Photo Credit: Jewish Press




How did Benno survive those camps?

“First, he was in Peciatka where I think they were working in some forest cutting down trees. Then near Plaszow in another place, and then they were shipped to Germany and there he was in Flossenburg. So he never was… and actually, not that many people didn’t die in Flossenburg. It was a concentration camp, but it was not an extermination camp. If you were unlucky, in any place…

“Then you got a little wise to the ways of the camp. There was also a quarry in Flossenburg and to work in the quarry was certain death. He says his capo, the one who was in charge of them, he killed his mother or something. The criminals were running the camp. But from what Benno says that capo killed his mother, and he was in for murder. But Hitler released them all and made them the bosses of the camps.

“That’s another thing. This is what surprised me, like in Auschwitz, the Jewish people worked. There were so many factories. Maybe they worked in the factories together with the others. He says in this camp the Jews didn’t resist. He says he worked with Greeks, with French, with Belgium, Yugoslavs, and G-d knows whom, and everybody was together and there was no way of doing anything. Of course, they were killing people. And sometimes they would try to sabotage, but… At one time someone put a revolver to his head, and I don’t know why but he changed his mind.

“And then this death march was really awful. When the Allied forces were coming, and they were evacuated. It was about 12 days or so, so that’s another thing. It was a matter of chance how to survive. They heard that the enemies were approaching, the Allies were approaching. Then one night, they still dragged them, those SS people, they dragged them. Of course, so many fell along the way, and they were shooting them. And then some planes came and the Nazi’s, the SS men, dispersed and he and a few others crawled into a barn somewhere. Many people ran. Then the Germans, after the bombardment, the SS people were looking for them and telling them if anyone is going to hide, they are going to catch them and shoot them on the spot. He says they didn’t go out anymore. People were dying until the very last moment. But a few of them…

“A German peasant gave them some food. They were lying in this barn for two or three days until they heard a tank. He says the first tank, it was an American tank and – you know, they were in those stripes – and he says they ran out of the barn, and they kissed them and hugged them.”


Did anyone else from his family survive?

“Nobody survived. He is the only one. Although one of his sisters-in-law, his oldest brother’s wife and two daughters survived in Poland hiding. She pretended to be a seamstress. She was supposed to be an old-maid seamstress that was raising her niece, Tamar. Ala, her other daughter, was all the time in Warsaw with some other Jewish girls. They were hiding. They survived.


And what happened after that meeting in Stuttgart?

“Benno lived at that time in Regensburg. This was before Passover. So, he went back. Everything was so fast. How was it? Then we were supposed to decide what… I had my papers to go to America and I wasn’t quite sure where I am at. Then there was this fellow, this American officer, Adler was his name, who befriended me. And he wrote to me to come to America, and he was sort of expecting that I come to the United States to marry him. We thought he was older at that time, but he must have been about 33. I wasn’t so young anymore either. By then I was already 25. Years were going by.

“At first, we were both so… Then he said, ‘I am going back to Regensburg. We’ll have to clear our minds and decide how you want to do it and what to do.’ And then this Stefak had a wife who survived, and she was in a sanitorium in a resort place called Bad Reichenhall. This was very close to Regensburg. So, I wrote to Benno – how did we communicate? By letters I suppose. I don’t think it was by phone. I said I am going to be in Bad Reichenhall and I would like you to come. He came by bike; it wasn’t very far. And we decided we’d get married. So, he went back to Stuttgart with me, and there it is.”


To what do you attribute your survival?

“Suddenly in the minds of others you become somebody because you survived. You know everyone who died had stories up to the point of his death. I could have been killed by a bomb in Stuttgart a few times. Once we were buried in a shelter for 24 hours until they pulled us out through some pipe, some sewers maybe five blocks beyond where those buildings were all totally destroyed. The fact that one survived was so chancy. It just happened. It doesn’t make you any… I mean, all those things were not of your making.

There were some people maybe who did do something great, some heroic things. I neither hurt anybody or if I, whatever I did, I did in a small measure like when I worked in this ambulatorium. But this was a matter of course. It wasn’t anything. Look, relatively speaking, very few people committed suicide. Very few people among the young committed suicide, because, I think the instinct of survival, the preservation instinct is apparently so strong. But it isn’t something which is conscious. That’s what I’m saying. I didn’t set out to survive. While you were in it, of course there were things which I did that could have resulted in death ten times over and it would have made more sense. It is really, it is all very chancy, quite coincidental.

“Some people say, ‘Well, I am a survivor. I survived because I…’ I don’t feel that way. I honestly feel that we are doing a disservice to the dead by saying it. When I think of my sister, she was so… She really looked like a Polish girl, and she was the one who had all the drive. My mother would say, if there was a situation, a very dangerous situation, my parents would always say, ‘Let Sarka go.’ Also, she looks so 100% Polish. She had a narrow face and she had – my younger daughter Karen reminds me very much of her. It’s uncanny sometimes. Karen is also, she is so self-efficient in whatever she does and with such, no big deal about anything. And I was never a pusher. I was considered, between the two of us, always considered the shy one.

“I was the older one, I was supposed to be a little bit prettier. Everyone would, you know, when I was a young girl… And it does something to you. I was sort of, I suppose shy about it, especially if you grew up in an orthodox Jewish family where you’re not supposed to have a boyfriend, you don’t meet boys and go out with them. And she was really always thought of, if anybody’s going to survive, it’s going to be her. She’s the one who went back from Warsaw precisely because she says, ‘Look, I’d better go.’ Why she and… We’ll never know, we’ll die with it…


That time when you and your mother were found hiding, what was your reaction?

“You gave up. First of all, you know that you are going to be found. At the beginning there still were some of those hiding places that were still prepared ahead of time and thought they had a little bit more of a feature of safety. This you just knew. It was just a little hole in the attic that doesn’t take very much discovery. Instinctively nobody just walked out into the marketplace. You just instinctively, ‘Let’s try.’ But you knew. We were not surprised. And there were a few more people, of course, we were not the only ones. They just took us down. As a matter of fact, we thought they are going to shoot us right in front of that place, because the previous day, this was also their policy, but for some reason…

“The deportation started the 1st of May. They deported people to Treblinka. The 2nd of May, whomever they found in hiding, they shot right then. There was no deportation. Nobody was taken away that day, whether they left a few people, I don’t know. And then the third day, the day we were found… maybe they were tired of shooting, or maybe they decided they had enough people to make a transport.

“So hearing all the shootings the day before, we thought that that’s their policy now. Because one also heard in other places like Kovno – there they didn’t even bother to make any transport. They just took the people out and machine-gunned them. So we thought that’s what’s going to happen.

“In that respect, I really don’t know. I think I felt, one felt, that’s it. And another thought occurred to me… Sometimes how long you wait until they shoot you, but the shooting itself is just a matter of a split second. It’s a step from life to death. It’s really very, very quick. So I think… I don’t know, I’ve never been all dead.”


How was your mother doing this time?

“My mother, she would not have survived. She was hoping to die. Look, I mean, she really didn’t want to live anymore. I mean, what did she have to live for? When I came back and then when they took my sister away, and since then there was another deportation and we moved to another little room. And when somebody told me where she is and I came in, the first thing she said is, ‘Sarka is no more…’ She really didn’t have anything to live for. She only wanted somebody should, I know she wanted me to, that somebody from the family survive and I was the only one that was still there to do it.


During those years in Germany, how did you cope with the loss of your family and the horror of the concentration camps?

“We didn’t. You just pushed everything… Because one wasn’t even sure that one was going to survive the war. And one didn’t even want to think of the moment when the war ends if Hitler wins the war. So, I really think we tried to deal with it as little as possible. I also think that you lived it so much in Poland that you saw your world disappear, that you just didn’t look. I really don’t think that we, at least in my mind now when I think of it… We really grieved after the war ended. That’s when you realized that you are suddenly suspended in a void, in a vacuum.”


When you were with the Jewish girls, did you talk about the loss of your families?

“No, we rather talked how you got to Germany. We really didn’t. It was probably also a defense mechanism. We didn’t mention the families because – it was also an instinctive defense not to, not to break down, not to let it… Because sometimes I wonder now, how…

(To be continued)


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