My Liberation

Article excerpt

Monday, 20 April 1945, was a sunny, cool day. Two days earlier, about two thousand of us, concentration camp inmates of the Allach-Dachau Concentration Camp, were hurriedly herded together, lined up, counted and loaded into a waiting open freight train, and shipped off. Most of us, emaciated men and women, exhausted and starving, did not know where we were going and really did not care anymore. From the previous October, when the pressure on the Germans had increased from both the East and West, hundreds of thousands of inmates had been marched or shipped from place to place. Many perished or were shot when they could not march anymore.

About 70 broken bodies filled each open car. We were seated on the floor, with no room for stretching out a leg or a limb. On top of each car, a German soldier, rifle in hand, looked down at us. Some among us were very quiet and motionless -- they had expired; yet, there was hardly a difference between the living and the dead. This was to have been our last journey. We were most certainly on our last stretch of endurance. We were automatons, devoid of human feeling. In order to get from one day to the next, we had to be.

I don't remember whether or not I was heartbroken over the fact that I had left behind my two brothers, who had also reached Dachau on their journey from their respective camps. One of my brothers was in a group that, at the last minute, was cut off and remained behind. As I was being loaded, I saw a column of inmates marching by, my brother among them. I did not have enough strength to shout either hello or goodbye or to try to sneak out of my group to stay behind with them. One's own misery can be endured more easily than witnessing the suffering of loved ones.

I found myself sitting on the floor of the freight car. I don't remember if I was lucky enough to be near the wall, against which I would be able to rest my back. I could hardly tell whether or not the leg I touched was mine or my neighbor's.

On the afternoon of 29 April, something unusual happened. The train halted in an open field. We noticed a commotion, and, after a while, we were told something incredible, something for which we had hoped for six long years. A delegation of the International Red Cross had reached our train and brought food! Soon we were treated to CARE packages containing such unbelievable items as cans of meat, chocolate, milk, and cigarettes! They let us disembark from the train, and, right there, we got busy opening our packages. The scene was one of uncontrollable excitement. Our hands were trembling. What do you eat first? Not knowing what tomorrow would bring, we would not dare to consume everything at once.

As we returned to the cars, the night slowly came upon us. The train did not move farther. In the morning, we were again permitted to leave the train to take care of our needs and to enjoy the food left over from the day before. Then we returned to the train. It moved for a while and then stopped again. …