Esther Greenwald (Part V)

When were you deported from the ghetto, and where were you taken?

In early June, we were called together for a selection of those who would leave on the first transport. They were told to take along just a minimal amount of items because, supposedly, they were going to take us to a family camp and we would be supplied with whatever we needed.

After Shavuos my family was selected to go on the second transport. My mother prepared backpacks for all of us. She didn’t believe that they were going to give us anything. My mother wanted us to take along as much as possible. She had a Persian lamb coat that she wore in the broiling heat, because she figured someone might need it for something.

We traveled on the cattle cars for three days. We arrived in Auschwitz on Friday morning. Auschwitz was a tremendous camp. We stopped there for a few hours. There were no facilities there.

There was a woman who had two candles and as it got close to shkiah, each lady took a turn to bentch licht. One woman would bentch licht and a man would blow it out and then the next lady would bentch licht.

Then the transport began to move again. We were taken to Birkenau, a suburb of Auschwitz. We were there for about five minutes when they opened up the cattle cars and ordered everyone out. We were commanded to leave everything behind. They told us that since our names were on our belongings we shouldn’t take anything with us; they were going to deliver it all to us.

There was a man there who was a Polish Jew and he said to us, “Gib der kinder zu der Bobbas — Give the children to the grandmothers.” He knew already that the old and young weren’t going to survive, but those people who were able-bodied had a chance, as long as they didn’t have children tagging along with them. Of course, he was risking his life by releasing this information to us.

There were girls who were there before us, and they became the heads of the barracks. The head of our barracks was a young girl. She got up in the middle of the room and announced, “You can speak to me in Yiddish, German, Hungarian, Slovakian or any other language. You can ask whatever you want and I will tell you the answer.”

We had been told that we would see our parents in the showers, or after the showers, on weekends, before work, after work. We were desperate already to be reunited with them. So we asked her, “When can we see our parents already?”

In Birkenau, the smell of the five crematoriums burning was not hidden. So she said to us, “Did you see what’s doing outside?” We had seen, but we didn’t pay attention to it. She put her thumb positioned facing upward and said, “You see the crematorium? You see the gas chamber? That’s where your parents are now.” We didn’t want to believe it. We all started screaming and crying, “You are a liar, you are wrong! You are just looking to hurt us!” But she insisted, “This is the truth. You asked a question and I answered.”

And this was the truth. We never saw our parents again.

Can you describe your experience in Birkenau?

Every day, 10,000 Hungarian Jews were brought in. We heard later how efficient the Germans were. In Auschwitz, they waited for each transport to be finished off before bringing in the next one.

There was a gate surrounding the area. On the gate was a sign that said Arbeit Macht Frei, but in truth we found out later that this was a Farichtengs lager. There was barbed wire surrounding the whole area. When the girls heard that they would never see their parents again, some girls ran out of the barracks and put their hands against the barbed wire so that they were instantly killed. They couldn’t handle it anymore.

There were more than 1,000 girls in each barrack. Many of the barracks were not waterproof, so when it rained the girls inside got soaked. Some of them were terribly muddy. I happened to be lucky that the barrack I was assigned to, had beds.

to be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.