A JOURNEY TO THE PAST; DACHAU-BERLIN FOR THE LOVE OF ISRAEL
KADISH FOR ZELIG
by Solly Ganor a Holocaust survivor. - Israel, June 12, 2005
If I needed a reminder why we live in Israel and cling to it with
heart and soul, despite the endless wars and the suicide bombings,
this recent journey supplied us with the answer.
The flight from Tel Aviv to Munich lasts less than four hours, but
my memory takes me back fifty seven years, when I was a teenage
slave laborer for the Nazis in one of the outer camps of Dachau.
Towards the end of the war, they were so desperately in need of
labor that the Nazis reluctantly gave up the idea of gassing all
Jews, irrespective of their gender or age.
They continued to gas women with children and old people, but those
whom they considered still capable of work, were temporarily spared.
They even coined a phrase for those of us: "Vernichtung durch Arbeit"
"Annihilation through Work" In fact, they starved us and made us
work twelve hours a day at hard labor, condemning us to a slow agonizing
There were in all eleven outer camps of Dachau, where in nine months
fifteen thousand Jewish slaves out of a total of thirty thousand,
died of starvation, hard labor and beatings by the German supervisors
and the SS guards. I was in an outer camp of Dachau, known as Lager
X, by Utting, a picturesque little town by the Amersee. Before the
war writers and artists used to live there. I was told that the
famous Kurt Weil lived there before Hitler came to power.
In July 1944, with the Soviet troops approaching Kaunas ghetto where
I was incarcerated for three years, the Nazis transported us half
across Europe to Bavaria. There, near the medieval town of Landsberg
and surround-ings, Hitler decided in the last phases of the war
to build gigantic underground factories where the jet fighter Messerschmit
M62 was to be built. This was Hitler's promised secret weapon that
would sweep the American and British planes out of the German skies.
We, the half starved Jews of Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary were
to build these gigantic factories, and perish while building it.
The construction sight was called Moll, named after the owner of
the building company, Leonard Moll.
I will never forget the day when I first laid eyes on it. We were
driving from Utting in a truck, to deliver a load of potatoes .
In our camp it was known that the Germans were building some kind
of underground facto-ry, and we heard terrible stories about it.
We traveled for what seemed like an hour along a tree lined dirt
road. Darkness had fallen, and in the distance we could hear the
low grinding roar of heavy machinery. The din increased just before
we emerged into a huge clearing lit by the glare of floodlights.
The road dropped into a vast excavation, and from it rose an enormous
concrete vault, bristling with vertical reinforcing rods so that
it looked like some monstrous hedge-hog. Narrow railroad tracks
curved towards the opening.
The installation was a half -cylinder of concrete, 1,300 feet long
and spanning more than 275 feet at the base. It rose some 95 feet
into the air at the top of the arch. Under the glaring lights, cranes
and bulldozers moved into and around its mouth. Scores of tractors,
trucks, and other heavy equipment created an ear-shattering roar.
Along the sides, scores of prisoners stood on platforms handling
huge flexible hoses that spewed wet cement into the spiked grid
work, while others moved about with shovels and buckets. Everywhere
we looked we saw what looked like thousands of men in striped uniforms
moving about the compound, carrying lumber, iron rods and sacks
It was like an enormous, evil hive. Even as we watched we heard
inhuman screams coming from above. The men who were maneuvering
the huge hose had lost their grip, and the pipe began writhing about
, spewing concrete in all directions. The men desperately tried
to seize it, but it whipped and flailed and knocked several men
off their feet. One after another they fell screaming onto the spikes,
while the hose poured hundreds of pounds of concrete on top of them.
The scene I described took place towards the end of 1944. The men
I saw fall into the concrete are still entombed in its massive construction
to this day. Among the men who slaved on this project was my childhood
friends Uri Chanoch and Chaim Konwitz, Avraham Fein, Monchik Levin
and many others. Fifty eight years later we had returned to"Moll"
to say Kadish for these men.
One of the man entombed I knew personally. His name was Zelig. I
never found out his last name, but I knew he was from a small town
in Lithuania. He was one of the "human horses" who were engaged
in pulling a food cart from the village of Utting to a German worker's
kitchen. I too was a horse, and in all we were four teen agers who
were given that job. The German kitchen was near the site where
we were slaving at hard labor, a place known as Dyckerhof and Wydman.
(Dyckerhof and Wydman, by the way, is one of the largest construction
companies in Germany today). At that stage of the war, gasoline
became a very precious commodity, and we the Jewish slaves, were
used as 'horses'. Make no mistake, being a "horse" was a coveted
job in the camp, the alternative was to carry hundred pounds of
cement on your back, or iron rails to build tracks for the trolleys.
There was another advantage in being a"horse" the cart we were pulling
was filled with food for the kitchen, and we always managed to scrounge
a crust of bread or a bowl of soup in Utting.
Zelig was an ardent Zionist and always talked about how he would
work the land of Israel if he ever survived the war. "If I will
ever survive this hell and get to the land of Israel, I will kiss
every grain of sand, and work twenty four hour a day to build it
up" He would say, and he would say it with so much longing in his
voice that it had an effect on all of us.
But his wish never came true. He fell into the roof of "Moll" and
became entombed with the others, by sheer mistake, and I was there
to see him fall. I will never forget his screams as he fell to his
horrible death. Fifty eight years later we stood quietly reciting
kadish for the dead and I spoke to Zelig of the land of Israel that
he loved so much, and like Moses, never got to see it. Yes, Zelig,
I want to tell you of the true miracle of Israel, that puts to shame
the miracles of the bible.
Yes, Zelig, I survived and saw your beloved land. I still remember
the mountains of Carmel rising from the morning mist, as our ship
We were a ship full of penniless Holocaust survivors, and we all
sang (what was later to become our National Anthemn) the Hatikvah
(the Hope) with tears in our eyes. No sooner had we landed on its
shore, as we were called to defend the newly proclaimed land of
Israel. Five Arab armies descended on us trying to strangle us at
our birth. I will never forget the moment when I was given a rifle
and was told by my commanding officer: "This is your land now, defend
it with all you have got, for you will never have another chance
to have your own country." And defend it we did, Zelig. Many of
us died, some of them the last sons of once glorious Jewish families
of Europe, but they died for the only cause worth while fighting
for. I was only sorry, Zelig, that you couldn't be there by my side
fighting for the land you loved so much. With the onslaught of the
combined Arab armies, the world gave us a week to survive and what
is more, no one lifted a finger to help us. The Arabs were to finish
what Hitler had started. So what else is new? But the world didn't
reckon with one small thing, Zelig. We were not the defenseless
Jews anymore. We were now back in our homeland fighting for the
resurrected State of Israel. Against all odds we won the war, and
set out to prepare the ground for another million penniless refugees.
Jews, who escaped with their lives from the Arabic countries, where
they were robbed of their properties, possessions and money. And
soon another million arrived from all over the world, and another
million, from Poland and the Baltics. From six hundred thousands
in 1948, we grew into a population of two and half million within
a few years of the creation of the State. Ironically, when the Jewish
Agency asked for seventy five thousands certificates to save some
Jews from Hitler's gas chambers, the British claimed that the country
couldn't absorb such a vast number of Jews. That was the infamous
The fledgling state, soon ran out of money to buy the basic needs
for the swelling population. We lived in tents and ate what the
small agricultural settlements could provide us with. It wasn't
enough, but we weren't starving. Very soon we began to build a healthy
democratic society, creating ealth by our brains and hard work,
as the country had no natural resources. Soon Jews from over fifty
countries full of enthusiasm came to help build the State of Israel.
Our population grew even more, and despite the predictions of international
experts, that no country can absorb so many millions without an
economical collapse, Israel continued to develop in every field.
The Jews, who hadn't tilled the land for two thousands years became
experts in agriculture, achieving internationally unprecedented
results. Ironically, the stereotyped Jew, the merchant, the money
lender, the usurer, went all over the world to teach agriculture
and knowhow in many fields, and what is even more ironic, we became
experts in warfare. "The people of the book" as we were known for
two thousand years, soft and cowardly, as proclaimed by the anti-Semites,
soon learned to become xperts in that field as well. The fact is,
that in 1967, we stunned the world by defeating the combined Arab
armies in six days.
The Arab countries unwilling to accept their defeat in the battle
field, and unwilling to accept us in their midst, launched war after
war, trying to eliminate the State of Israel. Every time they suffered
crushing defeats, despite their superior numbers and new technology
weapons the Soviets supplied them with. Today we are a modern society
of six million people. The country that once was a mosquito infested
swamp land, or dry desert land, blossomed into a modern society
of six million people. From nothing we created a land that not only
boasts of the highest standards in every field of achievement, but
also developed one of the highest high tech industries in the world.
We export per capita in dollars more than any other country in the
world. And we did it all with hard work, brains, and guts. Yes,
Zelig, I always admired you for you love of that distant land called
Eretz Israel. I never believed that I could have such emotions for
any land. Today, after having fought for it in four bloody wars,
and after spending a life time in helping rebuild it, I canfinally
say that I do share your feelings for the land of Israel. Yes, Zelig,
you can be proud of us. We, the survivors of the Holocaust, have
risen from the ashes of Europe and helped create the miracle of
Israel. Never again will they line us up defenseless before the
gas chambers of Europe!
Rest In Peace, my friend Zelig, Rest in Peace.
Herzelia, Israel June 12, 2002