Mrs. Etya Kleinman (Part II)

The situation began to escalate around Purim time. We weren’t allowed to go out at night or leave our houses early in the morning. We were very limited regarding which actions were permissible. We had to give half of our living space over to the soldiers who moved in with us. All businesses were closed down.

I recall my nephew (my oldest sister’s child), who was two years younger than I, sitting at our Pesach Seder and reciting the Mah Nishtanah. He said it very nicely, but when it was my turn, I cried. I begged my father to answer me. Why is this happening? What is going on? There was no answer.

Did you spend time in a ghetto?

Motzoei Pesach we were told to pack our bags; on the following day we were going to be taken away. We were told to prepare food and take along only those items which were necessary. All night long we baked and cooked whatever was possible. We were put onto a wagon and transported to the ghetto in Ujhel.

In the ghetto, walls were put up in a small room which we shared with many families, each family receiving a different corner. Our corner held my parents, my sister and me, and my married sister with her five children. My oldest brother’s wife and her four boys were there too; their town was also liquidated and transported to the ghetto in Ujhel. My oldest sister, who lived in Debrecen, was taken with her five children to a camp in Austria where they had to work. Her mother-in-law, whom we referred to as Babtsha, lived with her; she was over 90 years old. My sister had a baby and was unable to work, so they transported her and her family to Auschwitz, where they all perished. Her mother-in-law remained in Austria and survived the war. She returned home when the war was over.

In the ghetto we all worked. We were beaten and abused. We were given jobs to clean the streets and clean the hospitals; we did whatever dirty work the Germans needed. In the ghetto, my father’s beard was forcibly removed. We managed with the food that we brought along. In addition, there was a community kitchen. Starvation began already in the ghetto.

A few days after we arrived in the ghetto, two young Polish boys forced their way into the ghetto. They gathered the men together and reported to them that they had just jumped off a train which was headed for Auschwitz. No one believed them. They warned us that all the young people should hide themselves. We couldn’t imagine; the Germans were such cultured people, how could it be?

We remained in the ghetto from after Pesach until Shavuos. The ghetto was divided into three transports. We were taken on the third transport. We were loaded onto cattle cars. We sat squashed together on the floor; probably over 100 people in each car. If you stood up there was no chance of sitting down again. We traveled like this for three days. My father brought along two tiny bilkalach which he used to make Kiddush on.

Can you tell us what greeted you upon your arrival in Auschwitz?

We arrived on the night of Shavuos, in the dark, at the gates of Auschwitz. We were chased off the wagons: “Schnell! Schnell!” Suddenly we saw, standing up ahead, the malach hamavess — Mengele.

My father and mother were sent to the left. I was helping my sister, who had a two-year-old little girl. I held her in my arms. The Polish people who had been there for many years already said to me, “You better give that child away; if not, shortly you will burn in that flame together.” The little girl was crying, “Don’t give me to them, don’t give me to them.” The Polish prisoner wrestled her out of my hands and threw me to the right side. I didn’t even notice that my sister Toby had been sent to the right side, too. We never saw our parents again, nor my sister with her children.

We were marched into the camp of Birkenau. As we entered the camp we were each processed. We were instructed to undress; they shaved off all the hair on our bodies and we were sent to take showers. We were given striped dresses to wear and then we were shoved into barracks. My sister was standing next to me but we didn’t recognize each other. Each of us was given a number on our dress.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.