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I heard it uttered for the first time on the very first day of our arrival at the camp. We were formed in columns of fives facing six barrels of nondescript food. We hadn't eaten anything for two days and were faint with hunger. When our turn came, Isaac, the first in the row, picked up a pan, as he had seen the others do. The Blockälteste1 dipped the skimmer into the barrel, once, twice and then, although the pan was far from being full, he shouted: sechs2. Isaac stood stock, still, unable to believe that mash in the half empty pan was supposed to be the meal of six persons.

--- Abthe Blokälteste shouted and instantly raised the crutch he always carried along.

Isaac was gassing at Blokälteste in utter confusion. A blow over his ribs made him collapse and overturn the pan. We quickly pulled him away, to prevent a second blow. Gathered in a corner of the platform, licking by turns what was left in the pan, we decided that ab means "beat it" or "move"!

Several days later nobody noticed a distracted Häftling3 leaving the platform and heading for the alley between the two rows of barracks. A Kapo4 who was drawing up to him from behind called out: Ab and the Häftling, tottering like a sleepwalker, instinctively stepped aside. But he moved to little to satisfy the Kapo who picked up a brick and threw it at him.The Häftling, his skull broken, left the alley, getting lost in the throng on the platform.

My friend Isaac, who kept telling us that in order to survive we must learn the language of the camp, concluded:

"Remember, pals, ab - means "vanish" or "get out of my way!"

The next morning, Isaac was sitting in front of our barrack, barrack no. 21. Looking fascinated at the wreaths of smoke coming from the crematoria, the existence of which he still doubled, he did not notice the SS-man riding a bike that was drawing near. The SS-man passing by shouted ab and instantly hit him on the head with the machine-guns.

Isaac died in a puddle of blood, his eyes open and his body contorted like a huge question mark. He made us understand that at Birkenau-Auschwitz ab! Really meant, "beat it!", "get lost!" but not only "from one's way", but also "from this world", that ab was not a preposition followed by a noun in the Dative as German grammar books explain, but a word which atBirkenau meant death.


Barrack chief. 2 Six 3 Detainee in a Nazi concentration camp, having no right and being not protected by any law or international convention. 4 Detachment commander.