Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Krystal - September 19, 1996

Arrival in Birkenau

So do you have any v...vivid memories? The smells, the sights, the sounds of that trip?

Well, yes there were certain uh, the, the, the wagon itself was not so terrible since it was an open wagon. But the confrontation with the dead bodies on the, in our wagon. I think that we arrived, they kept us going back and forth, sending back and forth, but when they finally got us to Birkenau I think it was evening, it was getting dark. And uh, uh, I think they, they, they, they didn't do a regular selection although they only uh, took the people who could walk and looked alright. But it wasn't a kind of a complete organized selection as I had later, uh. And uh, so arriving there one of the most shocking things were to see the old prisoners who were very cynical, some of them were cruel, beating us. We expected it from the Germans but these uh, prisoners were beyond anything that you could imagine. And they were saying the most terrible things to us and...like, "You're going, you're not going to go, come out alive here so forget it." And there was a, there was a, there were certain smells. One smell that was the, the chimneys that they were predominant smell. Another smell was that when you went into the shower or into the gas chamber, they would give you a piece of soap. It was not a soap made out of soap, but it was a soap made with a clay base instead of oil base. And that smell uh, for, for a long time bothered me so I couldn't use certain soaps. And uh, the, but the, the sight of these sadistic uh, people who were selected for this, you know, uh. And uh, they were also the ones that made us then go and undress and leave all our properties there and then shave us and put us in the, in the shower and, uh. So I'm sure that there were, that there must have been some kind of selection. And in, in this process uh, we, I think we got some prison clothes and they put us, they took us to a, a camp, a barrack that turned out to be Camp C and the Gypsy Camp. And they put us in one barrack where we just had to sit one inside of the other in, in the crotch of the other. There was no way to stand up or do anything, we were so crowded in there. And during that night we, we heard trucks coming and, and beatings and shootings and it turned out that we were in the Gypsy Camp and at that night they took away the, all the Gypsies. The next morning the camp was empty and they, they, they were getting that camp a...ready for Hungarians transports. There were transports coming in from Hungary and Slovakia and so on. Greece even.

So you heard what kinds of sounds, shooting?

Shooting, screaming, they, the gypsies were there with children and uh, screams of children and uh, just like a liquidation of a city. It was a, it was an awful, it was, the whole night was a nightmare, but beyond anything that, you know. We had been un...under strain all this time also, not, not, not resting or sleeping or anything and then we arrived there and then this was the, the particular welcome that we had. The next morning they took us out and they, they tattooed us and gave us the numbers. And again we were, as usual we were beaten, we were told that we were just numbers and called all kinds of terrible names and, and beaten by everybody that went past, whether they wore a uniform or a, or a prisoner's garb.

What's your number?

19210, A-19210. [pause] Or, actually 19270. It's funny, 19210 was my address on Coil and I used to joke about it and now I thought it was 19210, I already changed it.

That's probably a good thing. Were you with your friend at this point?

No, we got separated, at this point we got separated and we were so overwhelmed there was no time to look for somebody, you know because they put us in there, in, in the sitting, crouching position. The next day we started looking for each other, eh, but we, but we didn't make contact the next day.

Did Chaim survive? Did Chaim live?


He died at Auschwitz?

No, he, as I understand it from what I heard, he died on a death march out of a camp from which, to which he was sent from Auschwitz.

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