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2-Sharing Difficult Memories
Are there specific things about your experience in the Holocaust that you find hard to share?
Not so much any more. But talking about my mother was the hardest. Actually, I've been doing very well in that respect. I kept forcing myself. She's a very big part of my story and it's the cruel separation that I had to go through with my mother that remained extremely painful. Finally, I learned to say "mother" without breaking down. Look what I'm doing right now. I'm sorry.
But I think, also I hesitate telling one particular aspect of my story in Braunschweig when a young sixteen year old girl was beaten for rushing to the latrine. And she was beaten up for, she shouldn't have gone at night, because in this small place, where we were the commandants, the woman SS in charge of us, she also had her quarters under the same roof. And so to go the latrine, anyone had to pass her quarters. And go to this crudely erected type of latrine, where they dug a hole, a slice in the floor, through the cemented floor. And deep down there they put up some crude wood, like branches and there was something,that went across it. Nailed to this one going up and you held onto it, because you had to hold onto something. And something to sit on with another branch. And I wondered how long it will last, because it would hold only so many. It didn't break down, but it was very iffy.
Anyway this girl, just continued to go to the latrine after, after she was left there, after she was beaten up. And in the morning when we rushed to the latrine, there she was. She had fallen in and she drowned. And this just appears in my memory so clearly, so clearly.
And you know I told my story in Germany about this and I had a letter from somebody who said—I think my sister or cousin—she wrote, was the one who fell in and drowned in Braunschweig. I just ran into it the other day. I just couldn't believe it, but finally. This place it wasn't a regular concentration camp, it was a barn where the horses of the SS were kept. In fact, it was a long building and it was in the midst of a residential district. That's another unusual part about it. Civilians were just walking back and forth normally, where the rest of the city was bombed to pulp already.
When you were in Germany.
I hesitate telling Germans about the cruelties, you see. And this girl, this girl has gone through the ugliest part of what I saw. Even uglier than I think seeing somebody gassed and being taken next door to the crematorium. I saw a lot of ugly things, but to see a human being fall into all that excrement, because she needed to keep herself clean and rushed to the latrine at night. This sort of thing is hard to tell. It is not something ladies tell.
I put myself in the position that I am in, the role that I am playing now is the survivor, which I am. Anybody who doesn't believe it can look at my tattoo number, and what could be more convincing than that? And that's the only thing I have left from the Holocaust, in addition to the scars on my legs, all over my right leg and what's in my heart, and A-6374 tattooed on my lower left arm.
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How did you feel being branded like an animal after just being in a seven bedroom house, and having...
It's a seven room house. That's okay. But we were reduced to practically a subhuman level. They called us untermenschen which means "subhuman". Untermensch is subhuman, menschen is peoples, plural. And we eventually became accustomed to how they think. Then it took a mind set to keep strong and not take everything that you heard to heart.
In my case for example I thought, at home I didn't have lice; at home I was clean; at home I had beautiful hair; at home I had beautiful clothes. Here they took everything away from me and they don't permit us to take a bath or clean ourselves and obviously we'll get sick from this. But whose fault is this? Who is the untermensch? It's the perpetrators. They are the untermenschen. They perpetrated this crime against us, against humanity.
And so with that thought I could live. We just had to come, it was very difficult to turn this around under the circumstances, because there were so many people who just accepted it. Just because they were that way now. The thing is that, always think of the time when you would again be what you were before. You'll get out of this and we're not going to let them step on us totally. In other words, we're not going to let them crush us totally.
What we believe in are high ideals. My faith teaches me high ideals. They don't believe in high ideals, that makes them untermenschen.
Jewish Faith In and Beyond Camps
How do you think your religious views changed or were influenced because of your experience in the Holocaust?
I believe that believing in God is very important. Very important especially in a place like Auschwitz or in any of the other camps. I think especially when we are in trouble, we are in deep pain, or we yearn for something. What's the first thing we say;"Please God" or "Thank God" if we are grateful. While in the camps, it was just the opposite. I many times, floundered, wondered if there really is a God, this is the time to show the miracles, get us out of here, out of this hell hole, and bring us home. But no answers came, and a young girl like me, was confused. I didn't like the idea that I wasn't sturdy in this respect, in my thoughts. I wanted to believe, this is what I was taught and it served my family well, it served my people well.
But I was in a predicament that shook me up. And I felt guilty for thinking any other way, and I felt weak, I felt who can I depend on if not God? And so, I also realized that people who don't believe, they perish very quickly. If they don't think that God is going to help them, then they succumb very easily under those circumstances in the camps. And so I slowly came into the realization that since I am so young, I couldn't possibly understand everything about God's ways. And that the surest thing I could do is to just follow the beliefs that I've learned while I was with my parents, and what I learned while I went to Hebrew School.
From the age of five I went to Hebrew school – a Sunday school and Hebrew school combination. And so, I have begun to feel stronger and when I had problems, we always had problems, but special ones, just please God give me a tool that will work today, with a handle that will stay on, otherwise, I cannot do my job. If I cannot do my job they are going to beat me up and they may drag me back at night, dead. So you know, who could you talk to, we were all in the same terrible predicament. And sometimes I liked my ideas better than the people I talked to. Because sometimes they were down on the dumps, and I was so young and naive that I still had a lot of spark in me, you know, and perhaps because I was so young. But I'm glad I did, because it helped me come back very quickly. And being the very positive type anyway, I felt stronger. No matter what happened to me I felt that God is with me. And of course, I kept thinking of, I kept thinking that I survived Auschwitz. If I survived Auschwitz, I could survive anything.
My God! Just the thoughts that came to me, or that look, I don't think there's another person who probably jumped off a truck. I don't know anybody who was able to save himself or herself. The people who escaped were caught and they were executed by hanging from a truck. We all had to witness this execution from a truck by hanging from a truck. And so I kept thinking, you know, that's where God was with me. And so, I was looking for loopholes here. And, you know sometimes I don't remember this, but that's really what I did to strengthen myself. And yet, when I saw others suffer and I just felt God should be everywhere, they're all his children, we're all his children. So confusion of course, there was nobody to explain, I wish I had my wise Rabbi there.
Are you proud of your religion today?
I am very proud to be a Jew. Yes. My people come from, well my people have given the world the Ten Commandments and it is still what Western civilization goes by. Two major religions were born out of Judaism, and that's Christianity and Islam. When I think back, prophets and kings, these were our ancestors. There's every reason to be proud to be a Jew. And I think if the world had followed some of the Ten Commandments perhaps we wouldn't have so many problems in the world and people would get along with each other. One of the key elements in the religion is "Love thy neighbor as thyself." So even though I had just a few short years of training, they were already working for me in the camp.
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.
You mentioned hanging on a truck. Can you recount that story?
I am sorry. I guess the tears induce my nose. Oh yes, one day, the alarm rang, just like when I was in the culvert, I heard this very alarm ring. This sort of thing you would hear when the allies come bombing, but no bombs ever fell on Auschwitz, so far as I know. While I was there, there was one raid before, but it was nothing much. Anyway, so this time the alarm rang and it meant that somebody was missing. And they found this woman who escaped, but it took several days, and she was brought back, she actually she went to her husband, she was from Germany and she was Jewish and he was not. And went to her husband, and she thought she'd be safe, but in fact they found her there and brought her back. And they, we saw her on a truck, and everybody had to come out and watch her, and they had a guillotine put on the truck and we watched her executed. I will never forget her. All she wanted was to be with her husband.
This was before or after you had your experience in jumping off the truck?
It was while I was in Auschwitz.
So was this on your mind during that process?
I don't remember that. I don't remember. But, I knew that chances, that we have to take chances for whatever the consequences will be. And its not the consequences that I thought about, its the goal that I want to accomplish. And that's it. Anything else that can happen had to be put aside at this time and concentrate on saving my life. If I thought about all the bad things that can happen, I probably would never have even started. Thank you.
Do you have any traditions or rituals that you do everyday or once a month, or every year to remember your times?
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.