Testimony: My life as a slave laborer during the Holocaust

Few are left alive who survived slave labor in the German Skarżysko-Kamienna and Czestochowa HASAG camps. I'm one of them
A barbed wire fence and barracks in the "Hasag Pelcery" labor camp in Czestochowa	(via Ghetto Fighters House Archives)
A barbed wire fence and barracks in the "Hasag Pelcery" labor camp in Czestochowa (via Ghetto Fighters House Archives)

Since reading a 2016 Times of Israel article about Treblinka survivor Leon Rytz, who lives in Sweden and was in the Skarżysko-Kamienna and Czestochowa HASAG camps, I have wanted to write to fill in some facts about the two camps based on my own experience.

My name is Eugenia Lipman. My mother Lea Abramowcz and I were in the HASAG factories and camps in Skarzysko-Kamienna and in Czestochowa for two years and three months, from October 1942 until January 1945, when we were liberated by the Red Army in Czestochowa.

HASAG (Hugo & Alfred Schneider Acktien Gesellschaft), a Leipzig-based factory, grew during the war to become a huge ammunition producer, important for Hitler’s war, with a chain of factories in many places, including Skarzysko-Kamienna. HASAG obtained a permit to use Jewish slaves, incarcerated in camps connected to the places of work.

The Skarzysko-Kamienna factory was divided into three separate camps, A, B, and C, the worst in every respect being Werk C. In C the work was very dangerous because of the chemicals they were using, which killed the workers within a short period of time. The German and Jewish staff and management in the factory and camp were the worst, so were the living conditions. Werk B was comparatively the best of the three. Werk A, where my mother and I were, was a cruel hell on earth, but less so than Werk C.

According to the latest data, about 35,000 people lost their lives n the Skarzysko-Kamienna camps (the HASAG archives have still not been released). The victims were decimated by brutal killings, beatings, and horrific living conditions. In an overcrowded building called Ekonomia connected to Werk A, there was a total lack of hygiene. Squeezed into that place until the summer of 1943, we were filthy, with no possibility to wash, to clean ourselves or our clothing. It led to epidemics like typhoid, dysentery and others. The Ukrainian and Latvian Werkschutz had the right to kill at will. The main killer, however, apart from the direct killings, was hunger. We received a rancid, inedible plate of soup, a small slice of bread and a white liquid called milk. We were often working 12 hours per day, or three shifts, so that there was no break in the production.

Fritz Bartenschlager, the SS officer whom Mr. Rytz mentioned in his article, was a dehumanized brutal degenerate. He was the one who came in October 1942 to the square in the ghetto where we were all gathered to be transported to Treblinka. He came to select people for work in the factory. Only the young and healthy were chosen. As a good-looking young woman, my mother was among them, but at 12 I was too little. A Jewish policeman allowed me to join my mother behind Bartenschlager’s back but did not allow my grandmother who desperately tried to join us.

They cruelly separated children from mothers. Close family members begged to be allowed to go to their destiny together. Those selected went to the camp, all others were transported to Treblinka. The Werkschutz who came ahead of Bartenschlager stole our watches, rings and valuables, and spread fear. From Ekonomia to work and back we were marched by Jewish policemen and Ukrainian Werkschutz.

Bartenschlager and Willi Seidel were deputy commandants of HASAG Skarzysko-Kamienna. They were both cruel, red-faced drunks. Shortly after our arrival a selection was organized and Willi Seidel selected the ones not suitable for work, I was among them. A Polish work supervisor and his superior SS man saved my life by hiding me in the factory.

Bartenschlager ordered the hanging of a young man for a small offense. They made us all watch the execution, including his very young girlfriend. He systematically robbed us of every penny and any valuables. He beat us cruelly (I too received a blow on the head from him with a rubber truncheon.) He used to come to the so-called Ekonomia in the evening to choose pretty young girls to rape and in the morning, throw their blood-stained clothes between the two rows of barbed wire surrounding the camp, letting us know they had been killed. To spread panic and a feeling of helplessness and perhaps to cover up the Rassenschande, the Nazi racial ideology forbidding interracial sexual relations.

The Werkschutz robbed us of any food we managed to save for later and threw it away. They hit us with wooden flails as we passed the gates of the factory. In the summer of 1943 conditions improved somewhat. There were no replacement workers from the ghettos which by that time did not exist anymore. They built primitive wooden huts that were less crowded and slightly improved the hygiene conditions, resulting in fewer illnesses. The Werkschutz and others were no longer allowed to kill us. They wanted to work us to death.

In the summer of 1944, with the Red Army approaching, we were transferred together with the factory machines to various camps. My mother and I went to Czestochowa-Warta, where we were liberated on 16/17th January 1945. The Soviet army entered Czestochowa just in time to prevent the Germans from transporting us somewhere further or killing us on the spot

There are a few things I have to mention. We were not heroic, we did not run away, we just existed, and that was the heroism, our heroism. The day-to-day survival. Our only attempt to escape, the last night in the camp, very nearly ended in shooting the whole group of more than 20 women.

Finally some humane acknowledgement. I was too little to work and survived only thanks to the help of many people: my mother, an old Werkshutz, a Jewish policeman, a Polish factory production supervisor and his SS superior, among others.

The survivors still alive have become very few in number and I wanted to bear witness to what life in a labor camp looked like and also what it meant to survive it.

Willi Seidel was sentenced to death in 1948 in Leipzig, Germany along with Alfred Wagner (foreman) and the guard commander Reinhard Neumerkel. Others received life sentences for their crimes. And still others, including Fritz Bartenschlager, were never brought to justice.

About the Author
Egenie Lipman lives in London, where she arrived from Warsaw in 1969 with her husband Jerzy Lipman, a cinematographer, and son Peter. She graduated from the University of Medicine in Lodz, specializing in dentistry and obtained her license to practice in the UK, where she was in practice until retirement.