Mrs. Esther Grunwald (Part VI)

Can you describe your experience in Birkenau?

One day a stone was thrown over the fence from the men’s camp into the women’s camp, with writing on it that read, “We are looking for the Wullinger girls. The Wullinger boys are together and we will survive.” This gave us strength to continue on.

In the next camp, just over the barbed wire, there was what was known as the children’s lager. They took people from Theresienstadt and promised them that they would keep them together with their children.

One time in the middle of the night, they called out all the men for a tzel appell, to count them. Then they commanded them all to line up and marched them to a different lager. You could hear the women and children crying and screaming.

After this, the women tried to pass notes over to the men’s lager, to ask them what they should do if the soldiers come to take them away, too. Should they go or should they stay with the children?

Two days later, the children were taken out of the camp and then, not much after that, the women were taken and the lager was left empty.

At the end of the week, they came into our lager and asked for volunteers to clean out the children’s camps. When we went inside, we found crayons and toys and little shoes that were left there. It was heartbreaking to see.

The next day they made a selection. Those people who they felt were fit to work, were sent to this lager. My sister and I were sent there. I was lucky I didn’t have to work there. There was a washroom at the end of the lager where we were told to wash our underwear.

A woman by the name of Yozi Neni (from Czechoslovakia) was in charge of our barracks, which consisted of 1,000 girls. She was in her 30s and a motherly type. She had a daughter who escaped from Czechoslovakia and went to Budapest. She was always hoping that when the transports came to Birkenau, she would see her daughter. Because she had a young daughter, too, she had feelings for us young girls.

Yozi Neni knew another woman who was there, who had a daughter. She used to wash the clothing at the end of the barracks. I approached her once and I asked her if she would let me do the washing because she had soap and I didn’t. Naturally, she didn’t mind and she let me do it. One day the woman came in and saw her daughter standing on the side and smoking while I washed the clothing. She became furious, and she said, “If a German would come in and see what’s going on here, we will all be killed.” She fired her and I got the job.

Yozi Neni had a room on the side of the barracks where they kept the best linen, the best nightgowns, the best lingerie. All this was collected from the mounds of belongings that we were forced to leave behind. I got to clean this room and wash these items.

My sister became sick. Yozi Neni had chicken soup and chicken every night for supper. She gave me soup to give to my sister. We slept on triple bunk beds with two girls in a bed. I passed it up to my sister who was sleeping all the way on the top.

Yozi Neni was very good to my sister. As long as the Germans weren’t there, she let her sit in a chair. When we heard them coming we helped her stand up and held her in the line. Slowly she gained back some of her strength.

One day the girl who was watching the doors and supposedly cleaning in the kitchen didn’t do what she was supposed to and the Germans got angry about it. Yozi Neni fired the girl and my sister got the job.

One day Yozi Neni informed us that she was being moved to another place. She advised us that the next time Mengele comes to make a selection, we should go along with him.

to be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.