Stanisław Zalewski. "Death was commonplace"
"We weren’t just numbers. They only labelled us with numbers, but we remained human. As a matter of fact, they did strip us of our humanity, but that was only later during our stay in the camp," said Stanisław Zalewski in a conversation with Magda Łucyan, a reporter from "Fakty" TVN.
The series of conversations with former prisoners of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau has been conducted to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the camp’s liberation that falls on the 27th of January.
Stanisław Zalewski was born in 1925. He was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1943. Before that, he was arrested for being involved in the resistance movement. He was 18 years old at the time. His prisoner number was: 156569. Later on, he was transferred to Mauthausen-Gusen, where eventually he was liberated.
Mr Zalewski remembered very well the time when he was taken to the camp. "It was a gloomy night. Prisoners would walk in fives. The injured would lean on their friends and those who collapsed during the trip were carried. Next, thing was the barbed wire and the gate with a sign that read. 'Arbeit macht frei' (work sets you free). In the morning, the procedure: name, surname, and information. Then it was time for, cleaning, shaving, a haircut and tattooing. I have my number tattooed on my left hand", said the former prisoner of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"One day, they didn’t rush us out to work. They ordered us to stay in the barracks, but some prisoners managed to somehow peek outside. Trucks arrived and were parked in front of the barracks. Women were rushed outside and told to strip naked, note that it was October. Next, they loaded them on the trucks like some kind of cargo, or merchandise. The trucks started to move out, followed by an escort. Of course, the women knew what was going to happen to them. I would hear their scream for a long time. When one of them would jump off the transport, the escort would just shoot her and chucked her body back on the truck. These transports would last for several hours, until all of the selected women were taken straight to the crematorium," he recalled.
"Another scene from my time in the camp was when a train stopped at a sidetrack and people started to get off the wagons. You could tell by the armbands with the Star of David that they were Jewish. Just one SS soldier stood in front of that row, the rest (of prisoners) would follow him calmly, dusting off their clothes and luggage. They walked calmly, without signs of any alarm or concern. Try to imagine us just standing and watching. We couldn’t say anything or we would get killed. We watched those well-dressed people walking calmly and we knew they were walking to meet their death," said Mr Zalewski.
The 93-year-old said that in the camp "death was commonplace". "You would see death at work and at the roll calls. The living were supposed to form a line and the dead were lying next to the barracks. But you could see that line would break whenever someone would collapse and never get up again," he added.
Stanisław Zalewski remembered the day of liberation. He was in Mauthausen-Gusen camp at the time. "On the 5th of May, two U.S. Army vehicles approached. A few soldiers got off. One of them even knew Polish and said: 'You are free'. What happened next is just too difficult to explain," he said with tears in his eyes.
The former prisoner of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau was asked by "Fakty" TVN reporter about the message he would like to pass on to younger generations.
"Those who went through those camps… That they walk, they talk, it doesn’t mean they have nothing inside of them. I come from the generation that was deprived of their youth in the years during the World War II. War, any war incites violence on both sides of the conflict. The stronger dictates the rules that often are very harsh. In order for that to never happen again, there must be peace between nations. However, reconciliation without forgiveness and truth about the past can only be a small bridge hanging over a chasm. Things that happened in other regions of the world show that people, driven by their ambition, can resort to acts of armed violence and even genocide. The conclusion: the world didn’t draw conclusions from the tragic years of the Second World War," Stanisław Zalewski highlighted.
Autor: gf / Źródło: TVN24 News in English
Źródło zdjęcia głównego: tvn24