The summer of 1944 was the worst of times. The death factory in Auschwitz was working at a frantic pace. Day and night trainloads of people were unloaded on the ramps. Most of them went directly to the gas chambers.
The infirmary was located near the ramp, and though we were not allowed to leave the block, we managed, through the crack of the open gate, to see what was going on. On one occasion a freight train with a long line of locked cars arrived at the ramp. The SS men and the prisoners who made up the sonderkomando were already waiting at the track. The train stopped and the doors opened with a loud roar. A horde of weary, exhausted souls carrying valises, rucksacks, and an assortment of packages spilled out onto the tracks. Now the sonderkomando sprang into action. They threw themselves on the valises, rucksacks, and packages, tearing them out of the tightly clenched fists of the new arrivals and tossing them to the side. Some people tried to protect their possessions. They explained to the SS men that the things in the valises were necessities. How would they be able to live without them? One SS man listened to their protestations, standing there with his legs spread wide. Then he uttered a shout and cracked his whip, thus reminding the new arrivals of their situation. Their complexions turned gray. They hunched their shoulders and obediently took their places in the death line.
Women and children also got off the train. Often the little girls would be holding dolls in their arms, while the little boys in short pants were jumping and running after a ball. The children did not seem to be as tired as the adults. They looked around curiously, satisfied at finally having left the dark wagons. The mothers and children were put in one line that passed slowly in review before the searching eyes of Mengele.
When I looked at those women and children brought here from such great distances for this torturous death, I always reminded myself of a colony in the Kingdom in Pustyni i Puszczy ( The Desert and the Wilderness) by Henryk Sienkiewicz. When two war-