The human face of inhumanity
On the 8th of May 1944 we were awakened at four o'clock in the morning by Hungarian Nazis. We were ordered to leave the house at once. We were to bring clothes to last us for a week- also bedclothes.
Even on that occasion my father displayed his meticulous nature. Before leaving the house, he went from room to room, closing all windows, locking all doors.
We were first taken to a transit camp in a school, and later to a tile factory. Finally we were put into a cattle wagon. We were all crowded into one dimly-lit corner. But we had one another. We looked at one another - we smiled at one another. "Things will work out all right in the end", we told one another.
We were young and healthy. We were eager to work. There was nothing to be afraid of. Our feelings were confirmed when we saw the motto above the entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei.
We were delighted, but not for long. The doors were flung open and we heard the shouting and yelling of Nazi soldiers.
"Heraus - heraus!" We were brutally pushed and shoved.
"Snell - snell - heraus!" We were chased into the camp.
Within minutes the women and men were separated. Children, the elderly and sick people were directed to the gas chambers.
1. Mother and child
2. The mother's shock when she realises the fate in store for her child
Not until I myself had children was I able to imagine the feelings of the mother who has lost her little child - knowing that the fumes have suffocated the child's voice.
Beyond all human comprehension, that anyone can go on living with such a fate.
The sadistic SS doctor - Mengele - had decided that upon arrival in the Auschwitz camp all small children and elderly people were to be sent direct to the gas chamber. I saw him; he used a stick to direct me to the right and the doomed to the left.
The lure of the fence
I have seen many hands: hands for work, delicate hands, sensitive hands, children's hands, adult hands. But I've never seen hands like those I saw at the electrified fence in Auschwitz.
Families, lovers and friends were separated from each other by that fence.
By looking at one another, by drawing closer to one another and touching one another with hands; hands still warm and full of love; hands that wanted to express such a wealth of feeling; hands left hanging in the middle of a declaration of love.
The current in the fence was the strongest. The current in the fence extinguished the currents of feeling. The alluring fence won. I t must never be that way again.
I was witness to a shattering experience. A girl whom I knew had a sister on the other side of that electrified fence. They spoke together, and without giving the matter so much as a single thought they drew closer and closer to that fatal fence. She just wanted to reach her sister, to touch her. The result was that she touched the fence and got stuck to it.
In a state of shock I grabbed a short stick and beat her hand free. She was saved - on that occasion. Later she went to the gas chamber.
Catch her! Auschwitz - spring 1944
"Catch her - catch her!" they shouted after me, but I was too fast, and I had to be fast. Otherwise they would have caught me, and the whole thing would have been in vain.
It was early in the morning, around four or five o'clock. We stood in a queue, as we usually did, five in every row. I wa in the front row, because I looked healthier than the othe girls. I had red cheeks, but then I had massaged them for , long time to get the right colour. Behind me stood my siste Alice and behind her Mother. Suddenly Alice fell. She ha( a throat infection and nowhere was there any help to b( found. Alice must not die. She had a scarf wound round he throat. I tried to lift her up, but she was lifeless. I stood there, sobbing inconsolably - totally helpless.
Our Polish "Block-elteste" - Fanny - made sure ever: morning that we were lined up in proper order before th( Germans came to count us, checking that everybody was present.
Where on earth else could we be?
The Nazis usually arrived around eight o'clock.
Fanny observed that there was some disarray in our row. She rushed down towards us with a screeching voice, bran dishing a stick. She was furious with us, as she nearly always was. She hac told us several times that she had been deported four year~ earlier, and that all her family had perished - some from starvation, some from maltreatment, many in the gas chambers.
She was a good tool for the Nazis. She did her best to help them, so as to save her own life. The Nazis knew her qualities. That's why she was put on that job.
She is hard and ruthless. She comes up like a dark cloud of thunder and seizes Alice's scarf, which is now wound even tighter around her throat. Alice gasps for air, turning first pale and then blue. Suddenly she begins vomiting. The boil has burst and everything comes up. She coughs and coughs. I go and get water and Fanny hits her and orders her to stand up.
I wash my younger sister, tenderly. I massage her, kiss her. Soon she'll have to get to her legs. Otherwise the black wagon will come and take her away. That must not happen. Mother and Alice change places. The Nazis came. They counted us. I covered up for my row as best I could. My cheeks were crimson.
We had all three decided that we would report for duty the next time that there was a chance of getting work. If just one of us got a job, maybe we could help one another.
Alice must have something to eat. We owned a little can, which represented our entire fortune. I sneaked into the kitchen by the back door with the can under my dress. It would probably still be hours until the food arrived from another concentration camp and divided among us. In the evening we would get a slice of rye bread and a spoonful of jam.
But Alice had to have something to eat now, to regain her strength. The jam had arrived! It was standing there, in the big grey iron milk can. Quivering with fear, I moved to a position where I couldn't be seen, while still able to see when they began to dish it out.
It took two girls to carry each milk can, which weighed about 30 kilograms. Each of them took one side and carried the can down the camp street, over to the barracks where the food was to be shared out in portions. "Now!" I thought. I walked on tip-toe behind them - "Alice must have jam!"
The can - exhibited at Hohame Hathetaot Museum, Israel
The two girls walked on, chatting, and with a lightning movement I dipped my little can into the huge milk can. I managed to get it out again before the girls began to hammer my wrists. They tried to grab me, but I escaped - with my precious can.
My face and clothes were red with jam. I ran and ran as the girls shouted: "Catch her! - Catch her!"
I ran into the toilet - an ordinary toilet with rows of toilet bowls. I stood in the middle of the entrance with my can under my dress.
I remained motionless. Then they came rushing in heading straight for me - and licked me clean. Alice got her jam.
The bereaved - those left behind - are both men ana women. They are standing at a mass grave. With all the grief and all the doubt. It is not enough that they themselves have survived this horror of horrors. Now they are standing here - alone. They have lost their men or women or children.
I once saw such a grave. The bottom was covered with lime. When the crematorium was full and could take no more corpses, the SS ghouls used such graves.
They lined up naked men and children at the brink of the grave and shot them from behind.
Suddenly I remember
- how in Auschwitz I was once given a stick and ordered to take care of a pile of frozen potatoes. They had been unloaded from a truck, and I was to make sure that there would be no stealing.
But if only you could get as much as onc potato a day maybe you could manage to survive.
And now I was forced to stand there with my stick and keep people away from those frozen potatoes. People about to die of starvation.
I ran from one side of the pile to the other, screaming at the top of my voice:
"Now I'm going to run round to the other side!"
But in Hungarian, which the Nazis did not understand.
Then I brandished my stick and ran to the other side, while my fellow prisoners got a chance of grabbing a potato.
One of those potatoes may have saved a human life.
Roll call - line up!
We who were deported in 1944 were very soon forced to face death. The selection process was conducted twice a day.
There was no chance to hide, to flee. The sick and the feeble and those with a skin rash were dragged out and sent to the crematorium. The ovens were fuelled wenty-four hours a day, and I saw the smoke from the chimneys.
I made a point of never looking an SS officer straight in the face, when he - or she - spoke to us. I just stared straight ahead - into space.
I was afraid that the SS officer might think that there was something wrong with my facial expression.
Auschwitz - in the barracks
Ten of us girls lie on the top bunk, squashed together. I lie at the bottom, at right angles, leaning against all the feet. My mother sits at the back.
We agreed to take it in turns to lie at the bottom, where I am lying tonight. I t is the worst place of all. All nine pairs of feet kick. There is no question of getting any sleep.
The best place of all is the place where my mother is sitting. We used to take that place too in turns. Then I suggested that my mother could have that place permanently, if I always took the worst place.
The other girls agreed. I lay there every night for several months.
In the crematorium
Those who were selected for the crematorium were shoved into the black bus and driven to the gas chamber.
The doors of the gas chambers were heavy and well insulated. The victims were told that they were to have a bath. This was said to prevent panic.
From the sprinklers in the ceiling the prisoners expected water. It was an easy matter for the SS Death Squad to issue an order for the taps to be turned on. A few minutes later the victims lay lifeless on the floor. The bodies were bundled onto a chute leading down to the ovens. But before that all gold fillings were removed from their teeth and piled together.
The tragedy was greatest for the prisoners ordered to carry out this work. I met one of them, on the camp street. He was a doctor in our home town -Dr. L. Levy. He was looking for his wife and children. He told me that after a short period of work in the crematorium, they were themselves all killed in the gas chamber, but many had simply gone mad before the end.
Not all prisoners were issued with camp uniforms. Upon my arrival, after a bath and disinfection, I was ordered to put on a dress from a huge pile of clothes left by the women who had been just sent to the gas chamber.
Now, looking back on it all, I feel that that dress still carried the heat of the woman's body.
Copyright © 1999-2002 Scandinavia SIG - Reprinting or copying of any of the material on the Scandinavia SIG Website is not allowed without prior permission from the Olly Ritterband and the Scandinavia SIG Coordinator