Czarnolas (Poland), Garbatka-Letnisko, Auschwitz, Buna, Gleiwitz, Bratislava, Sachsenhausen
Simon Eidelman was born in 1921 in Czarnolas, Poland. A member of an Orthodox Jewish family, Simon graduated from high school and was learning to craft leather shoes. As one of 60 Jewish families among thousands of gentiles in Garbatka, Poland, Simon and his family experienced anti-Semitism and discrimination in the years before the German occupation of Poland.
The Eidelman family was placed in the Garbatka-Letnisko ghetto where life was very hard. As a young man, Simon often found himself sneaking and scavenging for food for his family. On July 20, 1942, German troops arrived in the ghetto and began separating the Jews into groups for transport. Simon and his brother were taken to a lumberyard and tied up for 7 or 8 hours. They had been separated from their mother, 2 sisters and a young cousin. Their father had been killed in the street.
After being logged in by a clerk, Simon and his brother Benjamin were crammed in a boxcar to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, they were tattooed with the numbers that would be their only identifier. The following day, Simon and his brother were taken to Block 21. Benjamin had a fever, and Simon did his best to shield him from the guards and the selection process. He knew what would become of Benjamin if he did not improve. After 11 days, Simon could no longer care for Benjamin and took him to a hospital within the camp. Simon never saw his brother again.
Work at Auschwitz was hard: it was common for 80 prisoners to leave in the morning and for only 60 to return. Those that were weak or sick were killed during the workday. Simon was selected to work unloading new arrivals from transports with the shadow of the crematorium that stood less than a mile away. He stood stoically with the SS behind him as Jews from all over Europe begged him for information on what would happen to them. Each day Simon watched Dr. Joseph Mengele select patients from the new transports. Their daily rations were a slice of bread, and sometimes they would be lucky to receive a slice of salami.
At the end of 1943, Simon was transferred to Buna, where the conditions were even worse. He worked digging ditches each day, and the prisoners were forced to strip each day and those that were too thin or too weak were taken directly to the gas chambers. At one point, Simon was beaten across the hands, which then became infected. Simon was taken to a hospital, and he knew that if he could not work he would not survive. An SS guard came to transfer people to the gas chamber, and Simon hid under a mattress to evade the guard. A German Jew took pity on Simon, and got him a job in a barbershop.
After his hand healed, he went back to digging ditches. In the winter of 1943, Simon sneaked behind the kitchen one evening and stole potato peels and bones and hid them in his clothing. Someone in his bunk turned him in and Simon was once again marked for transfer to the crematorium. Once again, luck was on his side as a Doctor in the camp helped him hide. Simon hid above steam pipes above a toilet for more than ten minutes after received burns while he was hiding.
In January of 1945, Simon was taken from Buna because the Russians were nearing the camp. The snow was very high, and the prisoners walked for several days with no food and no water. They ended up at Gleiwitz concentration camp that was not far from Auschwitz. The camp was overcrowded, with hardly any room, no food and no water. They were taken to a gate and again Simon awaited transport. Simon saw an alley and encouraged his fellow prisoners to run towards it. There were Gestapo men shooting at them as they ran, but Simon slipped by without being shot.
Simon was taken to an open boxcar with 130 or 140 other people. They traveled in the boxcar for several days to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Simon watched many people die in the boxcar, and Simon and his passengers threw the bodies off to make room. They traveled for 5 or 6 days to Sachsenhausen, near Berlin Germany. Eventually working in airplane and arms factories, Simon befriended a Polish thief that stole bread for him. While working in an arms factory Simon heard sounds of approaching airplanes, and dove for cover as the bombardment began. The factory was destroyed but Simon survived.
In the spring of 1945 non-Jews were told to line up for removal, and Simon was able to steal a jacket to cover his yellow star on his chest. Simon was given food but did not eat it because he didn’t know when his next meal would be. They marched for three weeks with little to no food. U.S. troops near Lübeck Germany liberated the group.
Once he was liberated, he did not know where to go. He met his wife at a displaced person’s camp and they were married in 1946. They arrived in the United States in 1952, where they eventually settled in Ohio. Simon worked at several factories before becoming an insurance salesman.
No one from Simon’s family survived the war. Along with Benjamin who died in Auschwitz, Simon lost his mother and 2 sisters. After the war, Simon learned that his sisters refused to leave their mother and all of them were transported to Treblinka.
Interviewer: Robert Feldman
Format: Video recording