Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

John Mandel - May 26, 1981

Conditions in Birkenau

[pause] Do you know what your thoughts were when the selection was going on?

Uh, what do you mean by selection?

To go to the right or to go to the left.

Uh, nothing particular, we just uh, thought that--I had no idea what they were doing.

[pause] Can you describe your daily rout...can you describe your daily routine in the uh, concentration camp?

Well, I'll start from beginning and I'll try to go through the whole routine.

Which camp were you at, by the way?

Uh, we arrived at Birkenau.


And uh, after we were separated, my father and my brother and I uh, were taken with the rest of the people to this uh, to these barracks for assignment. And they had these flat bunks. They were about--stacked about four, I think it was four, one on top of the other. And uh, the way we slept there was uh, one, you would have a head facing out, and then the next guy's head would be in and then the next guy's head would be out. In other words you would be foot to head. We were, we were stacked like you would stack perhaps wood. And that's how we slept. Uh, and this didn't last very long. We were there for approximately um, five, six, seven days, something like that. I, I--strange that I don't remember the exact number of days. Um, we were given, each one of us were given a kind of a dish uh, and, and a spoon. Of course, all of our clothes were taken away from us and uh, and they gave us our prison uniforms. And, and they would give us a soup once a day, which was basically made up at that time of dried vegetables. And I remember how horrible it tasted. I was still at that time, I was still uh, um, not used to eating that kind of thing. So, I mean, I was, I was always used to eating wholesome food and at first I couldn't eat it. And uh, as I was walking through the camp ground there, during the day we were able to walk out inside the compound--I found this piece of cake that had mold on it and I kind of picked the mold off and I ate it. And then the next morning they took us over to the uh, to the main compound in Auschwitz for reassignment to the different camps. And uh, I took very sick. I must have gotten ptomaine poisoning. And they took me to the hospital. While I was in the hospital they assigned my father to a satellite camp and they assigned my brother to a different satellite camp of Auschwitz. And uh, I remember there were, there were some sick people there and there was, there was this uh, doctor--I wish I knew his name--he came by and he saw me there and he looked at me and he said, "What are you..." he, he, he, he was full of rage. You know, he looked at me, he says, 'What are you doing here?" And I didn't understand why a doctor would speak to me like that and I told him I was sick. He says, "You get out of here." He says, "Don't you know that Mengele uh, uh, uh stops by here and, and, and uh, selects people for his experiments?" And he got me out of there. And I must have been a very fortunate person because uh, I would, I would not be sitting here right now talking to you. And I had missed. At that point uh, I was, I,  he immediately transferred me out of the hospital into the barracks, main barracks and I was uh, assigned to a work group and I remained at the main Auschwitz camp from May until uh, January 1945 at which time the uh, Russian uh, uh, armies uh, were advancing towards uh, towards Austria. And at that point we were um, sent on a forced march. And, and our destination turned out to be Mauthausen.

Uh, at first we, we walked through the winter snows. It was uh, um, five abreast. We walked five abreast and anybody that uh, could not keep up with this march was shot on the spot. Uh, there was no such thing as uh, I'm tired or anything like that. We would walk like that, we would actually sleep and walk and follow the column without reali...without knowing that we're doing it. We were, we were, we were like zombies.

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