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MOSHE KRAVETZ

I was born in Kovno in 1931, the second and last son of a middle-class family. My brother and I attended the Schwabe Hebrew academy, where I managed to study from the first to the third grade. After the occupation of Lithuania by the Red Army and the closing of the school, I transferred to a school whose name I can't remember. The language of instruction there was Yiddish.

In the photo: Moshe, left, and his brother – 1934.

When the war broke out in 1941, my family fled from Kovno in the direction of the Russian border, in an attempt to escape from the German occupation. The German army advanced faster than we could flee, so that we had no choice but to try to return to Kovno. All told we were on the road for two very difficult weeks, and at the end we reached the home of some friends, where we lived until we entered the ghetto.

We entered the ghetto in August 1941 along with the other Jews of Kovno, and I was confined there for about three years.

In July 1944, the Red Army was approaching Kovno, and those residents who didn't manage to escape or hide were taken to Germany, with my parents and me among them. My brother hid in a bunker we had dug under the house, and perished there with eight other friends when the ghetto was burned. We were taken to Germany, and on the way, in Danzig, they separated the women and children, who were sent to Stutthof camp.

The conditions were such that I was able to remain with my father. We reached Landsberg camp, not far from Dachau camp. After a week's stay there, one morning during the roll call they suddenly separated 131 boys and sent us to Dachau camp in trucks. My father remained in Landsberg camp, and according to various testimonies, he perished there in November of that year.

We remained in Dachau for a week, and we managed to learn something about the nature of a concentration camp there, something we had not known previously. Our three years in the ghetto had not prepared us for this nightmare. A week later they loaded us into three railway cars and sent us east, without our knowing our final destination, which we could only guess. On the way we learned that we were on the way to Birkenau extermination camp, and after five days of traveling, which included many stops, we arrived at the ramp in Birkenau at midnight of August 1.

I must digress from the ongoing description of events here and state that if everything had continued to develop according to the incomprehensible "logic" which prevailed then, then the description, and I, would have ended here… but that is not what happened.

For some reason unknown to us to this day, and there are different hypotheses among the survivors with regard to this, we were all taken into the camp, something completely against the logic of the time, had numbers tattooed on our left arms and became a regular part of the camp inhabitants in every way. During my stay in Birkenau, from August to November, there were two selections, one at Rosh Hashanah and one at Yom Kippur. More than a few people were selected for the crematoria during these selections. Our group was the hardest hit because there were really young children in it. It is enough for me to state that out of the 129 children who went into the camp, only about thirty children remained after the selection. After passing through the selection with a lot of luck and a bit of resourcefulness, I managed to have the measles and also to survive that. You must know that in Birkenau measles could definitely have been a fatal disease, either because of our poor physical condition, or because the sick bay was frequently "evacuated". I was sent to another camp.

Buda camp was a few kilometers from Birkenau, and among other things there was an agricultural farm there. I was sent to work in the smithy, and my job was to turn the handle of the bellows and to fan the fire, which the smiths used to repair the agricultural equipment there. That winter, 1944-1945, was an extremely harsh one compared to other winters in Poland, and the temperatures went down to 30 to 35 degrees below zero Centigrade. Looking back I think that that camp and that place of work enabled me to gather the strength for the "death march" that followed, in several ways:

First of all, working in a relatively closed hut beside the fire saved me from the terrible cold outside for most of the hours of the day.

Secondly, "ownership" of the fire enabled me to roast sugar beets that people used to bring from the field for this purpose, and I received beets from them as payment. After removing the charred parts, there remained a piece the size of two fists, white, hot, soft and sweet, that I can still taste to this day.

Apparently in other places of work in the camp it was possible to obtain food above the allotted portions, and more than once I also enjoyed this situation. In January 1945 the Red Army was drawing closer to the area, and so that Heaven forbid we would not fall into its hands, we set out on foot in the direction of Germany. This was a monstrous journey not of this world, and after walking for 120 kilometers in two and a half days and riding in open railway cars for another two days, I reached Buchenwald camp. There my physical condition quickly began to deteriorate, and at the beginning of April I came down with typhus. My condition continued to deteriorate; the American army began to approach, and in a picturesque way I can say that there was a contest between the Angel of Death and the American army. It appears that the army won, a fact that allows me to tell my story in brief.

A great deal of written material and a bundle of family pictures were buried in a sealed tin box in the bunker under our house. My mother, who returned to Kovno after liberation, discovered the contents of the box and sent them to me in Israel at the end of the 1940s. I do not have the original manuscript in my possession, except for one page – this one.
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