Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Shari Weiss - April 17, 1985

Working in Factory

What kind of work did you do there?

We worked in a factory, but I was, I was working on a machine that was a stamping machine. I did a part, I found out since I'm in America I became very smart, we were doing a tool and die making, this was actually. Because, I mean this was a systematic work. I mean the raw material came in and then the women were washing that raw material through very hot steam they went through. They were on big blocks like this and they were put down, facing down you know with face down these screws like thing. And they had to be shaped in form and in depth and they also had to have that screw that winding around, that part...

The groove?

The groove. Exactly. So the older women were doing the harder work and us younger kids we either were measuring with a device the depth of the screw itself you know. It's actually not even a screw, I don't know why I call it a screw, it was a cap like thing that had depth to it you know and it had grooves around it and it had a facing that had to be stamped and then I worked on a machine that I had to put these pieces of metal in that and it was automatically stamped and I took them out and I had to put them on big blocks like that that had holes in them and they were put face down. And this is what we did. And for this we got a little soup during the day that had if you were lucky a couple leaves in them and our ration of bread. But at least we were not as mistreated as we were in Auschwitz. Because...listen, if they beat you to death you can't work and they needed the work badly evidently because uh, it was...

Who oversaw you there? Were SS there also?

There was a regular SS commander and we had the SS guards and the außerdienst also with us. When we were in the factory itself there was this gentleman that I, gentleman I mean he was no gentleman.

You never heard his name, did you?

I didn't hear his name, but he would be dead by now because he wasn't a young man to begin with already at the time. And who paid attention to those things? I mean you never thought it--I mean as much as you hoped that you will and as much as you fought to stay alive, you really and truly deep down you never thought that you'd make it. I mean I said, I said at one point, I said I don't care if they give me a big enough bread just so that I have my fill, I don't care if they kill me. You know, so it was uh, we really and truly didn't pay attention to details. We didn't think that there is gonna be a day of reckoning for them, or a day for us to tell our story so um, we worked here until all of a sudden things started to fall apart. Also we were together with a lot of Russians. They were called "free prisoners." They had access to the city. They could go into the city. They had passes. They had their own rooms or lived with somebody in a room. I mean they were not behind barbed wire as we were. But these were the people that were brought out of Russia, you know as the German Army was retreating from Russia, so they were bringing all these people for with them just so that they had free labor. So they were with us in Altenburg also, and also the gypsies were. Well, if you never heard a gypsy curse a Jew, this was something else to hear. They also called us dirty Jews. I mean they didn't have enough sorrows of their own. They still find time to curse us and also we were together with a lot of Polish people. And they were not too loved. These were political prisoners and uh, you see with the German system I think no matter what crime you committed, be it political, be it moral, be it no crime at all, as in our case, everybody was in a concentration camp. I mean I don't think that they had a penal system such as we know it here.

Did your Aunt go with you to Altenburg?

Yes. My Aunt came with me to Altenburg and she uh, during the course of her hard work, cause she worked very hard and she was a big woman, she...due to the lack of food and everything she became very gaunt and very ill, so uh, in order to try and save her you know that she shouldn't end up in one of the camps, the extermination camps, I used to take my little soup, the little soup that I got at lunch time, and I used to bring it home for her and take it in to her. It was called the uh, where the ill people, where the sick people where it was called Revier. I don't know how you call it here?


Infirmary, right. I couldn't think of the word and it was called the Revier. So I used to go in to her, and I used to tell her because she just absolutely adored her son so much that I knew this was the only tool that I had to keep her alive and for some reason, or for maybe more reason then I understood at the time, I became the mother and the strong one and she became the child. So I kept using psychology, even though I didn't know the word at the time, on her. And I used to tell her, "if for nothing else you have to keep alive because you want to see your son," and somehow she pulled through her illness and we were both liberated at the same time by the American troops. In Pfaffroda, which was about 20 kilometers from Altenburg. This was in April when everything was going already haywire. I mean the SS was starting to desert the camp because they knew that the end was near and some of them even came in civilian clothes after a couple of days of marching and we saw the reason for all this because we saw the bombing that took place. We saw tree trunks that were, you know seared by flames and uh, I mean the country side was just such that you could see the signs of war close by. So they started marching us out of Altenburg. But before I go into that, this is one incident I cannot skip over. I have to tell you. They brought in from another camp uh, a group of men that they didn't have anywhere to put, I mean there was no room for them anymore. Evidently the territory that they brought them from was already occupied and what was more important really during the war than to destroy Jews they kept these living corpses marching yet. And they brought them into our camp and there was one part of the camp that they separated also with barbed wire, I don't know why they were afraid to keep--let us be together because certainly sexuality was not evident in the men nor the women. When I took a look at those men I just, I mean my heart broke I mean I said I am not that bad off, I'm not, I really am doing great. Look at them. I mean all you saw was a skeleton with two eyes. Nothing else. I mean the suffering and the degradation and it was just--the ravages of the inhumanity was evident not only in their bodies but in the depth of their eyes. It was, it was a terrible thing. It was uh, we gave them our own food because we couldn't look at them the way they looked. I mean it was just, it was the most devastating thing I ever did see. Today when I walked in I had that same image jumping at me from one of the videos that you were showing and this is why, if you recall, when I walked in I mean right away I was ready to run out of here, because it conjured up the same image in my mind.

[interruption in interview]

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