Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) Czechoslovakia
I already knew by the age of seven that we were different from our neighbours. We lived in Karlsbad, where I was also born.
It was Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles) and my Papa had just been busy making a "Sukka" in the yard of the house where we lived and where my parents had a large kosher restaurant. All of a sudden stones were thrown from our neighbours' windows. I was terribly scared and asked Papa why they did this to us. He whispered, "Because we are Jews". This was 1937.
We remained in Karlsbad another two years after which we had to flee from the Germans to Prague. Once in Prague, we had to wear the yellow Star of David on our outer clothing stigmatizing us as Jews, and were not allowed to leave our homes after 8 p.m. We were only permitted to ride in the last tram carriage as the front carriages were inscribed with, "Jews Not Allowed".
Many houses bore captions in large letters, "Do not buy in Jewish shops" or "Jews Out". Instinctively I did not want to know anything about this situation which is why my teddy bear became my best friend. I loved him passionately. My elder sister Esther had once brought him from Leipzig for me even though I possessed plenty of dolls - 28 precisely. I really was an extremely playful child.
One day, when I was eleven and a half years old, Mama received a printed summons, instructing us to appear at Prague's Exhibition Halls, in order to join a "transport" (i.e. the actual deportation transport of human beings to the concentration camps) which was to drag us off into the unknown.
Papa was at that time in Karlien Prison and I remember well that dear Mama had done everything possible to have Papa join us at the "transport". He was actually released and delivered to the Exhibition Halls where everyone was assembled and awaiting to be deported. Everything happened so quickly. It was very hard for me to cope with this sudden change in our lives. For me the only small comfort in this situation was that, after his long detention, I could finally hug and kiss my dear Papa again, having missed him so much during his absence. Mama and I had been occasionally allowed to visit him, when he was only able to poke his finger through the dense grill, and I was then overjoyed that I could kiss his finger. Being the youngest of three daughters Papa spoilt me the most. At the Exhibition Halls we had the first roll calls, during which we had to stand very rigidly to attention.
One day we were suddenly called for a roll call. The shouting and the inhuman behavior of the Germans frightened me so much that, while standing there, I simply fainted. From that time on, during the entire length of our imprisonment, I remained deeply sad and spoke very little. I accepted everything without making a murmur. This was due to an intense feeling that told me, in my deep sadness and despair, that there was just nobody to turn to.
After a few of days we were deported from Prague to Theresienstadt. In Theresienstadt there was terrible confusion. Men, women and children were separated from another; my sister Ruth and I were placed in a children's home. From the very first day I reached Theresienstadt I cried all the time. I simply could not get used to being without my parents, and even isolated myself from the other children. This continued for a couple of weeks, until one day I simply ran away from the children's home straight to Mama.
Mama and I
She somehow accommodated me and so I stayed with her in the same room together with the many other adult women. They were mostly Czech women but there were also some Viennese women, and a few German Jews who were so assimilated they they knew nothing of Judaism and who did not believe that anything bad would happen to them. They were "Deutsch" (German) and saw themselves so. And so began our life together with total strangers. Mama was everybody's favourite because she was such an extraordinary woman, so delicate and noble, always ready to help and never grumbled. From the time I was able to be together with Mama again, instead of in the children's home, I was able to endure everything better: the bad food, the snoring of the women at night, the primitive washing facilities and the cold due to the lack of blankets. Although I was generally very depressed, without doubt, the presence of my dear mother gave me the courage to live.
My sister Ruth, who was only one year older than I, was more often together with the other girls; she even worked in a vegetable garden and, together with her girlfriends, was able to make her life as bearable as possible under the circumstances.
Meanwhile my father was employed as a cook in the Hannover Barracks and although he had to work hard, I believe that at least he didn't go hungry. We saw him only very seldom as he was very busy at work. All the young men who got to know him and who worked with him liked him very much and called him "Pincza", derived from his surname "Pinczovsky".
In Theresienstadt I contracted a very bad case of scarlet fever and had to be put in quarantine. All around me children were dying of meningitis, which occured as a result of the scarlet fever. I realised at that time that this could well become my fate.
We had been 16 months in Theresienstadt when one day we heard that people were being deported to Auschwitz where they were gassed. Naturally no one wanted to believe this. Everyone said that this was impossible and that these were only rumours.
Unfortunately Papa, Mama, Ruth and I were also amongst those to be deported to Auschwitz. Our fear grew by the hour as we did not know what awaited us. The unknown is something dreadful and is impossible to describe. As long as we were all together, even though we were not living together in the same place, it remained somehow bearable. But what did the future hold for us? Where would we be sent next? Would they separate us? Would we survive? My thoughts were in a turmoil.
We were shoved into the cattle waggons, in the presence of Eichmann in his flawless uniform with his booted legs spread wide apart. He was observing us unfortunate, unsuspecting people being treated like animals, with that famous crooked smile on his face. Struck with dismay and terror nobody considered refusing or resisting to board the cattle waggons. Everything happened so unbelievably fast, with shouts of, "Come on, come on, you Jewish swine!" while the dogs barked all around. For me the important thing was that I was together again with my family. The fact that we were together was all important. The continuous fear of the unknown, or that we could be torn apart, was hell for me and unbearable. We later learnt that one can suffer far worse things. A person can be humiliated to such a degree that he/she becomes lower than the lowest animal.
In the cattle waggons one heard nothing but moaning and weeping and whispers that this "transport" was destined for Auschwitz. Of course, absolutely nobody knew anything definite, but everyone had the most terrible forebodings.
Today I cannot recall how long the trip from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz took, but one of my most dreadful memories, which I cannot forget until this day, was that they had placed a "shit bucket" in the middle of the cattle waggon, to serve as a toilet for men, women and children. It was inhuman and demeaning.
As we neared the murderous death machine called Auschwitz, Papa spoke through a tiny opening and asked a railway employee whether from here "transports" went on to other destinations. The employee replied, with a raised thumb, "Yes, up there, through the chimney, which burns 24 hours a day, that's where the "transports" go".
I had by chance overheard this conversation and my poor Papa, upon hearing this reply, immediately got stomach cramps and diarrhoea. I had to watch how my big, strong Papa, who was for me the most courageous and strongest man in the whole world, had to shamefully drop his trousers and sit down on the shit bucket in front of all these people. My entire world collapsed around me. I immediately understood that we were going to be gassed. But how? How would they torture us before we died? I had a fit of shivering and so did Papa. From the moment he got the reply with the raised thumb he fell into a deep depression.
"Arbeit macht frei" ("Work is Liberating")
Finally the doors were unbolted from the outside and the waggon doors opened. We were greeted once again with the barking of dogs and the shouts of, "Out! Out!, Faster! Faster!, Move! Move!" Nobody understood what was happening. Men and women were separated. Everything happened very quickly and once again we were without Papa. I saw nothing but barbed-wire and searchlights and smelt a strong smell of smoke. We were herded into a huge hall where we had to completely undress. I was 13 years old and probably felt more ashamed at this age than the adult women, who were by this time indifferent.
We were standing in rows in order that we be shaved all over. Our clothes and personal belongings had immediately been taken away from us and it was evident that the people who had to carry this out, were already so callous and dulled by their long imprisonment in Auschwitz, that they lacked all humanity. These were the old-established prisoners. When it became my turn to be shaved I saw that the person who was to shave me was a man. But then he was no longer a man. He was merely a poor prisoner in a striped suit with hollow eyes and gaunt cheeks. He did his job with indifference, no longer having any volition. Once we girls had had the hair from our heads, underpits and pubic area shaved off we looked like monkeys. None of us dared look at the others. Some wept while others burst out into hysterical laughter. It was totally grotesque.
Then we stood naked for hours until we were given old rags to wear. Again, as if purposely to degrade and debase us, large women received tiny rags, while smaller women were given oversized articles. Some girls only received a coat without anything to wear underneath, while others got torn, thin dresses without anything to wear over them. And there was no underwear whatsoever. Everything took place so quickly. We were totally at the mercy of fate without the possibility of complaining to anyone. My only though was, "Where have they taken Papa? Will we ever see him again? What will happen to all of us now?". After we had been given the clothing to wear we had to stand in line again to be branded with a tattooed number on our arms. Having to stand around for hours was not unusual in Auschwitz. We stood in a row, Mama in front, me behind her and my sister Ruth behind me. Mama received number 71501, I received 75102 and Ruth 75103. It was very painful and when I tried to take my hand away I was given a slap in the face. A large, cruel Polish woman did the tattooing.
In short, within only a few hours of our arrival in Auschwitz we were no longer human beings but mere numbers, and not one of us could do or say anything about it. I thought, "How is it possible that adults are capable of doing such things to others?. Where is the justice and how have we deserved this?" In my unhappiness I became increasingly silent and reserved.
After the tattooing, we were herded into barracks. From now on the women had to live squeezed together in bunk beds without mattresses on three levels. It was terrible and cold, and we did not know what the next minute had in store for us. The only thing one could do, was to suppress our feelings and suffer in silence. The food was some kind of muck consisting of a dark, watery liquid, called soup, for which one again had to stand in line in order to receive a little in a small tin bowl. The bowl was never filled. Within a few weeks we had become thin, numb and listless, just like those who had arrived in Auschwitz before us.
Our camp was called Birkenau B 2 B Block 12.
Birkenau B 2 B Block 12
We saw Papa again after a couple of days and my heart cried out when I saw him. He was wearing a very short, narrow coat and looked terribly wretched and degraded in it. He was totally depressed, because we too must have looked terrible to him. After some time he reported as a cook and had to work for the SS. If they did not like the food they would keep his head emersed under water, until he almost suffocated.
I overheard this by chance when he told Mama. Sometimes, under mortal danger, he brought us some boiled potatoes and then ran immediately back to his barrack, where he would rack his brains to cook something for the SS they would like, so that he would not be tortured as a result. Back home in Karlsbad my parents used to own a large Kosher restaurant, but naturally Papa had not done the cooking as he had paid kitchen staff for that purpose.
One day Ruth observed another "transport"' arrive at Birkenau's railway station. Its passengers were Hungarian Jews, who were immediately taken away to be gassed. She and a girlfriend were caught observing the arrival of the "transport" and were punished by having their heads totally shaved again, after the hair had begun to grow a little after the initial shaving. Ruth returned to the barrack weeping. When I saw her I started to cry so hard that I could hardly calm myself. I could not understood why she had been punished, and the sight of her bald head was terrible to me. Only after several hours was I able to calm down, after one of the girls comforted me and suggested we should find a scarf for Ruth to wear on her head to hide her baldness. However, this incident caused me to fall into a deep depression again. I was totally dejected and always terrified that they would - G. forbid - catch Papa when he occasionally, briefly came to see us and brought us some food. Men who were caught visiting the women were whipped until they lost consciousness. I did not want this to happen to Papa.
The roll calls in Birkenau were terrible. They drove us from the barracks at half past four in the morning and had us stand at attention for hours at a time, in the freezing cold or in the burning heat. Many women could not endure this and fainted, being already extremely weak due to the lack of food, and the cold. My feet were totally frostbitten. I only had wooden slippers to wear which were constantly falling off my feet, because during the winter the ground in Birkenau became heavy mud in which my slippers became stuck.
Mama tore her blanket into strips and swathed my legs to keep them a little warmer but my legs became steadily worse. It was terribly cold, -20°C, (i.e. 20 degrees Centigrade below zero) and my frostbites became open wounds, infected and with pus. It is a miracle to me that - over the years, here in Israel - this has totally disappeared, but I am still fragile in winter and only wear boots, because those places that were frostbitten still occasionally hurt. The local sun has accomplished miracles.
Birkenau's latrines were also appalling. Deep pits were dug separated in the middle by a narrow board and divided by a transparent canvas fabric, so that men and women could see each other through the material. This was so degrading and inhuman, because all one could see were the naked, emaciated behinds of the men. As everyone was suffering from a watery diarrhoea, as a result of the long period of under-nourishment, this was the sight we saw when we went to the latrines.
I will never forget a woman, I believe her name was Kleinova, who always carried her bread ration around with her, so that she would not die of hunger. One day her bread ration fell into the dirty latrine and out of sheer despair she crept down into the pit, or more exactly let herself fall into it, to recover her bread ration. That she and the bread were disgustingly defiled was of no concern to her. The animal instinct of survival was stronger than that of all human values.
I saw this same Kleinova woman die next to me a few months later in Bergen-Belsen. It is a miracle that she stayed alive so long, because she had literally eaten nothing at all, while only hoarding and storing rations. I will never foreget this incident with the latrine. People simply became animals.
The daily roll calls which lasted hours were totally senseless. Occasionally they were called two to three times a day. Their only function was to annoy us. More and more people collapsed from exhaustion. They were simply shot and taken away. The eternal barbed wire was our only view and all camps were surrounded by high tension wire. Many people committed suicide on the wire. They simply crawled up to the wire and died immediately, glued to it. I can still clearly recall a young girl who did this. One moment I had seen he alive and the next moment she had chosen death by reaching out and clutching the electrified wire. This was hell in its purest form, and is impossible for anyone to understand without experiencing it.
Mengele ("Angel of Death")
One day Mengele appeared in person and asked the female barrack leader whether there were any twins amongst the girls. As nobody ever knew whether these questions meant life or death, she did not want to take the responsibility upon herself and asked loudly, "Are there any twins amongst you?".
By chance I had become the best friend of two of the girls who were twins. They slept on the bunk beds on the third level opposite me and we had become very friendly as we were of the same age. Suddenly I heard the two girls reply, "Yes, we are twins". Mengele came closer. They had to come down from the bunks and stand directly in front of him. He looked at them very carefully. Their freckled faces were almost identical.
All Mengele said, was, "Come with me. You will be back here again by to night". My instincts told me that I would never see my friends again and indeed I never did. I cannot even inquire about them since I have forgotten their names. I have thought a lot about those two girls. Who knows what experiments this brute carried out on them and how they had to die.
Again rumours started, that they needed people for clearing-up operations after the aereal bombardments in Germany, but then who could believe that we would get out of Birkenau alive?
I believe it was spring when my dear Mama said to me, "Look Laluschka, look at that little bird flying there. I tell you that this a living sign that with the Lord's help we will get out of here alive. I marvelled at her optimism because I did not believe in miracles any more and only asked very softly and weakly, "Do you really believe this, Mami?". She replied, "Oh yes, I definitely believe that G. will help us." This is the answer my poor, starving, yet admirably devout, dear little Mama gave me. How terrible she must have felt to see her children so miserable and hungry.
In fact it was on 5th July, on Mama's birthday, when Mengele personally carried out the "selection". Again we were standing in line, four rows deep and had of course not the faintest idea what was going to happen to us next. Anyhow, we stayed together and rubbed each others cheeks, so that we looked healthier and more capable of work. While we were standing there awaitng our destiny I saw Papa standing at a distance watching the selection process. At that very moment I knew that I would never see my dear Papa again, no matter where we were to go.
My Farewell to Papa
I tore myself away from my row and ran to him, not listening to the shouts of the women, that they would all be punished or killed because of my leaving the row. I hugged Papa with all my strength and knew instinctively that this was our last farewell. Then I walked calmly back to my row, feeling that I had said goodbye to Papa, who stood there weeping. It was fortunate for me that none of the SS people had seen me. We continued to stand and wait for what Mengele was to decide for us. Nobody knew at this point, which side, left or right, meant life or death. As if by a miracle all three of us were pushed to the same side and that is how we remained together.
I repeat, we did not know whether this selection meant life or death. We saw how children were torn
away from their mothers and to this day I vividly recall the mother's cries. After a long time of
uncertainty, standing in the burning heat without a bite to eat or a sip of water, we were led
through the women's camp, called F.K.L., to the railway station.
The barrack leader was more hyena than woman. She has us stand at attention for hours on end while she watched for someone to move.
There was a Viennese girl, called Martha, amongst us. She looked as though she was always smiling which so irritated the barrack leader that she has Martha kneel with both hands stretched upwards. She had to remain in this position, without moving, for some time, but again it appeared to the barrack leader that Martha was smiling. This made her even more furious and she gave Martha a brick to hold up in her stretched arms while still kneeling. I was standing facing her and until this day am unable to describe the pity and heartache I felt for her. I clearly saw that one can humiliate and degrade a human being to a degree lower than that of a worm. I totally lost any confidence in adults ever before I gained it. This was again a shocking experience for me. I will never forget this incident as long as I live. I have heard that Martha survived and is today living somewhere abroad.
I do not remember how long we had been standing at the railway station, but after a very long time of standing, we were herded into the cattle waggons. That is when Mama said to me, "You see, Laluschka, I told you that the little bird brought us the good news that we would get out of this hell. This has been the most beautiful birthday present of my life." Neither had she lost faith that she would see Papa again some day.
We were travelling into uncertainty. Though nobody knew where we were travelling, everyone said that it could not be anywhere worse than Auschwitz. Today I can no longer remember how long we rode in these cattle waggons, squeezed together like sardines. We had lost all sense of time. Many girls suffocated and when the cattle waggons were opened their dead bodies fell out.
We arrived in Hamburg, where they accommodated us near the port, where we had to engage immediately in clearance work after the aerial bombardments. As I was the youngest and could not keep up with the older girls they helped me with this hard work.
In Hamburg we had more water and were grateful that after such a long time we could finally wash and drink. Initially we even got a little more food, but then winter came. Again it snowed heavily and we had to shovel the snow from under a bridge in the icy cold. I can remember that during work one day I blacked out and fell into a sleep. Suddenly I felt someone wake me and I saw the faces of many women standing over me. I overheard them saying, "The little one almost froze to death". They let me lie down for a little longer and then several girls started massaging me and rubbing me, so that I started to feel my body, hands and feet again.
I felt miserable, totally depressed and without strength. I got up and continued to shovel snow
and wondered how it was possible to go on like this. Everything was so inhuman, always
connected with fear and one had to guard against the SS people noticing that one of us women felt
ill, so that they would not - G. forbid - declare her unfit for work as there was always the danger of
being sent back to Birkenau, which meant death by gas. The Germans constantly threatened us with
this fate. This caused us to work above and beyond our strength. Sometimes on our way from the camp
to work in spite of being so hungry we sang this marching song,
"This cannot upset a seaman, no fear, no fear, Rosemary.
We won't let our life be embittered, no fear, no fear, Rosemary".
Even the SS woman allowed us to sing as this caused us to march faster. And the song itself gave us more courage to live.
Sometimes we saw political prisoners, who of course enjoyed much better living conditions. On seeing us, wretched, hungry and in rags, they would sometimes throw us a cigarette or a piece of bread. I personally never dared pick up anything as I saw the greatest danger in everything. Girls who were lucky enough to pick something up, would usually share it with a neighbour or a friend. There was never any fighting among ourselves. It was terrible when we returned to camp at night. They searched us, even gyneacologically, to verify that we had not smuggled anything into the camp from the outside. The name of the barrack leader was Trude. She, together with camp commander Spiess, searched us very thoroughly and G. forbid, if they found a piece of potato peel or anything else. Then the person in question would receive 50 whippings on her naked behind in front of us all, and administered with the greatest pleasure by Spiess himself. Witnessing this saddened me so much, that for days on end I could not speak a word. Once, a friend of Mamas was beaten like this; she fainted and could not sit for weeks and was all swollen and moaned in pain.
The long period of undernourishment made us all suffer from furuncolosis. (A skin condition characterized by the presence of multiple boils). I personally had many furuncles, mostly under my arm pits and innumerable ones on my behind. Amongst us we had a pediatrician, Dr. Goldova, who had got hold of a scalpel somehow - probably through the SS - with which she used to treat us and squeeze out the pus. Of course there was no hygienic care, such as disinfection, therefore the pus boils multiplied, one disappearing while another appeared. Furuncolosis is contagious and very painful. I could not get rid of my furuncles (boils) for months. I also acquired a high fever as a result and had to be operated on. However, with superhuman strength, or possibly from the shear fear of being "liquidated", I returned to work. Though I had suffered tremendous pain, I did not want to bother anyone and suffered in silence, until miraculously I did heal. This really was one of the miracles which occured to me. Evidently G. helped me to get better, in order that I be able to live out my destiny.
We had many rats in our barrack, which would crawl over us at night. We had to get used to that too and learned to live with it.
One night, when we returned dead-tired from work, the camp was no longer there. It had been bombed by the British and totally wiped out; we had nowhere to put our heads.
Some girls, who for some reason had stayed in the camp that day, had been killed or injured. Our doctor had also been hit and injured. And one of our guards was lying there dead. I can still see the scene before my eyes. And that is how we came to be moved on again; again into uncertainty, without anything tangible, only fear in our souls, hungry and uprooted, not knowing what else was in store for us. And like a herd. The only thought I had, the one important thing, was to stay together with my mother and sister, because that was the one thing that kept us alive. Many women, who were alone, just did not care any more, they did not want to live any more and finally died of emotional exhaustion.
A Second Camp
So they accommodated us in another camp in Hamburg and straight away we began working again.
It was an icy cold day and even the SS woman had permitted us to improvise a small fire, so that we could warm our hands, which were stiff from the cold. Each of us had searched for a small piece of wood or paper, which we placed in a pail, which we found lying in the ruins of one of the houses, and lit a fire. The SS woman had the matches and after repeated efforts we succeeded in getting the wet pieces of paper and few pieces of wood to burn. Naturally, it made a lot of smoke and smelled badly, but we were happy and proud to have succeeded and the entire group stood around the pail, their hands stretched out towards the heat. We also moved our feet in order not to freeze.
All of a sudden, we heard - coming from the ruins - a man shouting, "What are you doing here, you Jewish swine? Get away from there, at once, you scum!". Of course, everybody was frightened, even our SS woman did not know who was behind the rubble. Everyone ran away as fast as they could and heard the man come closer. I happened to be the last to flee as I could no longer walk that fast. The man got hold of me and tipped the entire contents of the burning pail over my head and neck. I fell due to the pain and fear. All the other girls were ahead of me, only Mama turned round for me and when she saw me on fire, she carried me away with all her strength, and cried to the others for help.
This brought some of the girls who patted my rags with their hands in order to extinguish the fire. I was terribly burnt but I was lucky that I had been wearing a rag around my head, which prevented me from getting deep burns.
That evening, when we came back from work, camp commander Spiess even ordered that I be given a second helping of soup. However, I was so terrified and unhappy after the day's event, I could not eat it.
This same Spiess had once almost beaten Mama to death with a revolver, because Mama had found a piece of potato peel. She told me that he had wanted to shoot her, but possibly the revolver was not loaded and so he had beaten her head with it like a madman, until foam appeared at his mouth. For many weeks after Mama could not go to work and her head was terribly swollen.
My grief at not having Mama with me at work was considerable and I had the most terrible and fearful mental images, fearing that I would not find her again. But the camp leader kept her busy in the camp during her illness.
In the evening there was a total blackout in the camp, as Hamburg had been heavily bombed by the British. There had been very heavy aerial bombardments several times during the day and also at night and therefore we could not go to the latrines, because the darkness was so complete, that one could not see anything at all. This scared me a lot, as I could not find my way around, and did not want to wake Mama, who was so tired due to the heavy physical work. That is why I always tried to restrain myself, until the early morning. This kept me from sleeping as I had difficulty containing myself until the morning. In the morning, when we were finally allowed to go to the latrines, we of course lost half of it on the way.
We were covered in lice! We of course could not control them, because there was no possibility of keeping clean. On the pillar in our barrack was written, "One louse, your death" and was why we dared not show that we were full of lice; we furtively deloused one another, crushing the lice.
One evening, again dead tired after a heavy working day, we were standing in line with our tin bowls, in order to receive a little of the warm water, called soup. When it became my turn, I was already so hungry and exhausted from standing there that I simply thought that I could no longer go on. Finally the soup was in my bowl. I turned around in order to eat and stumbled in the dark. My entire soup was spilled and I was left with an empty bowl. I started to cry so hard that I shook all over. I did not dare to approach the camp leader in order to request a little more soup, and went to sleep terribly hungry having had no food all day.
We had become very emaciated since our arrival in Hamburg nine months previously. We had gone through terrible aerial bombardments, during which many of us cried, "Shma Israel" and often thought that this was the end for us. Adjacent to our camp was an industrial area which was the actual objective of the British air strikes.
Then came the day when the Allies drew nearer and we were evacuated once more. Squeeezed into cattle waggons again, I felt I was being smothered. The bang of the bolt being shut on the waggon remains in my ears to this day. After a few days, I cannot recall how many, the door was opened. Most of us were already half dead when we saw other trains with emaciated people in their striped camp uniforms. These people were completely unknown to us and were being evacuated from other concentration camps. Once out of the waggons we stood again in rows of four and that is how the death march started on foot. Again, we had no idea where we were being herded.
In the beginning it was somehow acceptable, mostly because we were happy to be in the fresh air and not crammed like cattle in the waggons. But as we progressed one of us would sit down by the road feet all swollen, not being able to continue any more. Those, who could not go any further, were simply shot on the spot. Further and further we went only with the strength of an iron will. I must emphasize again that if it had not been for my beloved Mama, who was by my side, I am sure I would not have survived this march. She gave me courage, she comforted me in my despair; she, who was in depair herself. She was my guardian angel. She also was mother to all the other girls who were alone, and she always found a word of comfort for them. All the girls sought to be near her and felt protected by her.
After many days of walking and after the slippers had fallen from many swollen feet, we arrived in Bergen-Belsen. Although we had absolutely no notion where we were we soon found out.
The very first sight we had of this ghastly camp was a huge mound of naked, dead people who were actually only skeletons.
I had not seen such a terrible and frightening sight even in Auschwitz. I immediately thought that within a few days we would end up the same way, stacked like these, as we would not be able to hold out much longer. As we had lost a number of women from exhaustion on our way, I felt that we too were nearing our end.
The ones who were still alive could move only very slowly; it was like a "slow motion film".
The Sound of Gunfire
There was absolutely nothing to eat. There was no water whatsoever. It was total chaos, the Germans having run away as the front drew closer and closer. We could hear artillery fire but nobody could estimate the distance from where it came. There was nobody to supervise us, or to ask any questions of.
Suddenly we saw Hungarian soldiers, or possibly Ukrainians, who had taken over the sentry boxes. They shot quite arbitarily all around and it appeared that they were happy when they hit someone. They took great pleasure and amusement in killing.
A few days later I personally witnessed one of these soldiers shoot at two sisters, who could
hardly crawl anymore. One of them died on the spot. The wailing of the surviving sister was
heart-rending. She could only whine and moan. We were "Muselmänner" (Muslims, a reference to the
30 day fast of Ramadam).
Emaciated, lifeless, thrown together in filthy barracks destiny brought me together again with the woman whose bread ration had fallen into the latrine in Auschwitz. She died on the floor one morning in my presence. Her daughter sat next to her, indifferent and numb. We had been approximately two weeks in this snakepit, without eating or drinking. People died like flies; they simply collapsed. Death was everywhere, and everywhere death was anticipated.
One morning we heard tanks and someone came into our barrack and said, "Kids, we are free!!!" But nobody moved, because nobody had the strength left to be happy. We had become so apathetic. It is impossible to describe the condition we were in.
Then began the typhoid fever epidemic because the British on entering the camp with their tanks, had thrown canned food and bread to the people. Those who could still crawl ate some of it and the results were terrible. These people simply died like flies, not being used to food any more. Mama, my guardian angel, had immediately warned us in a soft voice, "Children, do not touch this. After being hungry for so many years, the stomach is not able to digest this food. Wait and eat slowly. Eat only tiny portions."
I personally could not eat a thing. I had contracted typhoid fever and my temperature was very high. Mama and Ruth had typhoid too. Again it was a miracle that we survived. All around us people were dying. There was terrible misery and despair everywhere. I was so weak, that I could no longer speak and I could only hear as if sounds were reaching me through a thick veil. Some time later, I really believe it was a miracle, my temperature fell.
The British soldiers taught us to walk again, just as one would teach a small child. So we stayed on for some time more, until they organized repatriation back to our native countries.
We gained a little more strength, thanks to the many vitamin pills, bread and milk. I thought again of my dear Papa, who was most certainly no longer alive. He had been alone all the time with no news of us. It was indeed very sad when we reached Prague and of course did not find him there. And thus we received from the Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC)) clothes that made us look more human, and food. Our hair grew once again. We began to look like human beings again.
The heaps of naked, skeletal corpses, before being thrown into mass graves, will always remain vivid in my memory. Bergen-Belsen was a ghastly camp, without hope or life.
On our way from Bergen-Belsen to Prague, after being liberated, we made several stops. When the train stopped we were able to leave the train for a few minutes.
One of these stops was in Pilsen (Plzen) in Czechoslovakia. When the people saw us, they asked us from where we came and about the meaning of the tattooed numbers on our arms. We told them that we had spent three and a half years in concentration camps and that we had gone through hell. Upon which these people asked us, "And why didn't you stay where you were? Who needs you here?".
We returned to the train, emotionally shattered. This was the welcome to freedom that we received, for which we had so desperately waited.
Back in Prague we did not know what to do. Transport was being arranged to Palestine and thus Mama registered me with the Youth Aliya. She considered that at least one of us should take this step to freedom, after not having found Papa again. My eldest sister, Esther, had lived in Palestine for the last seven years. She lived in Netanya and I went to stay with her there.
After arriving in Haifa, we were again detained by the British in the Atlit detention camp. I had to stay there for three months, once again behind barbed-wire. Being only 16 years old, I could not understand that British troops, who had liberated us and taught us to walk again, detained us once more. I cried day and night and could not accept this as I had believed that I was really free.
Fortunately, I had good friends, who also came from various concentration camps. They were mostly single people who had applied to join a kibbutz. The day finally came when Esther came to collect me. She took me to her home, where she lived in one room with her husband and son.
My terrible traumatic memories will remain with me always. To this day, everything remains very much alive in me.
My dearest Mama will always be sacred to me. G. bless her memory. She was my guardian angel during those atrocious times.
Israel, December 1985.