered in lice: in our underarms, all over our bodies, and wherever we touched there were handfuls of them. Our only wish was to get rid of them. The guards saw how infected we were and took us to a shower. We were not sure what will come from the showerhead, water or gas.
They disinfected and cropped us. They showered us and after that good warm water, they sent us out in the snow, which was half a meter deep. Barefoot and naked, we had to go down to the tent camp, the Russenlager, which had been set up outside the main wall of the camp to hold all the new arrivals in the last months of the war. Those two hundred men, who were already weakened, were out in the snow for a two-kilometre march. More torture was waiting for us there. In the camp there were wooden tubs, big as a room, full of water. The Germans broke the ice from the top and forced us into them as we had still lice. They would not let us in the tents with lice as would spread to all of the prisoners. After that we were allowed to go to the tents.
Four of us had a bunk. If one of us wanted to turn, all four of us had to turn. I was lying beside Simi Günfeld. At one inspection, when they checked who is still alive and who is not, they assumed that I was not among the living. They took me out, put me in the rubbish among the bodies, which were later piled up like wood. Simi came out after me and listened to my heart. He started to shout, that this one is still alive. He dragged me back to the bunk and there I became conscious. If Simi had not have done that, I would not be here today.
When we were able to move a bit, still barefoot and naked, we put a blanket on our shoulder and went out from the tent. Two meters from the tent there was already a barbed wire fence. We were separated from another camp, but we did not know who the inhabitants of that camp were. It turned out they were women. One came to the fence asking us where are we were from. I answered, “We are Hungarians, from Szerdahely”, and I asked whether they had anybody from Szerdahely. “Szerdahely, yes, but which Szerdahely you mean?” asked the women. “Dunaszerdahely”, I said, and she started to shout “Dunaszerdahely, Dunaszerdahely” and three women came forward. They were the Rimstein girls. As they saw we had only blankets, they brought us chocolate from who knows where, and some trousers and shirts. They threw it over the fence and we were not naked anymore.
The Germans did not matter anymore. We were waiting for the end. That was the beginning of May. It was the first or the second when I saw, that I could move about more freely. On the fifth of May we were liberated. That morning we woke up and someone shouted, “Look there is nobody in the watchtower”. We all looked out and really nobody was there. It was unusual, as the German were always there with heavy machine guns. Confusion started, we roamed among the tents. Suddenly we could see jeeps coming up the winding road. A large Negro was sitting on one of the jeeps. He charged at the camp gate, kicked it in and started to shout in English “You are free”. Then lots of soldiers started to come, with lots of photographers who all took photos. In front of our tent they piled the dead; a young girl was sticking out from the pile from her waist up. We were crying, the Americans were crying, it was a horrendous sight.
You may wonder what happened to George, the young boy in the hospital. When we left Flössberg I saw him enter the wagons moving very slowly, people were helping him to go in. I saw him as he stretched out his hand for the sugar. He was with us on the sixteen-day journey. We disembarked in Mauthausen, he was in one of the rows, and he started the march, but he limped badly - naturally as he had that big cut on his bottom. They shot him dead straight there on the station.
They were the grim experiences we had to live through. It is deep in one’s soul, and one cannot get rid of them. We would need years to tell all what happened to us.