Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Getting in Trouble with the Germans

Anyway, I was just lucky that for some reason they, they chose me to go to the concentration camp. So that's where I was for the next three years. I was in HASAG. That's um, that's the factory where they made ammunition. By the way, I forgot to tell you a little story. When we were taken out from home, we were working for the Luftwaffe, it's uh, we went by the ramps--we were working by the trains--unloading big electric poles from trains. So there was a man--a German--a short fellow who must have been a builder--he had very strong hands. His name was ???. So, he didn't like the way I worked. What happened, we were standing--everybody was holding their hands underneath the poles pulling out from the train. And I happened to see the maid notice me, that used to work for us, her name was ???. And she said, "Oh my dear God, Joe, I'm going to throw you a piece of bread." So I was so excited--I was so hungry--that I saw the maid that used to carry me. So while I was concentrating on seeing the maid, and I was the youngest boy working there and I really didn't know how to lift that pole--so everybody was holding on, and I was holding on one hand on top of the post and that German came and, and knocked me straight in my nose and broke my nose. And lucky, if he would have hit me one more time I probably would never get up. So he was so mad at me he would have killed me because I didn't do the work. And my brother got in, in the middle--my oldest brother Chaim--and he said, "Herr. Lassen Sie mein Bruder lefen. Schlagen Sie mir," he says, "let my brother live, hit me." And he stood there like this, because my brother was much stronger, so he could take. So he let out all the madness to him because he--my brother knew if he gives me a few more times--as a matter of fact, when I came over here I had broken bones and I was operated on, because he said he's surprised, surprised how I can breathe because I had broken bones from that time.

Was there any medical care in the uh, camp?

There was, but you were afraid even to report if you're sick or something in the camp, because uh, if anybody had typhus or anything, they wouldn't, they wouldn't, wouldn't have treated it but they would have been shot.

You said you had an operation...

I had this in the ghetto--that was in the small ghetto. I had a big, big blister. There was no freezing, it was just they cut me with no, uh...

Who did it?

There was a Jewish doctor. Was in the small ghetto they had a little uh, a little hospital.

Uh-huh, and when your nose was broken, how was that treated?

Pardon me?

When you...

Oh, nothing. At that time there was no medical, nothing. I was just suffering with it.



Did you uh, uh, have any special jobs?

Well, in the beginning uh, the German uh, was uh, ??? was his name and uh, anyway, this man, this man was a murderer. But for some reason my brother knew very good German and he took him for a foreman, my brother. And uh, so he gave me a little--for a little while a little easier job. I was his helper. The biggest murderer--that German killed every day people. Like he would saw this man coming into a concentration camp, he had these beautiful boots on. And he had that eye on his boots or his robe. So whoever came along, you brought along your best clothes, whatever you have. So this German, when he saw his boots, he would come--at night come and he would kill him either with a hammer on the head or would shot him, the next day he was wearing his boots or his robe.

He'd come into the barracks to kill them?

Well, he was, he was there in the concentration camp. He was uh, he was uh, the Bau he was in the Baubetrieb. He was the head man. Moshe they used to call him.

And uh, did you...

So anyway, so I was his helper. And uh, he was building, so we were measuring with measurements how long the barracks should be built and where the factories with the machines were going to go up. So uh, I was carrying the big hammer, which I--the hammer was almost heavier than me, and I never had a hammer like this and ???. He was holding the posts and I was supposed to knock in the posts. So the first time I hit the post, the second time I hit him in the finger and he grabbed the gun and he shot at me but he missed. And I run in all different directions and uh, he missed me and for three days I was hiding out. Even my own brother didn't know where I was. Nobody knew. And uh, every morning they used to count us when we were standing, when we were standing uh, over there and they used to count us. So after ten days--after a week if uh, somebody would be missing from your group they would take out like ten people they would kill for one person. So everybody was watching the next one so nobody hides out, nobody runs away. So anyway, after three days I couldn't take it no more. I was hiding out without any food. I was running between machines and I came to my brother and I said to my brother, "You should tell the general where I am." So my brother said that he begged them and they gave him whatever they had, you know, they had some money hidden and everything they gave him and he promised he wouldn't kill me. So he let me--so then after he saw me after I came back, he said how lucky I was and how stupid, you know, that I'm just lucky that I'm alive. And then I was working the Baubetrieb. I was working those big machines that break cement. I was doing everything. I was working everything Baubetrieb???




Baubetrieb it's call. This means buildings--the building. They were building barracks, building everything.

This was all near Częstochowa.

In Częstochowa, yeah.

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