Arriving at the Death Factory

Oświęcim, Poland

In May of 1944, Ben took his first journey of deportation within a cattle car. Divided into groups of eighty per car, Ben went with his brother Tuli, his cousin Isaac, his aunt and uncle, and his sister Goldie (Lesser, 108). Ben has gone on to say, “The conditions during what turned out to be a three-day journey were so inhumane, that I cannot find enough adjectives in all of the languages I speak to describe them” (Lesser, 108). Ben faced a range of horrors during the three day journey within the box car. The area within the cart was so cramped, not everyone could sit down at once. There was no food and water other than what they families had brought with them. The only sanitary facility within the box-car was two buckets which quickly overflowed. The floors were covered with every bodily excretion and there was no way to avoid being splashed (Lesser, 109). Sickness traveled fast within the miserable compartment.

Ben was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (Lesser, 111). As they got out, women and children were directed to the right and men were directed to the left. At this moment, Ben was separated from Goldie and Tuli and never saw them again (Lesser, 111). Simultaneously, this is when he lost faith.

During his own time in the line, Ben noticed a doctor at the head of the line directing the men to the left and right once again. When Ben approached this doctor he stated, “I am eighteen years old, I am healthy, and I can work” even though he was actually only fifteen and a half (Lesser, 113). With that, Ben was directed to the left along with his Uncle Hershel and Cousin Isaac. As it turns out, this “doctor” that determined the fate of Ben and his family members was the infamous Dr. Mengele, also known as the “Angel of Death” (Lesser, 114).

Time in the concentration camp began with the dehumanization process. For Ben, this consisted of a full head and body haircut, being sprayed with the strong pesticide DDT, obtaining the striped camp clothes and wooden clogs, and receiving a round wooden disc inscribed with a number that was tied to a string (Lesser, 115). This served as his new “non-human” identity in which he was forced to wear at all times. Ben had officially become “1212” (Lesser, 116). Somehow through all of this, Ben was able to hide his shoes containing the diamonds with him.

Ben spent a total of two weeks in Auschwitz. During the time being, the living conditions he was forced to endure were frightful. Lice, parasites, and other bugs covered everyone's bodies, infesting their skin and hair (Lesser, 120). Every day, they participated in torturous tasks made to separate the weak from the strong. Anyone who could not keep up would be removed and killed (Lesser, 121). On top of this, they were being starved to death. Ben’s rations usually consisted of fake coffee and a piece of bread made with saw-dust (Lesser, 120). It was impossible to know exactly what was in the “food” they were given. Such as the unknown spread, they were sometimes given called “margarine”, something that resembled liverwurst, and a large pot that was supposed to be soup but was actually just water with bits of garbage. Sometimes it could even contain a rat or a piece of shoe leather (Lesser, 121).

Ben also faced immense mental torture while learning all that happened within the extermination camp. On one occasion, the prisoner in charge of Ben’s barracks gave him an explanation for constant smoke they were seeing within the camp. He told Ben, “That is the smoke of your burning grandparents, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children” (Lesser, 117). He also told Ben about the electrified barbed-wire, gas chambers, crematoria, fire-pits, and killing-fields. Initially, Ben did not want to believe it, but every day the truth became more and more undeniable. On another occasion, after hearing unrecognizable muffled screams and noticing a flickering orange glow coming from outside the barracks, Ben asked the same prisoner in charge what was going on (Lesser, 119). The prisoner told Ben the disgusting truth, “Babies” (Lesser, 119).