Memories of My Service in a Labor Battalion
The author’s military service commenced in Sabinov in eastern Slovakia in 1941. The uniforms of the 1,000 Jews in the Sixth Labor Battalion were ridiculous — completely different to those of the Aryans. However, it put the Jews under military jurisdiction and thus they were saved from the infamous Nuremberg Laws and were not forced beyond Slovakian borders in 1942, where 90,000 compatriots were murdered. Army rules subjected the labor “soldiers” to a strict curfew and they could only exit the camp for labor assignments. Living conditions in their barracks were acceptable. Military training was carried out using spades instead of rifles. At the beginning of 1942, the battalion was moved to the snow-covered mountains of Liptov, where the men engaged in quarrying or constructing roads in bitter cold. Rumors reached the laborers that Jews were being transferred from Slovakia in huge numbers and they were subjected to unbelievable atrocities. However, the Jews of the Sixth Labor Battalion were not included in the transfers. Their next task was digging canals in the swampy Zohor area, with its insufferable summer heat, fleas, and very cold winters. However, friendship and comradeship was strong. Next, they were sent eastwards to Sabinov, which was judenrein meaning no family, not a single relative, and then on to nearby Kamenice and the forests of Porubka for more construction assignments. In May 1944 a message was received that the Jewish boys should leave immediately as their liquidation was imminent. They dispersed into the forest and so ended the story of the Sixth Labor Battalion. Twenty years later, Grossman returned to Sabinov to create his film The Shop on Main Street.