Artur survived six years in six concentration camps: Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Ebensee. He survived where his twenty six relatives did not—his entire family were killed in Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Artur’s most terrible experiences would be at the special camp in Buchenwald. The special camp at Buchenwald was a tent city next to the actual concentration camp. The prisoners slept on four story bunk beds, two to a bunk, without straw or blankets. Hygiene was difficult to maintain. Although outside there was a sink with water, in the sub-zero weather the pipes remained frozen. Artur was unaware at the time that the two letters on his father’s and his papers, RU, stood for “Undesirable.” He explains to Radio Prague, “This meant in effect that we were condemned to death.”
When prominent diseases in the camp threatened to spread to the nearby town of Weimar, the camp was disbanded. In October 1942, Artur was deported to Auschwitz. At the entrance to Auschwitz, the camp doctor pulled Artur aside, asking, “What do you do as a profession?” Artur replied, “I have rausgeschossen:’ student of the Medicine! Charles University in Prague, two semesters.” When in fact, at the time of his arrest in Czechoslovakia, he had not completed high school. The camp doctor pulled him aside and he became his “support paramedic.” Artur explains his lie to Radio Prague: “I was already in Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen. [I had] the idea that the comrades who have worked in the camp hospital, had better conditions; they worked in the heat, are not in contact with SS-men, had easier work, and had did not take roll call.”
Inside the SS hospital in Auschwitz, Artur was told about the gassings. The SS hospital had a pharmacy, inside there was Zyklon B. It was here Artur meet Dr. Josef Mengele, otherwise known as the “Angel of Death,” he performed horrible experiments on concentration camp inmates. He describes his interaction with the infamous doctor to Radio Prague: “And then I met with Dr. Mengele:” Artur, please make me a bath! Arthur, please do me a massage, Artur, please make my clothes, my boots clean—always with a ‘please’ and ‘you’! I never heard [him] curse or yell…[yet] he has sent thousands and thousands of people to their deaths…I was a part of his life, somehow.”
On the 18 January 1945, Artur began his final march from Auschwitz. Termed the death, they were marches barely ahead of the approaching allied front. Badly dressed with nothing to eat, they marched through the snow. The prisoners who fell had to immediately stand up, as the SS men at the rear shot the prisoners who had fallen in the neck. “Of course…[not all were] killed instantly, some have been crying, yelling, screaming and bleeding. And the next SS-man stood, commanding, ‘Throw the dead into the ditch.’” Artur remembers, “We did not know where we will take a walk, how long—[would] we hold out or not?” For three days they marched, until they came to Leslau station where they were placed on open carriages. Along the track in Moravia, “Many froze to death on the road. What have we done? …the bodies we dropped [from the carriage] onto the track.”
On 6 May 1945, Artur was finally released at the Ebensee camp near Salzburg. It took Artur nearly thirty years to be able to talk about his experiences during the Holocaust. Since then Artur has had his life story written down in the book Nevertheless, I Survived and travels to speak with students about his experiences. “I have a feeling that I must be here, not because I am seeking sympathy, but that it will not happen [again]. That is my duty, so I do it. With pleasure and joy, I must admit,” he says.
Photographs and story written by Kelly McIlvenny for the ARGUS