Mrs. Leah-Lilly Klein (Part III)

How long did you remain in Auschwitz?

We were in Auschwitz until the end of October. We were put into cattle wagons again and transported to a city called Fallersleben. There were hundreds of girls in this camp. We knew a handful of people, including my future husband’s sister. We were working underground in an ammunition factory, day and night. I was young and could hardly do the work. I was constantly beaten. We remained in Fallersleben for six months. The fact that I survived is a tremendous miracle.

One night I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I climbed into an empty barrel and asked my sister to cover me with straw. The German foreman arrived. He saw me breathing and dug me up with his foot and said to me, “Do you speak German?” To which I replied in the affirmative. He then continued and said, “I have a little girl the same age as you and so I will be compassionate and let you live.” He warned me never to try this again.

We remained at this job until the beginning of April. Many people collapsed and died. Life was a misery and we all became very weak.

Towards the middle of March we heard on the loudspeaker, “Achtung, Achtung, bombarding Berlin.” Berlin was going to be bombed.

This is the first time we realized we had been working underground. Now, we were taken out to collect the rubble. It was freezing and I was outside wearing just a thin dress. No undergarments, no overcoat, no shoes, and yet I was not frostbitten. I view my whole life as a miracle.

On Saturday night we were taken in cattle cars again. Approximately 1,000 men were taken to Magdeburg. The women were to be taken to Salzwedel; it was a huge camp. We arrived on Sunday afternoon. Early Monday morning they called our transport for Antreitung — to gather together. But Hashem was carefully watching over us. We were supposed to be taken to Magdeburg to be killed, but on that Monday morning the Americans bombed the railroads leading to the city and the Germans weren’t able to take us anywhere. We weren’t given any food. We were told the water was poisoned. The only thing we had were some dried potatoes from the prisoners of war.

We survived like this until Shabbos. I held my sister’s hand as we davened and cried. Early Shabbos morning, the Lageralteste arrived and told us that the Obershaft’s white coat was missing and if it was not returned by 10:00, every fifth person was going to be shot in the head. I knew that a miracle had to happen. At 10:00 the doors to the Lager opened and two American army tanks arrived. They announced to us that we were free. Their words to us were, “You are free, you are free.” They opened the Lager doors wide.

Were you given any food to eat In Fallersleben?

We were given bits and pieces of treif meat, dried bread and black coffee once a day. My sister and I kept our religion and never ate the treif meat. We survived on dry bread and coffee.

Once the Americans announced that you were free, what did you do?

My sister and I took a walk to a dairy farm where we found barrels of sour cream. I put my head into the barrel and I licked the cream until the next girl pushed me away, saying, “You had enough, go!”

We walked until we spotted a bakery. We each took a loaf of bread, but we didn’t eat it right away; first we thanked Hashem for the treasure. We took the bread and walked back to the camp.

By this time the American army had arrived. They were requesting anyone who spoke English to please come forward. A couple of girls, including my sister and me, stepped up.

The American soldiers asked us to translate to our “Lager sisters” that we must not leave the city because they will kill us or poison us. In addition, they insisted that we must not eat — to prevent dysentery.

It was April 14, 1945. The Americans gave us back our dignity and the right to be human again. I am so proud to be an American citizen. The American officer came over and extended his hand to me, and said, “How do you do, young lady?” I began to sob, for he had recognized me as a person. He kept apologizing, thinking he had said something wrong. I tried to explain to him that I was overcome with emotion; when I’m happy, I cry.

We each received a care package. We were given an orange, a candy bar, a washcloth with soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I can’t explain my gratitude to the Americans when we were liberated. We were told that we were going to have a banquet to celebrate our freedom.

That night, Saturday night, the Germans returned and threw a bomb into the camp. Many girls who were liberated died. Two American soldiers who were guarding the entrance were mutilated.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.