By W. DALE NELSON
Wednesday, March 2, 2005 11:00 PM MST
LARAMIE — Exhausted by a grimy, two-day train trip to an unknown destination, the Jews were told to remember what hook they hung their clothes on. That way, they would be able to reclaim their own when they came back from the showers.
The guards who told them this knew that these people would never put their clothes back on. The destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination and Selection Camp. The shower was a gas chamber. The seemingly considerate words were a bit of gratuitous cruelty in the horror of the Holocaust.
After the bodies were taken to the crematorium, the guards “would go home on leave, play with their little children, go to church and pray, and come back to continue the same evil over and over again,” Holocaust survivor Jack Adler of Denver said Wednesday.
Adler, 76, was 10 years old in September 1939 when Nazi soldiers marched into Pabianice, Poland, where his family owned a textile business. Along with other Jews in the town, they were moved to a ghetto in the Polish city of Lodz, where they were held virtual prisoners. His mother and brother died there. In 1944, Adler and his father and two sisters were sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau. His sisters were killed. He and his father were later sent to a work camp at Kaufering, Germany.
Young Jack was later sent to the German concentration camp at Dachau. […]
His stories were not all about cruelty. At one camp, his chores included cleaning the commanding S.S. colonel’s wood-burning stove daily. In the ashes, he said, he regularly found neatly wrapped bits of bread and bacon that he could share with his father.
“He wanted me to find that, or else he would have thrown it into the garbage,” he said.
After he was beaten by a guard one day, he said, the commander, an S.S. officer, asked him to point out the guard who had done it. Despite his fear of reprisal, he did so, and the commander duly disciplined the guard.
“He was a decent human being who got caught up in something over his head, as I am sure were many other Germans,” he said.
Star-Tribune correspondent W. Dale Nelson can be reached at [email protected]