For a long time I couldn’t come to terms with the thought that the dead were being burnt in the crematorium and not buried. One day a few prisoners came to the kitchen where I was working. They were boiler-plant maintenance technicians. One of them said: “Arbeit macht frei, durch krematorium trei,” meaning “work sets you free by way of Crematorium 3.” I asked him what he meant and he answered: “They gas people here.”
I didn’t believe him. And then later I looked out of the kitchen window and watched the ramp onto which people were being unloaded, one transport after another. The trains would pull in, people would walk out distrustful and terrified. I saw them waiting in line to enter the bath-house. They would wait and wait, then go in, and . . . disappear. There were people no more.
Seeing them day after day, month after month, I was no longer surprised that the dead should be burnt and the living gassed. There is very little that can surprise you after Auschwitz.
I didn’t say anything, I didn’t tell any stories, I didn’t burden anyone with my martyrdom. I wouldn’t even talk to my family. Perhaps I didn’t want to worry my mother. I came back home in May 1945 and in June she asked me to go to Auschwitz with her, poor thing.
“Why, mom?” I asked. “Because I want to see what your lodging looked like.” My lodging? Dear God… I didn’t want to go at all, but we did in the end. First, we visited Birkenau. Back then the blocks were still open so I showed her the pallets in block 27 where I had lain sick with typhoid fever.
My mama didn’t say anything. Not a word. Later, on our way back, we stopped at block 8 in Auschwitz, where my first ‚lodging’ used to be. I saw three former prisoners putting some papers in order. They did this so that the remaining documents would not be lost, so that they would be preserved. I remember those scattered photographs and notebooks. I thought: “I could work here, too,” and I asked one of them, the oldest one, whether they might perhaps need my help.
“What, you would want to work here?”
“Yes, I would,” I said.
“And how old are you?”
“You have your whole life ahead of you! You have to go! Leave now!”
He threw me out. God, how I cried. I wanted to stay in this camp. They stayed.