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Sara's Arrival at Tiegenhof

Sara Hannah Matuson Rigler, Holocaust survivor

And then we came to a place that I can still the sign, and it said Tiegenhof, T-i-e-g-o-f-f [sic], Tiegenhof. It was a big sign, in green. They told us all to get out, and take the luggage what we brought. We’re going to the new place. And they put us into half-trucks—I don’t know if you know the half-truck? They’re open, really. It’s small, like you can only—you stand. It’s open. It was a very short distance, but we didn’t know where we were going. And the next thing, we came to a place—it was dark already. And all of a sudden, you saw people in black—that was the SS—with dogs, and screaming and yelling. They kept saying, “Men to one side, women to the other side.” Well, we were three women. “Men to one side.” And people started yelling for their children. “Let’s be together, let’s not separate.” But they separated the men from the women. And actually, we had arrived at Stutthof, but we didn’t know that.

What they did is they—you know, I can see it so clear. I mean, this was forty-four [1944]; it’s now how many years? I can see it like it was yesterday. We got out. It was—you know, the lights were going back and forth. It must be—I don’t know; the searchlights or whatever they call that. And it was dark, and all the guards were in black, and dogs were barking. They said for us—they separated the men from the women and they told us to sit, and we were sitting on sand. They said, “In the morning, we’ll tell you what to do.” But we didn’t know where we were. And then, what I remember is we were sitting, and my mother still had my father’s diamond watch. She was putting—I don’t know where, but she was putting thread around it and burying it in Stutthof, in the sand. This is the watch that we used to say, “Who’s gonna get it?” you know, my sister and me.

And in the morning they came, and they told us we should all go into showers. We didn’t know anything about crematoria. We didn’t know anything. Actually, Stutthof did have a crematorium. But, you know, you have to have luck. The Red Cross was coming to see the camp, and they needed people that were still alive because when we came there, it was almost empty. And my number—they didn’t tattoo numbers; they gave us, like—it was a piece of cloth. My number was 58,384, which means before me there were 58,000 people that were there. And the only thing that we saw there were mountains and mountains of shoes. You know, that was the only thing that was left. But we didn’t know about ovens or anything. And there was baby shoes and all the shoes—shoes, but mountains. I’m talking about as tall as buildings. As a matter of fact, you go to Auschwitz now; you see the shoes, already green and so on.

And then they told us we should go into the showers, so we went in. Somebody said that we were examined by a doctor. I don’t—by a doctor or nurse or whatever, internally. I don’t remember. So, I think if something’s very unpleasant, you probably block it out. I don’t remember. And they told us we’ll take a—we took off all our clothes, the leather coat and everything. We put everything there. And with everything, you need luck. We weren’t so lucky. I got a dress that was, like, white, with red and pink and green stripes: a summer dress. And on the back of the dress was a big Jewish star in red paint—but big, like the whole back. And then I got a pair of—the shoes were like—not shoes, but like you step into it. We called it klumpės; it really wasn’t shoes. And my sister got a thin dress, and my mother got a thin dress. Now, you know, it’s very hazy, but they say that we were examined, which I don’t remember. And we got out, and we were all wet because it was a cold shower. We couldn’t even recognize each other.

And then they put us in barracks, on straw. And actually, you saw that people didn’t live there. They weren’t there, but we didn’t know. So, we were on the straw, and then we got food I think three times a day. They used to serve you from a very big cauldron, like pot—it must have been half the size of this room—and it was water with cabbage leaves. And three people—water, cabbage leaves, and in a red metal bowl. And three people had to have from this same bowl. And then, the German—you gave back the bowl to him, and he used to throw it at you like a target, the bowl—you know, to hit you.

I don’t know if you saw the movie Snake Pit [1948], but there was a movie, Snake Pit, and sort of it reminded me of Snake Pit; but that was a movie. But it was like a mental institution, something, and just—you weren’t any more like a human being. We had to go to the bathroom at the same time, and the bathrooms were like lined up, like—I don’t know, maybe twenty toilets. Not toilets, just seats. And you had to go together. And it was very hot, and we stayed forever and ever on Appel. Appel is where they check you. They counted us and counted us again, and counted us and counted us. That’s called Appel.

We were there, and the Red Cross must have come and checked it; I don’t know. We stayed there for—I don’t know, about two weeks. The only thing that we got is I told you the water with the cabbage leaves. I think in the morning they gave us coffee, but I don’t quite remember that. But we didn’t—it was very meager.