|Selections in the Camp
You!, you!, you! - out! The ones from
the back had to move forward so as to make the row five again ....
the same reception committee as you walked back at six oclock at night
.... We were too damned pooped [after a full day of hard physical work] to do
anything! ... And then had to trot in, the whole time, and they selected
you as you trotted into the gates. And believe me, I didn't feel like trotting
.... .We know that the doctor was part of it.
| Selections were sometimes done on a sacred Jewish holiday
or on a day of shared celebration, such as Christmas. This survivor, herself
Jewish but promoted to work in a clerical group of mostly Polish non-Jews, told
of [sitting around] ... the Christmas tree [in 1943] and singing
Christmas carols, and ... probably three or four trucks going right by there
into the gas.
Prisoner doctors, though likely to be protected
from late 1942 and early 1943, could, if perceived as weak or sick, be selected
with other prisoners. But they were better able than others to study the
selections process and find ways to survive it.
Prisoners resorted to
every possible device to create the appearance of health, strength; and, above
all, ability to work. Some stuffed rags under their clothes to look fatter
(when not required to strip); others rubbed whatever substance they could find
on their faces, or simply massaged their faces briskly, to overcome pallor and
produce color; and everyone tried to make vigorous physical motions (trotting
or running in place) quite beyond what they considered their capacity at the
time. Marianne F. explained to me that, without understanding just why or how,
I kept a determined grin on my face . . . [and] was determined never to
show fear, and took pains to get her teeth brushed and to wash her face
all part of the extraordinary effort called forth by certain prisoners
to stay alive.
Some women tried to drape their clothes in ways that
would hide pregnancy (which for Jewish women meant being sent to the gas), and
some had secret abortions by Jewish prisoner doctors. One woman told how
Mengele asked her suspiciously whether, she were pregnant, and said, if she
was, I will send you to another place with better conditions; she
claimed to have answered, From what? and was spared.6
The message prisoners fought against was
articulated by a Rumanian-Jewish survivor: Everybody said to us:
Because you're dirty you have to die the word
dirty standing for every impurity assigned to Jews that
necessitated their annihilation.
And frequently prisoners, particularly
doctors, attempted to save a few people by manipulating records and reports and
especially camp numbers. Wolken told how he cooperated with a Jewish clerk in
saving people who had already been selected: by assigning them the numbers of
dead people, by removing the names of people when possible from the list of