The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

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wm
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The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 13 Nov 2023 11:56

At the end of 1944, Arnold Mostowicz - a Jewish doctor from the Litzmannstadt (Łódź) ghetto, was transferred from Auschwitz to a work camp in Hirschberg, a city four hours drive by car away.
This is what happened next.
The author writes for psychological reasons in the third person.
They crossed some railway tracks and suddenly found themselves in a wide-open space, and before them, far away, an extended panorama at the end of which were snow-covered mountain peaks. This was certainly not the Tatra Mountains or the Alps. He thought that the Berlin doctor who was in the same row as he was should be best oriented as to where they were.
'Where are we actually?'
'Those are the Riesengebirge!'
Riesengebirge? Giant mountains? He had never heard of them and they did not look like giants.
'Where are those mountains?'
'In the Sudeten. We are almost certainly in the Sudeten!'
It was Emil Vogel, the doctor from Prague, who marched behind them who said it. The one from Berlin was Heinz Hirschfeld. He boasted that he was a nephew of Professor Magnus Hirschfeld, a specialist in the area of sexuality whose popular scientific books bordering on pornography were in vogue after the First World War. A fourth one in this group of doctors was the dentist Loewi, also from Berlin.

They now walked along a paved road, and on the right side they noticed a sign with the inscription 'Hirschberg' nailed to a pole. So they were in Hirschberg, Jelenia Góra in Polish. That name, like the name Riesengebirge, had not meant anything to him at that time.
After a while the uneven clatter of their steps - most inmates wore wooden clogs - resounded with an ever more prolonged echo through the clean streets framed by beautiful colourful houses with small windows like in dolls' houses.
Some of the houses were green, some yellow, a few red, and the shutters were painted dark brown. No traces of the war were noticeable. It must have still been quite early because the streets were almost empty.

At one moment he heard Hirschfeld, who was marching to the right of him, whisper:
'I have something to ask you. Switch places with me.'
'Of course,' he said surprised. 'What is the difference?'
They changed places, and now Hirschfeld marched to the left of him.
'I often used to come sking here ... I would not like an acquaintance to see me here ...'
He was so surprised by that answer that he even stopped.
'Are you ashamed? For Heaven's sake! What are you ashamed of?'
'You know. In this striped uniform, I look like a criminal. What would they think of me?'
He wanted to say something insulting but restrained himself. He never could fathom the mentality of the German Jews. And in addition to this, he could never change it.
He looked askance at Hirschfeld to see whether he was hiding his face from the side of the pavement ...
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 18 Nov 2023 23:39

After a while they found themselves inside the camp. Again, a roll call. Everything tallied. The Auschwitz SS men jokingly handed over the delivered merchandise to the local SS.
They were led into the first barrack on the right side, which was both a kind of canteen and an office. They were ordered to sit at long tables on which there were plates and cups.
...
Suddenly they heard a noise at the door. Five uniformed SS men entered the barrack.
...
Swiftly, as on command, they stood up along the tables.
One of the SS men generously allowed them to sit down.
Together with the others, he walked slowly through the barrack and looked closely at each of them as if he wanted to memorize well all those emaciated, gray faces. When the review had ended, he said loudly:
'Let all the doctors stand up!'
He thought to himself that everything was beginning to remind him of Auschwitz.
All four of them stood up. Vogel, Hirschfeld, Loewi and he.
'Does anyone else have the title of doctor?'
Quite a strange question in those circumstances. But he did not have the time to think about it. One short, bulky, not-so-young man responded to this call. It turned out that he came from Prague, he was a doctor of laws and his name was Joachim.

The SS men exchanged some remarks among themselves.
Afterwards each of them approached one of the standing doctors and ordered him to accompany him. Vogel, who resembled a shaved Don Quixote, looked the most serious of them. The Oberscharführer himself took him along with him.
He, however, was approached by a short, non-commissioned officer with the rank of Unterscharführer. The SS man had long arms as if to compensate him for his short legs. In general, he had in him little of the military bearing but was rather comical.
'Follow me,' he said.

He led him out of the canteen. They entered a nearby barrack. From the outside, this barrack was cleaner than the others. It struck the eyes with its fresh green colour. Several entrances led inside. The inside of the barrack was divided into many rooms. The SS man opened the door of one and let him in ahead. In the room, there was a small table, several chairs, a cabinet for paper, and that was all. On the table a typewriter. Heavy curtains protected the inside from indiscreet eyes. He looked around anxiously in search of the tools the Gestapo usually used in their interrogations. He did not notice anything of the kind, which made him even more anxious.

The SS man sat down at the table and loosened the belt that was squeezing him. He pushed out a second chair and ordered him to sit down across from him. After a while he pulled out a box of cigarettes.
'Do you smoke?'
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 24 Nov 2023 19:22

He was dumbfounded.
This very gesture on the part of the Unterscharführer was unusual, to say the least. And besides, the German addressed him by the polite 'Sie'. The war was already in its sixth year. During that time he came across many SS men, and they had always addressed him by the familiar 'Du'.
His hand trembling from excitement, he reached for a cigarette.
...
the SS man who sat across from him ... had not moved and his face was absolutely expressionless. The SS man lit his own cigarette and then extended the lighted match to him. He inhaled deeply and of course choked. But the cigarette, the first one after four months, tasted very good. He inhaled again and inquiringly, or rather expectantly, glanced at the SS man. The SS man sat immersed in thought and looked around the room. Finally, he looked at him.
'I wanted to ask you something, he said.'

He spoke quite softly, and no threat or even an attempt to frighten him, as was usual with the Germans, could be detected in his voice (by screaming, they excited themselves and gave themselves courage).
The next sentence was thrown out slowly and thoughtfully as if the SS man had not been sure until the last moment if he should utter it.
'I wanted to ask you whether it is ... that means whether all that is being said about Auschwitz is true.'

A pause. And then:
'You may answer in Polish if it is more convenient. I understand it'

He could not believe his own ears. First he inhaled once more, then he held his breath and, finally, moved clumsily on the chair. Before he had the time to say anything, the SS man added:
'I understand that you are afraid, afraid to tell the truth.
But you yourself realize perfectly well that if I am asking about a thing like that it is not with the purpose, depending on your answer, to hang or shoot you. I can, after all do it in any case. I am only asking you to tell me the truth ..'

He froze with the cigarette smoke in his lungs. He choked again. He did various things to delay his answer and to think.
In spite of the assurances of his interlocutor, he was not at all convinced that he should tell the whole truth. Initially, he tried to formulate in his thoughts some evasive answer, but suddenly he realized that he could not concentrate and formulate a few coherent sentences in German. Because he had decided to speak in German, He renewed the attempt to choke ...
After a while however he calmed down enough to conclude that the German's reasoning made sense. Indeed, he could at any moment kill him regardless of what he would hear.
'What … what do you want to know?'
'I want to know if it is true that in Auschwitz gas chambers are operating and that in them Jews are being killed with a special gas, Zyklon B'
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 07 Dec 2023 03:49

This was said in a dispassionate voice. As if the content of the question concerned a book just read or the latest society gossip.
'That is true.'
'How do you know?'
'In Auschwitz everyone knows about it. Even at the station, on the railway platform, your people ...'
He halted and changed the formulation of the sentence.
'Even at the station a selection is made. Only those Jews who are still capable of physical work pass to the camp. It is only so lately. Previously all the Jews had been gassed. Now only the elderly people, the sick, the women with children and the children themselves are sent to the gas chambers. Later the corpses incinerated in the crematoria ovens. At times they are also burned in pits arranged in stacks ....'

The SS man stopped looking at him. Slowly he bent his head and tapped on the tabletop some rhythm with his fingers.
'The gas chambers are located in buildings that look like bath-houses, he now talked with increasing haste.'
He was afrald the German would interrupt him.
'There are even shower taps there to make the gas chambers look like real bath-houses... In Auschwitz no one makes a secret of it.'

At the end of his report, he still wanted to ask if here in Hirschberg they really did not know anything about it, but restrained himself.
It could have appeared that he had wanted to take over the initiative in this conversation, and even in some sense to take advantage of his superiority, the superiority of a man who had been there.
That the German could possibly not forgive him ... He fell silent. Besides ... If the other one really did not know, he knows now.
For a moment he was anxious because he was not the only one who had been submitted to a similar interrogation.
And what if the others denied it out of fear?

'Are transports of Jews still coming to Auschwitz?'
'Sir, in Poland there are probably no more Jews left. The Lód ghetto, the last one, was liquidated ... I think that transports of Hungarian Jews are still coming, but I do not know this for certain.'
...
Silence prevailed in the room. The SS man sat immersed in thought. After a while he lit another cigarette.
'I thank you,' he said briefly and stood up from the table.
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz
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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by CogCalgary » 07 Dec 2023 12:57

Very sobering for the SS man.Counting the days.

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 24 Dec 2023 06:22

In the barrack, where the other inmates of the transport had been gathered, he already found Vogel and Loewi. Both were as white as a sheet. Vogel was wiping the sweat from his forehead.
'I certainly look like them,' he thought.
He sat down at the table and did not say a word. He looked from one to the other and tried to read from their faces how their interrogation by the SS had gone.
He was still worrying whether each of them said the same thing, whether anyone had got cold feet. Finally he could not restrain himself and asked Vogel:
'Did he want to know about Auschwitz?' Vogel just nodded.
'What did you tell him?'
'Well ... As it is ...'

After a while Joachim came in, and after a few seconds - Hirschfeld. He was the one who worried him the most. It seemed everyone told the same story as he. This fact calmed him, although it was actually difficult to explain rationally why it did so.
As if the fact that their testimonies agreed with his could in any way influence the individual situation of each of them.
In the evening when the lights in the barrack went out, he sat down at Vogel's plank bed. He absolutely had to ask him some things.
'Did your German say anything about the necessity of keeping a secret?'
'No, why.'
'Neither did mine. And you know why? Because regardless of anything, we are like bedbugs so far as they are concerned. And bedbugs do not count. One does not ask bedbugs to keep a secret ...'
Vogel nodded.
'And at that bedbugs that will croak in a month or two in any case, before this whole game is finished...'

The next day, when they were preparing to go out for the first time to the coal yard, Vogel summed up the whole incident somehow by saying:
'This is what occurred to me ... Perhaps those SS men also intended something more?
It is true that they wanted to learn from us what was really happening there, but perhaps they also wanted us to know that they did not know the whole truth about Auschwitz?
I'll tell you something. If at any time I had to give evidence before a court examining the crimes of the SS, I would not mention this conversation, which could be used by someone somewhere as an extenuating circumstance, although this conversation could be considered abnormal... I give you my word ...'
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 11 Jan 2024 11:58

Doctor Emil Vogel died several years after the end of the war. He could not carry on living when he learned that his wife, whom he adored, had been burned alive in one of the women's camps in Germany ...
However, he decided to write at some time about the interrogation at the Jelenia Góra camp. It was not because in the 40 years after the war the spark of hatred was extinguished in him. Oh no!
But because he had recognized that no one was allowed to take to his grave even the least important fact that supplemented the knowledge of the times of the gas chambers and crematoria ovens.
And if someone could use it as an argument in the defence of a case that was indefensible, that was too bad.
With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross by Arnold Mostowicz

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by CogCalgary » 12 Jan 2024 17:12

Very sobering.

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Re: The interrogation - Auschwitz in the mist of war

Post by wm » 29 Jan 2024 03:13

The author post-war.
Arnold Mostowicz.jpg
He provided commentary in the Polish film about the ghetto - "Photographer" (1998):
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