May 16, 1943, the Rosens were hiding in their barrack in the Warsaw ghetto.
There have been round-ups nearly every day, and the best chance of surviving
is to stay huddled in a place. Elizabeth
takes comfort in her journal. Peter, however, refuses to be captive or sit quietly
and write. He is out when the SS
barges into their house. The Rosens
are bound for a concentration camp. They
can hide no longer.
I stepped into our shack at 5 o’clock, late again.
I was wandering the ghetto with a few of my friends, and lost track of
time. As I tiptoed in through
the back, I noticed a Gestapo standing in the doorway, yelling, “Pack your bags!
Schnell (Quickly)! Now!”
I saw Rachel motion to me to turn around, and tried to sneak out, but
one of the Germans noticed her gesture, and whirled around.
I watched in horror as the Nazis turned on my son.
“Don’t shoot him,” I cried for I knew the soldiers would kill him as
they had killed dozens of others for nothing at all.
I could see myself drowning in his blood.
But, mercifully, he was saved.
The man snarled, “Help pack. I
want you out of here in three minutes or you will be shot!”
I had to go to the bathroom, but there was no time to run to the public
latrine. I rushed to gather my
few changes of clothes and my art case.
It was not important for I would never again have a private moment, but
the case was a reminder of happier times like the security blanket of my absent
sister, Sarah, whom I can barely remember.
We ran outside and were herded toward a waiting train.
was shoved into a cattle car one of the 100 in a dismal row.
The cars were about a meter off the ground, and the guards beat people
who could not get up. I jumped
with all my might, but I was never good at sports and didn‘t make it.
“Quickly!” the guard shouted, and I felt the whip on my back.
I cried out in pain as my clothes tore from the flogging and received
a hand to help me up. When I entered the boxlike enclosure, there were already eighty
people in the car. The Nazis still
shoved more of us into the cattle car until there was barely enough room to
breathe. Then, they shut the door,
and I was alone in the complete darkness, smelling the fumes of fellow unwashed
bodies. My blood from the beating
smeared onto someone else’s back. There
were about 150 people in the car in total traveling to some unknown concentration
camp. The German soldiers gave
us a bowl and a piece of moldy bread.
This was to be our only ration during the trip.
Esther: I, thankfully, got in the same car as Rachel. We stood with our backs pressed against each other murmuring. “Mama,” Rachel said suddenly, “I have to go. I can hold it no longer.” In the next instant, I felt a hot dribble on my legs. With no place to urinate, my daughter had wet herself. I could not even provide a place to use the bathroom for my children. For the first time, I was struck by how doglike we had become as our captor said earlier.
“Water!” the man next to me whispered in a parched voice.
It was the second day, and we had all eaten our slice of bread.
We could hear chatting outside, and prayed they were going to have mercy
on us and give us water. A laugh
rang out, and then the car door opened.
Turning from the blinding sun, we felt a rush of water. For a laugh, they had poured buckets of water on us.
We were all incredibly thirsty, but it was impossible to drink this shower.
It seemed as if we were in the car for an eternity, but it was really
only four days. At one point, we
were stuffed into a switching yard somewhere on the border with Germany, crowded
to capacity for two days. Some
of the cars weren’t full, so I assumed it was taking awhile to meet the quota.
It’s strange how I use terms like “quota” in describing myself.
Everyone thinks we’re less than human, so we sometimes doubt our own
Abruptly, the cattle car stopped, and the SS once again opened the door.
As we blinked after six days of darkness, they shouted, “Schnell!
Form ten lines at the gates.” In large black letters I could read Auschwitz.
I grabbed Rachel and held on to her amidst the throng of people.
The guards swung their whips randomly.
Everyone was converging on massive gates.
All we could see besides the gate was fencing and barbed wire.
When we reached the front of the line, a guard was jerking his thumb
either left or right. Most of the fit people went left, and I prayed I was among
them. “Age?” the guard demanded
curtly. “Thirty-nine,” I replied.
I am actually forty-five, but I didn’t want to appear too old to work.
He jerked me to the left. “Thank
God!” I cried. Now all I waited
for was my twins.
A man was standing around staring at the inmates.
When he notices my sister and I, huddling together in the twin way we
do when we’re frightened. He asked,
“Are you twins?” Nervously, I replied,
“Yes.” “Come with me,” he said
and motioned to the two of us.
All of those in the healthy line were led into a building.
We were told to leave everything there, and to strip completely so we
might shower. I resisted a bit
on leaving my art case on the grass, but now I was worried about survival. I knew that the showers meant death. We stepped into a room covered with shower heads.
I realized that the last time I saw my family was in the Warsaw ghetto,
and now I would never see them again.
Then, life-giving water burst forth through the showers!
I squealed in delight, as did many others around me.
It’s funny how now, we find joy in the simplest luxuries.
After our showers, we were led to another building with barbers.
Here they were to shave our heads.
I grabbed my dark ringlets in defiance.
They were my pretty mark, but survival now was most important.
I sat down to be shaved. Next
to me was my mother! “Mommy,” I
said, “do you not know me?” We
squeezed each other’s hands, for she knew how much my hair meant to me.
We walked naked outside into another building.
There clogs, jackets, and pants were thrown to us with no regard for
size. “Swap,” those in charge told us. I noticed a bit of blood of my jacket and shuddered;
but clothes were clothes, and it was better than going around without
Next, after receiving pants that I had to pull up to my chin to stay
on, we went to get tattooed. I
was afraid. After all we’d been though, that might seem silly, but I fear
needles. Gulping and looking away,
I felt the guard inject ink under my arm.
At first, it didn’t hurt, but as he continued to write the six-number
code I was to become, I felt pain.
When my number, 156989, was tattooed, I dared to look, took a faint
glimpse, and noticed blood. Closing
my eyes, I heard a laugh. A deep,
familiar laugh of someone making the best of a bad situation. My father was alive!
Click here for
a virtual tour of concentration camps
Click here for a virtual tour of concentration camps
Part of a book by a survivor, this gives a vivid (and lengthy) description of the transport to Auschwitz.
This is a remembrance of a survivor, including a paragraph about the cattle cars. Good for those who don’t want to sift through information.
This story, from the same survivor as the first source, deals with the arrival at Auschwitz.
Shaving image courtesy http://www.ushmm.org
Two deportation images courtesy http://www.about.com
Auschwitz gate courtesy http://www.auschwitz.org.pl