Mrs. Edith Reichman – Part II

In 1944, your brothers were drafted into forced labor units and, after spending time in the ghetto, you and the rest of your family were deported to Auschwitz. What happened to you there?

I was 15 years old but I will always remember what my father said to me before we got to Auschwitz: “If they ask you how old you are, just say that you are 18 years old.” This saved me. I have no idea how he knew that this would give me a chance to survive.

When we descended from the train in Auschwitz, we were ordered to form a line of five across. My mother stood there with her three daughters and one daughter-in-law — my brother’s wife, and their two children.

A Polish Jew who had been working there for a while said to my 22-year-old sister, “Give away your baby.” She didn’t want to.  She could have had a chance to survive; instead, she went with her baby to the crematorium, along with the rest of the people who were selected.

Those of us selected for work were taken to a room where all our hair was shaved. We were given a striped uniform and wooden clogs. Then we were taken to the barracks.

I was with some girls from my hometown. However, I had a cousin in Auschwitz. She was the Humana Rav’s daughter, from Slovakia, and she had been taken away three years earlier.  She was a kapo in charge of some of the barracks. A girl took me to stay in Block 21, where my cousin was in charge, but I was all alone there.  In that block, I had no friends or neighbors.

Each morning, way before sunrise, we were taken out for tzel apel. We had to stand outside in the freezing cold weather and wait until the Germans were ready for us. We stood five in a row, each girl begging to be the one to stand in the middle to be a little bit warmer. Many times we stood there for hours. My cousin let me stay in the barracks until the guards were ready to count us.

Each morning, we were given a slice of bread and black coffee. This had to be enough to last us for the entire day.  In the evening, we were given a bowl of soup.  Sometimes, my cousin allowed me to sneak some extra food from the pots.

I recall Tishah B’Av when we first arrived in Auschwitz. A few of us wanted to fast but not everyone was ready to do it.  When the Germans heard about this, they brought an enormous pot of soup to the barrack and deliberately spilled it all onto the floor. That way, no one had anything to eat.

We never knew when it
was Shabbos or Yom Tov. Nevertheless, many times in the evening a group of girls would sit around and talk about the beauty of Shabbos in our hometowns. We could only dream about it.

I remained in Auschwitz until September 1944. Then, we were loaded onto trains and taken to Bergen Belsen. The conditions there were just about the same as in Auschwitz. From there, we were sent to work in the nearby city of Braunschweig. Each morning, we walked very far to our work site, carrying our shovels. Our job was to clear the area of the rubble of houses that had been bombed. When we returned to the barracks in the evening, we were given our bowl of soup.

We were in Braunschweig until April 1945. From there, we were taken to an underground ammunition factory in another town. We had the benefit there of working inside, where we were able to keep warm.

I was only 15 years old and all this time I was on my own, without any relatives, friends or neighbors. There was one elderly woman in my barrack, which was very unusual, and I held onto her the entire time.

To be continued.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.