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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember




The next tragic date was June 2nd, 1944, Thursday and finally this was our group, the fourth and the last. This dreadful day arrived just like an execution. Here was the first investigation; we had to undress in front of the gendarmes. After this excitement the women searchers took over and they did their best to humiliate us in every way.

We were allowed to bring one little pillow and I am sure that almost everybody tried to place some jewelry inside the pillow which was filled with feathers. So my dear mother's beautiful engagement ring was gone with this last try. The gendarmes were trying to outdo their superiors most of the time. They had always new ideas and tricks to punish us for anything.

Families were trying to help each other, men and women, young and old. To carry overtired crying children at the same time as holding on to things, which were picked up in haste. People were tripping on everything and bumping each other. There was a constant stress to go ahead, pushing, trying to cope with the inhuman task.

The last day went by with cleaning up the barracks after the previous groups. The deserted barracks showed a terrible sight. Our tasks were to bring down the brick walls which we had built around the barrack. We had to carry out the bedding, beds, and to empty the abandoned place; all that was left behind and thrown all over. It was a horrible account of the whole situation. The latrines were full of valuable things, so was the road to the wagons. In the mud, in the puddle, we could see diamonds.

My dear father remarked very quietly that this clearly shows the end. He was really always an optimist, so to hear these words from him and see in reality, with our own eyes, was terribly frightening.

After all this work we joined the mass of people in the yard towards the exit. Our eyes let the tears flow uncontrollably, we couldn't see clearly. We just walked one after the other full of emotion. We just looked at each other with unspeakable heartache and emotion, totally helpless and heart-broken. Towards the road in a distance we could spot the frightful cattle trains, waiting for us with wide open doors. We had to line up with all our bundles. The horrible picture and experience wouldn't be complete if a heavy rainfall wouldn't pour down on us in the last minutes. We had to close the reopened rucksacks and other bags. We had to wait for our destination in the rain, totally soaked. This was only to double our hardships to make it always harder and harder.

The barracks were empty already, but our guards wouldn't let us in to take shelter from the rain. They rather enjoyed watching our struggle from a distance and from a dry place. We almost waited for the moment to leave, just to go away.

Finally we were nearing the wagons and were told that 75 people are allowed to get into them with the permitted belongings. We took turns sitting on the floor in still wet clothing, there was no place to move, no possibility to stretch a little bit. To add to our sufferings came the humiliating discovery that there was one pail for washroom use for the whole wagon. And of course again in front of everybody. No discretion at all. So we used a bed sheet around the person who needed help.

Before we realized it, the door was shut behind us with a loud bang. It is impossible to describe the atmosphere, the air inside. We were more than the allowed number and older people were dying, children crying, they were hungry and thirsty, and before long it was unbearable for the adults too.

The train moved from the barracks, we took a last glimpse through the opening which was called window and the train pulled out, through the city, through the familiar streets, stores. People were standing at the sidewalks and watching. Some with horror, some with pity and others with open satisfaction. The real heartache began when we were nearing and came closer and closer to the street where our plant used to be. We had to bear the sight and look at the burned down place and travel past. We had spent long hours and many years of hard work to make a decent living there.

The train arrived at the station and had to wait another day. How can anybody talk about those last hours in our beloved city and our home?!

Dr. Gasko was a lawyer in our city, he was a real humanitarian. After we left, he researched our tragedy and fate. His article and findings were in the Menora, a Hungarian newspaper in Toronto. The number of our train was 2499. We left Kassa, Hungary on 2-3 June 1944.

In the last months, when we were still at home, everybody tried to learn something useful. I had learned to sew lingerie and bedding. Some of these pieces came out real nice and for a souvenir I took some with me. The SS opened the doors at every station, demanding more valuables, shouting loud. They came in to search with the butt of their rifles, they picked some of the things, holding them up high, laughing aloud and making fun. Only they were laughing, our group was more silent, than before, became numb, from this new experience. My dear mother turned to me and tried to console me: don't worry, once we will be back, I will buy you nicer ones. Who cared about things anymore, but her words stayed with me forever. We couldn't understand what was the fun for uniformed, grown men; for us, it was rather grim.

My sister had learned hairdressing. She always had good hands in the hope that in future it could be helpful. She also had a very able character, which she would prove many times later.

We came back after 12 concentration camps and a whole year later, after unspeakable, unbearable experiences . We came back only with my sister, without our dear parents; we came back, we will never know how, because it was just a miracle.

We left Kasha-Kosice and across the Slovak border we soon spotted the Polish city: Tarnow. Our destination became clear already. The train traveled haltingly as though it understood its passengers heavy hearts, and burdened souls. My dear father looked out and with resignation said very quietly: there is no doubt any more where are we going.

The heavy door always opened and shut with a loud bang. We would grasp for a little fresh air each time it opened up for us. It is impossible to describe this journey. Children were hungry and crying and adults felt the thirst and all the inconveniences. To have all that at the same time is very difficult.

It was really heroic on the part of the soldiers to abuse and attack defenseless people of all ages. Some of us were trying to get a little rest or sleep standing even for a short time. The train was escorted by SS men, who enjoyed and used the power given to them. The most bitter feeling was that we were totally helpless and there was no way, not the slightest way, to ease the unbearable hardship for our parents. Were we so naive or were we still hoping to the last minute? And when the inevitable fate struck us, the shock was such, that our exhausted state of mind couldn't grasp any more. In the meantime, even with a slower "speed" we were nearing our destination, where we unfortunately arrived on Sunday around 2 pm, June the 4. 1944, to the "gate to hell" or Arbeit Macht Frei.

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