Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Krystal - September 19, 1996

Transport to Birkenau

Um, what were the circumstances of your finally being shipped out of Starachowice?

Well uh, we, we kind of had an idea that it was coming. We also had an, an idea on occasion we would get uh, at the plant a newspaper or something like that. We knew that the Soviets were advancing and uh, uh, that the Germans were ahead of it, ahead of the progress of the Soviets. And uh, uh, they, they just loaded us into train, a transport train, but in this train there were covered wagons and there were open wagons. And Chaim and I happened to get on a uh, in an open wagon uh, which made the survival, chances of survival of the journey somewhat better.

When, this was 1944.

This was 1944 yes.

What, summer?

Yes, summer.


August, yeah.

So you're loaded into a boxcar, an open boxcar.


Then what?

Well, uh, we were, we were guarded very carefully. Every boxcar had a guard. And then there were general guards and uh, uh, there was, we were shipped and of course the, the, the crowding was such that there was no room to sit down or to lie down. You had to stand or if you lie down you were dead. And some people, actually the weak, weaker ones, got killed that way. Even in the open wagons.

Trampled you mean.

Trampled, yeah.

And how long was the journey?

Three days and three nights.

From Starachowice to, to Auschwitz.

That's right.

Why did it take so long?

Well, they, they were sending us back and forth. Sometimes we would be standing still.

Was there any food on the train?

They don't, I don't think they distributed any food or water. If you had it with you and if you didn't lose it and if you could use it, then you were alright. If you weren't, there was, then, that, you could just get dehydrated and that would be another reason why you couldn't stand up.

And what about uh, toilet facilities, anything like that?

Well, there, there may have been a bucket and uh, since we were stopping on occasion, sometimes they would let us empty the bucket. But I don't know how they did it in a closed wagon.

Did people use the bucket?

If they could get to it. There was a, probably you couldn't just say, "Excuse me, I got to get to it," you know.

And if they couldn't get to it?

Well, then they did what they needed to do and that was part of the, the, the, the, the confrontation with one's excrements uh, was a, was another assault like the lice. You know, it was, I remember once in Auschwitz I was looking at my hands and they were dirty. They were, dirt was ingrained. And that was a, a blow to my, to myself. Look what's happening to me. I'm becoming part of the dirt. I'm, I'm not myself. All of these were part of the assault. And they were uh, in, in many of them were calculated that way. Certainly the assault on, on, on the people's autonomy and they emphasized this in Auschwitz and they gave us the numbers, you know. They'd say, "Now you're just a number, that's your name, that's it." They, they were destroying everyone's uh, inner resources and self-recognition as a person and the capacity of caring and, for oneself and taking initiative. And one of the most punishable crimes was helping another prisoner.

Uh, what do you remember, given the dehumanizing, degrading circumstances in the train? What was it like, I mean it couldn't have been quiet. Was, was there...

No. Although it was quiet...quieter than you would expect because the people were beyond being depressed, they were numbed already. Uh, this was obviously not going to be an improvement. We were expecting the worst. We, we already knew about Treblinka. We knew what happened to our families and we didn't know what was going to happen to us.

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