Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Samuel Offen - December 27, 1981

Sanitary Conditions in Gusen

What was it like given this--the, the latrine conditions and things? With dysentery so rampant, what did people do?

Not--in the camp?

Yeah. After the liberation, never mind during, but during the camp.

Oh, during the camp.

I mean, both. When dysentery...

For two...

...became such a problem.

During the camp, nothing. You just died. You just died. At night you just died in your barrack, in your, in your uh, uh, in your bunk. In the morning they carried you out on a pile with other bodies. That's all. There's nothing. There was no, there was no medical help. The medical--there were no medical supplies. People died, some of them died freezing. We were in the middle of the winter, with a lot of snow and freezing weather. The shower was several barracks away. The Nazis made us undress in our own barrack and we were totally naked with the exception of these wooden shoes and we have to go totally naked in the winter with all the snow and off we go several barracks away to go where the showers were. There, we took a shower. Sometimes there was hot water, sometimes there wasn't hot water. Sometimes it was cold water. You take a shower. No towels. We never had it--nobody had a towel. You just wrapped in your, in your rugs in your uniform, whatever you had. And we have to walk back with water still dripping on us, go back to our barrack. Our barrack was a little bit warm, most of the time, sometimes it wasn't, sometimes it was. Many people died that way too. They just fell right there in the snow. That was not from a punishment but that's what they called uniform punishment. They had, all of us did the same thing. And many, many uh, prisoners died that way. So that was one thing. Now, if somebody had, was sick or something, we, they just died. We'd just have to take out of bo...after just the body take outside--there was a certain designated area outside the barrack. Used to pile bodies one on top of the other. Then the burial Kommando would come up during the day and take out those bodies and take them to the crematoria to be burned.

These were Jews.

They were Jews.

Even the Kommando was, was Jews.

The Kommando, everyone was Jews. Except the, except the head of the barracks, the head of the barracks...

The Blockälteste.

The Blockälteste, the head of the barrack, the Blockälteste, was usually a German criminal. A German national, ??? who was either a murderer or a rapist or a thief or whatever he was, he was a German criminal who was in a German prison. But the Nazis used him as the block commander. He was, he was deciding life and death for everybody. He was deciding who's going to live, who's going to die practically. That's how much power he had. Of course, he talked perfect German talked German with whatever he want. He was a prisoner like we were. Uh, I don't think allowed an extra food privilege, although he was in with all these German soldiers, they used to get all of those extra cigarettes and extra food. Uh, but like in the evening, when the evening meal came uh, a uh, container of watery soup came in. We had to line up. And he was the one who was dishing out soup to everybody to eat. You had a bowl, he was dishing up every bite. Now he knew everybody by name. Sometimes, if he didn't like you so much he'd just give you a little bit of soup from the top. If he liked you more, he'd just scoop a little bit lower maybe where the soup was a little bit thicker and give you a little bit more of it into the bowl. He may have given you a little piece of, bigger piece of bread or smaller, depending on the ???. He was like a, he was playing God. He was the commander that was a German criminal.

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