Oral History

Ernest Koenig describes reaching the verge of death while in a subcamp of Auschwitz

Ernest was studying in Paris, France, until February 1939, when he returned to Brno, Czechoslovakia. The Germans occupied the latter region soon thereafter, but Ernest managed to return to France. He joined a Czech unit in the French army from October 1939 until the fall of France in May 1940. He made his way to unoccupied France, where he taught for a while. He then went to Grenoble, and again taught, but was arrested because he did not have the appropriate papers. Ernest was interned in Le Vernet camp for two years. He was deported to the Drancy camp, to Upper Silesia in September 1942, and then to Laurahuette (a subcamp of Auschwitz where forced laborers worked in mines and furnaces). He was in Laurahuette until August 1943, when he was sent to the Blechhammer subcamp of Auschwitz. After liberation, Ernest eventually made his way to the United States.


I once came in front of a mirror, and I saw what was called a Muselmann. You know what a Muselmann was...somebody who was so emaciated he was about to die. That was the last stage and then people died, and I was struck by what I saw, myself, and outside this place where I saw myself there was a garbage can, and I looked into the garbage can and there was a book and the book contained the text of, of, uh, songs by Schubert and you might know there is one song by Schubert, an Austrian composer, the "Death and the Maiden," and the Death says to the maiden, "Don't be afraid. You are not going to suffer. You will sleep in my arms." And that, uh, encouraged me very much because I said to myself, "Okay, if I have to die, it will be sleeping. I don't have to be afraid," and I wasn't afraid, and that was a very deep experience. Shortly thereafter I was so weak that I asked for sick leave. Now you could ask for sick leave...sick leave...I mean, you could ask not to go to work for one day but it was very dangerous because then you came to the sick bay and then you went...that we knew at this time, I must have known. I was so weak I stayed in bed and I didn't want to go up. I, I...I was quite indifferent what, to what happened, I couldn't anymore. And this Stanislaw Kubackzek, this Polish officer who had become a Kapo, uh, helped me. In the first place, the Kapo has...had to...had to watch whether his people got one ration, got their food, and he had to watch others that they don't, don't come twice and take food twice, so he allowed me to go twice. I was the first and came the last one. Then he took me in to his Kommando, in his team, and I didn't have to work, so I recovered.




  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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