Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alexander Ehrmann - May 13, 1983

Religious Life in the Camps

As uh, someone who was raised in such a religious family um, from a religious perspective, what was going through your head? Were there any, ever any services that you saw conducted, say in the barracks in Auschwitz or in Warsaw?

Yes uh, we, we had as a matter of fact, a, a famous Klausenburger rabbi was with us. He uh, had regular services every morning and every evening in his barrack.

This is in Warsaw?

In Warsaw. Um, we uh, were invited to partake in services. Uh, I never went to services, partially because it meant for me to get up earlier, partially I don't really know why, I, I didn't, but there were regular services there. There was tefillin available--we found tefillin and we found prayer books and we found talaysim.

Was there any cynicism among the prisoners at that point?

Some. Uh, some of the prisoners were laughing at us, they were making uh, fun of us. They told us, "It's not going to save you anyways, it's not going to do any good for you, you're crazy." Uh, others kept their distance and they just looked on silently. Others, of course uh, took part in the services because they believed. For myself, I found myself uh, more time than not say...saying part of the prayers at least in the morning and in the evening. Um...

How was it that no one found out about the services taking place, that none of the guards or the Kapos...

Uh, once we went through the gates coming back from work, there was no guards inside. Only guards were in the towers, in the watchtowers. We were guarded and we were supervised by prisoners, Kapos and people who were put in charge, so called Blockältester who were the elders of the block of the, of the barrack. The Lagerältester who was the top administrator, the top prisoners. When he found out about the Klausenburger Rebbe, he came into camp--he lived outside of camp, proper but within the ghetto, he had his quarters--he came in and uh, he went for a personal inspection. He met the rabbi, he talked to him and his reaction surprisingly was that he provided extra food, extra rations of bread, of uh, jam uh, to the Klausenburger Rebbe, so he can sustain himself and he allowed the services as long as everybody reported to work. He exempted him from work for...

This is a German prisoner?

That was a German prisoner. We were told that he was a former judge, who was imprisoned for some political reasons. Uh...

Let me ask you a question about your own participation in that. Do you think that you were losing faith at this point or did you ever?

I was at least questioning. I uh, did not lose faith. Uh, I kept on coming back and convincing myself that, yes uh, God is part of it, he--this is a conscious happening of uh, his will and for whatever reason he may have for it I wasn't questioning it. I was, of course, reared that way; I was brought up to believe in that manner. Uh, of course, I questioned why. I had no answers and I was uh, that's where I stopped. Whether it was an automatic uh, protective reaction for me to stop there or, or was it really the uh, outcome of my uh, education and rearing, I don't know. It was probably a combination of both, but I put myself through the whole Holocaust period in that state. It wasn't until after I came home where I alienated myself from the religious practices. I never disassociated myself from God as such. But I uh, stopped praying, I stopped uh, I ate non-kosher food, I ate pork um, for several years after liberation, after I came home. Uh, I came back to religion around 1957. I moved to New York and uh, I moved into a religious environment and it was all familiar grounds for me. Ultimately I started practicing again and I came back to uh, eating only kosher food and uh, praying every day. Uh, but there was a period when I questioned at least the sense of the religious practices.

I think we can stop here now.

[interruption in interview]

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