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REVIEW: Tadeusz Sobolewicz's BUT I SURVIVED-and How to Take the Longer View on Horrors of War, Terror and Torture

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On his first day in the Auschwitz camp, he saw a Polish criminal, who had been give charge of his bunkhouse. This man who was given so much power over his fellow prisoners soon beat a prisoner to death for having diarrhea--and stinking up the room. When Tadeusz asked why this occurred, the reply from the long term residents was, "Here they don't need a reason to beat you at all, don't you understand that?"

Within weeks Tadeusz physical frame was worked almost to death by the heavy outdoor work that winter. In the meantime, he observed several suicides by those who had given up all hope. These prisoners would simply either walk up to a wire and touch it or start walking away from their workplace at a slow pace, only to be mowed down in rifle, pistol, or machine gun fire. Another time, he observed capos and bunk leaders killing prisoners simply to hide their bodies under the bunkhouse for a few days. (During this time, these criminal types could take the food rations of these other dead prisoners unnoticed by the German higher-ups for a week at a time.) Likewise, German soldiers were given holidays for every prisoner they shot escaping-a lot of prisoners who weren't escaping just so the soldier could "earn" a holiday.

Just as Tadeusz was giving up all hope, he fell ill with tuberculosis. This is when he came across several miracle workers in the camp. First, Tadeusz was taken to the camp medical hospital and put in isolation-instead of sent straight to the gas chamber. In his interim of delirium at the so-called camp hospital, Tadeusz was taken care of by prison clinic assistants and a few Polish doctors who actually did their best (with next-to-know medicine) to take care of the few prisoners they could. When Tadeusz had recovered a bit, some of his former cellmates then smuggled bread and food into the clinic for him to help in his recovery. Likewise, amongst the prison clinic and the camp kitchen Tadeusz observed, there were teams of volunteers who smuggled food regularly to assist the sickest prisoners among them in the camp-excepting, of course, those who had not been shot, killed, or beaten to death.

It was in this context, Tadeusz was even able to receive a visit from his own father. Soon Tadeusz was well enough to volunteer to help out in the clinic. Tadeusz helped other victims of illnesses, particularly those with tuberculosis which was sweeping the camp. Even after he was well, the doctors and helpers in the hospital clinic kept Tadeusz there longer than normally permitted as an all-around clinic assistant-i.e. cleaning beds, changing sheets, etc. These same prisoners and doctors in the clinic had also protected Tadeusz from various SS "selections", whereby sick prisoners were marked to be shot, sent to gas chambers or to experiment centers.

Finally, Tadeusz was forced to rejoin the world of work- and death camps. Suddenly, he had one of the most dreaded jobs of all. This occurred because it became clear that he could speak and read German. Therefore, Tadeusz was assigned as a translator and transcriber for the Auschwitz "train welcoming committee". This meant he daily faced scenes like one witnesses in the film, SOPHIE'S CHOICE, whereby loved ones were, separated, parted and selected from one-another. Some were sent to various parts of the camp to work--or to their immediate deaths.

It was during this short period of great shame as translator, that another major miracle or stroke of luck occurred to Tadeusz. An elderly Jew who recognized that they were originally from the same township in Poland gave Tadeusz an expensive watch because, as the old man said, "I can't use it wear I am going and you can." Tadeusz looked around and pocketed the watch quickly.

Within a few hours, Tadeusz was out looking across the camp for a benefactor who could use the watch and get him out of the horrible job as translator and statistician for new arrivals. Tadeusz came across the right man-a national champion boxer of Poland who had connections all over Auschwitz. His benefactor-to-be admired the watch.

Tadeusz asked if the Polish boxing champ had been a Boy Scout-and the man nodded that he had. Tadeusz then handed him the watch and asked the boxer to help get him transferred to a better job in the camp. The man promised to do so, and a week later, Tadeusz found himself working in the camp kitchen-where for the first time ever in the camp he began to actually build himself up physically, i.e. as he received regular nourishment for the first time in a year.

The story of his time in the kitchen is an important one because one perceives a sort of Stalag-17-functioning resistance working out of the kitchen in Auschwitz led mostly by Polish political prisoners. Tadeusz was able to help out a lot.

Alas, by the end of 1942, the SS had gotten wise to the personal suasion and connections fostered over years by these older camp prisoners, and, therefore, began to put spies and peoples of other nationalities, such as Ukranians in their midst. In one of these catches against the camp cooking staff, Tadeusz was caught up (and like many of the older Polish political prisoners that same winter), so he was sent off to another work camp: Buchenwald.

1943-1945: Five more Camps in Two Years

Before WWII was over, Tadeusz had gotten a working tour of various famous extermination and industrial work camps. His first stop was in Buchenwald, where he and other newly transported prisoners had to start over in a new pecking order. This meant that even the senior political prisoners had no connections or support network at these other prison camps. This shifting from camp to camp would happen several times over Tadeusz' next two years in confinement.

For Tadeusz, probably the worst place he could have ended up was where he got caught in a life-or-death fire in the cellar of a V1Rocket factory. (There was no way prisoners could have thought of escaping it would seem, i.e. so far under the earth.) This fire took place because some Russian prisoners had successfully sabotaged some weaponry at the site. The SS soldiers response was ruthless and all prisoners in Tadeusz' block were told that none of the Russian prisoners would not be allowed to eat until someone turned someone in. Tadeusz and his fellow prisoners could not look each other in the eye as the Russians received no substance day after day.

After several days of this, the Russians flipped out. Some Russian set the underground area on fire in hopes of some of them escaping into the night.

Tadeusz was caught in this fire and was burnt badly. Hundreds of other prisoners either died in the flames, or from smoke or were shot fleeing through the few doors and window. Luckily for Tadeusz, that particular underground camp, Muelsen, belonged to a much larger work camp 5 hours to the west. Therefore any surviving wounded prisoners or guards were sent to that camp's medical facilities. This camp was in Bavaria and was known as Flossenburg.

Again, a particular miracle worker stepped in at this camp and saved Tadeusz' life. It seems that this medical professional, too, was Polish and like Tadeusz, was a survivor of Auschwitz. This particular Pole worked overtime for months cleaning Tadeusz' wounds of scraps of earth and stones embedded in the wounds. The polish medical profession also oversaw and treated him for all related infections. Later, when Tadeusz, was sent out to work in the camp, this same new savior of Takeusz helped him again and again-even keeping Tadeusz from the hands of a maniacal German camp doctor, who liked to do horrible experiments and related dangerous surgeries on patients.

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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