“Arbeit Macht Frei” by Hemmy


Work will set you free. It does indeed, but not in the way they preached it. We thought we were coming to something better. We thought we were coming to a bed, decent food, a roof above our heads. We were mistaken.

When we left the train, the air was full of promises; we learned they were only lies. My wife and two daughters were led away from me with an assurance that we would be reunited soon. It was the last time I ever laid eyes on them.

A physician inspected every man that was in our queue, and many were led away. We dared not speak a word. The air of promises was fading fast. Work will set you free. It was the first thing we saw arriving, those words. At the time we didn't know what they meant.

My small congregation, about 300 of the thousands that left the train, were thrown into a barrack with only about thirty bunks. The officers left one by one, and as the last one was about to shut the door, one of our own stepped forward. He started telling the officer about all the things that were supposed to be getting. The officer took out a pistol and shot him in the head.

He laughed, "Is that what they told you?" he chuckled. "You are sadly mistaken. You are nothing but vile beasts. You will work; your work will set you free. Welcome to Auschwitz. There is no hope for you here."

And with one last bark of laughter he locked the door. The night was frigid. In our very first night, with only thirty blankets to go around, our numbers dropped from 307 to 298.

We were awoken at daybreak by a blaring horn. It was the day of our "integration into concentration life." Our "Integration" was to stand in the yard, stripped of our garments for a day and a night. Our numbers plummeted by 56 in those hours.

When our torture was over, an officer announced we were to go to a building to the west of us for new clothes. We were each given a striped jumpsuit with a number stitched on it. Then we were led to a shed where they etched the number on our clothes onto the inside of our arm with blue ink. We were never again called by name, it was the first step into the destroying of our dignity, the only thing we had left.

Having not been given any food since before we arrived, we thought it was a relief when breakfast was announced. We arrived at the end of a line which we didn't reach the end of for two hours. When we got there, we were each given a bowl in which an officer dumped a ladle-full of white sludge with black specs. We were apparently expected to eat it. I sat down beside a man who seemed to have been there for a while. He was eating his "porridge" with a fair amount of disgust.

"You better eat that soon," he said. "It's more than we usually get. At least it's somewhat solid."

I took a mouthful. It tasted of sawdust and rot and I spat it up. "I'll take my chances," I replied, and set the bowl in the muddy earth.




It was more or less the same torture for weeks. I learned to consume whatever I could get my hands on, and hunger became one of my closest friends. During the day they kept us hard-pressed with work, for any maintenance or construction that had to be done in the camp was done by us.

When there was nothing to be done, or it was being done by someone else, we were forced to perform grueling acts for the officer's amusement. Their personal favorite was to make us run in circles in the yard, falling down in the mud and filth, only to get up and do it again. Many of our batch were also taken away by the SS physicians, not many returned, and anyone who did didn't last long. During the night was no better.

We had no proper facilities, and our barracks were repulsive at the least. Any one who couldn't work was condemned to die in their own filth. At my best guess many months past, but I stopped caring about time a long time ago, and out of the 307 that came here from my train only thirteen of us remained.

On what I learned was the 295th day in that hell I refused to get up. Many of my fellow captives tried to rouse me, I didn't answer to any of them. I lay there for many days, not eating, not thinking. I died there, like so many others. I died in my own filth with all of my dignity stripped from me. My work did set me free, but not in the way they preached it.