Oral History

Sam Itzkowitz describes forced labor in the gravel pits of Auschwitz

The Germans invaded Poland in September 1939. When Makow was occupied, Sam fled to Soviet territory. He returned to Makow for provisions, but was forced to remain in the ghetto. In 1942, he was deported to Auschwitz. As the Soviet army advanced in 1944, Sam and other prisoners were sent to camps in Germany. The inmates were put on a death march early in 1945. American forces liberated Sam after he escaped during a bombing raid.


When we got to the job, hell broke loose all over. We stayed in a gravel pit, it was maybe about...well...it was lower than our...the gravel was deeper than our heads and we had to shovel gravel above our head into a wagon. A prisoner was standing there with a wagon, with a horse and buggy, and we had to load this wagon with gravel so it could be used for making concrete uh...embankments or concrete posts for the concentration camp. And just the shovel alone was too heavy for me to lift. Still I had to get some gravel into it and the gravel was with water. So every time I tried to pitch a shovel of gravel over my head I got soaking wet. The water ran right down on me. And the temperature was already freezing. And people were dying. Everywhere I looked around there was one or two just dropping down, dropping down. I mean it was just awful. So, my brother says to me, "It wasn't such a bright idea to save yourself. It would have been...we will suffer maybe five minutes and it would have been all over. We would have gone with the group that was taken to the...to the crematoriums. We wouldn't have to suffer all this." And I had to agree with him. I says, "You were right. Maybe it would have been a whole lot better if we were just...let it go the way it is." Anyway, I worked in the gravel pit for about ten days. And if I will have to work a couple of more days I would have been a goner. First of all the shoes, the boots they gave you was, uh, wooden clogs with canvas. If you stayed in the water, they...they got soaked. Within a half an hour you were so soaked, your feet got so numb that you didn't feel them. Just like standing on stilts.


  • Jewish Community Federation of Richmond
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