Eva’s story Part IV
From the Dutch prison in Amsterdam, 15-year-old Eva Schloss, her family and hundreds of others were brought by the SS to a rural village called Westerbork, where the conditions were not so bad.
They were then taken from Westerbork under cramped conditions in cattle trucks for about three days to a spot from which they had to walk to Birkenau, the women’s concentration camp. They were hungry and exhausted, but more suffering awaited them inside the huge compound.
“Row upon row of ugly wooden barracks stretched into the distance enclosed by electrified barbed wire higher than a man. Sentries in tall watchtowers overlooked the camp,” Eva Schloss writes in her book, ‘Eva’s Story’.
After they were packed in the barracks they were not given food for more than 24 hours. Some of them fainted. No one attended to the fallen. Eva herself wished the same would happen to her. “Unconsciousness would have been a welcome relief,” she explains.
Hundreds of them waited under the watchful eyes of the SS, until the female guards called Kappos arrived. They were Polish prisoners of war themselves, who ran the day-to-day operations of the camp. These women were abusive and intimidating, Eva says. One even mentioned the stench coming from the crematorium, where the bodies of those who were gassed were being incinerated.
The Kappos paid no attention to their plight, even when they were dying of thirst. Eva’s mom’s request for water was ignored. She almost fainted. They were instead warned against drinking water from the tap. It was a warning Eva was to disobey.
They were eventually huddled into a huge hall and stripped naked. They were given no soap and washrags, only water than rained from the ceiling. With water dripping from their bodies, they were led to another section where they were shaved from head to toe. They were exposed to some SS officers who pinched them on their backsides.
Much time was then spent giving personal information. They lined up to be tattooed with their numbers. Errors were made with some people’s number, and the tattoos had to be redone. They were extremely thirsty, but the processing continued in the reception room where they were given one pair of underwear, one outer garment, and ill-fitted, mismatched shoes. After this they were brought to their sleeping quarters.
On the way, Eva saw a pipe. She recalls, “I spied an outside tap on the wall of one of the buildings. I could not resist it. Darting over I turned on the tap, put my mouth to the stream of water and drank. It was so wonderful to taste that refreshing liquid. Several others copied me and ran over to the tap before we were screamed at and pushed back into the line.”
They were quarantined for three weeks in which they slept on three-level bunk beds, with 10 people to a bed. Eva slept on the bunk where her mother was assigned. At this juncture there was still no water and food. “I was utterly exhausted. Oblivious to everything, including our bedmates, I lay in Mutti’s (her mother’s) arms and slept,” she says.
About 4 a.m. the following day, they were ordered outside to be tallied. This process took about two hours, and it happened twice daily for the time they were there. After they went back to the barracks they were given rations of black bread and coffee. One enamel mug of the liquid was shared by five people. This caused tension as some people drank more than they should have. The bread that was to last for the rest of the day was all eaten at once.
The toilet facilities were public, and there was no toilet paper, and water to wash their hands. The stench was overpowering, and once when Schloss remembered what her father told her about not sitting on public toilet seats, she attempted to stand. She was whacked by a Kappo.
“We all shared a feeling of intense disgust. However, when the walking Kappo eventually came up behind me, she hit me so hard across my shoulders with her stick that it forced me to sit down,” Schloss recollects. For three weeks, they spent their days in the open court yard, in the sun or rain. When it rained they were stuck in angle-deep mud.
Flashback to the second day after Schloss arrived at the camp. Earlier on that day, Schloss says she had painful stomach cramps. She also had urges to use the toilet, but was told by a Kappo that it was not her turn. When she realised she was about to mess up herself she fled the building, and found a corner in the yard.
But a Kappo had followed her. She was collared, beaten mercilessly, insulted before everyone, and punished with holding a heavy wooden stool above her head while kneeling, for two hours.
“My ordeal was over. Everyone crowded around me and made a great fuss of me having been so brave and tough, even though they said I was so young. They supported me back to the barracks, and I was left to lie on the bunk for the rest of the day,” Schloss writes.