Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alexander Karp - June 22, 1983

Life in Birkenau

Had you heard anything about Birkenau up to that time?

Not much, no. We heard of Auschwitz, but not really of Birkenau. As we later found out Auschwitz wasn't too far from Birkenau. And Auschwitz became the Arbeitslager, as they called it--labor camp. And Birkenau was the Vernichtungslager--the elimination camp. This is why people who have went to Auschwitz, they were tattooed. Anyone in Birkenau stayed, they never tattooed. That was the elimination camp and also that this dis...dispersion camp. They did disperse some of the people from there, like myself, who also had been dispersed from there after about two months being in Birkenau.

What was the barrack like where you stayed for two months?

It wasn't by any means comfortable. Um, it was the usual barrack where you had double or triple beds and you were sleeping side by side. It's congested. There, people, after several weeks, started to get run down, sickness started to break out. Work wasn't much done other than on the streets. You were laying bricks or stones or--nothing constructive. I did work on the streets--on the barrack--the camp streets as they call it--we were laying down those--the bricks. But most of the people were just hanging around and doing nothing. Food was three times a day--very limited. In the morning: coffee, maybe a slice of bread-- something like that. Lunch time there may have been one plate full of uh, soup. And in the evening you received another slice of bread, maybe with one ounces of marmalade with some coffee, and maybe another plate of your sou...soup. Noth...nothing uh, nothing fancy.

How were you treated?

Uh, if you didn't watch yourself there you got already in trouble 'cause there were a lot of physical atrocities. If you didn't do something to their liking or if you happen to be in the way of someone--now, there was by no means civil rights evident over there.

Did you yourself experience any beatings?

Um, yes. I must say that, that one was already away from Birkenau. Once we--at the time when we left Birkenau--the reason why we left: they were recruiting people for various, different work. They were choosing if somebody was a tradesman of any kind. So my uncle and myself--what we really have never been--we just put ourselves to be uh, metal, uh...

[interruption in interview]

??? gave ourselves sheet metal worker, and we have been lucky that we were put into a group of 500 people, mostly young ones. And I know it was after the invasion took place, because we heard it, in Birkenau yet, that the Allies have set foot in Europe. We didn't know exactly what--news came in once in a while. So shortly after that we were taken to France. Didn't know exactly the place--where in France it was. We were in the, in the wilderness and we built our own camp.

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