header-bg.jpg

Tuvia Lipson

MOTL 2006 & 2007

Imagine a train stopping and the doors opening, terrible screams all over the place. ‘Everyone out!’ in German. We didn’t know where we were, but we knew we were in a camp. We had arrived at Auschwitz. Before that I had spent four and a half years in the Lodz Ghetto in inhumane conditions. Of the two hundred and twenty thousand Jews who were marched into the ghetto, only seventy thousand were left to be deported to Auschwitz. Of the seventy thousand who arrived at Auschwitz from Lodz, only ten percent survived the war.

On the train platform, before we knew it, they took my mother and sister away to the right. That was the last time I saw them. I was standing holding my father’s hand tightly when suddenly he said, ‘Tuvia, now is the right time to have a bit of sugar that I have’. He split the sugar and in the mean time, Dr Mengele started making his selection – right, left, right, left, right, left! He was called the Angel of Death, but I had an Angel of Life, an inmate who knew exactly what would happen to me if I stayed with my father. He knew that I would go to the gas chambers and the crematoria, so he ripped me away from my father and threw me to the left, otherwise I wouldn’t have lived. This was the first of my four miracles.

They took us to a barrack where we had to undress. We were left with only a pair of shoes and a belt. We went into a shower, not knowing that in the other showers a few hundred metres away, people got gas instead of water. After the shower, we were spread with antiseptic powder and had our heads and the rest of our bodies shaved. Finally we got uniforms, a pair of pants, a jacket and a hat, which was all we had until 6 May 1945 when I was freed by the Americans.

From there they took us to Birkenau barracks, which was where the second of my three miracles happened. The conditions were terrible. There were over a hundred people in a very long barrack and we had to sleep on the ground on dirty carpet squares, so it was called a gypsy camp. At about six o’clock in the morning we had roll call and once counting was finished they gave us some black water which was supposed to be coffee. That was breakfast. In the afternoon we had soup and a piece of bread, and that was all we had in Auschwitz, where I was for a short period.

Now comes the second miracle. A man came up to me and asked me if I was the son of Yankel Lupshutz. I said yes. ‘If that is the case,’ he said, ‘queue up in that queue there.’ He must have had a reason and most probably had good intentions. So I queued up with a friend. They asked our professions. In the Lodz ghetto I worked in the joinery, so I knew how to operate machinery and I said I was a carpenter. The German looked at my hands and because they had no marks he accused me of being a shyster, but he enrolled me just the same. Again we had a shower, but this time they tattooed us so we couldn’t escape, as they were sending us to a coal mine fifty-six kilometres from Auschwitz. We found ourselves in a big two storey building with the Germans downstairs and the prisoners upstairs, no fences, no nothing! There were four people to a room with bunks, straw mattresses and pillows and a blanket. The commandant, a German from Finland, explained that we were in a workplace, not an extermination camp and if we did our work we would be all right. The commandant asked me to wash his floor and the moment I finished he gave me half a loaf of bread and a big piece of sausage. This was my third miracle.

We were there for about four and a half or five months. Our kapo, Fagot, who was from Lodz, was also a reasonably nice guy who behaved like a human being because there were two hundred of us from Lodz who more or less knew each other. He chose me and three other boys, who were also nineteen, to clean the camp and prepare the meals so we didn’t have to go to the coalmines. At first it was very nice, but then people started to complain, so I asked to go back to the coalmine. A week later a truck came from Auschwitz and whoever had stayed in this camp was taken away.

In December 1944, the Russians were approaching and we were moved to Austria. A German by the name of Grelet who was organizing the transport offered me the opportunity to escape. I chose not to. We travelled for six days packed into a wagon and all we had to eat was a little tin of artificial beetroot jam and a bit of snow. It was 20º below zero. You would be surprised how little you need to survive, and this was after four and a half years of camps!

When we arrived at Matthausen they sent us to shower, took away our clothing and after the shower, we had to walk about half a kilometre naked and wet at 20 below zero! At the barrack the man in charge decided to feed us before we went in. I assure you I wasn’t the first to go in as I was small and skinny and people who were stronger pushed themselves in front. Standing outside, frozen, naked and wet, nobody sneezed, got a cold or pneumonia, and somehow we all got into the barrack. They gave us a bit of soup and twice a day we had roll call. Three days later they gave us back some uniforms and put us on a passenger train from Matthausen to Ebensee. It was a picturesque place in a forest with mountains and a big lake. We used to call the kapo in charge of our Barrack Number 15 the Vampire of Düsseldorf. He had killed thirty-six women before the war and in the camp he used a thick leg from a wooden stool as a weapon, hitting anybody whenever he pleased. And there was that German, Grelet, who had told me to run away. He didn’t recognize me. When I told him who I was he gave me a job putting coals in the oven to keep the room warm – another miracle as people were frozen or beaten to death and I was still standing fighting for survival.

I was there till 4 May 1945. My friend Yitzhak, who was with me all the time in the camps and coalmines, decided not to go to work any more. I begged him not to give up, and told him that the Americans were close. I tell the children at the Holocaust Centre that once you lose hope you are finished. Yitzhak didn’t want to listen to me. I asked the man in charge of the barrack to look after him, but one day when I came back from work I was told that Yitzhak had died. He was outside on a heap of dead bodies. I climbed the ladder to see him and realized that he really was dead. Can you imagine how my heart felt as we had promised one another that we would tell our story after the war?

Six weeks later, after we were liberated by the Americans, a truck with Jewish Palestine Brigade soldiers came and took all the young people away to Italy and from there to Israel. On the way to Italy we stopped at Salzburg in Austria. Another Palestine Brigade truck arrived and a man jumped off the truck, calling my name in Polish. I realized he could only be Yitzhak. When the Americans had marched into our camp and inspected the corpses, they found that Yitzhak, although in a coma, was still breathing. They took him to hospital and after six weeks he was fit to go to Israel. This was my fourth miracle and we have continued our friendship till today.