November 13, 2018
by Agi Geva
On April 28, 1945, in Garmish Parten Kirchen, Germany, the 179 Hungarian women had 179 opinions of their whereabouts, what to do, and where to go. My mother, sister Shosha, and I looked at one another, cried, hugged, and declared that we had made it in spite of all that we had gone through. In spite of the Nazis’ intentions and efforts. We were relieved that we did not have to be part of the forced death march any more. Our strength had been spent, and we just wanted to sit down due to exhaustion. I knew that if I would have had to march for one more day, I would not have remained alive.
We were still afraid that we would fall into enemy hands. After a while, we saw a group of soldiers whom we could not identify. When we approached them, I understood that they were talking in English, since I had learned English as a child. They were Americans. They told us that they were astonished, since they had never before seen such a group of weird-looking, emaciated, ugly, bald women.
The soldiers led us to their headquarters at a nearby summer resort hotel in Plansee. I recall very little of that period, as it took me a while to reorient myself, both physically and cognitively. The Americans gave us everything that we needed, and they even suggested that we sew dresses for ourselves using the curtains in the rooms. After a few days, an American officer was going to town to shop, and he asked each of us what we had dreamt of having during the past year. He said that he would try to fulfill those wishes. Some of us wanted chocolate, others craved ice cream. Some women wanted schnitzel, and I asked for lipstick. My request surprised everybody. We had not seen a mirror image of ourselves in a long time. After I saw my reflection in the mirror, I barely recognized myself, since I was very pale, very thin, and my hair was only one centimeter in length. I thought that the lipstick would improve my appearance, even though my mother had not allowed me to use lipstick in the past.
After several weeks we had to leave the headquarters, and the officers took us to Innsbruck, where the United Restitution Offices took care of us. We stayed at the Hotel Post in Innsbruck for eight months, as we waited, thought, and planned. It took us some time to get used to having a normal life after we had been in captivity for almost a year. It felt wonderful to be free, to be able to make our own decisions, to be able to take a shower and to sleep alone in a real bed with a pillow and blanket, without waking up hungry. For a long time I would awake in the morning anticipating the barked commands of the kapos at Auschwitz. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that those days were over forever. I admired and appreciated the green scenery, such a profound contrast to the grayness of Auschwitz. I had regained my childhood, as I now sang together with the birds in the trees and I danced when I saw a flitting butterfly.
It was difficult for us to make decisions for the future. While we were in Innsbruck, we took day trips to town, where we went to the cinema, to local resorts, and to other places where we made new friends. The Hungarian group members seldom spoke about the events of the past year. I already felt the period of what eventually became the 50-year silence begin. I occasionally asked my mother about events that were unclear to me regarding the captivity period, but her answer was primarily one of avoidance. She did not want us to speak of the past year.
My mother, my sister, and I contemplated options for the future. We were told that we could choose any place, and we would be taken there, wherever it would be. Most members of our group left for the United States, some chose Palestine, and others went to Australia. My mother wanted us to return to Hungary so that we could find out which of our relatives had survived and were alive. We were given the necessary documents, money, and guidance in order to facilitate our journey to Budapest. I did not want to return to Hungary, to face the people who had betrayed us to the Nazis, those who still wished for our extermination. I hoped to go to a distant place, where the sun shines, without reminiscences of that dark period.
Today, 73 years after my liberation, I still recite a silent prayer of thanks to God every day for my freedom.
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