Abraham Lewent

Abraham Lewent was born, a Jew, in Warsaw in 1924. The Lewent family was a normal middle class family. Abraham’s father managed his own father’s clothing store, while Abraham’s grandfather, ran a textile factory. In the fall of 1939, the siege of Warsaw began, there was no running water in Warsaw, or any gas to cook with, Warsaw also would soon run out of food. To survive Abraham would steal food from a processing factory while dodging German bombs; at one point the family was forced to live on pickles for multiple consecutive weeks. This was all just foreshadowing what was to come for Abraham Lewent as Poland surrendered.

The Polish people were hardly any better to the Jews in Warsaw than the Germans themselves. Because there was no running water at the time you had to get water from the river, even the young children would dump the pails of water that the Jews had just filed, forcing them to walk back. Despite the mutual loss of one’s country, the Poles despised the Jews so much that their hatred blinded them from their loss.

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Majdenak Concentration Camp

We have a false ceiling installed for moments like this. I am hiding above everyone, I can see everything but I can’t be seen. The Nazis are in the house now, I fear for not only my life but for my family’s lives. Almost as soon as I had that thought one of the soldiers grabbed my mother while another grabbed my sister. They dragged them outside to the umschlagplatz, missing me all together not realizing I was there, watching. For my own safety I held back tears until I knew the soldiers were gone, I will never see my mother or sister again. This raid was to take Jews to the Treblinka Extermination Camp[1]. I prayed for them until my father got home, he was distraught, but remained as calm as he could be for my sake. There was nothing that could be done to save them, we must simply pray now for their lives now.

As spring approaches and more people are being taken from their homes I fear my time in Warsaw will be cut short soon. The umschlagplatz is always full of people and trains are arriving just about daily. All I can hope for now is a painless death or an easy job at a camp.

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Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Today, my father and I were removed from our home we now are on the way to Majdanek. I am both relieved that I am not dead yet and terrified that I will die once we arrive. Majdanek is a forced labor camp so I might be sent to work, I had better think of an easy but important job to secure my safety. Just then the train turned a corner and Abraham could see through the crack in the door their destination. Majdanek it was not an ornate place, barbed wire fences and turrets surrounded the property, the train let off and abraham, along with the other prisoners were shuffled through the main entrance. They split us up based on who could work, those who were fit to do so were tattooed shaved and assigned a job. Those who weren’t fit to work, were sent to be exterminated. When asked what I could do I informed the Nazis that I had learned metalwork in school, this was most fortunate because I was given one of the better jobs as a factory worker instead of breaking up rocks or digging mass graves.

My life at majdanek is relatively dull. All day we just sit, it is only on a rare occasion that we would be taken out to work. Half of the workers who get taken out never come back to the barracks, so we are never sure if we will return that night, each day we live is a blessing. I have not seen my father since last week, he was working when another worker threw a stone that hit his leg. I don’t know what happened but by the time we were to return to the barracks, I along with a friend had to carry him back because he was unable to walk. Someone insisted we called the medic and I agreed, the man looked at him, said he needed to take him to the hospital and as they were leaving the medic told me ‘I’ll have him back tomorrow’. I do not ask questions because that could mean my death. I just continue to work quietly, by now he must be dead.

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Crowded barracks at Buchenwald

After returning from work one day a man tells me I have a high fever and wants me to go to the camp hospital. Immediately I think of my father who just a short time ago was in a similar situation. But I decided it would be for the better of the other inmates if I left them so I wouldn’t get them sick. Upon arriving at the hospital I’m disgusted, it is more like a barn here people are sleeping on hay instead of beds. I met with a Former Jewish physician, he is an inmate as well, he tells me I have Typhoid Fever and I can’t go back to the barracks because there is no medicine for me. I know that there is a truck that will come every three days to clear out all the people still unfit to work, that means I only have two and a half days to get better.

I have starved my fever for two days now and although dizzy from starvation I feel fine. The doctor tells me I must walk around the large examining table three times without falling, or he won’t let me go. I perform this task with ease, and walk out the door just before the truck comes. I dodged a literal bullet and will be returning to my barracks for at least one more night.

Abraham was moved to seven different camps throughout the German Reich from Buchenwald to Skarzysko. It was time for Abraham’s final camp, Dachau[2], he was told it would be where he would die.

I was woken up to the soldiers collecting the inmates who were supposed to go to Dachau along with me. We were marched out to the front of camp and we were told there was no train for us, we have to march there. The march will take a few days, I don’t expect many people to make it. Even if I make it to the camp, I will be with my family soon.

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‘Work makes you free’ Front gates at Dachau

We are about twenty kilometres away from the camp. I woke up to the sounds of bullets. I stayed still lying on the ground, trying to make sure I wasn’t the one being shot. Did I just hear English? I look up and there are American soldiers, they are here to liberate us! I feel safe for the first time in years. The soldiers hand out packages from the Red Cross, they contained: powdered milk, chocolate, and spam. As I was about to open the chocolate a man standing next to me yelled at me saying that my stomach can’t handle this much food and I should only suck on sugar. I wish I told the other people all around me they were getting sick and even dying. But for those of us who didn’t eat, we survived and will never have to go through that again.

Abraham Lewent was nursed back to health and eventually moved out of Europe to New Jersey. Abraham stayed there and enjoyed a long life, where in the November of 2002 he passed away at the age of seventy-eight.

[1] More than 850,000 people were killed at this one camp alone “Treblinka Concentration Camp: History & Overview.” History & Overview of Treblinka. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

[2] One of the oldest concentration camps, after kristallnacht more than 10,000 Jews were imprisoned there. “Dachau.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

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