Opatow (Poland), Sandomierz, Skarzysko, Buchenwald, Dora, Bergen-Belsen
Mr. Salzberg was born in 1919 in the city of Opatow, Poland. He worked as a carpenter in his father’s shop, making furniture, doors and windows.
Although the family was poor, they were happy. He had three brothers and two sisters. He is the only survivor.
Sabbath was observed and candles were lit, although the family was not religious. There were quite a few synagogues in Opatow.
His schooling ended in the 7th grade of public school, where he encountered quite a few incidents of anti-Semitism.
When the war broke out September 1st, it only took five days before the Germans completely occupied the city. Overnight the middle class people, because their bank accounts were taken, became poor beggars. The Germans started to cut off the beards of the Orthodox Jews, which to them was as if they lost their arms.
A Ghetto was formed and, with it, a Jewish Council was appointed. The Jews became spiritually broken and because there were 12 to 15 people in every small room, diseases spread rapidly.
In October of 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and the Germans came in and expelled them. All the people were assembled in the town marketplace and within a few hours, they were marched to the railway station. There were many random shootings along the way.
Eighty-four people were left to clean out the Ghetto, including Aaron, who stayed for a few weeks. They also had to bury forty-two people who were killed because they were hiding in basements. These people were mostly shot in their faces.
Aaron’s family was all gassed in Treblinka.
There were four ghettos in Poland and all Jews had to report to them. He went to Sandomierz and, one evening, went over the fence to escape, staying in a latrine which was occupied by the Germans. Before dawn, he walked to a Polish farmhouse that was nearby. It was there that he heard that eighteen more people had been killed and, with them, the rabbi of his congregation. He had to bury them, but his shovel kept hitting the bodies of others that had been murdered the previous week.
Aaron became very ill with typhus, but struggled through the fever as the Germans were killing the ill.
Living conditions were impossible: no water or electricity and the small children, who were parentless, were selling cigarettes on the streets.
Aaron recovered as the Germans and Polish police started to line up Jews and select the strongest to work in factories. People were constantly being shot randomly, something Aaron said, the Germans seemed to enjoy.
He was then sent to Skarzysko Kamienna labor camp where he stayed from August of 1944 until January, 1945. All possessions were then removed from the prisoners, including their clothes. There were three barracks: A, B and C. He said that many people looked yellow like “canaries.”
When the Russians came, they were taken to Czestochowa, seeing farmers on the road along the way. They asked the farmers where they were going and were given the cut-throat sign, meaning death.
Then it was back to the trains and on to Buchenwald. All the people registering the arrivals were French, who were nicer than the Poles. He was in Barrack #63 for a few days only.
Next he was transported to Dora, where there wasn’t any food at all. The prisoners were chased into the showers and sprayed with burning hot water and then freezing cold, just creating chaos. He was with 130 others, whose jobs were lugging stones through the mud.
His next assignment was to work in a factory where shells were manufactured for rockets. As he entered, he saw sixty people hanging as an example to frighten the prisoners. Many workers slept in the tunnels where they worked and never saw daylight until they were liberated and then, because it was so bright, they were blinded by the light.
There were roll calls where he stood outside in rain and snow for two to two and half hours every morning. They were marched through tunnel after tunnel, until they could barely walk. They saw smoke pouring from the ovens twenty-four hours every day.
Next stop was a week-long train ride to Bergen-Belsen, shortly before the Germans abandoned the camp. He was there for two weeks when the English liberated the camp. People were dying of disease and starvation, but finally food arrived with the English soldiers.
He weighed only 45k when liberated. Although his lungs were bad, doctors told him that he only needed nourishment. He regained 12k in ten days.
He left for Sweden in July of 1945 where “the people and country were lovely”. He met his wife there, had a daughter and stayed for eight years before immigrating to America. They arrived in Detroit in
Mr. Salzberg cannot watch any Holocaust movie.
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Format: Video recording