Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - August 14, 1995

Arrival in Auschwitz

When the doors opened at Auschwitz...


Do you, do you recall what you felt at that...

Yes, I do. I, I don't think it's...of course, it's, was so long ago, so my memory gets a little bit weak. But I remember we arrived and it was almost a relief in a way that we could breathe again. And, and they told us before we left that, "You will be arriving at a labor camp and you'll all be staying together and you'll have food and everything will be okay." Of course the Germans were brilliant in their propaganda and of course it didn't take maybe an awful lot to, to, to lead us, because we were weak and tired and helpless. But we thought that maybe this will be much better than, than the ghetto was, or, or after that horrible trip, anything is better. Yeah, I remember the doors being slammed opened. The, the orders from the Germans uh, Jewish prisoners running around in their striped clothes, the SS with their dogs. I remember when I got off uh, I could recognize the Germans by their uniform. There were some Hungarian and Romanian and, and Croatian SS, the different minor...they had, they had SS from all the volunteers from all over Europe. And uh, they all told us, "Get out. Auschwitz. Put your suitcases down, stand in line," and, and uh, then there problem, there were, I, I could see there were some dead people in, in some of the cars that they, they were bringing some people to get 'em out. I could see that in some of the cars they, they brought out some dead people. They all told us to stand in line and uh, we did of course as we were told.

Did your family, did you all jump down from the train? Did you help?

Yea...yeah, I think uh, there was some kind of a, a platform-like thing that you could walk down. I think we walked down on, on some--like boards. We walked down from the train. And we stayed together and, and uh, it was an upheaval, like people screaming, crying, the dogs, the Germans, the SS. At a distance I could see the chimneys. But, like I said, we had no idea what it was. It was almost a relief to get out of the cattle car. Uh, as we were standing in line, my little brother had walked away for a minute or two. He comes back to me and my dad, I was standing, we were standing next to each other and he says to me in Yiddish that, he pointed to that man, it was a Polish prisoner who was there for a long time. He said, "He told me that I should say that I am seventeen years old." I mean my father and I didn't have the faintest idea of what that meant. And, we just dropped it. He, he, he hold my hand and, and I have my father's hand and, and uh, I think that the women were going separately and the men were going separately and uh, we just got into a line and, and I don't recall exactly if it was Mengele. I think it was. And they were just pointing left and right, left and right. And my father and my brother and my sister and my mother, they went to one side and I was the only one who was told to go to the other side. Well, from our train of approximately 6,000 people, I'd say between five and six hundred were chosen to be alive. The others were marched away. I never saw them again. [long pause]

Any words of farewell?

No. Basically uh, after we were given shower--they told us, as we arrived to Auschwitz, "Everybody"--I was saying earlier, the Germans were really smart on the propaganda, "All the families will stay together." The loud, loudspeakers were saying it. "Everything will be fine. Just listen to orders. S...stay in line. No panic. You'll all take showers. You will get food, you will be together. And you will work and everything will be okay." So we all, we all thought that. Uh, we-we uh, all our clothes was taken away. We kept our shoes. We were taken into uh, a place where they uh, disinfected us with powder, they cut our hair uh, we took a shower and we were wa...when we walked out from the shower they handed us the striped clothing and we got our shoe, shoes back and they led us to a barrack, where I vividly remember that it was a, a German uh, Austrian Jewish prisoner who was in charge of that barrack, who held a speech to us that this is our last chance. "If anybody hid any valuables--gold rings, diamonds, if you put it in your body someplace, if you hid it, if you get caught the sentence will be death. This is your last chance to give it up." If you did. So we were into this huge wooden barrack, where, where uh, we were packed in again like sardines, so it was standing room alone. And after that speech uh, about people giving up if they had anything, we just were exhausted and we collapsed uh, and went to sleep on the floor. The next day, as we walked out of the barracks, a, a Polish Jewish prisoner approached me, he spoke to me Yiddish, "Oh, when did you arrive?" I said, "Last night." He asked me, "How old are you?" I said, "Fifteen." I says, "Well," he says, "you look pretty strong." He says, "Most of us will never get out of here alive, but maybe, who knows, maybe you will be lucky." He said that, you know, "You can say Kaddish after your parents," he said, "They already gone up in smoke." He said, "That's the chimneys over there," and he said, "You've got to be strong." You know, I, I, I heard him, but couldn't, still couldn't uh, fathom what he was saying, but slowly it sunk into me. We talked to others, that what's happening in Auschwitz. That was the first day that I found out that, that uh, our families were being gassed and murdered.

Did you believe him?

Uh, very good question. I, I don't believe that it penetrated. I think every time I, I saw people walking through the barbed wire, I was looking, "Oh, oh, that looks like my mother," or "my, my brother," you know, when I saw some other younger people walking by there. I kept looking there, there is somebody from my family. I don't believe it penetrated, no. I think it took a few days or I don't really exactly recall, maybe even longer than a few days, to finally realize what was happening, until it penetrated that, that, that uh, that those of us who didn't come with us are gone. And to, to realize that, that smoke going up there from the crematorium, that that was our families being burned, gassed and burned. I think it finally penetrated. But, you know, speaking for myself, I was numb. I, I was numb and I just, just kept going on from day to day, stood in line for that pail, got my ration, ate it and, and, not really knowing what is going on in Auschwitz. You know, realizing that there is, people are being murdered, but what's going to happen to us from day to day. We were told by the others who were there that, "Well, I hope you will be lucky enough to get into a transport and get out of here and they will take you to a labor camp someplace." So, we knew that and we were waiting for that. Because we knew that Auschwitz wasn't the place to stay too long.

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