Arrival at the camp

“Two rows of black barracks, which looked as though they were stacked on top of each other because the hillside was so steep, were slightly to the left in front of us. They were surrounded by two hedges of barbed wire several meters high, so thick they made me think of fishing nets or a spider web. No doubt about it, this was a camp. Here, in Alsace, so close to Strasbourg! Powerful floodlights cast the entire camp in a harsh, garish light. We entered and felt as though we were descending into hell, all the more so since we were walking downhill. Woe to he who fell down on the way! Our tormenters had no pity for him. All of them would shout and hit him with the same gusto, the same sadistic joy.

Now we were in a sort of office that was located in the first barracks on the left after entering. All of us were scared witless... This was the intake office where we had to state our names to bureaucrats who looked as though they were detainees like us…”

“…Last barracks at the bottom of the hill, a few meters from a pine wood. But the spider web between it and us shattered any dreams of escaping under cover of night. We had to keep our heads about us. Now we were in the shower room. ‘Everybody off with your clothes! And fast!’ It was one of our fellow detainees who yelled that order. He looked well-dressed and well-fed… We obeyed him as though we were a single man, as though we were in a hurry to wash off all those insults, all those blows, all the shame of our pitiful condition.

Ah, the water felt so good! We didn’t know yet that it was heated by the crematory oven in the room next door…

We became, or we were going to become, robots. Rags were thrown down on the floor in front of each one of us. A pair of trousers, underwear, a shirt, a jacket, a cap, two rags – one for each foot – and a pair of ‘tap shoes’, wooden soles surmounted by braids to keep them on. Our clothes were as mismatched as you could imagine. There was every colour… And it was absolutely forbidden to exchange them with each other. Now we looked like scarecrows…

They gave each of us a red fabric triangle with an F in the middle*, and a small white fabric rectangle with a number on it. The next day we had to sew them over the heart on our ragged uniforms …

Numbers, that’s all we were now. We were no longer men.

I was no longer Eugène Marlot, I was number 6149. The time of degradation had come.”

“When we got out of the lorries they made us line up in a row. There was shouting in German everywhere and we couldn’t understand anything. Later we realised that we had better learn a little German, especially how to count.”