"I passed through the gas chamber at least a half a dozen times, through this vapor-filled "shower" room which, at Bergen-Belsen, was used as a torture chamber for both physical and mental torture, and in which women and children died."
"During my stay at Bergen-Belsen, I went to the showers six or seven times. I will describe things just as they happened, and remember that this is no fiction. These showers were, in reality, gas chambers. Chambers to be filled with poisoned vapors, chambers of death."
— Moïse-Israël Przemyslawski (a.k.a. Maurice Prémilat a.k.a. Moshe [Moshi] Peer a.k.a. Mo Is)
Przemyslawski did write about the gas chamber of Bergen-Belsen at length in his memoirs, mostly in a chapter titled 'The "Showers": a Tribute to the Women.' Below I have reproduced approximately 75% of the text from the chapter.
"Everything was recorded in my child's memory and can never be erased. Another facility available at the camp were the showers. Yes, there were showers at B.B. During the year I spent there, I went to the showers once a month, and then sometimes not at all for two or three months.
Because in our block there were men, women and children of both sexes, on shower days the children went with the women. We lined up together, women, boys and girls, and we left our block and walked to another building where the showers were.
It looked more like a morgue, with blood stains on the walls. The same truck with the platform always waited outside the building. The huge shower room could certainly serve as a gas chamber, and I am sure that it was meant to be one.
Hidden behind the walls, the Germans decided what they would do with us, the political prisoners, women and children. [...]
I speak of the showers as if our cleanliness was important to the "schleus", while in fact we died in filth and shit every day. The good "schleus" took us to the showers in order to carry out another one of their insane experiments. They alone know the exact reasons for what they were doing.
During my stay at B.B., I went to the showers six or seven times. I will describe things just as they happened, and remember that this is no fiction. These showers were, in reality, gas chambers. Chambers to be filled with poisoned vapors, chambers of death. What happened to us contradicts the accounts of those who say that once you passed the threshold of these chambers, it was the end, that no one ever came back. My testimony proves that this was not always true. I myself went in and came out of the gas chamber several times. My memories of the poisoned gas showers are very clear.
B.B. was, in fact, a giant laboratory. Why do I say this? Because it was not a camp designed to quickly exterminate prisoners and new arrivals. Things were different at B.B. than they were at Auschwitz and at other camps where Jewish men, women and children were killed in successive batches as soon as they arrived. At B.B., the "schleus" had time and they had all the personnel they needed to process the raw material which arrived continuously. At B.B., they didn't have the adequate means for rapid mass extermination because that's not what they wanted to do there. What they wanted was to learn, to get training, to explore the limits of human suffering. They wanted to define the limits of our physical and mental endurance, over which we no longer had any control because of hunger, sickness, deathly fevers, tortures, beatings, madness and cannibalism.
But why were they going to all this trouble? Were they lacking know-how? Did they need us to sharpen their professional skills? Was this the real role of Bergen-Belsen? Was it a training camp for the "schleus", a place where they learned to be killers? The more I think about it, the more I believe it, and what I saw and heard there serves to convince me all the more. I will recount the events as they took place, without leaving out or adding anything. These are simply the facts, the real events that took place at B.B.
B.B. was a test camp for the application of the final solution. Why not tell the story as it really was? Some people might say that at B.B. there were no gas chambers and that only dead bodies were burnt. But that would be false. I can attest that at B.B. there was indeed a gas chamber. I was in it more than once. Read and you will understand.
There was no specific day to go to the "showers". Without warning, the Polish kapos would tell us, during the morning count, that after we ate the women and children of certain designated barracks had to gather outside the door of the barracks to be taken to the showers. People left in groups of 100 to 120. The men were also taken to the showers separately. That part was not so bad.
When we, the children, left for the showers with the women, the scenario was always the same, and planned in advance. We would press tight against each other, especially when it was cold out, but also because of the terrible fear which made some of the women cry and scream hysterically. We pushed each other, not to avoid going into the shower room but, on the contrary, to go in as fast as possible. There were no Polish kapos in there. What were the women afraid of? They knew they were going to their death and they didn't want to suffer. What was the use of prolonging the panic? In any case, there was no way out. The women knew that some groups of men who had been taken to the showers had never come back.
During the pushing and shoving at the entrance of the shower room, these women would cry and say, "My God, it's over, save us, God, God of this, God of that, what have we done to deserve this?" and all kinds of imploring phrases addressed to Moses, the rabbi and to the God of Israel...These prayers would be answered eventually, but first we all had to go into the shower room. It didn't take long and once we were all inside the door would close and bolted from the outside by an invisible hand.
The cries and screams got louder and we pressed more closely against each other. The women put their arms around the children and kissed them. Minutes went by with nothing There were soldiers outside and behind an happening. adjoining wall. At a certain moment an invisible "schleus" would turn on a stinking vapor and would shout all kinds of vulgar things at us. The vapor came out through the holes of pipes suspended on the ceiling, and filled the room with a thick mist.
Once the room was filled with this terrible stuff, it was as if we were in a tunnel because everything became dark. We could hear the "schleus" laughing, then a voice would give us orders: "Everyone under the showers!" And water would come out of the pipes instead of the vapor which made us choke. The water was cold, then hot, then stopped altogether. The "schleus" yelled, "Get the soap! Lather up!" We could hardly see, we were blinded by the mist, we only saw by the light filtering through a few small windows near the ceiling. We touched each other so we would not stumble and so we would not step on each other.
The "schleus", who could see everything, didn't stop yelling, "Come on, come on, fast, fast, lather up, dirty Jews!" And he would laugh and joke with other soldiers. Once we were soaped up, we just waited, standing there, naked women and children covered with greasy soap, surrounded by acrid vapor which filled all the pores of our bodies. We waited, like that.
The "schleus" took their time. Why not? They had the permission of the whole world to experiment on Jews, and they never missed an opportunity to do it. It was while we were waiting like that that the women whispered, crying, "That's it, now they'll turn on stronger gas and they'll kill us. What have we done to offend you, God?". There were screams, cries, moans. Some women fainted or threw up. People pissed and shit on the floor. Children cried and ran about wildly.
At those times, nothing and no one could help us. As I said, we could hardly see but we pressed against each other. Why? It's not easy to say. We were covered with soap, stinking of piss and shit, standing in it. For a few minutes, the shower room became a slippery mess. We would slide around and the "schleus" found the spectacle very amusing. We could hear them laughing.
And yet, these same "schleus" were the ones who had the power to decide to let us live. It's strange to say that the people who were killing us were also the ones who could save our lives. They could decide our fate by turning a lever or by pushing a button.
The brute who controlled the lethal gas and the water could decide to asphyxiate us by mixing more gas with the vapor and it would be all over. But after a few minutes he would yell, "Here comes the water, rinse off!" And the water would start to flow, first cold, then hot. We were rinsed and the water would stop. The "schleus" would laugh and there would be no more hiss of vapor. Long minutes went by, then we would hear, "That's all, move toward the door!"
There was a great scurry toward the door. We became a human mass whose only goal was to get out of that room. We were exhausted, drained, some clean, others covered in shit because they had slipped in it. We stunk of sweat and of the vapor that clung to our skin. Finally, the door would open and we rushed toward another room, passing through an outside alley first, under the eyes of the guards, even in the cold or rain. What did it matter? We were alive. The women who did not come out, who had fainted and not regained consciousness were loaded onto the platform of the waiting truck, to be taken to the ovens.
During these trips to the "showers", the prayers to God and other divinities must have done some good, since I am still here to tell you what happened. Did the "schleus" hear the women pray to God and implore His mercy? It's possible, but it didn't change anything. The savages knew what they had to do. They wanted to put us through all kinds of extreme torments to see just how much Jewish women and children could take.
They were experimenting to refine their skills and there was no better material for their tests than Jews. The worst was not that they sprayed gas and acrid vapor on us, but that they left us waiting, in suspense, not knowing what would happen next, to break our nerve and make us go mad. These so-called "showers" were really a sinister laboratory. I have more to say on this subject.
When I went there with the women, I always noticed the blood stains in the room where we undressed and in the shower room. The walls and the floor were covered in blood, especially near the door. That was the direction in which the women and children rushed, pushing and shoving, to get out as fast as possible. We did not crush each other, the women took care not to hurt the fragile children. But we knew that when the men went to the showers many of them did not come out alive.
Between the two rooms there was an exterior passageway about 20 yards long where we waited, naked, before going into the shower room. Armed German soldiers watched us, joking among themselves. We waited first to undress, then naked, then outside between the two rooms.
Once we were in the shower room we were still kept waiting. Then vapor would start to fill the room, and suddenly stop. We waited again. The water would start, would stop, first hot, then cold... We smeared ourselves with soap and waited, pressed against each other like sardines, for a little comfort. The water would start, we would try to see through the stinking vapor which surrounded us. Then, suddenly, there was no more water, no more hiss of vapor, no voice shouting orders. Silence.
At that moment we didn't dare speak. To say what? We were crying, overwhelmed with fear. Some of the women hugged each other and put their arms around the children. We all looked toward the door and waited. We waited for the door to open. At the height of the torture what else could we do but wait? What we really waited for was death; we were preparing to greet death as best we could. We humbly awaited the decision that would be made about us. And then the door would open, after the "schleus" in charge had given the order. We rushed out, there was some shoving, then the dash through the outside passage to the room where we had left our clothes. There, we dried our bodies and our tears.
For the children, these trips to the showers, the vapor and the gas, were a nightmarish hell. We cried because the women cried, but the women cried because they knew things we didn't know. The Jewish women of block 23 at Bergen-Belen endured these tortures fully aware of their meaning. Many of them were the mothers of children who were somewhere else, not at B.B., and had husbands who were fighting for freedom, dying for the right cause. These women of different nationalities were sent to B.B. on the orders of some brute who happened to be where there were Jewish women and children. [...]
Some of these women were "lucky" enough to wait several times in this alley which led to the accursed showers. Very few of the women of block 23 survived. Where are they? Would they dare to speak of it? I don't think so, especially after having met some of them. I am sure that they are still suffering the trauma of what happened and that they always will. [...]
People say that Bergen-Belsen was a camp where Jews and other war prisoners died in great numbers but not like at Auschwitz or the other famous concentration camps. This is only partly true. Given everything I have heard about Auschwitz, I can say that Bergen-Belsen was different. It was even worse. For example, at Auschwitz no one who went into the gas chamber ever came out alive. There, the Jews were taken to the gas chamber as soon as they arrived, and then the ovens disposed of them.
They waited a few hours or perhaps a few days, depending on the numbers that arrived at one time and on the speed of the extermination process.
Most of the Jews killed there died without fully realizing what was happening to them, or not realizing it until the last moment. At Auschwitz things had to be done fast. The camp was not designed to house large numbers of prisoners for a long time. Only those who were strong enough to work Were housed in the camp.
It was a slaughterhouse whose main function was to execute quickly, by asphyxiation, as many Jews as possible, and to burn them in the ovens. Those who were at Auschwitz certainly suffered, but the torture was more prolonged at B.B. For most of the Jews killed at Auschwitz, the period before they were taken to the gas chamber, after their arrival at the camp, was short. Some of them no doubt guessed, on the way to the camp, that they were being taken to their death. All of them no doubt felt the end coming and were overtaken by panic and madness at the last moment.
I don't want to minimize their hell in any way, but B.B. was something else. At B.B. the Germans killed us little by little. Anyone who says otherwise does not dare to speak the truth or does not know how it really was at Bergen-Belsen. Only those who were there can truly bear witness to what happened.
Of course, if I had been sent to Auschwitz no one would ever have known my story: the story of a French political prisoner. I would have passed through the gas chamber and then been thrown in the ovens. When I was nothing but smoke, the beasts would have inhaled me in big breaths. Is there a single survivor of the other concentration camps who can say that he or she has been in the gas chamber and has come out alive? I am someone who can say this. I passed through the gas chamber at least a half a dozen times, through this vapor-filled "shower" room which, at B.B., was used as a torture chamber for both physical and mental torture, and in which women and children died.
The men in our block would come back from the "showers" in terrible shape: exhausted, stinking of shit, covered with wounds and blood stains. The look in their eyes was frightening and there were fewer of them than when they had left. I can't really say what happened during their "shower", but it must have been horrifying. What I can say is that every time the "schleus" decided that the men of block 23 would go to the showers, many of them did everything they could not to go. The Polish kapos in charge of assembling groups and taking them out of the section ran after the prisoners and struck them with clubs. The men seemed to prefer this to going to the showers, even if it killed them. [...]
We, the children, waited with the women of block 23 who, when they were out of the "showers", knew that they owed their lives to the decision of a single "schleus" who, on the other side of the wall, was manipulating the levers according to the orders he had received. This idiot was playing dice with our lives by asphyxiating us to the limits of our endurance, until there was only one breath of oxygen left, checking our reaction the whole time, checking to see how we reacted to his gruesome game. Orders or not, the only maniac who saved some of the women and children in my group was the "schleus" who operated the gas valves. Who told him to stop in time? I have no idea. I can only say that the power of God is truly great!
This is what the "showers" were like at B.B. Once we were dressed, we gathered outside in rows and waited, standing, exhausted, hungry, pressed against each other like a frightened herd. We waited for the "schleus" to check the shower room to see if there were any women or children lying on the floor, unconscious, dying or already dead. After one last period of waiting, the soldiers led us out of the "showers" section and we walked to our block which was a few hundred yards away, on the other side of the central alley. While we walked, we could see, as usual, the platform truck driving to the showers and then going toward the ovens with its load. Those who had not left the shower room were never brought back to the barracks. They were reduced to ashes. The rest of us were going back to the Polish kapos to wait for the next vapor "shower", the next suspenseful gas chamber episode carried out according to B.B.'s sophisticated standards, which were set by Kramer, the camp's commander."