Return to the Witnesses | The Cybrary of the Holocaust Survivors Lucille E.-Interview Helen L.-Interview…
Lucille E. Excerpts
Lucille E. Excerpts
STORY: Single lines
So it’s relative, if you hurt, you hurt differently than the other person.
STORY: Sambor, her parents home town in Poland
My family was there for; my mother was born there, my grandmother was born there, her mother before her was born nearby. So there is a story that my father’s family came from Spain over Holland into Poland, but again since they’re not Sephardic Jews, I’m not sure this is true. It could be I don’t know.
Yes, the town was deported to various camps, most of them were killed even before they hit Auschwitz. You know in small-sub camps like Hannenmoor, whatever they, they had these vans that were gas equipped. There was really no, I had not run across a group of people that really stayed in Sambor very late and survived.
There is a slight difference, geographically, between the Ukraine and Galacia. Galacia like to call itself the Ukraine, because it’s adjacent, but it’s not really the Ukraine. Because some of it was German occupied.
STORY: Writing letters during the early years ’39-’41
Yes, there was still, as along as we could, we wrote. Which I would say was probably until early 1941 or so. The letters were really in very careful language, they were phrased. My mother would write to her brother and said, how does Uncle Ivan feel? That means, are the Russians there or how are the Russians? I once wrote a postcard and I signed my name, Cecelia Lundau WWWW, a German abbreviation for widow. So when my uncle got the postcard he wrote back that I can see that only you are left. You know there were little things you tried to cover up.
Letter received in ’44Well he wrote that this aunt and this aunt and that aunt don’t live here or are not here. He was a really sick man, he had some spinal trouble, he couldn’t stand straight. He was working he said.
I: In the town?
E: In forced labor. There were considerable amount of Jews in Sambor. He did not really give any details. It was an open card, it happened to slip through. Which was unusual what he did.
STORY: Life in the Lodz ghetto
Yes they did in a way because the Jewish tailors in Poland were very ingenious. They could take something that had gotten two sizes too small, turn it inside out, make it two sizes larger, and get you a new jacket. Essentially yes, I wore pretty much the old clothing.
For money you could have gotten anything. For money or for food. But I didn’t have either.
You had a little bowl, like a little schÅssel, like a little bowl, and you put a some water in it and you hoped that there was no ice on top of it. Because at night it formed a crust of ice and you brought it up from the pump, you know which you pumped. You sort of took the bowl and washed yourself to the waist and then when you’re through with that, you wash the rest of yourself.
If you wore a sweater, let’s say a week or two weeks, if you turned it inside out the seams, you know the sleeve seams, the should seams, you would see little white spots. And those were the eggs of lice. And we had a lot of trouble, a lot of illness, I had typhoid and typhus.
STORY: Arriving at Auschwitz
When the door opened, the first thing we saw was huge spotlights, from the platform onto the train. We saw the SS and the dogs.
It was four in the morning, three in the morning. A lot of screaming, alot of commands. They hurried us out of the trains. We were barely out when they said to drop the luggage. The suitcase or whatever we had. My friend dropped hers. I did not. One of the SS came towards me, with I don’t know, either a gun or a whip. And she tore it out of my hand and dropped it. I didn’t want to give up my passport and my papers and my birth certificate. You know, I can’t live without it.
I remember a man in a striped uniform with a hat, with an armband that read Kapo, standing next to us. And my friend asked him in German, where are we? He said, Auschwitz. She said, what’s Auschwitz? And he said, you’ve never heard of Auschwitz? And she said, no. He said, it can’t be.
From that, after that separation, you know the young ones from the old ones, we went into a room, into a barracks. They asked to take off all jewelry, all watches, all clothing. And whoever didn’t took a terrible beating or worse. And there we stood naked, shivering in the heat., and then the took us to another barracks. Something happened in front of us, we didn’t know quite what. The people in front of us sort of moved, moved ahead.
No, we just naively assumed that there was a separation between male and female. And the second selection between young and old, we assumed that the older ones would probably be treated a little more considerately or better or whatever.
When we were in the front line we saw that the Kapos were shaving the hair, all body hair. And if you looked at the women, once the hair was shaven it was just, it was a sight that was so terrible that it really didn’t, at that moment, compare to anything we had seen. You saw those bowling balls with protruding ears and those frightened eyes and it was like, something out of a nightmare.
After the hair was gone, they pushed us through sort of a swinging door and the top part of the swinging door was glass. And in one second I saw a reflection that was I. Ears, an oval head, and eyes. It was nobody I knew. It was horrifying, that sight.
At the other end an SS woman started laughing and she said, the gas chambers are overworked tonight, or today. We’ll get you tomorrow. There’s plenty of time. We had never heard of gas chambers. We didn’t know what it was.
STORY: Life in Auschwitz
And they started marching us, we didn’t know that the camp was called Birkenau, start marching us to the barracks. And we passed an orchestra, with the conductor in an impeccable uniform with white gloves, conducting Beethoven, I think it was Beethoven. These people with shaven heads and striped uniforms, playing music. And on the other side we saw three chimneys with black smoke. Somebody whispered in back of us, “The crematorium.” We didn’t know what it was, why, what for, nothing. But we learned.
We were crammed into the barracks and the center of the barracks had a walkway, and on either side were sort of chessboard squares. Five people were allocated to a square. You could barely seat five people in a square. But we wondered what we were going to do at night, because you can’t sit forever. So Ellie sat down against the back wall, she spread her legs, and the next person would sit against her until all five of us were in that position. And then we would lie down so everybody would lie on somebody’s stomach. But you couldn’t turn, you couldn’t move.
Soup came in sometime in the evening, but no plates, no spoons, nothing. Some people scooped it into their hands and it was running through their fingers. Somebody said to Alice, take off your shoes. Alice took off the wooden clogs, and Ellie took one and Alice took one and they stood in line. They filled them up with soup and they ate the soup like animals, out of the shoes. Then they gave them to us and we did the same. And then Alice put the shoes back on. That was the end.
And this went on for a few weeks, maybe two or three weeks I’m not sure of the exact amount of days, and then we were told, she told us, that tomorrow morning Dr. Mengele will inspect. Procedure is, you take off your dress, you carry it over your left arm, and you walk past that committee of three, Mengele and two others, as fast as you can. And he’ll indicate right or left. So Ellie and I decided that I go first, she follows me. We go very fast, we don’t look right we don’t look left, just almost run. I almost fell but I made it. And he motioned me to one side and Ellie to the same side.
Not really. Because all I saw was a uniform. And I made it a point not to look right and not to look left, and he was on my right. And I didn’t look. I had a glance but not to draw you a composite picture, to take to the police station for identification, no.
We were then marched to a new barracks, we were given shoes regardless of size, just shoes. And we were given a coat that had a big yellow stripe across the front; but underneath the stripe, the fabric had been cut away. So if you wanted to run away and take off the yellow stripe, there would be no fabric. Then we were loaded into cattle cars and we were in those cattle cars I think for three or four days, again stop and go, stop and go. It was very hot, it was Indian summer. The top of the cattle cars had a small, small opening, you know with barbed wire. It was so hot we took all our clothing off, we couldn’t stand it.
I: Did you know anything about the medical experiments that were going on there?
E: I heard about it in Auschwitz, there were rumors. There were rumors about twins and some of the other things, but I didn’t see and I didn’t hear, these were just whispered rumors.
So all you could see is like a factory type chimney, sticking up into the sky. And the smoke was black, very smelly and very black. I was close enough away to walk there yet far enough away not to actually see the building, it was obstructed by other buildings.
STORY: Woman at Auschwitz and at Altman’s after the war
The Kapo in this barracks was a young woman, Jewish, I don’t know whether she was from Hungary or from Poland. She yelled a great deal and she ran around with a reed or stick, and anything in her way she would beat. And she took her orders from the Germans.
I: But she was Jewish.
E: She was Jewish, yes, but she had a supervisory position. And at night she had a little cubicle at the end of the barracks. And there was a rumor that one of the SS came at night and spent the night with her, every night. But it was a rumor, because the barracks were dark at night, we did not know. In 1946 the rumor turned out to be true, she was in New York with that man. I met her at Altman’s.
Yes, I was at Altman’s, let’s see it must have been 1950, ’51, in New York. And it was cold, it was fall. I needed a pair of gloves that did, from California you don’t take gloves. And I went into Altman’s on Fifth Avenue, I was alone I didn’t go with friends. I went to the glove counter to get tied on gloves. And I couldn’t decide whether to get red ones or black ones. There was a lady next to me, much taller than I, very black hair, even, naturally died and sort of cut almost like a man’s cut. Very short. Very striking. Well dressed. She was trying on gloves and she smiled. And I don’t know why or what but I turned and I looked at her. And she looked at me. And I said, Maya. That wasn’t a question, it was a statement. And she said, yes, how do you know? I said, Auschwitz. And she turned white. She said, oh I can explain, I had to, it was really bad, and I didn’t kill anybody. She just beat us, she didn’t kill us. And it just sort of burst out of her, that she really wasn’t bad.
And I said, what about the SS that came at night to visit you? She didn’t deny it. When I looked at her hands and she wore a wedding band. I said, you’re married? She said, Yes. I said, whom did you marry? I’m not normally that fresh or that nosy. And she didn’t answer. She didn’t answer. I said, not the SS? And she said, yes. He followed me from camp to camp, in occupied Germany, I couldn’t get rid of him, he even followed me to New York. And then I decided, that there was no point running away from him, he’s really quite a decent sort. And we both have our past. I looked at her and I said, do you have children? She said, no. I said, I pity them. I hope you never have them. And I turned and I walked.
STORY: Neuengamme, working in the office, Zassel
I worked in the office which was not cold in winter, which was an advantage. But if the SS were in a foul mood or the commandment whose private quarters were adjacent to the office, when he came through we had to stand up. But whenever he was in a foul mood he would beat us. We were running around with bloody bruised legs, with swollen eyes and bruised faces.
There was one very low ranking SS guard who patrolled the perimeter or rather the entrance of the camp. It had barbed wires and towers, but it only had 500 inmates. One day he called and he said, pick up the rubber shear. I picked it up and he started to talking and he said, I hear you’re from Hamburg. And I said yes. And he said, what was your name? Who was your father? He said, I don’t like this duty anymore than you do. I was a Communist before the war. He lived in a very poor section of town, he lived in Altona, and we talked for a little while. Both of us were afraid. I said I have a proposition. You find me a place to hide, you look the other way and get me some food. And I will sign over one of my father’s houses, I am the sole heir, to you. Well he came back the next week and he dropped a box of paper clips and made me pick them up so he could talk. And he said, I checked you out. The houses are there, your father was the owner, and I am very tempted. I am a very poor man, I’ll never be a rich man. He was a lowly civil servant. And this is very tempting. I said, alright, let me know. Well, the weeks passed. We saw him but he didn’t stop, he didn’t talk. And one day he disappeared, he never came back. And then the kommandant came into the office and he yelled, remove Wachmeister Smith from the roster. He has a bleeding ulcer, he has been replaced. So the man actually had a bleeding ulcer, and he had himself replaced, either legitimately or otherwise. But I never heard from him again until 1947. And he dug me up through the very efficient German system and wrote me a letter. Remember what you promised me? And in 1947 I had a very short temper and I tore up the letter. I wish I hadn’t. And threw it away.
… like there was Mistress Krone and she used to be the wife of one of ghetto police chiefs. So she was not used to any kind of deprivation or any kind of hardship. When she came to the work camp, she couldn’t work fast enough and she couldn’t work fast enough. And she had a fifteen year old daughter. And she was very conspicuous, and the one thing were not to be was conspicuous. She had large feet and her blonde hair of course was gone. She had a very grotesque face that rested on sort of a funny neck and a strange figure _ very uncoordinated. One time she walked out of line, she didn’t keep up the proper speed, and the commandant flew into rage, and she had to kneel in the middle and we had to stand around her. And he beat her mercilessly. There was just nothing left but flesh and bone. Just horrible.
STORY: Going to Bergen Belsen near the end of the war
We stayed in this camp until the end of March 1945. Then they suddenly put us in trucks. We got off the trucks and they made us walk. We really didn’t walk very well at that time. I leaned on Ellie, Ellie leaned on Sabina. And we came through a gate _ it looked similar to Auschwitz, watchtowers _ and I looked on the right and the left. There were huge mountains of shoes, just shoes, any color, any size, maybe ten feet tall, mountains of shoes, no feet, no legs, shoes. They counted us into a barracks, somebody got the information that this was Bergen Belsen.
In Bergen Belsen there was no water, there was hardly any food. There were open, open, not even ditches, open huge pits with bodies, naked bodies. Most of them were decaying in green.. There was a tremendous amount of typhoid. There was no work to be done, I mean no work details, nothing. We were there approximately I would guess two weeks, give or take. And then one morning we saw the SS on the other side of the wire and they had white armbands n their left sleeve. It didn’t mean much to us. Everything was the same, maybe less food, but they didn’t come into the camp _ they as a rule they didn’t_ and by lunch time we heard enormous noises. And then we saw tanks rolling in the main avenue. That was it.
I started working for the English that afternoon. (crying pause)
STORY: Liberation by the British
And they had no idea what they had found. They found people, that night they dispersed food stuffs from the German warehouses and there were two pound cans of pork and fat. And being hungry you open them and you eat; by the morning you are dead. That’s how we lost Ellie’s mother. Ellie got very sick and she couldn’t even eat, by then she had tuberculosis, she lost a lung in the meantime. And for some reason I had the common sense to ask the major for whom I worked for some biscuits and I didn’t eat the pork. I just ate dry biscuits, the first day the second day, we went from barrack to barrack. And he wanted to talk to the people and to know where they’re from. And half of them couldn’t even talk to them, you know, it was too late.
I worked for them as an interpreter until they had to rush me out of Germany in December 1945. Sometimes a translator, once I was asked to translate when they had caught a German who never was in the Army, who never was an SS, after much interrogation it turned out he was SS. He was stationed in (Avanenburg), and towards the end of the interrogation the major took his gun out of his holster, released the safety and put it in front of me. I picked it up but I couldn’t shoot. I couldn’t. And then I asked him if he was interested in the 42 SS from the camp near Hamburg. I had memorized their names and addresses from just doing the paperwork. And he said, yes, let’s pick them up.
They stood trial, I think October 1945. They were convicted, various sentences, some pleaded with me for intervention and mercy. They were so good, why couldn’t I understand that? And two of them were sentenced to death, the two commanders, and then some of the families made threats. We are going to get her. I was a witness at the trial. I don’t remember anything. I remember going in, I remember being asked whether I would speak English or German, I said English please, and I don’t remember anything. Nothing. Blank.
The English War Crimes division wrote a letter to the American Embassy in Paris and said help her to get out. They drove me and three other young women first to Holland, the Dutch didn’t want to let civilians in out of Germany. So we turned the car around, drove through a riverbed, the Dutch shooting after us, and entered Holland illegally. Then we went to Belgium, same day, and we got to Brussels.
I: Now why didn’t you want to go to the doctors, or a hospital? (When her kidneys were ailing, she was bloated, etc.)
E: Because there was this old fear, still from the ghetto, if you were in the hospital you were deported or something bad would happen. We could not imagine that a British Army hospital would be just what it was, a hospital. We thought, you know maybe they’ll stack you up, one on top of the other, and you’ll just vegetate. So there was a great deal of mistrust there.
STORY: Paris and the family calls
I arrived at Paris at 4 in the morning. Eventually I found the youth hostel, I knew some people there who had been at Bergen Belsen. Then I started the Catch 22 with the American Embassy. We’ll give you a visa if you bring us passage. But there was no passage, there were only empty troop ships, or regimental ships going back.
My mother had a brother in Israel, there was lots of family at that time. They all had gotten together and made the decisions for me. That didn’t work anymore. I was 21 years old and the decisions were going to be mine. I was not going to be told by aunts and uncles, now you do this, now you do that. So I decided to go to America and my cousin sat on the train with me, all the way to (Balgdo) arguing, it didn’t help. I went on a Merchant Marine ship to New York, took twenty two days, and I left him behind. Even back home, the family was very angry. At first they didn’t write but then they changed their mind. They thought I had made a great mistake. But I don’t think I made a mistake. I mean I wouldn’t have minded living in Israel, on the contrary. But what I did mind is being told what to do. That I couldn’t take.
WISDOM: How to live through it
I: Can you remember your awareness, at what point in time did you become aware what the purpose of this concentration camp was for?
E: A couple of days. And then you only had one choice; you could either hope, or you could stop caring, or you could walk to the wire and electrocute. Those were the three choices. And most of us just vegetated, we didn’t want to think, we didn’t want to talk, nothing.
A miracle. We didn’t hope for a God, because there was no God, obviously. But for a miracle, some unreal miracle. I had hoped for a slice of bread or for meeting (Noamkofsky), I had hoped for a miracle that maybe the English will fall out of the sky or something. I don’t know.
Staying together with her friend Ellie Singer
We made it a point to stay together. In fact at one point when we had numbers and names, they said to line up alphabetically. Her name started with an S. So I just changed mine to an S and she was very upset with me. She said, what if they ask? Well, I’ll just say I married your brother someplace and joined the line. I knew there were no records to really prove it. It was still a chance I took. And that way we stayed together.
E: No, the past was very far away, very distant. There was no point wasting energy on it. It would not come back, it would never be back, it was.
I: Did you know that? Did you make a conscious decision?
E: I knew that. Yes. I didn’t know whether there would be a tomorrow or a future, but I knew the past was gone. There was no retrieving it.
I: What do you think sustained you?
E: Age. Youth. I don’t know, a little bit of luck, some good friends. That’s about it.
A Jew is a Jew. To point a finger at another Jews is very hard for me. Some of us are guilty, some of us are very guilty. Some of us are clean, some of us are not so clean. I got off that train, maybe somebody would have went in my place? I don’t know. I couldn’t point a finger at another Jew. I might detest them, I might not like them, but unless he really killed another human being, I would not point a finger. I can’t.
STORY: Coming to America
This was a country without prejudice, without discrimination, the country of the free, I trusted everybody.
I: And is that true, did you find that?
E: No. I went for on a job interview in Manhattan and I found out a Jew couldn’t get a job, not in that particular office. So I was just devastated, I had not expected that.
STORY: Going back to Germany
E: It was neither harder nor easier. It was painful. The cemetery was painful. The ghetto was painful. The Jewish community, or what exists of it, of the temples, of the synagogues, was pitiful. It was so….it was not even a remnant. The poverty among the Jews is painful. Anti-semitism is well and alive.
I sat between two gentlemen at the luncheon. Not that I could eat, I couldn’t. One of them was a friend of Adenauer, he was instrumental in the peace treaty, or the financial arrangements between Germany and Israel. He knew Ben Gurion, he knew everybody, anybody worth while knowing. He must have been in his seventies. He also went to school with a friend of mine in Berkeley. And he threw names around rather liberally. He died a couple of years ago. My question to him was, what did you do from 1933 to 1945. And he didn’t want to answer and I didn’t let go. He said, I sold sewing machines. And I said, and that from a Social Democrat or a Communist in your youth? Do you find that acceptable, I find that totally unacceptable.
STORY: Why they lived in Germany
I: Was there a great deal of anti-semitism as a child do you remember?
E: Yes, yes, this was one of the reasons my father said that Germany or France are much more civilized. And they don’t have the pogroms that we have. I want my kids to grow up there. They happened to be wrong but it was a good idea.
She was very beautiful, smart, black hair, brown eyes, white skin, and there was a warning in town. The Cossacks are coming or there’s going to be a pogrom. So grandmother hid that youngest child, the youngest daughter, I guess the other one was hidden someplace else, I don’t know. They hid the little one, must have been seven, in the kitchen stove, in the old fashioned kitchen stove. She told me that story. Now I couldn’t imagine what a pogrom was. I also didn’t know what Cossacks were. I also didn’t know what it means to kill Jews.
No. She was killed in Mauthausen. He remarried a school teacher after the war, very nice woman, but she has Alzheimer’s, she is very sick. We were there with them April a year ago, we took a walk in the garden. And he said something and he used to speak in a very low voice. I said, say it louder or walk on my right side, not on my left side. And he said, you still don’t hear? I said, no, I still don’t hear. Couldn’t they fix it? I said, No, they couldn’t fix it. But he said, what actually happened? You were at the Gestapo and the beat you. Why did they beat you? I said I was denounced. And he said, denounced? For what? I said, a radio, I never had a radio, who would do such a thing. And I looked at him a long time and I said, either I tell him now or I never tell him, I’ll go with it to my grave. And I said, Ana, which was his first wife. He said, she did? I said, yes. And he looked at me for a long time and he said, she could do things like that. But I ask you for a favor. Forgive her. I didn’t answer. Because she’s dead. Whether I forgive her or not is immaterial to her and to me, maybe I should . I don’t know.
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