Behind Every Name a Story (BENAS) is a project of the Museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. The BENAS Web project consists of essays describing survivors' experiences during the Holocaust
Our suffering at Auschwitz-Birkenau ended in November, 1944, when my two sisters and I were sent to work in Germany. The Russians were very close, and the Germans had begun evacuating the camp. Air raids were occurring frequently by that time and bombs were being dropped on Auschwitz regularly. They darkened the camp during the air raids, but we were actually praying for the bombs to hit us. I didn't care if I died, as long as it took some Germans with me.
We left Auschwitz on a cold night. It was not a joyous occasion. It was snowing, and we were standing outside, almost naked. We stood one behind the other, holding each other very tightly to keep warm. At dawn, they led us into the washroom to take showers. They gave us clothes, and shoes that didn't fit, but at least they were shoes. Shoes were very hard to come by in Auschwitz. Our coats each had a huge red cross on the back so we could be seen if we tried to escape. As they loaded us onto the train, they threw each person a loaf of bread. Everyone dropped it, they were so surprised to be getting an entire loaf of bread.
The train went along, and people were dropped off periodically. Dachau was one of the stops. As we traveled through Germany, we looked out the window and saw normal people dressed up and traveling with their children. We were shocked to realize there were still people in the world, living normal lives. We no longer looked human, with our emaciated bodies, sunken faces and shaved heads. I didn't know it at the time, but I weighed less than 80 pounds. I felt very sick in the train, with a terrible toothache. I couldn't eat my loaf of bread. I felt at my last edge and wasn't even happy to be leaving Auschwitz. I just wanted to live long enough to tell the world what had happened.
We were sent to work in an ammunition factory in Torgau, about 160 kilometers from Berlin, where we remained until April, 1945. Our work was to drag 50-pound bombs out of the forest that the Germans wanted to move to a safer location, in view of the imminent arrival of the Allies. Our living conditions improved there. The beds were two-tiered instead of three, and four people instead of fourteen slept on each tier. We felt we were human again, although we still weren't getting enough nutrition to grow back our hair. In April, the Germans bombed their own factory. They were evacuating and wanted to leave nothing behind for the Russians. There were 250 of us working there, and our commander regretfully told us that he would have to kill us, since the front was rapidly approaching. Several days later he lined us up and we were sure we would be shot. Instead, he announced he decided to spare us, so we could put in a good word for him to the Americans and Russians if he was caught.
The Americans were the first to arrive at Torgau. I remember they lined us up and told us we were free. A rabbi was praying. When the Americans left, the Russians arrived and began brutally attacking us. Daughters were raped as their mothers watched. Only by running for our lives into the forest and hiding, did my sisters and I manage to escape the Russians.
The next step to freedom was a barefoot march to Leipzig, Germany, from dawn until 1 a.m. the following morning. Not one building was left standing in Leipzig; there was only rubble. From there we were taken on a cattle train by the Americans, who had a separate compartment, on a three-week stop and go journey to Prague, Czechoslovakia. We spent the next several months recovering in a school that had been converted into a refugee camp by the Red Cross.
The first thing I did after recovering physically was to take a train back to my hometown, Munkachevo. I walked from the station to the house where I used to live. Strangers were living there. I asked if any of my mother's belongings were still there, I said I was her daughter and she would want me to have them. They told me nothing was left; it had all been thrown away, and they shut the door in my face.
I left Munkachevo forever and spent the next several months wandering around Hungary and Czechoslovakia, boarding the train and disembarking at random cities, getting accustomed to being without parents and a home. At every station, names of survivors who were looking for relatives were posted. I looked on every list, but never found the names of my parents or any of my missing brothers and sisters.
Back in Prague when I was reunited with my sisters, we experienced some amazingly good luck for the first time. We were walking down the street when I suddenly recognized my older brother, Herman, whom we had long thought was dead. We had even sat Shiva for him in 1942. He didn't recognize us, but I knew without a doubt it was him from a scar on his face from a horse kick. We were all crying in the street. Herman, always the independent rebel, assumed we were dead and never looked for us. If he had looked, he would have seen our names posted on every list of survivors. It turned out that while Herman was traveling all over Europe and fighting against the Germans with the Czechoslovak army, he threw out his identification papers to protect his family in the event he was caught and taken prisoner. Someone found them, and assumed the owner was dead. At the time of our reunion, Herman was dating the daughter of Prague's police commissioner and was doing very well. He had her cooking for us constantly, and she even gave us some of her clothes.
By 1948 my sister Hermine and I had both met the men who would become our husbands and we were married in Czechoslovakia. Between 1948 and 1949, my surviving brothers, Benze and Herman, myself, Hermine and our husbands, as well as our youngest sister, Blanche, all left our homeland and moved to the United States. Not one of us ever set foot again in the Czech Republic, Hungary or Germany; not once; not ever again.
Cliffside Park, New Jersey