Collected Memories of the Holocaust




Tales from Buchenwald


  • born in 1925 in Lodz, Poland
  • family: parents Chaim (d. 10 Jul 1942 from Unterernährung, i.e. malnutrition) and Jentla (d. 14 Jan 1943 from Urämie, i.e. uremia) Pisarek; sister Manya, fate unknown
  • address in Lodz pre-war: ul. Kamienna 10
  • addresses in Lodz Ghetto (German):
    Sulzfelderstrasse 100 Flat 12;
    Mühlgasse 31 Flat 27 (10 Jan 1942-3 Nov 1944)
  • inhabitant of the Lodz Ghetto
  • inmate at Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Alter's Registration Card at Buchenwald:
(left-click on thumbnail to seen enlarged image)

Alter's story continues here at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. From the Lodz Ghetto, he had unwittingly been transported with others to Czestochowa to perform some manual labor for the Reich, and after this work had been completed, been placed on a railroad wagon with nearly three hundred others and taken to the Buchenwald camp, located in Weimar, Thuringen, Germany.


"So when we got to Buchenwald they put me in a barrack, with real beds, no straw. I think it was barrack number 22 or 23, with all the intelligentsia. There had been about eight beds, and there were SS men watching that room. The next morning we had to come out from the barracks and stand out there so we could be counted. So then we saw two people. They hanged them. We had to watch. They hanged two people because they escaped. They caught them. So that they showed us. Every morning we had to stand outside the barracks so we could be counted."


"All of a sudden, a German said, 'they call numbers.' They said 'Di ruffen dein namen.' They will call your number. I went up there to the commandant's door. I went in and they checked me out. My number is 677 thousand and so on. After, they sent us from Buchenwald to a factory in Sonnenberg, Thuringen. When we had first come in to Buchenwald, we were two hundred and eighty people from Chenstochov. Now when they sent us out, we were a hundred people to work in a factory. The factory had been in the city of Sonnenberg and our barracks had been in a forest. When we went to work we had to march and sing, and when we went back we had to sing too.

Left-click on the earphones icon and listen to the song that Alter and his fellow workers had to sing on their march to and from the factory in Sonnenberg.

The factory made wheels for tanks. A turret-laid and engine-laid machine. I was assigned to work for a foreman, a tall guy, German guy. And I had to help him, work together with him. That guy had been a blessing to me. In the morning he brought a breakfast special for me. And then he said, because there are SS--the SS were watching over all the machines of all the people who were working there--everything should be quiet.

We had to pass the SS guard before we went to the toilet. He sat at a table and he had been sitting and smoking his pipe. He had been a terrible--he had been a killer actually. We found out later that he was a killer. So the foreman brought me this breakfast every morning when he came to work. He made a "wall," that I could go hide behind his back where he put the food, and I could eat it there without being seen. He was watching me, that I shouldn't get caught."


"Well, I don't know how long we were in Sonnenberg. We each got a ration of tobacco and the SS also got a ration of tobacco. We didn't get the ration at the same time as the SS got it. We'd been productive so we got some tobacco too. We had an SS man there who had become deaf at the Russian front. When he didn't have his pipe, or he couldn't smoke his pipe, he went wild. He didn't know what to do. He needed nicotine, you know? So he didn't have any. We had the nicotine. And so a foolish thought went through my mind. I took a little bit of tobacco and rolled it in paper, and made a big thing. And I put it on his table and I went to the men's room. Then I went back to the machines. He observed me. I showed him with my finger, what I put on the table, the piece of paper. And he took it and went into the hall. I don't know what he did, probably unwrapped it, smoked his pipe, happy, happy-go-lucky. And I went back to work. After, when we were finished, we marched back from the factory. And after we were back, the same SS man came to the area where we all ate, looking for me. In his hand, he had some food. He asked for me. He described me, you know? And the guy said, 'The tauber (the deaf one) zuch dich. The tauber zuch dich.' So I went to the tauber sucht dich. He gave me the geshear. He says, "Es das auf!" "Eat it up!' So I got a bowl of soup like that. And I ate it up. Oh, I felt good. And I said, 'Danke schoen.' And people stared. Oh, look at that! I was embarrassed. I ate a bowl of soup and they were hungry like wolves. And I got a privilege from him. And from his own things. A Jude eats from his own geshear. Imagine that... And I finished the food and he left. A while later, he came in with potatoes. Oh potatoes! He gave them to me. And they got a little stove, you know? So they took the potatoes and threw them into the ashes to get them warm. So, that was the experience I had at the camp. I can't remember how long I had been at the camp. But soon the time came when we had to go, because the Allied forces had been...they were near..."


"The factory had been bombed. So we had to go and take out from the cellars all the dead people.
The Germans had cellars where they kept their food. And after the cellars were bombed, they wanted us to take out the dead people. The Germans went down to the cellars to protect themselves, not to get killed...So we went to the cellars. We had to take them out, the bodies, the dead bodies.

Before we left the cellar we decided to take for ourselves, you know? They had all kinds of food in the cellar. We helped ourselves to the food. When the day was finished, we had to come up from the cellars and go back to the camp. So we had a smart idea. We took our pants (legs) and put a string around it, tightened it and put potatoes in our pants. And we marched home. Well, we got a schlemazzel, a guy who didn't close his pants tight enough. And we're marching, and the potatoes start to fall out. And the SS man at the back of the line saw this. So before we got back to the camp, everybody had to stand and they checked us out. They found me with potatoes because of that guy Hatzik, a Czechoslovakian Jew. They made fun of him too because he had been a little guy. Anyway, the SS man wrote down my number. I had a number on the pants, a number on the shirt. And then a short time later, an hour later, we came into camp. They called my number. The commandant's door. I should go over there. There was a 'siff," a prefabricated house. And he started, the judge, a kangaroo court. He had been a judge. He said to me, 'You stole from the German Reich potatoes,' and so on, and so on. It was a kangaroo court. And standing all around were SS. 'You stole from German Reich. For that your sentence will be, you get twenty-five lashes.' The lashes had been a stake, and they had a rubber stick too. And a boot stick. I had to lay down. 'Lay your head down.' And I laid my head down. And I waited. I saw one of the SS on one side of me, another on the other side. He said, 'Vierundzwanzig,' and then he started to count, 'Eins, one...' I stood up and he hit the floor (with his stick.) He didn't hit me, he hit the floor. When he counted once, I saw what was going to happen, so I stood up. He hit the floor. 'For that, you, you cheated on the German Reich. You get fifty lashes!' So I laid back down on the chairs, but now somebody sits with their ass on my head so I couldn't get up. It was an SS man. And he started to count again, 'Eins, zvei...' I felt it, but I didn't cry. I hurt, but I didn't cry. He counted. I don't know how long he counted. I became absent-minded. I figured good angels had been watching over me. I didn't feel nothing. Believe me or not. Nothing. After he finished counting, he said in German, 'See that you get out quick.' So he put out his leg that I should fall over it. I jumped over his leg too. Out the way I came in. When I got back to the barrack, the guys put compresses on me. The next day I had to go to work."


I don't know how long it had been, but they started to gather us all together. 'March! We have to leave the factory.' The owner of the factory and some of the people who worked there watched us leave. They  were sorry that we were leaving. They knew that we were Juden, but they were still sorry that we were going.

And then we started our 'death march.' We were to march from Thuringen to Sudetenland, and we were marched day and night. We rested mostly at farmer's houses. All of a sudden, one guy, a tall guy, a healthy boy, he got away. A German went with a German shepherd and found him and brought him back. They shot him. The SS men got a feeling that were were already deliberating, planning an escape. But the SS man had been with us. After they shot that guy, we started to march again, and the deaf guy from the SS, he said to me in German, 'You are the next to be shot.' To me he said this. I was next!

So we kept marching. The SS decided to rest. They marched with us, so when they got tired, they rested. So he rested with me, next to me. He put the gun beside me. He opened a couple of Spams, and he said to me to eat it up, so I did. When he ate, I ate.  So the next day, after he told me that he'd kill me, that I'd be shot, we were marching. The SS heard that there had been a U.S. tank somewhere not too far away. I don't know how the SS found out, maybe by radio, but they disappeared. So we didn't see the SS anymore after that."


"So I tracked back from where we came, me and two other guys. We tracked back to Pilsen. This was a little town and there was a shoe store there. We didn't have any shoes. We marched barefoot. And there was someone from the shoe store, he called us in. We should come in. And he gave each of us a pair of shoes. When we left, when we went on after that, there had been a curfew. At nighttime, nobody should be out. So a U.S. M.P. found us. He took us to a camp where the SS had been. And we started to shout, 'Hey, we want a translator, someone to translate. We are not Germans.'  We had been with the SS and we were wearing striped uniforms. They thought something was fishy here. We should be together with the SS. Then they got a Jewish guy from Newark, New Jersey. I can't remember his name. So when he spoke to us, he gave us his name. He says 'Newark' and I say 'New York.' I knew New York, but I didn't say Newark. Anyway, he put us in his jeep and took us down to the hospital. He gave the guy there, the doctor, a carton of cigarettes to take care of us. One of the two guys with me was named Dimentman. They put him in a separate room, and then they checked us over. I and the other guy had been okay.  I wanted to see Dimentman. What was going on with him? The doctor didn't let us in to see him. Quarantine. So we became afraid. So me and the other guy, we disappeared. We left. We disappeared into the city. What happened after that, I can't remember too much. I know they gave us clothing. Italian uniforms. And there were Italian guys who wanted to buy our uniforms. I didn't want that. I don't know why I didn't want to...

After that, I went to the train station in Pilsen. I don't know how I got to the station. There had been a train there that was going to Poland, you know? And there was a Jew there who came up to me--an angel, not a Jew, an angel coming down (from heaven). He said, 'Don't go back. You don't have what to look for.' So I didn't go back. I went back to Pilsen. And from then on, I wandered. A wandering Jew. I didn't know what for, where I should go. And the other guy that had been with me, he somehow disappeared. He wanted to be independent. He had a different idea on where to go. He lives now in Canada, Toronto, I think."


Life in Pre-War Lodz Life in the Lodz Ghetto Tales from Buchenwald Liberation After the War DP Camps

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