Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Abraham Pasternak - May 11, 1982

Forced Labor

When the labor force was recruited, how did that come about?

Just very, very, very simple: anybody's who's Jewish, who is eighteen-years and older has to report for labor force. That was to go away and work behind the lines, I mean, behind, I mean, the Russian lines...behind the lines, I mean, where the battle was going on. These were taken away. And the youngsters, twelve on over, have to report every so often, I mean, to go to work and do these, these, these ridiculous things. For instance, like uh, at one time the uh, Germans wanted some ditches to be dug someplace and, and, and near...in a park. Who do they think they called? They called us...youngsters. "Get your shovel...your own shovel and go and ditch...dig ditches."

Was there a Judenrat in Betlan?

A what?

A Ju...a Jewish council?

No, we didn't have a Jewish council...

The orders came straight from the Hungarians?

The orders just came right...we as Jews...we as nice Jews, we always obey the orders. We were law abiding people. We, you know, we were hoping, and we were praying that one of these days that this, this, this madness is going to end. But, unfortunately, it didn't. Not from madness it came to chaos. It got worse and worse and worse and what else can I tell you? I told you about Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Schlieben where I've been.

Can...let's, let's go back then to the labor camps.


Schlieben was, was where approximately?

Schlieben...I looked it up the other day. It was not very far from Leipzig or Dresden. It was in that area...seems to me that most of the factories, I mean, at least the armaments...the ones that were still functioning were in the Dresden-Leipzig area.

And Bu...Buchenwald was near Weimar.

Buchenwald was near Weimar.

Did you ever work in any of those cities?

In Weimar? No, I...we did...never worked in the cities. We worked outside of the cities. They didn't want us to be in the cities, they wanted us to be in the uh, in the camps. They want us to be in the uh, so where nobody could see us. But even then they couldn't have...how could they there were no concentration camps? I mean, the German people say there was no concentration camp but we were marching, we were marching and they were marching through the villages. And if anybody has seen a German village you know exactly that they're, they're so meticulously clean but then we were allowed to, I mean, to relieve ourselves, I mean, right there on the streets. And they saw people with...people, thousands and thousands of people, I mean, with, with uniforms with Häftling uh, uh clothes on...the striped clothes on. How can they say they've never known about it? What about the stench from Buchenwald, which Weimar wasn't very far? There was no room enough for them, I mean, to bury people. They didn't bury people, they burned the people. They, they cremate the people.

Did you watch the cremations?


Did you see...

No, no I didn't see that. Thank God I wasn't...didn't see but I'll tell you this much: I saw in Auschwitz when we went...when we arrived and I saw all those big, large pits and they were all blackened up...they were, they were painted with tar or, or, or smeared with tar. After every burning I understand they smeared them with tar. We asked them, "What are those?" He said, "That's where they burn the people, too." They didn't burn everybody in, in, in, in the crematorium, they didn't have enough uh, uh, that many crematorium. They burned them right there open with, with...on, on the uh, open so that you can, uh...

The factories you worked in, were there civilian overseers in the factories?

There were civilian overseers. The, the, the managers were civilians. They always try to increase the quota...always more and more and more and more. And then the irony of the thing, the guy used to...the guy, guy who was in charge of the factory, always used to come around and eat his sandwiches, you know, those borscht and the salamis right in front of us. And then he was looking, you know, like at, at, at them before, you know, everybody was looking at his mouth, he knew that. Then he...finally he looked...he'd take that little piece of bread and used to throw it on the ground so that we, we were running there like, like animals to pick it up...whoever was lucky to pick it up and eat it. This is another way of showing to you what these people...always tried to invent new and new things, I mean, to make us feel miserable, God almighty.

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