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Chapter 5

A Bit of Luck

 

This is a tale of Dmitri Woloschowski, who was born in 1922 in the Ukraine village of Welika Pawlowka. As a soldier in the Red Army, he was captured by the Germans and landed in Kottern, a subcamp of Dachau. This is one of the stories he wrote about his time in the camp.

 

His last name was Kusmenko, but everyone called him Kusja. It fit him. In Dachau his number was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty thousand. Kusja was a slight blond kid, about 17 to 18 years old, with a button nose and sky blue eyes, which were exceptionally clear.

 

He was an old hand, like most of the prisoners who had been there a long time. He knew all the tricks of camp life.

 

He knew exactly what you could or could not lay under your pillow at night and that in a group you always had to find a place in the middle. And that if the Kommandoführer (camp Commander) came in with his club, you should not stand too far away from him; close up he could not wield it with as much power. He knew never to share your food with anyone and that you could not trust anyone. He was handy and careful.

 

At that time we worked for Baukommando Drei (Building Detail Three). We were building our own camp. We lived in factories on the Isar river, which was a rapid mountain stream. From there we were driven to work every day, a trip of three kilometers. We had to get up at five in the morning. We were always hungry and we were always tired.

 

When we arrived at work, guard posts were set up and we were counted. After that we received our assignments. First the painters, carpenters and Italian stonecutters, amongst which was the bandit Limondisi. The rest was for foreman Blas, a heavy set older German with a shock of white hair. He had a habit of throwing his hair back constantly. Therefore we called him “The Horse”.

 

Then the game began. It was important to stay away from the masons and concrete workers, so that you would not have to carry heavy tile or beams. If you did, you could be through within a few days. You also had to take care not to wind up in the “Kiesgrube”, where you would have to carry sand and stones all day long and where the Kapo yelled and hit you with a stick.

 

The “Horse” was nearsighted and always forgot our numbers. He only remembered the Kapo. The most important thing was to ditch work before mealtime. It was a question of technique. Some acted like they were straightening up, others moved wood shavings around. Others hid in the barracks or on the toilet. There were no actual toilets, you sat on a heavy beam, sometimes for hours, until you were chased out. Sometimes that happened with water from a fire hose. The very best was to have a hiding place no one knew about. It could be a ditch with old junk, or some other hole in the ground where you could sleep.

 

One time Kusja confided in me, his sky blue eyes twinkling, that he knew of a location he called “extraklasse”. Yesterday he had built a hiding place out of two planksin the shed, with two exits. The shed was in the middle of the construction site and no one would consider hiding there. That is exactly why we did it. Immediately after roll call, we ran to our hiding place. It was wonderful and there was a soft place to lay down. Through the slits between the planks we looked out over the road. Regretfully, I could not talk to Kusja, because he was about four meters away from me.

 

One day, we had both fallen asleep. I don't know how long we slept. I awoke with a start. I looked through the slit and my heart started pounding. I wanted to scream, but the scream froze in my throat. There was the Unterscharführer (deputy troop leader), the deputy for the commander, and after the commander the most feared man in the camp. He was jealous of his superiors because he had not had a promotion in fifteen years. He worked hard at maintaining order in the camp and often bloodied prisoners' noses himself. He hated what he called sentimentalities. He had been imprisoned himself and made no secret about that.

 

Now he was walking towards us with big steps. Next to him, on a leash and just as impressive was a huge gray dog with black spots. Kusja snored a bit and the dog's ears twitched. He gave a short bark and pulled in the direction of the door. “Wer da” (Who's there), the SS-man yelled. “Heraus” (Come out) he commanded. Slowly a sleepy Kusja lowered himself from his planks. “Vast” (Grab him) the SS-er yelled. At the same time I heard the dog growl and heard Kusja yelp wildly. It took a great deal of trouble to get the dog off Kusja. Totally confused, Kusja lay on the ground. He moaned softly, either from the cold or from fear. Now it was my turn. I decided to act dumb. I jumped out of the shed into the open, like a cork out of a bottle and stood in front of the SS-er and announced myself loudly and clearly: “Häftling Nummer 55910 meldet sich” (Prisoner number 55910 reporting). I stood stock still. “Aha!” mumbled the Unterscharführer and hit me hard with his right hand. I could have remained standing, but I fell deliberately, to the right. I stood up immediately and stood in front of him, at attention. He took the dog's leash in his hand and hit me again, this time with his left hand. Again, I deliberately fell to the ground, this time to the left. It took all my power to crawl upright and stand at attention again. It was obvious that this satisfied the Untersharführer. He twisted his moustache and uttered a short “Oh!”.

 

With that, the matter was closed. I had won the psychological fight. Even the afternoon meal was not taken from me, that's how much luck I had. Kusja was  locked up in the Revier and went from there for further treatment to Dachau. I don't know what happened to him.

 

I escaped death myself, because I was and am a slave to the devil. Now I know what that means. It is someone who cannot experience good things anymore and has lost his human dignity. A truly free person cannot be broken, he can only be killed. For a long time we have been raised as slaves. Slaves to ideas, religions and circumstances. In this world we will remain the devil's slaves for a long time.

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