Can you describe your experience in the ghetto?
It was the horror of horrors up to that point. The dehumanization process was well in progress. In the synagogue there were a couple of toilets, but still all these people, thousands! When we were transferred to the brickyard, there were no toilets at all! They did not provide us with any temporary facilities at all. There was absolutely no water except for one spigot. Men would stand in line in the brick factory with buckets, if you happened to bring along a bucket – they're metal – and bring a bucket of water into our area. We were kept in these long narrow sheds. They had open sides and had a roof. They were beautiful sheds for bricks, but we were human beings.
The walls were empty or filled with bricks to be dried out and stored irregularly. It wouldn't be that one side would be way up there and keep the wind out and the other would be down. It was just zigzagging on both sides of these sheds. The ground where we had to stay – and it was very narrow – was filled with red dust from the bricks.
My gosh! In no time at all we had red dust in crevices we didn't know we had. It was horrible, and no water to wash ourselves in. The little water that was brought in by men in buckets, we would have a little dish from home and it would be poured into that little dish. We would pass it on to each other to have a sip of water. Old people, sick people, children. Children cried all the time, they had soiled diapers. Babies, there was no way, this was long before the disposable diapers of today. It was very, very uncomfortable, but we didn't realize that it could get even worse.
Old people had a very, very hard time there. Some people really died because perhaps they realized that the end of the world is coming for them. If they are taken out of their beds and put into this red powdery soil, they're capable of doing anything. That's the way they talked. But, the younger people told them not to think of the worst, not to think of the worst, that perhaps it will be better.
Then at night the trains began to come. We were actually – my family and I – were among the very first to be shipped out. This I didn't know until much later, when I looked up the dates of the transports from this ghetto. At nighttime the people didn't know that we were being transferred, and they shipped us out. Within a week or two everyone, the whole ghetto was emptied. There were thousands, many thousands of people in this ghetto. In Beregszász alone there were about 10,000 Jews, so you can imagine. We also didn't realize how lucky we were to have been able to be in our homes as long as we were. We were among the last Jews to be shipped out to Auschwitz.
When we arrived in Auschwitz after four days of horror in cattle cars, where not all of us could even sit down and stretch out, many of us had to stand up and lean on each other's shoulders. With us was a small barrel of water and a bedpan. Someone held up a blanket to be modest about this, but there was no way you could be modest about any of these natural human functions. It was incredible. Arriving in Auschwitz seemed like a relief from the trains.
It was on a Friday night when we arrived. They kept us locked in all night. The following morning, as daylight broke, Dad looked through the little cracks in the upper right hand corner there was a little window, but you couldn't see it unless you stood on somebody's back. There was a screen over it. Dad looked through the cracks and that little window, and he was lowered. He said, "I don't like what I see." "There are tall electric wire fences," Dad said, "and rows, and rows, and rows, of long barracks." The name of the place, we later learned, was Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was inside the camp.
To get into the camp itself, the train had to go through this huge gate. We landed at the platform. There were no buildings, like a station. Just a series of train lines, tracks. This is the famous place in Birkenau where all the victims had arrived [within the killing center].
From there we were separated; the men one way, the women another way. Then each group was separated: the young children, the sick and the disabled, the old went one way. And I think the guideline was approximately 16 or 15 years age, and between that age and about 50 roughly. Once in a while a few slipped through on both ends. So that all those up to the age of about 16 and over 50 had to go one way, and the rest of us the other way.
I was sent with my mother and Annuska, who was 12 years old at this time, was sent of with the young and the old and the disabled and the sick. We didn't even say goodbye to each other thinking that we would see each other at least at mealtime. We were told to march a certain way, and mother and I just did that. Soon, as we were still walking soon after we were separated from Annuska, there was this wagon, pulled by two horses, catching up from behind. The wagon was pulled by two horses. It had rubber tires and a flat top, which carried all the bundles and luggage from the train, this huge pile, and there was the driver. Much to our surprise, as it caught up with us, there was Annuska sitting on its back with her feet hanging down looking at the rows for mother and me. When she saw us, she just hopped off and joined us. Mother was very angry that she did this, because she thought that we would have to work very hard, judging by the age group, while the old people will take care of the young people, and the old people and the babies. I don't know how else one could rationalize this, except that nothing was rational in Auschwitz, nothing.
We were in the Birkenau section now. This was the death camp of Auschwitz, the Birkenau section, where all the gas chambers and crematoriums were located just a short distance away. And as the people marched here from where they got off the train, where they had to leave all of their belongings, there to our horror we saw these huge, huge electric wire fences. "Why would they have electric wire fences." we wondered? I know I wondered, "If they're just going to keep us in here like prisoners?" We didn't even realize we were prisoners, even though we already were.
When you were first in Auschwitz, like the first time you were in the camp, what preoccupied your mind other than what you were experiencing?
In the very beginning? Well in the very beginning we had no idea that we were in a death camp. We had no idea that there was such a thing. I never heard of a genocide before. Having been a young girl of fourteen, barely fourteen, I might add. What do fourteen-year-olds do? From my region we used to sing a lot. And we always knew the latest tunes, having heard them on the radio. My older brothers would bring them home from the city and would teach my sister and me, the two young sisters at home, the new melodies, the new songs. When we were deported to Auschwitz we decided to make it more pleasant for the old timers and for the others.
Ten of us got together on top of my bunk. Understand that in order to do this, a population shift had to take place. In other words, there couldn't be more than ten or twelve people on a bunk, so my mother had to leave and a few other people. My sister stayed and we invited those who wanted to participate with us. On top of my bunk we decided to remember this moment, remember this time. So we composed a song. Neither of us knew music, but we enjoyed singing. We all spoke, had one common language among us and we spoke other languages too. We chose Hungarian, since that, every one of us knew. Since we were not musicians we chose a melody that we all knew as well. So all we had to really do is come up with the words. We had no pencil and no paper. Each time we composed a line, we sang that line, over and over again. And then we'd compose the second line and so on, until we had, I forget, about four verses, thirteen lines all together. With each line we would go back to the beginning and we would sing. And this happened for a few days. We sang other melodies that we knew.
The one that we composed? Oh yes I remember it very well. We took the melody from the Hatikvah which is now the national anthem of Israel. But that song was before the State of Israel was born, obviously. And that song we knew in different languages. And we sang it in Hungarian, very often, but the words now changed to our experiences in the camp. It describes what life is like in the camp. I remember that song very well.
Can you sing it?... there was one that you sang last year?
What is the song about?
Basically, somewhere in this world, there's a place with lots of barracks, where they hold us. That contain the Jewish people. And whether the weather is dry or wet we are forced to stand for hours, in Zaehlappell, meaning "head count." We work long hours and our duties are heavy. But work we must. And the song gives us hope that, we will be strong and live up to do our best to overcome this, so that the time will come when we will return into the homes of our loved ones. Into our homes and into the arms of our loved ones. This is our song and it will be until we die. And we will never forget that we are Jews. What I love about it is that it shows that we have no idea that we were in a death camp. We thought that there would be a time, if we would just keep up with our strength, when we will return into our homes, where we came from and that our loved ones would be waiting for us there. We will return into their arms. Little did we know it would take another a few days before we learned that most of them are no longer alive.That they had been gassed and cremated in Auschwitz- Birkenau
Annuska saved her life by doing this. Annuska, we realized later, would have been gassed and cremated within an hour and a half. So, we learned later from the old timers what happened to all those who went the other direction, the direction into which she was sent. She had to prove herself many times in Auschwitz, in selections where she would be picked out almost every time, because of her young age. The Kapo, the head of the group, our group, would tell the officer who was doing the selections, Dr. Josef Mengele, that she is a very good worker, please don't take her from us. And so she would be excused. They would yield to her request.
Something happened one day that I'll never forget. One of the young girls who was in the group, one of the ten of us, just stood up on that little stool that was around and sang her song, at which time the Kapo came and gave her a big slap in the face. The young girl just flew off this little stool. We were just horrified! Here they seemed to have enjoyed this session. And she, the Kapo, said, "Where do you think you are, in a resort place? This is a death camp! You see the smoke stack over there? That's where your loved ones have been gassed and burned and the smoke is the smoke from their bodies!"
We just stared at her. We just couldn't believe what she was saying. How cruel she is! There's no such a thing in our minds, we just couldn't understand that there would be such a thing. Slowly the realization came to us about all of these little bits of information that some of the old timers were trying to tell us. We thought it was because they were jealous of us, because we had just came from home four weeks before and we still looked quite good, even though we thought we were filthy. It turned out that they were trying to gently break the news to us that this is a death camp, this is a death factory. Indeed our families had been gassed and cremated. The smoke in those chimneys were our families' smoke. This was one of the things that set us back. Obviously we didn't sing after that. Luckily we sang a few songs before. I will never forget that day.
We went through a number of Dr. Mengele's dreaded selections where we would have to remove our clothes on the pretext of a medical checkup. During the time between while we stood in line waiting for Dr. Mengele to decide who should live, and who should die - with his glove on, and a little stick in his hand - many people would just faint. It took a lot of energy to go through such excitement, and later on we no longer had this energy. Of course, if you fainted they just dragged you away. You were too weak. There was always another transport to replace anyone who did that. Right in front of me I saw all these people from our town taken away just like that. They went through, by this time, also a number of these selections, which would always happen spontaneously. We never would know, surprise selections. I can go on, but do you really want me to?
You speak of anger, like you were angry in your dreams at someone at one time, but were you ever angry during the camps, during the ghetto or did you want to lash out at the SS men?
We had to hold our tongues in the camps or we would feel the crack of the whip. If we wanted to live that's what we had to do. I'm sure I must have, I don't remember, but I must have many many times. I also knew that you don't talk back and you just do as you're told if you can and maybe, maybe you will survive this. This was what I was reading. This was what my mind understood that I need to do.
Did it eat you up inside knowing that you couldn't speak back?
The injustice of it all is what was infuriating, definitely. According to the witness who saw my brother killed, Viktor – I never told this to anybody, but the witness said that my brother was so angry that he was ready to just take something and kill the SS for some cruelties that he committed. He paid the price.