Concordia University MIGS

Back to Holocaust Memoirs | Back to MIGS

Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember



Chapter 17. GLOWEN

Our next journey was not any easier. The new place was called Nitzow and the name of the lager was Glowen. This lager belonged to Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. This was a working camp and didn't have crematoriums, so it was not a Vernichtungslager. Again we saw the familiar greeting; Arbeit Macht Frei! or the gate to hell!

500 women worked, lived, slept, ate in those barracks and dreamed about the past and about the future, still hoping every day and all the time. We had appell every day early in the morning and at night before "supper." In the morning, right after appel we went to work in several groups where we were assigned to various jobs. Some time later we had a washroom here, which was a big improvement. It was a huge, ice-cold room with cemented floor, but it meant a lot to us. Here Mrs. Ungar from our town, who was there with her daughter, had the honour to look after this important place. In the winter time we had to break the icicles when the water froze so the water could start to flow. We could hardly wait to get into the washroom, where we had to wait totally bare naked for our turn to get to the basin. We tried to brace ourselves against our new enemy, the lice, but it was a hopeless battle.

When we received our so called "clean clothing" the whole army of lice reached and attacked us with those dresses, around the pockets and in the seams and everywhere. On Sunday we were trying to get rid of them and spent every little free time on this nuisance. The only way is cleanness but cold water didn't help much so we were cursed with this awful pestilence on top of everything else, and our battle with them was fruitless. All you could do, was just detest them. They just added to our miserable situation and tormented state of mind.

Every day brought some excitement which was always harder to tolerate. One time my sister OIly was the kapo for a short time. On a Sunday they sent us out to work, my sister never dreamed that among the SS guards was somebody who would understand our language. So, she lamented bitterly that even on a Sunday they wouldn't leave us alone. In a German uniform was a Hungarian "nobody" who spoke the language fluently and he gave Olly's number hurriedly to the important people, who were just waiting for such news!

When we came back from work, the whole lager was called out for appel and Olly's number was called. She was very strictly threatened with a very serious punishment, that was in reality very severe, but they didn't kill her. It was just a lucky accident who was the inquisitor at the time? Since it was winter time, the punishment was intensely harsh.

It was a terrible experience. The very next day for the whole day she had to stand barefoot at the entrance gate and nobody was allowed to help her with anything. It was another miracle that she somehow came through this trial. For me it was really a trying time to watch her in this painful situation as I was not able to help her. She supposedly used the word "barbarians" but how much can a person endure? It was a shocking experience.

For me it was a punishment too, because, it hurts to see and watch helplessly such a painful sight of somebody who is so close. We had to go to work, to leave her at her post, and we were supposed to find her at the same place, at the gate. We were not allowed to talk to her, and of course not to try to give her something to eat. It is incredible how much can a person take sometimes. But many, many times any strong will didn't help!

Here I have to mention an episode which happened to Clara and it almost cost her her life. One wintery night she was trying to find the would-be washroom and made a terrible mistake. In the darkness she went in the wrong direction and didn't notice what was in front of her, and fell into the latrine. At this time it was lucky that we were guarded and she called out for: help, help! The SS guard came to her rescue handed her his rifle, which she grabbed. He pulled her out and saved her from the most unpleasant captivity. She could have suffocated there!

She had to throw away every piece of clothing, and first she had to clean herself in the washroom, for the time-being just with cold water. But later in the morning, when the black coffee, our breakfast arrived, all the girls gave their portion so she could use the warm water, We were not housed in the same barrack, so we heard about this accident only later.

Here our Block Alteste was Blanka from Sászrégen, Hungary. She was Jewish and was quite nice to us, but she had her limits too.

We arrived here in the fall so we spent the winter here. In the first months we were working in the forest where we found mushrooms and sometimes we were lucky enough to bring some "home;" this became our delicacy baked, on Sunday. We had a big round iron stove which occupied the most important place in the barrack.

It was standing in the middle of the block. The supper was distributed from there, for which we waited with great excitement and expectation. Our row was ready waiting, with spoon and plate in our hands. There we watched intently, whether the portions were given evenly, because this was coming to us, therefore we watched more than eagerly. The soup was given out with a ladle and we followed those moves with Argus eyes to see if the ladle went deep enough into the pot so we could benefit from the thicker part as well.

Usually the thickest part was at the bottom and there were always some who waited for this chance to find a little "second helping." Then with our warm soup and piece of bread we wandered to our cot and didn't take long to finish it all. The bread ration was really for the next day so we were faced with the big question: whether to gulp it down right there and then or keep it for the next day. Even as small as this slice was, it was wise sometimes to leave it, so we had something in our mouth again. In reality it was only a bite and it was risky to leave or put it away, because it disappeared easily. So my sister didn't wait, she finished it right away. Otherwise the very cherished bundle disappeared. It is unbelievable, but it happened. Hunger is a big master and leads people to do things that are hard to believe. Also there were mothers with young daughters for whom it was very hard to watch their children's sufferings.

I have to mention a girl from Sászrégen, whose name was Irene. She was our clown. In the beginning we thought she was silly but slowly it became obvious that she was trying to make our life bearable. She tried to be funny and make us laugh. I think of her with fondest gratitude.

On one occasion my group was assigned to carry bombs, ammunition to be handed from one person to the next. The bombs weighed about 50 kg. This was the time when we started to be concerned about our mental state too because the life that we led was nothing but fear, mental and physical anguish, hunger, thirst and dirt. Our mind concentrated on those then important problems, so we decided to check our minds too if they were still working. The game was, we would walk with our burden, bombs and others, ammunitions and meet the others halfway. We would then hurriedly ask questions so the other had to answer quickly. If the question was difficult, then they would answer at the next turn. The questions consisted of names of actors, actresses, plays, books, titles or authors. We tried even geography, just to think a little bit. We also tried to make some kind of social gatherings on Sunday afternoon when possible. There were girls who knew some poems, recitals, singing, anything just to move away from the gnawing, painful existence.

We received some clothing and wooden shoes. Those shoes deserve a special note. While marching to or from work on the snow covered road, the snow would stick to the sole which was of wood. This hampered our marching and made it difficult to keep pace with the column. There was no time to step out, so I used a stick or a branch of a tree, gave a sharp hit to the critical place and the icy snow fell off. In need, one can learn many things.

Some of the girls were working at places where they could obtain material so they made up some caps for us, to cover our heads and ears in the winter. The wind was blowing, it was snowing and we had to be outside. The biggest fear was that we would get sick, so with our remaining will we tried our utmost not to find ourselves in the revier (lager hospital). We all knew only too well what a risk it was to be there, for mostly there was no way out. One day our barrack had a big sensation. A baby was born in the washroom. We all thought that it was a cat, because nobody was expecting such a surprise. This poor girl was in my commando. She was very quiet and in those shapeless dresses we hadn't noticed anything. She was very frightened. At first she was taken to the revier where the women guards were almost human to her, but then she disappeared.

The forest became an unforgettable experience especially after rainy days. Slowly the whole place, wet grass, wet mushrooms, wild flowers, trees, all in different smells blended together and formed such a special aroma, a real, original, wild forest aroma. It penetrated our noses, in our whole body. This smell reminds me every season again and afresh of this time, that we spent in the forest. This scent is so unique that only nature can produce it.

We forced each other to talk, just to talk about anything, because we were really concerned that we would go mad, so we tried to cover up the real picture desperately. All those incredible experiences we all lived through, were with us day and night and made us wonder how much a person could take? Some people just collapsed at roll call, the rest of us had to watch silently and go on with our burdened life.

I saw my parents all the time, everywhere as though they had followed us. How devastated they would have been to see us in such conditions. They were such devoted parents, maybe it was better this way, but I couldn't escape the bitter and painful thoughts, the questions about what happened in those last hours?

We were lucky, my sister and I, that we were able to stay together. At every registration I used my maiden name, which protected us from the danger of the nightmarish separation. At least we tried! We tried to help each other as much as we could, but it was painful to watch her suffer and be so unable to relieve her from the hardships. She was seven years younger than me and it was terrible to see her in such a terrible place.

My sister used to have ear infections after a cold every fall or winter. By some unexplained miracle we were spared from this very painful and frighteningly serious problem. It would have been a catastrophe. There was a woman from our town who came from a well-to-do family who suffered from stomach ulcer; so the housemaid toasted the white bread for her (Polacsek Ila). Here she didn't have such an exclusive service, so the pain understood and kept quiet. She never complained. Another woman discovered a lump under her armpit. We tried to hide her at selections. This would have been a positive cause to show her to the red light, real and sure danger was always around us. Red light means warning, real danger.

Another difficult thing was watching the very young girls suffer, very quietly from hunger and other hardships. In our close circles we had a few 13-14 year olds who by some miracle had been allowed to stay with their mothers.

One of them in particular lingers in my memory. She was a most beautiful sight, like a budding rose, with a little pale, pink colour on her thin, weary cheek. I don't know where we found some red paper to colour her lips to make her look older. Even with no hair she was beautiful because of her youth. My heart ached for her to see her suffering, quietly crying in her modest way, and how she met her fate with resignation. Her name was Jutka Falkenstein. Her mother was a very energetic woman. We tried to find a position for her but it was short lived. Jutka pulled to my side many times and I tried to soothe her pain.

I cannot remember where or how we got the white kerchiefs, maybe they were distributed. I only remember that when the air raids started to come we were blamed for signals, so we had to take them off fast. How happy we were to listen to the sound of the siren.

We were fortunate to have French prisoners of war as neighbours. Only a wire fence separated us. They watched us and didn't cover up their dislike of our situation. They could witness many things and having somewhat more freedom they made fun of our way of "living." When we had a roll call they were openly trying to do the same, to mimic and imitate the whole scene. Sometimes they threw something over the fence which was a Godsend. It was a beautiful sigh, when a conserve or anything else came flying over to our side. Once I was lucky enough to catch a long johns which came in very handy in the winter.

Unfortunately all this was discovered and first they received a warning, then a serious reprimand and when all this didn't help, they were moved away, to our deepest regret and disappointment.

Although they were in similar circumstances, really the same boat, they were able to get parcels from home sometimes, and mail too. So their stay there was not as inhuman as ours. Somehow it gave us a good feeling to see and feel people near by. We felt a little bit protected, comforted, since they understood our plight. While they were there we didn't feel so alone, so abandoned. Without exchanging a single word, we understood each other.

Back to Key Words and Abstract

To Chapter 18

© Concordia University