Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

John Mandel - May 26, 1981


Can you tell me when you were uh, tattooed?

When we arrived. When we arrived uh, in Birkenau, when they separated us from the rest of the uh, family. They took us into this uh, huge hangar like building and we were ordered to take off all of our clothes and they took away everything. Next thing they did was they came over, they had these prisoners who did that, that was their job. They came over with, with uh, barber clippers and they would clip the hair off the body, wherever a person had hair. Uh, whenever a person grow, whether it was on the arms or the legs, or wherever. And uh, we all looked like zombies, we all looked alike. The next thing they did was uh, uh, we had to go through this line and uh, and they had, they had several lines and what they did was, they did it numerically. And uh, my number was--is, still is A9327 and my brother's number was A-9328 and my father's uh, number was A9329. We were numerically. I, I happened to be first in line as we went through that. So uh, and as we later found out, that uh, once you got tattooed that meant that for the time being you were, you were going to survive.

Did it hurt?

Not, not particularly. It was done the same way as you would do a tattoo. Uh, uh, it--you could feel a, a small sting, but uh, that was the smallest pain I had while I was in the camp. Uh, it's really uh, we were, we were uh, I was in Auschwitz, which was just a few kilometers from Birkenau and we could smell the stench of the burning flesh and we could see all that smoke coming up. And I, I was there probably a month or six weeks before I found out what that was, before the people uh, that were there longer told me what was actually going on there. Uh, they would um, we would get a bar of soap, we--in, in, in the barracks we had facilities. We had, we had uh, uh, a kind of a community sink where you could go in and wash up in the morning. And um, you had to shave. I mean that was one thing about the Germans, they insisted on, on hygiene. While they were destroying us, they insisted on hygiene. It was a very strange thing. At least in that camp they did.


And uh, uh, they give us this bar of soap and on the soap was stamped uh, three, three letters, RIF. And, of course, I didn't know what it was until somebody told me that stood for Rhein Yiddishers Fat. It meant pure Jewish fat. What they did was they made soap off the uh, o...as, as they were burning the bodies, as they were cremating them uh, fat would run off and they would make soap out of that. And they gave it to us. And I might have used soap that was made uh, my own flesh and blood [pause] and I didn't know.

Did you ever see the opposite sex?

One time I saw the opposite sex in Auschwitz. There was a uh, uh, a woman's camp right next to the men's camp and for some reason they brought in a company of women to work at the uh, uh, uh, these were also prisoners--at the same um, uh, warehouse by the track, by the railroad track there where, where I was working. They must have needed some extra help because that was the only time we saw them. But uh, we did not--we, we never had any opportunity to socialize or anything like that. We just--but that one day we worked with them.

Do you know if there was homosexual um, actions anywhere around?

I would im...I, I, I would imagine now uh, uh, uh, I would imagine that there must have been some, but I was never aware of it.

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