Veteran Stories:
Pinchas Gutter

Civilian

  • Soviet prisoners of war, survivors of the Majdanek camp, at the camp's liberation. Poland, July 1944.

    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Archiwum Panstwowego Muzeum na Majdanku
  • A Soviet soldier walks through a mound of victims' shoes piled outside a warehouse in Majdanek, soon after the camp's liberation. Majdanek, Poland, August 1944.

    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Archiwum Akt Nowych
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"Your emotions were actually twisted. They were killed. Your feelings and emotions were killed and you don't react like a person who hasn't gone through that horrific trauma."

Transcript

Well, we knew in the Warsaw Ghetto,* that there were death chambers and we were being sent to murder. So I assumed that we were all going to be murdered. So when we arrived there, they separated men from women, and children who were separate without, you know, without mothers, and the males, you know, or adult males were pushed onto one side.

I went to my father. That's when my father told me that I was 18 and then they chased you into, I can't remember exactly whether the women went first or the men went first, but they chased us into a barrack where we had to undress. And then you started running naked with your hands up and you ran into a kind of narrow space. And there was people running and there was a man standing there with a white coat, the uniform with a little cane pushing people right, left, right left – you didn't know what was all going on. You, I mean, as far as I was concerned I was going to die. I'd said my prayers and I was going to die.

And I finished up in a place, the gas chambers was on the left, if I remember correctly. They've changed it you see. I've been at Majdanek** now, many times after the war going with students and others, and they've rearranged things because some of the things. You know, the museum, they've changed those things. They're not exactly the way they were because some of, it was kind of, I don't know. I don't know why they rearranged it.

But basically the gas chamber was, I think, on the left and the showers were on the right, and I finished up in a room with showers, but in the Ghetto we knew that gas comes out of the shower heads, because in Treblinka*** – everybody went to Treblinka –and I met people actually saved themselves from Treblinka. These are stories, because there was a revolt there [2 August 1943]. And we knew, so I was waiting but water came out, and I was obviously chosen to die a little later.

They didn't just want you to suffer physically, but they also wanted to suffer, that you had mental suffering. So they would, they would play games. So they would, you know, we stood in a parade called the Appell. Appellplatz was every day they counted you in the morning, counted you in the evening. Sometimes you stood there four, five hours and they would suddenly have a parade and they would get a few hundred people out from different barracks, and they say, "Anybody who's a plumber, electrician, blah-blah-blah, you know, in other words tradesmen, must step out." And people would step out and the next thing is they would be taken to the gas chamber.

They actually took people to work because in 1943 the war wasn't going so well for the Nazis, so they needed to conscript more and more older Germans into the army. So they needed to replace them with slave labour and the army and the industry was screaming, ‘”You've got all these, you know, these, these Jews. Why can't we have some of them? Give us some of them to work! We can work them to death, but let's let them work.”

So one day in August – we arrived in May [1943] in Majdanek – and in August there was the same thing. They gathered a whole group of people when they started asking and people normally didn't step out after a while because you learned what was going on. But I did step out and some others stepped out. And they took us to a barrack and they told us to undress and I said, “Well, that's the end now, definitely I'm going to the gas chamber.” But doctors came in, proper doctors with stethoscopes and white coats checked you out. The next thing they told you to put your clothes back on.

And they gave you new clothes. They took off the striped pajamas and they gave you complete, you know, proper, well anything – like clothes like I'm wearing now but didn't, they just threw it at you. Trousers, it didn't matter whether they fitted you or not. And then they took us to a train, cattle truck, cattle trains, and 60 [people in each car], which was quite wonderful because when we went to Majdanek they pushed in as many people because they were taking us to be killed. So this time we were going to work and I started going to working camps.

You don't have feelings. Feelings are destroyed. Feelings are destroyed already long before that. You actually function like an automaton and there's no feelings, no emotions.

As a matter of fact, what happens with lots of Holocaust survivors I think, and certainly in my case, my feelings, my emotions are not the same as yours. Not like my wife's or my children. When I see a flower it doesn't mean the same to me as what it means to you. It's an object, it's not something that I can respond to, emotionally.

I do get emotional, but it's different. It's not the same. Emotion, somehow or other, it manifests itself through fear. So, in other words, like, what happens, your emotions, you worry about them. I mean, like if my wife goes and she's supposed to come back at five o’clock because she said she's going out and having lunch with her friends and having a book club or something like that, and then come six or seven, I love my wife and I love my children, but the emotion of fearful emotion. In other words, when she doesn't come I start worrying.

So, basically they were twisted, your emotions were actually twisted. They were killed. Your feelings and emotions were killed and you don't react like a person who hasn't gone through that horrific trauma.

*The largest Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War

**Concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland

***Nazi extermination camp in Poland

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