Miraculous escape from deportation
In Barracks 24
Excerpt from: As if nothing had happened – a Jewish member of the resistance looking back
A novel by Cobie Frank (my father)
We arrived early at the barracks and a dark young woman told us about the scenario. First we had to scrub the toilets with brushes and a chemical substance. When we were doing this the first people entered through the outer gate with little bundles, baskets and small suitcases. The few things people were allowed to take with them were clearly defined.
Outside, on the premises, was a group of Grüne Politzei and some SS soldiers with Schmeisser machine guns. In the barracks some of them were walking around silently.
Now people were streaming in. The woman from the Jewish Council asked us to start handing out the food parcels. Little parcels with a tomato on top. A dim light shone on the quay and the water was rippling softly in the harbour. A bit farther down the quay to the south the train stood still. Only the back of the last wagon was visible. They were common people, shabbily dressed, market vendors and lower-class families. Entire families with toddlers and babies, though sometimes only the husband or the wife had been summoned. Many children were crying. However, some of them were playing marbles or they were playing with a doll. And some were running around; they were playing tag.
Apparently the adults were so dispirited that they could not even cry. They were clearly intimidated by the German threats and their confirmation by the Jewish Council that not turning up would be punishable by death. Perhaps most of them still believed in the tale of the labour camps. There was no sign of any resistance. Their faces clearly showed resignation and melancholy. Lit by two strong bulbs, shedding a strong light on its center, the barracks looked sinister. At the quayside a car stopped. Some SS officers got off. Later I heard the names of Simon, Reeder and Hoffmann. Surrounded by heavily armed SS soldiers they entered the barracks. The people drew back from them. Sturmführer Simon shouted: “all of you line up in the center under the bulbs.”
The woman of the Jewish Council was pushed to the front row. She gesticulated and showed her certificate of dispensation. Simon hit her and dragged her by her hair to the slowly forming rows. Women were looking for their children and called their names in anxious voices. The actions of the soldiers became rougher and rougher. They hit the people from all sides and forced them into rows of five persons.
“Alphons, forget about your dispensation and follow me.” I had explored the barracks and had discovered a semi-loft with a ladder next to the street entrance. On it was a high stack of loose straw.
Alphons halted. I drew him to the back row and from there to the back of the barracks where it was already much darker. Now he understood and slid behind me. The row of people in front of us hid the soldiers from our sight. When I had made it to the back I quickly retreated to the long, closed back side of the barracks. Now we slid to the narrow entrance with hardly any light.
An order was given and the soldiers started to push the people to the big opening on the side of the quay. As this did not go fast enough they hit the people with the butts of their guns and punched the men, women and children to the door. Suddenly there was some commotion.
Each of them understood that the labour camps were just a tale, that they were beaten to the slaughterhouse. Loud screams were heard, anxious shrieking. This made the soldiers even more furious.
In the dark I ran to the ladder and signaled to Alphons that he should climb up. I followed him as quickly as possible. On the loft we dropped down. Three quarters of the barracks was empty now.