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Oral history interview with Raymond Kamonier

Oral History | Accession Number: 1995.A.1281.16 | RG Number: RG-50.146.0016

Raymond Kamonier discusses earning his Polish baccalaureate in 1928 when he was 19 years old; leaving Poland to continue his studies in Caen, Normandy, France, where he enrolled in a chemistry school; beginning to work at his uncle’s barbershop in Paris in 1929; getting married; becoming a barber in Paris in 1932; being 31 years old at the beginning of the war in 1939; being on vacation with his wife and son in Berck Plage when the war started; registering as a volunteer on September 2, 1939; being summoned in January 1940 to the Polish army’s camp in France in Coëtquidan, Bretagne; going through four weeks of preparation, before becoming a corporal; being sent to Rennes at the moment of the capitulation of France in June 1940; returning to Paris to evade becoming a prisoner of war; not being able to find his wife and son, who had left in the exodus of Paris; his wife’s return; the first anti-Jewish laws starting in October 1940; not wanting to register as a Jew but his mother pushing him to respect the law; going to the commissariat and registering as a Jew; being forced to put a sign on the front of his business to declare it as a Jewish enterprise; receiving a notice in May 1941 that he and the other Jews would be arrested; being arrested, taken to Gare d’Austerlitz, and sent to the internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande; his daughter, who was born in December 1941; becoming the barber at Beaune-la-Rolande and eventually the “manager” of barbers in the camp; returning to Paris in 1942 under the pretext of gathering his materials and being able to see his mother and wife; being sent to Compiègne; being sent to Auschwitz in June 1942; being taken to Block 18; participating in some of the construction of the camp at Buna; many of the prisoners from Compiègne who did not understand German or Polish; presenting himself as a barber to the guards; the infirmary at Auschwitz which was run by Polish antisemites; being refused at first but managed to interview with another polish doctor whom he convinced to accept him after explaining his training in Poland; being placed in Block 21 (the surgical block) which neighbored Block 11 (disciplinary block and execution block); beginning work in June 1942 with Doctor Dering; helping to clean, remove corpses, and feed and care for the sick; spending time working in the crematorium of Auschwitz; being summoned by the head of his block to go to Block 11 with him and being forced to clean two children in a heated cell; gaining authority after a few months; trying to save prisoners from Beaune-la-Rolande; a selection in October 1943 during which the doctors and nurses did not participate; being selected to go to Warsaw with 2,000 other Jews to clean-up the ghetto; his work destroying the remains of the ghetto in preparation for the installment of a monument for Germany; being held in a camp that was close to Pawiak; being forced to search for buried bodies and dig them up to be burned; the special commando (Sonderkommando) that was in charge of burning the corpses in pyres of wood; how an infirmary was established old military barracks in the ghetto; the outbreak of two epidemics; the horrors of his experience, including the sexual assualt of a young woman by all of the Kapos in charge of the clean-up at Warsaw; the installation of new barracks with showers and other convoys arriving; the Soviets approaching in July 1944; leaving the ghetto and marching with 100 other men; the horrors that took place during this march and the constant struggle for survival; boarding a train at Kutno and heading towards Dachau; many people dying of thirst along the way; arriving at Dachau in August 1944; working primarily in the Waldlager which was located in the forest and living there from September to December 1944; how their commando was in the forest and completely unknown to the others; being liberated the May 2, 1945; being taken by train back to Paris, where he was housed at Hôtel Lutetia; and reuniting with his wife and children.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Kamonier, Raymond
Zarka, Josette
interview:  1989 November 27
1 videocassette (VHS) : sound, color ; 1/2 in..
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 20:12:29
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