Losing Last Possessions

"My connection to my life as a person was gone. My connection to a civilization was gone."

"Once we came to Germany, we were stripped from everything that we owned. Once we came to Germany, we were given for the first time the striped pajama-like uniforms, okay? We had a shirt underneath. We had a dish, a metal dish, on our rump. And in order to have a cutting implement, we would take a rock and turn out the handle of the spoon to serve as a cutting instrument ‘cause we were not allowed to have knives. Everything else, you know, was, during inspection, taken away from you.

I was able to conceal two items. I had them wrapped in a rag and attached to the inside of my jacket. One of the items was a picture of my mother. The other item was a toothbrush. The picture of my mother was my link to my life before the war, to my home, to the warmth of her love, to all the family events. And when I used to sometimes miss the liking of her I used to take the picture and look at it. The toothbrush was the last vestige of civilized life. The brushing of your teeth, actually not teeth but gums void of teeth that had been knocked out by different butts of different guns by different Germans. These ulcerated gums…when you brushed them with cold water without toothpaste, without tooth powder, just with this brushing of your teeth, this daily mundane, you know, function was your connection to normality, to life, to humanity.

And I kept these two items with me concealed. When we came to Dachau, after a couple of days we were notified that we have to go for de-lousing. So when you go for de-lousing they take your uniforms away. You go for showers, disinfection. So we were going for it. We were lined up. The ole timers in the camp, they said if you have anything of value, anything, give it to us. We’ll keep it for you because otherwise they’re gonna take it away from you, because you’re gone be naked. You won’t have it. Those who did it never saw their valuables again. You know, they never gave them back to them. I didn’t give it. I took... my treasure, and I ran under one of the barracks, and pretending I was doing some cleaning work, hid it under the barrack. Covered it with ground.

After the de-lousing, they gave us new uniforms. They gave us new numbers. I ran under the barrack to retrieve my treasure. Apparently somebody saw me putting’ it there. When I came there, it was gone. And I was like a wild animal. I dug up the whole area, you know, looking for it. And at that moment, I stopped being a human being. My connection to my life as a person was gone. My connection to a civilization was gone.

And I decided to commit suicide. There was no point in me going on. And I tried to get on the electrified wire that surrounded the camp. And somebody saw me running and got my father. My father came running and pulled me away. And then, of course, I broke down crying. And he says, 'We’ll get through it. We’ll make it. We’ll survive. Don’t do it.'"

Editor's note: Friedman survived his experience at Dachau and then was transferred to Augsburg.