1944 – 1945
In early 1944, and as the Russian army advanced, Alfred was sent to Czestochowa labour camp.
The Jewish workers were completely dispensable to the Nazi-Germans; frequent selections were made and those unsuitable for work were either shot or transported to extermination camps. Others died of hard labour or starvation. They were unable to get much sleep since the sleeping conditions – as in many camps – were terrible. The mattresses were made of straw and the over crowded 3-tier bunks very fragile. There was constant bombardment during the night. Alfred was amused though to see that the Germans too were frightened.
Alfred worked again in the transport section. His trousers had started to fall apart and he was sent to get them repaired. To his amazement he found his second cousin, Jacob Weinstock working there and sewing on a machine. He had also lived in Pulawy and was able to give Alfred some extra food.
Alfred and his cousin were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in late 1944; the journey by cattle train trucks took days, shunting to and from, day and night and they only received a bread ration for a day or two. As soon as they stepped off the train, huge German shepherd dogs were waiting for them. They were led to a walled-in enclosure with a tank full of strong disinfectant, stripped and all possessions taken including the only photographs Alfred still had. The soldiers used long poles to make sure they were fully submerged. After the ‘bath’ they were issued with striped jackets and shoes and taken to Barrack No.52. His number was 116668.
Fortunately Alfred was only in Buchenwald for three or four weeks. He volunteered to fetch the soup to make sure he could have an extra ration. The toilets (for approximately 1,000 prisoners) consisted of a ditch with a tree trunk across; those who were weak or disorientated sometimes fell in. They had to endure frequent counts, and since there were approximately 40,000 prisoners, they were forced to stand in freezing weather conditions for many hours.
In early 1945 Alfred was transferred to Remsdorf camp (Troeglitz), a Buchenwald subcamp. He arrived by train at night and had to sleep in the open in melting snow.
The following morning he awoke to find an outline of his body in the snow. The prisoners were lined up to go to work filling in holes in the fields caused by the bombardments. Although in the fields Alfred could sometimes find bits of carrots or potatoes to eat, the conditions were tortuous. He was forced to always carry something heavy back to the camp – either bricks, the disabled or dead bodies.
By this time Alfred had started coughing up blood but he was determined to try and live until the end of the war but he was again transferred. He travelled by train in an open truck that was full of dying prisoners, some of whom died of dysentery after eating leaves at occasional stops on the journey.
The advancing American army shelled the trucks and those who were able jumped off and escaped. Alfred discovered an empty hotel where he found a large amount of food that he hid in a suitcase, shoved loaves under his arm and a sausage under his jacket. Sadly, everything was grabbed from him by others, but he did have one bite of sausage, before he was rounded up by the Hitler youth and sent on a ‘Death March’, marching through villages and towns for three weeks. Since he had lived in a country village he was at least able to identify plants and herbs that he could eat. 2000 prisoners left Remsdorf and only about 800 were still alive when they arrived at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.
The Jewish inmates were shocked at the state they were in. They were allocated places in the military barracks, but since they had no idea how long the war would last, the rations were halved. However, on May 8th 1945 the Russian Army liberated the camp.