Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

John Mandel - May 26, 1981

Auschwitz I

Can I go back to the concentration camps?


You were in a work camp at uh...[telephone rings] You were in Birkenau a very short time and then you went to Auschwitz.

Right, mm-hm.

In Auschwitz you were there at the main camp for most of the time, what was it again?

I was there from May until uh, sometimes in, a latter part of May until January.

Can you tell me what you did?

May the 17th seems to pop into my mind and I, I don't know whether that was the day we arrived in Auschwitz or whether that was the day we, we went to the, to the brick factory or we left for Auschwitz. But the seventeenth seems to be a, a figure that keeps popping back into my mind as we go along with the conversation.

Okay, if you happen to think of what it is at any point let me know.

Yeah, okay.

What kind of work did you do in Auschwitz?

I--at first I, I worked, I was assigned to a um, a rail, a rail yard, in German they called it a Magazin which means warehouse. And they had building supplies there, all kind of building supplies. And they would uh, they would bring in trainloads of brick uh, trainloads of uh, concrete uh, cement bags. When I say concrete I mean cement bag. Uh, steel reinforcements for the cement and uh, toilet seats and everything that has to do with building materials. This was a big uh, uh, uh, area that uh, they, they seemed to keep that as a uh, a warehouse. Some of it wa...some of, some of the materials were inside buildings and some of it were outside. And my first job there was uh, we were unloading brick off these uh, flat cars. And the way we unloaded the brick was, you, you didn't just go there and grab a couple bricks. They would throw you four bricks at a time and you were supposed to catch it and then throw it to the next guy. And heaven help you if you dropped one of those. They would pounce on you and they would beat you up and uh,  and then you'd have to get back up there and, and go back there to work. Uh, if you recall earlier in the conversation I mentioned to you the fact that um, um, I had an uncle who sent a postcard to us in 1942, when I was taken to a concentration camp from Belgium. I met him at uh, at Auschwitz and he happened to be in the same um, same uh, work group. And uh, of course he was a long time prisoner there and he knew the uh, his way around the rope so to speak, and he knew the proper people, and he was able, a...after awhile, to, to make it, make life a little easier for me. And, and he took me away from the unloading of the freight car--those, those were the worst jobs. I had uh, I was very fortunate. I was-- I, I had many breaks in the concentration camp over this period of time and perhaps I wouldn't have had survived without it. And it was one of the fortunate and you had to have breaks. The people that survived were the ones that were fortunate and had breaks along the way. Otherwise it was just impossible. And uh, he eventually got me into a, a, a work group where we would sit uh, over these heavy steel--it, it looked like a rail uh, you know, in the kind of rails that a train would run on except they were much taller and wider. And we would have these sledge hammers and our job was to straighten out these steel ties that would go into the concrete. See they would get there all bent out of shape and we would straighten them out by hammering them. The noise in there was absolutely deafening. As a matter of fact, I lost a good part of my hearing there that uh, affects me to this day. But it was much easier. It was much, uh, and you, you, you weren't under the same kind of pressure. We didn't have uh, this, it, it was, it was a smaller group of people and we had a specific job. And uh, they didn't quite treat us as harshly as they did the, my poor brethren that were out there working unloading these freight trains. So I was very fortunate in that respect. And this lasted pretty much uh, over the period of time. As, as, as time went by uh, we had some air raids. We had some uh, uh, some of the Russian bombers would, would fly over there. And rather than bomb the uh, the crematoria. They actually, they bombed the uh, that this uh, particular area where, where all these materials were. They must have known that we were there, but I, I guess they--these were considered war supplies perhaps and they were trying to destroy them. One of the bombs landed uh, very close to us and it didn't explode.  So there again, I, I was lucky. I, I had a number of different occurrences where, where I, I was, I had perhaps more than my share of luck by surviving this ordeal.

Did you have any relationship with other prisoners? Question before that, did you ask your uncle what the reason was for um, sending you the post card?

He said--yes, as a matter of fact I did and he told me that at that particular time they handed out all the prisoners a post card uh, uh, several post card, and they were instructed to send to friends and relatives throughout Eastern Europe and they were told what to write. And I suppose this was part of their way of, of putting--giving people a false sense of security. But they uh, whatever it was, they succeeded. At least in our case they did.

Can you tell me about the sanitation conditions at the camp--at the concentration camp?

Well, we had uh, mainly, in, at the work place we had outhouses. One of the best job was to be somebody who took care of the outhouse. There was one man there. He, he probably had the easiest job in the whole, in the whole group. His job was to make sure that the outhouse was uh, uh, that nobody dirtied the outhouse. Uh, [laughs] it was really strange with, with all these things that, it was a very uh, strange paradox with the, with the Germans. Here they were trying to destroy all these people, but they were interested in sanitation.

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