How many more times were the Nazis going to move him, first to Auschwitz, then onto Dachau and now to where? Where were they taking him? They were bundled into trucks and heading up a steep mountain pass.
He arrived with 200 prisoners on 22 November 1944 at the Camp Neckarelz, located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller in France.
Within hours of his arrival, he received his prisoner number 98.967 of the Concentration Camp Natzweiler and was handed a red triangle to sew onto his clothes. The Nazi SS officer noted his nationality as #38220;RD/Reichsdeutscher #8221, which means German political prisoner.
He found out quickly that they were going to be used as a source of limitless labour; he was now in a different type of concentration camp to the others he had survived. Hopefully, he would survive this one as well. He knew he had ‘to hold on’ at all costs.
The mornings started at 4.15am when they would run naked to the sinks to wash in ice cold water. He always hurried, as they would be beaten if they did not get there fast enough.
At night, after work, they returned to their hut for their meagre ration, before sleeping huddled on wooden bunks. All discover a world where they are no more than numbers and subhumans.
They were caught up in a process of destruction and dehumanisation, which would lead to their death if they did not ‘hold on’. At least twice a day, the SS counted and recounted the living or dead. The living had to wait outdoors in all kinds of weather, rain, snow, wind, or intense heat, for the right to return to their hut or go off in a work kommando.
He was under nourished and constant hunger was his companion. The stench of death and human waste was everywhere. His only small enjoyment was looking at the blue line of the Vosges Mountains with their rounded summits.
He found out that this camp was founded at Neckarelz, because in the neighbouring village there was a gypsum mine, where a factory for aviation motors by Daimler-Benz was stored.
The work he is forced to undertake is located underground in mines or tunnels in order to avoid damage from Allied air raids. Each day he reminds himself that he has ‘to hold on’. Because ‘to hold on,’ meant thinking; when I get out of here, even though he knew the odds were against him. They’ll pay for this one day, even though he knew they never would. I’m not hungry, even though he was starving. I’m not cold, even though his teeth were chattering. It doesn’t hurt, even though the latest beating had left his arms and back black and blue.
For all the prisoners at this camp ‘to hold on’ meant stubbornly wanting to resist against all odds, whatever happened, clinging to their faith and morale much as to their bones and the skin that covered them.
Keep working, while you can work, you will live, he reminded himself. He remembered the words he had seen, over the gates at Dachau ‘Arbeit macht frei’. Yes, he thought, ‘work will set me free’ only if I can stay alive.
Fear and worry about the Nazi SS was always present. He lived in constant fear of their brutal treatment. The dog attacks, the standing cells, floggings and the so-called tree or pole hangings. Worst still, the endless standing at attention for long periods.
As the days and weeks drag on, the labour camp becomes a death camp as well. So many have died from the exertions of the work. They are poorly fed and given little time for rest.
He was one of many, too sick to walk on the march that day, so the Nazis round up all the sick prisoners. Put them on trucks to take them down the mountain to the train station. They were being sent by train to head back to Dachau. 900 sick prisoners crammed into the carriages. He had ‘to hold on’ and survive. How he hated trains. How much longer could I survive? That was the question. The stench of human suffering and agony was heavy in the air. He could hear their moans of pain and could taste the stale blood in his mouth. So many had slipped quietly into death and had finally found their peace. How many days had it been? Why don’t they just kill me, instead of this endless train odyssey back and forth? No, he thinks to himself, I must survive no matter what it takes. I must endure. I must hold on.
He thinks back to a time when he did not know how cruel man could be to one another. A time when he was carefree and enjoyed life as young Polish man of 18. A time before the Nazi regime. The word Nazi brought shivers to his spine. How could they do this to another human being? Why are they doing this? When will it be over? Soon, he thinks, as his body is starting to fade away.
So many questions, no time to ponder. Only time to focus on living. Suddenly he is shaken from his thoughts to the sound of a loud bang and the train grinds to a sudden stop. Shouting and gunfire continue for a short while, then silence. He could hear them coming, carriage by carriage. He could hear their footsteps getting closer.
Would I survive? Who were they? Was this the end?
The door slides open and suddenly he is looking into the eyes of an American soldier. The shooting outside has stopped and it seems like time has stood still. Is it true? Have I been rescued? Everything goes dark, as he loses consciousness.
The prisoners on the train were liberated by the US Army in Osterburken (30km from Neckarelz in the district of Würzburg) on Wednesday 4 April 1945.
Leopold Antoni Kaizik was my father, and this is small part of his wartime story and his journey on the Train to Nowhere and it’s liberation by the US Army and his eventual freedom