Personal Reflections - In Camps

MAGDA SOMMER - "Stations" (Excerpts)

…Weeks, months passed and from September on the weather turned very cold. We suffered more and more from cold, from hunger and thirst. We became thinner and thinner.

This time, towards the end of October 1944, with the advance of the Russian army, evacuation of the camps began.

The evacuation was accompanied by “selections.” (process by the Nazis to choose who will live and will die by gassing. ) Klári and I got selected into a labour transport with five hundred other people. We were taken to camp “A” next to our camp “C”. At the morning Zählappel (roll-call) it turned out that we were more than the required five hundred because some people, who originally were not selected for work, escaped from their barracks to this labour-block. This labour barrack was even better guarded by the SS than the others, because it was well known we were off to a work camp and a lot of people tried to join our group.

Since we were rather helpless, the others managed to push Klári and me to the far end of the line. Those at the end of a line had a fair chance to feel the crack of a whip directly on their skin. We were lined up in rows of five and we found ourselves at the end of the line. Because the group turned out to be more than 500, the surplus was cut off and sent back to camp “C”, Klari and I included. Suddenly, we realized that we were back among the sick and ailing again.

We knew, of course, what that meant - what awaited us. The dreaded black trucks to cart the sick people away were expected shortly. It was still daylight. Klári and I decided to escape from here. Between the two blocks there was a latrine with thick, “juicy” excrement in it. We were counting the steps of the armed SS guard to time ourselves. We had to wade through uncertain depths of the latrine while the guard turned his back on us. I don’t quite remember how long we had to count before he turned back. Later in the evening we made an attempt and managed to get through without sinking into the faeces. It was only knee high. So we got through but we smelled something awful -- the worst imaginable. Obviously, we didn’t realize in what we had to wade through.

In front of the barrack in camp “A” we found some sort of a puddle. One of us dipped into that. The other one found half a bucket of water and tried to scrape the thick, stinking mass off with that. Unfortunately, neither of us was very successful. We smelled so foul that the others refused let us come into the barrack. However, eventually, reluctantly, cursing and amidst abusing language, they let us stay. So we managed to end up in camp “A” again.

The train was about to leave with the labour transport the next morning. To our chagrin, because of our, still foul odour, nobody would accept us in a row of five. We were driven back from the gate again. We were back with the old and the sick again that is, those bound for the gas chamber.

I, too, almost gave up at that point. The black truck pulled up at three in the afternoon. An Austrian Wermacht soldier and the Gräser (commander of the camp) entered among the wailing, miserable people.

He said that another fifty people are needed for the transport of 500. Klári and I were luckily selected again from among the emaciated, the sick and old people. But at the gate, we were turned back again. Back in camp “C”, we found an empty hospital barrack from where the patients had been taken to be gassed. In fact, the camp was almost totally empty. There were no guards around and spotting a shower-stall we entered. We took off all those stinking clothes, had a good shower at last and also washed our clothes clean. We put them on, all wet but not smelling any more and returned to the “hospital” barrack where we fell into a deep sleep, covered in blankets on the floor, warming one another. I don’t know how long we slept but when I woke up I saw people marching outside. I kept on nagging Klári that we should join the crowd. By then, Klári had given up but I didn’t let her. I grabbed hold of her hand and was tugging her along to come and fall in a line of five, together with three other people. We ran to catch up with the marchers. It was at this point when fate has decided to save us: in a little distance there were only three girls in a line who offered us a helping hand so we could join them.

One of them came from Marosvásárhely, her name was Sárika Mittler, and her friend was Bella also from Marosvásárhely. Klári recalls that the third girl’s name was Judit. After so many attempts, we finally were in a row of five and managed to get through the gate and started out on a long, hard march from Birkenau to Auschwitz. We slept on the cold concrete at night. However, in the morning we were given clothes, clogs, underwear (!), caps (!) and a square tin number hanging on a string. My number was 839. We became the happy owners of warm socks, striped trousers and a jacket, underwear and a cap. We couldn’t believe this earthly paradise. Our joy was completed by a fare of 250 grams black bread together with some margarine.

...I wished to wipe my mind clean of the memory of what happened to me in Birkenau. I never spoke about those horrors to anyone. An inner voice told me that nobody could understand these experiences except only those who’d been through them. There’s no use talking about them, even I wouldn’t believe them to be true...

Magda Summer, after the liberation returned to his town, Gyonkre, Hungary. She matriculated from high school with excellent grades. In 1947-48 she enrolled in the medical faculty of the University of Pecs. In 1949 she abandoned her studies and got married instead. She has to daughters – who are doctors, and four grandchildren.

This is published here with the permission of the author and Dr. Katalin Pecsi, editor of the Esztertaska blog where it also appeared in Hungarian.

English editing: Judy Weiszenberg Cohen.

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2007.
All rights reserved.