Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Helena Manaster - December 9, 1983

Life in Forced Labor Camp

So, my cousin--my husband's cousin made papers for us to, but we didn't have the courage to leave here. We didn't have any money and we didn't have anybody to go out. So we tried to stay as long as possible to live legal, no matter the conditions. We stayed in ghetto and we stayed in camp at least being, being ourselves. I don't know. Do you want to hear something about the, the life in camp, which wasn't different than the life in ghetto. Even maybe more so because we were in prison. We had the permission to go out sometimes to the city, but otherwise the workers didn't have that, they just went to work from work and that's it--lived in those barren barracks. We were more privileged, we didn't have to share the barracks. They allowed us to have our bed, our cot uh, in a small room, which was a clinic where we saw the patients.

I see.

But, it's unbelievable how people were dying. We'd see robust--I mean they looked robust--men and the next day you look around, they're dead. There was no resistance in their bodies, they were so exhausted from hard work and with very, very poor food. It was just one uh, slice of bread, if you can call it bread. And ??? soup, which was water, cooked on rotten cabbage. Until now, I cannot stand the smell of cooked, cooked cabbage. It always brings back the memories of that camp. And in that camp, they also made uh, it was the same as the Aktions in ghetto, but they call it selections.


The sick and the weak, they selected and they killed on the spot, took them outside. I remember once, such a horrible thing, one young boy--he was one of the selected ones and somehow he broke away from the group, went into the cemetery and broke into the clinic and start shouting, "Doctor, save me, doctor, save me!" It was--I don't know how to save you, with nowhere to hide him. The whole uh, uh room was probably three by five, a very tiny place. And there was Ukrainian police after them and they took him away. It is one of those things that haunts me all my life.

Watching him be taken away?

Watching him. You know that they were killed for that. So, finally after four months they finished the task--building that tunnel--pipeline. So what to do with the Jews when they finished? We don't resettle them, we just kill them. So they locked us up again. One day, it was February '43 already, they locked us up and they took away all the documents and whatever anybody had valuables. And uh, we were suppose to wait and in the morning the Gestapo was suppose to come to kill us. As you entered the clinic there were metal bars in the window and it was one of the rooms were a small building and the next room with the German Lagerführer and then a huge room before us was the Ukrainian police and was four policemen watching us. They locked us up and they were watching. One time we opened the door, we couldn't escape. It was metal bars in the window--there was no way to escape, but nevertheless, they still opened the door, but maybe they were afraid that we would to commit suicide before they will kill us. Nobody knows why. And ??? all night. And in the morning, it was a very that--what you call a miracle what happened. Uh, one of the policemen was uh, off-duty and another was tired and somebody else went to have breakfast. One was left and this one was also tired of watching us all night. He opened the door and checked on us, closed it, locked it, took out the key and left. And at that moment, my husband, said--he was so alert and he said, "If, if you want, we can try to escape," because we had another key to the door. When we came to that camp, one of the former owners of workers of that factory gave us another key. He said, "Keep it. You never know it may be something handy." And it came in handy!


I think I told you once, I said if I ever write a book, I would call this chapter, "Escape Through the Keyhole."

Escape through the key...

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