Chapter 5 -- Rescue and Liberation

It was still winter when Paul's final ordeal began. He was given clothing from the huge piles collected from the hundreds of the dead. After being confined for months in his bed he almost had to learn to walk again. The prisoners still able to work were sent to another labor camp. Paul and the couple dozen infirmary survivors were loaded into another of the now familiar box cars. Fortunately the weather turned mild. Paul also encountered the prisoner in charge of the labor camp's kitchen. He gave Paul an entire loaf of the dark bread that was part of their regular ration. Since the usual portion was only a quarter of a loaf, he was able to sate himself with food for the first time in many months.

Word was passed down from the guards that Paul and his group were going to an Erholungslager -- a convalescing camp. By then Paul was no longer fooled by this type of talk. In Auschwitz the veteran prisoners converted the propaganda from the gate of the camp to Arbeit Macht Frei, Durch Krematorium Nummer Drei -- Work Makes Free, Through Crematory Number Three. He knew that his next destination was meant to be the end of the road.

Camp Wiesengrund started out as one of the construction sites for housing the jet planes that were to turn the tide of war in Germany's favor. But continuous Allied air raids forced the abandonment of the project. Wiesengrund was turned into a camp for prisoner no longer able to work. The sick and dying prisoners were brought from the other labor camps of Nazi Germany. The camp's secluded location in a valley required little effort to hide its horrors. A nearby abandoned quarry provided a final resting place for the dozens of prisoners who died each night. Prisoners still able to work toiled in some other of the futile construction projects of the demented war efforts of the Nazis.

After a day's travel in the slowly rattling train, Paul arrived at his destination. Paul knew that the usual starvation rations and his weakened condition did not bode well for him. But his luck finally changed. He was unexpectedly saved by the courage and charity of a German woman. Using her political influence, Irmgard von Neurath -- related by marriage to a former high ranking government official -- requisitioned prisoners to work on the family farm. She then provided them with extra food to help them to survive. The day after his arrival Paul was selected to be one of the laborers. The work was easy and he received extra food rations that enabled him gradually to regain his strength. The unseasonably warm weather also helped. Was there perhaps a chance to survive the horrors of this existence? Will the German military engage in a final round of killing the witnesses to their depredations? Paul did no dare to hope too much.

With the recovering of his physical strength Paul also started to regain his faith in humanity. After the ordeal of the genocidal machinery of Nazi Germany he learned to distrust everything that was German. He met Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz. Now he met a veritable Angel of Life, who risked her own existence to save at least some of the unfortunate Jews condemned by racial and religious hatred. The other Germans who worked on the farm also showed some kindness. One day he heard a teenager twisting a popular song into a statement of hope: "Everything shall pass, even Hitler with his Nazi party." Paul now realized that many of the Germans were also victims, like he was. Perhaps they were fooled by the Nazi propaganda; perhaps they felt helpless before the power of a totalitarian state. Rumors were passing through the camp about the Allied advances into Germany. The war was coming to an end.

Paul still had to surmount one final ordeal. The unsanitary conditions caused a typhus epidemic to rage in the camp. He contracted the disease and he again found himself in an infirmary without medical care. His body became covered with red spots. His eyes were glassy with fever. He totally lost his appetite, as his raw lips only demanded water to quench his thirst. At the end of a week he sank into a delirium. As he was losing consciousness Paul heard the sound of distant explosions. Am I dying, he was wondering, as he felt his consciousness slip away.

Suddenly he woke up in the familiar surrounding of the infirmary. Some of the beds still hid the twisted bodies of the sick, or even the dead. But many of the beds were empty. His head felt clear, and his body without the devouring fever. As he weakly lifted himself from the bed one of the prisoners was slowly moving through the aisle. "The Germans left during the night." Paul could not believe him. Is this part of my delirium, he wondered. Then his body's need to relieve itself made him realize that he was both alive and free!

Paul was lucky, after all. Had he been healthy he would have been compelled to accompany the guards to still another camp, perhaps to be killed. This way he surmounted the crisis of his sickness during the night while the Nazi guards evacuated the camp. Paul dressed slowly. He again felt hungry, and ate some of the bread he hid at the beginning of his sickness. Sluggishly he walked through the now open gates of the camp. He saw some of the soldiers of the French army who liberated him. He watched some of the other prisoners going toward the nearby village. Paul followed them, for he wanted to thank the lady who helped him to survive. With his physical weakness even walking was an ordeal, but the joy and the emotions of freedom and the end of suffering kept him moving. He was now ascending the hill, leaving the camp behind. A sense of elation possessed Paul. Will the resurrected dead feel this way when the Messiah shall come?

The surviving prisoners lingered around the camp, waiting for their evacuation from the hell hole. They were joined by a few healthy prisoners who hid while the guards were moving out. Since there was still a war on, nobody was getting any medical care. The extremely sick continued to die, and the procession of corpses was still carried to their mass grave. In the end 2,500 of the victims found their final resting place in this additional monument of man's inhumanity to man.

Paul now had a chance to become exposed to the values of America. Some officers visited the camp, and started to document the horrors found there. As Paul was standing around with several of his comrades, an officer wearing a different uniform joined them. He introduced himself as an American liaison officer attached to the French army. As he spoke German he was able to communicate with the survivors. He said he was Jewish and from Texas. This surprised Paul, for his movie stereotypes made him understand that all Texans were cowboys, and who ever heard of a Jewish cowboy?

Suddenly a procession joined the group. Some of the survivors located one of the German civilian supervisors of the construction projects. This German viciously abused the prisoners in his charge, beating and punishing them mercilessly. Now they returned him in kind the torments he gave. The German was horribly beaten. One of his eyes hung out of its socket as he collapsed at their feet. The American was outraged. He bawled out the tormentors. No matter how bad crimes the German committed, they must not administer the punishment. He must be punished under the legal system, and not by this type of primitive justice. In spite of his own beatings and punishments Paul found himself agreeing with the American. The survivors must never sink to the level of the Nazi criminals. This was Paul's exposure to the principle of due process.

Paul now became a ward of the United Nations. Again he moved from place to place, until he was finally placed in an orphanage-type institution. The war ended in Europe with the unconditional surrender of Germany. A few months later Japan also surrendered, after an incredibly new weapon -- called the atomic bomb -- destroyed two of their cities. To Paul, there seemed to be no end to the horrors of war.

Normal life was returning to Germany. That country was no place for Holocaust survivors. He did not want to return to Hungary, for he now feared and distrusted that country. His relatives died during the Holocaust, and he had no ties to anyone. Paul briefly considered going to Palestine. But news was emerging about new strife and killings between Arabs and Jews. He longed for peace and quiet, and the end to turmoil. He was now given an opportunity to come America.

Paul eagerly accepted. Here was his chance to see at first hand the opulent life styles of the Americans, the endless prairies of the West, the land of limitless possibilities. After a mysterious routine called immigration processing Paul was on board of a ship, the first ocean voyage of his life.


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