|Fragments of Memories
Fräulein - by Judy (Weissenberg) Cohen with
It was May 1945. We were less then 200 in number and the pitiful remnant of the 500 young women who had been forced to labour in a Junker’s Airplane factory in Aschersleben, near Leipzig, Germany.
Most of us had endured Nazi death and concentration camps, mainly Auchwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, prior to having been selected for slave labour.
After the factory was bombed out by the Allies, we were forced to march West. It became what since has been termed a "death march," during which our lives continued to be in constant danger.
In addition, and just as in the Nazi camps, we were subjected consistently to physical and verbal abuse by our German captors and tormentors. On this march, we were on the last leg of our strengths and even our lives.
The armed guards on the road were very fond of telling us often: "Los, los, noch schneller, verfluchte Juden." Since they never gave us regular meals, we tried to pry scraps of food out of the garbage. When they saw one of us do this, they would exclaim, "Oh, du bist doch ein verückter Schweinehund."
Regular toilets were not available for us either. Thus, when trying to relieve ourselves, always in a hurry and behind a bush, "dreckige, schmutzige Leute," were the unkind and humiliating words we heard.
One man, who turned out to be the Bürgermeister (mayor) of this small town, in a rare gesture of kindness, allowed us to use an abandoned, filthy barn with some damp straw strewn on the dirt floor. There we put down our weary and by now dangerously emaciated and lice-ridden bodies, bloody feet, and hopeless souls to try to go to sleep, this in spite of our aching empty stomachs.
But on the next morning, May 5, 1945—the exact date we learned later—the barn door was opened suddenly. We saw a towering figure in the doorway that had aroused us from our shallow sleep. We could only see his dark silhouette because the sunshine was behind him. We had no idea who he was; we noticed he didn't wear a uniform. Then in a pleasant, deep voice he addressed us with "Fräulein."
The previous night he had dealt with our guards only. By the time morning came, the guards had disappeared and he had no choice but to speak to us directly.
We turned towards each other in disbelief. "Fräulein?" Did he really call us that, we asked each other. This one civil word of a normal world was all we needed. It told us everything. We asked in disbelief: "No more the usual verfluchter Schweinehund?
In an instant, we all realized that something drastic must have happened—the war must be over! With our skeletal arms and last strength we hugged each other and cried.
And sure enough, after explaining that he was the Bürgermeister, he said simply, "Fräulein, Sie sind frei". In polite German he asked us to come outside and view the white flags on every house—a sign of surrender, as we knew.
Today, I cannot help thinking that his sudden show of altruism the night before had something to do with the approaching American army which liberated us after we had dragged ourselves to the next town called Duben, 6 km away.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Judy Cohen, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is reprinted here with the permission of Judy Cohen.