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Karski - One Man Who Tried to Stop the Holocaust
I was born July 22,1926 (72 years old when I wrote this) at Villers-Vermont (Oise) France.
Present Address: 60400 Noyon France (100km North of Paris)
I was the oldest son of 10 children. Lived the first 10 years on farms at villers-Vermont until 8 years old then at St Samson La Poterie until 10 years old with my grandmothers and parents.
Then I family moved to Noyon where I still reside. From 1936 to 1940 attended primary school in Noyon and then started working to help out the family. From 1940 to 1944 worked in a factory.
Joined the Resistance Movement to Fight the Germans
On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), I joined, in the forest near Noyon, The "Maquis des Usages" (resistance movement) to fight the Germans.
I recycled weapons, grenades, and guns. Reception of British parachutes. Also I gave aid to British and American Aviators that were shot down.
On June 23, 1944 "Le Maquis" (The resistant team) was attacked by the Germans. Two resistance fighters were killed but we killed 6 German soldiers. The fight was tough. With our machine guns (British machine guns called STEN ) we won over the 40 German soldiers, when there were were only twelve of us. Two of us were only 17 years old. We were in a hunting chalet surrounded by the Germans that we had to repel to escape.
We took the opportunity, after they retreated in a truck, to escape and walk 15 km in the forest. The next day the Germans came back and bombed the chalet. The Gestapo organized a manhunt, so we took refuge in huge underground caves.
On returning to Noyon to inform my family, the Gestapo arrested me on July 20th, 1944. They took me to the Prison of Compiegne where I was questioned and tortured.
On August 16th, 1944 we were moved to the camp of Royallieu near Compiegne, where other resistance fighters were gathered from all over France. 55,000 resistance fighters left Compiegne during the war for concentration camps in Germany.
The next day August 17th, 1944, we are locked in animal wagons (80-90 person per wagon) in Compiegne forest. Our destination is the concentration camp of Buchenwald where we arrived 92 hours later, completely dehydrated. It was during August in a incredible heat, we received only a 1/4 liter of water during the trip. People were dying, others were losing there mind. Some of them were leeching the water condensation on the steel at night. For the toilette facility only a metallic bucket in the middle of the wagon with an unbearable odor, was available.
We arrived at Buchenwald exhausted on August 21st, 1944. Strong people became, in 92 hours, very old. We slept for three weeks outside on the garbage heap of the" big Camp". We were shaved from head to toe and given striped uniforms.
300 Prisoners were Killed
August 23rd, 1944 the camp of Buchenwald was bombed by the Allies. The factory near the camp and 58 barracks (Headquarters) were destroyed. Not too much damage in the camp but three hundred prisoners (deportees) were killed.
Towards September 10th, 1944 I was sent via "Transport Train" towards the Dutch border. We crossed Cologne (koln), went down the Rhine towards Koblenz. The Allies are progressing so fast that we could not leave the wagons and the train was forced to return to Buchenwald. The Germans only took food for the one way trip so, on the way back we traveled three days without anything to eat.
Two days later I got really depressed when I learned that I'm leaving For the Camp of Dora (Nordhausen) to work in the underground Factory of the 'Mittelbau where we built the VI and V2 rockets. Only dead comes back from Dora in Wagons and trucks to be burned in the crematorium of Buchenwald.
From September 15th 1944 to the beginning of April 1945 I was in the most cruel Hell. Twelve hours per day or night (eighteen hours when we rotate team) we must carry on our back extremely heavy equipment in and out of the tunnel With almost nothing in our stomach, under the rain, snow, mud, in extremely cold weather, clothed in a poor outfit, wood clogs with fabric on top which get hooked in everything and under the beatings of the "55" and "Kapos" (Often ex criminals just out of jail).
I touch the bottom of misery and mental distress. Although, I had a strong constitution from a very athletic life, my health declined rapidly. I was admitted at the "Revier" (nursery) toward March 15th 1945 for complication to a wound received in the temple by a kapos. From then on, my health became worse with numerous diseases one after the other: Pleuresie, Lymphangite, dysentrie, etc.. (I don't know the English translation of those diseases).
April 3rd and 6th evacuation of Camp Dora. People in charge of the "Revier" wanted to evacuate us right away, they said that everything will be destroyed with flame throwers. With my extreme weakness I tried to go down on the Appel Plaza. But when I see the poor people in front of me being beat with tool handles, I hide behind a barracks and go back in the block where the nurse immediately sent me back out. So, I went around the Block and pushed a window who thank God opened. I'm in a empty room and my Heart is beating really fast. I collapse and lose consciousness.
Prisoners Burned to Death
When I finally regained consciousness I saw the town of Nordhausen burning about 7 km away. It was only when I came back to France that I learned that the "SS" put thousand of prisoners (Deportees) incapable of working in their barracks. The allies thought they were bombing a military installation. Around 1500 prisoners (Deportees) were killed.
On the 7th or 8th of April, the "SS" abandoned Dora except for a few dying prisoners (Deportees) like me. The camp is evacuated. We stayed a few days in this "no man's land".
On April 11th, 1945 The American Army investigated the tunnel and the Camp of Dora. Shocked, they discovered about a hundred men dying in the Revier (nursery). The first military man that I saw was a Canadian Captain who spoke French. They distributed some food. It was so good, since we were dying of hunger for the last nine months. Only skin was left on our bones.
April 19th, 1945, we had gained a little more strength so they walked us to the airfield of Nordhausen. There Dakotas (Airplanes) brought supplies to the Front. American military set up tents. There is on tables some beautiful white bread, but nobody to care for us. Maybe to avoid diseases? But also because of the war they didn't have time for us. They let us sleep outside, fortunately, it didn't rain. I lay down on the workshop of a demolished building.
On April 2Oth, 1945 a Dakota took us from Nordhausen to "Le Bourget" Airport near Paris, where Parisian people discover what deportation is.
On April 2lth, 1945 I returned to my house in Noyon by train. I am very tired. It will take me several months to recover. For more than 15 years I'll have nightmares every night.
I will get married on December 19, 1946. We would have four children, two died. We have today Jean-Marc born on July 11th, 1948 and Sophie born on July 26th, 1965 married to Sylvester Samuels a U.S. Marine who lives in Oceanside, California.
Today, I'm 72 years old. I'm retired after working 50 years. 37 and a half years in Civil Service (Travaux Publics de l'Etat).
From the 10 to 19 April, 1945 in the Dora Camp when I was resting in the sun in front of a block some American soldiers photographed me. I remember in particular a black soldier. I'd like to find those photographs because the one I have was taken more than a month after my return, and after numerous care.
Thank you for the courageous and brave American Soldiers who came to rescue us. Without them I would not be able, 54 years later, to write these lines. Honors to those who gave their life to make this possible.
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©1999 National Timberwolf Association, Peter Branton, National Timberwolf Association Member
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