March 5th 1944, with a RSHA ("Reichs sicherheitsh auptamt" the Nazi Department of Security) transport from Holland, 732 Jews from camp Westerbork arrived at Auschwitz. After the ‘selection’ 179 men were tattooed with numbers 174684 up to 174862 and 76 women tattooed with numbers 75816 up to 75891, were imprisoned in the camp (Auschwitz). De remaining 477 people were killed in the gas chamber. This document from the archives of Auschwitz, proves that Robert (Bob) Cohen was brought into Auschwitz on March 5th 1944. The number Bob Cohen got tattooed on his lower arm is 174708.
Bob Cohen was born January 25th 1926 in Amsterdam. He lived with his father Alex Cohen (13-90-1893) and mother Mathilda Cohen (10-08-1890) and his brother Freddy (1923). From the beginning of the war, May 1940 Bob Cohen witnessed all stages of the crimes committed against the Jewish people during WWII. From the separation in society and school to the horror of the Auschwitz and what fate had in store for him even after the concentration camps.
In April 1942 the Cohen family was ordered to wear a yellow David’s star visibly on their clothes, to easily recognize the Jews. Jewish people even had to buy the star with a textile coupon. The 6 pointed David’s star, from origin a venerable Jewish symbol was misused to stigmatize the Jewish people. After school Bob was employed in a workshop that manufactured German military equipment. After a raid in the studio, Bob decides to go into hiding.
In March 1943, obeying his parents who did not want their son to be deported with an “S” (Straf = Punishment) mark in his papers. Bob was even sent him to the dentist and the hairdresser and Bob said goodbye to his girlfriend, Bob voluntarily turns himself in at the Hollandse Schouwburg known -during the war- as the Jewish Schouwburg; a former theater now used as a gathering place. Here the Jews had to wait for the transit or deportation to camps in Vught and Westerbork. Then they were deported to the extermination camps in Poland. His father walks him half way, Bob was 17 at the time. That was the last time Bob saw his parents and his brother and the rest of his family. Who were later deported to exterminationcamp Sobibor and murdered in the gaschambers on the 2nd of April 1943.
From March 1943 to October 1943 Bob is an inmate in the Vught camp. The official name of the camp was KZ (Konzentrationslager) Herzogenbush. The guards consisted of naturally of SS guards. Inmate had to work for the war industry. Philips, the electrical appliances firm, also had a plant in the camp. Prisoners where working in the Philips Kommando where treated reasonably. Due to the hard working conditions inside the Vught camp “only” about 800 people lost their lives which is minor in comparison to other concentration camps. Vught was layed out as all the other concentration camps. Sealed off with two electrified barbed wire fences and in between the piece of grass of about 3 meters wide. Every 100 to 150 meters a guard tower with one SS guard with binoculars, a searchlight and a machine gun. Inside the camp were brick barracks where 400 people slept. Bob was selected for a Kommando (workgroup) carrying rocks. He still has the scars on his body proving the hard work this Kommando was. Bob was also badly mistreated by Dutch members of the SS (called Landwachters) who were in training in Vught to fight on the “Ostfront” Russia. Bob got the orders for his transit to camp Westerbork.
From October 1943 to March 1944 Bob was an inmate in Westerbork in the North of Holland, which was a transit camp for Jews on their way to the extermination camps in Poland. On arrival Bob was selected to work stuffing straw into matrasses making beds. Westerbork was camp one could survive with relatively ease. At the beginning of March 1944, Bob was featured on a list with names selected for deportation. The transport consisted of a train with 15 to 20 freight wagons and about 75 to 80 people were crammed in each wagon. After a thorough count the train left Westerbork with destination: Auschwitz-Birkenau, even though the people were not told where they were being taken. The journey was harsh and degrading. The wagons were so fully packed with people that nobody could really sit, let alone lie down. It was dark baby’s were crying all the time. There was only one bucket for your sanitary needs which, you can imagine, swiftly over flooded making the floor of the wagon a filthy smelly goo.
Immediately upon his arrival Bob had to face the “selection” on the “Rampe”, an elevated strip of land in between the railway tracks inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where the trains stopped to unload the arriving people). To the right meant forced labor, to the left meant gas chamber. Only 10% to 15% were selected for forced labor. All the other people were sent straight to the gas chambers to be murdered.
In total 1.3 million people were murdered in Auschwitz. Old men and women, sick people, “political enemies” and children were “unusable” and taken to the “Crematoria’s” immediately. These Crematoria were carefully designed killing factories made with only one purpose: the extermination of the Jewish race. Auschwitz I (The main camp, situated about two miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau in the middle of the Town of Oswiecim) had Crematoria I. Crematoria II, III, IV and V were situated in the Auschwitz-Birkenau. Crematoria II and III were situated at the end of the railway line.
Bob, selected for forced labor, was taken to the building called the “Sauna” for cleaning, shaving of his entire body and where his number was tattooed on his arm. Auschwitz was the only concentration camp that had such numbers. Bob was also provided with his blue and white striped concentration camp uniform and hat.
Bob was assigned to the “D-Lager” the “Arbeitslager” Due to his strong physique the German industry could use young men such as himself for forced labor, that was the only reason Bob was not sentenced to death by the German SS Doctors on arrival. Bob started working in different Kommando’s. He began to work in the “Kartoffelkommando” where he had to peel thousands of potatoes for the potato soup, which was given to the prisoners. This soup was mere water with chunks of potato in it. Bob witnessed intense cruel selections by the German SS guards who picked out people at random or, who in their eyes, were to weak or to sick to work. The unlucky ones who got picked, went straight to the gas chamber or were shot instantly. The barracks where Bob had to live were prefab horse stables which were designed to hold 52 horses, the Germans crammed about 800 to 1000 people in to one barrack.
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A big THANK YOU to the United States Army Center of Military History for their help in providing the input for these pages. All pages on this website are constantly being refitted with acurate data and texts and it is an ongoing process.