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PART 2C






CHAPTER 57



A new trial

My friends sought to improve my situation and boost my morale which had completely deteriorated. They truly wanted to help me so that I would not have to work in haupt-baustelle (construction), doing much hard work. Once they came to me with a suggestion. A block head had been punished because he had bought himself some "luxury" items such as cigarettes, better clothing and fruits. In addition, he had corrupted young children whom he bought and used, paying them with bread and soup which he stole from the rations. My friends intervened with the camp head, who was a political prisoner, to give me his place. The slaves of that block were overjoyed to hear this suggestion, that I should become their block head, however, they were all bitterly disappointed. My friends heard a categorical no from me. I thanked my friends for their efforts and for their friendly attitude towards me, but regrettably, I could not accept the post. I gave them my arguments: I have resisted many such temptations and I will resist this one too. For four war years I suffered from hunger and was exposed to great danger, but I persevered. My morality did not allow me to be ensnared by all kinds of temptations to reduce my suffering for the price of serving the Nazis, to be a servant of theirs, so I certainly would not do so now when the war is ending. My friends started to argue: "You're not right. Everyone wants you to become block head. We used all our influence and connections to help you so that you should survive this critical period when the end is near. You do not have to be a bad block head. You'll be a good one who will help your brothers at this difficult time."

I argued with myself, trying to convince myself that my friends were correct, that they are sincere in their desire to help me, perhaps so that I should be freer, to be able to read and delve more into politics, in order to later be able to comment to them about the situation. But, after a struggle between the bad and good inclination, the good inclination won. It warned me: You will not be strong enough to resist the temptation when you will apportion the food so that you will not leave the thickest part for yourself--and when you will apportion the bread, you will not be able to resist having a larger portion for yourself. Besides, you are not alone, so you will be responsible for the misdeeds of others, giving way to your instincts. There are also various bad elements in the block who are trying to avoid work, who are trying to steal from their friends the little piece of bread, and you, as block head, will have to react to this and punish the wrongdoers.

So, I firmly decided: Let happen what may, but I would not accept such a position from the Nazis, even if it will mean that I will die. I survived up till now without besmirching my name, so I will continue to withstand further difficult temptations no matter how hard it will be for me.

The last night, before coming to this decision, I did not sleep the whole night, but was listening to the "debate" of the pros and cons which tore my heart from both sides. On the one side, the evil inclination confronted me: To drag myself long kilometers back and forth, to and from work; the sacks of cement, the dust from it which blocked my nose and settled on my lungs; the iron frames and hard blocks, the blows and curses from the Kapos and foremen. On the other hand, I saw the peaceful life in the block when the kommandos march out, eating in peace and resting after eating, the possibility of "organizing" food supplies in addition to the rations, the contacts with the camp leaders and the possibility of getting better clothing and other things.

But the good inclination would not give in. It kept showing me the poignant eyes of the starving slaves who wait in line for a bit of soup, for a piece of bread, who see in the block head their torturer, the privileged one of the SS kommando, and the collaborator with the German torturers. I could picture my helpers, the house servants, who hit and tortured the slaves, make them go to work even when they have high fever, and punish them severely for the smallest misdemeanor. It seemed to me that I hear the curses and bitter complaints of all the mistreated falling on my head.

I finally decided by pre-dawn that my answer is a categorical no. It was a bitter disappointment for my friends, but for me it was a relief that I overcame the bad ideas and that I had the strength to pass the difficult test. I went to work that morning in a good mood, calmly, as though I had won a battle.



CHAPTER 58



Destiny bequeaths me a new chance

My friends did not give up. It hurt them that I had to work so hard on the main construction job. They saw how I was collapsing, how I was getting skinnier from day to day and was hardly able to walk. Furthermore, they regretted that I no longer took an interest in politics and did not give political commentaries on the situation in the world. Tired and exhausted, I collapsed every evening, like a rock, because before dawn I had to get up and drag myself anew to slave labour. My friend, Feitl Lenchner, had a friend in the kitchen, a butcher by trade, who came from Chrzanow. I cannot recall his name, which I regret, because he was a good, quiet fellow who did a lot of favours for friends, and his name should be immortalized. Feitl used to bring me some potatoes in their peel from him and sometimes a carrot, a bit of soup which I enjoyed very much. I restored my soul with this.

One day, however, when I returned from work, very despondent, because the Kapo had it in for me and assigned me to pour cement which arrived loose and required us to fill sacks and boxes with it, resulting in my nose getting blocked and my eyes stuck, my friends had good news for me. They managed to convince the camp head and the head of the kommando of the horse stable to take me into that kommando which is, according to them, a "golden kommando," because often one rides out with the horses and oxen, so opportunities arise to "organize" something to eat.

I greatly rejoiced with this news. I recalled that once, when I had passed by the horse stable, there were sacks of dry beets outside, the remains of what was fed to the cows, so some fellows tore out, with their nails, some of this, and I also stretched my hand out and helped myself to some. The taste was still in my mouth. Now, when I will be close to the treasure, I will have more chances to steal from the cows.

The following day, I was taken to the stable and handed over to the Kapo of it. He was a horse dealer from home, whose name was Krakovsky. I was also introduced to the other colleagues of the kommando, all healthy specimens, with firm muscles and ruddy complexions. As they looked at me, they tried to make fun of me, and asked me if I knew how to clean up from the horses. They saw that I did not know anything about horses, so each one of them tried to crack another joke at my expense, but Krakovsky got up, shouted at them and scattered them.

"If he doesn't know yet, he'll learn!" he shouted. He took my hand and led me to an old donkey with a pair of large ears, and said: "You'll stay by this mare. It's an old one, a quiet beast, so you'll groom him, keep him in shape, and ride out with him. I'll teach you what you have to know."

He gave me a brush and a metal comb with which to care for the mare because often the head stormtrooper would come in and brush the mare with his gloves, and if he found dust on the hair of the creature, he would get very angry and dish out punishment because a German cannot stand when an animal is not clean and well looked after.

When I was introduced to my mare, it turned its old head with the blind eyes towards me, and scoffed at me, blinking with an eye and swishing its tail. I guess I did not make a good impression on the mare, still, it allowed me to comb and brush it when I offered it something to eat. I quickly felt comfortable with my mare and even gave it a name--Shlomo Natan. This was a creature which had lost the wildness of an animal, did not revolt or protest when I put on the harness and all. It shook its head the way a Jew (let us make the respectful distinction) at prayer. It was very lazy, though, and did not like to pull any loads, so from time to time it would stop and say that it was not going any further. I took pity on it and did not want to whip it. Nor did it help. It would turn its head towards me, wink to me with its blind eyes as if to say: "It won't help. If I say I'm not going, your lashes won't help because I'm not moving." So I begged it, "Shlomo Natan, may your mother be so well, take a few steps. Why make trouble for me. After all, I'm your friend." That helped. It turned its head towards me as if to say: "Now that you're talking like a mensch, I'll listen to you."

Slowly, I got used to my new trade and became a bona fide wagoner. My mare did not last long though. Once, on a cold snowy winter night, when I was driving with a load of wood, it stood still, started to neigh heavily, and would not budge. My whipping did not help, nor did my gentle voice. It tried to pull the wagon but stood still again. Night fell. The SS who was accompanying, started to shout, pouring out curses, and started to whip the mare himself because he was in a hurry to get home to the warm canteen, but the mare did not move from the spot. After another few whips from the SS it lay down on the ground, its eyes staring blankly, and its mouth foaming. It threw back its head in resignation, as if to say: "I've had enough. Let whatever has to happen occur," and it happened that shortly thereafter the mare expired. The SS tired of whipping, resigned himself to the fact, and said to me:

"It's no use. The beast is dead."

I pitied the beast when I saw it dying. True, it was only an animal, but I had gotten accustomed to it, as to a friend. I used to pour my heart out to it. Sometimes I would cry my bitter heart out in its presence, and sometimes in lucky moments, when I succeeded to "organize" some food, I would share my joy with it. The mare, naturally, kept quiet, would silently listen to my chattering and would express its "feelings" through its long ears which it would start to move. At the time I saw it expiring, it opened its blind eyes which were covered with a moist mist, as though it wanted to ensure that I am there watching it as it lets out its last breath. Then it re-closed its eyes, this time permanently.

In the meantime, I also became friendly with other animals, with the horses and oxen. The Kapo, Krakowsky, helped me a lot in this respect. He respected me as an intelligent person who is a poor wagoner, unsuccessful in horse husbandry, but in other things in which he is not very knowledgeable, he understood that he can depend on me. He liked to converse with me more than with all the others in his kommando because "what do the horse heads understand?" he used to complain to me. He told me that he comes from high pedigree, who, for many generations, were horse dealers, since his grandfather was an employee of a Polish nobleman. He looked for nice descriptive words, "intelligent" words, in his conversations with ...


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