Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Josef Slaim - February 7, 1982

Being a Judenälteste

It just happened, I become over there Judenälteste in this camp, in this uh, camp which was only a working camp; this was not a concentration camp. When they grabbed us for first time, from mein home town Czepiec and we was 150 people, the German asked the Judenrat to choose one--he should be a commander of--they no wanted to talk to all um, youngst...uh, boys, and they should talk to one and the one, if they want something, or ask something for it. So there has to be two somebody's. There has to be--one has to be representative. So the group--the whole group chose me to take--I was in the front--to work mit them. Why me? I probably was between the oldest one in the group. The second thing because I was an army man and they know it that I gonna kept them better in order than anybody, which never served uh, something like that--an army, to know how to arrange the whole things. So coming to uh, this camp in uh, Niederkirch over there was the Lagerführer, the Lagerführer come out and he asked the same question, "Who can speak German?" Was a few, and he took them in, but they didn't know how to type on a machine--German of course--and every couple minutes he'd come out, he asked for another one, and he asked--then he took me. It looks like everybody knew it, but probably I knew it a little better than they are. I wasn't too good either, but uh, I probably a little better than them. And he kept me, and he says, "You're gonna stay in the camp, you're gonna be the Judenälteste." As a matter of fact: a joke--I--when he told me, "You gonna be the Judenälteste..."

[interruption in interview]

Okay, that means the elder.

So I, I thought he means that I'm the oldest man--I'm gonna be the oldest man here and I'm gonna say--I said uh, "I'm uh, that's wrong I'm not the oldest. It might be between the group it's maybe older people." He said, "Not the oldest people, but you'll be their uh, Judenälteste--you gonna be over them." I no wanted to have to do--if they need something I no want that they should have to come to bother me, or if I need something I don't want to come to them, I just have to go--everything has to go through--"If somebody gets sick or somebody need something it has to go through you, and you can come to me. Has to be a, a between man." So he chose me, and I was, I was inside, in the camp. And arranged everyday whatever--we had a cook, a kitchen mit uh, mit working people and we sent out people to work. Somebody get sick we had to call a doctor. We had one doctor coming to this time, and it was a Jewish doctor too from, from uh, ??? from uh, Breslau. Matter of fact I remember his name: his name was Kaiser. And uh, as a matter of fact we uh, manipulated that we sent home a couple boys from the camp. One was a little boy. The doctor made them--we uh, I made them thought--manipulated mit the doctor that we should make them sick cause it was little kids, they couldn't even work. We sent them home as sick people. Maybe we did the wrong. Today I could say this but to this time we tried, we sent them home. Could be if they would be still in the camp, maybe they would be still alive but when we sent them home, who knows? I, I just know one thing; they are not more alive, no. So maybe it's all out fault, but how could you figure out?

Right, there's no way of knowing...

To this time was the best thing what we could do. If somebody got sick we could make for him something to stay in house--I mean, to stay in the camp for a couple days that was, that was uh, something unusual, you know, that was uh, a big things. From there out...

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