Peter and the Holocaust
My story begins in September 1945. It was a time of horror
and terror, especially for my family as we are Jewish. I was 14 years old when my nightmare started
and this is where my story begins.
I grew up in a small village in Poland called Trawniki. My
father was a farmer and my mother stayed home with us and taught us how to read
and write and do our maths. I had a brother called Serge, who was two years
older than me. My brother and I were very close. My favourite memory of us growing up together
before the nightmare began was spending Sunday afternoons in summer, fishing in
the stream adjoining our property. He
was my best friend.
One cold fateful winter’s afternoon, there was a knock on the
door which was the beginning of my world changing forever. My mother peered through the curtain and I
saw her face turn white. I will never
forget the look of terror in her eyes. I
heard a shot gun in the distance; it could only mean one thing. My father was
dead. My mother screamed and through her
hysteria, I heard her cry out “God, help us”.
My mother had no time to open the door. Two soldiers came bursting
through, riffles pointing directly at us.
I will never forget what happened next for as long as I shall
live. It all happened so quickly. One soldier grabbed me by the arm as the
other soldier shot my mother, point blank to her chest. There was blood
everywhere. My older brother, who had been out in the barn, came running in
after hearing the second shot, to find our Mother dead in a pool of blood.
There I was frozen in terror thinking my life was about to end. Serge screamed at me “Do not move, do not
move! Do whatever they say, we need to
For the next few minutes I don’t recall anything that
happened. My first memory I have was
being jolted around the back of an old wagon looking at a sea of faces that had
the same blank stare of horror as was on my brother’s face. I was too numb to
even cry. I clung to my brother not knowing what we were about to face. It was a long and freezing journey that I
thought would never end. For two days
and for two nights, I sat at the back of the wagon reliving over and over the
memory of my mother being shot. I also
knew I would never see my father again.
I could not get it out of my head and I feared that my fate and my
brothers would end the same.
Late morning on the third day, as the snow was glistening, I
saw a sign appear in the distance. I was
trying to make out the letters and as we got closer I made out the sign said
“Auschwitz”. The first thing that caught my eye was the huge fences with barbed
wire all around them. I said to my
brother, “Where on earth are
we and what is this place?”
The wagon stopped at the front gate, and we were all ordered to get out
and line up in pairs.
I clung to my brother for dear life as we were shouted at and
pushed and shoved. I couldn’t understand
what the soldiers were saying to us but I could tell by the tone of their voice
that if we didn’t obey them our lives were in danger. The women and girls were separated from us
and we never saw them again. I never
knew their fate. I can still recall the
screaming as wives were separated from husbands, daughter’s separated from
fathers and sisters separated from brothers.
Why had the world become this mad place? How could this be happening? Who could let this happen and why wouldn’t
someone stop it.
Serge said to me “stay close to me Peter, hold on and no
matter what don’t get separated from me”.
I grabbed on to his trouser pocket for dear live refusing to let go no
matter how painful my arm felt. It felt
like it was being ripped off from my shoulder.
There was just panic everywhere and people were pushing and
shoving. I recall seeing young boys
falling to the ground and just being trampled on. They were unable to get up and as everyone
was panicking no one was in a fit state to help them.
We finally made it to a huge front entrance gate which had
several guards standing at it all with rifles aimed and ready to fire at any moment. I clung to my brother until my knuckles were
white. I felt that as long as he was
by my side I would somehow survive.
I was trying to understand what the soldiers were saying to
the people up ahead, it sounded like they were saying in broken English “what
is your age?” We finally reached the
front of the line and yes, I was right, they were trying to find out our
ages. Everyone was being separated into
to single lines. Little did I know then
that one line was for the gas chamber and the other was to work as a
slave. My brother spoke up “he is 14 and
I am 16”. The soldier pointed to me and
pushed me over to the left line. My
brother was pushed to the right line. I
screamed out and was hit in the face with the end of the rifle. I swayed with the pain but refused to give in
to it. In all the confusion of
screaming, crying and just general mayhem, I had an idea. If I pretended to crouch down and tie up my
shoelace, maybe I could crawl through people’s legs and get to my brother! I had nothing to lose, here it goes!
My plan worked!!! The
guards were so busy trying to keep order and sort people into groups that they
didn’t notice I had managed to crawl through people’s legs to the other line
and to my brother!! Yes, someone did hear
my prayer. I locked eyes with my brother
and the relief on his face was amazing.
It was well worth the risk.
Little did I know that I had been in the line for the gas
chamber!!!! My life had been spared
and I was with my brother that was all I needed to survive.
Life in the concentration camp was full of anxiety and
terror. We never knew if we would be
taken away and shot and I was terrified the day would come that I would be
separated from my brother forever. I
never understood what happened to the people who were taken away but I do still
recall the smell of gas and it all makes sense to me now what happened to
Our life was very boring and it felt like days would never
end. We collapsed at the end of each day
in absolute exhaustion. My brother and I
were given the job of repairing a railway line which had been bombed. Our day began at 4.30 am each morning where
we hurriedly put on our dirty, barely remaining pieces of clothes and raced to a wooden hall where
we had a piece of stale bread for breakfast and if we were lucky as a treat we
would get two scoops of cold porridge.
If we were late we missed out on breakfast and didn’t get a meal until
We would be taken on a cart out to
the railway line and spend the whole day laying down heavy pieces of wood on
the track. It was backbreaking work and
if we didn’t keep up or stopped for a rest we would often be whipped or hit
with a rifle. Many of my friends
collapsed from exhaustion and many were taken away. I am presuming they were shot because they
weren’t well enough to work.
One day my brother cut his leg badly on a piece of metal and
I could see the blood stain running down his leg. “Serge”, I whispered, “look at your leg,
don’t let the guard see it”. I knew if
the guard saw it he would be taken away and I might never see him again. With that, Serge found a small piece of what
looked like a crumpled lolly wrapper.
He quietly picked it up and stuck it the wound. That lolly wrapper probably saved his life.
We did everything that the soldiers asked and prayed each
night that the nightmare would end. One
day our prayers were answered. I will
never forget it for as long as I live.
It was a freezing Sunday afternoon at precisely 2.00 pm. A siren went off for what seemed like an
eternity. Then there were large shouts
“the war is over”, “THE WAR IS OVER!!!!”.
There was screaming, crying, laughing, just general panic. We could not believe it. My brother came running to me and hugged me,
“it is over, it is over, it is over” he kept saying with tears in his eyes.
Knowing that we still had each other and had survived the
Holocaust together that we would be able to get through anything and rebuild
our lives together. The next day we made
the long journey back to our farm. I am
old now and my brother has passed away, but I thank God for sparing us and
making me appreciate everything that I have had in life.