Blood in the Snow

In September 1944 Edgar Krasa boarded a train of cattle wagons with 999 others.

“About 70 people were in each wagon, with not enough room for all to sit down, and only a small barred window in an upper corner. We did not know that this trip would last three days because military transport had priority. There was no food or drink. A ‘comfort bucket’ was in the open in one corner. There was no privacy. Two boys from one of the homes attached themselves to me. I was not old enough to be a father figure, but nonetheless we formed a trio, and tried to stay together. With people fainting or dead on the floor, there was even less space to sit.”

 Jews from Subcarpathian Rus undergo a selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem (Public Domain)

Jews from Subcarpathian Rus undergo a selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem (Public Domain)

“After three days the doors were opened; aggressive men in prison uniforms came in and rushed us out without our luggage. We had arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau… I naively asked a guard why sparks and flames were also coming out of a nearby smoke-filled chimney. He said it was the bakery, and that they must have burned a load of bread. It was only after meeting veteran prisoners that we found the true function of those chimneys.”

Edgar lived in a barracks more recently known as the “Gypsy camp.” By the time he arrived, the Gypsies were already murdered. He received his tattoo, “I stood in the line of the one who appeared to be the neatest. I had always been a perfectionist, even as I hovered between life and death.”

Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner street in Gruenwald.  Germany, April 29, 1945. — KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau

Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner street in Gruenwald. Germany, April 29, 1945.
— KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau

“All the prisoners in the camp worked in a railroad repair shop, where wagons damaged by the British Air Force on the way to the front were restored. We worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, one week nights. On Sundays we were marched to a stone quarry where we carried boulders from one side to another; the following Sunday we carried them back. The Germans’ goal was to kill the Jews with work.”

While there, Edgar was hit on the head with a rifle butt; developed boils on his neck and back.

“On January 19, 1945 an announcement came over the loudspeaker before noon at work, telling all prisoners to assemble to go back to camp. We were very concerned because it was unusual. No music was played at the gate and we were standing at the roll call place, freezing. We were sent back to the block for our blankets, given a double slice of bread, and were marched out of the camp, without the orchestra playing. This was the beginning of what is now known as the ‘Death March.'”

An American soldier looks at the corpses of Polish, Russian, and Hungarian Jews found in the woods near Neunburg vorm Wald. The victims were prisoners from Flossenbürg who were shot near Neunburg while on a death march. Germany, April 29, 1945. — National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.

“We marched until late at night, the guards constantly trying to increase the speed. Some of the prisoners became very weak and others tried to support them, because those who fell or could not continue to walk were shot on the road. We supported one prisoner until he could no longer move his legs; the shot we heard felt as if we ourselves were shot. There was no food or drink all day, just a little dirty snow from the road. We slept in a cold, evacuated camp and resumed before dawn. A piece of wood broke out of my clogs, and sharp corners dug into my foot. There was no food or drink on that day either. Late at night we were locked into a barn. I found a wax cloth, wrapped my feet in it, and left the clogs behind. I felt very tired and weak, and more so as the next day progressed. By late afternoon I had to make a decision, whether to end up shot on the road, or take a chance trying to escape, though if I didn’t succeed, I would get shot just the same.”

“At night we neared a small forest. With no moon shining; it was total darkness. I told the boys, who had matured into men, that I was no longer of any use to them, and would try to escape. In the darkness of the forest I slipped into the ditch along the road and lay face down in the snow. A zealous guard saw and shot me. Perhaps because of the dark, he shot me under the arm, and the bullet stuck in my rib. The blood spread over the snow, which made it appear that I was dead.”

 Next:  Blechhammer

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