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Zdeněk Daňhel

Zdeněk Daňhel (born 1928, Bílovice, Uherské Hradiště district - died 1989, Paseka, Olomouc district)

  • Testimony abstract

    The Daňhel family lived in a brick-built house in Bílovice. Zdeněk’s mother Marie, née Murkova, came from Bojkovice and died in 1934; his father Jiří worked as a labourer. They had four sons and a daughter. Zdeněk Daňhel's grandfather was a blacksmith. Zdeněk Daňhel worked for the builder Antonín Žuje until his arrest, and also for the firm that built the local dairy.

    The first family member to be persecuted was the eldest brother Antonín, who was deported to the disciplinary labour camp in Hodonín. Then his uncle[1] was taken directly to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, and then Zdeněk Daňhel's father and sister were imprisoned in the gypsy camp in Hodonín.

    At the beginning of 1943, gendarmes came to the Daňhel family and told them that the remaining family members would also be taken away. The arrest and subsequent registration of the family was carried out by the local authority headed by the mayor, and the Daňhel family was fingerprinted and photographed. They were then taken to a fenced-in Sokolovna sports hall in Staré Město near Uherské Hradiště, where Roma families from the surrounding villages were concentrated. After three or four days, the gendarmes took them to the station and loaded them onto a train, with between seventy and a hundred people in each carriage. They treated them like cattle, shouted at them and beat them, and gave them nothing to eat or drink. The first stop was in Ostrava, where German soldiers with dogs took over the transport. They arrived in Auschwitz at around ten o'clock in the evening. They were forced out of the wagons, the guards lined them up, and then they walked for over an hour to the camp [Auschwitz II - Birkenau extermination camp].[2] They spent the night in large wooden building, and the next day they were sorted into other blocks, which had bunk beds and a brick flue running through the entire building. On about the third day they were shaved to the skin, and after about a fortnight they were tattooed. At first they were left to starve, and it was four or five days before the children get food. The block guards were German, and the kapos were murderers [convicted criminals] and wore a green triangle. The prisoners were counted repeatedly, maybe five times a day. The roll calls sometimes lasted up to four hours, and even those who were sick had to take part. There were no blankets to sleep under, the toilets were inside the blocks, and the common toilet was about 40 metres long and three metres deep, and very dangerous. They were given soup and tea to eat and drink, but not regularly. There were potatoes and beets in the soup, the tea was of poor quality. They had no access to water, so they went secretly to the well to draw water in vessels lowered on a string; they were not allowed to do this because the water was contaminated. Typhus and skin diseases, especially scabies, were rampant in the camp, and young children also suffered from other illnesses caused by the filth and lack of food. Dozens of people died every day, mainly children and old people. Washing clothes was forbidden, but washing was done secretly for small children. Families lived together in Birkenau.

    Healthy young people were put to work digging ditches, they dragged stones by hand, and worked up to twelve hours a day. They were paid nothing for their work, not even any supplements to their rations.

    After they had been in Birkenau aproximately a month, a selection was made from the young and healthy prisoners, and Zdeněk Daňhel, together with his brothers Antonín and Josef, were sent to the main camp in Auschwitz; his brother Rudolf was later taken to work elsewhere, in the village of Rajsko. The Germans transported several hundred people from Birkenau to the main camp at Auschwitz. Apparently the camp made a different impression upon him, it was more like a military barracks. Young people up to the age of eighteen were put in one of the blocks and went to a bricklaying school where they learned how to make bricks. At the time, Dahnel was sixteen and was assigned to work teams that worked outside the camp; where shifts lasted up to ten hours. The prisoners had better conditions in the main camp, but the regime was stricter. Roll calls lasted many hours, the worst of which was in winter, when many died of hunger and cold, and some from beatings. Prisoners who tried to escape were torn apart by dogs and their remains displayed at the main gate as a warning.

    Zdeněk Daňhel worked about 120 to 150 metres from the crematorium, so he saw the transports arriving and how the guards decided who would go straight to the gas chamber and who would not; the transports arrived two or three times a week. He also often saw the flames from the crematoria as they whipped up over the chimneys. One day they all had to watch the execution of about twelve or thirteen prisoners by hanging, which lasted from four in the afternoon until morning.

    The Roma in the camp socialized with prisoners of other nationalities, but only in secret. There were various ways to get food and cigarettes; some prisoners had musical instruments and played for others, and there was even a camp band with about 60 musicians who played on the way to and from work. If the guards were in the mood, they also organised concerts. Cards were played in secret because card playing was severely punished, sometimes even by death.

    In 1944, Zdeněk Daňhel and his brothers Antonín and Josef were transported to Buchenwald concentration camp.[3] His cousin and other relatives went elsewhere.[4] Compared with Auschwitz, he found Buchenwald beautiful, with better quarters and nicer surroundings. After a three-week quarantine, he was moved to Dora camp for circa 60,000 prisoners, which was still being built at that time; his brothers were taken to Ellrich and then to Harzungen. After a while his brother Rudolf was also transported from Auschwitz to Buchenwald and then to Dora, However, Daňhel only saw him, they did not speak. Rudolf was eventually taken to Ellrich as well. In Dora, Zdeněk Daňhel was assigned to various jobs, such as in the tunnels.[5] He was not much over sixteen years old, but he had to work as much as the adults, and had no exemptions. After six months he was transferred to Harzungen, where it was the same - strenuous work in the tunnels in shifts, including night shifts, walking about four kilometres to work, and up to twenty people a day dying of hunger. After a while he was transferred to Ellrich, where his brothers were, but after a month he was returned to Harzung. They still saw each other occasionally, but after the beginning of 1945 they did not see each other again until they were at home after the liberation.

    In approximately February 1945, the regime in the camp began to tighten. Around March 13, they were returning from work and shouting and shooting could be heard from the camp. Experienced prisoners guessed that they were getting ready to close down the camp. At 3.00 p.m. the guards ordered them to be quick and prepare for a march. No one knew what to do: Daňhel put on all his clothes, then they were given soup, but there was chaos, so he was given it twice, and bread as well, while others got nothing. At 5.00 p.m. they set off, the guards herding them out of the village through the woods and along dirt tracks. There had been about three thousand of them, but many prisoners had been shot by the SS and others were unable to stand the hunger and beatings, so he estimated that there were now about eight hundred left. Twice or three times they were given six or eight potatoes, so they ate whatever they found along the way or in the woods. After a fortnight they came to a small town whose name he cannot remember; there was a railway station with freight wagons that they were shut into, and when some American planes came over and began to bomb the station, it took some time before they were able to open the wagons and escape. There were wounded among the prisoners, but no one died. The Germans then herded them back into the wagons, and Danhel saw they had shot his friend, a Soviet citizen, along with several other prisoners.[6]

    They were then led for about another eight days to an unknown location. They had no food, just once they were given beet soup and potatoes. Finally they reached a small camp, whose name he does not remember and which had been evacuated; they stayed overnight and were given soup. The next day they went on; the guards kept beating and kicking them. Zdeněk Daňhel was so exhausted that he sat down in a ditch and did not care what happened to him. Nobody took any notice until two hours later, when a tractor full of SS officers arrived and wanted to shoot him. He told them that he was one of the first of hundreds of prisoners, that others were following him and the commander of the unit had allowed him to go ahead. They believed him and took him on the tractor. After about forty kilometres they dropped him off and told him to report a little further on, where he saw many prisoners of various nationalities, including civilians such as Poles. He was given food and told that he was free. It was around 10 April 1945.

    The next day the American soldiers came and liberated them. They were about 10 kilometres from the town of “Schonberg”.[7] It was like a rebirth. He got everything he wanted from the Americans, including chocolates and cigarettes. He had enough of everything, and he had freedom, but he didn't know what he should do. About four weeks later he was taken to “Strassfurt”,[8] where he waited to be transported home with about four thousand prisoners and people taken to Germany to work. In the meantime, Soviet and English soldiers arrived, alternating every two weeks, and then a military detachment from Czechoslovakia arrived to arrange the return of the Czechoslovak citizens.

    At the end of the war, the remaining Roma prisoners in Auschwitz were murdered - among them Daňhel's father, uncle and other relations.

    • [1] Name not given.
    • [2] The transport of 8 March 1943 deported 498 men, women and children from the Protectorate. (ed.)
    • [3] 918 prisoners were transported to Buchenwald concentration camp on 2 August 1944. (ed.)
    • [4] Not stated where.
    • [5] Two underground tunnels with 46 connecting tunnels were then used for the production of V2 rockets.
    • [6] Reason not given.
    • [7] Probably Schönberg, now part of the town of Seehausen in Saxony-Anhalt, about 200 kilometres from Camp Dora.
    • [8] Probably Stassfurt in Saxony-Anhalt, where there was a branch of the Buchenwald camp.

    Daňhel went home at the end of July via Děčin, where they registered him and gave him clothes and food. The next day he continued to Náchod, where he was given provisional documents and 560 crowns. The rest of the journey he had to manage on his own. At home he was reunited with all his brothers and his cousin.

    How to cite abstract

    Abstract of testimony from: NEČAS, Ctibor, ed. Nemůžeme zapomenout = Našťi bisteras : nucená táborová koncentrace ve vyprávěních romských pamětníků.  Olomouc: Univerzita Palackého, 1994. ISBN 80-7067-354-0, 89-94. Testimonies of the Roma and Sinti. Project of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), https://www.romatestimonies.com/testimony/zdenek-danhel (accessed 4/14/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    Zdeněk Daňhel wrote the narrative himself on 22 July 1987.

  • Where to find this testimony

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