"Antreten zum Appell! Form into columns for the roll-call!" The command made even the dying men shudder. The Häftlingsin camp E of Birkenau did not work; they waited to be selected either for the gas chambers or for being sent to another concentration camp in Germany. They did nothing but gaze at the writhes of smoke rising from the crematoria, at the bar bed-wire fences and wait.
The roll call was the one and only event of each day, its major event, and its essence. There were days when nothing of consequence, beside the roll call, happened.
Food was daily distributed although sometimes that was omitted. Nor were selections made on a daily basis. But the roll call could never be left out. From the setting up of the camp and till it was abolished, it was only after roll call that a Häftlingcould say that he had survived for another day.
The Blockälteste, followed by two Vertreterys1 walked out of his room, stopped at the edge of the platform and bawled out:
"Antreten zum Appell! &emdash;Form in columns for the roll-call!"
Suddenly awaken from their sluggish waiting the Häftlings also started calling out the dreaded word:
"Appell! Appell! Appell!"
They forgot who they were and were they were, what they had been thinking of and what they saw with their mind's eyes, they were overruled by one single desire, to see themselves making up a row of fives, to from those bloody columns. But that was to be done only in four-five hours, and until then the Blockältestes, and Vertreters would strike at random with their curbed cudgels because the Häftlings were not grouped in subunity and could not make up the columns in an organized manner. In order to escape the brutes' cudgels everybody ran towards the already formed lines and wrecked them. The bustle drove mad the Blockälteste and the Vertreters who rushed on the detainees with mounting rage.
After four-five hours of yelling and screaming, while the curbed cudgels kept busy at work, the over one thousand Häftlingswere finally formed into rows.
They were exhausted, hungry, their sty, their wounds were bleeding, but they stood at attention waiting for the Appell. Their legs began to sink under them, they grew dizzy but there was no escape. To collapse now, when the lines were made up meant to send the three brutes into a fit of anger...
Over one those and Häftlings were lined in rows of fives on the platform between the two barracks. They were all dressed in streaked, convict's clothes, wearing clogs on their feet and black caps on their heads. Mere skeletons. Walking shadows with hollow eyes and sunken cheeks on which sweat mixed with dirt and mud tickled down in black streaks. Some of them had already began to stagger to their feet. They wouldn't be able to hold out for long. Moans and stifled curses were heard...
There were fifteen such platforms, stretching on either side of a seven-meter's wide alley. There were 800 -1100 Häftlingson each platform.
Camp E was waiting for the Appell. And so were the other camps: A, B, C, D, F, bordering one another, separated by a mere barbed-wire fence. And in each camp there were 30 barracks, each with its own platform on which tens of thousandHäftlings were standing in the same position.
This is what Birkenau was looking like each evening before the Appell.
Actually, the Appell proper began when the SS-man entered the gate of camp. He made for the first platform: Blockältestehowled:
"Stillstand! Mützen ab! Attention! Caps off!"
The Häftlings stood stock still at attention. The report was made in a dead silence:
"Barrack No. 21, with an effective force of one thousand fifty-tow Häftlings, one thousand thirty-five alive, seventeen dead.
The SS-men's footsteps sounded heavy. The Blockälteste followed a few meters behind.
At that moment, the most difficult thing forma Häftling was not to budge, to go on standing at attention without even batting an eyelid.
The fear of the Appell, a beastly fears that the SS-men meticulously, systematically developed. In the first years of the camp's history each Appell meant tens of victims.
A Häftling once looked sideways when the Unterscharführer2 passed by. He was shot on the spot. A row of fives was not arranged in a perfect line. All of them were executed.
Somebody cried for pain or fear. The whole row and the other five on its either side were sent to the crematory.
So, after a short while nobody dared to budge an inch anymore, nobody dared to turn a hair. On the thirty platforms of the neighboring camps -- A, B, C, D, F, tens of thousand Häftlings on the brink of starvation, parched with thirst, their wounds bleeding, stood stone still at attention.
Nobody stirred a peg nobody batted an eye. When the SS-man passed by nobody dared even to breathe.
All were tortured by the one and only thought: not to give way, not to lose control and collapse.
Only the corpses on the right flank of each row were at peace. They no longer struggled; they had collapsed several hours before. Forever.
They were no longer afraid of the Appell.
1 Block's deputy chief. 2 An SS Lieutenant.