My Journey From Auschwitz to Buckingham Palace
By K. T. Czelny. 1994
Reviewed by Jan Peczkis
This book recounts the experiences of a Pole who went through the 1939 War, and subsequent incarceration at Auschwitz and then Mauthausen. I focus on items of lasting interest.
1939 ZYDOKOMUNA: JEWS BETRAYED POLAND
The author describes his experiences in the 1939 Defensive War, and he tells of Lwow at the beginning of the Soviet occupation, “As we trudged along a farm track, we noticed a sizeable detachment of Polish cavalry. The Lancers were standing by their horses, and some distance away was a heap of rifles and small arms. Standing guard over them were a few Jewish militiamen wearing bright-red armbands and carrying rifles which were pointed at the Lancers. It transpired that the Soviet tanks had captured the cavalrymen, and had invested their new-found allies with the job of guarding them. To this day I can recall the feeling of pained disgust and contempt I felt for such treachery by Polish citizens, who behaved in such a manner, at a time when their country was fighting for bare survival.” (p. 4).
He adds that, “One of the most hurtful aspects of the Soviet occupation of Lwow, was the general demeanor of the Polish-Jewish population. For centuries, they had been respected citizens of the city and contributed largely to its commercial, cultural, and artistic life. Now, many of them openly solicited Soviet favors, by staging continuous marches ‘in honor of the Red Army’, carrying red banners and loudly proclaiming their gratitude for ‘being liberated from…Polish yoke’. Extremely despised by all was their open cooperation with the Soviet NKVD (predecessor to the KGB), where they acted as informers, denouncing Polish officers and Government officials. Not uncommon was the sight of a member of the Jewish (voluntary) militia, escorting a ‘captured’ officer, or official, to the Town Hall, where the NKVD had its offices.” (p. 5).
NO VALID DICHOTOMY BETWEEN NAZI EXTERMINATION CAMPS AND “ORDINARY” CONCENTRATION CAMPS
The average person think of gas chambers and crematoria as associated with the Nazi extermination centers and the killings of Jews. Fact is, “ordinary” German concentration camps, such as Mauthausen, were equipped with gas chambers, crematoria, and bone-crushing equipment (p. 80, 102-104, 112, 116, 119, 122), used to kill non-Jews. The piles of clothing left by the gassed Mauthausen victims, as observed by Czelny, filled at least five large lorries. (p. 112).
Jews taken to the death camps were typically killed upon arrival–but not only Jews. Some groups of non-Jews were also killed upon arrival–in the “ordinary” concentration camps. For instance, with reference to Mauthausen, Czelny writes, “It was also a firm principle that some groups of deportees were immediately exterminated on arrival at the camp. For example, a group of 500 Poles, who were deported from Warsaw in September and October 1940, were shot on arrival at the camp. In the year spanning April 1940 to April 1941, some 8,000 of Polish professional intelligentsia were killed in Gusen, which was a sub-camp of Mauthausen.” (p. 119).
NOT ONLY JEWS WERE INTENSELY TARGETED FOR DEATH
Consider the Russians. Czelny writes, “The total number of Soviet prisoners was 5,000 at Mauthausen, and 5,000 in Gusen–yet in June 1942 from the 5,000 in Gusen, only 67 were still alive.” (p. 119). As at Auschwitz, it is the Russians, and not the Jews, that win the victim trophy. For more on this, see:
THE ACTUAL–AS OPPOSED TO OFFICIAL–NUMBER OF POLES MURDERED IN NAZI GERMAN CAMPS MAY NEVER BE KNOWN
Jews taken to the death camps were typically not even registered before they were killed. This is common knowledge. But various non-Jews also were not registered before being murdered–in the “ordinary” concentration camps. Czelny refers to a Pole, Joseph Putek, who was hired by the Nazis owing to a shortage of clerical/office personnel, and who was familiar with the actual admissions to Mauthausen. Czelny writes, “It must be remembered, however, that such reports were only made in Mauthausen camp on those prisoners who had been registered upon admittance. They do not embrace the great number of prisoners who had been instantly murdered on arrival at the camp, or its many sub-camps in Austria.” (p. 130).
DIE QUICKLY OR DIE SLOWLY. BUT DIE JUST THE SAME
Most Poles arriving at Auschwitz, unlike most Jews, were not gassed upon arrival. But so what! The Poles got to die in other ways, and be just as dead as the Jews. Czelny comments, “Given the totally inadequate quantity of food (and its quality and nutritional value) and the conditions to which prisoners were subjected, the average life-span in Auschwitz, taking into account the type of labor to which a prisoner was assigned, varied from three to six months.” (p. 53).
POLES WERE “NEXT FOR THE GAS”
While in Auschwitz-Birkenau, author Czelny had the following experience, “If there is anything more nauseating than the odor of burnt human flesh, and the taste in one’s mouth of that vile smoke, I have yet to be made aware of it. This situation continued day after day, after day, and it was accompanied by the unanswerable question, ‘When will our turn come’, for the SS guards wasted no time in taunting us with remarks such as, “After the Jews, the turn of the Poles will come.’” (pp. 44-45).
As I had noted in my reviews of other books, such statements were fairly common. Were these German guards just trying to scare and demoralize the Poles, or did their statements imply a common realization that the Nazis were not content to exterminate only the Jews, but also had Poles in mind?
LAST-MINUTE NON-JEWS KILLED TOO (WOULD BE)
The Nazis sometimes (but certainly not always) killed the remaining incarcerated Jews in the last days and hours of the Third Reich. But they did the same to non-Jews. Czelny reports on Franz Ziereis, the Commandant of all Mauthausen/Gusen Camps, who was found in hiding, and shot and wounded by the Americans while trying to escape. On his deathbed, he testified, “In accordance with the orders received from Reichminister Himmler, and on instructions of Dr. Kaltenbrunner, I had to kill all prisoners…I refused to follow up and obey these orders.” (p. 102).