Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alexander Ehrmann - May 13, 1983

On the Train to Auschwitz

Tell me something about the transport to Auschwitz. What do you remember about that?

The transport to Auschwitz, they uh, rounded us up in the synagogue. We were together the family, again we took uh, a limited amount of our belongings with us and uh, we were in the synagogue about twenty-four hours. Uh, it was subhuman treatments. The, the gendarme came in, they were beating people, kicking people as they were sleeping. They came in the middle of the night. I don't know what they were looking for, probably just to harass us. Uh, next day at one point they commanded us out into formation, out of the uh, synagogue, on the street marching to the railroad station. They loaded us on cattle cars and they--the train took off with us in the direction of Slovakia, north. Uh, before they uh, loaded us on the train, they brought postcards to us from families who were taken in previous transports, saying uh, messages to the fact that we are together, the entire family, doing farm work in such and such location, in central or southern Hungary and we were told that that's where we were going also. When the train took off into the opposite direction, we tried to explain it by uh, saying that well, they are taking us into the, onto the uh, main railroad line, which is north of us and they will take us back to Hungary. That didn't happen, of course. When we came into the uh, next big city uh, where incidentally, my brother was in, in the labor camp uh, after a brief stopover, they moved us again north from there into the direction of, of Poland, so again we said they probably don't want to use uh, mainlines with our train, they, they want to keep the mainlines open for military movements. Even after we crossed the Polish border, we still were hoping that they are going to take us to Hungary.

Had you heard of Auschwitz?

Uh, we heard of Auschwitz already at that point. We uh, heard of Auschwitz and we didn't want to believe that such thing exists. Auschwitz was not known uh, in geography classes. We never heard of Auschwitz, there was no such city. Uh, it was, of course, Oswiecim, which was a little village, it was an insignificant village, it wasn't even on the map. Um, when we arrived in Auschwitz, we uh, we arrived at night.

How long were you on the train altogether?

Uh, three days.

Before we talk about the arrival, do you remember anything that happened on the train, were there specifics, what was it like in there?

It was very crowded uh, families were trying to keep together, women and men and children were together in a cattle train. There was no provisions made for sanitary requirements.

What did people do who had to go to the bathroom?

We made our own pots. Pots that were taken on board, we hoped that we would be able to use them for cooking. Uh, we curtained off a corner of the train where we, which was designated for a john and women went in there in privacy and men went in there in privacy. What kind of privacy was it? Next, right next to it, there were people sitting. We emptied these uh, pots through the little window and uh, we were yelled at by the sentry, by the guards who were accompanying the, the train uh, for doing that. Uh, we were given no food, of course, but we had food from what we took with us. Uh, no water, we had a little water whatever, as long as it lasted that we took on, bottles that we took on with us. Uh, I remember um, an incident--my father was, at that point already uh, quiet always, there was very little talking being done. Uh, there was a family, a father and a mother and two uh, adolescent girls who were sitting right next to us. We knew them from the city where the ghetto was. Uh, I knew the family, I went to school in that city, I went to yeshiva in that city, and uh, good-looking girls, you know, my age, and uh, I was in conversation with them. And my father sort of looked at me, I don't know what was going through his mind but I felt sort of that maybe my father doesn't like the fact that I'm, under such serious circumstances I'm pursuing idle conversation with girls. These are the kind of thoughts that--the conflict was within me, face up, to face--how to face up to reality, not being able to face up to reality, escaping from it by uh, doing conversation with the girls. There was another lady, a spinster who I also knew from town. She was a well-traveled woman. She took along uh, her housecoat with her, that was an oriental embroidered housecoat with a dragon on the back and she asked to uh, be permitted to go to the window because she wants to enjoy the passing scenery. And uh, my father was telling my mother, "She doesn't want to face up to reality, she's interested in scenery." Remarks like that. Uh, we stopped in my grandparents' town uh, around four o'clock in the evening and my mother looked out the little window and here she recognized a young man standing on the railroad station about five tracks away. She yelled out and sent a message, "If there are any Treitels in town," the Treitel family being my mother's family, "To tell them that Bertha Treitel is, just went through with her family in the train." And the man looked, whether he heard us or not I really don't know, I have no way of telling and we moved out of that town towards the Polish border. So, there was another period of facing up to what's going to come and we denied it, we didn't want to face up to it. In any case, when we arrived in Auschwitz we saw the flames of the tall chimneys; we smelled the uh, smell of burning flesh.

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