March 9, 2021

Auschwitz’s horror: “For the Nazis we were not people but pieces of meat”


In society, there is no other way to address our self, to recognize ourselves, than by our name. It is the word that designates an identity. But, alas, the dead have no name. Annette Cabelli was tattooed on 40.637 on the arm as she entered Auschwitz. «And for two years nobody spoke to me by name», remember. For what? No one expected me to get out of there alive. Technically, at 17, I was dead.

Recently, this Greek from Thessaloniki, resident in Nice since the end of the war, achieved Spanish nationality by virtue of the decree that allows Sephardic Jews to be our nationals in fact and in law. From his childhood, he was able to express himself in Ladino, that medieval Castilian with whom yesterday, on his visit to Madrid, he could make himself understood perfectly to narrate the horror that he had to live in the age of the first kisses. At 95, he still has the strength to testify in the first person against Nazi barbarism. It does so from the Sefarad-Israel Center, on the occasion of the photographic exhibition «Auschwitz-Birkenau», which joins the events in memory of the 75 years of liberation from the camp.

«On the train we already understood that we were not going to work but to die»he points out. The Germans had barely entered Thessaloniki in 1942, when their whole family ended up overcrowded, like cattle, on a train that took days to reach their destination, the non-place par excellence, the most sadly famous concentration camp. Without water and without food, it was easy to start collecting a dire destination at the end of those railways. In fact, beyond Auschwitz, there were neither rails nor sleepers. Terminal station, end of route.

On the way, two uncles of Annette stayed. They didn’t see the horror of the “lager”. “The dogs barked at us and clung to our clothes, while they took away the gold and the things we were carrying. They separated us from the family and my mother held my hand tightly. And then they tattooed us, ”he recalls. The hell of Auschwitz was not accidental, but a very refined and perverse depersonalization industry. From the entrance, disposing of clothes, belongings and even names to prisoners, shaved and uniformed, they were clearly shown the loss of their identity. All the survivors of Auschwitz, from the darkest to those recognized as Primo Levi or Viktor Frankl, relate with trembling that nakedness of the self, the awareness of having ceased to be directly a person. «For the Nazis we were not human, but pieces of meat. When one needed labor, he said: ‘tantos I need so many pieces’ ’,” says Cabelli.

Excrement and typhus

Very few were the ways to get out alive and this old woman has a hard time pronouncing, although she does, the word “luck”: first she was “used” to clean hospital excrement tanks for Polish political prisoners, which allowed her to be under cover. Then, infected with typhus, went to the sick block. Going to the “hospital” was almost a death sentence. You were not liquidated by piecework or gas chambers, but death hovered every minute in those barracks. The “boss” of the sick bloc told him so: “Since you’re going to die of typhus, I’m not going to let you go to get killed”. But he survived the disease. In the meantime he got to know one of those emblematic figures of the field, Josef Mengele, “The Angel of Death”, sadly famous for his amoral experiments with humans.

There was no room for hope. “Every day you knew that someone around you was going to die,” says Cabelli. Life and death had lost value. Auschwitz had moved them all to another category of thought. And the attitude of the S.S. He just reminded them at every moment that they were not people, not even animals. «They took us to the showers, and they put on our hot water and we screamed, and then they put it very cold, while the S.S. They laughed at us. We were a show for them ».

Death Gate Photo: Juan Pedro Revuelta

Death Gate Photo: Juan Pedro Revuelta

Luckily, Annette never ended up in those other showers that connected directly to the crematoriums. Staying two years alive in the deadliest “lager” of the vast Nazi network is a feat, although certainly involuntary, random. Like so many, like all the survivors, the remorse, the fault of having been her and no other who came forward has accompanied her for life. That sense of futility that ended in suicide for Primo Levi forty years after having crossed the threshold of death in Auschwitz. While talking, this old woman seems not to believe she is still among the living. «Because we never had a minimum chance of waiting for liberation. We knew our time had come ».

However, with the Soviet troops a few days away from the camp, the Nazis evacuated the compound. Some 60,000 prisoners were forced to walk and walk towards the German border in what has been called “the marches of death.” On January 27, 1945, the Soviets entered Auschwitz. There, consumed, crawling like zombies, there were a handful of survivors that the Nazis had abandoned convinced that cold and hunger would do their job. Few lived to tell. For its part, Cabelli managed to resist that hellish journey on foot under the icy winter of the East, even passing through two other fields: Ravensbrück and Malchow. A few tens of kilometers from Berlin, his group was released. It was May 2. “We have to do everything possible so that these things never happen so many Jews and non-Jews suffered. Never more. That is why I always come to Spain, so that children and young people know what happened, the suffering we suffered, ”cries 75 years after Auschwitz.

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