Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - August 14, 1995


You were assigned to a barrack?

Yes. I was assigned to that same barrack where I arrived the first night. I don't remember the number. And uh, and every morning we got up early to be counted.

What was the barrack like?

The barrack was a wooden structure. I remember, gosh, it's a long time ago. Uh, there was a fireplace in it. In the front of it was a barrack commandant sitting there. You stood in line uh, to pick up your daily ration. In the middle of the barracks there was built a maybe a three, four feet wide and, and then long going through the middle of the barrack that was covered that you could sit down, sort of a aisle-way. Just a huge barrack, cement floor. They gave us wooden planks to sleep on. We slept on the wooden planks and crowded full of people, full of people who, like the rest of us from my, from my train who, who had no idea what happened and what was happening with us and what's going to happen with us. Just, just following orders and, and, and staying in the barracks. You could walk around, a little bit around your barrack. Being counted, got our food rations and waiting. We saw the huge camp with people coming and going all the time and must have been other people who got off the train and were being you know put to barracks like us. But it was uh, weird, but, but we were like zombies already, you know. It was just, we do what we're told. Get up, be counted, get your food, sit down, stand. It was just uh, it was just following orders and, and hoping for the best from day to day. Hoping to survive. Those who, those who broke down mentally uh, they could touch the barbed wire and they were electrocuted and- and those of us who were physically and mentally strong just, just kept on from day to day and, and hoping that we'll survive another day.

Okay. This may be a good place to pause. We'll stop here.

Um, Mr. Kahan, a few minutes ago you mentioned that there were people who could have run to the barbed wire fences?


And uh, committed suicide.


Did, did you ever see that happen?

Yeah. Well, I, yes. I remember one day there was a commotion at the barbed wire fence and uh, I saw a guy being dragged away. And I was told that he touched the wire and was electrocuted.

Did that ever cross your mind?

No, it did not. It never crossed my mind. I think I, I had that stubborn feeling of, of just going on. I presume that must have been the feeling of most survivors. Tragically, our Jewish history for the last two thousand years has been uh, has been quite hard and perhaps it's a, a Jewish trait that you have to be strong and try to survive from day to day, throughout history, particularly in Europe.

Did you pray?

Yes I did, oddly enough. I, I, I remembered all the prayers by heart. I, I, after Auschwitz, after the Liberation, oh, I, I, I, I, fortunately I think uh, there was times that I was wondering if I understand the relationship between God and Auschwitz and belief. Considering that my father must have gone to the gas chamber praying to God and many other Jews did. But, but uh, the situation was so hopeless that, that you were looking and hoping for something supernatural or God to save you from this. So I remember uh, I did remem...I knew most of my prayers by heart then and I was praying all the time. Even when we used to go to the work camps, on the way, you were just praying and hoping that maybe God will save you from all this.

And you had no doubts until after Auschwitz.

Yes I did.


Uh, in Auschwitz, no, no, no, gosh. While I was there, every day I was, I was just praying for, for God to save me. Only after the Liberation I was, I wondered many times and I still do today, I must admit that, that why didn't God, God come to rescue. When you realize that almost seven million and a half of, of children, young, before uh, under fifteen, were murdered in the gas chambers in the extermination camps and at times it is difficult to understand. Very difficult.

Is, is there anything besides that, those first few hours or days that stands out more vividly about Auschwitz?

About Auschwitz? Uh, no. Uh, really just, just when we arrived. No, I, I think that really those were my, my, my lasting remarks, we arrive there, the band playing and that sign by the, by the entrance that "Arbeit Macht Frei" "work makes you free." Uh, standing in line, looking at my father and mother the last time, my little brother telling me that, "That man should say I am seventeen." I believe uh, after that, those, those, those are the most of my vivid memories. After that in the camps, when we left Auschwitz we were lucky to get out of there. The work was so hard, it was, it was a different level of survival now. Uh, in Auschwitz we didn't work. We just saw the, the Holocaust taking place.

So you stood Appell. You would have to stand for Appell...

Yeah. In Auschwitz.

each morning?

Yeah, every morning.

How long?

I, I think uh, it depended. Sometime the, the, the people got lost and I must say that uh, I once had done something which held up the Appell. I'm almost scar... uh, I'm almost scared to talk about it now. I was so hungry in Auschwitz and, and um, I decided that I will go to the next barrack. Their Appell was a half hour earlier than ours. And because after the Appell you receive the bread. And I actually risked my life if they would have caught me. I, I stood Appell in the next barrack and they were counting and counting and counting. They knew there was an extra guy and there was somebody missing in the next barrack. So it took quite a while for them to realize that we have one more here and one more there. They asked, "Is there a stranger here who doesn't belong here?" And I, I didn't dare to, to, to say anything. I got my piece of bread, I was quite relieved, I went back to my barrack and I got---it could, it could take them from f-f-f-forty-five minutes to an hour and a half or sometimes two hours, if, if, if they had some problem accounting. If someone dropped dead that day or committed suicide or there was some kind of problem, we just stood there until everything was accounted for. They had to know exactly what had happened, what transpired, before they let us, before they gave us our daily bread and we were, before we were allowed to go back to our barracks.

Did you talk to anyone, other prisoners, while you were there? Uh, did you make friends with anyone?

Uh, um, not really. Uh, there were five of us from my hometown my age, friends from home, that ended up in the same barrack. Matter of fact, we ended up in the same camp. We talked to each other. Yes, during the daytime if you saw another guy standing around, you asked him, "Where are you from? What's your name?" you know, "from what area?" But uh, it was just not real, I don't recall too much conversation going on. We were just, just wondering what's going to happen to us. That was a, that was foremost in our minds. We were beginning to realize that Auschwitz, Auschwitz is a extermination camp. And we were just hoping to get out of there as fast as possible. I can't really recall any particular conversation. Just that, just people were milling around inside the barracks. When they allowed us to go out we walked around outside and just general watching what's going on, observing the huge, the camp was so huge, as far as we could see. Thousands and thousands of people and there were always comings and goings going on. I, I don't recall what I talked about. Uh, uh, again, once we found out that our families are dead we sort of hardened. I mean, how, how long can you cry? I cried for a couple days. And my tears ran out. The first two days I couldn't eat. They, they called a der Gemüse, that, that mixture of food that they gave us. It was so terrible tasting. I shouldn't say the f...well the first day, I think one day at least I didn't eat it, I couldn't eat it. I was, I just ate the bread. Then I got used to it. You get used to anything. I mean, you know human nature. I mean, we, we just realized then that we are an extermination camp and our hope is to get out of here and that was our preoccupation.

Were you in Birkenau or were you in Auschwitz I?

Birkenau. That's where, where the trains arrived.

And you never left Birkenau.

Yeah. There were, yeah, yeah. Birkenau was a place where the, at least I believe so, where it's--Arbeit Macht...where the trains arrived. Never left that, no. Never left Birkenau. I believe that in Auschwitz itself they had more people who worked in the, in the Auschwitz area. Birkenau was a, where they kept you a week or two or three or four, whatever your line came at Birkenau is where their crematorium was, where the trains arrived and I never left that area. I saw, I remember the gypsy camp was not far from us. I saw some gypsies.

Do you remember when they liquidated the gypsy camp? Were you there?

Vaguely. Well, I can't tell you for sure now. It's been too long, whether I heard about it in, in uh, in Mühldorf or whether it was in Auschwitz, but if the, I, I think that I do remember if it was liquidated in, in June. I was there from I think our Yahrzeit for the, for the--our time in Auschwitz is at Shavuot, I think it's about the seventh or the eighth of June. And I was in Auschwitz from the seventh or eighth of June 'til about the seventh or eighth of July, approximately four weeks. And, and I, I do remember now that, that there, there was rumors that the gypsies are being exterminated. And if it happened in those days, that month, then it was. But I, I don't know. Now I don't remember anymore whether I was there or not. I remember hearing about it, but it must have been in Auschwitz.

You were there for four weeks?

Four weeks.

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