Ich heiße Lucien Ducastel. Ich komme aus Seine-Maritime in der Normandie. Ich war drei Jahre lang Metzgerlehrling, aber das gefiel mir gar nicht. Dann fing ich an auf dem Bau zu arbeiten, im Metallbau. Ich habe sehr hart gearbeitet. Meine Eltern … mein Vater war ein Handwerker, ein Metallarbeiter, er arbeitete sehr hart. Er reparierte Schiffe. Er arbeitete manchmal auf zwei bis drei Schiffen pro Woche. Meine Mutter war Textilarbeiterin. Ich hatte mein Abschlusszeugnis von der Grundschule … Ich war kaum zwölf Jahre alt. Mein Geburtstag ist Ende August und ich bekam mein Zeugnis im Juni. Das war mir sehr wichtig. Danach fing ich an zu arbeiten. Und weil ich keine große Vorstellung davon hatte, was ich machen wollte, fing ich eine Metzgerlehre an. Ich habe dort dreieinhalb Jahre gearbeitet. Ich lernte etwas über die Arbeit. Aber am Ende wurde ich doch kein Metzger. Dann fing ich an im Hoch- und Tiefbau zu arbeiten, machte Reparaturen auf Schiffen und so weiter. Ich machte viele verschiedene Arbeiten, immer handwerkliche Arbeiten. 1936 war ich 16 Jahre alt und ich fing an in Fabriken zu arbeiten. Ich war einfach ein Handwerker geworden und ich durchlebte den ganzen Zeitraum 1936, die Streiks 1936 und alles, was das bedeutete … Mit den Streiks 1936 fing alles an. Daraufhin bildete sich die Arbeiterbeweung heraus. Zu dieser Zeit war ich bereits Teil des Arbeitermilieus. Unter diesen Umständen wurde die Bewegung von 1936 überall ein wenig stärker und es gab diese große Demonstration von 1936. Und was das alles für die Arbeiterbewegung in Frankreich bedeutete, war sehr wichtig. Das ist gewiss.
1934/1935 fing ich an in einer Fabrik zu arbeiten. Dann kamen die großen Tage von 1936. Da schloss ich mich der Arbeiterbewegung an. Ich war Teil der großen Streiks von 1936. Ich war 16 und arbeitete in einer Fabrik. 1937/1938 schloss ich mich der Jeneusse Communiste (kommunistischen Jugendorganisation) an. Dort konnte man für seine Forderungen kämpfen. Meine Freunde damals fragten mich: „Warum schließt du dich nicht der Jeneusse Communiste an?“ Also tat ich es. 1936 nahmen wir an gewerkschaftlichen Aktivitäten und Demonstrationen teil. Und so wurde ich ein Teil der Jeneusse Communiste. Das veränderte einiges, weil man sich darauf einstellen musste, unterzutauchen, also halb im Untergrund zu sein. Die Kommunistische Partei und die Jeneusse Communiste wurden verboten, was viel Aufsehen erregte. Mein Vater, der eher anarchistische Ansichten vertrat, sagte zu mir: „Hör auf damit! Das wird dir teuer zu stehen kommen, weil sie das verboten haben.“ Ich erwiderte: „Das ist mein Problem.“ Ich war 17. „Soll man denn deswegen aufhören …?“ Du wusstest, wie es 1936/1937 als Kupferschmied auf Schiffen war, aber du hast dich nie der Gewerkschaft angeschlossen.“ Er selbst war nicht politisch aktiv, denn dafür musste man sich engagieren und er arbeitete sehr viel. Wir mussten uns im Untergrund halten. Man konnte es nicht wirklich Untergrund nennen, aber wir waren trotzdem polizeilich bekannt. Wir mussten besondere Vorsichtsmaßnahmen ergreifen: Nur spät nachts nach draußen gehen und aufpassen, da es nächtliche Polizeirazzien gab. Das war extrem schwer, aber wir gaben nicht auf. Wir versuchten Flugblätter nicht am Tag, sondern nur nachts zu verteilen, und eher am Abend, weil man sehr vorsichtig sein musste. Unter diesen Umständen wurde ich zu einem aktiven Mitglied, bei der Arbeit und in meinem Alltag.
Ziel der Verteilung dieser Flugblätter war es, die Bevölkerung und die Fabrikarbeiter zu alarmieren. Es ging darum, die Materialien in den verschiedenen Vierteln zu verteilen. Oft machten wir das nachts. Aber nachts gab es auch Polizeistreifen. Zwei oder drei von uns verteilten die Flugblätter und zwei oder drei andere hielten Ausschau, um die anderen zu warnen. Wir mussten sehr vorsichtig sein. Wir machten viele Vorkehrungen: Wir versteckten die Materialien für die Flugblätter bei einer Person und das Papier bei jemand anderem. Und dann versuchten wir, sie nachts zu verteilen, um der Polizei zu entkommen. Aber die Polizei war nachts auch unterwegs und es war eine schwierige Aufgabe. Wir verteilten auch Flugblätter an den Fabriktoren, obwohl wir dort sehr auffällig waren. Aber wir trafen auch dort viele Vorkehrungen. Einer von uns hielt immer nach der Polizei Ausschau. Wir machten uns um 2 oder 3 Uhr morgens auf, um die Flugblätter zu verteilen, und wir teilten uns die Straßen auf. Manchmal verteilten wir sie auch vor den Fabriktoren, obwohl das sehr gefährlich war, weil es dort in aller Öffentlichkeit war. Hinzu kam die Schwierigkeit, die Flugblätter herzustellen. Es war gut, sie zu verteilen, aber sie mussten ja erst hergestellt werden. Also versuchten wir, Freunde zu finden, die nicht so bekannt waren, und die Materialien dort hinzubringen: den Mimeograf, die Schreibmaschine, die wir bei ihnen im Keller versteckten. Wir mussten vorsichtig sein und diese Freunde beschützen, aber gleichzeitig mit unseren Aktivitäten weitermachen. Es war eine schwierige Zeit. Wir organisierten uns, um Orte zu finden, wo wir uns ungesehen treffen konnten, wo sich zwei oder drei von uns treffen konnten, aber nie mehr als drei oder vier. Wir trafen uns in einem Keller oder bei Freunden, die nicht für ihr politisches Engagement bekannt waren, aber bereit waren, uns zu helfen. Sie ließen uns hinein und wir kamen zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten an. Aber dann mussten wir auch die Materialien verstecken, den Mimeograf, die Schreibmaschine etc. Wir mussten dabei sehr aufpassen. Es stellte sich große Vorsicht ein, denn es gab viele Zeitungsartikel in der Gegend um Rouen, die über die Zahl der Verhaftungen von politischen Aktivisten berichteten. Es war also sehr schwierig. Man musste sehr vorsichtig sein. Wir hatten ein gewisses Maß an Unterstützung seitens der Bevölkerung. Manche Leute sagten „Sie hätten das nicht tun sollen“, nachdem jemand festgenommen wurde. Aber es gab auch Leute, die uns unterstützten, manche nur sehr im Hintergrund, weil sie Angst hatten. Wenn die Polizei von der Verbindung zwischen einer Person und einem bekannten politischen Aktivisten erfuhr, konnte man verhaftet werden. Es war also sowohl für uns als auch für die Personen, die die Materialien aufbewahrten, gefährlich, falls sie von der Polizei erfasst wurden. Es war sehr schwierig.
I was not undercover, but I was arrested nevertheless on October 21st. 1941 for being a politically active communist. The police in Seine-Maritime knew all the people that belonged to the Communist Party or to the Communist Youth Movement. Before going undercover, we were politically active in public and therefore known. They knew quite well that we would continue after the banning of the party and kept a close watch on us. My parents did not really approve of my activities. My father was more of an anarchist and did not accept that I was politically active. He’d say: “You will see what happens to you”. My arrest was not very spectacular. When we went out to distribute the leaflets we’d hide them under our jacket. We didn’t take 500 at once. Petit Quevilly was a little town of 20,000 inhabitants and the police knew everyone, especially those they shouldn’t have known. The French and German police came to arrest us in the middle of the night. They came at four, five o’clock in the morning, knocked on the door. My father had barely opened the door; they had already arrived on the second floor, as I slept up there. All went very quickly: getting dressed, going downstairs. That was on October 21st, 1941. They took us to Rouen and started interrogating us, asking us various questions. We were very careful to say as little as possible. Then we were taken to a kangaroo court in Rouen. We knew they would never let us go, but we did not know what was going to happen after imprisonment. I knew the risk I was taking. But to be able to hide you needed a place to do so. Many people were not ready to put us up, even if they were friends. They were scared of the police, of being arrested as well. It was very difficult, so I stayed with my parents. When I’d come home my father would give me a beating. I didn’t have the possibility to hide. I was getting ready to do so. But I was arrested two or three weeks before I was about to leave and really go undercover.
I had been under observation by the police for some time. When the Communist Party and leftist organizations were banned and had to go underground, I was known to the police and was being watched. On October 21st, 1941, they knocked on my door at four o’clock in the morning and I was arrested bay French and German police. I was taken to Rouen, along with another 100 resistance fighters from the who had been arrested the same night. We were interrogated, but not too harshly. We were not obliged to talk about things we didn’t want to. Then we were taken to the camp of Compiègne and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Compiègne we were treated as hostages. It happened several times that comrades were taken away to be executed for attacks that had happened. On July 6th, 1942 we were taken to a destination unknown. We stayed in Compiègne for about 8 months. We were arrested on October 21st, 1941. Then they took us to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Compiègne we were already hostages. That means when an attack had been, they would come and take some of our comrades. I escaped this fate like another few - but they would come and take some of our comrades to be executed, as there had been this attack the night or the day before. The following morning, at four o’clock, we were called up by buildings, as usual. We were loaded up into the trains and we left to a destination unknown. What we felt was a certain fear, because we didn’t know where we were taken to. We were led away in groups of ten. Ten people could easily be shot half an hour later. They loaded us up in the animal wagons and we were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. You know, we arrived in Auschwitz. Auschwitz consisted of old barracks, big buildings. We realized we were somewhere foreign, but it was almost more comfortable than what we had left behind in Compiègne. The following day we were taken to Birkenau, 4 or 5 km away and there it was totally different. Birkenau is a camp that was built on marshlands. There were old barracks. It made quiet an unsettling impression. They gave us striped uniforms and took pictures of us. They tattooed our registration numbers onto us. They tattooed this number. Of course that had a big effect on us. We were no longer called so-and-so. We had this number and were supposed to respond to this number. We had to learn it in German and in Polish, not easy. But we had to learn it quickly.
Day to day life in the camp started with the morning role-call. The camp was huge. I think we were a hundred thousand prisoners. Birkenau was especially huge. Then we found out that Birkenau was no holiday resort. The days were very long: from 4h00 or 5h00 in the morning ‘til 21h00, 22h00 in the evening, because if one of the 22,300 people was missing during the evening role-call, he had to be found. We had to stay standing until this person was found. Sometimes we spent whole nights outside. Some people hid, some escaped and then we had to stand until the following morning, in summer, and winter. The winters in Upper Silesia are very cold, terrible. We lost many men there. Our days began at 4h00 or 5h00 with a first role-call. They handed out a brew that they called herbata in our mugs, which we should absolutely not lose, and which we could never wash. Then we left for work. Yes, we thought of it. There were three or four of us. We tried to find ways of fighting, but it was practically impossible. There was a room leader who was to keep control. There also were leaders for each building. And there were also team leaders, themselves being deported prisoners. Often they were Germans, Poles. It was very difficult, very hard. We got lots of beatings. In the beginning we thought we shouldn’t take that, but we soon saw that there was no way out, as life there was so terrible. It was difficult to form a group. Those of us that had been arrested as French resistance fighters were scattered. They knew exactly who we were. It was very different from the camp in Compiègne. There we were still active, we resisted, discussed, talked. But here we were seperated and with all the block leaders, the Vorarbeiter, the team chiefs, the Kapos it was extremely difficult, as they were very loose with their batons. We were not necessarily amongst French people at all. Sometimes there were 2 or 3 French people in a group of 150 or 200 men. Most of them were Poles. They did not like us very much. There were Germans as well, so-called Reichsdeutsche. They had mostly been arrested for political reasons.
Liberation came in 1945. But it wasn’t quite that simple because there were all these Kapos that had taken on this bad habit of beating and massacring and liquidating people. They played this role until the end. So again we lost many people. Out of the 1175 of us deportees I think 19 returned. Gradually we felt a certain degree of liberation, but we were in such a state, we barely reacted. Take my case: I weighed 70kg/72kg upon my arrival, I used to do exercise, to bike, I was strong. In the end I had reached half my weight: 35kg/36kg. Under those conditions, so weak, things don’t work the same way anymore, including reactions and the way the brain works. But we also started to take deep breaths of fresh air, telling ourselves that it was over. When we were liberated, they put us onto wagons, depending on the region we were going to. I went back to Rouen. There were three or four of us. We had lost hundreds of friends. Upon our arrival there were ambulances waiting for us, taking us where we told them to. In my case, that was to my parents. The arrival at home was different for each of us. The parents were all different from each other of course. I arrived home in the morning and my mother was there. She was a textile worker, but they sometimes had days off, and she was home. Ah! That was …! My father arrived in the evening. He was a coppersmith, working very hard. He was also very firm. He said: “So there you are! Where are you coming from?” Quite nice. That was how he was. I had already imagined it would be that way. But things got straightened out in the end. I had been called to the police headquarters because a family was asking for information about their son. I hesitated for a long time, but finally I decided to go, as it was to help. When I walked into the police office, one of these individuals who had arrested me, entered. I did a huge leap, with my 35kg at the time, yelling at the police officer: “Ask that cop what he did in the night of October 21st, 1941!” I made a big fuss. The officer calmed me down and sent the other one out.
I was invited as a witness to a school. I had a teacher friend and as we talked he said: “You should come talk in schools, otherwise it will be forgotten history.” I agreed, but hadn’t really thought about what that meant. So I went. It was difficult. When you are with 30 students, it is very difficult to talk about all these things: about the arrival of Jewish or Gypsy convoys, the children, sometimes babies in their mothers arms. I wondered if one should talk about it or rather not talk about it. I decided to talk about what National Socialism had done, about what we had gone through and about what we had seen with our own eyes. In Birkenau, the first big camp we went to, these convoys arrived, filled with Jews, with Gypsies. There were men and women, but children as well, and babies in their mother’s arms. We saw them, we were not far away and we knew what was going to happen. That hurt a lot, it still does. Whenever I go to a school and have to talk about these subjects, concerning children… the soup doesn’t taste as good in the evening. What is remarkable when you go into a classroom is that you never have to ask for silence. They are very attentive to what one says. That encourages us to go to the schools. I want to show what National Socialism was about, with all its horror and its atrocities. How important it is to develop fraternity between human beings. You are young people. Don’t fight with each other. Be collegial. Be friends because you don’t know what tomorrow will be like. You are human beings and the future is in you, you carry tomorrow in you. Be fraternal, because that is the only way it will work. It doesn’t matter how people look like. You are all human beings, you can have dark-skinned friends, why not? That will also help you to work better, work more seriously. Be fraternal with each other no matter what origin you are from.
We tried to go undercover as much as possible during the German occupation, even though I was not totally undercover. I still lived with my parents. We thought about how we could distribute our leaflets. Our concern was the French population, not the Germans. It was necessary to fight against the occupiers. In the camps we met civilized, working Germans. Sometimes that led to discussions between us. I always defended the idea that these people were not necessarily Nazis. As French people worked, they worked here and that one had to respect. Then it was their responsibility. They knew who we were, in our striped uniforms and some had a friendly word for us, in German, which we had to learn. I always said that one should not mix up the SS and the Germans we met at work. The SS made a choice. They opted for the regime, the system. Three, four years after coming back I was talking to some friends who said: “We are going to Germany, to meet some people. But of course we won’t ask you to come along.” I said: “Why won’t you ask me to go with you? Are you afraid that I will say that all Germans are fascists? Not way. If you want me to, I will come along. I promise I will behave correctly towards the Germans we meet. That won’t stop me from saying what happened in the camps. But I will not say THE Germans.”
Often the children ask me why I don’t have the number removed. I tell them, I could have it removed, but I won’t. It was done by the Nazis, the people working for the Nazis. We weren’t called by our names but by a number that we had to learn to say in German. It doesn’t bother me to have it on the arm. I don’t carry it around for advertisement. It’s just reality, that’s all.
Lucien Ducastel (1920 - 2012)
1940 - 1945: Darnétal (Frankreich)