Can you tell me where you were born?
I, Regina Louis, was born in Krakow, Poland. I attended a Hebrew school and then continued on to work. I had a very prestigious job in the government offices.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My parents were very wonderful people. My father was a respected man. He volunteered as a counselor in a government institution. My father worked as a furrier. I had two sisters: one was three years older than I and the other was five years younger than I was. We lived a very comfortable life and took vacations as well.
I grew up in the Jewish section of town. Although my father worked amongst non-Jews, he still kept to his religion. He was careful to daven and put on tefillin every morning, even when he was away from home. He could have done a lot of business over the weekend but he never allowed his store to stay open over Shabbos.
How did life change once the Nazis invaded? Can you describe the scene that took place?
We had a happy life, until unfortunately, the war broke out. Our whole life changed on September 1, 1939. The fear was tremendous. We didn’t know what to expect.
We were very unprepared. One morning we were told to gather together at a specific place in Cracow. We couldn’t defend ourselves because we were not ready for what was about to happen. We were faced by soldiers with machine guns. People tried to escape, but that was not my nature. I was quiet and not a pusher.
Did you experience ghetto life?
From Cracow we were taken to the ghetto. At this point my family was still together. People brought food in from outside. Some people had money and were able to buy ration cards. We remained in the ghetto from 1941 to March of 1943.
Then the ghetto was divided up and we were taken on different transports. Many transports left in June and the biggest transport was taken in October.
Where were you transported to when you left the ghetto?
My mother and two sisters were sent on a transport to Belzist, Poland. Maybe they died in the camp or possibly they died on the transport; I have no idea. From the ghetto my transport was taken to Płaszów. My father and I were taken to an arbeitslager, a labor camp, but many people were killed out here as well. Their inhuman attitude is not something that anyone can understand.
I had to think quickly when I was asked what I could do, since if I wasn’t useful to them I would have automatically been shot. I said that I knew how to cook and I was given a job in the kitchen.
When were you separated from your father?
On August 6, 1944, I was sent on a transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a very large transport of women and girls. Two days later there was a men’s transport and my father was sent to Birkenau on that transport.
After the war, I met someone who knew my father very well; this man was a furrier too. He told me my father’s story. Someone who knew my father approached him and said, “You don’t have to stay in this line; you can go back to the barracks.” My father responded by saying, “My daughter was taken away two days ago to Auschwitz. I can go too; I don’t care anymore what happens to me.” My father was sent first to Mauthausen and then to Guzin which was a death camp. The Germans forced them to climb flights of steps holding stones in their hands. Of course, he couldn’t make it and he perished.
Can you describe the horrors of Auschwitz?
When we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau, our names were disposed of and we were immediately given numbers. We were totally shaved. It was so degrading. They took away our whole morality. The crematorium was waiting for us, but my transport wasn’t sent there immediately. Other transports that arrived were sent right away to the crematorium to be burned.
They gathered thousands of women and girls together. We were told to line up five in a row and march together. Our group was being taken to the town of Stuthoff, which was located on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Their intentions were to put us onto a ship and drown us in the water.
In the meantime, adjacent to our camp was a men’s camp. The camps were separated by barbed wire. One time when we arrived back at our barracks, there was a Polish man looking through the barbed wire. He spotted a girl who was in my row of five girls, and he screamed to her, “I’m going to bring a scarf for you, to cover your head.” He brought her hot soup as often as possible.
When we were standing in line waiting to be transported to Stuthoff, this Polish man passed the girl a note that read: “Run away as fast as possible, they are taking you to Stuthoff to drown you in the Baltic Sea.”
The girl turned to me and said, “Quick, let’s run away.” But there were so many soldiers all around and I was scared to do it. Suddenly I noticed her dash out of the line and run, and before I realized what I was doing, I ran after her. I gather that some of the soldiers still had some humanity in them and they didn’t kill us. Of course this could only happen through a miracle.
We ran back to the barracks and hid there. Two days later there was an announcement that at four o’clock there would be another appel and we would be going on another transport.
From Auschwitz I was sent on a transport to a labor camp in Germany. Considering the transports and places we had been on and transported to, this was pretty decent. We were able to wash with hot water. We were treated more normally. The workers cared for us and tried to bring us small amounts of extra food whenever possible. We stayed there a few months.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.