A Mother and Her Two Children at Auschwitz
The testimony of Esther Weiss from the town of Pabianice near Łódż, given at Stuttgart on 10.7.1947
The testimony was published in "Yalkut Moreshet" Holocaust Documentation and Research Periodical, Volume nr. 82, October 2006, © all rights reserved
It was posted in this web site by permission of Moreshet.
The testimony is found in Yad Vashem, nr.: M-1/E 1354/1306 and translated from Yiddish by a groups of volunteers headed by Yosele Karmin from Kibbutz Magen.
This testimony was translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Shlomo Gestfreund and from Hebrew to English by Miriam Shimoni.
At the beginning of August 1944, some 70 to 80 thousand Jews remained in the Łódż ghetto, after all the deportations. We were quite sure that our children (Pessia who was born on 8.3.1934 and Moishe'le who was born on 1.4.1944) would not survive. We looked for ways to remain in the ghetto for as long as possible. Rumors circulated that the Red Army was not far off. We thought that perhaps, in spite of everything, we could manage to survive. We tried our luck with the manager of the leather-work section, H. Podalski: perhaps he could find accommodation for us. To 'find accommodation' in this context meant that one would get board and food at one's place of work. It was only because of my little son that Podalski acceded to my request, allowing us to stay there as long as possible. Several thousand Jews worked in this section, and about one hundred of them were already boarding there with their families.
In August 1944, the deportation of the Jews from the ghetto began. This is the way it was done: when the name of a street was announced, all the Jews who lived in that particular street had to report at assembly points near the prison in Czarniecki Street. However those who were employed and boarded at the place of work in the 'housing quarter' - were exempted from reporting. The section to which we were assigned to work was surrounded by a wooden fence; we were given food and a place to sleep at night. Daily ''Actions" took place during that period. The Jewish and the German police went from house to house; they seized everybody they found, put them on trucks and brought them to the Radogast railway station. Anyone who had tried to hide and was discovered was shot dead on the spot. The ghetto kept shrinking, and eventually they reached those staying in the 'housing quarters'. The ''Action'' went on for several weeks.
On 27 August 1944, notices appeared on the billboards saying: "Any Jew found on any street in the ghetto on the 28th of the month other than in Czarniecki Street will be shot dead." Now this order related also to those of us who were living in the 'housing quarters'. All that time we had been working only for the very same commanders who carried out the 'Action'.
We sewed handbags for their wives and leather purses for the men, hoping to find favor with the murderers: perhaps they would be considerate towards us and allow us to remain in Łódż. We thought perhaps our foreman, Israel Miller, would be able to approach the men in charge and appeal on our behalf; perhaps he might be able to influence those responsible for the 'Action'. But the man in command said the order had come from Berlin and he could do nothing whatever to modify it. The most he could do was to provide a signed and sealed letter. And indeed the foreman Miller got such a letter from him; we did not know what was in that letter. However, equipped with the letter, we started out on the road in carts on 28.8.1944. We were the only ones who were allowed to take our belongings with us; all the rest had to leave everything behind. We traveled to Radogast several miles from Łódż and there we saw the German who had given us the letter. On the way to Radogast, those of us who had been in the 'housing quarter' were treated better than the rest. The other Jews were pushed into densely over-crowded carriages; in our carriages there were from 30 to sixty persons. In spite of the blows we received, we, from the 'housing quarter', tried to stay together around Miller, on account of the letter that he had on him.
On 29 August 1944 we set out at dawn for Auschwitz and the Birkenau camp. We arrived in the late afternoon but were kept in the railway carriages all through the night. The next morning they took us out of the carriages and it was only then that we saw where we were. We were surrounded by a large number of SS officers and by Jews wearing striped outfits. We heard shouts "Alles runter" ("everyone down") "Alles ueblerlassen" ("Leave everything behind"). The Jews wearing the striped pajamas told us "If you want to stay alive, you've got to get rid of the children." But I absolutely refused to abandon my children and we got down together with them. As I was coming down from the railway carriage, I saw dozens of SS personnel and spotted Dr. Mengele and Dr. Fischer in the midst of them. We only discovered who they were later on. It was they who conducted the selection: the women, the children, the weak - to the left; all the rest to the right. They made the decision as to each individual immediately, upon sight.
Our foreman Miller, notwithstanding the blows that rained down on him from both the Germans and the Jews, managed to push his way through to one of the senior German officers. Miller handed him the letter, he read it and immediately led Miller to the officer who was in charge of the 'Selections'. This commander gave an order that all the 109 persons who had worked in the leather department, together with their wives and children, stand apart from the rest. Unfortunately however it came too late for some: not all of them heard this order as they had started marching with the rest towards the gas chambers, and no one was permitted to call them back. But others soon took their places so that once again there were 109 individuals.
Among those who joined the original group was a man called Zalewski with his two children (one of whom was called Samek), a man called Kleiner with a boy called Bobus; Hershkowicz with a girl called Mirka, and I with my two children. We looked on as most of the people from our consignment were sent to the crematoria. We were taken to the bath house. When the SS officers had completed dealing with the rest of our consignment, they came up to us. They sent one of the women prisoners to make a list of our names everyone, including the children. We told the SS officers that we had left all our tools behind in the railway carriages and they gave orders for us to be allowed to return to the carriages to collect our tools. After that we were marched to the bath house; they shaved off our hair and rubbed some liquid on us. Our clothes were taken from us; we never saw them again. Instead we were given other clothing and sent to Camp C where we were kept for two days. Then the men together with older boys were taken to Block 6 and the women, girls and younger boys to Block 3. Later the men were taken to Camp A and the women and children to Camp F.K.L. It is difficult to describe how astonished everyone was when they saw me with a 4-month old baby. People simply could not grasp how I had gone through all that and still held on to my baby. I told them the whole story and everyone - young and old, children and grandparents wept.
A woman from Warsaw called Rozia, aged about 30, was in charge of the room. She herself was a mother whose seven-year old son had been taken from her. She did a great deal for my baby. She would bring whatever she could get hold of for him, she cooked for him (I was not allowed to go near the stove). Two days after our arrival at the F.K.L. camp, I was taken ill. One of my legs was caught between the boards of the bunker and I had to go to the sick bay. On the way there I had to make sure not to be spotted by Dr. Mengele. When I was seen by the doctor, a Jewish woman from Hungary, she told me that I would have to stay in the sick bay, but I explained that I could not stay because I had a small infant. She showed a lot of understanding for my situation. It was obvious that if I brought my baby over there, I would never get out from there. She treated my leg outside of the sick room. Every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., while Mengele was at his lunch break, I would go to the doctor to have my leg treated. The treatment took three months. Fortunately the woman in charge of the block did not report that I was sick out of consideration for the baby, even though it was her duty to do so in the 'normal' course of things. The head of the block was a Hungarian Jewish woman called Gizia.
In mid-September 1944, after we had been in the F.K.L. section for two weeks, my little Moishe'le caught the flu. It was terribly cold in the block and that caused complications; he developed pneumonia. I could not go to the doctor because that would have meant certain death. Continuously for three weeks my little baby ran a fever of 400 C and I was sure that I was going to lose my child.
There was a block in the camp for children 'of mixed origin' (Mischlinge); the Germans took pity on these children. They were taken care of by a woman doctor, also a Hungarian Jew. The woman in charge of our food, a young Jewish woman from Poland, brought that doctor over to take a look at my little Moishe'le. It wasn't possible to examine him in the block because of the bitter cold. But she gave him some drops to strengthen his heart and that helped: his temperature began to fall and he was beginning to feel better. However a small abscess appeared under his ear and puss collected in his ear. I didn't know what to do with neither access to a doctor nor any medication. The abscess was spreading gradually.
We spent four weeks in that block - three mothers and their children. Suddenly, the woman in charge of the block came running over to us and announced: the mothers with their children are to get into line we are being sent to the crematoria. We all burst into tears. The woman in charge of the block took pity on Pessia'le, my ten-year old daughter. She said the girl was well developed for her age and in order to save her life, wrote down her age as 16.
Pessia'le stayed behind in the block and I went out to the Selection holding my baby in my arms, resigned to the knowledge that this was the end; I was going to the crematoria. On the way, as we neared the bath house where the Selection was conducted, a woman approached us and said: "When you are asked whether you want to go together with the children, do not get separated." We retorted that we would know what to do by ourselves. Our own lives were not dearer to us than those of our children. Wherever the child would go, there would I go, as well. I was only sorry that I was not together with my elder daughter. Then at least I would know that we had all gone to our fate together. I stood there and watched how people were burning in the fire, and I knew that my turn would come. But we were taken to one of the bath houses that were filling up with children who had just arrived from Warsaw. Then we were marched to another bath house. For two hours we stood and waited until Dr. Mengele arrived with his accomplices and with some large dogs. Again we saw that the end had come.
Four hundred women stood there in the nude, lined up for 'Selection'. The registrar shouted to us to get undressed and approach her. We said it looked as though we still had time. But she did not let up and said they would start beating us if we did not comply at one. Yet that was all the same to us, since we were in any case on the way to our death.
We three mothers with their children - hid behind a partition screen and that is how it came about that Dr. Mengele did not spot us. From that corner we watched how the Selection was conducted: those who were going to the gas chamber were to stand aside and those who were to live remained in line. Once the selection was completed, those selected to live got dressed again. Dr. Mengele and his accomplices left the building. We remained behind, we sobbed and said to ourselves; perhaps our children after all have some worth. Perhaps my mother, my sisters and my brother up in Heaven had appealed for my baby. I lost my family at Auschwitz. All the people came out and we three mothers remained on our own. The registrar knew that there was no point in waiting for us. We came out and didn't know where to go. We were not allowed to move about in the fields (the roads) as quite often there was a 'locking up inspection' of the blocks. Only those in charge of the rooms and the heads of the blocks were permitted to move freely out of doors. I said to the other mothers "Come, let us try to return to the same block we were in before"; and that's where we went.
Everybody began to cry. Nobody could imagine how we managed to save ourselves from Dr. Mengele. We told them what had happened and the woman in charge of the block said she was afraid to let us in to the block because we were not 'legitimate'. If we were caught, she would be put to death. We fell at her feet weeping and begged her to have pity on us, not so much for our own sake as for the sake of the children. She told her colleague: "I see nothing and I know nothing. You do whatever you can for the children."
The Hungarian Jewish woman who was in charge of the block brought candles on the eve of Rosh Hashana and the eve of Yom Kippur for all the Jewish women; she lit a few candles and called upon the oldest woman in the block to say the blessing over the candles. We prayed alone; some of us had managed to smuggle out a Siddur [prayer book] that we kept hidden under the bunker. Some of the women refused to eat the non-kosher sausage; they sold it or traded it for some other food.
We were accepted back and taken to the block. We were given a bunker next to the toilet which was furthest from the front of the building. It was extremely cold there; the windows were broken, the roof open; water dripped continuously upon our heads but the woman in charge of the block and her assistant had done all they could possibly do for us. As night fell they sent us blankets to cover the children as they knew that my baby was ill. I was there with my baby for nine weeks.
We heard it said that the women in the F.K.L. camp would be split up and be sent to work. We understood that nothing good would come out of that. Once again we, who had so far managed to save ourselves, were going to move on towards death because women with children were not sent to work. We asked ourselves, what are we going to do now? It seemed as though our fate had been sealed. We had been given the chance of a few more weeks of life, but once again we had to go.
At that time Dr. Mengele conducted 'Selections' in our blocks, but the women in charge of the rooms concealed us - the mothers with children. As we were lying on the bunker next to the toilet, she told us quickly to get under the bunkers and hold our hands over the children's mouths to make sure not a sound could be heard from them. The selection went on for three days; on the third day of the selection, the woman doctor who worked with Mengele (whose name I do not recall) arrived in our area and once again we hid.
They began to transport people to work in Germany and for that reason the F.K.L. camp was gradually wound down, until they reached our block.
We saw that there was no longer any point in hiding. The head of the block came running and shouted: "Everybody outside!" Everyone went out for the work consignment. There were several children and elderly women but everyone had to go outside.
My ten-year old daughter - who was registered as aged 16 - also had to come out but I knew she would not get through Dr. Mengele's inspection. I was just about to step out with my baby when, at the very last moment, the woman in charge of the block caught me and sent me back into the block. She said "Women with children must not go out right now; you are destined to go straight to the crematoria. Wait until you are summoned."
It only took a few minutes; then everyone was gone. Only we, the mothers with children, remained behind. Some hours later, a few of the women who had passed through the Selection came back. They came to eat some soup and told us who had passed the Selection and who had gone to the gas chambers. My daughter was among them. Dr. Mengele had come up to her and asked her "How old are you?" and she replied, "I'm, sixteen". But he said "You are not sixteen. You are far too small for that age". And that is how my daughter was assigned to the gas chambers together with all those selected for death.
All that day and all through the night I sat in the block and banged my head against the wall. My daughter has been taken from me so I believed - how could I go outside and watch the fire that is burning my daughter? If only I was there with her.
In the course of time another consignment was expected, and they were all to be deported to the gas chambers. In the meantime God was helping us. A demand had come from America to cease the slaughter of people or otherwise for every Jew who was killed, they would kill three Germans. I do not know whether the story was true but I thought to myself: Why am I so pleased about it, after all my daughter has already perished.
But the next morning a Russian woman came up to me and said "Go outside quickly, your daughter is there". I said "You must be mad. How could that be? It's 24 hours since they sent her to the gas chambers. Is this possible?" But she answered "No I am not mad. Go out and see for yourself." I put the baby to bed and ran outside, but we were not allowed to go far. I cautiously moved along the walls so as not to be seen until I reached the block where the girl had been. Then I saw her together with all the people who had together gone towards the gas chambers. They looked like naked ghosts, exposed, hungry, thirsty. For 24 hours they had received absolutely nothing to eat or drink. My daughter too was as naked as the day that she was born. It was piercingly cold and raining. I did not recognize here. Could that be my own little girl?
I quickly ran to my block and told the woman in charge that my daughter had come back from the gas chambers, and described how she looked. She took a dress, a pair of shoes and some food and I brought it all to the block known as 'The Death Block'. I told my daughter to get dressed and eat all the food so as to improve her appearance as she would have pass through three more checks: one by Dr. Mengele, one by the woman doctor and a third by Dr. Fischer, in order to determine whether she was healthy. She would have to state her true age since she was very well developed for a ten-year old.
The woman in charge of the block said they would send my daughter to the block of 'Aryan' (non-Jewish) children. The three doctors did indeed examine her and told her "You are to move to another block". She spent eight days in the 'Block of Death'. After that she was transferred to the 'Children's Block'. There, among all the other children who survived, there were a few Jewish children. At first it was the practice to separate the Jewish from the other children, but later on that practice was discontinued. They all got the same food ration which consisted of 150 grams of bread every day and half a liter of soup and some tea. The water was undrinkable it was said that it was poisonous.
Once a week, on Sundays, we were given a teaspoonful of jam and on Wednesdays a little margarine. Twice a week there were some unpeeled potatoes in the soup. Until the end of December 1944, we, in our consignment, were spared the humiliation of having a number tattooed on our arms, the reason being, as they said, that in any case we were destined to die in the crematoria. But on December 23-24, they tattooed numbers on our forearms. My number was A27664, my little son was given the number B14897, and my Pessia'le the number A27663.
My daughter spent several weeks in the children's block. This was an agonizing time for her. She was not allowed to go out of doors. When she wanted to see me or I to see her, an elaborate plan had to be made: she, together with one of the boys, would carry the slop pails out to the latrines in the field. My block was not far from there and that at least gave us a chance to meet.
At that time everyone from my block was transferred to Germany to work. Two of the children who were in the block with their mothers were transferred to the Children's Block (children who were older than my baby) and their mothers were assigned to work in Germany. They wanted to put my little Moishe'le into the children's block as well but he was not accepted because he was too small; that was my good fortune. And that is how I came to be transferred, together with my baby, to the block of Russian and Ukrainian women, an experience that was extremely trying for me: these women did not want to accept me and told me I should hand over the child to the children's block and go and work. They could not stand Jews. The woman in charge of our block sent me to the camp kapo, a Jewish woman called Hilda (I do not know her surname) and asked for a note stating that I had to be accepted in the block. When I arrived there with the note, they had no alternative but to accept me.
Try to imagine how I felt there a Jewish woman with a little baby boy, alone among 150 Ukrainian women. I was not allowed to move around in the block or to go up to the stove to cook any food for my little boy. During the three weeks that I was there, I was unable to prepare even a little hot water for the baby. The bunk I was assigned was in a corner where enormous rats ran around. All of a sudden a command rang out: we were told that we were being moved.
Now we were to be transferred to the 'gypsy camp' at Birkenau, but the gypsies were been murdered by then. They separated us into different groups: Jews in one group, Poles in another etc; all according to nationality. Altogether there were several thousand people. The children from the children's camp were also called out; they were made to stand with the women and they in turn were divided up according to national origin. The Jewish children were sent to the block with the Jewish women etc. Among the women there were some who arrived there with children; they had been brought in from Pionki. There were altogether about 160 children, most of them from Hungary, others from Romania and Czechoslovakia, and ten women. Once again I was reunited with my daughter.
This was at the end of November 1944. At night we were allowed to enter the block but at 4:30 a.m. we were made to go out of doors to the field and were kept there through the whole day until nightfall. All the time they kept reading out names and counting us; we were kept without food or drink all day long. And this went on for 4-5 days. Even inside the block it was extremely cold. We lay down on hard, bare boards. The little children caught colds and many of them were taken ill. A patient taken to the 'revier' [sick bay] was unlikely ever to come back. My little boy fell ill once more and once again it developed into pneumonia.
We were given soup and bread as our daily fare. I found a four-year old girl there from Łódż called Mira'le Hershkowitz and took her under my wing, for I saw that she desperately needed help and would be completely lost without it. So now I had three children to look after. The Hungarian Jewish registrar had an aunt who was a doctor at the 'revier', and she brought the doctor to see my little boy who was so ill. I told her what he had been through and asked for help. She brought me some medicine and some drops and, with God's help, the child recovered.
At that time my husband learned that I was being held in the gypsy camp. Although he too was at Birkenau, there was no way I could get in touch with him or arrange to meet. A week passed, then two, and I was continually running up to the barbed wire fence to get a glimpse of him, but to no avail. Once when I went there I met the father of Miral'le Hershkowitz. He told me that he was staying together with my husband, but that only made things worse: now both of them knew that their children were so close by yet there was no way they could get to see them. They tried every kind of tactic to get to meet their children. Hershkowitz tried to obtain special privileged treatment from the Polish registrar who chose the people considered fit for work. First he began by offering to clean his room so as to get a little closer to him, and then he told him that his own wife and son and daughter and the daughter of his companion Weiss were in the women's camp. His request of the registrar was that he himself and Weiss be assigned to jobs cleaning out huts in the women's camp so that they could at least get a glimpse of their children on their way to work. The request was granted and they were assigned to that work. On the way to work, they used to pass by our block.
When I saw that the supervisor was not around, I would take the children out of the block so that the fathers could see their children. They were afraid to hang around but were glad to be able to at least see them as they walked past.
After a little while however this arrangement came to an end: the men were no longer sent to work in the women's camp and they could no longer see their children. This caused them heartbreak and deep sadness - knowing that their children were in the camp, but being prevented from even getting a look at them.
In December 1944 an order was given that the children were to be separated from their mothers for one month. The authorities were going to take the children and transfer their mothers to work in Germany. I felt terrified at this news. I had had enough of life. So many times I had managed to save my children and now I was to leave them behind. I had seen, and I knew, how they treated children. Those in charge of our Jewish rooms acted in exactly the same way as the SS officers, and caused the deaths of children. The little children were allocated slightly better food rations but these people would take it for themselves. The children were to be fed three times a day but they gave them food only once a day. It was through their doings that about half of the 160 children died from cold and starvation. It was perfectly clear to me that if I left my children behind, I would never see them again.
The next morning at 4 a.m., I went up to the barbed wire fence and saw Hershkowitz and my husband there and told them of the order to separate the children from their mothers for a month, and that the mothers were to be sent to Germany. They too were deeply shaken by the news. They tried to comfort and encourage me and told me not to cry or worry so much. We should have faith in God perhaps He will help us and soon we would be freed.
The order came to go to get de-loused. This procedure was torture for me. But there was nowhere for me to hide with the baby and I had no choice but to go. It was cold and the child caught a cold. We sat there in the nude and exposed for 24 hours. We went back 'home' and next day the baby came down with a temperature of 40o.
Again the registrar brought her relative the doctor who examined the baby and said he had caught a cold and was teething. But the next day I saw that his temperature was not going down, and the following day I saw little red spots appearing all over his body. Scarlet fever! The world seemed too narrow for me and I did not know what to do. I knew that if I mentioned the illness, they would take the boy to the 'revier' and I would never see him again. I also knew that if the woman in charge of the block and the woman responsible for the room were to find out that the child was ill and that I had not informed them, they would kill me. I no longer cared, that is why I took the risk, thinking that whatever is going to happen will happen anyway. I did not want to lose the child to the 'revier' and thought it better to be killed by the officer in charge of the block, knowing I had done everything humanly possible for my child.
Four days after the doctor had first visited the boy, she came once more on Sunday to examine him. When I heard she was coming, I thought that now I was lost. She will see the baby is ill with scarlet fever and my world will be at an end.
I did not know what to do but nevertheless sought some kind of solution. I hid under the bunker with the baby. The woman in charge of the room came in first and went out again. She came in several times to look for me, called my name out loud and I did not answer and did not come out. She then went up to my daughter and asked her "Where is your mother?" and Pessia'le said "I don't know". After the doctor left, I came out of hiding. It was now four o'clock and shortly before 'appel' [roll-call] and I had to go out. The person in charge came in and asked me "Where were you? The doctor was here and wanted to examine your boy". I said I had gone out with the child to take a little fresh air and she said, "When a baby is so ill, you don't take him outdoors." I saw for myself that the child was very ill; he had not opened his eyes for three days but I felt I had no alternative but to say it did no harm and that he was recovering. I was afraid the scarlet fever might spread and reach his throat. Every evening I did all I could for him: I put on bandages and treated him with all kinds of old wives' tale medications. A few days went by and then he began to get a little better. I saw that the rash was gradually disappearing and there was no limit to my relief. But when I tried to feed him he was unable to digest the food. Whatever went into his mouth he spat out again.
I then asked the registrar whether there was any possibility that the doctor could come and see the baby as he was vomiting all the time, he was dehydrated and soon there would be nothing left for me to hold in my arms The doctor came and examined him; she said she was not certain the child could recover and survive. He was totally dehydrated. She prescribed drops and tablets to stop the nausea. Within a few days the vomiting stopped but sores appeared in his mouth. Water was dribbling from his mouth all the time two to three liters per day and on top of all that, his eyes were tightly shut and for a few days he did not open them at all. I found a Jewish woman eye specialist called Holenderska; she and her husband were both from Łódż. I do not know what happened to her eventually, but until January18, 1945 I used to see her in Auschwitz. I found out at which 'revier' she was working so I approached her and said "I too am from Łódż; please help me save my child." She came every day to the block and began to treat the baby's eyes. After two weeks of treatment, his eyes were cured. A nurse from Hungary a Jewess who had converted to Christianity came every day to treat the sores.
After the boy recovered from the eye disease and the sores had disappeared, there was talk of preparations to move us all out of the place, we did not know where to. Rumors were circulating that the Red Army was close by and every day there was talk of a transfer. Meanwhile Mira'le Hershkowitz, came down with pneumonia and I made it my duty to save her too. I did not rest day or night, and during all that time we had the imminent transfer hanging over us. Once again I was terribly worried about what to do with the boy.
Then he was taken ill once more very seriously. The doctor came to examine him and said that again he had pneumonia this was the third time. She insisted he be moved to the sick-bay, the 'revier', there they might be able to save him.
The talk of our imminent transfer led me to the decision not to move the boy to the 'revier'. I asked the woman doctor to do everything possible to save him without his being moved. She said the boy needed injections and she did not have any. Perhaps in the men's camp it might be possible to obtain some. Early in the morning I went up to the barbed wire fence and called to my husband. I told him that the boy desperately needed injections. He tried to obtain some through pulling strings: in exchange for his bread ration, he was able to obtain the injections and gave them to me. The doctor said that, judging by the look of the boy, she could not be sure that it was not too late to help him. Nevertheless she administered the injections and after four of them he started to recover and began to open his eyes.
That was on January 18th, 1945. While the boy was ill, the order arrived that everybody was to be sent away. We were forced at 2 a.m. to take the sick baby and the sick little girl Mira'le, to dress them and go outdoors. All the time they were counting us over and over again to make sure that nobody disappeared or went into hiding. Searches for weapons were conducted inside the blocks and some were found in the possession of several Russians. Five of them were shot dead and there was tremendous unrest. We were forced to stand there until noon. In the afternoon, the tension let up a little and they relaxed the close watch they had been keeping on us.
It was announced that first all the men were to be transported and after that the women. Once the men had been sent away, they would have time for the women. Again the shouts rang out "Alle raus!" At the gate they began to separate us into groups: children, the women and the sick. Then everybody was ordered to return. When I heard the order, I told Pessia'le "Come back with me". I was afraid they would take the boy from me and I asked people why we were returning. They said that at the gate they collected the children and the sick and were transporting them by car.
We went back into the same block we had been in before. Most of them left, the only ones to remain were the Russians and the Ukrainians who had gone into hiding.
A terrible shout was heard suddenly in the night. We thought we would all be killed by a bomb. The night passed and the siren stopped. The next morning the camp commander (he had come to the camp only recently, a German whose I don't know, before him Rudolf Hess was Camp Commandant) came over and summoned everyone to come outside. He said "We are leaving here now. Whoever wants to work, leave your children, as in any case we are not going to hold out here." But nobody wanted to comply. I thought to myself, actually it was good that we would be rid of him. Whatever was going to happen to us, at least we would be with the children.
This was the morning of Friday January 19th, 1945. We had no water left. Before their departure, the Germans cut off everything. We were left without guards. They closed all the gates around so that we could not get away. They burned down the Birkenau camp. Many valuables were left there that they had stolen from the victims. Several railway carriages were left filled with furs that they had not had time to dispatch to Germany. We took the children in our arms and went out to seek a way to get out; perhaps we would have to escape.
We were afraid they were going to set fire to the camp from all sides. Only a few Russian men were still there, they had gone into hiding. They told us to go inside the blocks and said they would stand on guard. The fire at Birkenau burned for three days. We thought we were already liberated. The men began to steal from the kitchen and the cellars. They found plenty of food there and they told us the Red Army was very near. Would they let us live? They did not know.
On the afternoon of Sunday January 21st, 1945, all of a sudden an S.S. officer showed up once more. Once again roll call was held, once again we had to go to the drill parade and we thought the Germans were back.
This is how it went on for two days and then once more they disappeared. Every few minutes, there was an air raid from low-flying planes that kept up a continual bombardment. There was talk of the Russians being only 30 kilometers from Auschwitz. Nobody could tell whether we were going to get through this alive: all the time people were killed by the bombs.
On Thursday afternoon, a few of us - women with children such as myself got together and said: "Let's move into the men's block. It's empty." Formerly it was where the people in charge of the block had lived and at least there was a stove and we would be able to keep the kids warm. So we went out to collect logs and coal and gather some food and our mood changed for the better. But not for long: all of a sudden four S.S. officers entered and yelled: "All the Jews get into line". We thought they were going to kill us. Everyone was ordered out of doors immediately and that included the sick from the 'revier'. We were ordered to stand in drill formation and again searches were conducted in case anyone was hiding, and then we began to march. Anyone who was too ill to walk was shot dead on the spot. We were led to the bridge and there they put us through a military-style drill (lie down, get up, run). We were quite sure that there, on this bridge, we were going to meet our death. But out of the blue, a car drove up, an SS officer got out and summoned the four Germans: they conferred for a little while, then they all got into the car and that was the last we saw of them.
Yet now that we had seen the back of them, we still did not know what to do to stand there, to walk and if so, where to? It was night, dark and cold. We were afraid to go back so we continued to move forward. On the way there were a lot of soldiers and military vehicles and artillery. We walked to where our eyes took us. In front of us we saw piles of wood, two-three meters high. Behind one of these heaps we discovered prisoners hiding - men and women. A woman from Łódż called Miller approached me (she was there with a boy, and is now living in Leipheim) and said "Mrs. Weiss, perhaps you too would like to hide here with us?" But I said "No thank you. Wherever my group goes, I will go too." We were 400 people altogether, mostly women, a few men and several children. Then from afar we saw a large gate and huts around it. We did not know what was inside and were afraid to enter. We sat down in the snow, rested for a while and then said "What difference does it make - what could possibly happen? Let's take the risk and go in."
We entered one hut and saw that it was impossible to stay in it - it was a stable. Shaking with cold and fear, we went out and resumed our walk. A man was walking towards us; he told us there was no cause for fear. He too was Jewish and he spoke fluent German. Then we met another Jewish man who said, "Keep on walking, you will reach a house where there are many Jews. There you will also find the hospital of Auschwitz." On the way we were met by a large number of Jews. We entered one of the blocks and there we were given clothing and blankets. When they saw my little boy, they just could not do enough for us: they brought us whatever they possibly could and made sure we lacked for nothing. That was on the Thursday night.
On Friday we waited all day, with rumors circulating that our liberation was imminent. Not a single German was anywhere to be seen. On the Friday evening a Hungarian Jewish doctor arrived with more Jews and told us not to go to sleep but to be on the alert as the town of Auschwitz was already going up in flames from the bombing. We might have to flee due to the air raids.
All was calm until 5 a.m. that night. We saw the walls of the huts begin to shake from the bombs. Clearly the situation was very serious and we did not know whether we would survive. In the Block in which we were sitting all the window panes were blown out; shreds of glass fell on the tables but fortunately no one was hurt.
At 7:30 a.m. calm was restored. People began to come to us and told us that very soon help would come: the Russians were only 500 meters from Auschwitz. At 11 a.m. the children all ran out and immediately came back crying jubilantly, "We are free, the Russians are here". But we adults would not believe it until we had seen them with our own eyes. Once outdoors we actually saw the Russians and went up to them and embraced them.
My children and I were rescued, freed from the hands of the Nazi monster. Now only God knows what will happen to my little boy, whether he will be strong enough to grow up healthy after the many illnesses that he has had to endure.
Last updated January 12th, 2007