Concordia University MIGS

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May 30, 1944

Lulu was gone; all our men were gone; the Jewish households consisted mainly of single women, mothers with small children, and the elderly. The war against the Jews was in full swing. Andrew, whom we called Lid-lid (since those were the sounds he so happily gurgled) was six months old.

We were taken to the ghetto six weeks ago. The backyard of the brick factory became the gathering place for all the Jews from Uzhorod and vicinity: about 15,000 people. Everyone was allotted a tiny space, according to the size of their family. There were our fellow Jews who became supervisors and those who policed the whole area. Some of us had tents, some only blankets or large towels to separate our sleeping places from those of our neighbours. But we were allowed to bring some of our possessions with us, such as bedding, or a baby carriage.

There was a lot of noise and arguments. One could hardly sleep at night. But at least the family was still together. We were hoping the war would end soon, our dear ones would come back to us, and we wouldn't be taken away again.


[Date indecipherable]

A long cattle wagon waiting to swallow part of humanity. We, the Jews, are still in Ungvar, our home town. Ours was the third transport this week. Where to? Nobody knows, nobody believes the rumours that we are not going to work, we are leaving for a concentration camp. Backs stooped from the heavy loads, all our possessions. Everything valuable I gave over to my next door neighbour. I notice a commotion near the entrance to the wagons. A loudspeaker announces: "You must take off all your jewelry. Watches, rings, necklaces. Nobody can take those with them." "Hand it over, hand it over!" From our Hungarian guards I hear it. Mother tumbles. I pick her up. She holds something in her hand. What is it? She opens her fist. A large stone. Not any kind of stone. This one is big and brilliant. "Where did you get it?" "You saw when I found it. Someone, fearing punishment, must have thrown it away. Listen to me Rose. You are young, you will survive this difficult time. Take it, it may save your life. Mine is finished. I know this is my last trip. I shall not return." I didn't argue, put the stone in my mouth before entering the wagon. I carried a portable sewing kit with me. The stone was sewn into the hem of my coat. At each stop during our three days travel, Hungarian or German SS came up demanding jewelry and watches. "Those who are hiding their fortunes will be punished."

After arrival to Auschwitz (which I described on prior pages), we were led to a huge room to undress before entering the "showers." "You will come out by a different door, your clothes will be taken away and fresh, clean ones given to you. Pile your shoes in a separate place assigned for it." I had to act quickly. The stone was embedded in the hem of my coat--I tore it out, placed it in my mouth for safekeeping. But the Germans knew all the tricks. One by one they checked everyone's mouth. "Open it. Now put your tongue around it." Our rectums were examined too. Some people carried American money wrapped in their rectum. What to do? I swallowed the stone. Was told to go in line for a body shave, then to the shower.

At home I was regular. At home I had a modern bathroom. Here they were only "latrines." At the latrines there was always long waitings.... I will never be alone.

How will I retrieve the diamond? It took me three days till the watery soup and sawdust bread accumulated a stool and at the latrine there was just one way. Put your hand under it and guide yourself with your fingertips. In vain. Today I came out empty handed. Maybe tomorrow. I repeated this maneuver a few times. Nothing. The stone must have fallen into the latrine. Was I sorry? Not at all. Diamonds had no value for us in the camp, my fortune was lost anyway, forcefully taken away my family, my only child.

Rumour had it that we would go to Germany and replace, in factories, those who were now soldiers. The horrifying rumours of killings and concentration camps, of separation of families, we dismissed as "horror stories." We simply refused to accept them as realities.

So we lived from day to day, with dwindling provisions, until whole groups of people were called up and taken away, nobody knew where. Yet a week after our fellow Jews disappeared, we received a lot of printed postcards in the ghetto: They were stamped Waldsee.

"We are fine, working, and hoping to see you soon." This card was meant to quell the fears and misgivings of those of us left behind. The Germans had thought of everything! In order to deceive us even more, they made us believe that all was well with those who had left. In reality, when we were in Auschwitz, we too were forced to write back to those who were still left behind in the ghettos. No one could mention the word Auschwitz or concentration camp. We were told to whom to address it--and woe to those who disobeyed! German lies!

Ours was the third transport. It grieved me to leave Uzhorod without having received any word from Lulu. I was left wondering whether he would know how and where to find us.

Our first day in Auschwitz seemed unreal. No nightmare could have been so horrible. A door had opened to a real inferno, and we had no means of escape. When the long row of young women started to move, we were herded into an empty room, where we were made to undress. There we stood, naked and shivering, fearing the worst.

Suddenly half a dozen men in striped uniforms came into the room, lined us up one by one, and started to shave us: first our heads, then our armpits, then around our private parts. When I saw the first women all shorn this way, they looked so grotesque that I didn't recognize them at first as my schoolmates. I surely didn't think I'd look the same way within a few minutes. I just remember bursting out into gales of laughter--which turned into a terrible shriek and a painful cry. "Quiet!" the men shouted. "You should be glad, you will have a real shower after this, instead of the gas pellets!" Of course, none of us knew what they were talking about, but in our fear we just trembled and kept quiet.

When everyone had been shaved (the Germans used the Jewish hair to stuff mattresses), a door was opened and we were led to a shower room. Real water was dripping from the faucets. It was cold water, but I felt refreshed by it. There were no towels. Still naked we stood, waiting to dry off, until all of us were ready. Only then did the Germans distribute clothing, which were big for the small people, but too tight for the stouter ones. We got no underwear. We changed the clothing among us, trying to fit it as well as we could.

We looked ridiculous. It was tragi-comic, but no one laughed. We had to choose from a pile of shoes. Some were lucky enough to find their own. In no time we were ordered five in a row and were led to our new quarters, the barracks / blocks. Ours was number 21. The lagerstrasse was noisy with women in the thousands, running up and down, looking for someone they knew. All the blocks were identical in structure: long and narrow, with a small cubicle of a room in the front for the block”lteste, who was usually a young Slovak girl. Trained by the Germans just for this purpose, she awaited us with a whip in her hand.

There were three tiers of sleeping bunks, one above the other, made of wood. Along the length of the block was an oven-like structure which separated the left side from the right. We all had questions to ask, and we all asked them at the same time, using our various languages. It seemed to me like the "Tower of Babel": all confusion.

"Quiet!" shouted the block”lteste, snapping her whip wherever it would reach. She made this gesture indiscriminately, until the one thousand women in the block became quiet. "I will answer all your questions," she said, "that is, four altogether. After which you will climb into the bunks until the sound of appel."

"One. Where are you? This place is called Auschwitz. It's a concentration camp.

"Two, Where are your relatives? If you had elderly parents, sisters or relatives with small children, or those who were sick, you might as well forget them. They are all dead."

Screaming and fainting followed, real bedlam. Again she had to use her whip.

"Quiet! Do you want to hear the rest?"

"Yes," some faint voices sounded.

"You have seen the sign on the door when you entered Auschwitz: 'Arbeit macht frei.' Forget it! You are not going to work here. You are going to die here! This camp was meant for the destruction of all the Jews. Including all of you!

"Last question and answer. What happened to your families? That's what's going to happen to you! You and they came in on your own two feet. They went out as you will: in smoke, via the crematoria."

More screaming, crying, shouting again. "This woman is crazy," I remarked to my friend, "I don't believe a word she's said." As if the block”lteste had anticipated our doubts, she concluded her speech with these words:

"I know you don't believe me. You can go out to the lagerstrasse and look to your left. Two huge chimneys are billowing fire and smoke all the time. Day and night they are burning the Jews by the thousands there, and you can smell the flesh for yourselves. But don't touch the fences, you can get electrocuted."

We ran out, stepping on each other. My nostrils filled up with the smell of human flesh and bones being burned. For the first time I believed the words of the block”lteste. I just knew she was telling the truth, and that we were in hell, a real hell on earth, from which there was no return or escape. I yearned to hold little Lidlid in my arms.

Suddenly I felt guilty. How could I have brought him here? What would Lulu say when he came home?

We were surrounded by high wire fences on all sides. Grotesquely positioned people were hanging on to them. I remembered the block leader’s warning: "Don't touch the fences, you will get electrocuted." But I didn't want to live any more! The fences seemed an invitation to an easy death. But then I remembered Lulu. And I decided that I must live for him, come what may!

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