Mielec Labor Camp

Volunteering for Slave Labor

"It was a different universe."

"On the night of June 15, 1942, they surrounded the village... And they set up megaphones, and they made an announcement. If the able bodied man will volunteer to go [to a] labor camp, the women, children, and elderly will be spared deportation. So we had a discussion among ourselves, especially my father and my mother and I, since we, you know, we didn’t live in that village. We just recently arrived there. My father and I, we decided that we’ll volunteer, and so did two of his brothers to save our families. And we went into the labor camp of Mielec, which eventually became the concentration camp of Mielec. Four weeks later, Germans rounded up that village, marched them to the nearest railroad station. They put them in the cattle cars, and the whole village was exterminated on the 23rd of July, 1942, including... about 50 members of my family, including my mother my brother.

Well, the camp when we came in had several hundred people. Eventually the camp had 3,000 people when it was closed in July of 1944. When we came to the camp, [my father] got a job in the kitchen, a German kitchen, since he was a butcher... He used to run the kitchen in the camp. So he worked on the camp premises. I worked outside the camp... I worked in an airplane factory. Then I worked... for a while, the garbage detail, and then back to in the factory. So during the working time we were separated. And he lived in a different barrack than I did. I joined the barrack with people of my age... but we saw each other every day.

It was a different universe. It was a different world. You know, all of a sudden you were thrown from what you considered a normal way of life – you got up with your family, you had breakfast, you know, you had discussions – here the kappos woke you up at six o’clock in the morning by hitting your feet with the truncheons okay? And you had to line up. And you got some black brew masquerading as coffee. Okay? And, sometimes some boiled farina. That was your breakfast. And then you had to line up and march to whatever labor assignment you had... You were a slave. You were not a human being anymore. You lost your identity. Nobody called you by your name. You got a number and you were prisoner number so-and-so. You lost your humanity. You lost the self- reliance or self-perspective of who you were."