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[Page 324]


“I vowed – I will never forget!” {cont.}


From this period I remember one unforgettable episode, which came as a result of an argument with my youngest brother, during which time my father struck me for the first and only time in my life. A few minutes later he approached me and with tears in his eyes said: “Haven't you been struck enough in your life that I had to do this too?”

At the beginning of 1942, a notice was posted that a new work camp was being established for girls. The voluntary movement of girls to this camp initially spared their parents from being deported, but in reality, some months later a large-scale “Aktion”[1] occurred, which caused even those families of such volunteer girls to be transported.

I too, committed myself for such work, as I wanted to spare my family from deportation. Upon until that point, I had a fictional job in a Dąbrowa tailor workshop which made uniforms for the Nazi army. I had gotten a green work permit through huge payment, and with this I was spared, along with some other girls, from further work for the Nazis.

On 6th of February, I was summoned to the “Judenrat” in order to register for the work camp. a “good friend” of my family, who knew in reality what was going on, urged me to sign up. All his family are gone today.

At the time, it never entered my mind that I would never again see my beloved ones. Just the idea of my being summoned caused great suffering to my parents. Despite this, we all went along with what was perceived as our heavy fate. As I was leaving the house, my father turned to me with a heavy heart and said: “Italeh, never forget that you are a daughter of Israel…” Those words burned deep into my heart and I never forgot them. My understanding was thus planned, and even in the most difficult moments of my life I tried to live by [this principle].

My parents did not conceal their hands in the dish even after I had left the house. They approached Kotrabe, an unambiguous Nazi from Berlin, who was appointed by the Germans to be the “custodian” of our property. Kotrabe turned the members of my parents' warehouse into his slaves. Even my brother Abram was sent to work there in place of my father. My parents requested Kotrabe to endeavor an exemption from deportation on the basis of an honorary agreement. However in actuality, his endeavors were no longer successful.

About an hour after our having to report on Shabbat, we were taken by train to Sosnowiec. At Sosnowiec we were placed in a temporary camp pending further selection. In Sosnowiec, one of us, named Ewa, was appointed “Judenältester” (i.e. Jewish leader). Ewa was from Chorzów, and she was among the Jews brought at the beginning of the war to labor at Zagłębie. Ewa was a beautiful girl and had an impressive presentation. However she had a criminal background. She had spent time at the Radocha jail in Sosnowiec for passing [exchanging] various commodities, and behaved unsuitably vis--vis the Germans.

In the Radocha jail Ewa met my brother, Abram. Abram was imprisoned because he [allegedly] carried on trade in furs with the workers, something forbidden during the entire course of the war. Abram did this fur trading together with a friend of Kotrabe, Mr. Müller. One day a German patrol stopped a wagon hitched to a horse that was [being] driven by a young Jew. In it was [a consignment of] unfinished leather. The boy, taken to German headquarters, revealed that underneath the unfinished hides were also finished leather [products], and that another shipment of finished leather was stored at a warehouse. The Germans immediately demanded an explanation from the manager of the business. My brother volunteered to explain the story to the Germans. They demanded he tell them from whom he had bought the hides and to who they were consigned. When he refused to reveal this, he was beaten. Afterwards they marched him to our warehouse near the communal kitchens, shoved him up against a wall and again demanded he tell the truth. When that unsuccessful, they threw him into the Radocha jail in Sosnowiec for a few days. In Radocha prisoners were beaten with iron bars until the blood flowed – to musical accompaniment! That jail was established in 1941.

In the meanwhile, my parents endeavored to learn by various means what was the fate of my brother. When all their efforts came to naught, my grandfather, Ruwen Gluzerman, approached Szwert. Szwert was a Jew from Chorzów, but worked actively with the Germans in our town. My grandfather, who was much admired in our city because of his constant assistance to the unfortunate and needy, told Szwert three painful words: [my]”grandson was jailed.”Szwert said not a word to my grandfather but left the house. An hour later, my brother was returned to us. Szwert never asked any favors in return for this mercy rescue.


[Page 325]


After the war, when the Jews wanted to try Szwert for collaboration with the Nazis, I defended him because of his charitable behavior towards my brother. I don't know where he is now.

Another Jew who cooperated with the Nazis was Moniek Meryn from Sosnowiec. Meryn collected gold from the Jews and passed it to the Germans. However Meryn had a special place of honor for my grandfather, Reb Ruwen Lichtcyjer. In 1942 during the great deportation before Rosh Hashanah, Meryn plucked my grandfather out from the collection points and brought him home. Grandfather later died in his house, wrapped in his talit [praying shawl] and immersed in a book of Kabbala. By contrast, Meryn was condemned to death by the S.S.

In Sosnowiec we were a day and a half. On Monday at dawn we were taken by passenger coaches [i.e. trains] to Grünberg/Schlesien camp. For the 12 hours of the trip we were given neither food nor drink.


dab325.jpg [37 KB] - Concentration camp
Concentration camp


We arrived at Grünberg/Schlesien in the month of February. Because we were among the first arrivals there, structures had not yet been built to house us, and we were taken to the hallways of factories [there]. These hallways were large and secure. 300 girls were quartered in each hallway. Later transport arrivals were house in wooden barracks which had been built for them. We, too, were later taken to the same barracks. After our move, the hallways became mess halls. Our camp belonged to the huge German concern called “D.W.M.” (a German wool company). Here was a textile factory where we worked. It was a large, 3-floor building. At this place, there were two work shifts of 12 hours each. The shifts each worked one week at night followed by one week in the daytime. At this factory we wove cloth for German army uniforms as well as woolen army blankets. The raw materials came in two colors: blue and green. The factory was divided into different sections: spinning, weaving, coloration, finishing, ironing, etc. The spinning was done from all kinds of cloth remnants. Among the pieces woven from our spinning was thread from the Łódź ghetto (“Litzmannstadt”). They were remnants of old tablecloths, suits, torn challah and matzah covers. There were also towels with clumps of human hair. The German work foreman, who noticed the hair said gleefully: “this is the best wool yet!”

Once, I found among the remnants a beautiful matzah cover bedecked with precious stones. I got possession of it for two pieces of bread, and kept it with me always as an amulet.

My work was backbreaking and required some special agility. I operated 3 machines simultaneously: into one machine I tossed remnants of linen and strips of material from which I extracted something that looked like cotton. In the second machine, I'd rework the [so-called] cotton until it became somewhat thicker. With the third machine, I'd make this material into thin and malleable thread. Because I was short, I had difficulty with these tall machines, and had to continually jump up in order check what was happening in them. I tried to work diligently to gain satisfaction from a job well done however physically difficult the demand was. I had to work constantly on my feet. Before we came to this camp, male German workers operated these machines. Now male prisoners were concentrated only in one section. In this section were French prisoners who periodically helped us.

Once, when I was freed from the machines because of illness, a girl named Szoszana Kożych took over for me. One of the machines sliced off a finger from Szoszana during her operation of it. Consequently, she was replaced by Mina Gotfryd. But she too barely worked. I was thus soon compelled to return to work despite my illness.

Another time, the metal brush which cleaned the leather strips in one of my machines got caught. My work foreman named Müller, immediately went to the machine and spent hours trying to fix it. I shuddered with fright, thinking I might be accused of trying to sabotage the German war effort. It would not have been the first time we were charged attempted sabotage! (Actually Müller was one of the better Germans, and didn't report me for this incident).


[Page 326]


At the head of the work camp were two German women named Milewska and “Aunt Hela.” (Why she was thus called I had no idea). Assisting these two was a German man named Gertz. The Jewish woman in charge of us (the Judenältester) was Ewa Messer. Ewa treated us meanly and with contempt. She beat us periodically with a rubber truncheon she carried with her. She would also curse us vigorously at any given time. When she found near one of us a loose thread on the floor, she made us all stand hours long outside. She was only kind to those she liked. Among those were Mia Treper of Dąbrowa and Sala Koplowicz of Będzin . Those two girls were successful and rich. They occasionally received furs, jewellery and musical instruments at the camp. Whatever they received they gave to Ewa. Ewa would usually betray such people to the Germans. She thus would curry favor with them. I too, was chosen for special treatment because of my brother Abram and others of my family. Abram was in mail contact with her and family sent her all kinds of items. However I had no knowledge of this and was thus surprised at her lenient treatment of me. Once my mattress was stolen, and I had been always been concerned about its cleanliness. When this story was made known to Ewa, she came into our barrack and demanded that my mattress be returned. It came back to me fairly soon after that.

Ewa instituted a hunger regime in the camp. She developed a close relationship to the Germans responsible for the kitchen, and through an agreement with them, sent food destined for the Jewish prisoners to the families of the S.S. who were at the head of the camp. The famine in the camp grew day by day. On the day that Ewa's fiancée, Moniek, who was responsible for the men's camp that had come after several months to work at Zagłębie, was evacuated from Sosnowiec, we did not receive our soup ration that we usually received weekly. With this soup, the guests who came to the kitchen were honored. That day, Ewa sang a song entitled, “The Most Beautiful Day of my Life.” But one of our girls could not take this behavior any longer. She sent a letter to the directorship of Groß-Rosen, which was [ultimately] responsible for our camp, informing on Ewa's activities. The result was not long in coming. A few days later, a “suggestion” arrived [to our camp's leadership] to send Ewa and her brother to separate camps.

In place of Ewa, Hertha Goldfinger was designated. At the same time, another shipment of women arrived from Ciężkowice. Hertha was Jewish, but had joined an evangelical convent before the war. She dealt with us pretty well and strived not to anger us. She was fired from her job because she did not prevent the escape of one of our girls, Zosia Wolfowicz. Her replacement was Mina Zinger. She saw herself as one of us and endeavored to help us whenever she could. She was the best Judenältester we had during the time we were at the camp.

During our stay at the Grünberg/Schlesien camp, Andzia Goldschmidt was head of our kitchen for some time. She would [constantly] get angry with us as we waited in line for our soup. Her leather whip seemed to be of more use to her than the soup ladle. She would strike us without any apparent reason.

Our “examination” and “selection” at the camp became quite frequent. We were sometimes sent for chest x-rays. We were always supposed to be in the best of health in order to maximize the work we would do for the Germans.


dab326.jpg [28 KB] - Mass grave
Mass grave


On the basis of the x-rays, certain people were sent to Auschwitz. Of course, the x-rays were merely a pretext for the Germans. Many young girls who were otherwise healthy lost their lives because of those “internal photographs.” Other pretexts for being sent to Auschwitz were: any minor infraction [of the rules] or sitting on the job. This last one was by no means the most frequent, yet the conditions of our lives, without regard to it being day or night, caught girls in violation of this rule.

Hunger occupied most of our thoughts in that camp. During my first months there, my brother sent me rusks [of bread]. They were terribly hard, but at least through them I was able to forget some of my hunger. Later on, I would knit sweaters, gloves and socks for the Germans in exchange for any bite of food. But I didn't always receive payment. Most of the time I didn't get anything.


[Page 327]


I got some small salvation from my true friend, Roza Altman, who was very resourceful. She worked in the kitchen and later in the Germans' mess hall. Roza wasn't hungry and tried to help me with some soup. Roza was largely free from supervision and was even able to get out of the camp without being observed. On one occasion, one of the German women offered to hide her at her home, but Roza rejected this proposition because she didn't want to leave me alone in the camp.

I was in the Grünberg/Schlesien camp 3 years. On the 28th of January, the camp was evacuated and we were put on our “death march.” Later we were told that the reason for our evacuation was the approach of the Russian [Red] Army. Right before the evacuation, another transport arrived: some 8,000 Hungarian women. These women arrived at our camp on foot, having marched for about two weeks. These women were in shocking and terrible condition. On their feet were wooden sandals wrapped in rags. A foul odor emanated from them. They were filthy and covered in lice.

The next day, Grünberg/Schlesien was emptied of its workers, male and female. The women's camp, which now held 2,000 girls, was split into 2 sections. The first group was sent heading in the direction of Berlin, while the second's route was towards Bergen-Belsen. I was put into the first group. The German's stated objective for this bunch was to assist in clearing bombs from the Berlin rubble. In reality, however, it was to eliminate us as cheaply as possible. Any other means of getting rid of us was deemed too expensive. All other camps we might be sent to were rapidly being depleted of German guards sent to the shrinking front line. Similarly, finishing us of by shooting would have cost a huge amount of ammunition [which was in short supply]. Thus they decided to get rid of us by a time-consuming but cheaper method, namely a forced march, inhuman and sadistic. Most of them also found this method quite satisfactory [if not pleasurable].

The days which followed were the most difficult I had encountered since the war began. The bitter January weather took rapid toll on us who were lightly dressed in rags. Many women [simply] froze and could walk no longer. They were collected in a large wagon that accompanied us and expired on it. Mina Zinger, who was responsible for us at that time, buried those victims along the way. This was the biggest act of mercy we could expect to receive at this hour. I myself was often this decrepit down to zero strength. I was ready to jump while still alive on to this “death wagon”, but Roza Altman forced me on and didn't separate from me for a minute.

After each stop along the way, all those whose legs were frostbitten or who otherwise could not continue were shot. At a later date, the Kommandoführer[2] ordered a stop to the shooting, as it was [deemed] a pity on each bullet wasted. “In any case” he said, “they'll fall on their own.” Each night we slept in an open field, whether in wheat sheaves or manure, whatever it happened to be. The filthiness and dirt got into us through every pore. Fleas infested us everywhere, and lice had a ball eating us up. Each day we'd discover thousands of lice on our bodies.

On the way from Grünberg/Schlesien camp we went through many villages. After two exhaustive days of walking, we arrived at [a camp called] Christianstadt [Krzystkowice]. In this camp we stayed only two nights. During one of the nights, several girls from our column escaped through the camp wire. Among those who escaped were Kajla Londner and Bela Wajnryb. Escape was the only way out for us trapped in the hell which surrounded us. Whoever succeeded remained alive, but the majority were shot and killed.

Once, as we approached a populated city, a group tried to escape. This was attempted because of the exhaustion and tremendously heavy suffering. One of the Germans, who realized an escape was about to happen, grabbed the girls. They were shot on the spot to the tune of terrible cries that wrenched the heart – “Mommy!” (Imaleh). Afterwards they were stripped of their clothing and shoes, which was divided up among the remaining groups. This happened after every death.

After leaving Christianstadt we followed natural [e.i. dirt] roads and became mired in mud. Once I literally got stuck in mud and could not continue. I felt I was sinking. I pleaded for help from the girls who were in front of me. But they all seemed indifferent and didn't understand my problem. On the last one in the march, the daughter of a rabbi, held out her hand and with my last reserve of strength, managed to pull me free. I understood my rescue to be because of that last reserve, but I was vigorously opposed her help.

We were watched over along this journey by a Wehrmacht[3] contingent which arrived expressly for this purpose from Auschwitz.


[Page 328]


At the head of our camp was a Jewish friend named Fritzi. Once Fritzi complained that someone stole bread from her. As a reprisal for this, the [German] camp chief ordered 50 girls from our section out and to line up in front of a long ditch. The [Wehrmacht] guards shot them all. Eight other girls were chosen to cover them up with a layer of earth and sand. Among the girls was Kodrat of Będzin , who said secretly at the pit, “Dying isn't hard at all. What's hard in the moment before death….”

During our march we had to go more than once on circuitous routes due to the steep terrain. We simply didn't find any easy paths to where we were going. When snow fell, we wetted our dry mouths with the snowflakes that covered our clothing. This was our “manna”[6] that fell from heaven. The snow which under our feet [otherwise] imprisoned us. Death beckoned with every step. The bitter wind which blew also sometimes conspired against us. But at other times, it helped us, pushing us forward when we no longer had strength to go on. We were but as blowing leaves in its hands. Yet we were also refreshed by trembling, frosty gusts.

Along the way we slept one night at a camp, the name of which I don't remember now, but which had a dreadful appearance. From time to time we were awakened by terrible voices shouting and sprays of cold, slushy water thrown at us. This would only exasperate the cold we already felt.

Somewhat later we arrived at [another] large concentration camp called Hellenberg. We stayed there about 6 weeks. Here we were put into wooden barracks and slept on a hard floor which amplified every sore and bruise we had on our bodies. Survival conditions [here] were terrible. The hunger and cold daily increased the number of girls who died. We did not go out to any work. At 4:00 p.m. we had to be inside the barracks and not still from there until night was over. The regime here was meticulously stringent. Every infraction of the rules generated lashes at the very least. The biggest gripe was the lack of cleanliness in the barracks. Many women were sick with dysentery and typhus. Once, it appeared to one of the S.S. women that one of us stood twice in the line for soup. As punishment, she was made to stand barefoot for hours on the cold stone floor. Afterwards we tried desperately to help restore circulation to our frozen legs.

Another time, I was beaten severely on my legs with a rubber truncheon for a minor infraction. My legs bled profusely for a long time.

From Hellenberg we were taken to the town of Asch. However, in the middle of the night we woke to the sound of gunfire and were ordered to leave immediately. It was clear from this that the Red Army was approaching. Upon until then, we had no real knowledge of what was going on in the battlefield. We left the place and began walking again. We didn't feel we had the strength to continue on. We were weak, beaten, starved, filthy, dilapidated, wet and exhausted. Thus it was hard for us to simply move.

Not long after, we passed the health spa of Karlsbad [Carlsbad] and Marienbad [Mariánské Lázně]. We looked yearningly at those places which were forbidden to us.


dab328.jpg [44 KB] - Murdered because they wished to remain Jews
Murdered because they wished to remain Jews


[Page 329]


One day, a Czech whispered into our ear some glad tidings. Gather your strength – you'll keep living! It was then that ideas of escape began to percolate through our brains and eyes. I think it was around the time of that demon Hitler's birthday – 28 April, 1945. Roza Altman walked with me and was dying. She just could not continue. Her mouth appeared to be foaming. I tried to give her what little aid I could, but I was almost finished myself, my feebleness almost too much to bear. It was then I decided the only way to save our lives was to escape. I planned with Roza that at the first opportunity I would bolt [from the line] and she'd bolt out soon thereafter.

That day we walked through Eisenstein in the Carpathian [Mountains], close to the Czech border. We walked along a wide road, which was flanked on either side by dense bushes, after which was seemingly endless forest. Between the road and the bushes was a water-filled canal about 2.5 meters wide. The Germans shot at anyone who appeared trying to escape from the line, but I simply could not continue walking on. I was wearing two left shoes which were a few sizes too large for me that were kept on my feet with rags and wiring. The shoes dug into me and caused much pain in my walking. When we came to a sizeable turning, I jumped into the canal and hid myself in the foliage. Apparently the Germans did not notice my escape. Afterwards I heard another jump, but it turned out to be a different girl. As she jumped, the kerchief she wore on her head fell off and was noticed by the Germans. A volley of shots went in her direction for a few seconds. Then everything went quiet. Apparently the Germans believed they had hit us and continued on their march.

Roza did not jump. Later I heard that she kept going until her feet gave way and died.

I remained in that place for a long time, exhausted and without strength. When I finally emerged, the girl who had also jumped came up to me. She turned out to be Hela Ingster from Sosnowiec. Both of us were stunned. We did not know what we should do nor where to turn. Luckily we soon came on a man who showed concern for us. He tried making us a “soup” from some branches nearby and cooked in water taken from the canal and seasoned with whatever we had among us. We wanted to finish it all but could not swallow more than one spoonful. Our stomachs, empty for months, could not even digest this food. We then got precise directions from this man [on] how to reach the nearest town. The area we were in ran close to the Czech border and was crawling all over with Nazi troops. When we got to the village, we asked a woman if we could sleep in her barn, and she agreed. However, when we found out that German soldiers were staying in her house and that by morning she'd probably figure out who we were, we disappeared from there during the night. We then decided to remain in the fields and not go knocking on any doors. We kept moving while we had the strength to do so, even though no food came to us. Suddenly, we saw in the a small house alone at the end of a field, and approached it. It was Czech. We had gotten finally to Czech soil.

That whole time, we hid our Jewish identity. We were afraid to reveal the truth as long as we were within the Nazi grasp. Even in Czechoslovakia there was no shortage of fervent Nazis. We thus decided to call ourselves Polish Christian refugees. Of course this affectation fell from us more than once, especially after the end of the war, as we endeavored to get out of difficult situations. It was especially hard for me to answer the question, “where is your cross?” I'd remember my father's admonition: “Italeh, never forget you are a Jewish daughter.” I would think about this whenever the situation would get really difficult. I really wanted to live. I prayed to G-d to keep me going, at least until the end of the war. My great spiritual request was to remain alive so that I could [one day] tell the story of what happened to me. I prayed that if my destiny was to die, it would not happen until after I had done this.

On the 10th of May, we saw an American armored column coming towards us. The villages around us now all bore many white flags. We didn't know precisely what was going on in the war, but figured that the end must be close. I breathed in the air of peace. I wanted to raise my arms and wave at the saviors but just didn't have that strength. Tears came to my eyes and my rest was disturbed: who knew if bad tidings would find me now?

(As told to her daughter, Sara)


__________
  1. Term used for any non-military campaign to further Nazi ideals of race, but most often referred to the assembly and deportation of Jews to concentration or death camps. return
  2. Leader of the work unit. return
  3. (“Armed forces”, literally “doing war”) – was the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. return 6. In biblical literature, one or more of the foods that sustained the Hebrews during the 40 years that intervened between their Exodus from Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land. return


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