"A Youth's Miraculous Survival from the Gas Chamber"
(pages 57 and 58 of Le Camp de Concentration du Struthof - Konzentrationslager Natzweiler: Témoignages)
Mr. Dziga Tanacs (pronounced Tanatch) is an ethnic Gypsy. In December, 1940, he and his parents were arrested along with 72 of their compatriots. In November, 1943, he arrived at Natzweiler with three adults and another child. The inmates muttered their distress; why would the Germans be bringing a "baby" into such a camp? After spending two days in Room 2 of Barrck #5, young Tanacs and four adults were brought out toward the gas chamber, near the inn that had been taken over by the SS. Here is his statement:
As we entered, I remember seeing a big wooden table, and several people with caps whose front brim was turned up, and other with some kind of hood with viewing window.
It was about 4 p.m., since it was time for soup to be distributed in the quarantine barrack.
Without knowing what awaited me, I was immobilized with my hands behind my back, and the nurse, who seemed to be called Rozef (a prisoner), injected me with what I thought was a typhoid vaccine.
The room smelled of acid. The four adults and I were pushed into a room tile in white, with a cement floor.
[The inside of the gas chamber as seen by DMH in 1991]
None of us knew it was a gas chamber. When we were inside the room, I heard the door close.
How long was it, five minutes, a half-hour, an hour, before I heard a "pshitt" and a smell seemd to rise up from the ground.
The five people being gassed flattened themselves to the back and right side of the room. The went crazy, flailing, screaming, biting, clawing the wall, trampling each other...
I was trampled. Squashed under the weight, stifled, I slipped into unconsciousness.
The four adults lay, inanimate, on me. They were dead.
As I came to, little by little, I heard a sound like that of a vacuum cleaner. Grabbed by the feet, I was pulled outside, and I remember that the excrement covering me was cleaned off with a pressure hose.
And then, I remember, being brought back to the camp infirmary, where I was cared for by a imprisoned doctor, Dr. Poulsen. After a few days, I was taken to Strasbourg, to Dr. Hirt's lab. There, I was examined every which way, measured, written up. I was experimented on, mainly to test the reactiviy of my nerves. My right hand was broken and my tendons cut. I was given electric shocks to test my reactions. A lot of people buzzed about me, SS doctors and their assistants.
I went back and forth a few times from Natzweiler to Strasbourg, I don't know exactly how many times.
I was very afraid, during one of these trips, when a dying man clung to me, squeezing me so hard he took my breath away. I also remember the frozen stiff cadavers that surrounded me on another one of those trips.
After I left Natzweiler and after several other "transports, " I was sent to the Zigeuner Lager at Birkenau II. I remember, at the time of my liberation by the Russians, a big Russian soldier smiling at me with his teeth made of iron!
Back in France, I was treated at the Shape in Fontainebleau by the Americans, who also tried to figure out how and why I survived. They examined me from top to bottom.
Very few of my group of deportees survived. I lost my father, my mother and my family. For many years I had to fight to have my struggle for life be recognized, and it was only when I achieved French citizenship that my situation improved slightly.
I consider myself to be an "historic monument". I reasoned like an animal during my improsonment, and I think I owe my survival to my youthfulness.
My body caries no scars or marks. Yet everything remains vivid in my memory and I sometimes ask myself if I didn't live through a horrible nightmare, if I am not crazy, or, rather, if I didn't live in a universe of mad men."
Photo by Jean Simon, May 1996: Dziga Tanacs in front of the entrance to the gas chamber.
Photos by Jean Simon. Jean-Pierre Masseret, Minister of Defense for Veterans' Affairs at Natzweiler commemoration ceremonies, speaking to Dziga Tanacs. Email us for permission to publish any of this information. Thanks.