Back to when you were liberated, can you describe that day?
Liberated! Oh! That was a joy I was not to enjoy because we were about to be shot - I am going back to that. What happened that they suddenly gave us a handful of sugar and a handful of raw macaroni? And that was the biggest question in my mind about what happened, until really about less than five years ago that I finally found a book which described this rescue mission. So we were taken to Denmark first by these vehicles, called the White Fleet. I am going about this backwards. OK. Back to the shooting.
We were ordered to get back into the cattle car, apparently, because they carried me back into the cattle car. By that time the dead people were pushed out and I still don't know today what they did with the sick people. The rescue mission, by Count Folke Bernadotte, who was the head of the Swedish Red Cross and a member of the Swedish royal family, was trying to liberate the Scandinavian prisoners out of Ravensbrück concentration camp, from the last camp I was in. And he spoke directly with Himmler about it. And first he was told, "No, let them all die." But Bernadotte did not want to go back to his country. He stayed in Berlin during those last terrible days of the war. During which time, a few days later - maybe a week or two later - Heinrich Himmler sent and emissary to bring Bernadotte to him, that Himmler wants to talk to Bernadotte.
So he came and Himmler had something else in mind however. He told Bernadotte, that he wants him to become a go-between for a separate peace treaty between the Allies - except for the Soviet Union - and Germany. He was told that this will not be a piecemeal peace treaty, this will have to be a general overall peace treaty - that the Allies will not do anything without the Soviet Union, and that we are in on this together. And Bernadotte, in bringing this report back to Himmler, said, that "Himmler, do yourself some good because it's a matter of days when the war will take a big turn and when the Allies come they will string you up. Let these people go." And Himmler told Bernadotte to take them out of Ravensbrück. In the meantime they assembled the Scandinavian prisoners in Ravensbrück from various other concentration camps. And along with them they permitted about 12-13,000 people to be released. And they were other than Scandinavians.
And so it happened that I fell into this group when they caught up with our train and liberated us. The train actually had to go up north to Denmark and I was told that they dumped us on the other side of the boarder and the White Fleet rescue mission had to go back to Ravensbrück to pick up other prisoners. And from that point where we were dumped - and I have absolutely no recollection, I was still out from the beating - when I woke up I was already approaching Copenhagen, I was traveling through the Danish countryside. I remember hearing voices, first of all I heard that we are free and soon we will be in Copenhagen, and I heard a German soldier say, "You are lucky you are free, I have to go back to face the music." That sort of thing. And I thought I was hallucinating, because throughout my incarceration period, there were many stories that were not true, and after all we were not exposed to any news whatsoever in any form. And so I think the inmates must have invented some of it just to keep our hopes up.
So it was, I remember entering Copenhagen and all these people standing at the station waving little Danish flags and brown bags, they were behind barricades. And I heard the church bells ringing. All the church bells were on. And I was so moved, I couldn't believe this could be true and that people are there smiling at us behind barricades. They really want us to be free. And we made it. And I looked around and there were dead people all around us. These were inmates who just couldn't - they were so weak they couldn't live long enough to enjoy it. And of course once we ate and ate ate, and became terribly ill from overeating and some of them died. I don't think I even touched mine. I reached the point where I wasn't hungry anymore and I think what I saw nourished my soul more than food ever could, just to see people smile at us.
When you were just being liberated did you ever feel that something bad might happen in the future, that there might be a relapse of like another Holocaust experience, that you were only liberated for a few months maybe and then something would happen again?
I don't know. I felt threatened for some time. But I, we had people talk to us that we may feel that way. And it did linger for some time until we learned to trust and, until we began to read that Germany is kaput, Germany has lost the war and, and they're not likely to rise again. And we were hoping that, if that's so then perhaps its people – that the German people – will have learned their lesson when they've learned all about the camps, certainly those who didn't know before.
I don't know, at times I still, I really feel that it, the Holocaust can happen again anywhere, anytime, to any people, any race and any color unless, unless we are on guard constantly to eradicate hatred and prejudice and discrimination among all human beings. Yeah, we have to learn our lives, I mean live our lives in such a way that we are kind to each other and respectful and prevent another Holocaust from ever happening again.
Do you think you would have survived five more days?
I would not have survived five more days. I was in such bad shape. I hadn't eaten for days. Many years later when we had a reunion I learned that I wasn't out for hours that I thought, but I was out for days because from the initial time when we had to go back to the cattle car instead of getting shot, that cattle car went from camp to camp nearby to pick more inmates because there was lots of room because so many died. That's what we did but I just wasn't aware of it.
In fact I visited some of these camps where we went and I had absolutely no recollection of any of it. I was hoping that perhaps it will trigger the memory, but the vision wasn't there to trigger it, I guess. This is my way of explaining this because I went back to all the other camps I was in and even one that has become an industrial park since and it's right by the seashore and I remember the contours and we found it and inquired and that's exactly where that camp was outside of Hamburg. But you wouldn't recognize it normally. All the landmarks were missing other than the seashore just the way it was carved out by the water, by the waves.
So what happened next.
When we arrived in Sweden we were taken to a beautiful high school with an olympic size swimming pool, where we were sprayed with DDT from head to toe. We were given new clothes and we showered and we started a new life there. But since we numbered into the thousands we were distributed into the various communities of the area. I was sent to the charming little town of Landskrona, which is right by the seashore and from there across the Öresund, the body of water separating Denmark from Sweden, you could see Copenhagen, the lights shimmering. And later we were taken to a public school building in Landskrona where I was kept in quarantine. They closed down the high schools early because there were not enough hotels. So the high schools took the places of hotels. They took out the furniture and the fixtures and they placed mattresses on the floor. Many years later when I returned there and I told those who were with me what we did. And they said, "Oh that's horrible, you had to sleep on the floor!" I said, what an improvement that was over what we had before. That was a wonderful way to handle us.
They first took out those from among us who had contagious diseases. I didn't have any contagious disease. I still can not understand how - I sat on people who had typhus and died of it and tuberculosis and I never caught any of it. I just think I must have a terrific immunity system or something! Or God certainly was with me. I make no mistake about that.
And while we were in quarantine, after I felt better, I asked my doctor if I could use his bike. I saw him come in - everybody came with a bike, all the nurses and doctors who worked there - and they just parked them in bicycle racks. And he said, "Take anyone you like." And so, there was this huge school yard, and I was the youngest member by the way on this transport to Sweden. And so, when I felt better, I took a bike and rode around the school yard, because I used to have a bike at home. In fact my brothers all had bikes and I inherited my brother's bike when he grew older and he received anew one. So I had a boys bike where you had to put your leg across. That was fine with me.
So, here I was riding around the school yard and a Swedish family inquired about me and asked my doctor what shape I was in and they told him that they would like to adopt me, for me to become a sister to their daughter, Gullan. And Gullan was just one year younger than I. They came everyday and brought me things from home, and this was so wonderful for me to see someone so-called normal, who had a normal life. And I was so eager to have a normal life because everyday was really a very sad day. Every time the mailman came in our quarantine, you know you just kept your finger, "God please, have a letter wait for me." But it wasn't always a good one once in a while when a letter came in the beginning, the war was still on for five more days. Eventually many more letters came, by that time many were transferred out.
We were in Quarantine, of course, until they took out all those who were ill and sent them to various hospitals for treatment. But the rest of had, we all had problems. We were all totally emaciated, and secondly, we had malnutrition problems. I had malnutrition problems because I was only 14 and 15 during the Holocaust and I should have been eating nutritious foods. Instead, I was starved. Consequently, the way I understand the doctors, my body was consuming itself. And so, there are all these sores to deal with. I still have a photo, the one I just referred to, four weeks later, and I still have a bandage on my leg. There was a big crater over here, and over here on my shin bone. I could actually see the bone. What happened was, that the skin would reduce to so thin, like sheer skin, just sheer little skin, already it reached the bone. The thirteen operations that I've had, had to do with malnutrition from the Holocaust, because the spine didn't grow properly, the shoulder didn't grow properly.
One of the experiences I had in Sweden, this was, I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I tell this story. My Swedish sister, I lived with a Swedish family after I was released by the Red Cross who wanted to adopt me. I didn't want to be adopted. I went to live with them because I was hoping to find my very own family, and in my mind, if I had consented to be adopted I would have given up on my family and I was not about to do that. They understood, and they permitted me to come and live with them. So we became sisters, my Swedish sister was just one year younger than I – Gullan is her name. Anyway, so we had a dress made, it was difficult to buy material at this time after the war, even in a country that was not involved in a war. So, we found a little bit of this material and a little bit of that, and so we had dresses made, by a dress maker.
And when we were getting ready to go to a party, for a birthday party, and so I went into the bathroom, and, there were all these wonderful little bottles on the shelf. I thought I'm going to put some perfume, behind my ears, and on my wrist, and so I came out, thinking I had done it, and that people would tell me that I would smell good because I couldn't smell. And so Gullan comes, and calls me "Hunsi," my nickname then, "what did you do to your dress?" and she pointed to a spot over here, and she says "Oh my god, what did you use?" I said "It's perfume, or cologne." And she says, "Come and show me." So I went to the bathroom to show her, and it was her father's hair oil. I couldn't smell it and I thought it was, I couldn't read what it said on it and it was hair oil and it just dripped down on my new dress. And I remember crying. It was my first new dress since the Holocaust. Everything else I had was used, but nice, but used. So, I'll never forget this, because it's already a reaction to a Holocaust related experience, you see, that is, the loss of my sense of smell. And actually, that is when I realized that I can no longer smell.
Gloria continues to talk about letters received while in quarantine.
We began to receive letters. Sometimes we [were] brought very good news and somebody was alive and we would hop up in the air in dance for joy. Somebody else saw a brother or sister or mother of so and so being murdered. So don't wait for them to make a life, make a life for yourself. This is the type of news that reached us. It's still very raw with me because although I was 15 years already the biggest fear I had was that I was going to be the soul survivor of the family.
At the same time, you see, we were approached, especially as young as I was, and there were hardly anybody else that age. This was Youth Aliyah, a group of people who were looking for young people or orphans - because most of us were orphans - from the camp to bring us to Israel and build a Jewish state. I decided if I couldn't find my family in the United Stat - my family and then my mother's family were all in the U.S. since World War One. If I can't find my immediate family or my family in the U.S. that I would go to Israel. I have to be somewhere where there are other Jewish people where we are no longer pursued simply because we're Jews. That would be my place.
I was thinking about this so much. I wrote every day home to the Czech address, to the Hungarian address. No mail, no mail, no mail. And finally the war ended five days later. I went to live with the Swedish family and I slept in the same room as my Swedish sister, Gullan. One night I woke up I said, "Gullan, Gullan! Wake up! I learned that my uncle's address is 5236 Delmar, St. Louis [Hungarian]." That's what I called St. Louis because in Hungarian every letter is pronounced. And so she jumped out of bed and brought me pencil and paper and said, "Write it down because by morning you'll forget." So I just dutifully wrote it down not realizing the significance of this other than not to forget. And in the morning she ordered me to write that letter and, by golly, my uncle received that letter. I missed it by two numbers within the same block - in those days I guess the mailman knew the neighbors.
My uncle notified my aunt in Kansas City, Missouri, my uncle was in St. Louis, Missouri. I had cousins in Arizona, New York - just all over the place. And one day I received a letter from my uncle. And that was just - the world opened up! The skies opened up! God was smiling at me!
My uncle wrote "you were the first one that showed a sign of life." And this worried me because, here it was - I was liberated in May and my mother and my sister should of been liberated from Auschwitz if they were alive, on January 27, 1945. And so they should of been home long enough to write. After all I've been writing so long.
Not for about a half a year later I finally got a letter from my mother. She said we heard your name over the radio and different people came to tell me you're alive but I didn't dare believe it because we saw you being taken away. She knew that nobody comes back from the gas chambers. So she already went through the hardship of loosing a daughter and a sister - my sister's part. I asked her what should I do with my life and she said as much as we'd love you to come home but we think you would have a better life in America.
Did you ever get a chance to see any of your immediate family after the Holocaust?
It would take seventeen years, before I first saw the surviving members of my family. Because I was separated from them, well we were all separated from each other, except for Annuska was with my mother and Sandor was with Dad. But after Auschwitz, I no longer had anyone in my family.
Oh and dad, I would not see my father for seventeen years. From the time of arrival in Auschwitz. It was at that, I went to the Soviet Union. Finally they let me in for seven days, seven days. Imagine they were going to give me only three days. And finally we agreed on seven days. And those were very precious moments. We were up into the night, not wasting any time, talking and talking and talking. And I've learned about Dad's experiences during the Holocaust. Very sketchy, sketchily because he didn't really want to talk about it yet, too much. But he also knew that I want to know and that he wanted to give me some information.
You talk a lot about your mother, but not that much about your father, what was your relationship like with him?
The reason for that is because we were totally separated. We didn't see them, and we have no idea. I mean we had no idea where they were or whether they were alive. We didn't know this until long after the Holocaust. So that is why I don't talk about my father pertaining to the Holocaust experience at this time. But I do talk about him when I learned what he went through, but that was after the Holocaust.
In the meantime in America my uncle and my aunt in Kansas City made out papers for me to come to the United States. And so I knew that I had a choice and my life changed totally. So I stayed with the Swedish family, un adopted, until I came to the U.S. and we're still in close touch. My foster father passed away a few years back and just about two years ago my foster mother passed away and my Swedish sister is still alive and so is her husband. I love them very deeply.