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Former slave labourer Blanka Feiler
"If I start thinking about it. it absolutely destroys my feeling for life"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Wartime slave labourers tell their stories
Entrance to Auschwitz
Arrival at Auschwitz meant death or slave labour
As Germany finally begins paying compensation to people forced into slave labour by the Nazis during World War II, BBC News Online's Catherine Miller interviews three victims of the system, now elderly and living in the UK.

Arriving in Auschwitz from Hungary in 1944, Blanka was sent to the right, while her sister went to the left, with her three children.

Like many others who arrived in cattle trucks from the Jewish ghettoes of occupied Europe, it was this moment which decided their fates.


The worst moment of all my experiences was when we were dehumanised, we were shaven from head to toe...

Blanka
"I said to her, I'll see you later, not realising that she would go to the gas-chambers with all the family and I would survive because I was a young girl of 18 and very strong and very healthy looking."

Blanka, now 75, became one of the estimated eight to 12 million people forced to labour as slaves for the Nazis.

"The worst moment of all my experiences was when we were dehumanised, we were shaven from head to toe... that was a most terrible terrible experience to begin with and there were many others," she says, close to tears almost 60 years after the event.

Having escaped the crematoria of Auschwitz, she was taken to the Koronowo camp in Poland to work in a munitions factory.

Survival test

"We went in the morning four o'clock we collected our black coffee and a slice of black bread and we worked on that for a whole day," she remembers.

Blanka
Blanka, who was forced to work as a slave labourer for the Nazis
They worked 14-hour days, seven days a week - six days producing munitions in the factory and the seventh digging trenches for the approaching front.

"We had the German women watching us and if you stopped for a moment they were lashing out with their hands."

"And then we came back in the evening and had a bowl of soup and there was an enormous long queue and we were all waiting to be at the end of the line because we were hoping in the soup there would be a little potato or something of substance... so you had a chance of surviving more."

John, the only living survivor of the 3,500 slave labourers at a steel mill in the German town of Bochum, also found ways of bolstering his meagre rations to get by.

"We were paid one 'Lagermark' - which was of virtually no value but you could buy another piece of beetroot for it - or one cigarette a fortnight.

"People were swapping either their cigarettes for bread or bread for cigarettes and obviously even the few survivors at that stage were the ones who swapped cigarettes for bread."


We were promised the payment a long time ago and what I really feel is it's far too little for what we have suffered and it's certainly far too late

Blanka
Lother, a survivor of slave labour in the coal mines, discovered later that he was part of a macabre experiment.

"They gave us soup from peas... then at noon time they made a sort of polenta from pea flour and then in the evening again a pea soup.

"[I later found out] they wanted this as a survival test for the German army - to see how long we can survive on this food, if I can call it that."

Forced marches

But as the labourers began to suffer from their malnourishment, they were no longer of use to the Nazi war-machine.

"The Germans came every morning and lined us up in fours and had to see that we were all standing," Blanka remembers.

"If somebody sat down he was taken out and shot on the spot... they were shooting and hanging... the whole experience was so soul-destroying."

The advance of the allies as the war drew to a close only worsened the labourers' plight.


You can't compensate for the loss of families and liberty and youth

John
They were evacuated from the work camps and forced on long death marches through the winter snow, sent to the extermination camps or killed on the spot by the retreating Nazis.

"They locked us up into a stable, all the people, and they put the bar across," says Blanka who was forced to march from the camp in Poland to Berlin.

"We could see there were some of our party that were separated from us and we could see the fire lit to their place and we thought we were going to burn alive also... but we were lucky".

Anger

Around one million of those who survived the work camps are still alive and this week some start receiving the first payments from a compensation fund set up by the German Government and industry.

"Many of the people that maltreated us have disappeared in the past 50-odd years from the face of the earth... the only way they could do something is a compensation to make old age a little more comfortable for the people that have suffered," says Blanka bitterly.

But it has taken a long time to reach a settlement, and as the number of living witnesses to the horrors of slave labour dwindles, she is angry that so few will finally benefit from the agreement.

"We were promised the payment a long time ago and what I really feel is it's far too little for what we have suffered and it's certainly far too late for the payment," she says.

But for John there is no way to make up for the past.

"You can't compensate for the loss of families and liberty and youth," he says.

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See also:

10 May 01 | Europe
Nazi slave labour payouts cleared
13 Mar 01 | Europe
Firms fulfil Nazi slave pledge
28 Nov 00 | Europe
$700m hole in Nazi slave fund
25 May 00 | Europe
Nazi slave fund needs donors
14 Dec 99 | Europe
$5bn Nazi slave fund agreed
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