Makes Babey Run?
When we walked to the Bergen-Belsen K. Z. gate, we passed beautiful
little houses in the village of Bergen with well groomed lawns and beautiful
flower gardens. People sat on their porches, relaxing. They saw very
well the walking skeletons with bulging eyes and arms hanging down like
sticks. After the liberation when we confronted these same people--they
knew nothing what was happening, they saw nothing and heard nothing.
Right under their noses people perished in the thousands and they knew
There is an announcement available to see in Yad Vashem about Siauliai
dated Sept. 10, 1941 that most industry with important specialists are
in Jewish hands, and that "We cannot do any work especially in
the shoe industry. We have to bring in young Lithuanians to learn the
trade soon, that the Jewish problem is solved without hurting the industry."
they know what the Jewish future will be, or didnt they?
the end of World War Two, the conclusion of a year and beginning of
a new year makes me think of my Holocaust Odyssey. I thank God for the
good years in Canada, the country that accepted us and made us feel
at home. My wonderful years with my late husband Paul and our two precious
children. One could not ask for anything more. Since Paul died my life
will never be the same. It was a marriage made in heaven. We came out
from hell and started a new life together. We grew into this life and
appreciated and cherished every moment of every day. Every new happening
in our lives was regarded as a precious gift. Unfortunately it ended
on Nov. 23, 1987. Paul is in my thoughts every minute of every day.
There are so many questions that I would like to discuss with him; I
miss this terribly because he always had the right answer for me.
took fifty years for me to decide to finally put some thoughts of my
war years into writing, even though the Holocaust was always present
and discussed in our home. We never tried to overprotect our children
and hide the pain, that we felt, from them. I firmly believe that our
children grew up as well adjusted adults because of our openness.
late husband went through hell, as a Christian, hiding with false papers,
working in the Polish underground, finally landing up in seven concentration
camps, about which he wrote in his book, Among Men and Beasts (published
by the World Bergen Belsen Association in 1978).
Babey Widutschinsky-Trepman, was born in Siauliai, Lithuania on the
20th of August 1924. We lived a fairly easy life as middle-class Jewish
people in our town. My father was the secretary general of the Jewish
Community and in the evenings he spent a few hours as accountant for
the Jewish Businessmans Association I had two sisters, one three
years my senior and the other one six years younger than I. We all attended
Jewish schools, had nice summer vacations in the country, belonged to
youth organizations, and had extra-curricular activities for our enjoyment.
June 1940 the Soviet Army entered Lithuania. It looked like a very friendly
invasion, but later on I learned that the Lithuanians were waving and
cheering and welcoming the German Army in 1941 with no less enthusiasm,
and no resistance. Our family did not belong to the very rich, as I
mentioned before, but life for us during the Soviet occupation was never
the same. In order to keep his job, my father had made a written statement,
that he is not a Communist, but he sympathizes with the masses in the
Soviet Union. Later on the Lithuanian police used my fathers statement
as a pretense to his arrest, when the Germans entered Lithuania. Even
though he would have been incarcerated anyway as a Jew, they used his
written statement as an excuse. They arrested him because he is a Communist.
My fathers arrest came before the Jews were put into the Ghetto.
It came so unexpectedly that my father didnt even have time to
think or do something about our lives. We happened to have good friends
among some of the Lithuanians and maybe we could have gotten a place
to hide during the German occupation. But these are thoughts that come
very often to my mind, when I think about these happenings maybe to
try to lessen or reduce the pain inside of me. But unfortunately this
is not something that I will be able to ever alleviate or diminish.
This is my life.
My mother was a housewife. We always had live-in help, which was very
common in those days, especially for middle-class families. Housework
wasnt as easy as it is nowadays, there were no electric, or gas
stoves, no vacuums. We owned a wood-stove and so cooking and cleaning
needed help. Our parents never had their own home, but we rented a beautiful
house in a nice section of the city, we dressed well and our parents
led a beautiful social life always surrounded by many friends.
Children usually perceive parents or their friends as "older people."
But when I think now that our parents perished in their early 40 years
of age, it gives me the shivers. On June 24th, 1941, we were awakened
by sounds of heavy bombardment. It came very suddenly. The Germans attacked
Lithuania on their way to Russia. The Russians didnt even seem
to fight back. Maybe they were caught by surprise? But we saw the soldiers
running and jumping over fences, leaving things behind them. It did
not take long before we saw the end of them. The Lithuanians who were
always very anti-Semitic did not even wait for the Germans to settle
in. They carried out pogroms against the Jews immediately. They robbed
Jewish belongings, accused Jews of being Communists, just to cover up
their deeds. It did not take long before we were made to wear the Jewish
stars. We were sent out to do all kinds of jobs: cleaning streets, digging
trenches, working on farms. The brutality towards the Jews escalated
every day. We were restricted to walk on the sidewalks, instead we walked
in the middle of the road. Elderly and sick were gathered and taken
to the big synagogue in Siauliai. My grandfather and a single daughter
who took care of him were among that group. The rest of our family was
still in the city, and my mother went every day to see my grandfather
and bring them some food. They stayed there only a few days. One morning
my mother came to the synagogue and found the place empty. No one knew
where the old and sick were taken, but rumours were later confirmed,
that they were taken a few kms out of the city and shot dead. Next came
my father. One day he was arrested, taken out to work, and never returned
home. Instead we found out that he is in jail with the rest of the group
that was recruited for work. Shortly after, Sept. 4th 1941, the Jews
of Siauliai were put into the Ghetto, with a barbed wire fence and guards.
The Ghetto was established in the poorest neighbourhood of Siauliai.
There were two parts to our Ghetto. One was called Kavkaz and the other
Traku (named for the long street bordering the jail). Our mother and
the three girls were taken to Traku Ghetto. I remember pulling a small
cart with our belongings into the Ghetto, all we had left of a beautiful
household with nice dishes, linens, books, carpets etc. All the nice
things that a well-furnished house has. By the time we went to the Ghetto
all our belongings were stolen, plundered and robbed and so the rest
that was left a young girl like myself was strong enough to pull what
was in the little cart.
Traku Ghetto was small with around five streets. On one side was the
city jail, the other side was bordering a big shoe factory that belonged
to the Frankel family, a very wealthy and prominent Jewish family. Eventually
there was a passage made from the Ghetto to the entrance of the factory,
so that the Jewish workers did not have to go outside of the Ghetto
in order to enter their workplace. The Ghetto was surrounded with a
barbed wire fence. Lithuanians, Ukrainians, some S.S. military and later
on Hungarians were the guards. At the onset of the Ghetto we used to
see our father being taken out with a group of people, loaded on a truck
and taken to work. They were usually brought back in the early evening
and our family were always standing on the Ghetto street waving to our
father. One morning my sister saw Daddy being loaded on a truck, as
usual. We expected to see him again in the evening. That special day
my sister Dora had a funny feeling that she would never see Daddy again,
and so it happened, her feelings were right. The whole truckful of Jewish
prisoners were taken outside the Siauliai city and they had to dig their
For a short time my mother and I worked in the shoe factory, sewing
the upper parts of ladies shoes. This was counted as a good job,
because it gave us an opportunity to exchange some leftover possessions
for food with the Lithuanian workers. This helped to feed us four, because
the rations we received were hardly enough to live on. People tried
to get work outside the Ghetto, because there one had more opportunities
to exchange food for some of our leftover items. My sister Dora worked
in the Ghetto administration office. Every morning the girls in the
office were on duty at the Ghetto gate to count up the people in the
working commandos. She was trying to find a job for me as well on the
outside. She had a Lithuanian "friend" that she met one summer
on a student summer job. Now a few years later, he became a policeman
and worked on the Siauliai police force.
As a matter of fact, he was one of the policemen who came to arrest
my father. After the arrest, Dora went to him and pleaded with him to
do something to get our father free. He promised to do his best, but
the truth was he did nothing, he didnt even try. He found all
kinds of excuses and the bottom line was--he didnt want to show
his friends that he even sympathizes with Jews.
Now that I was trying to get a job outside the Ghetto, Dora tried again
to get in touch with him and asked him whether he could help her get
a job for me outside of the Ghetto. This time he agreed to help (I think
he had guilt feelings about our father). He gave me a job as a maid
in his house to help his wife with the housework. In those miserable
times this job was a godsend. I cleaned the house, washed and ironed
clothes, but always got some food to bring back into the Ghetto. The
policemans wife was a good person and she never let me go home
empty-handed. There was a big problem though how to bring the food back
into the Ghetto. We invented all kinds of ways how to hide food on ones
person. But sometimes one had a larger parcel and had to carry a bag.
My mother was always waiting near the fence and sometimes it was possible
to throw a parcel over when the guard at the gate turned his back. We
also knew the guards as the "good one," the one you can "buy
off" etc. I had once an incident with a chicken. I decided not
to cut it up into pieces, but take a chance and bring it in whole into
the Ghetto. My mother was waiting for me as usual and, lucky me, here
I come with my chicken and the "good guard" is on. I walked
over to the fence and want to hand the parcel to my mother, and she
is afraid to take it. I had to push it right through the barbed wires
into her hand and run off. In all that trouble and pain and life and
death situations there was also some humour. The way I handled the situation
with the chicken was very humorous. As we say in Yiddish "Father,
you are laughing, woe to your laughter." My job at the policemans
house did not last too long. They had no children, the apartment was
small, they really did not need everyday help. But they recommended
me to a friend, also a police officer, whose wife also owned a farm
and she spent her time there all week and came home only for the weekends.
I had to prepare a meal for her husband and keep the house clean. The
good thing about it was, that they owned a piano. My piano teacher who
was an unusual person, he was on staff at the music school where I attended.
He was not a Lithuanian, he came from Riga, Latvia. Before we went to
the Ghetto he said to me, that if I can manage to get to his house,
he will give me free lessons anytime. Unfortunately it did not work
out very well. I had a few lessons, but it was taking my life in my
own hands. While I worked at that last job, I used to take off my stars,
and run to Mr. Vaniuunas to take a lesson. I used to run on the sidewalk,
forget myself and run down the middle of the road, where Jews were supposed
to go. I was so nervous, that I had to stop. It was no use, what was
the point? How long could I carry on like this? And with all the dangers
and death situations that we encountered, it made no sense. Here I am
playing the piano suddenly?.... But Mr. Vaniuunas was a wonderful human
being. He surely meant well.
Another good job that I had during my Ghetto years, was working for
a large garage that employed many mechanics, who fixed trucks for the
German army. I was supposed to be the interpreter that had to translate
the work sheet from German into Lithuanian. What did I know about car
or truck parts, gears, tail pipes, steering wheels, etc.? But as we
say in Yiddish: "A Jew manages somehow." A Jew always finds
counsel, always gives himself advice. And so did I as well. I made friends
among the workers, who helped themselves to understand my "translations."
The head of the garage was a German from the Wehrmacht and not from
the S.S. He was very kind to the few Jewish workers, and helped them
many times with food and warm clothing. After the war, I tried to get
in touch with him. He was from Aachen and during the war his house was
bombed; and even the City Hall could never help me find him. He shouldve
been paid for his good deeds. There were not many like him. There were
other times during my stay in the Ghetto, that I worked on terrible
jobs. One of them was Bacunai, a small village not far from our city
where we were sent to dig for brickets (heating blocks). In the winter
this job was unbearable. Our bodies were frozen, one could not feel
ones skin when touched. Our hands were like two sticks, and they
hurt beyond description. I also worked on the Siauliai airfield digging
trenches with a group of girls. This job was also during the coldest
Beside having to dig the hard frozen ground the guards were so vicious,
they hit and punched us whenever we stopped for a breather. Our bodies
were black and blue and our hands were dripping blood. But as bad as
the beatings were, the humiliations were even harder to take. They had
names for us, that we didnt know existed anywhere.
In the Ghetto our family was divided in two different locations. Many
people were housed in one room and so, where my mother and Sonia (our
little sister) lived, there was no room for us, because another woman
with a small son shared that room as well. And so Dora and I slept with
another family, who put us up for the night. But of course we saw our
mother every day.
Every morning, as I have already mentioned, the adults used to line
up at the gate for their work-jobs outside the Ghetto. The people that
had children left them to their own resources. There were clandestine
classes for different ages, an illegal school, of course, and other
social organized groups. The children more or less looked after themselves,
and went to their appointed groups.
Life in the Ghetto was very hard. It was a situation hard to describe.
Not a day passed without a horrible happening. I mentioned earlier about
people smuggling in food from their work places. Everybody tried to
help themselves in order to keep alive. I also talked about "good"
and "bad" guards. One had to really be lucky not to be caught.
One Jewish man named Mr. Mazavetsky was hanged in the Ghetto, for bringing
in only a few packs of cigarettes. I will never forget the scene, how
everyone in the Ghetto was made to come out and watch the "spectacle"
of a man being hanged for a few packs of smuggled in cigarettes. This
scene I will never forget as long as I live!
Some selections started in the Ghetto. Elderly and sick were split from
their families. Many were taken out from the Ghetto and they just disappeared,
only a few days later their graves were discovered in the outskirts
of Siauliai. Every day life in the Ghetto was hanging in the air. No
one knew what will happen next.
On Nov. 3rd, 1943 there was a Kinderaktion (a round-up of Jewish
children). The commandant of our Ghetto then was Foerster, a real murderer.
That morning mother left for work (she was still working in the shoe
factory) before the "kinderaction" started. Dora was on duty
that morning at the gate. Before she left we both decided to take our
little sister and try to push her out with the group of people that
left the Ghetto that morning, hoping it will work. I put on a large
coat, squeezed my little sister under it partly, moved into the middle
of the crowd and just went through the gate. Just luck! It worked! Many
happenings that occurred to me were just unbelievable! Unexplainable!
Mazal! In those hard times certain things could not be explained.
It worked for some people sometimes, and some were not that lucky. Every
day that passed was like a scale, up or down, life or death. We were
lucky, we smuggled Sonia out. Ukrainian collaborators started to check
every house in the Ghetto and grab the children. The little boy who
shared the room with our mother was taken away. His mother had a nervous
Our own mother came back from the factory. The rumour about the Kinderaktion
reached her working place. By the time my sister ran to see her she
looked as though instant insanity gripped her. She did not know that
Sonia was saved. I did not come back home with her until much later.
Doras pleading with my mother, trying to assure her, to convince
her that her baby is well and alive, did not help. She sat in the room
like a glass sculpture, staring into oblivion, as though she contracted
instant amnesia. When I finally arrived home with Sonia, my mother looked
at us and still did not believe that we are there, she acted as though
in a dream.... it took a while until she accepted the truth. This story
makes me think very often how did people survive? Where did they get
the strength to live through such trying moments? I think that the only
thing that helped them to go on--was hope, hope for better days to come.
Our family (what was left of it) stayed in the Ghetto until the last
transport--the liquidation of the Ghetto, July 22nd, 1944. We left by
foot, walking to Pavenciai, a small town, about 200 km from Siauliai.
We left the Ghetto in a hurry, because the Russian army closed in on
Siauliai and bombed it every day. It is interesting that most of the
bombs fell close to the Ghetto. Maybe because the jail and the shoe
factory were strategic points for them. What else was there in the small
Lithuanian town? One bomb that fell in the Traku Ghetto killed our head
of the Jewish Community, a wonderful man and important businessman in
Lithuania, Mr. Mendel Leibovitch (whose sister-in-law lives in Montreal).
On the way to Pavenciai, after all that bombing, people were disoriented,
and security was very lax on the way. When I think back now, I ask myself
the question, why didnt we try to run away? at least a few of
us?... But where could we run to? Surrounded by so many anti-Semitic
Lithuanians? That would really be death without any hope left.
Our Ghetto was run by a group of well-known people in the community.
We also had a police force. But contrary to many other ghettos and horror
stories that history of the ghettos tell us, our leaders were friendly
and helpful human beings, and no negative stories about Siauliai Ghetto
Just shortly before Siauliai was occupied, a German Jewish family showed
up in our city. They tried to get close to the prominent Jews in Siauliai
and even in the Ghetto tried to "help" the Jewish community.
Mr. Georg F. had connections to the German Gebietskommissariat
and the Jewish community thought that he could be a great help to them.
How trustworthy he was, nobody knew. There was something about that
family that was not "kosher." Before the last transport left
the Ghetto, Mr. Georg F. tried to persuade and convince the Jews that
they will be treated better than any other group arriving to Stutthof
(that was our destination after Pavenciai). He said, he had promises
from top S.S. sources, and not to worry about the future. People gave
him money, gold, precious jewels, whatever they had saved and hoped
to meet him again after all the horrible ordeals and thank him for saving
When our group left Pavenciai on open tiny wagonettes towards Stutthof
(near Danzig), we found out later that the wagonette that Georg F. and
his family occupied, was unhooked one stop before Stutthof, and it was
known later on, that they lived through the rest of the war in Danzig
as free citizens. After the war Danzig was captured by the Red Army
and many Jews that survived came to the army offices for help. One of
our townswomen recognized Mrs. Georg F. standing in line with the other
survivors asking for help. She was reported to the Russian authorities
and we found out later that the Russians dealt with them. Mr. Georg
F. was put on trial, found guilty for collaborating with the Germans
and got the death penalty. His son was arrested and put in jail. "Thieves
end on the gallows."
When we arrived in Pavenciai after a long, hard journey, we were put
in a large hall of a defunct sugar factory. We stayed there for a few
days until the Germans acquired transportation to take us to Stutthof.
Stutthof was a death camp where Jews from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
were brought and went through hell. Many were selected as soon as they
came and were sent to be gassed. The night we arrived in Stutthof, we
were lined up and divided, one group of strong young prisoners to the
right, mothers with children up to thirteen years old to the left. Our
family was cut in two, Dora and myself to the right, mother and Sonia--left.
I took on courage, walked up the S.S. guard and tried to tell him that
my sister is fifteen years old, would he please let my mother come with
us. He would not even listen to me. The group of mothers and children
were taken the same night to Auschwitz and were gassed. Those were the
rumours, but after 50 years I got proof. I found out through a friend
of mine that there is a museum in Stutthof and one can find information
in the archives about some of the inmates. I wrote to them and got my
answers. The rumours were affirmed.
Another thought that comes to me during my sleepless nights: Life--what
an irony! I could see the happiness when we saved Sonia from the
kinderaktion, but then my thought goes to Stutthof and I ponder,
if Sonia wouldve been taken away with the kinderaktion
our mother might have lived through the rest of the war with Dora and
myself. She was only 44 years old, strong, tiny, smart, vivacious...
who knows? One can deliberate in those thoughts... and it hurts, it
does not let one rest... It will be there till the rest of our days.
The first night in Stutthof, we were pushed into a large room, all naked.
We were examined internally by some German gynecologists in case we
hid some jewels in our vaginas. What a degrading feeling, how humiliating
to young people, they reduced us to dirt. Next we were shoved into a
large shower room. We were told to wash up and as we exited the showers
they threw clothes at us, dress, shoes, coat. There were no questions
to be asked, does it fit?... If one of us mentioned that the shoes are
too tight, we were all barraged with hits and punches, one didnt
anticipate where they came from.
The next morning we started to learn about ongoings in Stutthof. One
has to be an artist with very special imagination to be able to describe
the situation there; to make people understand, or just have an idea--but
this is impossible. One cannot understand it, if one has not lived through
it. Dora and I decided that we will not make it through one week in
Stutthof and we tried to find out how to get into a working group. We
heard that some girls were taken out to do all kinds of jobs outside
the camp and this is what we aimed for. A few days later we heard that
some girls are wanted to work on farms during the harvest-time. Dora
and I became one of the lucky ones chosen. Life on the farm was heaven.
First of all there was enough food, and the security was run by British
prisoners of war. All we could wish for was for the war to end as soon
as possible. But unfortunately all good things come to an end. Harvest
time was over, and we were sent back to Stutthof.
While we were away Dora and I missed two "events": the tattooing
numbers on the arms, and the shaving of the girls heads. When
we came back, Dora and I looked like two "sore thumbs." My
dress was very long, and so we decided to cut it off and make two head-scarves.
We wore those all the time, so that not a hair showed. Again a little
luck--we saved our hair. Just a few days after we returned to Stutthof
they were choosing five hundred women to work in an ammunition factory
in Ochsenzohl near Hamburg. Dora and I looked real strong, after the
summer on the farm, and so we had no trouble to be chosen. Ochsenzohl
was a fairly small camp. It contained two barracks of 250 women each.
We worked in a factory, making ammunition in two shifts. There were
civilian Italian workers, who overlooked the production and many of
them helped us out with an extra piece of bread or other food items.
Our first Lager Kommandant at Ochsenzohl was a real murderer.
When we arrived back from work, he kept us for hours on the Appel-platz,
counting us over and over again. We were lined up in rows of five, and
while he was counting, the front person in each row of fives was hit
on the head with a thin stick, that looked like a conductors stick.
Of course nobody wanted to stand in the front, and so appel time was
a disaster, people shoving, pushing, falling... and that was what our
commandant was waiting for. Then he really got outraged and he started
throwing punches, hitting people, like a lunatic. One of our friends
was made to stand all night on a pile of brickets for "misbehaving."
It was bitter cold that evening, a big miracle that she came out alive
of this ordeal. We were really fortunate that he lasted only a few months
at Ochsenzohl and we got a wonderful human being as commandant of our
camp. Life became bearable at camp. It was also only a few months before
liberation, which helped. Every Sunday our commandant chose a few women
to dig potatoes for the kitchen. Most of us loved the job, because there
was a chance to steal a few for the inmates. I had a small bag sewn
up that I wore hanging from a belt, and while I was digging up potatoes
in the field, I also filled my bag. My coat was big and I wore a belt
on my waist, and put some potatoes around my waist, as well as in my
large pockets. One day when we returned from the potato field, we were
stopped, asked to open our coats and leave all the stolen potatoes on
the ground. My sister and the other girls watched through the bunk windows,
shivered and wondered what is going to happen to us.
I walked into the bunk, opened my coat and yelled out: "May you
all go to hell!" I still had my little bag full of potatoes hanging
from my belt under my coat. When the commandant told us to empty our
pockets and the rest of our clothes, I did so, but left the little bag
in my back full of potatoes; I took a chance. Dora wanted to kill me.
How does one take a chance like that, in this situation? But we all
cut up the potatoes, stuck them to the stove and enjoyed the special
feast. We said after the liberation that we were the inventors of potato
chips. We were the first, making them in Ochsenzohl on our bunk oven.
We stayed in Ochsenzohl until about ten days before our liberation.
Hamburg was bombed constantly. They packed us up on a train one morning
and shipped us to Bergen-Belsen. The trains stopped in the village of
Bergen and when we looked out, we saw a large field full of men sitting
next to each other, legs crossed, in tailor fashion. We decided that
there were no Jews in that group. It is interesting, that when I met
Paul after the liberation and we talked about our arrival to Bergen-Belsen,
we found out that Paul was one of the men sitting in that large field.
It was true there were no Jews, but Paul was there, because he went
through the concentration camps as a non-Jew.
When we came to the Bergen-Belsen camp gate, the girls in our group
started saying: "This is the end, well never survive that."
But Dora said: "It wont be so easy, they will make us suffer,
torture us before they will be ready to let us die." And this was
Bergen-Belsen in the last days before liberation was a camp that committed
mass murder by plainly neglecting the inmates. By the time we came to
Belsen the gas-chamber ceased to work. Dead bodies were lying around
one on top of the other like garbage piles. When we came to Belsen there
was diarrhea and typhus going around. Corpses were found all over the
place, rotting in the barracks and outside. It is absolutely impossible
to describe this horrible situation. It was beyond anybodys imagination.
They absolutely dehumanized us. People from different countries, different
backgrounds, were brought together, confined in the dirty, cramped bunks,
deprived of all necessities, living in the most degrading conditions.
All human weaknesses and passions are let loose in such situations and
peoples selfishness and mean behaviour was unimaginable.
The dirt, mud, lice made it impossible to keep clean. Our daily evening
activity was to kill the lice. Our underwear, the elastic band of our
panties was full of them. The more you killed, the more came back the
next day. It was a lost battle.
All day long people were shuffling about, carrying little cans (just
in case theyll find some food), arguing constantly, swearing and
making life intolerable. Meal time was a disaster. When the Capos turned
up with the soup cans (that was more like dishwater) the inmates pushed
each other as though they were ready to grab a treasure. The weak and
sick ones got pushed and stepped on and could not even get near the
soup. The Nazis turned us into animals, they drove us out of our minds.
The sores of malnutrition, ulcers, boils was an everyday occurrence
in Bergen-Belsen. Epidemics were spreading. One day the water was cut
off. In the communal washplace, all of us stand close together, the
wind blowing in from outside, the filth, refuse, and excrement all over
the place. Some cold water dribbling out of the taps and everyone fighting
for a drop.
Our food the last few days--turnips and water--one bowl, if you were
lucky. The systematic starvation in Belsen was atrocious. Auschwitz
was a camp of mechanized genocide, Belsen killed the inmates by starvation,
violence, terror and the spreading of infectious diseases. The lice,
the vermin, dysentery was wide-spread. The yards, washrooms, and latrines
(open holes) were penetrated with dirt. The guards watching on top in
their booths were laughing. They mustve thought to themselves,
"Look at those Jews, how dirty they are, they stink, they are worse
than any scum of the earth." I tell myself now that I couldnt
even blame them. To stand up there and look down on that horrible sight...
what could anybody say or think about it?
I got typhus a few days after my arrival in Bergen-Belsen. This is a
horrible disease. Your hunger disappears, the headaches are intolerable,
one becomes delirious, diarrhea appears. You feel near death. My place
in the bunk was a top third bed. When I got sick and tried to step down
in order to go outside--the diarrhea was intolerable. It was impossible
for me then to keep the bowels and the diarrhea took over. The people
around me made my life miserable. They were so mean, called me piece
of shit and cursed me. I kept saying for Dora to let me die, leave me
alone but she kept repeating: "You mustnt die, you have to
hold on. What will Mama say after the war? She will look for us, and
if she will not find us, shell die. You have to keep fighting!
Keep fighting! We must live to tell the story!"
It took me fifty years to be ready to tell the story.
The last few days in camp, one could feel the end coming, it seemed
close, but who could even imagine what it will look or feel like?
Rotting bodies everywhere; less and less Nazis appear. Where are they
hiding? And as unbelievable as it sounds, one morning Dora came into
the bunk running and shouting. We are free! We are free! Come lets
meet our liberators. I was dragged down from my bunk, pulled outside
and closer to the gate. And there they were near the beautiful tank.
I raised my arms and then dropped down to the ground and fainted.
Dora was always near me, tried to help, but she got typhus as well.
Lucky we were liberated. A hospital was immediately organized and all
the sick were cleaned and taken to the hospital. It took weeks for us
to get better and strong enough to stand on our feet. When one gets
better after typhus, one gets very hungry, and I used to drive Dora
crazy, she should go to the hospital kitchen to ask for more food. It
is interesting that in camp people could kill each other for a bite
of bread, but as soon as life became normalized, Dora was too shy to
ask for food. She said: "Are you crazy? Im not going to beg
for food." The truth was that the hospital kitchen was very careful
not to make us overeat. We had to get used to food very slowly. Over
25,000 people died in Belsen after the liberation because of overeating.
When we got well and started a more or less normal life, the reality
after liberation set in. Who is left of our family? Only Dora and I
and the part of the family that emigrated to the U.S.A. before the war.
Hundreds of family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, great uncles, great
aunts, Mama, Sonia, Daddy-- nobody is alive. You feel so tiny and alone
in this big, big world.... And so as soon as we could stand on our feet
and got our strength back Dora and I tried to do something to get involved
in the Bergen-Belsen cultural life. Soon a Central Committee was established,
different organizations evolved and even a theatre was set up -- the
Bergen-Belsen K. Z. Theatre, and Dora and I joined. Our director was
Sami Feder, a Polish Jew, who was involved in Jewish theatre in Lodz
before the war. Dora became an "actress and dancer" and I
worked as accompanist and did all the musical backgrounds. I played
the piano and accordion and wrote my own musical notations, because
there was no Jewish music available at the beginning. We, the group,
even published an Anthology of Songs and Poems from the Ghettos and
Concentration Camps. We collected those songs from people who remembered
them. The anthology was edited by D. Rozental and P. Trepman who were
by then editors of the first Jewish newspaper on the British zone of
Germany and published by the Central Committee in Bergen-Belsen. Once
the theatre group worked up a decent repertoire, we went on a tour to
Belgium and France, arranged by the "Joint." In Paris we performed
in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre. Where did we get the strength to start
life all over again after such a disaster, after this genocide? Maybe
loneliness helped? Because we were so alone, we tried to build a new
world for ourselves. New families, children, grandchildren.
I was very lucky to meet such a wonderful young man like Paul. When
I met him, he was already one of the editors of the first Jewish newspaper
published on the British zone in Germany, Unzer Shtyme. How did
I meet Paul?
As a correspondent for the newspaper Paul was sent to the Nüremberg
trials. There he met a young newspaper man, J. Meskauskas, who lived
through the war in London, England, but who was originally from Siauliai,
Lithuania. When he heard Trepman came from Belsen, he inquired whether
there are in Belsen liberated people from Lithuania. Paul told him that
he happened to know about two sisters, that perform in the K. Z. Theatre
and they come from Siauliai, their name is Widutschinsky. Mr. Meskauskas
happened to know our family and asked Trepman to please give us regards
and he also tried to find out whether we knew something about his own
family. Paul Trepman brought us regards from Mr. Meskauskas and this
is how I met him. We were married the 28th of March 1946, almost a year
When our K. Z. Theatre was ready to go on tour, Paul came along as well
as a correspondent of the paper and this was how he had a chance to
get reunited with some members of his family, who lived through the
war in Belgium and France.
Through the newspaper Paul was in touch with the Canadian Jewish
Eagle and many prominent Jewish writers. As a matter of fact, the
Eagle sent us the needed papers to immigrate to Canada. We arrived
in Montreal in July 1948 and a few weeks later were hired by the Jewish
Peoples Schools to teach the Yiddish and Hebrew studies. I taught
only two years at the J.P.P.S. evening school and in 1950 our daughter
Charlotte was born. I returned to teach after a year of absence at the
Shaare Zion dayschool, which later changed the name to Solomon Schecter
Academy. I taught there for 40 years. In 1956 our son Elly was born.
Paul taught for many years at J.P.P.S. and in the summer he became director
of Unzer Camp in the Laurentians. Paul led a full, busy life, contributing
to the Jewish community in Montreal, Canada. His last 13 years he worked
as director of the Jewish Public Library. He also wrote and published
extensively and was involved in many aspects of Jewish life. Paul left
an important imprint on our Montreal community. Our two children, Charlotte
and Elly are both married. Charlotte is married to Dr. Howard Yudin
and they have four children. She is still teaching English as a second
language in the French American School in N.Y. Elly is an orthopedic
surgeon, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, married to Dr. Pamela
Becker and they have two girls.
When I think of my own life, always running, always pushing, trying
to live every minute of the day, I am sure this also has to do something
with my life in the concentration camps. I was always trying to make
up for the lost time, always trying to catch up. For forty years I was
teaching, going to school myself and graduated cum laude from Concordia
University. Always belonged to the YMHA, jogging, folk dancing, playing
the piano, involved in different organizations. And I ask myself often:
"What made Babey run?" I think youll find the answer
in this paragraph.