Did you make any friends in the camps?
There were no opportunities to make friends in the camps other than those who are very close to your bunk-bed. Because, we couldn't just meander around, and go and introduce ourselves. We were constantly under watch, whether it was at the work place or inside the barrack. However, I know that I found it easier to talk to someone who spoke the languages that I spoke than to try my two years of high school German with someone-it took at lot of energy to do that. Besides, we couldn't just go around and visit people even in our bunk-our barracks, let alone to other barracks.
However, I do know that Anna Frank was where I was in Auschwitz. And that she was transferred out just about three or four months-I think it was three months-before I was transferred out to Bergen-Belsen. And she was exactly six months older than I was. Now, her fate was totally different from mine, and when she lost her sister, she succumbed, and died as well. I was luckier.
I transferred to Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitz. And in researching, I was able to find the dates of all the trains that were transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen. And it was from process of elimination that I was able to find out when I was transferred. I knew always that it was somewhere at the end of December or the beginning of January, approximately. But from the Bergen-Belsen education center I learned that I was on my way on New Year's Eve; actually, I arrived in Bergen-Belsen on New Year's Eve.It was already the new year, 1945. So every time there's a new year since that I think back of what it must have been like.
First of all, I didn't know for many years that it was New Year's Eve. And, it's interesting how I found that out. I knew, I always said all those years, that it was some time, either in the end of December or the very beginning of January but I didn't know the very exact date until I did some research and I wrote to let's see I'm not sure whether it was the Bergen-Belsen Education Center who supplied me with this information, or Arleson, in Germany, and they were very helpful in giving me some information. Anyway, this information listed all the trains that left Auschwitz Birkenau from October on, including January. And I knew that one was too early and the other one would have been too late. And so it had to be from process of elimination, I knew that it was, I was on this train at the end of December.
I arrived in Bergen Belsen on New Years Eve, actually by then it was New Years Day, but still the night time, in the wee hours of the morning. So far as the rituals are concerned, I just think of it. And, since I've learned this I haven't gone dancing. Of course now I can't dance, but I did in my younger days and it turned into a celebration. I made it. You know, I try to concentrate on the more positive side of the Holocaust. I mean, the way it affected me, as opposed to what could have happened. Because even the way it affected me, is far from being positive, but still everything is relative and it could have been so much worse. I can't walk, but I am in excellent health, so I am satisfied, I am happy with that.
Our cousins, who survived up to that point yet, were my closest friends. They were also closest at home, but here we were very close. Their parents, the father was taken away much earlier, and the mother was sent directly to the gas chamber with the younger siblings. My aunt had seven daughters, and only four of them were allowed to live, the other three went with my aunt Sarolta straight into the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau .
After we were-after the liberation, when we had more strength and we had more food. And remember in the camp too we had to work twelve hours a day not including the time that it took us to go to work, march to work and back at night-and this on three hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty calories a day, was a starvation diet. Long after I was in the camps, one day when I learned about calories, I decided to count the calories, approximately, of all-the best day that I can remember during my incarceration period, and I came up with these figures: three hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty calories. And I think if I say four hundred and fifty that I am exaggerating somewhat. So this, I think, gives you an idea of how weak one is on such a small starvation diet. And nothing nutritious either.
Consequently, it affected my health. I had, to date, thirteen operations, and they were basically malnutrition related operations. My spine didn't go properly, and my shoulders didn't go properly from malnutrition. I reached a point where I could not raise my arm beyond this level (lifts her hands to about the height of her shoulders), I could not comb my hair or wash my face unless I did it this way (leans forward and cups her face in her hands), and I had to be relieved from the tremendous pain that I suffered. First this shoulder, and then three years later my right shoulder.
Can you talk about some of the time between January 1st, 1945 and liberation. What are some of the key moments?
I went through six additional camps since Auschwitz. And, one was Bergen-Belsen, where I turned fifteen years old, without any celebration whatsoever. And, from there I was taken to Hanover, Germany where I worked on an assembly line making gas masks. Hitler feared, Hitler wanted each of his subjects to have a gas mask, fearing biological warfare-poison gas attacks is what they called it at the time-from the allies, which, however, never materialized. You must know that. But, he feared that this would happen, and instead of murdering us all, they ordered us into their factories to work, because there was a tremendous manpower shortage in Germany, and we were to help with the German war effort. I didn't know how to do anything; I was only a student in my life. I was very young. But some of the older inmates caught on very quickly and were able to do much more, I think, than I was.
For example, for example, I totally forgot what I did, what kind of work I did at the Continental Gummiwerke in Hanover, Germany during the Holocaust. And I just couldn't remember. And one day I was watching the news on television and there was some big news about this Bhopal, India accident. They were transporting dangerous liquids across, well and then it spilled and a lot of people died in that incident. And so we in the U.S. became rather very concerned. Well what do we do? What sort of precautionary measures do we take when we transport this very same type of liquid from one state to another? And here I watched someone from I believe Georgia, explain how he transports this liquid in huge tanks on our freeways and highways. And in doing that he demonstrated, he put on a gas mask and after that my mind just left the news.
And I knew exactly the kind of work I did at the Continental Gummiwerke. For we were making gas masks for the German folk. Hitler wanted everyone in the country to have a gas masks so we slave laborers did the work. They brought us out of the concentration camps and put us into, into these factories. And in this case the Continental Gummiwerke. Later they denied that they had slave laborers. To my face. It was incredible when I came back. Thank you.
After Bergen-Belsen I was sent to Braunschweig, which is an industrial city, and during the war, it was a meat industrial city-canning meat. And during the war, all the meat was sent to the soldiers, so they had a canning industry with fish, canned fish. And every morning we would march to work and back, and there we would find a huge pile of, I mean a huge pile of fish bones. The inmates could smell it from way back. I only can tell you that they smelled it because I couldn't smell. I lost my sense of smell in Auschwitz. And so, I would relate to what they told me. And there was always some brave soul who ran out of the line, closest to the pile, and grabbed a handful, and ran back into the line, and we adjusted the line, it may not be the line where she ran out of, and she would give us some of these fish bones.
And for years, "I wondered, What kind of fish could this be?" It was soft. And it was-you know, I know herring, not herring, um-sardines from home, would be edible with the bones, but these were at least two, three times as big as a sardine bone. And many years after the Holocaust, when I did some research, I found out that because they didn't have meat and that they had to revert to fish for the civilians, they cooked it first, and filleted it. And of course the bones were all-were put outside to the garbage to-for the garbage pile to be picked up at sometime. And I can tell you, you could hardly wait to get to that pile of fish bones because they were soft and they were very good. And that's what we ate.
But, during the day we had the job of clearing the broad boulevards of Braunschweig, so that German artillery and vehicles could pass through. I did the same thing in Hamburg. The tall buildings just fell and covered the boulevards, and so from Hanover I was sent to Hamburg. And it was really strange because Hamburg was the exit point from Europe for all my relatives who came to the United States to freedom. And here, I was there as a slave laborer, clearing their streets, so that again German artillery and vehicles could pass through.
From there, I was sent to a small town called Beendorf, B-E-E-N-D-O-R-F. This is population eight hundred something; I remember seeing the plaque at the entrance of the town. But it was a very important town for Germany, for under a sizable mountain, in a salt mine, was this huge underground factory. It manufactured parts for the V1 and the V2 rockets. These were the missiles used by the Germans during World War II to bombard Europe, and some of them actually hit the parliament building in London and caused considerable damage.
I was learning to make precision instruments for the V1 and V2 rockets-and I was chosen for this in an incredible way. In the previous camp we all had to raise our hands, like that. And we thought we were being punished and I had no idea why else one would have to raise one's hand-and, industrialists in civilian clothes came in to this camp with the SS, and they were looking at our hands, and they would say "du," or "du." They would pick hands, and I was among them and we had to step forward. I learned much later that I was picked out because I had small hands.
When I learned that, it was a very interesting way that I learned it. I went back to Germany because I was called to do some work in schools, to give my eye witness account in their-in the university and high schools and so on. The first time I was asked to come back, I had a phone call from a student who was working on his PhD thesis. He wanted to meet me and interview me. I said, "Okay". So he came over with his recorder and interviewed me, and I said, "What are you writing your thesis on?" He said, "On Hitler's underground factories." I said, "Is Beendorf among them?" He said, "Yes, and that's why I want to talk to you." So I am the first one that he has ever met and he has been trying to find someone who worked there.
So I said, "I'll tell you what: You share your information with me that you have from the German books, and I'll share my eyewitness account with you of Beendorf. "Great," and that is where I learned about the nitty gritty details about the job, and the temperature, and the spacious place, and how even the temperature was, and how many civilians worked there-which I had no idea, I just knew that there was civilians-and so on. So he said, "And you had to raise your hands, right?" I said, "That's right, how'd you know that?" He said, "Because I know that's how you were selected for your work."