Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Martin Shlanger - March 4, 1983

Arrival in Birkenau

Is that the first thing you remember experiencing was relief?

Yes, that was the first experience. And uh, then um, prisoners in striped uniforms ordered us to step out, fast, and form lines, five in a row.

Did you know where you were?

Well, as I looked around, I saw high barbed wire fence with porcelain insulators. So, I knew that there must be high voltage in those wires. And on the left side of the tracks was a big brick building with several chimneys. At the far end, smoke rising to the sky from an open pit. I approached one of the prisoners, I wanted to know where we are at. He told me that we are at the Auschwitz-Birkenau, concentration camp. It didn't mean anything, never heard of the place before. I heard of concentration camps. We heard of Dachau or Buchenwald. Those were created back in the early 1930s. We heard of those but we never heard of Auschwitz.

What did you think would happen at a concentration camp? What had you heard about them?

We had no idea. Not until a few days later, while we working down the aisle, there were German officers at the end of the line, and were directing um, older people, women with small children, to the right side of the tracks. All men, women, capable of hard physical labor, to the left side of the tracks. A few days later, we inquired from veteran prisoners. Wanted to find out what happened to, to our loved ones, to friends and relatives. So they, one prisoner remarked, sort of cynically, "Why, don't you know? They all went out through those chimneys." Pointed to a big building on the other side of the tracks.

How did you react to that?

It was unbelievable. In fact, while we were still in Budapest, we heard of atrocities committed by the Germans from the Hungarian soldiers returning from the eastern front but those stories were so horrifying that it seemed unbelievable. We didn't believe it. I didn't believe in it until I was taken to Auschwitz. While at first when I found out about it, felt horrible. After awhile, we got used to it, as long as it's not me. It's a horrible thing to say but that's the way I felt.

What happened when... You were sent to the left?


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