Mrs. Etta Flam (Part III)

Did you walk in the Death March?

It was January while we were in Auschwitz when they informed us that the Russians were coming. We were told to get ready and we began walking. We walked in the snow with only a thin dress and wooden shoes. The German SS took turns sleeping. They brought along dogs to keep us in line. We walked day and night for three weeks. I begged my sister Chaya to allow me to lie down for a few minutes; I had no more strength to continue walking. Chaya’s response to me was, “If you lie down they will immediately shoot you.” Chaya practically carried me by my arms; she dragged me along, for the entire three weeks, until we arrived in Bergen Belsen. Two thousand girls left Auschwitz on the Death March and less than one thousand arrived to Bergen Belsen.

What were the living conditions in Bergen Belsen?

All that could be found in Bergen Belsen was stone floors with blankets covering them. There was no food to be found. Many, many people came down with typhus; in addition, we were crawling with lice and we had large boils covering our bodies. It was a horror!

My beautiful sister Chana Rochel was so sick they separated her [from us and took her] to another room. She was so weak she could barely speak. I heard her calling for a cup of water — “Vasser, vasser!” — and then, in front of my eyes, her eyes shut forever and she lay dead on the floor. They dragged her out of the barracks. My sister Chaya tried to clean her up. She wanted to bury her. In the end she was thrown into a mass grave with dozens of other dead bodies.

It was April, after Chana Rochel had been taken away. Chaya left me to search for some food. She promised to come right back but she never returned. I was waiting and screaming, “Chayku, where are you?” She was a healthy girl and always helped me and Chana Rochel. I never saw her again.

When were you liberated?

When the English arrived they were overwhelmed by the number of dead bodies lying around. They wanted to help us. They offered us a tremendous amount of food. Those that ate, died almost immediately because their bodies were not used to eating. Their stomachs could not digest the food. In Auschwitz they took the bodies away and finished them off; here they left people first to suffer and then to die on the ground and that is where their bodies remained. There were dead bodies all over, being trampled on. There were so many bodies that it wasn’t possible to walk around them.

The English took me to the hospital because I was very sick. While I was lying in the hospital, a cousin by the name of Frankfurter walked in. She had heard that there were still some surviving cousins and she came to find them. I recognized my cousin Toby right away. She approached the doctor to discuss my situation and he told her to forget about me. He was sure I wouldn’t survive another day.

Then the Red Cross arrived from Sweden. They gathered all the sick people and transported us by boat to Sweden. I traveled to Sweden with my cousin and they took me straight to the hospital, where I remained for a few months.

When I arrived in Sweden I still had a piece of bread which I had stowed away in Bergen Belsen. It was hidden inside my dress. When I came to Sweden I had to change out of my clothing. They wanted to throw everything out for it was covered with germs and lice. I begged them not to take away the bread; I was afraid I would not have what to eat. They cleaned us up; they scrubbed the boils with a brush.

When did you meet up with your brother?

It was a while before I met my brother. One day my older brother went to Bergen Belsen to look for family members, after hearing that someone with the name Frankfurter was alive someplace. He found my name on a list and sent me a telegram that he is alive and he wants to take me back home.

There are no words to describe my happiness and excitement when I received this telegram. I had a brother — a family member! My brother sent me a ticket to return to Prague and he took care of me. I came to the United States in 1949 with my brother. I married a cousin of mine who was in Canada. My cousin Toby remained in Sweden, where she married. She remained in Sweden awhile before coming to the United States.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

Be good children and follow in the derech of Hashem. Never allow the memory of the Holocaust to be forgotten. A message to all Jewish people: “Keep passing it on to future generations; may it never be forgotten, everything that we endured!”