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August 2017
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MEMOIR EXCERPT
The Muselmann
The Diary of a Jewish Slave Laborer

After surviving several years of unspeakably brutal conditions in Nazi slave-labor camps, Matzner was given the job of "clerk," which provided a slight, but only temporary, improvement in his situation. The following excerpt narrates an incident he witnessed.

One of the largest commandos, comprising about two thousand men, worked in the nearby mountains, driving tunnels through the rock. One of the German foremen had told a kapo that these tunnels were to become storage magazines for arms and ammunition to be used in a gigantic offensive against Russia. The sound of explosions ripping holes in the rock could be heard all day long in camp. Some of our men, who were professionally skilled, worked on the rock with electric drills.

One evening during the headcount, Klus ordered the group that operated the electric drills to assemble at a separate place. They numbered perhaps twenty-five men. Were they going to get an extra bread ration, soup, a few cigarettes? Soon they were approached by Klus, accompanied by several SS guards.

"We know there are saboteurs among you," Klus announced. "Ever since you started work here, you keep breaking drill bits and ruining costly materials. You do this intentionally. I want the traitors to step forward voluntarily, or all of you will be punished as no one ever was before. I give you two minutes."

I stood nearby, feeling as if I had been hit by a hammer. I looked at the men who, helpless, looked back with fear in their eyes.

Klus glanced at his watch. "Thirty seconds to go," he announced.

No one moved, no one came forward. Restraining his rage, Klus ordered a kapo to bring the barrel from the kitchen. He also took two wire clubs from officers and checked them, bending them in all directions and swinging them through the air. Then he turned to the group of workers.

"Who are the saboteurs? Will the cowards come forth voluntarily or not?"

He didn't wait for an answer but stepped forward and with both hands grabbed one of the men nearest to him. He punched the man in the face with his fists, then hit him in the stomach. The victim fell on his knees, bent in pain, protecting his face and head. Klus kicked him with his heavy boot, right in the face. With a piercing shriek, the man fell to the ground. Klus gave a hand signal, and the two kapos spread-eagled the man over the barrel, pulled down his trousers, and began taking turns beating him. Once or twice, Klus interrupted them, asking the screaming victim, "Will you tell us who the traitors are?"

Stuttering, the man tried to assure Klus that drills broke easily on the hard rock, that the German workers broke more drills than the prisoners did, that he had broken only a few, that he didn't know of any sabotage. Nothing helped. The beating continued, the screaming finally grew weaker and then stopped.

Klus stepped up to the unconscious victim and took a club from the hand of one kapo. "Tomorrow we'll continue with the same procedure. I'll teach you what it means to sabotage German goods, German workmanship and German tools." He aimed several more hard blows upon the bloody body, threw the club to the ground, turned around and left with the guards. Headcount was over. Everyone was dismissed.

Less than an hour later, Klus needed two strong men to bring a sewing machine from one of the farmhouses located on the way to his apartment. I was two accompany them; two SS men guarded us.

When we arrived at his barracks later to deliver the machine, Klus had visitors in his apartment-an SS man, a woman I assumed to be his wife and a small child. The child was sitting on Klus's knee, happily cooing and laughing, while Klus rocked it tenderly...

Published by KTAV Publishing, 1994

 
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"Tomorrow Came," personal memoir by Dov Gilon.

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