Resistance and Song
In June 1943, around one hundred young men and women arrived at Werk C. They were first sent from the Warsaw ghetto to Majdanek near Lublin, but because of the shortage of workers in Skarżysko they were transported here to replace the hundreds who had perished. From them we learned how the Nazis destroyed the occupants of the Warsaw ghetto. Much later, we would hear about the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, too, in the summer of 1944, when people were sent to Chełmno and Auschwitz.
Among the newcomers from Majdanek were a few doctors who were put to work in the sick house. There were also some singers and actors, as well as the writer Mordechai Strigler, thanks to whom the Sunday concerts became rich in content. We even sang concert songs while marching to or from work.
Today is not the time to laugh
So I’ve just been told;
But I do just the opposite.
I don’t give a damn;
I won’t transform the world
Because it’s not worthy.
A special hit was the song I created right after my arrival in Skarżysko, “In the Skarżysko Lager”:
In a quiet, thick forest
Stands the Lager wired round.
I tell you, people here are treated like garbage;
The Lager does not
Differentiate between rich and poor.
For many months I’ve been suffering here
But from the present noise one can become deaf.
The mass murders break one’s heart;
No words are adequate to express my pain.
How bitter it is in Skarżysko Lager.
This Skarżysko Lager, Good God,
The mere thought of it
Causes my hands and feet to tremble.
Would that I had never known this place.
Every evening the program ended with this song, sung by the whole crowd, like a hymn. Thanks to the artistic and literary people who came to us from Majdanek, we had a new program every week. Every evening after work I would sit down with my new friend Mordechai to write Yiddish or Polish poetry and sketches or satires about Lager life.
The concerts were a balm for the physically and spiritually broken prisoners. I recall one Sunday morning when Mordechai and I were finishing a new sketch for that evening and having trouble with a closing line. The barrack was empty, we thought, because the night shift workers had not yet returned from work. We suddenly heard a quiet voice from a corner. We turned to see a young man, around twenty years of age, who looked half-dead. He could barely raise his head as he looked at us through half-shut eyes. He called my name and gave me a closing line for the song. Then he asked if he would be able to attend the concert that evening. He died that day.
The death rate in Skarżysko was so high that if the war continued for much longer, the Nazis wouldn’t need to shoot anyone – we all would die of hunger anyhow. It was a miracle that some workers still managed to smuggle in food acquired through illegal trading with the gentile workers. They were both risking their lives because the Nazis would severely punish, or even put to death, anyone who attempted to improve our lot.