Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Szymon Binke - June 16, 1997

Conditions in Birkenau

Let's go back to Birkenau then. How long were you there?

Oh, if I, I can't remember. Probably not even two weeks, maybe ten, twelve days.

And what was the barracks like that you were in?

Well, it was a floor uh, a cement floor. In the middle was a, a, looked like a feed trough. I think they might have had horses or something. It was raised up in the middle uh, uh and it went the length of the, of the building and we were sleeping on the, naturally on the floor. And not only sleeping on the floor, you had to curl up like in a fetal position and the next one was right into you and the one in front of you was, so you could not turn. If you turned uh, I don't, it was a long building, probably fifty, sixty people would have to turn the same, at the same time. So once you got in that position, that was it for the night. You couldn't stretch out because you were touching the guy's head and the guy was touching your head with his, with his uh, like sardines, you know? Only sardines, they stretch out, we were cramped in. And I don't think uh, they did it because there was a shortage of space. I'm sure there was plenty of, that camp was so big. They just did it to make it miserable. And then they used to, they used to, they used to keep us out like for the head count. After the head count we'd have to be in a crouched position, sit...sittin' like this, crouching down, for a half hour, an hour, just for the heck of it. I don't know what kind of exercise that was, but I guess the Blockälste, you know the leader, the, the, the, the, the leader of the, the building felt like we should be sittin' like this. He made us. Not sitting, crouching and have your hands in front of you.

Blockälteste was a prisoner.

Yes. Yeah.

Jewish prisoner?

Not always. Most of 'em were uh, uh, Christians, political or, or, but there were Jews, Jewish Blockältesters also. Like in the other camps, most of the uh, Blockältesters were Jewish, you know in, in Dachau camps and Kaufering uh...

Is this is where you encountered lice? You said in the camps you encountered...

Yes. Not in Auschwitz, because we'd just gone through the uh, bath and everything. Once we got out of Birkenau that's, yeah.

And do you have any, any images, general images of Birkenau? I mean the smoke, the smells, anything...

I don't remember that. I don't remember anything like that. Like I told you, afraid to look. You just uh, walked around like a, like a, like a rat. It was, there was stones being thrown. I remember that. You had to be careful. You have to watch. But somebody told me here recently, he was in Auschwitz, he got called on a, you know, Auschwitz and Birkenau are two different camps. He got taken to Auschwitz. Now there was one Polish guy that was training for, for, for what do you call, the, the not the discus, the...


Shot-put, yeah. He was training for shot-put, so he was throwing stones. If he hit somebody, it's okay too.

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