Rebbetzin Rottenberg a”h (Kosono Rebbetzin) (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

I was born in Kerestir, Hungary. It was a small area in a big town.

What do you remember about your family?

We were a very well-known family. My father was the Rebbe, Reb Meir Yosef Rubin of Kerestir. Our house was always very busy and filled with lots of people.

As a young girl I had a lot of fun. We played games — volleyball and jump rope. We had a large yard and a big house. We had maids and I didn’t have to help at all. I was treated like a queen. We were wealthy but not wealthy for ourselves. Guests from all over came to stay at our house. They came to my father, the Rebbe, and they knew they could eat and sleep there, too. My mother did all the cooking. She stood in the kitchen all day and made sure there was always enough food for anyone who arrived on our doorstep, hungry and tired.

We were 17 children in all. When I was young, some of my siblings were already married. They lived together with us in our house. At that time, my sister Perri had four children. I am the only survivor of Auschwitz from my family. Two of my brothers who never went to Auschwitz are alive today as well.

Where did you study before the war?

I studied at home. I had a private teacher whose name was Henya.

While you were still at home in Kerestir, did you know what was happening all over Europe, and especially in Poland?

Yes, we had a man who had escaped from another town hiding in our house. My father said if someone needs help, you have to try and help him.

How did life change once the Nazis invaded? Can you describe what happened?

When the Germans first arrived, they sent away all those people living in Hungary who were not Hungarians. The melamed who taught the boys in Kerestir lived in the town, but he and his family were originally from Czechoslovakia. They were taken first. His daughter was my age and she was my friend. As they were being taken from their home, my mother said to me, “Give her your winter coat, she is freezing. I will buy you another one.” It was a beautiful coat. No one survived from her family.

We were next. They rounded us up and took us to the ghetto. After we were out of the house, the Germans went back and took all of our belongings and locked the doors behind them.

Can you describe your experience in the ghetto?

When they rounded us up, we were allowed to take along a small amount of items. I used my beautiful jacket to cover the children at night, because they were cold. But everything was left behind in the ghetto.

We were in the ghetto for a few weeks. Three families were put together in one house. It was extremely crowded. We had to stand in line to get the food rations for the day. We were given just enough to live on, nothing extra. We got little pieces of bread and small amounts of milk. When we were lucky, we got some potatoes and onions.

When were you taken to Auschwitz?

One day while we were in the ghetto, they ordered us all to get into cattle cars. I remember how I carried my brother Mendel’s baby in my arms. His mother was holding two of the other children so that they wouldn’t get lost. We had to leave everything in the ghetto. Our whole family went together.

We traveled for three days. There were no windows at all. We passed by [the town of] Satmar and we called out to the people, “A little water, please.” They wouldn’t give us any water because they were scared of the Germans. They were scared of losing their lives. This was one of the most horrible times.

After three days of traveling, we arrived in Auschwitz. Here is where we were separated. I was sent to one side and all my sisters were sent with my mother to the other side. I was left all by myself. My brothers were sent somewhere else. I saw one brother through the electrified barbed wires. He was very handy. He found a piece of wood and made a spoon from it. He threw the spoon to me over the barbed wire. He wanted to make sure that I had a spoon for eating soup, since that was practically all we got. This brother was 14 years old at the time. He was sent to the children’s lager, and I never saw him again.