Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - April 29, 1982

Conditions in Birkenau

Do you remember what, what the psychological state was in the barracks that you were in or your own?

Yes. As far as I can remember, already it was a slow pattern of de...dehumanization and turn us, turn us into, into uh, I, I don't know what word to use--into uh, uh, different human beings. Already in the ghetto we would change from our normal life to a congested, unusual life. And the trains coming to Auschwitz, we were already dehumanized and half-starved. In Auschwitz we found out that our families were being murdered. Uh, I just uh, I don't really recall. I just, I just, we, we knew already that uh, what tragedy has befallen us. Some of the people who couldn't handle it ran over and touched the barbed wires and they electrocuted themselves.

What did you think about that? Did that ever occur to you?

I, I, I, I didn't. I, I thought it was wrong. I thought that uh, we had that strong belief uh, Jewish eternal belief that, "Maybe tomorrow it will be over." I don't know how and why. I, I just, if I think about it now, how could I possibly think--we were in Auschwitz surrounded by the barbed wire fence and the Germans and our, our family being gassed--that tomorrow it will be over. But I remember um, I prayed every day and, and, and um, we thought that some miracle would happen, that, that we'll get out of this alive. And I thought it was wrong to kill yourself. I didn't think it would solve anything. I, I felt that some of us have to live to tell this story somehow, the barbarity that the Germans have brought upon the Jewish people. It's unbelievable, the massacres and killings that they have done.

Did you talk to each other in the barracks?

Yeah, we, we talked. We realized uh, we just realized that what was happening. But we still had some hope the first week or so that maybe some of our mothers, our parents were kept in labor battalions and maybe still that maybe all of them weren't killed. Even so, we didn't have much hope. Uh, we, we talked to each other and, and we consoled each other as much as possible. And I believe that we, we sort of uh, accepted that we had no choice. We, there is nothing that we can do here to change our fate, beside pray for some kind of a miracle that this will be over tomorrow or whatever happens tomorrow will be, will be good.

Did you ever hear any talk of uh, resistance or escape?

No, I have not. I don't, in the four weeks that I was there, I heard no such talk.

What about some sort of cultural life that went on there?

Uh, there was nothing in Auschwitz at all that I recall. There was no cultural life. It's simply um, kept in the barracks, being counted, being fed whatever food they gave us uh, and, and, and uh, then waiting. One of the most horrible things that keeps to my mind right now in Auschwitz was the sleeping accommodations. We were practically packed in, a person sat down and he had to spread his legs and a other person sat right on top of him. We were so crowded. At night it was very hard to sleep. And then people were actually turning into in a way like animals. Uh, people were kicking each other and, and it was just impossible, you know, they needed some rest. And, and uh, the crampness of the quarter was, was, was, was so terrible, I remember that after a few days of, of not being able to sleep, the barrack had sort of a dividing line between each of the sides. So I, I went and tried to sleep in the last line. There was maybe a few feet of difference between the two, one side, east-side and west-side I'd say. So if I was the last person here, then there was no people for a few feet. So if I went there I could stretch out a little bit and I wasn't so cramped, you know, to, to uh, we really had to devise like, like some pattern of survival, try to figure out how can I, how can I get some sleep a few hours and will it be better to sleep over here and there. Uh, the sleeping conditions were terrible and we were so crowded together. Uh, it was one of the worst things. And we slept um, on the concrete floor. I think some of us sometimes there were boards that you could get, but I think there was a shortage of them, so you had to run for 'em to get those boards.

You slept right on the floor?

On the floor, yeah and a few nights I remember I slept on boards, but you had to sort of charge for the boards in time to get 'em. Otherwise they were gone by the time you get there. Unless you ask me specific questions about Auschwitz, nothing really much happened. I remember once I visited a gypsy camp. I walked away. And uh, the gas chambers were going day and night and we knew what was going on, but you, your sort of, your in limbo not knowing what's going to happen another day.

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