I don't know how many days it was. Finally we got to Auschwitz and they didn't open up these cattle cars, but we wanted to get out of them because it was chaotic. Everything was a mess.
Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.
This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.
In today’s episode Helen Goldkind talks with program host Bill Benson about her deportation and arrival at Auschwitz.
If you can, Helen, tell us about the trip to Auschwitz, what that trip was like, and what happened once you got there.
Well, they gave us a bucket of water and there were lots of people in that cattle car. I don’t know how many because I didn’t count them.
But it was one bucket of water for the car.
One bucket of water. And there were old people, children were crying, and all the people were fainting. There was hardly a place to sit down. It was chaotic. My grandparents were coming with us in the same cattle car and my mother worried over her parents, so she would say to my older sister that when we get on the farm, she should take care of them.
You know, everybody had a job to do and we should take care of each other. That was my mother’s wish. So I don’t know how many days it was, we finally got to Auschwitz and it was still daylight and they didn’t open up these cattle cars, but we wanted to get out of them, because it was chaotic. People were…well, everything was a mess.
Well, it got darker, but as soon as we stopped with these cattle cars, we smelled a terrible smell. We figured that smell shouldn’t be on a farm. It smelled like they were burning flesh, but we figured, “Okay, they’ll open up the doors, we’ll look around, we’ll see what’s happening.”
So as they opened up the doors and they say, “Raus! Raus!” you know, they were screaming, “Get out! Get out!” and we had to take whatever, you know, this little suitcase and throw it in a ditch, and so we did that. And my grandfather came with the Torah scrolls and he wouldn’t think of parting with the Torah scrolls because, first of all, it’s a sin to throw it down.
And my mother looked around and all of a sudden she sees that they’re beating him up. They were telling him to throw the Torah scrolls in the ditch.
Onto the pile of the luggage in the ditch.
Yes, and he said to my mother, “They don’t understand what I’m trying to tell them, that it’s a sin, it’s a sin!” Well, these monsters…he didn’t want to throw the Torah scrolls down and he was holding onto them and so these monsters were beating him. He fell with the Torah scrolls. [Cries.]
And, Helen, you were there. You saw this.
I saw this with my eyes. That’s why it’s so difficult for me. And they were screaming. My mother looked fairly young, but she was holding on, I had a six-year-old brother, and I don’t know, accidentally, or whatever it was, I wanted to know what was happening to him and he was already on the ground and they were still hitting him there.
And my heart cried out, “Somebody help him!” you know, this is my grandfather. Nobody came to… nobody came. And then…
My mother was still holding onto my brother and he loved books. We weren’t rich, so if we ever got a present that was a book…and he was holding onto one book and my mother saw what happened to my grandfather. She was afraid that they were going to also beat him up, so she was begging him to throw that book into the ditch and he wouldn’t do that.
Then she was negotiating it with him. Finally he took the book and gave it to my mother and he was watching my mother throwing that book into that ditch and she just cried. And then all of a sudden one of those monsters came and they pulled my brother away from my mother and he cried.
And my mother heard him, and she ran after him, and she was telling those monsters that he’s only six years old, he will not survive without me. And they were beating her up and she fell and they kicked her around with those big boots.
And finally, you know, when they saw she had difficulties getting up, they pushed her to the left and she went with my brother. Many times, when I think about it, I say maybe if she wouldn’t run after, maybe she would survive because she was fairly young. [O]n the other hand, I say to myself, you know, my little brother didn’t go to his death crying.
She was there with him.
She was there with him, and knowing my mother, she probably comforted more of these kids that were crying. Then that was the last I saw my mother.
You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. [Please take our First Person podcast survey and let us know what you think.]