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6-Effects of Hunger
Could you describe the effects of hunger on you.
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.
Religious Experiences in Camps
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.
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.
From Liberation to Refuge in Sweden
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. Then we were taken to a ferry boat and we crossed the Öresund and arrived in Malmö, Sweden on May 3rd, 1945, just five days before the war ended.
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.
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.
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.