Personal Reflections - In Camps
Judy Cohen | Irene Csillag | Elisabeth De Jong | Judith Rubinstein
Judith Rubinstein Remembers Some More | Judith Jaegermann | Vera Szöllős


The year was 1944 - late fall. I was doing forced labour in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.Twenty of us young girls belonged to a commando team required to clean the watch towers around the crematorium. Five girls were assigned to each tower.On quiet days, when the activities in the crematorium were slowed down, we dared to leave the towers after finishing our jobs to pick blackberries on the edge of what was called the Forbidden Forest. If we were lucky enough to pick a dish full of berries and to smuggle it back into the camp, we could sell them for a whole loaf of bread. At the time a loaf of bread was considered the ultimate luxury.

As we emerged from the forest one day, the commandant from the crematorium noticed us and ordered us to hand our berries over to him. Before we had a chance to think about the terrible situation we were in, a soldier was behind us ordering us back to the camp site. Confused and frightened, we marched in. On arrival, we stood in the square for a long time. In the meantime the Germans gathered all the information about us. The verdict was that we had wanted to run away and the punishment for that crime was death by public hanging. Even the date was decided upon the next morning at 10:00 a.m.

Usually the entire camp population was forced to watch the horrible consequences for those who tried to escape. Of the five of us two had sisters who were not involved in this terrible situation. They became hysterical and started to run around asking for advice to see if anything could be done. Nobody had an answer. Since there was no trial, there could be no defense presented; the Germans did as they pleased.

Late that night, one of our supervisors advised us to go over to the next compound and ask for the Blockelteste, named Ethel who had a reputation of being a very good soul. Although she had been there a very long time, she hadn't lost her compassion and sympathy for the less fortunate. She was responsible for a thousand women and she tried to be humane.

When we arrived, she had just lit the sabbath candle in her little cubicle; she had heard about our misfortune and gently told us what we already knew -- there was no way out of this terrible situation. She prayed with us and blessed us and wished us a peaceful journey.Numb in soul and body, we walked back to our sleeping quarters.

That night was the longest in my life. Early in the morning, a young girl arrived with a message from Ethel. She had found a connection to the commandant who handled our case. For five gold watches our lives could be spared. The watches were found in no time at all and the sentence was terminated with the warning that we should never dare to visit the forest again. Later we found out that our German leader, an elderly man who smuggled liquor out to the workers in the crematorium in return for gold, diamonds and other valuables (every evening he carried a bulging attache case), thought they might ask him where he was while he allowed us to wander around. He pulled a few strings in order to save himself. A few weeks later we were shipped out to Germany where we worked until liberation the next spring.

I never heard of Ethel again. I didn't even know what her family name was or where she came from. Ten years ago, a good friend of mine returned from Israel with a story that a friend from her home town had become a grandmother of quintuplets. The family was very poor and it was difficult to raise five babies. They also had a one year old child. My heart went out to them. I started to send money and parcels to this family. Every time I would receive a thank you note from the grandmother. Only on the fifth birthday of the children did I find out that the grandmother was none other than Ethel who saved us girls from the gallows. Unfortunately by that time she was dead. I never had an opportunity to say thank you for the gift of life. May her memory be blessed among the righteous men and women who attempted to ease the pain at the difficult time in our lives.


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
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