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Post-Holocaust Testimony

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David Boder Interview with Helen Tichauer

Boder, David interview Tichauer 1946
Illinois Institute of Technology

In the summer of 1946, sociologist David Boder began what is arguably the first audio testimony project that sought primarily to preserve survivor histories.1 As such, David Boder's efforts stand out in several ways. While Boder was certainly not the first person to interview these survivors, he was the first to record them with audio equipment. Boder recorded the interview itself rather than recording the results of an interview like written testimonies and questionnaires did.

Boder's interviews were also among the first testimony projects to look at the psychological impact of the events in question. Boder used the so-called "trauma index" developed for Displaced Persons (DPs) rather than asking questions to produce evidence for a trial. This index "scored" the interviewee's traumatic experiences, which were then coded by color and number.2 

Finally, Boder interviewed survivors directly in the language of their choice instead of mediating their words through an interpreter. This allowed Boder to preserve the exchanges between interviewer and interviewee more directly. The result is not a finished, polished work of testimony, but rather an evolving conversation.

David Boder was a refugee, born in Libau (today Liepāja in Latvia) in 1886. He studied in Vilna, Leipzig, the United States, and St. Petersburg, where he earned a degree in psychology. Boder fought in the Russian army during World War I, and subsequently fled Russia during the 1917 revolution. He lived in Japan, Mexico, and eventually the United States, where he received a master's degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Northwestern University.

During and after the war, Boder worked at Lewis University (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Boder arrived at what he called the "happy idea" of interviewing Jewish DPs immediately upon the end of the war in May of 1945. While he had hoped to gain entrance to Germany immediately, his trip was delayed by a year in order to obtain the necessary approvals. In the end, Boder visited DP camps, job training facilities, children's homes, and refugee sites in Paris, Geneva, Munich, Italy, and Wiesbaden. He interviewed approximately 130 Jewish DPs.3

Boder's first interviews took place on July 29, 1946 in the ORT Training School in Paris.4 He describes these experiences in his book, I Did not Interview the Dead:

I would meet a colony of DPs in a particular shelter house for lunch or dinner. After the meal I would ask them to sing and, with their knowledge, I recorded the songs. When I played these back, the wonder of hearing their own voices recorded was boundless. Then I would explain my project and ask for volunteers. [...] When the selected individual appeared for the interview I would say, "We know very little in America about the things that happened to you in concentration camps. If you want to help us out by contributing information about the fate of the displaced persons, tell your own story."5

The interviews themselves were conducted in an informal and intimate setting. The interviews took place alone without prepared notes, and Boder would sit behind the speaker. When Boder translated the interviews, he did so orally with a stenographer recording his words. Boder did all of his own translations. His interviews were among the first to treat survivors as victims of trauma with their own individual stories to tell.

Boder sought to raise awareness among the American public regarding the plight of the Jewish Displaced Persons in Europe. Ultimately, his interviews aimed, in his words, "to gather personal reports in the form of wire recordings for future psychological and anthropological study." At the same time, he recognized that the stories he gathered were not, in the end, "the grimmest stories that could be told—I did not interview the dead."6

The featured interview with Helen Tichauer took place on September 23, 1946, in the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp. Originally from Bratislava, Tichauer was deported to Auschwitz in March of 1942 together with 2,000 other unmarried women. Because of her early arrival, Tichauer was witness to the early construction of the camp extension at Birkenau. She was also in a unique position to observe the inner workings of the camp.7

Tichauer's testimony serves as a prime example of Boder's interviews. He introduces his subject in English, and the testimony in German follows. As we can hear, the wire recording technique presents several challenges, not the least of which is the quality of the recordings themselves. Boder's interview also raises questions about the method and function of these early interviews. What is the impact—and importance—of hearing the entire exchange between interviewer and survivor for the first time? What is the importance of the interview language? How might this choice shape the final product? How does Boder's interview technique bring out a different result than interviews conducted to gather legal evidence?

For an account of Boder's project, see Alan Rosen, The Wonder of Their Voices: The 1946 Holocaust Interviews of David Boder (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

David Boder, I Did Not Interview the Dead (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949), xvii-xix.

The Illinois Institute of Technology maintains a website entitled, Voices of the Holocaust, that preserves many (although not all) of these interviews. The original wire recordings are held by the Library of Congress.

ORT, known in English as the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training, was originally founded in Russia in 1880. The organization continues to operate today in the United States and many places around the world.

Boder, I Did Not Interview the Dead, xii.

Boder, I Did Not Interview the Dead, xiv-xix. Boder's method and resulting testimonies are further analyzed and complicated in Alan Rosen, The Wonder of Their Voices: The 1946 Holocaust Interviews (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

The multifacted nature of Tichauer's position—and her story—is chronicled in the Jürgen Matthäus, ed., Approaching an Auschwitz Survivor: Holocaust Testimony and its Transformations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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Boder: /In English:/ We are starting again. Munich, Septem-…Germany, September the 23rd in camp Feldafing…camp Feldafing, near Munich, a camp for about four thousand and several hundred DP’s. The camp is located on a large compound of about fifteen to twenty acres, covered with armory-like buildings, which was a camp of the Hitler Youth. /One sentence is omitted for reasons of uncertainty./ The interviewee is Mrs. Helena Tichauer, sometimes, as she says, known in Auschwitz and here as Zippy. She is married to Mr. Mack…to Mr. Tichauer who was our interviewee on Spool 146, 147 /these numbers are incorrect/. Mr. Tichauer was called in our spools Irving. /In German:/ Now then, Mrs. Tichauer, will you please tell me how old you are…your full name and how old you are, if one may know. 

Tichauer: /In German:/ Tichauer, Helena, nee Spitzer. 

Boder: Spitzer. 

Tichauer: Spitzer. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: Born in November, the tenth of November, 1918. 

Boder: Where? 

Tichauer: In Bratislava in Czechoslovakia. 

Boder: So then you are a Czechoslovakian subject. 

Tichauer: Yes. 

Boder: I see you have here a tattoo number. Where is it from? 

Tichauer: My number, 2286, belongs to the first numbers of the women who, in the year ’42, March ’42, arrived in Auschwitz. 

Boder: Aha. Now, will you tell me how…from the day of the day of the action brought you to Auschwitz and what happened further? 

Tichauer: Now the action, how they actually came to Auschwitz, is in this case also interesting. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: The Slovakian country was given by Hitler its independence. As a price the then Minister-President Vojtech Tuka gave sixty thousand Jews…he put them at the disposal /?/ of the Germans. That is Erret /?/ KH /or KA? A few words giving apparently the meaning of these letter are not clear/. 

Boder: Well. How were these Jews taken? 

Tichauer: These Jews were 'invited.' First of all women were 'invited.' The young ones, that is girls up to forty-five years, to present themselves voluntarily to an assembly point in Bratislava. That was the Patronka. Not much was told to them, but /they were informed/ that most of them are assigned to agricultural labor in North Slovakia. The transports arrived, that is, the people assembled in the lager, and to…to…the first transport of one thousand girls departed on the 26th of March from the city of Poprateck /?/. 

Boder: '42 {in German interview correct: "[19]43?"}. 

Tichauer:  '43 {in German interview correct: "[19]42"}.

Boder: '43 {in German interview correct: "[19]42"}.

Tichauer: A day later the second transport departed, again of a thousand women. We traveled all night. 

Boder: In what transport were you? In the second transport? 

Tichauer: In the second transport. 

Boder: All right. Now tell us what happened. You assembled. What did you have with you? 

Tichauer: With /two words not clear/. We assembled. Immediately the same day we had to surrender our identification papers, and we had to commit ourselves…the things…that means, fifty kilos we were permitted to take with us, and we had to commit ourselves to put at the disposition of the state the things that we have left behind. 

Boder: Hm. 

Tichauer: We were actually forced to comply with this form-…form- /formality/. 

Boder: Now, how did you put that /the things/ at the disposition of the state? 

Tichauer: Of course we >don't {contained in Boder's translation; missing here} < know any more what became of them since a week later we were transported away from the assembly point, where we had been cut off from the whole world, with our fifty kilos. 

Boder: Now one moment. Where were your father, your mother, and… 

Tichauer: My parents were /remained/ still at home. In general all parents remained still at home. The first transport consisted of unmarried girls who were called upon to cooperate/?, to do ‘nothing’ to avoid compliance/ in coming. And in case they were not to come, measures would have been…/she seems to be cautious about her High German grammar/ measures would be taken, and the parents be taken instead /in retaliation/. For this simple reason no girl dared not to come, because for everyone the parents…the parents were to be considered /?/. Since one had the worst premonitions about these matters, one was ready to sacrifice himself. 

Boder: Nu. 

Tichauer: Nu. We were then, after one week, exactly after… 

Boder: Now let us not go so fast. Who guarded you? 

Tichauer: We were then guarded by the Hlinka Guard. These were the counterpart of the SS that time in Czechoslovakia, called SS, corresponding to the German SS. 

Boder: So they were not Germans themselves. 

Tichauer: No. The Germans themselves took over this assembly lager the last day, got people up, and conveyed them with the transport. 

Boder: Aha. Now wait…go on. 

Tichauer: The trip lasted a night and a day. 

Boder: Now then, in what kind of rr-cars were you embarked? 

Tichauer: These were normal cattle cars. 

Boder: What does that mean? Are there not-normal cattle cars? 

Tichauer: Yes. 

Boder: For example? 

Tichauer: For example, cattle cars which at times have no tops, which are without roofs. 

Boder: Aha. Open rr-cars. 

Tichauer: These were closed cattle cars. These were closed and were supplied, of course, with proper locks so that we were unable to see the daylight, nor did we have an idea in what directions we were exactly traveling. 

Boder: Did you have a toilet in the rr-car? 

Tichauer: A toilet, no. But there were buckets which served for that purpose. 

Boder: How many people to a rr-car? 

Tichauer: There were about sixty to eighty people embarded in each car. 

Boder: In your case only women, is that so? 

Tichauer: In our case women only. 

Boder: Only younger…/?/ 

Tichauer: Only girls up to the age of 45. 

Boder: Then there were no married women? 

Tichauer: No married couples, because these followed only two months later. 

Boder: But were they married women? 

Tichauer: Married women, no. 

Boder: Now go on. Neither small children? 

Tichauer: Small children neither. At the border, approximately…The next morning early we noticed that we are somewhere in a strange region. After prolonged guessing whether here or there, it occurred to us that we had traveled in the direction of Upper Silesia. We were at the railroad station /word not clear/, and we knew that we are traveling in the direction of Poland. 

Boder: You were told where you are going. 

Tichauer: No. About that we were given no information. Most to the contrary. 

Boder: Yes, but you were told at the start that you were going to Slovakia. 

Tichauer: At the beginning we were just told that /we would go/ to North Slovakia for work in the fields. But when we saw that we arrived in Poland, we were of the opinion that we possibly may go to work in the fields in Poland, because there were already earlier circulated rumors that field…field laborers are needed partly in Poland, partly even in the Ukraine. We did not think much of it, because we were promised our return home within two months. And we were gladly ready to work up these two months only to protect in this manner our parents. 

Boder: Did you in general know already what is happening in the lagers? Were these things known in Hungary…/correction/ in Slovakia? 

Tichauer: Actually no, because concerning women hardly anything was known. We knew about the German concentration camps for the simple reason that a large part of the immigrants, the German immigrants principally, were at that time tolerated in Slova-...Czechoslovakia, and... 

Boder: Those were people who had run away? 

Tichauer: …who partly were permitted to leave. Part had run away. And most German Jews knew what a German concentration camp was. But never in life had we dreamed that we, completely harmless /people/ will be put in a concentration camp only because we are Jews. Now then, the next day, it was on a Sunday {in German interview correct: Saturday} afternoon, at about five o’clock the train stopped at the station Oswiecim, Auschwitz. And in some way… 

Boder: Where is that about? Near what big city is it? 

Tichauer: Well, that is…Auschwitz by itself is a big city. However, it is located between Katowice and Krakow. 

Boder: Yes. /In a low voice:/ Please speak in this direction. 

Tichauer: We were unable to orient ourselves, because Auschwitz was completely unknown to us. That is, in general, Auschwitz was known /to us/ not as a concentration camp. We arrived as I said already by five o’clock in the afternoon. The train stopped. We were received in kind of a strange tone /manner/. We only heard a howl, because the rr-cars were locked. Faster and faster out, and so on, and on. When the turn came to our rr-car we were chased down. Before us stood people in uniform, the kind we did not know before, because in Slovakia we had no opportunity to see actual 'skulls'. 

Boder: You mean the men had skulls /emblems/? 

Tichauer: They had skulls… 

Boder: Describe please the uniform. 

Tichauer: The uniform was a normal SS uniform, dark green, half high boots, a kind of German boots, Wehrmacht boots. The flaps /?/ on the…What do you call it? 

Boder: On the…on the coats. 

Tichauer: On the tunics were marked with SS, and on the cap, on the helmet /?/, which they mostly wore, one saw a skull. 

Boder: With two bones?

Tichauer: No, a skull, /just/ a skull. That was the insignia of the…of the skulls. That is, that was /a regiment/… 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: This is known. Now then, we were chased out… 

Boder: What does that mean, ‘chased out’? 

Tichauer: With a, ‘Out, out.’ With /words not clear/ so we understood that we have to get out. We were hurriedly lined up in rows of five and /led/ in the direction of a door /gate?/. 

Boder: And your things? 

Tichauer: No, the things were not given to us. And the things we never saw again. 

Boder: Did not see again? 

Tichauer: Never seen again. 

Boder: Remained in the rr-car? 

Tichauer: Remained in the rr-car. On the way we saw something that I hardly could describe any more today. It was a most peculiar sight. Half-finished stone blocks /buildings/ surrounded with barbed wire. On the roofs, at the windows, stood striped, living corpses. I can’t express myself differently. People without faces, /without/ facial expressions, like…like made of stone. Next to them stood…today we know they were sentries, sentries so to speak, who guarded these prisoners, and /word not clear/ who…these were men. When they saw us, they were….when they in some way directed their attention at us, they were yelled at, so that they would not dare any more to turn their head/s/, and continued with their work. At that time, as I understand it now, the lager Auschwitz was being constructed for us, for the women…to complete it, so to speak, because most of them were up on the roofs. 

Boder: /Words not clear./ 

Tichauer: Correct. It was…the men’s lager was completed already since 1940 or ’39, but for the women, who were just now expected, ten blocks were assigned. These were stone blocks one story high with basements and attics. We were a thousand girls. We entered the lager. That means in front of the lager was the gate with the inscription which gave us something to think /about/. ‘Work makes free’/Arbeit macht frei/. 

Boder: Just the same as in Dachau. 

Tichauer: Yes. Naturally we were of the opinion that we /have come to/ a work lager. But not so from the gate on the left side. If one would turn somewhat to the left one could see in the German language in printed block letters the sign Concentration Camp Auschwitz which, so to speak, aroused in us some obscure uneasiness. The thousand girls who came to the lager saw before themselves, before the last block, it was block ten, a crowd. We did not know at the first moment whether these are girls or women or humans altogether. They stood there in old Russian uniforms, the hair /heads/ shorn bare, wooden slippers on their feet. And so they stood and stared at us. Then suddenly there were heard some calls. Certain girls had recognized girl friends, sisters, or the kind, and after long… 

Boder: You said they were there? 

Tichauer: They had arrived a day earlier. 

Boder: They had the naked heads? 

Tichauer: They were already, so to speak, established /?/ prisoners. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: And so… 

Boder: They had already their hair shorn? 

Tichauer: …had their hair shorn already. We could not talk much, because we were surrounded by SS, but we understood that these are our women neighbors from Slovakia, and the conditions in which they find themselves. That was enough for us. It did not take long. That means…We had arrived. What we still had left, an overcoat, clothes /?/, shoes, stockings and such, was taken away, and in groups of a hundred we came to a block which was called the shower. That was a bathhouse. 

Boder: The what? 

Tichauer: The shower. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: It was a bathhouse where the women were bathed, were their…that is our hair was shorn. We were given the Russian uniforms. 

Boder: Men’s uniforms? 

Tichauer: Russian men’s uniforms, old ones. And in a few hours we were made equals to the arrivals who preceded us. 

Boder: Now wait a moment. This we want. Your things that you had with you were taken away, correct? 

Tichauer: Yes. 

Boder: You were then taken to a bath? 

Tichauer: Yes. 

Boder: Then your hair was cut. 

Tichauer: Yes. 

Boder: Where? 

Tichauer: Where? One moment. Before the first Jewish transports arrived from Slovakia, there arrived a thousand Reich-German prisoners from Ravensbrueck. 

Boder: Men or women? 

Tichauer: Women, because in the women’s lagers there were only women. We had no contact with men. This was not permitted at all. These were women prisoners who were already for three or four or five years imprisoned, and as punishment were transported from the concentration lag/er/…from the concentration camp Ravensbrueck. These women then clothed us, bathed us, shore our hair, handed us over to the SS. These prisoners, those Reich-German prisoners… 

Boder: When you were shorn and bathed… 

Tichauer: Yes? 

Boder: …did any SS men come in? 

Tichauer: There came in at that time the lager leader [missing here: "Höss"], the then lager leader of Auschwitz, Superior Storm Division Leader Ohmeier/?/, and many others whose names are today not known to me…and to inspect us like cattle. It was going on like a cattle show. They turned us here and there /right and left/. 

Boder: While you were nude? 

Tichauer: Nude. Besides there was the SS physician Dr. Bodeman, that time the lager physician /?/ who looked us over, and…I don’t know, inspected us, and put us through the normal process of bathing and hair shearing. 

Boder: The men were present? 

Tichauer: The SS men, yes. The first night… 

Boder: The hair was cut only from your head? 

Tichauer: The hair was cut from all places, wherever their was hair on the body /word not clear/, our eyebrows and also on… 

Boder: With scissors or with… 

Tichauer: Partly with electric machines, such shearing machines, and when these failed /got out of order/ scissors were used which most often were half dull. A few weeks later, after thousand of prisoners were brought during these months from Slovakia, from Poland. From Poland the first prisoners came to /from?/ prison in Auschwitz. In order to have somehow an orientation, they started to proceed with the tattooing. The early methods were...have in fact failed. The early methods corresponded to a stamp. They arranged needles in the form of numbers, simply pressed it on the arm, and simply spread over India ink. But in a few days the tattoo was gone. Then followed the normal tattooing with the double needle which was applied to the left elbow of every prisoner in consecutive numbers beginning with one. 

Boder: How was that done? Did they scratch it? 

Tichauer: No, just by touching. That is a double needle. One needle longer, the other shorter. And this was dipped in India ink, and then stamped /pricked/… 

Boder: Does that hurt much? 

Tichauer: Hurt? We did not feel pain any more, because the clothes /a few words not clear/ as such, the removal of hair from the head of a woman, all that /she appears very emotional/, the whole transformation which occurred at that time has hurt much more, so that we did not feel anything any more. Because we were like…like transformed into stone. Yes? I don’t know how to say it exactly. 

Boder: Yes, yes. 

Tichauer: But it did not affect us, nothing whatever they did to us. When our /finger/ nails, our toenails…or whatever, nothing affected us any more. Because we knew that now we are completely /?/ cut off from civilization, from mankind, and that we were /now/ on the ‘other side’ of life, on an ‘other side’ where, however, people still live. /Pause./ 

Boder: Nu… 

Tichauer: Nu. The first night we were lodged in this stone block, crowded together, first of all, because it was…The lager in fact was not exactly ready. There were old straw stacks from the men’s lager thoroughly rotten. These were spread out on the floor… 

Boder: After all that washing? 

Tichauer: After that whole procedure /to-do/…just in part, because there were then not even enough straw sacks available. And one lay down wherever there was room. Fixed up with a piece of bread, we spent the night. The following day began for us something entirely new. 

Boder: Who tattooed you, men or women? 

Tichauer: There were…This tattooing was really performed two months later. 

Boder: Oh yes. 

Tichauer: The thorough tattooing. The first /tattooing/ was also performed by the prisoners, prisoners who…then… 

Boder: Men or women? 

Tichauer: Men. Always men. Now…/pause/ 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: Yes. /A few words not clear./ The next day--it was still dark--we were aroused by whistles and yelling. We heard the word appell. Appell was for us something completely unknown. At the moment we thought appell is something for soldiers, appell is somewhere...pertaining to soldiers. So maybe they want to make soldiers also out of us. We got up, were chased out, and... 

Boder: What do you mean? Who… 

Tichauer: Chased out by SS women into the yard. We did not know exactly what to do. Then came… 

Boder: Did they beat you? 

Tichauer: During the first hours I could not about…I don’t want to talk about it at all. Then it was for us…we had…in fact, we were really unconscious /in a daze/. Yes? 

Boder: What does it mean, you don’t want to talk about it? 

Tichauer: /Animated and in a high pitched voice:/ I can’t talk about it. We were unconscious /in a daze/. I don’t know. I don’t know whether I sensed a blow or not. It was…One thing I know. We were lined up, lined up in a manner so they could count on us, after much fuss. Naturally, it did not come to a count, because… 

Boder: Why ‘naturally’ not? 

Tichauer: Why not? Because there was a terrible chaos. Those SS women who then were in charge of conducting the lager....There was at that time the superior super/visor/…the ‘report leader’ Margot Drechsel who at the beginning did not know at all what to do. She did not yet have any experience. She had the people lined up, and as soon as they attempted to re-count us, the number never was the same, because the prisoners in part did not know…one…in one group stood the sister, in the other stood possibly the cousin. People ran from one group to the other. In one group…in one group the strength /number/ was larger, in the other smaller. So that the first days it was totally impossible to arrange a correct appell. 

Boder: Now how did they count? Were there /identification/ numbers? 

Tichauer: No. The people were stood up five in a row, one /row/ behind the other, and then they… 

Boder: How were the people counted? 

Tichauer: …were counted by rows /?/. 

Boder: Not each person /was counted/? 

Tichauer: No, no, no, no. That was out of the question during the first few days. And in the course of time the prisoners, too, learned how to line up. The ‘report leader’ also learned how to count correctly, and as soon as the appell was correct we would disperse. 

Boder: How long did such an appell last? 

Tichauer: An appell, if performed correctly, yes /you see/? 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: /It/ could be over in ten minutes.

Boder: But how long did it actually last? 

Tichauer: And…during the first years appells lasted as long as four hours. 

Boder: During the first years or the first days? 

Tichauer: During the first years, I should say, because we had…It time and again depended. There was elected a prisoner who would assist the count leader, that SS women, that is, worked with her. The prisoner during the first year was…for the first year I should not say an illiterate, but she could hardly figure. There was no consideration for efficient work, and she was not at all interested that the prisoners be counted up promptly. For the first time, in the year 1943, a Jewish woman was appointed report clerk. She attracted attention /by the fact/ that right from the beginning she was appointed block elder and proved to be good. She was by profession a clerk /?/. She could figure, could write and read, and was interested to help her fellow men /a few words not clear/. And thanks to her, many, many prisoners are alive today from our country as well as from other countries. She accomplished that often appells were correctly completed in ten minutes, and in /cases of/ rain or severe cold the prisoners could disperse in a few minutes. In two or three months—it was in August—there arrived daily a thousand girls from Slovakia, partly Aryan prisoners, political prisoners from Poland, from… 

Boder: Who was called a political prisoner? 

Tichauer: A political prisoner was in the eyes /?/ of the German army anybody who in some manner had committed an offense against the German power. Even women, women of the German State, who had but a Polish friend were treated as Poles and designated as political prisoners. And so in August our number had reached the number of about seven thousand, and spotted typhus and malaria their first victims…/she is apparently confused by her own attempt at a ‘higher level’ of style/. Well, spotted typhus and malaria…when prisoners fell the first victims of spotted typhus, the Germans decided, the SS lager leaders decided to have the women's lager Auschwitz moved four kilometers away to Birkenau. At that time there remained in Auschwitz more than two thousand prisoners, women prisoners, who in some way were not well. The rest were relocated in Birkenau. 

Boder: Where were the crematories? The crematories were in Birkenau? 

Tichauer: Modern /?/. Modern /?/. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: Crematory One was a modern crematory in Auschwitz which served only to burn corpses. The little white building which stood in Birkenau in the forest was /appeared as/ nothing else but an innocent little ‘cottage.’ I myself had in the year…’43, in the winter between ’43 and ’44, a chance to step into that little cottage. Because this little cottage has all our Auschwitzian…/correction/ Slovakian brothers and sisters on its conscience. This white little cottage had a couple of windows, a large iron door, and a sign, ‘To the bath.’ People were at that time chased into that bath, according to stories of people, of prisoners, of men whom I encountered above...these were men of the special commando. The special commando was the commando which consisted of prisoners. These prisoners were compelled to drive people into the gas chambers, to transport them ‘in a state of death’ to the crematory, and to burn them. These people had a few months leave according to dictates from Berlin in order to organize /?/ the gas-killings. These people had then in the winter… 

Boder: What does it mean, they had >added: to {correct in Boder's translation}< leave? They were in the general /?/ lager…? 

Tichauer: They were in the general lager, but were sent as a lumber commando. They had to cut lumber precisely around that cottage. And there I had a chance in some way to ask someone from the special commando how the people were gas-killed. And he showed me the iron door and the barred window. The people were driven in. It was one room. The door, the iron door, was slammed shut. Through the iron bars, through the window, gas was passed in, and the window 'automatically' /properly/ shut. After a few moments, a few seconds, a few minutes, whatever the case, until the people were dead. They were put on lorries. And nearby there were pits where the people were burned. 

Boder: Then they were not burned in the crematory. They were burned in pits? 

Tichauer: Burned in pits, still at that time. I still want to reiterate that in August ’42, when the women’s lager was relocated to Birkenau and the two thousand sick prisoners had remained in Auschwitz, /they too/ were gas-killed in the little cottage. 

Boder: Who, the two thousand? 

Tichauer: The two thousand girls. 

Boder: But the little cottage was in Birkenau. 

Tichauer: Correct. They were loaded into trucks and driven over. 

Boder: Oh. 

Tichauer: Upon arrival in Birkenau it was constantly heard about transports to Lublin. We did not believe in the transport. 

Boder: One moment please. Did you work in Auschwitz? 

Tichauer: I worked in Birkenau. I also did work during the first weeks in Auschwitz. 

Boder: Aha. What kind of work did you do? 

Tichauer: The first weeks I was in the wrecking commando in Birkenau. 

Boder: What does that mean, wrecking… 

Tichauer: There were still a few shot up /bombed/ houses in Birkenau which had to be demolished. 

Boder: Did you live in Auschwitz? 

Tichauer: No…/confused/ we lived in Auschwitz and walked to Birkenau for demolition /work/. 

Boder: On foot? 

Tichauer: On foot. Barefooted. 

Boder: How many kilometers?

Tichauer: Some four kilometers. /Pause.? 

Boder: Now then. 

Tichauer: /Long pause./ Now then. In time they directed definite /?/ attention to me. After the Russian uniforms which we were given did not suffice any more, it was decided to give us civilian clothes. Civilian clothes were, of course, sufficiently available, because the baggage was taken away from all the women and the worst clothes selected and put at the disposal of the prisoners. But in order to distinguish us from the civilians >added: at all< /the general population/, that is we did not have any contact with civilians at all, but should there have come one or another chance to escape, and in order to be able to distinguish us, it was ordered by Superior Storm Leader Ohmeier /?/{Aumeier} that a black vertical stripe be drawn behind, on the back from top to bottom. Since they did not want to send painters from the men’s lager to the women’s lager, they were on the lookout for a woman who in some way was aquainted with paints. There were dry paints and the proper oil, and they wanted that the women help themselves to it. I was then the only one who reported for it. I did not know at all for what purpose. They looked for a women painter. And since I am by profession also a script painter, I reported.

Boder: What does it mean, script…script painter? 

Tichauer: Script painter means sign painting. 

Boder: Nu. 

Tichauer: Now I got… 

Boder: How old were you then? 

Tichauer: Then I was twenty-two. I got red powder paint and a pot of varnish and brush shoved into my hand. I was ordered to mix the paint. And later prisoners were led before me, and I got the order that a vertical stripe be af-... 

Boder: Oh, you had to do that while they had their clothes on them? 

Tichauer:  …to affix, correct. 

Boder: Aha. 

Tichauer: Now, so the work started. From dawn to dusk I was fully occupied. I had to make the red strips >stripe {correct in Boder translation}<, and every prisoner to have the red stripe was so far in good order. He could 'report' and could now be tattooed. 

Boder: Oh, that was before the tattooing? 

Tichauer: Yes. Now, however, it was a number /that was/ affixed to our arm, to the left forearm. But in order to still order to recognize us better, and to recognize us adequately in case of a control, they had on cloth...they had printed on cloth in the men’s lager, which by that time had already a printing apparatus, the numbers which the prisoners had tatooed on the arm. In order that the men's order not to be dependent on the men's lager, I was given a printing apparatus, and I printed on tape, on linen tape, numbers from one to seven thousand, about eight thousand. That many we were at that time /in the lager/. I was then shoved into the office, that was the receiving office where every prisoner, newly arrived, was asked for his personal data, and as soon as the prisoner was through with the complete registration, he received automatically a number pressed in his hand, and it was his duty to sew on this number on the dress /the masculine pronoun in the preceding sentences is obviously used to designate both sexes/. 

Boder: These were women. 

Tichauer: These were exclusively women. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: The printing of numbers came for me soon to an end, because other painting tasks were given to me. For example, I had to paint signs, numbers on a cabinet for the lager leader. In general various small, nearly useless tasks. When I… 

Boder: Who gave you the assignments? Who told you what to do? 

Tichauer: The lager leader. 

Boder: That was an SS? 

Tichauer: Yes, Stibetz /name not clear/. At the beginning we had…the lager leader was in fact the leader of the women’s lager and the men’s lager. 

Boder: Yes. 

Tichauer: But under him was the head woman supervisor. In the year ’42 we had the head woman supervisor Langenfeld. When we were already in Birkenau… 

Boder: How did you behave when she gave you orders…the orders? 

Tichauer: All out normally. We had to stand at a distance of three meters. When entering…we were called for. In the moment we entered the room of the women lager leader or of the lager leader we had to present ourselves thus, 'Security prisoner twenty-two eighty-six requests permission to enter.' Then the entrance was granted. One received then an order. One was addressed in part by thou, in part by thou/ a slip, apparently intended you/ {Tichauer says "Du"; you} depending on the mood at the moment. The order was chosen /?/, that means it was given, and the prisoner had to reply, 'Security prisoner twenty-two eighty- >left out: six {correct in Boder's translation} begs /permission to/ leave.' That was the procedure. September 1942, I had already fever for two or three weeks. At the time when we were relocated from Auschwitz to Birkenau I had fever too. But we knew, should I get sick...that somehow has been whispered into out ear /that/ one should not /has no right to/ be sick. And so in a state of fever I printed numbers, I made /printed/ stripes, and so have taken care of my work. I belonged then to the office of the commander as a draftswoman, was assigned to a block where there were no /not only/ Jews, but also Jews and also Arian prisoners, because the Jews were…Now there were in Birkenau two rows. On the left, left of the gate, were stone blocks where before...where once before were quartered Russian prisoners of war. From them…from the forty thousand who once were there, only thirty-two /thousand?/ remained alive. 

Boder: What happened to the others? 

Tichauer: The others had died away /croaked/. 

Boder: What does that mean? 

Tichauer: Had died away in the swamp and morass. That I know… 

Boder: What do you mean? Did you work there? 

Tichauer: We worked…That I know from those of the forty-two /thousand/ who were still alive. To the right of the gate were wooden barracks. Those were ‘horse-stable’ barracks where the Arian prisoners were quartered for the simple reason that these barracks were cleaner. 

Boder: The ‘horse stables’ were cleaner? 

Tichauer: Were cleaner. And there were ‘exception blocks’ for such prison/ers/…for such prison/ers/…for such Jewish prisoners who performed certain indispensable work. Because then it was considered indispensable, say to print numbers or to paint a stripe, or to draw eventually a little birthday card. So then these prisoners… 

Boder: A little card? 

Tichauer: A little card. Yes. So these prisoners were assigned to the Arian block. Every night, I had every night the shivers. This was noticed by my Arian supervisor, the State German {word in German: "Reichsdeutsche"} and she compelled me to present myself to the sickward of the lager. That was the hospital. When the acceptance was completed, after three weeks in bed, without treatment, without medicines, there came for me a most strange day. 

Boder: /in English:/ This concludes Spool 149 with Helena Tichauer reporting. We are going over directly to Spool 150. Germany, September the 23rd, 1946, at Camp Feldafing, a large installation of the former Hitler Youth. And here in the room with bare walls, apparently the paintings and the like have been covered, /i.e./ the wall decorations. But the floor is of hardwood which could adorn any fine American home. I estimate fifteen or twenty acres of land, all with large barracks, which the Hitler Youth occupied, and which is now occupied by about five thousand Jewish displaced persons. An Illinois Institute of technology wire recording. We are going over to Miss Elena Tichauer’s /Mrs. Helena Tichauer’s/ report which will be taken on another spool. /End of Spool 149./ 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Illinois Institute of Technology
Date of Interview
September 23, 1946
Duration 00:44:50
Helena Tichauer
David Boder
Feldafing, Germany
Reference Location
Czechoslovakia (historical)
Interview Type Interview
How to Cite Museum Materials

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