Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Eugene Arden - February 21, 1984

Knowledge of Camps (continued)

But what had you heard about--had you ever heard of Auschwitz or Dachau?

I, I guess we had heard of Auschwitz and Dachau, yes, the, the worst of them. But I don't think that the non-Jews in the units were uh, had all heard of it. We--see I grew up in New York City and uh, uh, there were you know, Jewish newspapers and there were Jewish organizations and so on. If I had grown up in Iowa, I do...at that time I mean um, I doubt that I would have known--as it is I didn't know too much. I mean, I just had a sort of a specter, a general reputation of course, that the Nazis were doing terrible things to the Jews, there were things called concentration camps. A few of the concentration camps were the more famous or infamous and Dachau certainly was one of them. But, uh...

[interruption in interview]

It--we were really innocent uh, of extensive knowledge. But we weren't you know, without any information, without any uh, we certainly had strong impressions of horror, of, of, uh, uh, but we couldn't--but it, it didn't prepare us for what we actually saw. It, it wa...and this was not a particular--particularly terrible camp because as you know, as you know it, it was just a kind of holding camp there in uh, uh, it, it, it didn't have a crematorium, I don't--we didn't see any mounds of dead bodies uh. There were no uh, at least not that I--I'm aware of uh, I, I don't think that there were any mass graves or, or you know, the worst of, of, of what it is that you, that you hear about and read about and know about now years after. But even at it's uh, least terrible it was incredibly terrible. I don't know what I would have done at Dachau if I had seen that, you know. If, if what I saw was the better or it can't be better--the less terrible, the, the, the really terrible, it simply boggles the mind. I, I uh, uh, we're horrified by various kinds of efforts even in popular motion pictures like Sophie's Choice or something of that sort to get some idea of how ghastly all that was to see and, and must have been like to live through, if you live, if you were lucky enough to live through it. Uh, but there's a limit to human imagination and I, and I think that we simply--I--the Shakespeare of the, of, of, of the concentration camps I think never really fully emerged. And maybe the Shakespeare could not have made us feel uh, the, the revulsion uh, of the actual experience. You know, you have to not just see it, you have to smell it. It, it, it was uh, you know, the other Jewish kid with me, we walked into the first barracks uh, and he threw up instantly. It was almost like a button was pressed and, and I think what they called reverse peristalsis you know, just occurred. It was, it simply uh, uh, is uh, it's hard, it was hard then and it's, it's, eh, it's something I wouldn't say I blocked out, I haven't by any means blocked it out, but in, in some ways you have to do something special with that kind of experience uh, some way to absorb it and, and put it and contain it in one part of your mind, or, or you can't live with it. It--and, and the people who really experienced it uh, must be uh, so extraordinary to have come through it and be able to be productive people afterwards, I just can't imagine. I could not have done it. I mean, even if I weren't, even, obviously even if I hadn't perished or, or, or had been e...e...especially tortured or whatever, but to have lived through any part of that w...would have been more than I could have uh, borne. And I simply don't know how the people who came through it managed to come through it and, as I say, how they didn't, how they didn't just uh, go crazy uh, or, or uh, you know, or expire in some way. Uh, I just have uh, endless uh, I'm in awe of those people. I'm literally in awe of the people who came through uh, uh, all, all of that. Now the worst obviously is the concentration camps but I, I want to tell you that some of those Displaced Persons camps were uh, were no picnic either. They had a mixture, they were, they mostly non-Jews. They were mostly uh, uh, forced labor from you know, obviously from other countries you know uh, from Czechoslovakia--Poland uh, a lot of Russians that we, we came upon. Um, uh, it, and um...

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