Ben Abraham was separated from his mother as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz. After both of them wept convulsively, she was ordered to stand by the women’s line and departed slowly. He never saw her again.
The soldiers separated the men in groups and made them walk before a German official, who would say nothing; all he did was to move his thumb either to the right or to the left to indicate which direction each man should take. More than half of the people who had gotten off the train were selected by that official – Josef Mengele – to go somewhere they did not know.
Then, for the first time, Ben Abraham saw the chimneys. After asking a man wearing a striped uniform where all the other people were going, he was told that they were going to the crematorium, about which he had no idea. Then, pointing to the black smoke that came out of the chimneys, the striped man said: “We get out of here through those chimneys.” He then asked the man about the children, and the man said that only the twins were spared, since Mengele’s favorite hobby was experimenting on twins.
Shortly after, a group of men wearing striped uniforms and carrying buckets came near, shouting that all should deliver any gold, diamonds, or money they still had. Those who did not follow the order and were caught would be immediately shot. Ben Abraham then remembered he had his mother’s diamond ring sewn on the cuff of his pants; he quickly took it off and threw it into one of the buckets.
After being beaten, shaved, and given their uniform, which included wooden ‘shoes,’ he and other men were led into Birkenau, where he read the inscription “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets free). The group was composed of around five hundred men; they were placed in an old barrack with a sign that read “For forty horses.”
While experiencing the cruel routine as a prisoner of the camp, Ben Abraham realized that most of the Jews deported from the Lodz ghetto had been brought to Auschwitz and undergone selection by Mengele and his assistants. Now he could only wait for his day of selection to come. It seemed that the Germans were more concerned about killing all the Jews than fleeing from the Russians.
At a certain point he met his uncle in Auschwitz. His wife and little daughter had gone together to the gas chamber.
One day, one of the prisoners told him about the gas chamber and how those selected for death were killed by poisonous gas, after being told they were only taking a shower. Those who cleaned the chamber were also to be killed afterwards.
At a certain point, they were told that the directors of German factories would visit the camp looking for workers. Ben Abraham managed to talk to one of them and convinced him he was truly a mechanic. He was moved to another block from which he would be transferred to Braunschweig by train in a group of 250 prisoners.
Ben Abraham had stayed in Auschwitz for two weeks.
Continue reading: Labor Camps and Liberation.