When a Nazi camp guard tossed the leftovers of a snack onto the dirt near Bill Glied, a Jewish thirteen-year-old who was sawing down pine trees in the summer of 1944, Glied did not know if the guard was littering or giving him food.
The guard’s motives did not matter to Glied as much as the morsel. Glied, who came from the city of Subotica in what was then Yugoslavia, was imprisoned in Kaufering III, a subcamp of Dachau concentration camp. Hunger gnawed at him nonstop. It started at 4:30 a.m. when he was awoken on a wooden platform in the barracks where he slept crammed together with over 100 other prisoners. At around 5 a.m., they had breakfast—a mug of coffee that was barely more than murky water—then marched for an hour to Igling forest.
The prisoners spent the next twelve hours helping construct Weingut II, a partially subterranean aircraft factory. The prisoners heaved fifty-kilogram sacks of concrete mix. If the scaffolds they were working on broke, they plummeted and died. During the winter, Glied’s fingers froze as he bound rods with steel wire. And, when work ended, their dinner was soup. It sometimes contained rotting potatoes and often had beet pulp. Glied could not eat it when he first arrived in Dachau, although he soon scooped up the residue of it from his bowl with his finger. A slice of bread accompanied the soup, and if you were wise, you saved it for the morning, sleeping with it under your head so no one would steal it. (And, if you were so desperate that you were caught stealing someone’s bread, Glied recalled that prisoners would materialize in the night and smother you to death with a blanket).
So when the scrap of food landed near Glied, he snatched it up and ate it, not thinking about whether it was a fluke. Nor did he wonder whether the guard was an SS officer or an injured Wermacht soldier from the front. Mostly, he thought about how to keep an eye on the middle-aged man with a stoic stare who resembled Glied’s own father. Where is he sitting? Glied asked himself, scanning the hillside where he and about 100 others sawed down trees, dug up earth, and dragged logs. When he spotted the Nazi, often resting with his rifle wedged between his legs on a tree stump, Glied approached him.