Mrs. Esther Grunwald (Part VII)

Can you describe your experience in Birkenau?

A few days later it was announced that Mengele was coming. Whoever was capable of working would go along with him. My sister didn’t look too well since she had been sick. I went to one of the girls in the kitchen that I knew well and I asked her to give me a red beet. I used it as make-up on my sister’s face. When the other girls saw how good my sister looked they used it as well.

We decided that whichever way Mengele sends us, we are going to go together. We cannot be separated. A miracle happened and we were both sent to the right. We were taken to a German town called Villianshtat.

There we built a new ammunition factory. Next to it was a regular house for us to stay in. We were 300 girls from different places. There were German girls, Polish girls, Greek girls, Italian girls, Hungarians, etc. Everyone had her own bed.

The head of the camp was an old spinster. She was very jealous of all the girls, even of the German girls. She was the cook in the kitchen. They gave my sister the job of peeling potatoes. Then this lady asked her if she knew how to cook? Of course my sister did, and so she became a cook in the kitchen. Every day I got her portion of bread because she took food from the kitchen.

There were five girls who were the shochet’s daughters. They worked with German civilians preparing ammunition. It was illegal to speak to these civilians. One day one of these girls got a babka cake from them. She took it back to her barracks and shared it with other girls. This German woman heard about it and came in with her whip, demanding to know who brought the cake in. She began whipping the girls. I was thrown against a hot radiator and I got a burn. It took quite a long time for it to heal.

For how long did you walk in the Death March?

It was towards the end of the war and the planes could be heard overhead already. One day this old spinster came into the barracks and announced that we had to evacuate. She said we were going to be taken for a walk. They sent open cattle cars for us to travel in but she refused them; she insisted on having closed cattle cars.

Then she took out a folded piece of paper from her pocket and began reading instructions to us, which basically amounted to the fact that she has a right to kill us if she wants to. Whoever tries to escape will be killed.

We stood in line and she said to my sister, “Eva (Chava), what do you need?” My sister answered, “I need shoes, and I have a sister here, can you give her a pair of shoes, too?” Lo and behold, she gave shoes to both of us!

When the cattle cars came she didn’t let anybody on. We began marching. We marched five miles. In those five miles four girls escaped. Then we got into cattle cars. In the cattle cars she began to count us. When she saw that four girls were missing, she began screaming. She warned us never to try escaping again.

We traveled in the cattle cars from one town to another, from one concentration camp to the next, but nobody wanted us. In the end she received an order that we should be transported to Theresienstadt.

We went to Czechoslovakia. We stopped in different towns on the way and she tried to get us food. We stopped at a farm and she asked the farmer to cook potatoes for us and give us some hot water.

We got out of the cars and stood in line for the little bit of food that we were getting. On the last day the only thing we were able to get was sugar and hot water.

When we arrived in Theresienstadt … she said to us, “You were 300 girls. I could’ve done whatever I wanted with you and I didn’t kill a single one. If I am ever going to need help, will any one of you testify for me?” We shook our heads that we would. We were scared to speak, because we didn’t want any of the Germans to hear us. Then she changed into civilian clothes and disappeared.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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