Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
RoseGrunapfel Meth - Part II
We started working at daybreak. Sometimes it was dark. There was a Zahlappell at daybreak. We got our tea or coffee and a slice of bread and we marched to work in formation. We continued working till noon, when they blew a siren. We went into formation again and they dished out our bowl of soup and then we continued working until 5 o'clock or later. I think only one shift worked in the Pulverraum because I don't remember seeing any other. The other parts of the factory had two shifts, day and night. In the Pulverraum were eight or nine girls. There was Estusia, and there were Inge Frank, and Ilse Michel, German Jews. There was Genia Fischer, whom I approached to work with us, and another girl, and of course myself. Regina Saperstein was a Forarbeiterin. We were all more or less the same age. Not all of those girls were working in the Underground. Regina Saperstein was a lovely person, quiet and very nice, a Jewish girl, one of us. She helped us with the powder.
In March 1943 Estusia approached me. She told me that resistance was being organized and we were in a position to help because we were the only ones who had access to powder. Would I be willing to risk the danger of being caught? Of course, I agreed right away because it gave me a way to fight back. I felt very good about it and I didn't care about the danger. None of us did. She taught me how to collect and save powder. She told me to try and mix the Abfall with the good powder and fill several of the Verzogerungs with the bad powder in order to accumulate good powder. The good powder we put in little pieces of cloth. We tied them up and we put them either in our bosom or into a pocket, if we had one. We tore off a piece of a shirt or you gave away a piece of bread for a kerchief and you cut it up. You could do many things when you force yourself to do them. We kept the powder on our bodies or in our pockets. Very often before we entered the camp, they stopped and searched us.
When we saw from afar that there was going to be a search, we sprinkled the powder on the ground and stepped on it, ground it into the ground so there was no way of catching us. The powder was charcoal grey. Very dark. Almost black. It wasn't powder-like, it was more like tiny grains. It couldn't get under the nails. In a day three of us could collect about two teaspoons full.
We were observing the other girls. We were talking to them. We were asking them: "What would you do if you had a chance to do something?" It was done very subtly.
On friend whom I approached refused. She didn't give me a reason. After the war, we met and she said her conscience bothered her. She had to get it off her chest. She said, "I was afraid that I would not be strong enough under duress, if they would catch me, whether I could withstand pain." I gave her credit for being honest. She's a very good friend and I never held it against her, even though I didn't know the reason at the time.
When I accumulated this gunpowder, Estusia took it from me and she gave it to someone. We did not know many names for safety reasons, so I really don't know exactly but I know that there was a girl who was a runner and she delivered the powder to other people who had connections with men and the men used it.8 I knew that we were going to try a mass escape. The men would go first and maybe the women later. Whether anyone would survive, was doubtful, but at least we would try. That was our main goal.
Just before the execution I learned the names of some of the girls, like Roza Robota and Alla Gaertner.9 They did not work in the Pulverraum. I started the stealing sometime in March '44 and continued until the crematorium was blown up, October 7, 1944. Regina Saperstein, Estusia, Genia Fischer and I participated. Three others did not. The Sonderkommando was changed every few weeks.10 They didn't want the same people. These 300 men knew that they were going to be gassed, so they blew up the crematorium and tried to escape, but they were caught.11 From what I heard it was a gruesome story. They were caught and shot. Then they made a Zahlappel of shot bodies to make sure that no one escaped.12 That's what I heard. I didn't see it but it was immediately repeated to us. It was the general talk of the Pulverraum, where we were immediately isolated. An SS woman was assigned especially to us. We called her "The Frog". She was the ugliest thing in the world. She was a huge woman and she watched us. She listened to whatever we were talking about and whenever we went out, she searched us. It was bad before but it was miserable after the crematorium was blown up. They knew there was no other way of getting gunpowder but from this Pulverraum. Regina was taken because she was responsible for the room. With Estusia, there was a tragedy. One day she had sick leave or something. There was a Russian girl, Clara, and she saw Estusia on the block, talking to a man and then she denounced her. I heard that right after the explosion they caught this Clara with something which she was not supposed to have and she made a deal with them that if they go easy on her, she'd tell about Estusia's connection with the men. About two weeks afterwards they took Estusia and Regina to Block 1113, into a bunker and they were beaten beyond description. Their bodies looked like pieces of raw liver.
© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.