Rebbetzin Rottenberg (Part II)

The daughter of Rabbi Bleich, the gabbai of our town, was there with us. I was 16 years old and she was 21. Before we parted, my mother said to her, “Sima, take care of my daughter.”

I had two cousins who arrived in Auschwitz on the same day we did. They were from Siebenbürgen, Romania. They had the same last name as I did — Rubin. My older sister Perri was married to their older brother Usher Shaya. Our tattooed numbers were consecutive. Mirel went before me in line and her sister Cheved was after me. Sima, the gabbai’s daughter, was with us too. We all stuck together. (Cheved died from hunger and thirst in Bergen-Belsen just before Pesach.)

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Auschwitz?

I didn’t know too much. Or maybe I was in denial about what was happening. That was the only way I was able to survive.

We were told that our parents and siblings were having white bread with butter, milk, cheese, eggs and all the best. They were sleeping on feather beds. There was nothing for us to worry about. Other girls who were in Auschwitz longer than I, said to me, “You see the smoke over there? That’s where your parents are.” We could see the smoke from the crematoria.

What were the living quarters like?

We had 30 girls in each bunkhouse. There were many girls whom I recognized from my hometown. The bunkhouses were on the outskirts of the town and the factories were in the city. We would leave our bunkhouses when it was still dark outside. When we got back at night it was dark already, too.

What types of work were you forced to do?

My job was to go from “hodem to bodem” [one place to another] and push a wheelbarrow with rocks from one place and empty it in another place. I did this all day long. Then we had to make the rocks into neat rows so that the Germans would be able to walk on a smooth surface. We were never allowed to walk there.

We were moved several times, from one location to another. Each time we were given different jobs. We went from factories to fields, to road work, to digging. We dug up a cemetery. We found a grave with tallisos, tefillin and siddurim. There was a little siddurel with pearl beading on the cover. We took this siddur and we dug a hole near our bunker. We hid this siddur there and we all davened from it. When they switched our location they confiscated everything from us.

What were Shabbos and Yom Tov like?

We tried to keep Yiddishkeit as much as possible. If they made us work on Shabbos and Yom Tov, there was nothing we could do.

When I was a young girl back home, my parents insisted that we know Krias Shema and bentching by heart, with all the correct pronunciations. At the time, we didn’t understand why we would need to know this. In the camps, I found out why. I would say Krias Shema and everyone would repeat after me. I don’t know how my parents knew that one day we would need to know Krias Shema and bentching by heart.

How long did you walk in the death march?

We marched for 21 days. We marched from Guben to Bergen-Belsen. Thousands of people left Guben and only a small number of people survived. The others couldn’t make it and they died on the way. It was just terrible.

What were you given to eat once you reached Bergen-Belsen?

There were two sisters who worked in the kitchen. They had to cook delicious food for the Germans. They lived not far from our town and they recognized me. They would sneak over to me little bits of sugar tied in a shmatteh, so that I would have energy. This is what they said: “Zal a Yiddisher kindt oichet huben eppes essen” [A Jewish child must also have something to eat].

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.