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Visions of the Inferno

The Way of Burden
Original report by Adolf Frankl

On September 28th 1944, in the night of Yom Kippur, the long fasting day, we scared up. We heard steps of nailed boots and then immediately the rifle butts banging against the door of our apartment. My wife cried out: "They are coming! They are coming!" I rushed to the door and saw a few Slovakian fascist guards and soldiers in German uniforms with guns in their hands. They ordered us to take our children and follow them without any luggage because, as they said: "you are coming back soon". In the haste I grabbed a piece of salami and a pack of cigarettes from the kitchen table. The children were already asleep. We were not allowed to dress them, so they came along us in their pyjamas and coats. We were led through the nightly Pressburg into the centre of the Jewish community.


In the morning the soldiers led us through the city in rows of five up to the city’s freight railway station. There, I was separated from my family, pushed into a wagon, and loaded to the transit camp, Sered in Slovakia. Using a trick, my wife and my children managed to escape from the transport. With wrong declarations I managed to stay in the Sered camp until November 1944. One day my parents-in-law were brought into the camp and I was called to the commandant’s office where I was confronted with them. Now they unveiled my trick as I had declared "mixed marriage" so that I would not be deported from Sered. My fake "mixed marriage" went up in smoke and the commandant said to me:

"Now you will go to Auschwitz on ‘special recommendation’!"

To Auschwitz-Birkenau

On the next day we were loaded into an armoured cattle truck and the most horrible trip of my life began - the trip to Auschwitz. Inside the wagon we were only able to stand. We were densely packed and nearly maddened by fear. Some already died during the transport. And so, some of us began to speak quietly about an escape as suddenly one man stopped us by threatening to report on us to the guards, who were sitting with rifles on the roofs of each wagon. He was an undercover informer.

After an endless journey without water and food, the train arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. With shouts they chased us out of the wagons: "Raus! Raus!" Then we were selected: first we were brought into the gypsy camp, from where the gypsies were sent directly into the crematories. I was sent into barrack No. 11, where we had to do gymnastics day and night. After a certain time I managed to get into the command: "Weaving", where I did not have to stand for assembly and got a bit more food.


I had to do weaving work in the terrible cold and often the needle would get stuck to my fingers, and I could hardly work any longer.I only had the one goal to survive and my mind was very alert. I volunteered for any work I could get; so I became a carpenter, a hair-dresser, a tailor, and much more. The work was very hard, the food became less and less. The hunger got unbearable, I was beaten, slapped, and kicked. After a while I just staggered of weakness but the mere thought of survival for my family gave me enormous strength. Everything I experienced at the camp craved my mind to one huge sketch book.


On January 18th 1945, shortly after an air attack on the camp, my tattoo-number, B 14395, was called up and I had to march with about 2000 other prisoners toward Gleiwitz. We walked without a stop from early in the morning until late at night in wooden shoes through knee-deep snow.

Next to me in the column there was a Polish doctor, who told me that this was a death-march and that we would never arrive. He adjured me to escape at the first opportunity, he himself was unable to run anymore. In the first night after this endless march we had to make a halt because of an air attack. Many of us fell of exhaustion into the snow. Who ever could not march on was left behind. I looked out for a possibility to escape.

Suddenly they shouted: "Sick prisoners shall report to us!" Against the warning not to report, I came forward and persuaded one co-prisoner to do alike. With another twenty prisoners and two guards we stayed behind until dawn, lying in the snow. As I dared to peek out the snow I could see others who were doing the same. We were green and blue of cold and nearly frozen to death. The guards were gone.

We walked sidewards through the forest and arrived at a deserted camp. Soon we found out that it was the typhus-camp "Althammer/Stara Kuznia". There we heard that all our co-prisoners from the death march had been shot. In the camp there were still very ill prisoners. There was nothing to drink or to eat, only human cadavers and excrement.


German soldiers with machine-guns, called by the Polish habitants of the villages near by, came suddenly to us and encircled us. As they took aim at us I thought: "This is the end!" A few minutes later a German Wehrmacht-officer came and ordered a withdrawal. They told us to go back into the barracks, but I saw danger. So I hid under a pile of old boxes and rubbish. Suddenly I heard the call for assembly: "Everyone out!" Soldiers took all of them out of the barracks as they were; half naked and bare foot they were led away. I stayed in my hiding place. I saw the boots of the soldiers in front of me as they entered the barracks, a sight that paralysed me with fear. After a moment I heard shots. All who had been led away were shot. After a while somebody jolted at my hiding place and said: "Come out! We are safe, the dogs are not barking anymore!" I thought this was the next morning but the other prisoner told me everything had happened three days ago. I then understood that I had been unconscious for three days.

Back home

I was so weak, I could only crawl. In the dung-hill I found some potato skins, dead cats, and snow. That was our food. After two days the Russians came and continued westward. I left the camp and found a French labour camp nearby, where I observed with fascination people eating hot soup from porcelain bowls. I walked up to one of them and stared at him in a manner that made him immediately hand over his bowl of soup. I only stayed shortly in this camp. I had to try to get on back home. A few days later I got fever and a Russian lorry that I had stopped took me up to Krakow. After a short stay in Krakow, where for a month I did several jobs, I started feeling better and could continue heading back home, to Pressburg.

I had heard that Pressburg was liberated and tried, partly by carriage and partly by train, to get home. I reached Pressburg in April 1945 and, with incredible luck, found my family. They were alive and healthy.

Translated by Daniel Mogues


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