Can you tell me your name and where you were born?
My name is Shula Teitelbaum, née Hirsch. I was born on April 11, 1943, in Amsterdam, Holland.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My family lived in Holland for many generations. My paternal grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Zwolle, in the same province as Overijsel. My maternal grandfather, Reb Shmuel Nathans, was a well-known doctor in Groningen, a town in the north of Holland.
My parents, Benzion and Renée Hirsch, were married in Holland in April of 1942. They were expecting their first child which, unbeknownst to them at the time, turned out to be twin girls — my sister and me.
When were your parents deported from their hometown?
In April of 1943, the Germans ordered all the Jewish residents in the area to assemble at a central site to be transported to the concentration camp in the Dutch town of Vught, in the southern part of Holland. My father was a traveling salesman and he had a certificate to travel wherever he wanted by train. My parents decided not to report to this central gathering spot; instead, on April 10 they fled to Amsterdam and stayed at the home of a relative. The following day my sister Judith and I were born.
About six weeks later the Germans closed in on the Jews in Amsterdam as well. Along with many thousands of others, including many Jewish refugees from Germany who were trapped in Holland, we were shipped off to the transient camp of Westerbork in the north of Holland.
Living conditions in Westerbork were tolerable. Food was readily available. There was a daily appel. There was work for grownups and boredom for the children. We spent 10 months in this camp until February of 1944.
Fortunately, through the intervention of Mr. Yosef Wormser, a cousin of my father who lived in Switzerland, we were able to purchase Paraguayan citizen papers. These foreign papers, obtained through the heroic activities of the Sternbuchs in Switzerland, got us tickets to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen instead of Sobibor or Auschwitz. We were shipped by train to the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen.
Because my father had Paraguayan papers, we were housed in what was known as the Shtern (Star) Lager. The men and woman were separated into different barracks, although on occasion my father was able to come see us. The men were given varied jobs of hard labor during the day.
In the other camps the prisoners had to wear prison clothes, while in the Shtern Lager the prisoners were allowed to keep their own rags but needed to wear the yellow Jewish star.
How long did your family remain in the Shtern Lager ?
In April of 1945, with the British army already in Germany and closing in quickly on the area surrounding Bergen-Belsen, three trainloads of Jews, 7,000 in all, mostly from the Bergen-Belsen Shtern Lager, were put on trains and transported east, destination unknown. The first train left on April 7; the second train left on April 21 with 1,700 people. The third train contained people from the Shtern Lager, mostly people originating from Holland, Germany and Yugoslavia; those were kept alive due to their special status. This train became known as The Lost Transport.
On April 9, 1945, a week before the British liberated Bergen-Belsen, the SS emptied the Shtern Lager and put the people on this third train. The Hirsch family, along with my aunt, uncle and their son, as well as a young nurse, Gerda Kahn, who was engaged to my father’s brother, were all part of the 2,500 people crowded into this cattle train.
Families that had children were allowed to travel in the passenger cars. Most of the people were very ill; among them my twin sister, Judith, who contracted typhus. I had just recovered from a serious infection. My mother had just recovered from typhus. Food and water were practically non-existent. The train left on April 10, for what turned out to be a 13-day odyssey.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.