Chapter 4. Liberation
One day, as they were doing construction work on a road, an army man came over to them. He said, “Es geht alles voruber, es geht alles vorbei. Erst kommt Adolf Hitler, und dann die Partei” (“Everything passes over, everything passes by. First Adolf Hitler, and then the Nazi Party”). His pessimism about the future of the Nazi regime gave them a little hope.
On their way to work they saw a group of English prisoners of war. The Englishmen received packages from the Red Cross and had food to spare. Very often they left part of their lunches on the street for the women to eat.
Winter came again and they were moved as the Russians came closer. Their condition always worsened when they moved: their housing was makeshift and food was very scarce. They were assigned shelter in the basements of unfinished buildings. They did not have to go to work — the snow was high and the Germans were no longer able to do construction in these territories. They slept in bunk beds, four women to a bed. Their feet were in each other’s faces and there was hardly room to move.
At this time Eva became sick — she had yellow jaundice, probably from hepatitis. Eva could not eat her bread and gave it to her mother. When Selma went to get soup for her, the cook, who was Hungarian, have her a little horsemeat from the bottom of the kettle. She also gave Selma a little sugar. The sugar was all that Eva could eat.
Lack of proper hygiene caused their physical conditionto deteriorate. They had head and body lice. They had no combs, no soap, not even water to wash themselves. They used snow to clean themselves.
One evening they were counted and ordered to march west again. Since they slept in an excavation for a basement, they would have to climb a ladder to go outside. Selma told Eva that she had to climb out, no matter how sick she was. If she did not have the strength, Selma would drag her out. Another woman accused Selma of being cruel to Eva; this woman had two sick daughters of her own and she wanted to stay in the excavation with them. Selma told this woman that she would do with her child what she thought best. Selma had Eva put her arms around her neck and she dragged Eva up the ladder and out of the excavation.
The S.S. women came to them and said, “Peter, we have to move”. Selma said, “Peter is sick”.
The S.S. women said that if she could not walk she would be taken in a wagon; it was absolutely necessary that she go with them. They were counted for the trip, but the trip was delayed for a full week because of a snow storm. During this time Eva recovered, and she was recruited to help the S.S. pack for the trip. Eva stole two blankets, a knife, and a fork while helping them. They traded the knife for bread. A lady from Vienna, formerly a dress designer, had also stolen some blankets, and she showed Selma how to make a pair of warm pants with them. Eva gave this woman two slices of bread to cut out the pattern for the pants.
They had no needle and thread, so they borrowed a needle from a woman in exchange for bread. Selma obtained thread from the lining of an old overcoat she had been given, and she sewed the blankets to make a pair of warm pants. A belt for the pants was made by tearing strips from a stolen S.S. bed sheet. Their frequent moves had made stealing from the S.S. much easier, as they were not watched so closely during the confusion.
When they finally moved on, seventy-five or so women were too sick to travel. While the others marched ahead, some guards and the commandant stayed behind and executed the sick women. They marched into the night over unplowed fields. Eva came down with dysentery, and she lagged behind occasionally. They had nothing to eat or drink.
They reached a little village. Two soldiers were feeding horses; Selma begged them for the oats. One soldier told her that she could not eat the oats but her hunger convinced him to give her some. There were bits of sugar beets in the oats, and this gave her energy. It helped her keep going. They reached a small village and were driven into a large cattle stable. A village woman wanted to give them hot coffee but her neighbors frightened her out of doing this. Several other women also had dysentery. When they left the stable to defecate the guards hit them, and they hit them again when they returned. They heard explosions; Selma thought that they would all be bombed to death. Eva disagreed: it was cannon fire, she said, and it meant that the Russians were coming closer.
Eva said that they would be liberated, and that she believed in God now. Her mother answered that she could believe what she liked, but that she herself did not believe in anything anymore.
Two of the Jewish men took off their shirts and held them out of the openings of the stable as “white flags”. At about nine in the morning, after they were in the stable about an hour, the Russians came in over fifty tanks and military trucks. The Russian soldiers machine-gunned all the S.S. guards to death. A truck went by carrying the S.S. women, who waved at them as they went by. Apparently they had forgotten the beatings they had inflicted.
It was March 10, 1945. They had thought that they would all go wild with joy when they were liberated; when it happened they took it calmly with little display of emotion. At noon the Russians cooked a good meal for them — a heavy soup with meat from the horses which had been shot at the same time as the camp guards. The Russians let them move into a large house, which was occupied by a German family. Selma told the family that Eva was very sick, and that since the Russians occupied the town, that they would have to let them stay in their house.
That evening a Russian officer came to the house. He was Jewish and he talked to Selma in Yiddish.
She explained that she and the other liberated women were Jewish. He did not believe her, saying that he thought that the Nazis had killed all the Jews. To test them, he asked Eva, who was now running a high fever, if she knew the most important prayer in Judaism. She answered, “The Shema”. This convinced him and he sald that he would fetch a doctor. He returned with a doctor and two glasses of wine and some bread for Eva. The doctor diagnosed Eva as having typhus. The doctor ordered a woman nearby out of her bed because she was apparently not sick, and he gave the bed to Eva.
The officer ordered the old man in the house to take the seven women in a wagon to a hospital in Lebork (German: Lauenburg). Selma sat in the front of the wagon with a red flag to show that they were with the Russians. She also had a slip of paper from the Russian officer authorizing their safe passage to the hospital. Now they passed wagons of German refugees. Before their liberation they had passed refugee wagons laden with food. The Germans had shaken their horse whips at them when they had begged for food. They arrived at the hospital around noon. The hospital had formerly been a school. The doctor was Czech. He told Selma that Eva was extremely sick. They were given beds, and for the first time in a long while they slept on white sheets.
The next morning the staff of doctors came and examined them. The nurse told Selma that she would have to leave since she was not sick. Selma told her, “Hitler is gone, and I will die before I leave my daughter here”. Selma stayed and worked as a nurse to make herself useful. After ten weeks in the hospital Eva recovered and they were released. Eva went to the Russian commander and obtained a pass which allowed them to go back to their original home town in Germany. From their home town Selma could emigrate to the United States, since she was the mother of an American citizen, Laura, and she had a high priority in the immigration quota. Eva had to wait one year before she could come to America.
Before Selma came to America she was in a United Nations UNRRA refugee camp, where Eva was saying goodbye to her. A woman stopped, looked at Eva, and exclaimed, “I have seen those eyes before!”.
Selma insisted that it could not possibly be true, since they had just emerged from concentration camp. The woman was from Dortmund in Westfalen and she said she had been in love with a man named Morris Metzger when she was young. She had met him when he came to visit her cousin, and he had paid attention to her. She said: “These are the eyes of Morris Metzger”. Selma was astonished; it had been nearly fifty years since this woman’s had had met Morris, and now she recognized his child.
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