The concentration camps at Kaufering and Landsberg in Bavaria were small, but, even so, more than 14,000 people, mostly Jews, died there. Henry Dressler survived.
Dressler was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1925. The Germans walked into his city in 1939 within months of his Bar Mitzvah.
“They marched in on a Friday, right after the candle-lighting,” he said. “From the day they first arrived, we couldn’t walk on the main streets. We had to go to the back streets. We couldn’t go to school.”
Dressler’s family was moved into a ghetto in 1940.
“In the ghetto we had no wood, no heat,” he said. “In the winter the walls were covered with snow. Beginning in August 1944, every second day people would be called away. Trucks took them to Auschwitz.”
One of Dressler’s two sisters died in the ghetto, and his father died of starvation. In 1944, his brother, another sister, his mother, and he were sent to Auschwitz. It took three days to get there. During that time, they had no food and no sanitation.
“At Auschwitz, my brother and I were separated from my sister and mother,” he said. “They went straight to the ovens. We had heard that if you had the same last name, you would be separated, so I used my mother’s maiden name. That way my brother and I were able to stay together.”
Within days, Dressler and his brother were transported to Landsberg to work.
“We worked on the railroad, fixing the rails,” he said. “Some days they gave us just worthless work to keep us tired and busy.”
The little food they had was bad; everyone got sick. It became a death camp. Dressler’s brother died in April, the month they were liberated, beaten by the capos and the Germans.
“The German citizens, the people who lived in Landsberg and Kaufering, they saw us each day,” he said. “They watched us go to work and called us bad names. We would see them standing in front of their houses laughing. They knew. They saw it. And they just stood laughing and making jokes. They knew exactly who we were – ‘Juden,’ they called us. Everyone knew. After the war, no one knew anything.”
The prisoners didn’t know the Americans were coming until the day they came. One day in late April the Germans gave them each a piece of bread and lined them up for their “last march.” Then a high officer came and told them it was too late; they couldn’t leave. That night they heard shooting and bombardments, and the next day the Germans were gone.
“When we woke up on the morning of April 27, we went out like we always did to be counted, and the camp was empty and the gates were open,” Dressler said. “We were free. The Germans had left their tanks, trucks, everything. We started to grab bread, but it made us sick.”
The Americans transported the sick to hospitals and tried giving them food. Still, many more died. They were put in a displaced persons camp for four years after the war. There, Dressler worked in a metal workshop.
He met his wife in the displaced persons camp.
“All we thought about were our families,” he said.
Everyone was gone. It was very hard, very painful. I am the only surviving member of my family,
except for two uncles who left Poland in 1916.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my family that is lost.”