The liquidation of the labour camp in Kielce, Poland, began early one morning. The Germans drove into the camp, ordered everybody out into the street and herded us towards the big field in the middle of the camp. There we had to line up in two long columns, a dozen abreast. The two columns were separated by a gap of some five metres. When we had been properly lined up, the soldiers (I believe both the Schutzpolizei and Gestapo participated in this operation) began to walk up and down between the two columns, looking for children. The entire operation was overseen by the German city commandant. He stood in front, facing the two columns at a distance of about ten metres. From time to time he would bark out some order to his subordinates or flick his riding boots with a short horsewhip.
All around us children were being torn from the arms of their parents. When the soldiers saw Zarenka and Ucek they tried to wrest them away from my mother. The two children began to scream and my mother tried to hold on to them, but one of the soldiers began to beat her and she had to let go. Then one of the soldiers saw me and tried to drag me out as well. Holding on to me, my father stepped forward. As the soldier was getting ready to beat him as well, my father bellowed something and the man stopped. Still holding me by the hand, my father walked up to the city commandant. Before my father could say anything, I looked up at the commandant and said (I don’t know why, perhaps it was at my father’s prompting), ‘Herr Hauptmann, ich kann arbeiten’—‘Captain, I can work.’ He looked at me for a brief moment and said, ‘Na, das werden wir bald sehen’—‘Well, that we’ll soon get to see.’ Then he motioned my father and me back towards the column where we had been standing.
We learned later that Ucek and Zarenka, with about thirty other children, were first locked up in a nearby house. From there, in the late afternoon, they were taken to the Jewish cemetery, where they were killed. We heard afterwards that the soldiers used hand grenades to murder them. In that cemetery in Kielce stands a monument erected in memory of the children who were killed on that terrible day in 1943, among them my little brother and sister. That is what they had become. Over the years I have managed to erase from my memory many a horrendous experience in the camps, but never for a moment have I been able to forget the day when Ucek and Zarenka were taken from us.
What prompted the city commandant to spare my life on that morning has remained a mystery to me. Was it that I was blond and spoke fluent German and possibly reminded him of his own children? I shall never know.
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