There are millions of Holocaust stories I could write, but none will be as powerful as the testimonies of those who survived the darkest era.
Following are some of those testimonies.
Written by Zdeněk and Jiří Steiner, born 20. 5. 1929 in Prague, residents of Prague, former prisoners in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, residing in Prague XI., Vratislavova 13, Czech nationality.
“We left Prague bound for Theresienstadt on 22. 12. 1942 together with our parents and a great number of relatives. We spent 8½ months Theresienstadt, where things had been so-so for us. We left Theresienstadt on September 6th, 1943, and, after a miserable two-day journey, we finally arrived at the Neu-Berun train station. From there, they took us to the concentration camp in Birkenau. We were told that it was only a quarantine. After the usual procedures, such as a bath and a getting a tattoo (we were given the numbers 147742 and 147743), we were clothed in old rags (children in adult clothing) and housed in camp B II b, where we spent 6 whole months. We experienced so much in this place. Through the efforts of Fredy Hirsch, a children’s home was established. We children were better off than the adults because we didn’t have to work, our food was a little bit better, and, later, our clothes were better as well. Such was our life in the Birkenau children’s camp under extremely harsh conditions. A doctor arrived in December (each camp had a building for the sick and a single German doctor, who generally didn’t know how to do much else besides sending as many people as possible to their graves, served several of these buildings). With a wave of his fingers, Dr. Mengele decided who lived and who died, just like Nero did in ancient times. This renowned doctor was very interested in us twins, which was actually what saved us despite the fact that we came down with so many illnesses. Once, Dr. Mengele took a closer look at us, but then he contracted spotted typhus. In addition to him, we were tortured by the SS man Buntrock, who had a preference for beating children.
Another SS man, probably a Russian spy, who helped one of our people escape, was shot by other SS officers after he returned.
In the meantime, the fateful month of March began. This month took away our parents and all of our closest friends — the only thing that we still had in our lives. At the start of the month, it was rumored that the entire transport that had arrived in September 1943 would be taken to the labor camp in Heidebreck. And that’s exactly what happened. On March 5th, postcards on which we were supposed to write to our relatives that we were healthy and doing fine were handed out. These cards were sent dated March 25th-27th. We weren’t allowed to write about our departure. On the morning of March 6th, as usual: Blockälteste antreten — an order for the entire transport to go to the lower section of the camp immediately. From there they took us to camp B II a. There were so many rumors going about, for example that it wasn’t a labor transport, but a chimney. We didn’t believe it because we thought it was impossible. We waited all day, and in the evening we were told that the transport couldn’t depart because 100 persons were to be reclaimed. This news greatly disturbed us. A terrible sleepless night wreaked havoc with our nerves. The people, who were now extremely distraught, didn’t pay attention to anything; everyone just wished for this uncertainty to end. Midday, on March 7th, a call: Ordnung am Block, Raportführer Buntrok geht. And he really came, read the names of several doctors, and then we heard our names. We became very frightened, because father’s name wasn’t read, and mother wasn’t present on the block. Buntrok assured father that we would see one another in the evening, and we were taken to the Krankenbau of camp B II b. There, we found out what it was really all about. There were 32 of us in total, twins and doctors combined. Mengele reclaimed us twins because he was interested in us, as we’ve already mentioned. He came to see us the next day. When we told him that our parents had left on the transport, he said: Schade. In the meantime, we found out that the cars had driven off during the night ¨
“In the direction of the crematorium. The camp was empty; flames shot up from the crematorium. We will never forget this scene. But we didn’t believe that our parents were dead. However, we soon found out the truth from a doctor who was a member of the Sonderkommando, who was forced to do this work. Mengele arrived the following day, and took us by car to the Roma camp, which was where his station was. There, he precisely measured and weighed us, measured the length and width of our fingers and nails, the length and width of our noses, and anything else that could be measured and weighed. He also took down the color of our hair and skin. He carefully inspected us. He took fingerprints of our hands and feet. He worked alone; he never entrusted anyone else with the tasks he was performing. Then they brought us to the Krankenbau and life went on. We received 2 liters of soup per day, otherwise the food was the same as before. We were also photographed and x-rayed. Jewish doctors, who guaranteed the correctness of the examinations with their lives, had to examine our nerves, eyes, teeth, and ears.
The first labor transport from camp B II b left on 1. 7. In the meantime, another transport from Theresienstadt with 7½ thousand people arrived in May. This brought the number of people in the camp to 12,500, 3,000 of whom left to work. The rest were incinerated within 2 nights. We were taken to B II f. In this new camp, they drew our blood, which made our weakened bodies feel even worse. There is one horrible experience that we will never forget: one of our torturers, the camp doctor Thilo, was making a selection, i.e. choosing the people who would be sent to the crematorium, and he took our names down. What we felt when he did this cannot be described. Fortunately, Mengele heard this and saved us because he still needed us.
The front was approaching and the mood in the camp lifted. During this time, I became a Pipel in the Krankenbau, i.e. a runner, and so I was slightly better off. But then came winter and a new year, which was happier because we could hear the thunder of cannons. A rumor went around that the camp was going to be liquidated, but nothing happened. Finally, on January 16th, they led the first transport on foot out of Birkenau. The following days were extremely vexing, because one transport after another departed. Everyone left voluntarily and we children were the last to leave, partly because we didn’t want to go. People had to walk 60 km in the cold and frost, poorly clothed and hungry. We expected to be told that trains would come pick us up. We finally got what we wanted on January 20th, the day the last SSman left the camp. This was a wonderful time for us. We went wherever we wanted, ate whatever we wanted, did whatever we felt like doing. We roamed around the SS camp. In short, we were having a great time. We went without supervision for 5 days. Then, a group of SDmen arrived. They wanted to do us in, but didn’t get the chance. They, too, fled, and so we stayed until January 27th, when the victorious Red Army took over.
On March 27th, the Czech Svoboda’s Army took charge of us and brought us to Prague. Out of our family of 18, only 3 of us survived.”
Letter from Gerta Sachsová addressed to family friends. Gerta was deported with her husband from Prague to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in July 1943, from where she was sent to Auschwitz in autumn 1944. Her parents and husband were murdered . Gerta describes their fate and her difficult postwar adaptation..
We are overjoyed that we are finally in written touch with you and that we can write to you in our mother tongue. We have so much to tell you that there isn’t enough paper in the world that could contain it all. Unfortunately, it’s mostly all bad news. So little of it is good. As you have perhaps already learned from Maruška, out of our whole family only Hanka and I returned, but we are happy that at least the two of us were reunited. I must tell you all about our departure from Prague. As you know, Kurt and I were transported to Theresienstadt in July 1943 to be with our parents and Hanka. We were together there for 1 ¼ years. We were doing rather well, all told. Kurt and my parents worked in the office, Hanka in the bakery, and I mostly did nothing because I was sick. Then, in the fall of 1944, we were gradually transported — father left separately, mother with Hanka, and I with Kurt. All of the transports went to Auschwitz. You cannot imagine what we suffered through. I don’t want to describe our experiences and so it’s perhaps a little cruel of me to write and tell you so directly that our dear mother died there. Father, who successfully made it past the selection process, was shot on the Czech border on May 3rd, 1945, just 5 days before the end of the war, during the evacuation of the labor camp where he was sent. Kurt was separated from me in Theresienstadt near the train and it was only when I returned to Prague that I learned that he was held for about 3 weeks in the Small Fortress and was supposedly shot there. We are positive regarding father since he was with Hanka’s young man, who returned. Jirka also returned and we’re living together with him now. I ran into Hanka by happy chance in Prague. She had come back one month earlier than I and she no longer believed that I would return. I’m sure you can imagine what our life is like now. Our financial situation is miserable; we don’t have enough clothes to wear.
I’ll likely find an office job. Hanka is graduating in September and then she’ll probably make her living as an illustrator. In short, this is all that we wanted to tell you about what we went through. We don’t know what the future holds. We are in touch with Maruška. Her little Jana is so adorable. We have visited them several times. Please write us soon and let us know if you are coming. We would love to see you, we have so much to tell. You can’t imagine how we are faring. But at least we are happy that you will come and see us.
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