Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Bernard & Emery Klein - May 23, 1984

Wehrmacht Supervision of Prisoners

So you were supervised by civilians. German civilians.

B: No, we were supervised, the over, we were taught by civilians workers, but we were supervised by the Wehrmacht, and that's where I had the kindest experience, and it uh, it's worth mentioning, ah. It was an elderly man, and one day, he, he was always walking around us and never, never punished us, never said, never had a harsh word to say. He was standing there and doing his duty, looking at us. But one day, he suddenly looks around and very secretly hands us a bag and uh, he told us in German that his wife is sending these to us. We opened the bag, and we had cookies. He brought us cookies, which was a real treat in those days.

E: Again, it should be mentioned that there were, unfortunately the majority was bad, but there were some good Germans in the factory where I was working the night shift, being not even 16, and certainly not being a tool maker. And I was given a soldering, soldering iron to, to fix railroad cars, which I knew nothing about. Again, through the intervention of my father who talked to my German foreman, was a civilian who in charge of that particular work, and he pleaded with him to try uh, protect his son as much as possible. And he promised him, I remember, that after, if the war will be over, that he has all kind of property at home, and he will be glad to reward him with anything. This man wants to, just to save his son. But the guy, obviously, was a, was a good person, because, if he wouldn't be, he would have reported my father by even talking to him, or trying to interfere, or he could have easily gotten rid of me, because I was really not productive to the point that I should have been, being a kid, and certainly not knowledgeable in the work which I was asked to do. There are many ifs, questions which cannot be answered. Some of the things which Bernie described, thinking about it, the only logic you could put to it is, that they did it for, for, to, to, to hide the, the, the mean, the horrible things they were doing for purposes of publication like Bernie mentioned, again for the Red Cross, and so on. Because in those days, they were trying to hide very much what they were doing, obviously, and maybe by little things uh, a little school or what have you, a hospital, which I'm sure they... B: Well, I don't...scientific research they did to, to do certain things, but for instance, every morning, we, there was a band playing while we were marching to work and a band was welcoming us coming back to camp. Of course, maybe that was in line with a sign that said "Arbeit mach das Leben zu" or "Leben frei" okay, which means work makes your...

E: Life sweet. B: ...life sweet and free. So perhaps that's the kind of philosophy they were applying.

Do you remember what you thought in light of all this? You said you, it was an hour-to-hour situation. Do you remember if you thought about that in those terms?

B: Just a very "don't give a damn" attitude probably, anymore, because we...

E: And a very, very nominal hope that... B: In fact, I recall an incident uh, that uh, that was still in Birkenau, just talking about hope. One of the fellow prisoners was with us, a religious man, from Humenné, Fried, and as soon as he got his ration, we used to separate it, because that was to last all day, so most everybody took a little bit and saved the rest for a little later, to eat later. He usually used to eat, he ate his one immediately. He says, "I'm not gonna save it, because maybe by this afternoon the Moshiach will come," and we remember, we used to laugh, you know. There is a man who believes that the Moshiach will come, that we will ever get out of there, but as we knew that this is, who knows? Totally uncertain, and uh, moment to moment, any, for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever, we can be dead. So, I guess we were just pathetic and...stopped thinking probably. I, it's hard for me to say, especially being as young as we were, and uh, after all these years, I can only assume that we just didn't think. We just went on, and uh, we survived.

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