Plaszow Camp Testimonies: Zablocie and more
In Victor Lewis’s experience and testimony of the Plaszow camp, people had to stand in line for hours in the Krakow ghetto just for a piece of bread that was incredibly inflated in value (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). A piece of bread that was normally 50 cents would be 5 dollars. Victor explains that everyone in the ghetto thought it would be temporary: “Never in our lives did we think it would last 5 years” (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). Germans would come into the ghetto and beat and kill anyone they didn’t like. “If a German didn’t like someone’s beard, they would beat him or kill him” (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). Victor went to the ghetto in 1941 and was transferred to Plaszow in October of 1942, even though he had his papers and documents that said he could stay in the ghetto because he was working for the SS as an auto mechanic. A SS officer took his papers and tore them up, telling him that he would leave the ghetto. Victor noted that, despite multiple mass deportations of Jews from Krakow, there always remained the same number of people in the ghetto as new Jews from nearby towns were brought into the ghetto. There would be 6 to 10 people per room at all times (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview).
While being transported to the Plaszow camp, everyone sat on the floor for a few hours before the transport train arrived. When it arrived, they were told to march a few miles out of the ghetto toward the train. Victor Lewis tried escaping during this march, but was found and brought back to the train. After the train began moving, he discussed escaping with his family. He and his brother were young men, and were the only ones out of his family that could escape successfully. So he said goodbye to his family and jumped out of the train, where he immediately lost consciousness after landing hard on the ground. It was morning when he awoke on the floor; His brother was nowhere to be found. Victor started walking and snuck into another ghetto nearby with the help of false papers. While in this ghetto, there was an announcement that the SS needed healthy prisoners to build the Plaszow camp. In order to stay alive, he volunteered and would walk 6 miles a day to build the barracks in Plaszow. In March 1943 he was officially transported to the Plaszow concentration camp (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview).
While in Plaszow, he worked as an electrician and had permission to walk around the camp with tools to fix any electrical wires. Life consisted of eating rations of bread and water. They worked, showered, ate, and slept when they were told to do so. Many days consisted of watching Amon Goth shoot prisoners “like crazy” (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). “Nobody knew who was going to be the next” one killed (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). One of his impressionable experiences involved seeing two SS men get shot by the camp Commandant for being unable to find 2 prisoners that escaped. Whoever was killed would be put into a large hole on top of a nearby hill. Once the hole was filled they would burn the bodies.
Then, by surprise, Oskar Schindler’s list was read aloud for prisoners to go to the Brunnlitz camp and his name was on the list. Some prisoners paid to be on the list but Victor was taken by surprise and didn’t know what he did to get on the list. He was brought to the Brunnlitz concentration camp. Schindler moved all the machines from the Plaszow camp to the Brunnlitz camp. After Lewis arrived at the Brunnlitz camp, he worked for Oskar Schindler and from then on Victor “did no work until the end of the war”. “I was liberated,” he says (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview).
But gender seemed to heavily affect one’s experience in the Plaszow camp, even under Schindler’s ‘protection’. In Helen Beck’s experience, she remembers the Krakow ghetto and the Plaszow camp as places of pure horror (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). Her parents were murdered in March of 1943 during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. Jews were rounded up and sent away to either Auschwitz or Plaszow. Looking back on it, she feels lucky that she was sent to Plaszow at 15 years old, instead of a death camp like Auschwitz (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). She was transported to Plaszow where life was incredibly hard under the authority of Amon Goeth. Beck recalls how prisoners would have to witness daily executions, which would include prisoners being torn apart by dogs, hanged, shot, or beaten to death. Barracks were separated based on gender, and they slept “like sardines on top of one another” because they were so crowded (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). This “lack of sanitation” caused widespread lice and bugs in the wood of the barracks that would “eat them alive….It was like living through hell” (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). If prisoners weren’t working, they would be in the barracks. Similar to Victor Lewis’s account, bread and water were the main forms of nutrition given to prisoners (Victor Lewis, VHA Interview). This form of malnutrition psychologically and physically broke down many prisoners (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). But one of Beck’s friends in the camp encouraged her by saying “You can survive 30 days without food, but you cannot survive 3 minutes without hope” (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). Hope and faith were seen as the only things that the Nazis couldn’t take away from Helen and her fellow prisoners. Helen Beck also described how the Nazis put “something” in the food that made women’s periods go away “overnight” so that they “didn’t have to worry” about reproducing in the camp (Helen Beck, VHA Interview). Female SS soldiers were also harsher towards her and other female prisoners in the camp, possibly in an attempt to prove themselves in front of the male SS soldiers.
She was eventually moved to Schindler’s camp and factory after she was about to be executed for having a shorter dress than the other women in her group during the evening roll call. Conditions in Schindler’s Zablocie camp were slightly better, with better sanitation, running water, and sometimes soap. But overall, even though a prisoner was in Schindler’s Zablocie camp did not mean that they did not experience hardships, discomfort, and fear in the Plaszow camp (Helen Beck, VHA Interview).
But not everyone was saved by the grace of Schindler’s list. Eliezer Ayalon describes his two months at the Plaszow camp as similar to many of the other camps he was transferred to during the war. “The food was the same, the work was the same, the role calls and barracks were the same”, but the key difference with Plaszow was the evil and brutality from Amon Goeth, who was “a professional murderer” and killed at least 5 people a day with his pistol (Eliezer Ayalon, VHA Interview). Goeth would approach prisoners during the morning and evening roll calls and kill anyone who stood in front of him. Ayalon was 14 and states that he “never saw such murder in my life” (Eliezer Ayalon, VHA Interview). Throughout his stay at various camps throughout World War II, nothing could compare to his time at the Plaszow camp.