Rebbetzin Rottenberg (Kosono Rebbetzin) Part III

When were you liberated?

Not long after we reached Bergen-Belsen, we saw the Germans walking with white bands on their arms, showing that they had given up.

Once the Americans came in, they took the sick people to hospitals where they had volunteer doctors and medicine. Baruch Hashem, I was never sick enough to have to be hospitalized. I was able to visit the sick and I tried to help them.

We were actually liberated on April 15, 1945. We stayed in Bergen-Belsen for almost three years [as displaced persons]. Then we went to Sweden. We were 23 girls in all, and we were put into a convalescent home. We were all Hungarian girls but we didn’t know each other from before. I was in Sweden for three more years. I picked up the language very quickly and I was able to speak it well, as if I was born in Sweden. The other Hungarian girls worked in a factory all day, but they didn’t want me to work there. They felt that as the Rebbe’s daughter it wasn’t bakovedik for me to work. So, instead, I cooked for them. They saved up from the salary they earned in the factory so that they could pay me for cooking.

I came to Ellis Island as a student of Bais Yaakov. When I arrived, a cousin of my father’s was waiting for me at the gate. It was a Thursday and they brought challos, wine, fish, and everything I would need. I was told that I could go home with these relatives. I went home in their car. They lived on Bedford Avenue and Wilson Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

You mentioned that you clearly saw Yad Hashem in everything. Can you share some stories with us?

In Bergen-Belsen, right before we were liberated, the Germans tried to get in their last licks. There was a well nearby and the Germans offered us a drink from this well. It was such hashgachah that the Americans were right there and they said, “First let the dogs drink from the water — let’s see if it’s pure.” Well, it was poisoned water and the dogs died immediately.

How did you find the rest of your family?

After we were liberated, I thought I’d go home and everyone would be waiting for me. Slowly, it sank in what had really happened.

After the war, there were lists of names of survivors and where they were living. I found two of my brothers who were never in Auschwitz. My brother Mendel had dressed like a gentile and he stayed in Budapest. An older brother, Beirish, who was 18 years old at the time, hid in a bunker in a cellar with 23 other people. They made a little chimney so that they had air. I didn’t get to see either of them until after I was married with two children.

Have you ever visited your hometown?

Yes, I went back to see the four walls — that’s about all that was left. Seven years after I was liberated, I went back with my husband. We ate sandwiches and drank dark coffee in the house where I lived as a young girl. Of course, there was no electricity or gas. Inside the stove that my mother cooked on, we could see an outline of wood.

The gentiles returned part of the house to us, but not the whole house. They made one of the rooms into a bathroom. There was a man in charge of the whole town. When we related our story to him, he couldn’t believe that humans could actually do what the Nazis did.

What can you tell the children today?

I feel it is very important for the children today to learn about the Holocaust. They should know how we were, mamash, held by our throats. We didn’t know what the next moment would bring. I always insisted that my children eat the crust of the bread. Thank G-d you have bread to eat.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.