Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Krystal - September 19, 1996

Labor in Birkenau

What were the conditions that they had?

Well, at first I was sent to work on the, on the road shoveling and, stones and constantly guarded and beaten if you didn't take a full shovel and do, keep it constantly and so on. And eventually, it may be because I had uh, uh, given my occupation as a mechanic, I went to another commando which was, was called D-I-D-A-W. What, what we did there is that we were taking apart uh, shot down airplanes and we were salvaging good uh, instruments that were in it. And that was a, a better uh, commando and I was uh, less exposed to the danger of being killed at work and uh and I, I, I worked there, uh. Still we had a Kapo and we had guards and, and uh, but once we got there we would just go to work and they would let us alone doing the work. And I was there until I realized that I had a scabies infection, ah, which is a mite that generally is very easy to, to uh, eliminate, but in Auschwitz there was nothing uh, to, to treat for it. And, so I decided to take a chance and to report on uh, sick call. And they sent me to the sick bay, actually there was a hospital, which was generally just a collecting point of people who were getting ready to be sent to the gas chamber. But I was lucky. Uh, there was a doctor there that was from my hometown and who knew my brother who also uh, with, studied medicine and was. Anyway he, I don't know how he did it or what he did, but anyway in a few days he was able to clear it up and I was discharged before they took the people to the gas chamber.

This was a Jewish doctor prisoner?

A Jewish doctor prisoner, yes.

So you got out in time.

Yes. And so on the day that I was returned to Birkenau Camp C uh, they had called out all the Schlossers, that is the mechanics, tool and die makers and others. And uh, I think there were 2,000 of them altogether. And we all went, filed past uh, a barrack where one of those Meisters, one of the German uh, uh, foreman uh, was examining us uh, and he, he picked me out and it turned out that he picked out sixteen Slovak uh, tool and die makers and engineers and me. And sent us to camp Bobrek which was uh, operated by the Siemens Company, Siemens Schuckert and there were somewhere, somewhere in the vicinity of 200, maybe 200, between 200 and 220 prisoners there uh, who had been assembled from all over Europe. But a significant number of them were from Sosnowiec, from my home town, who knew me or knew my uh, older brother. And when I arrived there they assigned me to uh, work at the bench which is very specialized precision work with a file, you have to file things at an exact precise angle to one thousandths of a millimeter. And uh, of course I couldn't do it and they, in the beginning they, they took me under their uh, wing, they uh, started helping me. Then they needed to do a, needed to be done a job on the outside, so they took me out and then put me to work outside in uh, doing some repair. This building in which this camp was or the factory was uh, operating had been an old abandoned factory that the prisoners themselves restored. And during that time they went through some hard times and they had some epidemic and they had some selections there. But by the time I arrived there uh, things were relatively better than in, in Birkenau and, uh. After working uh, at the uh, on the transport there, then I developed pneumonia and I was hospitalized there. And there were two doctors in...they had four beds and they treated me there. There were two other fellows who also had pneumonia but it turned out that they had tuberculosis, so they were sent to Birkenau to the gas chamber. But I recovered within a week or so and then I was brought back to the factory to start all over to learn what, what they were going to do with me, what I could do, uh. I was in great danger because I really couldn't do what they wanted me to do.

So you, you were among the youngest, you must have been.

Uh, curiously they had a small group uh, of uh, teenagers who had been in training to be tool and die makers and they accepted them. And they were already much better than I was, but they still called them juveniles. And so they were like apprentices and they, they tolerated a few of them.

But you said that they took you under their wing, as if...


...a kind of, almost like a mascot for them.

Yes, well, they did uh, showing me how to file, trying to, try teach me how to do it, covering up for me, making a piece and giving it to me as if I had made it. You know, they, they, they were helping me.

Did they too save your life? They saved your life too?

They, they did, yes. And, as did Chaim, many times over. I really uh, was helped a, a great deal by various people.

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