THE PATH TO SLAVERY 1944
From the concentration camp I was taken to a camp in Leipzig where they used prisoners as slave labor in their munition factories. Every day our food consisted of only one meal of watery soup with one vegetable in it, and one slice of bread. After a hard day’s work at the factory, I slept on the floor, as did all of the other prisoners. In the early hours of the morning our captors rousted us out of our sleep and forced us to stand in line for roll call, outside in the bitter cold for hours. If anyone fell to the ground exhausted, they were beaten. Sometimes they made us stand there, naked, while we were “inspected for diseases.”
I think the aim of the Germans was to demoralize and dehumanize us. They left the prisoners with no dignity at all, and we hated them with every fiber of our being. The only satisfaction we could get was trying, in small ways, to sabotage their war effort by making imperfect bullets for their guns. We somehow managed to get news of the war. The expression on the faces of the guards provided a gauge on how the war was going. And, at times, Allied planes would drop leaflets describing their progress.
Twenty-four hours before the Allies took Leipzig, all of the prisoners in the camp were lined up and forced to march. We walked for three days and three nights. Everyone was frightened, not knowing where we were being taken. One misty morning the women up ahead were disappearing, and in our frame of mind it appeared to all that this was the end. The guards were killing the prisoners row by row! As our group reached that particular point, it became clear that we had actually been going up a hill, and the disappearances were nothing more than the women going over the rise!
On the third day of our march, there was a gradual change in the position of the officers and the guards. It seemed like they were all moving toward the front of the line, leaving only a few guards to watch the rear. Little by little, the various nationality groups would pair off and sneak out of line. A Polish pair here, a French group there, and then a Greek group. The Germans apparently were so concerned with their own safety that they didn’t worry too much about their prisoners at that point. I was one of three Greek women who slipped out of the line and ran for a while until coming upon an evacuated village. Having found an old shack and hiding in it, we were discovered and returned to the miserable lines of marching prisoners. Within the hour it became easy to escape again. All the German guards at this point were dropping out of the lines themselves, moving forward, deserting the prisoners. This time our group found a deserted army barracks where we managed to get a few hours rest.
In the midst of a discussion about what to do next, a commotion with loud voices occurred outside. Men’s voices! And then someone said “They’re Russians. Hide the young girls.” The word was that the Russians went around raping any young girls they found, so we hid two of the girls who were very young and pretty. One was a French girl and the other was Greek. When the Russians walked into the barracks, their guns pointed in our direction, they saw a group of women huddled in a corner, fear written all over their faces. One of the women got up and tried to make them understand that we were prisoners. When they finally realized it was true, the Russians became extremely helpful. They gave us food and clothing, but couldn’t provide transportation. They said each of us would have to make our own way, and to take what we needed from the homes that had been deserted by the German population.
The group walked around aimlessly for a couple of days, entering the empty homes, taking what we wanted, some taking more than others. Then a small group of Greek women decided they were going to start walking all the way to Greece!! Nothing seemed impossible to someone who has survived imprisonment in a German concentration camp. Of course, I thought they were crazy! So two of the other women and I took a different direction, hoping to find the American army. We wandered about for two months or so, going from village to village, picking up food here and there, sleeping in empty houses, and looking for help to get home.
* Adapted from Six Years to Freedom ©, unpublished manuscript by Angeline Spillias, 1992; ©Kenneth Spillias, 2017, 2019, 2022.