South Carolina Council on the Holocaust

“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”

--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

The Survivors' Stories -- A Virtual Library

PINCUS . . . .

In 1940 they put us in a ghetto. It was a small area with thousands of people -- just three or four blocks -- so it was very crowded. Jews were brought to Bochnia from surrounding areas. It was the main ghetto. We didn't have to move because where we lived was already in the ghetto. But Jews who lived in other parts of the city had to move into the ghetto. There were not enough apartments for everyone. Whole families were put in one room. People lived ten or fifteen to a room.

In the ghetto, males from 15 to 55 years old were ordered into forced labor. The Germans came for us in trucks at six in the morning. We had to build highways, dig ditches, and do all kinds of hard labor, but at least we came back in the evenings to our homes.

The Jewish police were our guards inside the ghetto. At work, we had Germans civilians guarding us. At that time there was no military just civilians watching us. We were under guard. In the ghetto there was constant fear. We knew something more was going to happen, but we were trapped. There was nowhere to go. The ghetto was sealed. To go out into a Gentile or Aryan neighborhood, you had to have a pass or go with a policeman. Polish police were outside watching the ghetto. If they caught you without any identification, without any passport or papers, you were shot on the spot.

Food, medicine and supplies were smuggled in at night. That's the only way we got food. We paid a high price for that food. A lot of people went out at night to buy food from the Polish farmers. If anybody was caught, they were shot.

In the ghetto our religious services had to be held secretly. We still went to synagogue. Not in a real synagogue but in homes. It was forbidden to assemble. No more than six or eight people could be together. We had services morning and evening. We always had a lookout to watch for the Germans. When we heard some coming, everybody dispersed so they wouldn't see us. I lived in the ghetto from 1940 to 1942.

Pincus at Auschwitz

In 1942 Pincus and his brother were taken from the Bochnia ghetto where they had lived for around two years to the Auschwitz (Ow-Switch) concentration camp in Poland.

When we left the ghetto, they put us on cattle trains. They packed 100 to 120 people into a sealed car. There was no food on the train. Fortunately it took us only about two days to get to the concentration camp. Train from places farther east or south, like Greece, sometimes took ten days. Many of the people on these trains did not survive the trip.

When we got to Auschwitz, we had to undress completely and line up before the gate. We had to line up in fives. A Nazi officer was pointing left, right, right, left. I was fortunate. I went to the right. The ones to the left went to the crematorium. The ones to the right went into the camp.

It was dark, but I could see the people to the left were mostly elderly or young children, so I realized that we were going into the camp. Inside the camp first they shaved our hair. We were stark naked and they tattooed us. I am 161253. They gave us cold showers. It was November. Bitter cold. Then they put us in striped uniforms and took us into Birkenau (Beer-Kin-Now ), the killing center at Auschwitz. I was fortunate. After I had been there four weeks, they picked several hundred men to go to Bunno, another part of Auschwitz. It was a labor camp and they gave us a little better food. The barracks were a little nicer. There were about 300 or 400 men to a barrack. We had double or triple bunks. The bunks were actually single beds, but two people had to sleep on one bunk.

The capos woke us at five o'clock each morning. The capos were prisoners who were in charge of the barracks and the work groups. They were mostly Germans, Poles, and some Jews. The Nazis assigned them to guard us. In the morning they gave us one piece of bread mixed with sawdust to eat. We also got a piece of margarine and a cup of coffee. It was not real coffee. We had to work until the evening. In the evening we got soup. If we were fortunate, we might sometimes find a few potatoes and a piece of meat in the liquid. Most of the time it was just hot water and a few potatoes. For that we had to work 9 or 10 hours a day. When we first came there, we worked unloading gravel and coal from trains. If you didn't finish your assigned task, you got a beating.

The first few months I thought I wouldn't make it. For me at Auschwitz the worst enemy was the cold. It was bitter cold. There was also hunger and there were the beatings. But the worse thing was the cold. I had one striped jacket, no sweater, just an undershirt and a thin, striped coat. We worked outside when it was often 10 to 15 below zero. People just froze to death.

The hunger was also terrible. We used to search for a potato peel and fight over it. We were constantly, 24 hours a day, always hungry. We would think about food and dream about it.

To survive in Auschwitz you had to get a break. My break came when I met a friend of mine from my hometown. He gave me the name of a man who had been in Auschwitz for a long time and was a good friend of my family. At Auschwitz, he supervised other inmates. I went to see him and asked if he could give my brother and me different jobs. Lucky for me, he gave us work making metal cabinets. Our job was to carry things. We were not cabinet makers, but we did the lifting. It was indoors. I don't think I could have survived the winter doing more outdoor work. I think he saved my life.

Every few months we had what they called a selection. They came into the barracks and picked out the people who looked very skinny and couldn't work anymore. They looked you over, and if they didn't see much fat on you, they put down your number. The next morning they came with trucks, picked up these people and put them right in the crematorium. It was heartbreaking.

In January, 1945, the Russian offensive started. When the Russians came close to Auschwitz, the Germans took us from the camp and marched us west away from the approaching army. They moved us out in a dead march. We marched a whole night to the Polish city of Gleiwitz, about 70 miles away. My brother kept saying to me, "Let's escape." I kept telling him that this was not the time because I knew we were still in German territory.

I said, "Where are you going to hide? The population, they are not friendly." But he wouldn't listen. Suddenly I didn't see him anymore. Since then I lost him. I was with him the whole time in Auschwitz.

They put us on a cattle train in Gleiwitz and took us to Germany. It took 10 days. They packed us about 150 people to a car with no food. Fortunately for us the cars were open. Everybody had eating utensils. I had a string. At night while the German guards were sleeping, we attached the string to a plate and scooped up snow. That kept us alive. You can live without bread for a long time but not without water. Finally we got to Nordhausen, a large German concentration camp. We were there about 10 days, and then they sent us to a camp called Dora in the mountains. The Germans were making V2 missiles there. We did hard labor, digging tunnels into the mountains. We worked there from the end of January until April, 1945.

Pincus is Liberated

It was a Friday morning, April 20, Hitler's birthday. The SS came and gave us an extra pat or margarine in honor of the Fuhrer. The British army was approaching so they began moving us again. We were on the train packed one hundred to a car. All of a sudden we heard sirens. American fighter planes came and started strafing our train. They didn't know there were prisoners on the train. While they were strafing us, the two SS guards hid under the wagon.

Something told me, maybe it was instinct, "This is your chance. Run." I jumped out of the train and ran about three miles. Several others jumped too. The fighter planes strafed us. I could see the bullets flying practically right by my nose. But I kept going. This was my only chance. All I had on was shorts. I didn't even have a shirt because it was very hot in the train and I was barefooted. But I kept running.

I met another fellow who had also escaped. We started walking. It was already late in the morning. We were hungry and cold. We saw a farmer's hut. We went into the farm house. The Czech farmer helped us a lot. He gave us food and clothes and kept us warm for about a day. We were skin and bones. If the Germans had caught he farmer hiding us, he would have been executed.

The next morning we had to leave because the Germans were searching for us. Although the war was almost over, they still came into the village looking for prisoners. The farmer found out about it. That night he took us into the forest and gave us a shovel. We dug a deep hole. He gave us blankets and we slept there for two weeks. Every night he brought us food until the American soldiers came.

The Americans came on May 5 to Czechoslovakia. The Fifth Army, General Patton's army, liberated us. Five years later when I came to America, I was drafted. I served in the Fifth Army.