A Life Saved by Dog Biscuits
The interesting responses to my articles on Capos continue to come into my mailbox. Yesterday I received the following comment from a Spaniard.
I have shared your article with my younger son (we are both Roman Catholic). When he walked away I heard him say, "I didn't know they had Spanish Jews?" Now with the grace of God, he will tell his friends and share some of the stories. These times are a harbinger of the past. Nazism has been replaced by islam [sic]. Not all of America's children are brats, but becoming are "Knowledge Generation". What it will do is make these kids "aware" of the evil that will behold them against islam and the sanctity of life.
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By now many of you have met my friend Eli Schultz. In order to learn more about Capos, I asked Eli to tell me about the Capos he had experienced as well as other things he could relate to me about this phenomenon.
While last night Eli provided me with a lot of interesting material on the topic, today I wish to relate a story he told me as a sideline to our main discussion.
Eli ended the war in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, following a forced death march into Germany. By the time he arrived there in January 1945 the Nazis had stopped actively murdering Jews in the death camps. Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps, serving more as a base for slave laborers in nearby factories. Though there were no gas chambers there, many perished from disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings, executions and medical experiments.
The forced walk from Poland into Germany proper took a tremendous toll. Most of those who set forth on the death march did not arrive at their destination, dying along the way of disease and starvation, or murdered, a single bullet, or more likely, a vicious blow -- murdered because they were unable to maintain the required pace.
Interestingly, Eli said that all of the inmates of his previous location were forced on the march, the Kapos along with the "regular" Jews. On the march these Kapos received the same brutal treatment at the hands of their German guards as everyone else. Their previous loyalty provided no immunity. Thus many amongst their numbers also never reached their destination. Their advantage of having previously been better fed quickly dissipated.
Arrival to Buchenwald did not guarantee survival to the end of the war. In the camps, except that the chimneys had stopped belching our their gases, it was business as usual. Food was in short supply and disease was rampant. People had not yet stopped dying. Inmates were clueless as to how badly the war was now going for the Germans.
In Buchenwald, Eli resided in barracks, with other Jewish inmates, at the very far end of the camp. Nearby, between their building and the centre of the camp was another residential block, housing Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war. As the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Red Cross treaty, Germany was not required to permit international inspections of these prisoners as they did for English and American POWs. Thus, instead of setting up special camps for captured Soviet forces, they just treated them like Jews, Gypsies and local German communists. But, even in this hell, they remained an aggressive bunch. Eli said that on many days he received nothing to eat because the Russians would ambush the people [other inmates] bringing their food and consume it themselves.
One day, after days and weeks that were no different from the previous day, with the exception that they were all becoming feebler from hunger, the inmates in this remote part of the camp noticed that not all the guard towers were manned, a first since Eli had arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau more than nine months before.
A couple of days later it was apparent that none of the towers were manned.
The Russian soldiers approached the electrified perimeter fence. The electricity was not on. Without questioning why, the Russians broke a hole through the fence. Off they ran into the woods, to attack some of the local farmers (yes, the same ones who after the war testified that Buchenwald was a factory, or training camp, or to whatever they allowed their imagination to take them) to steal some food and beat up Germans. Revenge is always sweet.
Eli chased after them through the fence, but after close to a year of starvation and hard labour, he was not able to keep up. Suddenly he was lost, alone in the middle of the forest. Then, across the way, he noticed another camp. He had not been aware of another camp in this area. He cautiously approached it. It was the S.S. dog camp. The S.S. used dogs as guards and to help them commit many atrocities against the camp populations. These alsatians were especially trained in savagery.
Like the biblical Samarian lepers entering the Assyrian camp, Eli found a deserted encampment: no dogs, no guards, no soldiers -- just a strange, calm silence. Neat rows of kennels, all abandoned. He entered one of the deserted buildings. It was a storeroom for dog food. Boxes and bags of dog biscuits everywhere.
Eli took a biscuit into his hand. It was hard. He smelt it. It actually smelt quite good. He was very weak and very hungry. He gingerly tried to bite into the biscuit. Yes, it was hard, but it was edible. He ate the whole biscuit. It was all right. So he ate another and then another. As he is speaking to me, Eli puts his hand under his chin, "I ate . . . until I was full up to here".
Eli's striped camp clothes did not have pockets. The pants were tied at the ankles. He tightened the cords and proceeded to fill his trousers with as many biscuits as he could fit. He returned to the Buchenwald camp, back through the hole in the fence, back to his barracks. He started handing out biscuits to his comrades, most of who were where he had left them, the exertion required to stand up being too great.
As the friends are enjoying their new delicacies, an inmate from another part of the camp bursts in. Why are you still here, eating dog biscuits? The Americans are handing out hot goulash in the centre of the camp.
"What?! What are you talking about?" Eli's quarters were located so far from the main part of the camp that its inmates did not know the Allied forces, lead by the underground, had already entered the camp. It was 11th April, 1945. Buchenwald had been liberated and they, happily munching away on their dog biscuits, did not have even an inkling.
A long line of sickly, emaciated humanity doddered out of the barracks towards the centre of the camp. Here, now former inmates stood in line, grasping plates, waiting for a portion of food to be served to them. A Capo hung, dead, on a pole in the background. At the very moment of liberation, some inmates had grabbed him and tied him to the pole by his wrists. They then yanked on his legs as hard they could, breaking the bones of his chest, pulling his arms out of their sockets. They left him there, ignoring his screams and groans, and went to eat. The Americans, like the later the Israeli government, did not interfere in retribution against these scum. No-one in Israel was ever tried for exterminating a Capo, and many of those migrating here were indeed killed.
People were standing around and sitting on the ground, partaking in a long overdue meal. There were no chairs and tables. People took their portions and sat wherever they could. On finishing their portion, most queued again -- for seconds, and thirds, and more. Eli too grabbed a plate and stood in line, walking off with his stew.
But he was so satiated from "breakfast" that he could not eat anything, not even a single spoonful.
The Americans had never before experienced feeding so large a group of emaciated people, shuffling bags of bones; shadows of humanity who had not eaten a meal in months and often years. These poor Jews overate, and right there, on their first day of freedom, they devoured themselves to death. They should have been started on liquids and light food but no-one had yet thought of that. I think the Americans did not, could not, grasp how little these people had been fed by the Germans. Eli clearly remembers watching U.S. army bulldozers gathering up the bodies of these poor souls, dumping them into mass graves. A dark day which should have been full of light.
The way he puts it, Eli was spared this certain demise. He didn't eat anything more that day. He was still to survive typhus, to be treated for long weeks in an American field hospital, before he finally returned back home to Pressburg, Bratislava. But at least he had not eaten from that dreaded American stew.
"My life was saved by those dog biscuits", he told me.
He was all of fifteen and a half years old on that fateful day.
Menachem Kuchar, 5th April, 2011
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