Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - August 14, 1995


So w...what were your duties now? You came to the barracks, you...

Came to the barracks. They assigned everybody uh, to uh, two people to a bunk.

Only two.

Two people to, yeah, only two to, in our barracks. And um, they told us that, "This is your place where you are going to stay from now on. Always. You have to behave, you have to follow orders. And you will go to work every day and you will get your food and everything will be alright." They always had the machine in order to keep the people calm and, and not to do anything, no revolts or anything like that. Of course I don't know how we could have done anything anyhow. You know, we were in Germany, helpless people. And they told us and some of them I think next day [pause] I'm trying to remember exactly. I think around six o'clock, about six o'clock or five-thirty in the morning Appell, being counted. Then we got uh, a herb coffee. It was made from chicory, roasted wheat I think, got that. We stood in line and, and uh, then after being counted and after had our coffee I think it must have been around seven or about seven, seven to seven-thirty, we were marched out to our place called the Hauptbaustelle. That was a few miles from our camp, where they started to build an underground airplane factory. I mean, Germany was being bombed day and night and their industry was being destroyed. So we were the first concentration camp inmates who were brought here to build this underground factory.

And what did you do every day?

Okay. Our first job was, I remember vividly. It was all woods. They have given us handsaws and uh, pretty large handsaws. It was, one, one, one of my comrades were one side and the other and we started to saw the trees. We sawed the huge trees off. Everybody had a job. Either I was doing the sawing, other, other of my comrades had hatchets and they were cleaning up the limbs from the trees. So pretty soon the tree was nothing but a huge, bare, long stump? That's? Yeah, no. The, the tree itself. We cleaned up the tree, then after we had a whole bunch of 'em, depending how long the tree was it took about maybe twenty or twenty-two of us, one on each side. We had like baseball bats, pieces of wood on each side, we lifted the trees like that. And we, they, they had a designated place where we put it, where the German industry, they were coming next day and, and take it away you know to, trees they used it in their industry. So we were cutting the trees down and, and making it uh, ready for them to put it in their trucks. We load it in their trucks and, and they took it away. After the area was cleared, we started to dig ditches by hand. They had some heavy equipment there too, but there was quite a few of there, so I remember we were starting to dig, dig ditches by hand, started to go down deep...

You mean literally by hand?

No, no, I mean...

With a shovel?

The shovels, yeah, yeah, I'm sorry. Shovel, yeah. Shovels and picks. We did that. So slowly, slowly uh, as time goes on, progress was made every day and, and uh, we, we dug this huge underground bunker. It was, it was supposed to be strong enough that no, no bombs that was known in those days could penetrate it. I, if I remember correctly the concrete must have been at least two feet thick, or maybe, maybe thicker.


Concrete, yeah. The top. The top was, once, once, once uh, the, the designated area was engineered, then it was, we went down a certain depth un...underground and after that the whole thing was surrounded by a huge cover of a circular type concrete structure.

Like a bridge?

Pardon me?

Like a bridge?

Like a bridge. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It was all covered up and as a matter of fact one of the things which I recall vividly, the hardest work was to walk up with those 100-pound cement bags about, there were approximately thirty steps where the cement mixer was mixing water with the powder. And to carry those bags on your shoulder was just, it was devastating. We, we didn't get enough food uh, and, and, and uh, that's, that's when I saw most of the people collapsing, from, from carrying those cement bags up to the mixer.

What would happen when they collapsed?

What would happen? They just took you away. They, they, they brought some uh, some other people who just picked 'em up and dragged 'em away and if, if, if uh, it was a temporary collapse that uh, they could recuperate uh, they came back to work. If they were too weak, they were taken back to the Mühldorf camp and uh, they had sort of a, a hospital-like place where they kept 'em. Uh, as far as I know they didn't murder anybody. I mean people died from hard labor, but there, there was no gas chamber in Mühldorf, no extermination. So they used to keep 'em in those uh, who were weak, Musulmanns they used to call 'em, skin and bones who couldn't work any longer. They kept 'em there and then they loaded 'em in uh, cattle cars and I think they took 'em to Dachau. It wasn't, Dachau wasn't very far from us. That's where they were actually gassed, in Dachau, going to the crematorium. So that was, when you were too weak you were just, they had no use for you of course. They only had use for you if you could work. And uh, and you had to be, you had to be very enterprising.

Were you a part of the Cement Commando?

Pardon me?

Were you a part of the Cement Commando?

Yes, I was a part of the cement crew. Yes, I was there I think for about, for about maybe two or three weeks, I was part of the cement crew. And again, because of my youth. There weren't very many people at my age who were picked to be alive. It was just a lucky deal, that I would say that was a miracle, you know, that they didn't--I wasn't tall and you know, many, many boys at my age were sent to the gas chamber. There was a small minority of fifteen-year-olds. I believe that I am one of the youngest survivors in this town. There's a few maybe who are younger than I am, but fifteen was a, was a lucky number. Most of 'em were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, more developed, stronger people. So I, I realized uh, that this is--there's a place that you can survive. I worked there for two or three weeks and, and uh, you had to be brave and practically took your life in your hands. Because if they caught you willfully, you know, not working, you know, they probably beat, beat, beat you uh, half to death or they reported you to the SS and took you back to the camp and that was it. You know, you, you, you were done. So you had to be careful. I just used to, they allowed you to go to the bathroom. And, you know, the guys eventually recognized you, but I always tried not to be seen. I didn't, I didn't--I always stayed away from the Germans and those were the guys from the Organiz...Organization Todt, the people in charge of the work battalions. I, I didn't want anybody to know me. So they didn't know me. I used to, I used to get tired, just go to the latrine again. I mean, I just went as often as I could to rest up. After about three weeks I realized that if I continue this, I'll never make it. I simply, one morning after Appell...after Appell every morning, everybody had to go to their desi...designated work battalion. And uh, uh, just one morning I just raced to another battalion where the work was, [pause] was lighter. So for a day or two I got away with that, I had easier work. Or, or in, or in Auschwitz itself, I walked away, when I went to the latrine, I walked away from the cement detail and, and a hundred-yard--I picked up a piece of lumber. You know, people were carrying everything. You know, it was like, like Babel, you know, thousands of people walking around, carrying out all kinds of instructions from the Germans and doing all kinds of work, so I pick up something like that and I just, just walked away three, four hundred feet, to a group that were working with lumber and nailing and doing something that was easier than, than carry the cement bags. So, I got away with that. They caught you, they brought you back for a day or two, but I constantly, I constantly run away from the cement detail and, and I always found something to do. And I was lucky that I got away with it. I mean, I, I, I had the will, the guts and, and a lot because if, if, if they caught you once or twice doing that, you were done.

Were you beaten ever?

Uh, I was beaten at the labor camp there. I think that uh, while we were digging the ditches in the beginning, there was a rather mean uh, German--we weren't going fast enough, he had a whip and he hit me once or twice, but at the Hauptbaustelle in general I don't recall being beaten, no, no. I, I was not beaten and I didn't see too many people beaten there. Those Germans in charge of the Hauptbaustelle was the Organization Todt. Really their, their aim and job was to build that and, and there was no sense in, on, on the--starved and beaten people can't work. So those people I would say were not like the SS. The SS were guarding us. Once they handed us over to the Organization Todt, they were uh, more humane.

What happened to people who um, who continued on the Cement Commando?

Oh, I, I, I never even wanted to go close to it again, but unfortunately there was no way that anyone could last for, for longer than a few weeks there. It was just impossible, with our meager rations, to, to walk up with a huge bag on your back, you know, from, from, from eight in the morning 'til-'til-'til five or five-thirty at night. I think most of them died. They got progressively weaker and, and then in the camp periodically they check you to see how you looked and the older people. You know, they picked some people who were forty, forty-two, who were still strong and, and though they were the first to go I think. Uh, one of these checks and--the German doctors used to check us up in the camp, so they could see already that these guys have, have had it. They were called Musulmanns, they took 'em away to the hospital and they were shipped away, you know. So, so I didn't, I didn't even go back to there. There, like I said, people who collapsed were, were taken back to the camp. But so, I didn't watch people dying there. I, I never even wanted to come close the--that was the worst, the hardest work that I've seen or I've done in Mühldorf was carrying the cement bags and I stayed away as far as I could from-from the cement uh, bags. And then another saving feature to me was that after spending from July 'til about October in, in Mühldorf uh, after Appell one day uh, we stood in line and again, the normal way that, the way they operated, you stand in line and a German SS man comes by, starts counting, counts 600 people, "You guys stay here." Of course we stayed there. After the morning Appell. And uh, after everybody else went to work, we had no idea what's going to happen. They took us out to a gate, there were trucks waiting to us, they said, "You guys are going to Mittergars." A German Air Force officer, who uh, I don't know whether he was in this business or he just started this business. He built a factory of pre-fab...pre-fabricated concrete panels to build houses. These panels were maybe uh, a foot and a half wide and maybe four or five feet long and maybe three feet thick uh, and we were uh, pouring that. They had ovens. They were, they were, they were hardened and heated and, and uh, so they took us from Mühldorf in about Octo...I, I don't remember the exact month, but it was beginning to get chilly. I think it was October. So at least I got away from the Hauptbaustelle. That was murder. I, I only spent there uh, July, August, September, maybe three, three and a half months. So, I really don't know how many more people died in the Hauptbaustelle. In the beginning we could stand it, you know. As, as, longer we were there, weaker everybody get, got and more people died. So I, I considered it sort of lucky that they took us to the smaller camp, 600 people. And it was still hard, but it wasn't as hard as, as Mühldorf was.

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