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Standing in Line- Story from an Auschwitz Survivor

Updated on March 4, 2015
julescorriere profile image

Jules Corriere is a playwright and theater director, having written over 40 plays, one of them performing at the Kennedy Center in D.C.

Sam Althaus

A photo of Sam, and the tattoo he was forced to show daily during his three years at Auschwitz, and, after liberation, spent decades hiding.
A photo of Sam, and the tattoo he was forced to show daily during his three years at Auschwitz, and, after liberation, spent decades hiding.
Sam Althaus moved to Newport News, Virginia, after he was sponsored by a family after the War. He had nothing, when he arrived, but started a business- a Deli. He would not be hungry again, and would feed the people of his adopted community.
Sam Althaus moved to Newport News, Virginia, after he was sponsored by a family after the War. He had nothing, when he arrived, but started a business- a Deli. He would not be hungry again, and would feed the people of his adopted community. | Source

STANDING IN LINE- An Auschwitz Memory from the Play Storylines


Sam is in a grocery store, standing in a very long line. He is holding a bag of potatoes.

Sam: I am uncomfortable standing in a line. There was a time in my life when I didn’t know what was happening at the other end of a line.

This one doesn’t look so bad. (Child in front of him, with his mother, begins to whine)

Child: I’m tired mommy.

Sam: Standing in line– isn’t much different, wherever you are. You’re waiting to get something, like food, or to have something done, like getting your hair cut.

Child: I want to go home. (Mother picks him up)

Sam: I remember a time when a check out line meant a much different thing. You never wanted to be at the front of that line.

Father: Here’s the keys, take him out to the car.

Sam: Good. I hate to see children in a line, I’ve seen enough of that. I was a child myself, fourteen, when I stood in line, I didn’t have the option to leave. If I ever got too tired, I’d be put in that other line. The one that checked you out. (The line moves up, he does not move) I avoided that line three years, did a lot of things to stay out of it. Things you would never think about, because it isn’t normal thinking. Just, basic instinct.

(He moves up in line)

(Motions to potatoes) There was a time in my life people might kill for this many potatoes. A time in my life when people did kill for a piece of just one from the bottom of day old soup, but killing then was so different than now. Death slept in the bed with me then, and there wasn’t room for two of us so I learned to make my way around it. Sleeping on the floor or close to it, I could see crumbs, or pieces of bread that might have been dropped or laid down for a moment. (Line moves forward)

It was stealing if you got caught, but you never got caught. Terrible things happened if you got caught. I never stole anything. I survived better than other people.

Cashier: (to young shopper with a bottle of wine) Can I see your ID, please.

Sam: I heard that question daily at roll call, not so polite. My identification was my number, I had no name. It was like these labels, right here, that get scanned.(pats label on bag of potatoes)

Cashier: Price check on register eight.

Man 1: Great, I’m late. Now I’ll never get out of here.

(The appearance begins to shift from Food Lion to Auschwitz)

Intercom voice: Register nine is open with no waiting. (Man one in front of Sam and Man two behind move to the next line)

Man 2: (to Sam) Would you like in, you don’t have very much, you can get in front of me.

Sam: Thank you, no, I’ll stay here.

You never get in the lines to the left.

(People get into the lines, slowly. The left line is moving quickly, Sam’s line is waiting on a price check, stalled. )

Intercom voice: Register nine is open with no lines and no waiting.

(More people join line, moving quickly. People are not purchasing items, they are leaving them there at the counter/table, in a pile, and filing out the door.)

Sam: You didn’t look at them, most of them were new, and didn’t know. But if you looked at them, and they saw how you looked at them, they would know where they were going.

Intercom voice: Clean up on aisle 10.

Sam: Some of them knew. You still didn’t look.

Intercom voice: I need a bagger on nine, please.

Person 3: This check out clerk is fast.

Sam: They were efficient. They processed us, like at that counter. See how they pack as many things as they can into one bag? It was like that. After the gas chambers, they fit as many as they could into each oven to get an efficient burn. Not enough bodies wastes time. Too many bodies prolongs the process. It was a skill that was taught at the camp. (Sam’s line moves ahead one more person)

My mother and my sisters were not a part of that system, the crematoriums were not built yet. The gas chambers were, but not the crematoriums., and you could smell what they were burning in the ditches. On my first day there, I asked where my mother and sisters were. A Jewish physician told me, there was no diplomacy, he explained to me what that smell was. It was a distinct odor, like nothing else, you knew what it was, just like when you walk in here and go past the bakery, and you know whether they are making cinnamon rolls or Italian bread, that distinct.

(Smells the air) Today, I think it is actually white cake. Another skill I picked up. How to smell down the food, and what kind you can get where. Good for bartering. Food was currency. And jewelry you might find, or buttons.

Intercom voice: Manager’s assistance on register nine, please

Sam: Food was the best currency, it was what everyone needed currency for, and nobody could afford it. (Line moves ahead. Sam hides the sack of potatoes behind his back) And you never let anyone know you had any, or you didn’t sleep because you’d spend the night guarding your food. You could afford to lose sleep more than you could afford to lose food. Sometimes, you would share, with certain people. (Line on the left with the last people leaving) Mostly, you bartered. Sharing was too costly.

Manger and cashier at register nine take all of the articles left at the counter and shove them into large crates and carry them away.

Sam: Nothing you had to offer got you out of the lines. Lines for inspection. Lines for food. Lines for roll call. Lines for hair cuts. Lines for delousing. That was the worst. Not so much the chemicals. Delousing meant you had to stand naked. (He is hiding his potatoes the best way he can) If you did have food, you would need to hide it somewhere other than in your clothes. You do that, and there is no guarantee you will still have it when you got back. I had good hiding places. Mostly, I keep people from knowing what I have so they don’t think there is anything they can get from me. It makes hiding things easier.(Sam gets to the front of the line, holding the bag of potatoes in one hand behind his back, and he holds out his arm with the tattoo, to the cashier, as if she were the SS officer)

Cashier: Do you have your Food Lion card?

Sam: (pulled back into the present, pulls his arm in, rubs the tattoo, takes the potatoes from behind his back and puts them on the counter)

Cashier: Two dollars and seventy eight cents, sir. (Sam silently pays her. He opens the bag of potatoes and begins to hand them out from the bag to different people.)

Sam: I am alive today, and in Newport News, Virginia, and that was Auschwitz fifty years ago and I can afford to give away potatoes. There’s lines and taxes and traffic and strip malls. I can get potatoes twenty four hours a day. Have a potato. I can get a whole other bag if I want. Here. Eat this and enjoy.

How Well Do You Know Your Relatives?

Do you have a relative who served in a war, or suffered as a consequence? Have they shared that story with you yet, or is it still waiting to be told, as Sam's children had to wait, for 65 year?

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    • thoughtpages profile image

      Connie 2 years ago

      This was powerful to imagine. I'm not sure if it's exactly a satire or parody since usually satires are more critical/scathing. It seemed pretty serious like realistic fiction(?) to me, but the tone suited the content. It was truly great to read. thank you