Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Is She, Or Isn’t She?



“So anyway, they were hiding behind a tree because they wanted to see first who I am. I was walking sort of also in a roundabout way towards them to take a glimpse of them to see who they are. Anyway, as it turned out, they were Jewish girls and I was a Jewish girl, and, needless to say, we became very good friends, and we still are.

“Then the bombardments came, 1943 and the beginning of 1944. Christmas of 1943, and the New Year’s Eve we all celebrated together in Stuttgart. Then we were, maybe we were about ten Jewish girls in Stuttgart. Anyway, then the bombardments started. Stuttgart got quite a bit bombed out. As a matter of fact, the first ones to get bombed out was this altersheim, this old-folks home where those two girls, Marina and Nusha, were working. And they were transferred about sixty kilometers from Stuttgart to a TB sanitorium to work there, also as cleaning girls.

“And, you know, we had vacations; even they paid us. They paid us something like 25 or 30 marks per month, and you would get this little few marks and, of course, we Poles couldn’t do very much: we could go to the movies, or we could get an ice cream. We didn’t get any ration cards because we had food in the hospitals, so we could never buy anything otherwise. Of course, one took chances. I was always very fond of the opera, so I was going to the opera quite frequently until they bombed out the opera house, even though I wasn’t supposed to. But I would just always buy a ticket to a box and just sit down. Sometimes some officer would sit down next to me and started flirting and you know, would recognize that I have an accent, and most would place me someplace in East Prussia – that I am probably from East Prussia – and I would always say, ‘yes.’

“So anyway, they were transferred there. We even had a vacation once a year. I don’t know, we got something for vacation. You had to have a special permit, which I did. So I asked for it to go and visit some of those girls in this place, because we were corresponding. I think we were writing letters to each other. And they told us it’s a lovely place, it’s out of the big center in the countryside. It’s very beautiful and it’s peaceful: no bombs, no this and that, and the other thing.

“I went there once on vacation for a few days, and when I came back some other girl was bombed out. And then our hospital was totally bombed out. So then we got the idea. That Genna, she worked in a restaurant that was bombed out. So we decided that we are going to ask, I mean they were going to transfer us somewhere to work, that we ask them to transfer us to this TB sanitorium. And since it was a TB sanitorium, we are sure they are not going to object very much because it’s a place where people didn’t want to go. So, we did, the three of us, the Jewish girls: Genna who is in Chicago, I, and another girl, Eva. We asked to be transferred to this sanitorium. And we were.

“There we were five Jewish girls working together. And there were two Poles working, Stasha and Lupsa. There were seven of us again working there. Marina and Nusha, they worked on the floor – the patient’s floor – and the three of us, the new arrivals, actually that’s why they wanted us. There was this big auditorium they decided to turn into a dining room for the ambulatory patients. So they needed someone to work in this dining room. When we first came, we really had to clean it up. We had to wash all the windows and bring it into shape. Then again, I don’t know. Genna and a Polish girl were put into the kitchen, which was not – they only brought their food; it wasn’t so bad. But anyway, and Eva and I – Eva was a little younger, but I was the same age as Genna – we were assigned to be the waitresses which was a very clean job. We had to set the table and serve. It wasn’t very – when you think of it for a TB sanitorium… And of course, every day you would get a list of the people who would come to the meal. And sometimes you would see a dashing young man or a really blossoming young woman who would arrive. At the beginning, of course, they would come to the dining room for meals. Then sometimes in a week’s time their names would be taken off the list because they…

“The sanitorium, this was really a beautiful place. It’s called Weissenburg. It’s surrounded by vineyards and it’s in the southwest of Germany near Gutenberg. It’s a village actually, and it’s about seven kilometers from a city called Heilbronn. The river Neckar flows through there. Weissenburg even has a German legend connected with it. It has a mount, a hill called Weibertreu, which means faithful wives. It has a dungeon there and there is this legend about it. You know there are so many fights between the different princes and different dukes. At one time when Weibertreu was surrounded by its enemy and conquered. The women were told that they would be let free, but they are going to take the men into captivity as prisoners. But the women were told that they can take with them whatever is dearest to them, and that every woman from Weissenburg took her husband on her back and carried him out. So that’s why it’s called the Weibertreu. It’s a very beautiful place.

“The TB sanitorium itself was also a beautiful place surrounded by trees and a rose garden. And once upon a time it used to be an insane asylum. But since that euthanasia, you know the Germans themselves killed off most of them, then during the war they made it into a TB sanitorium. But there was one building, you know, it is really interesting. We didn’t pay much attention because we were so wrapped up in our own fight for survival.

“There was one building with patients, mental patients. They were harmless, mostly elderly and they didn’t do anybody any harm, and they worked. They worked the land there, they worked in the kitchen, they worked in the washrooms where they washed all the clothing, they worked in the ironing room. You know even we ourselves–this was another thing. In the hospital I didn’t even wash my clothes. Every week you were supposed to give your clothes to somebody who collects them, and they brought it back two days later, washed and ironed and folded with your name on it, and that was it. So those people, you know, sometimes these women were going around and talking to themselves, but they were totally harmless. The Germans, they decided probably towards the end that they needed their manpower. Like the people in the kitchen there, the ones who were peeling potatoes, or the man who was bringing the food to us. Genna was always making fun of him, such a short fellow, because he wasn’t quite sane, but he wouldn’t harm anybody. But most of the people were simply eliminated and that’s why they turned it into a TB sanitorium.

“Then what happened. Our dining room was a big auditorium, a nice room and there was a piano, a baby grand. And some of the patients were gifted, some played quite well. There was especially this one young woman, we just loved it. We would be setting the table and she would come and practice her Schumann and Schubert and what have you, then she died too.

“But then one evening… This was in November, this was before Christmas, it must have been November ’44. Heilbronn was bombed out. Heilbronn was a city which was about seven kilometers from us. And suddenly, it was in the evening, the whole sky just totally lit up. And maybe within 15 minutes – I think there was a population of around 80,000 people in Heilbronn – hey said that at that time half of the population was killed in that bombardment. More than half of the city was leveled.

“So what they did in all this confusion – I suppose they needed it, they couldn’t help it. This dining room, it turned into a field hospital, and we were still working in it. And this was really awful. They brought those people without arms, without legs… There was not – in the beginning we just put like mats on the floor and put them there in every nook and cranny, I mean everywhere. And those doctors and those nurses… Then it wasn’t very nice anymore.

“Of course, one knew that the war was coming to an end because the soldiers were coming back. They were dragging themselves… filthy and dirty. And sometimes they would come to the TB sanitorium, and they would ask for water or for something to eat. And some wouldn’t say anything, and some would tell you. That was a real retreat.

“The Americans took over Weissenburg. The Allies were approaching, and this little Weissenburg was such a sleepy little village. But that one night, it was all night long, there was artillery shooting. We had to go to a shelter. And one could have gotten killed in this last moment. But by then we thought that we really didn’t want to die anymore.

“We were there until the liberation. We were liberated on the 13th of April 1945, Friday morning.

(To be continued)


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