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Chapter 6: Escapes
During the afternoon, we slipped out of the camp. We entered the pit, and Feivele covered us with the iron plate and with soil, and sprinkled tobacco to prevent the SS tracker dogs from detecting our scent.
We heard the camp sirens sounding the alarm: the search was on for missing prisoners. We heard the tracker dogs barking overhead. We held our breath, not so much as daring to blink an eyelid, so as not to be heard. Our situation was, however, unbearable. The pit was narrow, and its air vents had apparently been blocked; remaining there was out of the question.
“I’m suffocating,” muttered the Pole, his feelings put into poignant words that infected the Russian and me. It took us only a short while to realize that we would not be able to remain in our hideout until the alert was called off.
At about one that night, when silence surrounded us, we held a whispered consultation marked by indecision; foreseeing that we would not be able to hold out a single day in the pit, we resolved to leave that very night and continue our journey.
Slowly and cautiously, taking great care to emit no sound, we removed the iron sheet from the pit where we were huddled. With bated breath, we crawled out on our bellies and began advancing toward open terrain. We managed to slip past the watch towers, but after making some headway, the sentries, possibly hearing something, opened fire.
When we judged ourselves to be out of range, we clambered to our feet and began running. After running about 11 miles under the cover of darkness, we reached a bridge over the river Vistula.
I learned subsequently that, upon discovering our escape, the camp’s security officials had promptly sent a telegram to the security services in Berlin. I found a duplicate of the original in the Auschwitz archives. Dated “Auschwitz, 30.6.44,” it offered particulars about our trio:
1. Paluch Mieczyslaw, born 14.1.1910 … Most recent address … Height 1.65 meters … brown hair presently cropped, speaks Polish, brown eyes.
2. Frydberg Abram Israel, Jewish. Born 4.2.24. Brought from Pruzany on 2.2.43. Height 1.65 meters, hair brown, cropped. Speaks Polish. Eyes brown. Number 99288.
3. Russian POW, Tarasow Nikolai. Born 17.1.10 at Saratov. Transferred from Stalag 336 G on 24.2.44. Height 1.71 meters, brown hair, cropped, speaks Russian, grey eyes…
The above escaped on 29.6.44. Paluch and Frydberg from the potato Kommando, Tarasow from the Gleisanschluss Kommando.
Back in the camp, we were confined to a cell in the political department, and our interrogation commenced. In particular, our interrogators demanded to know the whereabouts of the last of our trio. “Where is the third one?”
We feigned innocence. “There were only the two of us. We got drunk and lost our way…”
The interrogators of the political department, under the notorious killer Boger, gave us no reprieve for weeks on end. Our interrogator’s secretary, a Slovakian Jewess by the name of Katia, was of great help to us; indeed, she may have saved our lives. When the interrogator left the interrogation room briefly, she hastened to whisper: “Whatever happens, you must stick to your story. Let’s hope they don’t catch the Russian, and that he doesn’t tell a different version.”
The Russian was not captured, and we did indeed stick to our story; accordingly, we were spared the death sentence and condemned instead to lifelong labor with the punitive squad. At evening roll call, we were seated in a special rack, in full view of all the camp inmates. Our sentence was read out - “for the offense of attempting to escape” - and our bare buttocks were subjected to 25 lashes from a fearsome leather whip. After that lashing, several weeks passed before I was able to sit down.
I found myself once again in the punishment block - Birkenau’s Block 11 - this time as a dangerous criminal with a round red patch.
In October 1944, the Russian front drew nearer to the death camps and the Germans decided to evacuate Auschwitz-Birkenau and move the inmates away from the eastern battlefront, to Buchenwald.
The transport, totaling over 10,000 prisoners, was one of the largest ever to leave the camps. With so many prisoners being moved, those of us in the punitive squad contrived to mingle with the others, putting ourselves on equal footing by removing the red patches from our uniforms. On our way, we passed through various camps: Oranienburg, the site of the Heinkel aircraft factory; Sachsenhausen, where we met numerous Jews whose talents the Nazis exploited for forging documents, passports in particular; a new camp named Ohrdruf, near Gotha; and Grawinkel, where a mountain was being excavated to house the Fuehrer’s new headquarters. From an administrative standpoint, the camp was attached to Buchenwald. We were housed in subterranean structures designed as ammunition stores.
In November or December 1944, after about two months in the new camp, and with the battlefront drawing near, the Germans again decided to evacuate us, back to Buchenwald this time. There appears to have been no trains available, and we - some ten thousand prisoners - were accordingly taken over 50 miles by foot. Stragglers were shot dead by the roadside. We marched for several days, sleeping in the open at night.
Many reached Buchenwald at their last gasp.