From Berlin To Auschwitz: Part 4
After being declared fit for work, Frank Brichta is tranferred from Auschwitz (on 19th October 1944) to Friedland (in modern day Poland) to work in the Vereinigte Deutsche Metallwerke propeller factory.
"You were still behind electrified barbed wire. You were still under the command of the SS who would accompany you on the march to and from work. It wasn't an easy walk, it was on ice and I only had wooden clogs, you slipped and had to keep in step and you were supposed to keep in step. It took a lot of energy actually."
Frank was used as slave labour "We either worked a day or night shift making propellers from castings. We'd trim them to size, shaping them using hydraulic presses which took a lot of effort, using energy we didn't really have.
"The shifts were 12 hours long which wasn't ergonomic. You just couldn't work that long because your efficiency went down after a couple of hours. All you looked forward to was getting your meal and you tried to do as little work as possible."
And at this stage of the war, they were able to get away with it "The German foremen knew the Russians were coming. Whatever the output was it wasn't going anywhere, because it couldn't be delivered, so they lost interest too.
"One of them told me he'd been a communist in Hamburg where the VDM factory had been. But this was just trying to gain brownie points. He wouldn't have spoken to a young Jew like that before, but he just wanted to have someone like me to speak up for him if the Russians came.
"It was a very peculiar situation where the Germans themselves were beginning to be very afraid of what was in store for them, and they were only afraid because they had behaved so badly to the Russians, so they expected similar treatment."
The end of Frank's slave labour period came as the factory was abandoned by the retreating Germans in May 1945 "We'd actually stopped working anyway because we weren't getting any more castings in, so we couldn’t deliver any more finished products. The railway lines had been successfully bombed and much of Germany was occupied by US and British forces. So we had to do other things such as dig trenches and fell trees to help block the roads.
PM Winston Churchill during the war.
"The end of the war was very simple - the German guards just disappeared into thin air and next morning the Russians appeared - probably the 9th of May. They ignored us and left us to our own devices."
The freed slave labourers had to fend for themselves "It wasn't easy. We weren't given any bread or medical. We were lousy because we'd only ever had one set of clothes and no shoes. The German population had fled and left very little behind. I can't remember how but I did get some shoes.
"We spent the first night in the woods away from our accommodation. Again to gain brownie points the German guards had warned us that there might be a Ukrainian SS company and they might throw a hand grenade over the fence. They said it would be safer in the woods and as it was warm weather that was what we did.
"The SS had recruits from all over Europe - Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and certainly the Baltic countries. Although they were strictly speaking non-Aryans they were still accepted by the Germans. Some of these volunteer recruits were extremely enthusiastic. Certainly the Latvians used to kill Jews by the thousand. "
The war was over for Frank, but he was stranded with no education, no training and no family…
last updated: 18/01/2008 at 16:59
The Suffolk man who campaigned against the slave trade