After the major roundup of Jews in January 1943, the remaining Jews in Marseille ran a high risk of being arrested, interned, and deported. It was also the time of denunciations, and the Milicien and the Gestapo had replaced the regular French gendarmes. Among those arrested were Maud Bloch and Ida Haim Solomon, whose testimonies follow.
Maud Bloch was arrested with her father and mother on 15 April 1944 by two armed French Miliciens. She and her family were first sent to Drancy and subsequently transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944.
Ida Haim Solomon was arrested with her family on 9 May 1944 by four young Miliciens. The Haim Solomon family had been hiding in Camoins. Initially transferred to Drancy, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau later in the month.
Excerpted from Oppetit, Christian. Ed. Marseille, Vichy et les Nazis: Le Temps des refles, la deportation des juifs (Marselle: Amicale des Deportes d’Auschwitz et des camps de Haute Silesie, Section Marselle-Provence, 1993) 151-155 and 162-65 Translation by Anne Mouneu. Testimony of Maud Bloch, Auschwitz-Birkenau Number A 5446
Forty-seven years have gone by since the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945.
One often describes the life of a deportee in a camp, but each of us survived in her own unique way.
I crossed the gates of Auschwitz with all six members of my family on a day in May 1944. The infernal gates of that nightmare prison which the Nazis had given the name of concentration camp, but which in reality was an extermination camp for Jews and Gypsies.
This horrible journey had begun with the departure from Drancy, in sealed railway cars, with hunger, thirst, promiscuity for days and days, and for nights and nights: staying sometimes several hours on rail sidings because of bombed-out tracks, closed in, squeezed against one another, standing up, without air; men, women, young children and the elderly who sometimes died alone in a corner of the car. One tried to reason, to believe, but lost all hope. The train of death was following its route toward the unknown, the journey not yet finished. Then we were in a strange and sinister station constructed for human cattle. Terminus of the end of the world! When the doors of the railway car opened, we are violently thrown onto the platform. Everywhere SS officers in uniforms, yelling, screaming, hitting us with their whips, accompanied by enormous dogs, barking, menacing, showing their fangs. Two lines are rapidly forming following the orders of the SS, one to the right, one to the left. Immediately, we are separated from one another. Panic, the awful cries, the distress. I am brutally ripped from the arms of my mother, who is crying. I do not even have time to give her one last embrace. I see my parents leave in the line to the left with thousands of other people. Some trucks are waiting for them. Nothing to fear - the words of an SS assail me - you will rejoin each other soon. As for me, I find myself in the line for young women, although I do not understand why. I am totally ignorant of the fate of my parents, but I want to know where they are; and it isn't until the end of the third day that I learn they have been driven directly into the gas chamber and the crematorium with all the others. My sister, age thirty, and her little boy of five years suffered the same fate. I am destroyed, I want to die as well. Another deportee tells me, "You see, your parents are in the process of burning in the chimney."
Soon we are led into a wooden barracks, without windows, through which a glacial cold penetrates. We are stripped naked of all our clothes and shoes, sheared, tattooed on the left forearm (I am number A 5446), and dressed in dirty rags. I inherit a pair of shoes, one with a high heel and the other, a low heel. Of course, that makes me limp....
For me the biggest torture was the time of roll call. The roll calls, which last for hours and hours, standing at attention, in ranks of five, leaning against each other in order not to fall, feet sunken up to the ankles in a swampy mud under the frozen rain of autumn, in the snow and the blizzards of winter, with those who fell, exhausted, and died in total silence, where no one even took note of the last breath of the thousands who were dying. The kapo, to be sadistic, liked to see us suffer. She called our numbers but never determined the exact count, one less or one more; she began again and again, one time, two times, three times, and so on until the break of day. One other method to destroy us.
It is finally time to depart for work. I labor in an outside commando, which requires traveling several kilometers to arrive at the place of work. We leave the camp to the sound of a female orchestra which is playing an American march. How ridiculous! We do the same work as the men. We have to carry on our shoulders piles of bricks, fifty-kilogram sacks of cement on a terrain where we have to cross an immense trench, laden with shovels and picks.
The next day the trench that we dug the day before has to be filled in again....
I worked thus in the outside commandos until November. One day, by pure chance, I was selected to work at the Weberei, a cloth mill, which was located in a large wooden barracks. Finally, I was a little sheltered. The work consisted of cutting with enormous scissors that hurt my fingers, piles of coarse scraps into strips that we had to braid (it appears that they were used to clean the gun carriages of cannons). The required measurement for those wads was set at seventeen meters, but since I was not good at the task, I was able to manage with great difficulty only two or three meters each day. In the evening the male kapos, who most of the time were Poles or Ukrainians, passed through the ranks in order to check the measurements; they were accompanied by huge dogs that they commanded to jump upon the table in order to make an impression on us. Of course, I often received blows on the nape of the neck or on the head for not having met the desired quota.
Each day was a day won in life. Very often selections took place: they became a part of our weekly life. This consisted of presenting ourselves nude in front of our barracks. SS doctors passed through the ranks and indicated, at random according to whim, those who were destined to go to the gas chamber. I was very scared because I was covered by scabies, and the least pimple or the littlest scratch was a pretext for extermination. How many times did I pass muster? Often our unfortunate friends left in this way and never returned.
One morning there was a distribution of bed sheets and blankets. or proper dresses. What was going on? We were very astonished and did not understand the changes. At the end of the morning's work, we were put in ranks and given a soup containing morsels of meat. But what was the mystery here? Finally, we understood. The gentlemen of the International Red Cross were visiting the camp. The SS officers accompanied them and explained to them that Birkenau was simply a labor camp, properly kept: the detainees were well-fed, dressed properly, were sleeping in clean beds with sheets and blankets. How could they not see our thinness, our pale coloring, our shaved heads, the chimneys spitting flames? How could they let themselves be deluded like that? Or, perhaps they did not want to see anything or know anything?
The comforting news circulates in the camp for several days. The Russians are approaching the camp: the front is only a few kilometers away. A gleam of hope gives us a little bit of courage, although we are very scared because the SS in retreat would be quite capable of blowing up the camp and killing us so that the witnesses of this horrible tragedy would disappear forever.
Thousands of deportees were led away by the SS as they departed and were slaughtered on a Death March or transferred to other camps. As for me, since I had a gangrenous wound on my leg. it was impossible for me to walk. Thus. I stayed in the camp without food for several days awaiting the arrival of Soviet troops who came to liberate us on 27 January 1945.