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< Echoes of Memory

Freedom in Holysov


By Ruth Cohen

In February 1945, I was one of 500 women shipped from a concentration camp in Nuremberg, Germany, after it was totally destroyed by constant bombing. We arrived at Holysov, Czechoslovakia, near Plzen. Some 250 of the women were Jewish and 250 were political prisoners from Poland and Russia.

Watch Ruth Cohen read her essay, which was recorded in September 2022.

There were three barracks in the camp. The Jewish women were housed in the second barrack. We slept on bunk beds, two people sharing each bed. The beds were just wooden planks without mattresses. Most guards were members of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces), not SS. We were treated more humanely then we had been in other camps. My sister translated some English materials for the guards. In turn they gave her some raw potatoes, which helped us as we were starving all the time. Within a few days of our arrival we started working in the factory, which was located in the third barrack. I only managed to stay working with the group for a few days since the terrible pain in my back returned. That pain started in Nuremberg while I was working and spending a lot of time in the bunkers because we were being constantly bombed. Now the pain in my back persisted and became unbearable with each passing minute. Finally I went to the infirmary, where bed rest was suggested. I stayed there for most of the remaining time.

I remember when news of Roosevelt’s death reached us. Our hope of the war ever ending and of ever being free was shattered. Most of us cried bitterly, but all of us were very sad.

One Saturday morning in early May, around 11:30, we were all in the barrack when some women, standing on the top bunk looking out the window, noticed men running down the mountain side. More and more men appeared. The women reported that they had guns in their hands. I remember our excitement and how we jumped up on the beds to see the men running toward the camp. They surrounded the camp and pushed the gate opened. No German guard appeared anywhere; they were hiding in their rooms. It was reported that one of the officers was changing into civilian clothing when the White Russian partisans broke into his room and arrested him. Most of the Germans did not resist arrest. One officer tried to flee on a motorbike. He was shot on the spot right in front of us. Some cheered, but most of us were shocked to see such cruelty.

The partisans were ready to leave with their prisoners. They invited anyone who wanted to come to join them. They insisted that the rest of us stay in the camp behind locked gates and wait for the Americans to come and liberate us, which they said should happen in just a few days since they were very close by. About 120 women left with the partisans. It was a mixed group. Several hours later, the Jewish women came back to the camp. The White Russian partisans told them that Jewish women were not welcome in their group.

The women who returned to our camp told us the story of how our liberation came about, as the partisans had told them. Friday night a few female Wehrmacht officers went to a nearby bar for some drinks. They told the bartender that there was a plan to blow up the camp. Cans filled with gasoline were placed around the camp and they would be ignited the next day at 12:30. p.m. This information was transmitted to the nearest partisan group and they went into action. They came over from their hiding places and liberated us. The war ended two days later and the Americans liberated our camp.

©2011, Ruth Cohen. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   ruth cohenechoes of memory, volume 6liberationpolitical prisonersconcentration campsczechoslovakia

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