Surviving the Unbearable
My Heart Is at Ease
SS men shouted at us to line up, yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” to move us forward. There was a huge factory chimney releasing thick smoke into the air. Some of the female inmates told us that people were being gassed, sometimes just lightly, before being thrown into ovens. There were bodies burning day and night. A barbed wire fence charged with electricity surrounded the camp. Later, a few times, I saw women jumping to embrace the wires, wanting to end their misery. We were given summer clothing, each piece marked with a huge X on the back, socks and Dutch wooden shoes. It was October and the sky was grey, the wind strong; it was freezing cold. The inmates who were there already were unfriendly – I think they envied us arriving later than they had. The constant shouting of uniformed SS women accompanied by large dogs was terrifying. We knew we were facing a horrible fate. This was Birkenau, a death camp.
We were ordered to line up to be tattooed. On my inside left arm I was given the number A 27635. Less than a week later, we underwent one of the now well-known selections done by physicians like Dr. Mengele and Dr. König. I was very thin and undernourished and with one wave of the doctor’s hand, my mother and I were separated. I saw my mother’s desperate face trying to follow me, but she was pushed back. I was alone.
Like cattle we were pushed into trucks, hundreds of us heading to, I was sure, the gas chamber to end as dust in the chimney. They took us into a large room and told us to undress. It must have been late, as it was dark outside. Women started to scream hysterically that we were going to be gassed. We may have actually been in one of the delousing barracks, not the gas chambers at all, but I was in a daze and, as I remember it, I moved to a window. I looked around; no one was watching me. Everyone was in her own strange world of despair. I pushed my small head through an opening in the window, and then my shoulders and the rest of my body went through like butter. I didn’t hear or see any dogs. I jumped down and ran. I had nothing to lose. I knew I had to get into a barracks. I found one and tried to get onto a bunk but they were all filled. It was pitch dark. In the middle of the barracks was something like a huge steam boiler. I climbed up on it to sit down. It was quiet. Suddenly, I got a terrible toothache. Then something heavy and alive fell on me and jumped away – rats!
Life started at 5:00 a.m. in the camps and the next morning I heard shouts from the block elders, ordering us to get out and line up for the Appell, the head count. I had survived the night, but I knew I had to go out and line up. I remember standing in line, stiff, freezing, but don’t remember anything after that. I must have fainted.
I woke up on a top bunk in the hospital with another girl next to me. It was the least safe place to be because it was the first place they went to collect people to send to the gas chamber. But I was weak and couldn’t go anywhere. When my neighbour saw that I had opened my eyes, she said, “You have probably survived typhus.”