Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Forced Labor

Then we're standing there for awhile. Then some factories called Metallurgia, a big factory once belonged to Jewish people. There worked out steel or something, I can't remember. ??? Metal...Metallurgia it was called. So they were standing and uh, my parents used to tell me I should go to work for ???, this is a very good place when it was still the big ghetto, so they used to treat the Jews very-- pretty good in that place. And we knew Luftwaffe was very bad. Nobody wanted to work because they were hitting people and killing. So I said to my sister, "I'm going to find out if they call for ??? then I'll go to work over there and I'll come for you." So I hand her a little package of pajamas or something and I said to my sis...sister, "Wait and I'll go over there," because they were calling out to different places to work. So when they called Luftwaffe nobody wanted to go there because they knew they were hitting Jews. So finally they called ???. So I said, "Yes, I'll go to ???" and I raised my hand. A German grabbed me by the neck and pulled me in and my sister remained waiting for me that I'll come back for her and we go together to work. In the meantime they didn't send me to ???, they sent me to Luftwaffe. And Luftwaffe was a place where we were working on an airfield. We were working every day--straight away ??? between me and my sister. My sister, I didn't know from her--after a half year, I found her but I'll tell you later--it comes to it. So we were living in a small building only, only people for--working for the Luftwaffe. That was outside of--it was near the Jasna Górna--not far away from it--that's a very holy place near Częstochowa. So we walked about five miles or seven miles one way every day--winter--to work to the airfield. We used to put in draining--narrow pipes into the ground. So we were walking with wooden shoes wrapped around with rags--we didn't have any socks. And like I said I was only--had one pair of pajamas or whatever they gave me to wear. So when we got there, there was a Polish ???, she was telling, telling us to sing. When we got by the Jewish airport--by the Jewish cemetery across from the air field, this Polack used to tell us we should sing. So when we got to the airfield the German major looked out with the binoculars--he looked at us and he says, "Who told you to sing?" If we would tell the Polack, he would kill us on the way home, so we just didn't say nothing. And I remember my oldest brother was standing there so this German picked up some wood--some logs that were sitting there for a burning fire and he picked up. Anybody was near him he was hitting in the head, in the feet--any place. My oldest brother was hit at that time a few times and he just couldn't hit back, because if he would hit back he would be shot to death in a second. So then after he uh, hit a few people, he sat in, in his car and he made us--it was a very snowy day--mostly it was a bad winter--I'm talking about in winter time--and he made us run around three times the airfield. ??? were running around the airfield, we had to step down in the snow so the planes could land and that was every day the same thing. And after--and then he would running with the car faster. And uh, one was trying to outrace the next one. Whoever didn't run fast enough he would run over his, his feet, and you were afraid if he run over your feet because if you get injured then you can't work and then they kill you--then you're useless. So, that we used to do every day going five or seven miles one way and back.

You, uh...

And by the way--and over there working and between that in the drains was very narrow. We had to--the ground was so stiff--ice, you know, we could hardly break it. And of course, we weren't allowed, we weren't allowed to talk to each other. He would stay--that major would look out from the building for the planes that are landing--he looked out and when he saw somebody talking he would go out there with a shovel. And everybody was scared to death, you didn't know for whom he's coming and he would smack any place he could.

Where did you live during this time?

Well, like I said, in this time we, we were in a small building near the Jasna Górna. That they--there was no more homes. It was a small building.

Just the men?

It was different places. Over there uh, must have been just men, definitely.

You were separated from your uh, brothers?

I was lucky--I was just with my oldest brother. I was at that time--which every time at night we slept on, on bunk beds over there. And I would sleep on top and he would always--I remember, I remember that he woke me up I should stop crying because they're going to come and kill me, because I just realized--in the beginning I didn't--I figured I'd still see my parents. And then after three, four months I started realizing that I'm really alone, that I won't see no more my parents. I just--it hit me at night and I was crying the whole night and my brother would beg me, "Joseph, just stop crying."

How many men were there to a room, do you remember?

That was a big building, I don't remember at that time. But I tell you later in concentration camp when they took us.

All right. Uh, how about food? Did you have enough food?

Very little food. They just gave us a little piece of bread or so. But at that time also we were working--we were also going and working for the Luftwaffe we had few months a job in the kitchen, which uh, we had a little bit of potatoes. We worked--in a dark basement, I was peeling potatoes. We shoveled coal ??? for the Germans.

Did you have any contact--was, was it only Jews?

Only Jews over there.

Did you ever see any Polish laborers?

No. Not, not there, not there where we were, no.

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