Regina Spiegel discusses her deportation from the ghetto in Pionki, Poland, and her arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center. Regina and her boyfriend Sam were deported together in 1944, but were separated upon arrival at Auschwitz.
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“Then of course once they separated us they put on me a number. By then I wasn’t anymore Regina. I was 14641.”
Over sixty 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 Regina Spiegel talks about her deportation from the ghetto in Pionki, Poland, and her arrival at Auschwitz- Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center. Regina and her boyfriend Sam were deported together in 1944, but were separated upon arrival at Auschwitz.
They never told you where you are going. That we are going to take you a resettlement. Like they came to the…even when they took out the people from the ghettos you know what, people actually went on these cattle trains willingly. You know why? Because they said, “We’re gonna ship you east. You are complaining you are starving from hunger. We’ll ship you east. We have factories there. You’ll be working and you’ll be able to feed your families.” So people figured what’s there to lose? It can’t be worse than what we are now.
Of course it was worse because where they took them I don’t even refer to that as a camp even because it was strictly a death factory because they just brought thousands and thousands and thousands of people there, in and out. The trains came, they left it, emptied the trains, and the trains came back empty. That’s what they about…close to over 800,000 Jewish men, and women, and children were killed there. Of course that’s how I lost most of my family so the same thing when they were sending us out they said, “We’re gonna resettle you too. You going to be working in another factory.”
So they put us on these cattle trains. They stuffed us in probably 100, over 100 and actually my boyfriend and I were on the same cattle train. It took us probably like about 3 days. As I say, what takes you now about 6 at the most, 6 hours by train to get to that place, because I have traveled it under normal circumstances. But they just kept you there, no facilities. When we got out of there it was like half of us were probably like almost like dead, really because when you came out and they started yelling, “Raus! Raus! Macht Schnell!”
You know, we understood a little bit German so we knew what they meant. We did get out but when they brought other transports that didn’t understand a word of German you know you, you really didn’t know what they wanted from you. When I got out they told you to strip naked and I clutched a couple pictures of mine because anytime we had an alarm to go out I always grabbed my pictures, whatever it was. Because, you know I had pictures of my family, of my little nephew, you saw a picture of me, this was already after the war picture. I don’t have a single picture because there I was standing…I will tell you, naked and these men, the SS, are standing around. You know, I was still like I left home. You were afraid because you didn’t know which part of your nakedness to cover with your two hands.
When the SS man saw me clutching those something, so he asked me, “What do you have there?” I said, “Nothing.” Because I figured what does he want with my pictures, I mean this is nothing of value. He said, "Lass das right here." You know, leave it right here. And he hit me with a rifle and he actually was a nice guy because he could have just as soon shot me for it because you had to obey whatever they told you. Of course once we were stripped naked I remember they were starting to shovel it, push it. They separated men on one side, women on the other side. Sam could see a little bit better than I did because I was completely like out of my…I didn’t know because when you looked at the place it didn’t look like a factory. It didn’t look…you could see that it…as if you landed on another planet. It was unbelievable.
Sam yelled out to me. He said, “Regina, (except that he called me Regina in Polish was Regina) if we get out of here meet me in my hometown.” And guess what I told him? I don’t know what got into my head because it just…I said, “Why your hometown, why not mine?” I mean it was really ridiculous, you know. It was really, when I think back I just can’t believe it. It was just because you see I still had this in mind, my mother, my mother, you know. So I figured I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home to see my mother.
Then of course once they separated us they put on me a number. By then I wasn’t anymore Regina. I was 14641. If they called out your number and you didn’t answer you know they figured that you are rebelling. So, they could’ve killed you for that. It was unbelievable. Of course they gave us the striped uniform. I don’t have it with me, but if you went up to the Museum upstairs you can see it.
We did get a little blanket and a little thing for a little soup, you know one of those things. This was our all of a sudden this was our possession, a new possession what we had. They did give us a pair of shoes that when my kids, when it was a style to wear these wooden clogs you know and my kids had their shoes at the neighbors because they couldn’t bring them into the house because every time they would walk it reminded me of these things. And it used to tear on your feet but you had to wear something. It was better than nothing.
You have been listening to First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our Web site, www.ushmm.org/firstperson, and follow the prompts to the First Person podcast survey to let us know what you think.
At our website you can also learn more about the Museum’s survivors, listen to the complete recordings of their conversations, and listen to Museum podcasts Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention.