The Last Chance to Remember
Chapter 17. GLOWEN
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
our Block Alteste was Blanka from Sászrégen, Hungary.
She was Jewish and was quite nice to us, but she had her limits too.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.