Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alexander Ehrmann - May 13, 1983

First Impressions of Auschwitz

Were these your first impressions, the doors opened and what?

Uh, at that point, the doors were not opened yet. People told us, "Well we're here, this is it, there are the chimneys, there are the flames. Are those, the--is that a flame of gas burned? We heard about gas chambers, why would the flames be burning, why would they burn gas?" Uh, people said, "Well, that's flames of fat, human fat, they are burning uh, people who were brought in before us." Stories were weaving and we were guessing and my personal reaction was, it's not true, these are exaggerations. The doors opened and uh, we heard dogs barking, strange uh, words were thrown at us, we finally recognized them as German. We saw people in strange prisoner uniforms, striped uniforms, we didn't know what it was. We asked them, "Are you Jewish?" "Of course I'm Jewish." We asked them about the uniform they are wearing. They says, "You are going to wear the same uniform." Uh, they're Polish inmates who were there who were doing the Kommando of uh, processing the new arrivals. Uh, the uh, German sentry with the dogs were yelling at us uh, to get into formation and start walking up to the head of the train. Well, we got off the train, we were uh, yelled off the train, and we started walking. Uh, we were, my two parents, my older sister, with a uh, with a two and a half year old son on her arms uh, my other two sisters and my younger brother were with me and we lined up, my parents in the front, my older sister, my next oldest sister, according to age. I recall one incident, my mother asked my sister to let her carry the little boy. Whether she knew uh, that that's a chance for my sister to save herself or not, I don't know. But, my sister's answer was, "No, mother, he is my son, he is my responsibility, I'm going to take care of him." And she held onto him. We were marching, Dr. Mengele was there standing at the head of the line and motioning people left in line with his hand, with the gloves on his hand. My father was uh, motioned to his left. Uh, my mother was motioned to the, to his right and my oldest sister with the baby was motioned to his right. My two sisters followed after my father and just before he was to tell me which way to go, he called back my father and uh, asked him, "What are you doing, what's your profession?" My father told him, "Farmer." He says, "Show me your hands." And of course, he showed him his hands, so he told him in German, "You're a damn liar, go to the other side." We didn't know, of course, at that point what it meant, we were hoping that he is being sent to uh, maybe a camp for elderly peo...for older people and uh, he's going to be treated according to his age. Uh, we were told to go to his left and there were again sentries with dogs telling us, yelling at us uh, to keep moving and go into that direction. It was getting daylight at that time already. We kept on looking back, hoping that my father will follow us and who is coming after us. We saw, it wasn't hard to realize for us, it was all younger people who came after us, men and women, and we were uh, ordered to walk down an alley between barbed wire uh, fences into the direction of the, the area where the delousing and bathing was afterwards. On the way down we saw big piles of uh, uh, pine tree branches and suitcases burning. We thought it was, you know, trash being burned. It wasn't until we walked up closer that we saw tall eight, nine, ten feet tall piles moving and we heard babies crying, they were burning live babies in those uh, piles of uh, these branches and suitcases and clothes and whatever. We were made to walk on by the dogs. We found ourselves in an area where there were barracks and we were ordered to shed our clothes, inmates uh, shaved our uh, heads and underarms and um, private area. We were segregated, men from women, at that point. We were told uh, you have to enter a bath area and take a shower. By then we were sort of wondering, are we going to get showers or gas and it was sort of cutting in and out on us, this is real, unreal, well it was real baths, real showers, so maybe there is no gas. At the other end of the uh, bath barracks we were given prisoner clothes, shoes, and we were told to march on into the same direction. It was production line set up systematically one barrack after the other, baths, clothes uh, issuing of clothes and shoes and then we came...

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