Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Martin Shlanger - March 4, 1983

Conditions in Birkenau

Do you remember the step-by-step procedure that you followed that first night?

First we were led to a building, a bathhouse. We were given showers and then a complete haircut, from top to bottom. Then striped uniforms were distributed to us, also shoes with wooden soles. A day later we were tattooed. I no longer had a name. I became to be known as A9556. And we stayed in Auschwitz, in Birkenau, for about a week. Then we were transferred to the Auschwitz main camp. I think I should explain to you that the Auschwitz concentration camp consisted of the extermination camp, which was in Birkenau, then there was the administration camp, which was in the city of Auschwitz, and there were about twenty-five or thirty satellite camps. So, so from Birkenau, we were transferred to the main camp in Auschwitz, the administration camp. As we were marching in, we were greeted with music at the main gate. Above the gate there was an imprinted motto. "Arbeit macht frei" which means, "Work makes you free." Unfortunately, freedom came to a very few at the end of the war. We stayed in Auschwitz main camp, few days, then we were transferred to a satellite camp in Jaworzno.

While you were in Auschwitz, what did you do while you were at Birkenau each day, for that week?

Didn't do anything.

Nothing. What about the Appells? Was, were there regular... ?

Long Appells, yes, counting the heads, five times a day.

Did, did you witness any or experience any punishment?


Do you remember?

Beatings. By the Kapos, especially. Kapos were prisoners like us, but they had authority from the Germans to beat us.

Were you beaten by a Kapo?

Yes. I was beaten by a Kapo.

Was there a reason?

Well, I wasn't quick enough to climb up uh, on the bunk bed. They were long bunk beds. In Birkenau, there was no mattress or straw sack or anything, just boards. But in the satellite camp, they had straw sacks.

So, you were beaten this once, at least by a Kapo once?

I was beaten many, many times. Once, I was beaten terribly.

In Birkenau?

No, that was in the satellite camp.

We'll, we'll get to that. Did you witness any, any hangings or severe punishments when you were in Birkenau?

No, not in Birkenau. No, I was in Birkenau for a very short time.

What about suicides on the wires?

Yes, that I witnessed, yes, yes. Um, the people at the time when we were in Birkenau, they were still terrified, they didn't know what was going on. They still just... it was unbelievable that they were burning people in the pit and in the crematoria. It was unbelievable.

Did you ever find out what was in that burning pit? Did you ever get to the point where you saw what... ?

We were told by veteran prisoners what was going on in the pits. Those that were in Birkenau for a couple years, Slovakian Jews. Because the Slovakian Jews were deported in early 1942. We came there in 1944.

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