Diary of Number 1067 - Zygfryd Baginski
I weighed 220 pounds before I was apprehended by the German Gestapo in Poland in 1944. After ten months of incarceration, I weighed 72 pounds, my hair had turned gray, and I was never the same again. I witnessed incredulous inhumanity, bestiality, starvation, floggings, and extreme cruelty. Trying to recall these events is very distressing -- even 50 some years later. But, I will try.
I was apprehended
in a routine roundup, along with several other men and boys. We were placed
in buildings surrounded by barbed wire. The police immediately went to
our houses and ransacked our families' homes, tore up the floors, and
destroyed furniture trying to find any
kind of hidden weapons or any evidence at all so they would have an excuse to execute us.
Three days later we were forced inside railroad boxcars -- 40 men to a car. We were given no food or water. A bucket in the corner was our toilet. The only food we had was that which was given us by our anxious families.
We traveled in the stuffy and smelly boxcars for at least three days and nights. At the end of our trip, we were ordered to walk for a several hours until we reached Gross-Rosen K.Z. [K.Z was the acronym for "concentration camp" in English from the German word Konzentrationslager.] German SS soldiers with their yelping and growling dogs closely guarded us. There were a few hundred of us. We were lined up in a large open area and told to strip off our clothes and place them in neatly folded piles. Then all of our clothes were confiscated.
One by one, we were strip-searched. Then our heads and our genital areas were shaved. Some men were ordered to have their genital areas swabbed with a strong disinfectant that burned like fire. One man cried out in pain and was hit in the face so hard that his nose bled.
We were then issued striped clothing and wooden shoes. We had to exchange clothes among ourselves to try to find some that fit. We were each assigned a number and given two cloth patches with the number on them. My number was 1067. These were to be sewn onto our clothing, one on the jacket and one on the pants. I received a patch with the letter "P" on it that identified me as being Polish.
One day, soon after our arrival, five men were called: Sosnowski, who was a hunchback; Kosmaczewski, who had become mentally unstable; Formeister, who was very overweight, and two others whose names I do not remember. These five men were taken away. We never saw them again.
On another day, I saw six men -- kapos - -chained to one another. They were following an SS man. Behind them was another kapo who was beating them with a chain. I later learned that these six kapos were involved in a scuffle during a card game the previous night that resulted in one man being killed. Now these men were being punished, first with a beating and then death. [Kapos were inmates whom the SS chose to carry out their orders and keep track of the others.]
I spent about a week at Gross-Rosen before I was transferred, along with several others, to Aslau K.Z. There was a military airport nearby and we were given jobs in one of the hangars. Every morning before work, we were ordered to line up to be counted. This usually took a long time because we had to remain standing until every one was accounted for.
We were hungry and tired and very weak almost the entire time. It was an enormous chore just to keep moving until the end of the day. In the evening we lined up to be counted again. Any person accused of breaking any work rules was called forward and punished. Either they were hit in the face, given a beating or they were ordered to run until they fell from exhaustion. This last form of punishment was called "sport" and was a form of entertainment for the SS men.
One morning two men were missing. We were ordered to remain standing until the two were found. We stood for six hours. Finally the SS men with dogs found the escapees. They were transferred to the main camp, probably to the Punishment Commando. They were never seen again.
Another time, a man was discovered in a tunnel that had been dug under the barbed wire fence. The entire camp was lined up to witness his punishment. He was given 100 lashes. After 30 lashes he lost consciousness and fell to the ground. The SS men threw water on him and a kapo named Eric gave him 70 more lashes. The guy never screamed or cried out. It was terrifying to watch. Unbelievably, this man survived this horrendous beating. Some months later he showed us his wounds on his buttocks. There was no skin. The flesh was red. There were two open wounds about the size of a half-dollar where the bones were visible. Red and blue veins branched out form the center of the wound.
Sunday was a day of rest from our work. On some Sundays, the entire barracks was ordered to take a bath. Buckets of water were heated up on a wood burning stove. The heated water was poured into a large tub. The first one to bathe was the leader of the barracks. Next, the members of his team took their turn in the bath. Finally, all 300 of us were ordered to bathe in the same water. I tried to keep my head above the polluted water, but the guards physically shoved my head under. I remember shutting my eyes, and mouth and trying to hold my nose so none of the putrid water would seep inside.
One day while standing in line, I noticed a man collapse some distance away from me but in the same line. He fell against the man next to him knocking him over. We were so weak that when this man fell, one by one, like dominos, the entire line of men began falling down. I saw what has happening and I tried to step out of the way, but I was so weak that I could not move fast enough and I too went down. The SS men and the kapos found this very amusing.
In November 1944, a new SS officer arrived. We called him "Croat". He decided to double our shift, which created a 16-hour workday. In the morning we received a cup of Erzart coffee that was impossible to drink. Most of us used it as warm water to wash our hands and faces. Later in the day we would get one liter of watery green vegetable soup and a small piece of black bread. The soup tasted terrible, but we ate because we were starving.
Because it was so late when we returned to our barracks at the end of the workday, our "dinner" would be set aside for us outside in metal bowls. During the winter, the top layer of the soup would freeze and we would have to break the ice to eat it. We went straight to bed after eating because we were exhausted. My legs ached so much from all the walking, standing and working, that I lost all feeling in my feet.
Sometime after Christmas 1944, we were evacuated from Aslau. We were ordered to load about ten farm wagons with supplies. We then pushed and steered the wagons across the countryside on a journey that took several days. Anyone who was unable to walk or who collapsed from exhaustion was shot and killed on the spot.
One night two prisoners escaped. The commandant was so angry that he punished all of us by asking five men standing next to me to step out of line and move behind a building. Then we listened while he shot them with his gun. To this day I do not understand how I escaped not being chosen that night.
We arrived in Nordhausen K.Z. in March 1943 where we stayed for a few days only. Then we marched to Dora.
It was about this time that I got sick. A gland in my neck was so swollen that it locked my jaw and my teeth were clenched tight. My commander noticed my condition and sent me to the hospital. It was called a hospital but hardly anyone left this building alive. There were no medical supplies - just very sick and dying people. One man had gangrene in his arm. Three times they amputated parts of his arm without anesthesia. He finally died.
There were about 600 patients in the hospital when I arrived. In a few weeks four hundred of these were dead and any patient well enough to walk was sent back to work.
One morning we looked out the window and noticed that all the SS guards were gone. The Wermacht had replaced them. A few days later, General Patton's Army arrived at the camp. I remember the first Allied soldier I saw was an African-American smiling and throwing chocolate candy bars and Camel cigarettes to us through the window. We were liberated. Zygfryd Baginski.
Edited by Terese Pencak Schwartz © 1989 - 2012