The effects of hunger as I remember it, it makes you feel as though you are drunk. I have never been drunk, but I supposed this is what it must feel like. You are weak, and you are dazed. You almost can't care anymore. It's very easy to give up. If you have that little sparkle in you that I had it just kept you going until the very end.
I think I just had to do this for my mother. Still I was wrestling with that throughout my camp life. I was still hoping to see my mother again. I always felt that she is alive and that I am the one who is in danger. Of course I didn't know she was in danger until the end as well and so was my sister. It's just the way it seemed at the time to this - by this time - 15-year old that I was.
It feels as though you are going to faint anytime. Your stomach is totally in and it feels as though it is going to stick to your ribs or to your backbone. It feels as though when your tongue is parched and that it is going to stick to the roof of your mouth. And how am I going to get it down. It is a very strange feeling. You have no control over anything. You make gestures that you didn't want to make, and you feel stiff, almost like you're automated. I can't remember it all, but I remember these helpless feelings. And your stomach grumbles all the time. It feels as though you can just topple any minute and never get up unless you get some help. That's the best I can do.
How did you deal with your period?
Oh, that is a very good question. In Auschwitz they put something in our soup that they called "bromo," something "bromo." For years I remembered it and then I totally forgot and it came back again a few years ago. I don't know whether that's it's full name or whether there were any more syllables to it. We all lost our periods. But there were exceptions. Here and there there were people who did not, and my mother was one of them. She would be bleeding periodically, but it also wasn't regular. Not until I became older and realized that "Gee, I am now 50, I am going through the change in life. I wonder how old my mother was?" And she was just that age when she was in Auschwitz. I said "probably mother didn't get her period, but she was going through the change. And how that works mechanically, I have no idea - or physiologically. But I think that is what she had. It was dangerous to bleed because if you're found then you could be taken out for experiments. "How come this worked on the others and not on this person?" And that was our fear about mother bleeding at the time, not knowing that she's really going through the change, because I went through it at the same time.
Did you witness any spiritual or religious resistance when you were in any of the camps.
Yes, I think all of us have. Some of us went totally this way or totally that way. There were extremes about our feelings. Most of us were angry many times at God. We'd say "Please God, if you are there, please help us, this is the time for your miracles that read about. Why can't you show us your miracles?" I know that I was angry, not throughout the camp life, but when I had very, very bad times, and when I had to hack it alone. It was hard, and then I realized that in fact, God really is my closest friend. In spite of everything around me that I have to believe in God because God must be there and that God only knows what this means and why and I am too young to know the answers. And this is how I just didn't permit myself after awhile to do that because I always felt weaker when I lost hope, just a short time even.
I saw women who were very devout. They would go to the corner of the barrack and they would pray so deeply. It was really touching. Some other inmates would say, "She's crazy, there is no God anymore. When you see that, and there are gas chambers, that couldn't be any God." Here I am hearing both sides, I'm seeing this, and I think she is really saving herself by doing this. I really knew that in the end this person is going to survive. And that person is just not, because it took a lot of strength to believe that God is not there. And you just can't keep up that strength, you just couldn't keep up that strength. Somehow the woman, or the women, there were a number of them, and they even prayed like men, they would close their eyes and they would move back and forth in prayer. I didn't hear a sound but I could just hear the prayer in my imagination. I knew they were talking to God, and they felt satisfied. It will better as if they were thoroughly convinced that we are going to get out here when it looked totally hopeless.
Was there any point in your times in the camp where you thought there might not be a God or you questioned God?
Yes, I questioned God, and I was angry at God but I always came back while I was in camp. There were many inmates just didn't, gave up on God. And to this day I know some survivors who never could find God again. Thank God I felt that I couldn't live that way early enough before I destroyed myself from within. God is a very important part of my life today. Even though I am secure I feel I need God, God gives me strength in a way I could never explain. And I feel good after, it's nurturing, it's nourishing. It leads me to the right path. It teaches me to live a good, righteous life. By righteous I mean just do the good things in life, things that help humanity. It's always in the uppermost in mind that whatever I do in life has to be to improve the status quo.
Did you practice or celebrate any religious holiday?
What's interesting about your question is the SS always knew when it's a holiday because they always did something extreme on the holidays. Now we didn't know when the holidays were, the men knew it. So whenever we marched by a column of men going in the opposite direction, here and there, they would whisper over, in two days it's such and such holiday, or whatever, two weeks, or whatever the time was. I remember, I was in camp for Shavuot, that's when we received the Torah - we celebrate having received the Torah on Sinai, and the men would whisper when the holiday is. So in our minds, I know in my mind I felt that we have to celebrate because if men lived by the commandments that we are celebrating, that we would not be in this predicament today. That is what it amounted to me at the time. I was just fifteen. I know I said this several times, but sometimes I wonder, gee, for fifteen, why is this the most important thing that comes to my mind, to be humble, to live an honest and good life, and love thy neighbor as thyself, if that's possible, do it.
I was there for Chanukah, and Purim and Pesach - Passover. These were the holidays I spent in the camps. Oh, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of course in the fall of 1944. I was in Auschwitz at the time. The others were much more minor holidays. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement - they were very important holidays. In fact some of the inmates did not even eat their bread or they held onto it for a few hours. I think I did that, I can't remember, but I think I held onto my bread for few hours, hoping nobody is going to steal it from me. That was going to be the way - that had to be enough because fasting all day was just too much for our predicament. And God would want us to live and not get weaker and die under the circumstances. It's just like in our normal life, we believe that if you have to take medications, you take medications with water on Yom Kippur because that is going to make you feel better and that is allowed. But to destroy human life, no.
Did you have any religious rituals that you practiced in the camp?
Yes, actually I've, many times, before I would go to sleep I would say the Sh'ma, the Sh'ma Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. It means "Here, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." So this is the concept of one God, which was passed on to Christianity and Muslim. Because, you know, before that there were idols that were worshipped and I would go to sleep to that. And this is the prayer that a Jew says before he goes to sleep forever. And not having known when we would wake up or whether we would wake up or not in the morning, it just gives you solace and peace of mind just knowing that you said it.
And there were other little prayers. Sometimes something good would happen and I would say another prayer just to myself. But there were actually inmates who went close to the wall, and they would pray devoutly, you know, in the back, or the side of the barrack. They would pray devoutly, shaking, you know moving back and forth, eyes closed, and you could see that they're really praying. They would be so emaciated, and sometimes I'd wonder how can they stand up anymore, and I think there was some inner strength that these people had who believed that kept them going, you know? Whereas many times, people who were, who still had a little meat on them, would just collapse and die, or they didn't want to live, they would give up. Now, I cannot, I do not have a clear-cut answer as to how many or which, but this was very obvious to me, as a young girl. And I felt this myself. Faith, I think is very important.
Why did the men know when the holidays were?
You see the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar and they knew how to figure and they were able to keep track of these things much better than most women. I knew certain rules about it but I could never remember it for many different reasons. One of them being I couldn't concentrate on that long enough to even figure it out. There were just too many things in between that were much more important and had to do with saving my life.