1. When we walked to the Bergen-Belsen K. Z. gate, we passed beautiful little
houses in the village of Bergen with well groomed lawns and beautiful flower
gardens. People sat on their porches, relaxing. They saw very well the walking
skeletons with bulging eyes and arms hanging down like sticks. After the
liberation, when we confronted these same people--they knew nothing what was
happening, they saw nothing and heard nothing. Right under their noses people
perished in the thousands and they knew nothing. Amazing!
2. There is an announcement available to see in Yad Vashem about Siauliai dated
Sept. 10, 1941 that most industry with important specialists are in Jewish
hands, and that "We cannot do any work especially in the shoe industry. We have
to bring in young Lithuanians to learn the trade soon, that the Jewish problem
is solved without hurting the industry."
Did they know what the Jewish future will be, or didnít they?
Since the end of World War Two, the conclusion of a year and beginning of a new
year makes me think of my Holocaust Odyssey. I thank God for the good years in
Canada, the country that accepted us and made us feel at home. My wonderful
years with my late husband Paul and our two precious children. One could not ask
for anything more. Since Paul died my life will never be the same. It was a
marriage made in heaven. We came out from hell and started a new life together.
We grew into this life and appreciated and cherished every moment of every day.
Every new happening in our lives was regarded as a precious gift. Unfortunately
it ended on Nov. 23, 1987. Paul is in my thoughts every minute of every day.
There are so many questions that I would like to discuss with him; I miss this
terribly because he always had the right answer for me.
It took fifty years for me to decide to finally put some thoughts of my war
years into writing, even though the Holocaust was always present and discussed
in our home. We never tried to overprotect our children, and hide the pain that
we felt from them. I firmly believe that our children grew up as well adjusted
adults because of our openness.
My late husband went through hell, as a Christian, hiding with false papers,
working in the Polish underground, finally landing up in seven concentration
camps, about which he wrote in his book, Among Men and Beasts (published
by the World Bergen Belsen Association in 1978).
I, Babey Widutschinsky-Trepman, was born in Siauliai, Lithuania on the 20th of
August 1924. We lived a fairly easy life as middle-class Jewish people in our
town. My father was the secretary general of the Jewish Community and in the
evenings he spent a few hours as accountant for the Jewish Businessmanís
Association. I had two sisters, one three years my senior and the other one six
years younger than I. We all attended Jewish schools, had nice summer vacations
in the country, belonged to youth organizations, and had extra-curricular
activities for our enjoyment.
In June 1940, the Soviet Army entered Lithuania. It looked like a very friendly
invasion, but later on I learned that the Lithuanians were waving and cheering
and welcoming the German Army in 1941 with no less enthusiasm, and no
resistance. Our family did not belong to the very rich, as I mentioned before,
but life for us during the Soviet occupation was never the same. In order to
keep his job, my father had made a written statement, that he is not a
Communist, but he sympathizes with the masses in the Soviet Union. Later on the
Lithuanian police used my fatherís statement as a pretence to his arrest, when
the Germans entered Lithuania. Even though he would have been incarcerated
anyway as a Jew, they used his written statement as an excuse. They arrested him
because he is a Communist.
My fatherís arrest came before the Jews were put into the Ghetto. It came so
unexpectedly that my father didnít even have time to think or do something about
our lives. We happened to have good friends among some of the Lithuanians and
maybe we could have gotten a place to hide during the German occupation. But
these are thoughts that come very often to my mind, when I think about these
happenings maybe to try to lessen or reduce the pain inside of me. But
unfortunately this is not something that I will be able to ever alleviate or
diminish. This is my life.
My mother was a housewife. We always had live-in help, which was very common in
those days, especially for middle-class families. Housework wasnít as easy as it
is nowadays. There were no electric, or gas stoves, no vacuums. We owned a
wood-stove and so cooking and cleaning needed help. Our parents never had their
own home, but we rented a beautiful house in a nice section of the city, we
dressed well and our parents led a beautiful social life always surrounded by
Children usually perceive parents or their friends as "older people." But when I
think now that our parents perished in their early 40s, it gives me the shivers.
On June 24th, 1941, we were awakened by sounds of heavy bombardment. It came
very suddenly. The Germans attacked Lithuania on their way to Russia. The
Russians didnít even seem to fight back. Maybe they were caught by surprise? But
we saw the soldiers running and jumping over fences, leaving things behind them.
It did not take long before we saw the end of them. The Lithuanians who were
always very anti-Semitic did not even wait for the Germans to settle in. They
carried out pogroms against the Jews immediately. They robbed Jewish belongings,
accused Jews of being Communists, just to cover up their deeds. It did not take
long before we were made to wear the Jewish stars. We were sent out to do all
kinds of jobs: cleaning streets, digging trenches, working on farms. The
brutality towards the Jews escalated every day. We were restricted to walk on
the sidewalks, instead we walked in the middle of the road. Elderly and sick
were gathered and taken to the big synagogue in Siauliai. My grandfather and a
single daughter who took care of him were among that group. The rest of our
family was still in the city, and my mother went every day to see my grandfather
and bring them some food. They stayed there only a few days. One morning my
mother came to the synagogue and found the place empty. No one knew where the
old and sick were taken, but rumours were later confirmed, that they were taken
a few kilometres out of the city and shot dead. Next came my father. One day he
was arrested, taken out to work, and never returned home. Instead we found out
that he is in jail with the rest of the group that was recruited for work.
Shortly after, Sept. 4th 1941, the Jews of Siauliai were put into the Ghetto,
with a barbed wire fence and guards.
The ghetto was established in the poorest neighbourhood of Siauliai. There were
two parts to our Ghetto. One was called Kavkaz and the other Traku (named for
the long street bordering the jail). Our mother and the three girls were taken
to Traku Ghetto. I remember pulling a small cart with our belongings into the
ghetto, all we had left of a beautiful household with nice dishes, linens,
books, carpets etc. All the nice things that a well-furnished house has. By the
time we went to the ghetto all our belongings were stolen, plundered and robbed
and what was left, a young girl like myself, was strong enough to pull in a
Traku Ghetto was small with around five streets. On one side was the city jail,
the other side was bordering a big shoe factory that belonged to the Frankels, a
very wealthy and prominent Jewish family. Eventually there was a passage made
from the ghetto to the entrance of the factory, so that the Jewish workers did
not have to go outside of the ghetto in order to enter their workplace. The
ghetto was surrounded with a barbed wire fence. Lithuanians, Ukrainians, some
S.S. military and later Hungarians were the guards. At the onset of the ghetto
we used to see our father being taken out with a group of people, loaded on a
truck and taken to work. They were usually brought back in the early evening and
our family were always standing on the ghetto street waving to our father. One
morning my sister saw Daddy being loaded on a truck, as usual. We expected to
see him again in the evening. That special day my sister Dora had a funny
feeling that she would never see Daddy again and, as it happened, her feelings
were right. The whole truck full of Jewish prisoners were taken outside the
Siauliai city and they had to dig their own graves.
For a short time my mother and I worked in the shoe factory, sewing the upper
parts of ladiesí shoes. This was counted as a good job, because it gave us an
opportunity to exchange some leftover possessions for food with the Lithuanian
workers. This helped to feed us four, because the rations we received were
hardly enough to live on. People tried to get work outside the ghetto because it
offered more opportunities to exchange food for some of our leftover items. My
sister Dora worked in the ghetto administration office. Every morning the girls
in the office were on duty at the gate to count up the people in the working
commandos. She was trying to find a job for me as well on the outside. She had a
Lithuanian "friend" that she met one summer on a student job. Now, a few years
later, he became a policeman and worked on the Siauliai police force.
As a matter of fact, he was one of the policemen who came to arrest my father.
After the arrest, Dora went to him and pleaded with him to do something to get
our father free. He promised to do his best, but the truth was he did nothing;
he didnít even try. He found all kinds of excuses and the bottom line was--he
didnít want to show his friends that he even sympathizes with Jews.
Now that I was trying to get a job outside the ghetto, Dora tried again to get
in touch with him and asked him whether he could help her get a job for me
outside of the ghetto. This time he agreed to help (I think he had guilt
feelings about our father). He gave me a job as a maid in his house to help his
wife with the housework. In those miserable times this job was a godsend. I
cleaned the house, washed and ironed clothes, but always got some food to bring
back into the ghetto. The policemanís wife was a good person and she never let
me go home empty-handed. There was a big problem though how to bring the food
back into the ghetto. We invented all kinds of ways how to hide food on oneís
person. But sometimes one had a larger parcel and had to carry a bag. My mother
was always waiting near the fence and sometimes it was possible to throw a
parcel over when the guard at the gate turned his back. We also knew the guards
as the "good one," the one you can "buy off" etc. I had once an incident with a
chicken. I decided not to cut it up into pieces, but take a chance and bring it
in whole into the ghetto. My mother was waiting for me as usual and, lucky me,
here I come with my chicken and the "good guard" is on. I walked over to the
fence and want to hand the parcel to my mother, and she is afraid to take it. I
had to push it right through the barbed wires into her hand and run off. In all
that trouble and pain and life and death situations there was also some humour.
The way I handled the situation with the chicken was very humorous. As we say in
Yiddish "Father, you are laughing, woe to your laughter." My job at the
policemanís house did not last too long. They had no children, the apartment was
small, they really did not need everyday help. But they recommended me to a
friend, also a police officer, whose wife also owned a farm and she spent her
time there all week and came home only for the weekends. I had to prepare a meal
for her husband and keep the house clean. The good thing about it was, that they
owned a piano. My piano teacher who was an unusual person, was on staff at the
music school where I attended. He was not a Lithuanian, he came from Riga,
Latvia. Before we went to the ghetto he said to me, that if I can manage to get
to his house, he will give me free lessons anytime.
Unfortunately it did not work out very well. I had a few
lessons, but it was taking my life in my own hands. While I worked at that last
job, I used to take off my stars, and run to Mr. Vaniuunas to take a lesson. I
used to run on the sidewalk, forget myself and run down the middle of the road,
where Jews were supposed to go. I was so nervous, that I had to stop. It was no
use, what was the point? How long could I carry on like this? And with all the
dangers and death situations that we encountered, it made no sense. Here I am
playing the piano suddenly?.... But Mr. Vaniuunas was a wonderful human being.
He surely meant well.
Another good job that I had during my ghetto years, was
working for a large garage that employed many mechanics, who fixed trucks for
the German army. I was supposed to be the interpreter that had to translate the
work sheet from German into Lithuanian. What did I know about car or truck
parts, gears, tail pipes, steering wheels, etc.? But as we say in Yiddish: "A
Jew manages somehow." A Jew always finds counsel, always gives himself advice.
And so did I as well. I made friends among the workers, who helped themselves to
understand my "translations." The head of the garage was a German from the
Wehrmacht and not from the S.S. He was very kind to the few Jewish workers, and
helped them many times with food and warm clothing. After the war, I tried to
get in touch with him. He was from Aachen and during the war his house was
bombed; and even the City Hall could never help me find him. He shouldíve been
paid for his good deeds. There were not many like him. There were other times
during my stay in the ghetto, that I worked on terrible jobs. One of them was
Bacunai, a small village not far from our city where we were sent to dig for
brickets (heating blocks). In the winter this job was unbearable. Our bodies
were frozen, one could not feel oneís skin when touched. Our hands were like two
sticks, and they hurt beyond description. I also worked on the Siauliai airfield
digging trenches with a group of girls. This job was also during the coldest
Beside having to dig the hard frozen ground the guards were so vicious, they hit
and punched us whenever we stopped for a breather. Our bodies were black and
blue and our hands were dripping blood. But as bad as the beatings were, the
humiliations were even harder to take. They had names for us, that we didnít
know existed anywhere.
In the ghetto our family was divided in two different locations. Many people
were housed in one room and so, where my mother and Sonia (our little sister)
lived, there was no room for us, because another woman with a small son shared
that room as well. And so Dora and I slept with another family, who put us up
for the night. But of course we saw our mother every day.
Every morning, as I have already mentioned, the adults used to line up at the
gate for their work-jobs outside the ghetto. The people that had children left
them to their own resources. There were clandestine classes for different ages,
an illegal school, of course, and other social organized groups. The children
more or less looked after themselves, and went to their appointed groups.
Life in the ghetto was very hard. It was a situation hard to describe. Not a day
passed without a horrible happening. I mentioned earlier about people smuggling
in food from their work places. Everybody tried to help themselves in order to
keep alive. I also talked about "good" and "bad" guards. One had to really be
lucky not to be caught. One Jewish man named Mr. Mazavetsky was hanged in the
ghetto, for bringing in only a few packs of cigarettes. I will never forget the
scene, how everyone in the ghetto was made to come out and watch the "spectacle"
of a man being hanged for a few packs of smuggled cigarettes. This scene I will
never forget as long as I live!
Some selections started in the ghetto. Elderly and sick were split from their
families. Many were taken out from the Ghetto and they just disappeared, only a
few days later their graves were discovered in the outskirts of Siauliai. Every
day life in the ghetto was hanging in the air. No one knew what will happen
On Nov. 3rd, 1943 there was a Kinderaktion (a round-up of Jewish
children). The commandant of our ghetto then was Foerster, a real murderer. That
morning mother left for work (she was still working in the shoe factory) before
the "kinderaction" started. Dora was on duty that morning at the gate.
Before she left we both decided to take our little sister and try to push her
out with the group of people that left the ghetto that morning, hoping it will
work. I put on a large coat, squeezed my little sister under it partly, moved
into the middle of the crowd and just went through the gate. Just luck! It
worked! Many happenings that occurred to me were just unbelievable!
Unexplainable! Mazal! In those hard times certain things could not be
explained. It worked for some people sometimes, and some were not that lucky.
Every day that passed was like a scale, up or down, life or death. We were
lucky, we smuggled Sonia out. Ukrainian collaborators started to check every
house in the ghetto and grab the children. The little boy who shared the room
with our mother was taken away. His mother had a nervous breakdown.
Our own mother came back from the factory. The rumour about the Kinderaktion
reached her working place. By the time my sister ran to see her she looked as
though instant insanity gripped her. She did not know that Sonia was saved. I
did not come back home with her until much later. Doraís pleading with my
mother, trying to assure her, to convince her that her baby is well and alive,
did not help. She sat in the room like a glass sculpture, staring into oblivion,
as though she contracted instant amnesia. When I finally arrived home with
Sonia, my mother looked at us and still did not believe that we are there, she
acted as though in a dream.... it took a while until she accepted the truth.
This story makes me think very often how did people survive? Where did they get
the strength to live through such trying moments? I think that the only thing
that helped them to go on--was hope, hope for better days to come.
Our family (what was left of it) stayed in the ghetto until the last
transport--the liquidation of the ghetto, July 22nd, 1944. We left by foot,
walking to Pavenciai, a small town, about 200 km from Siauliai. We left the
ghetto in a hurry, because the Russian army closed in on Siauliai and bombed it
every day. It is interesting that most of the bombs fell close to the ghetto.
Maybe because the jail and the shoe factory were strategic points for them. What
else was there in the small Lithuanian town? One bomb that fell in the Traku
Ghetto killed our head of the Jewish Community, a wonderful man and important
businessman in Lithuania, Mr. Mendel Leibovitch (whose sister-in-law lives in
On the way to Pavenciai, after all that bombing, people were disoriented, and
security was very lax. When I think back now, I ask myself the question, why
didnít we try to run away? At least a few of us?... But where could we run to?
Surrounded by so many anti-Semitic Lithuanians? That would really be death
without any hope left. Our ghetto was run by a group of well-known people in the
community. We also had a police force. But contrary to many other ghettos and
horror stories that history of the ghettos tell us, our leaders were friendly
and helpful human beings, and no negative stories about Siauliai Ghetto exist.
Just shortly before Siauliai was occupied, a German Jewish family showed up in
our city. They tried to get close to the prominent Jews in Siauliai and even in
the ghetto tried to "help" the Jewish community. Mr. Georg F. had connections to
the German Gebietskommissariat and the Jewish community thought that he
could be a great help to them. How trustworthy he was, nobody knew. There was
something about that family that was not "kosher." Before the last transport
left the ghetto, Mr. Georg F. tried to persuade and convince the Jews that they
will be treated better than any other group arriving to Stutthof (that was our
destination after Pavenciai). He said, he had promises from top S.S. sources,
and not to worry about the future. People gave him money, gold, precious jewels,
whatever they had saved and hoped to meet him again after all the horrible
ordeals and thank him for saving their fortunes.
When our group left Pavenciai on open tiny wagonettes towards Stutthof (near
Danzig), we found out later that the wagonette that Georg F. and his family
occupied, was unhooked one stop before Stutthof, and it was known later on, that
they lived through the rest of the war in Danzig as free citizens. After the war
Danzig was captured by the Red Army and many Jews that survived came to the army
offices for help. One of our townswomen recognized Mrs. Georg F. standing in
line with the other survivors asking for help. She was reported to the Russian
authorities and we found out later that the Russians dealt with them. Mr. Georg
F. was put on trial, found guilty for collaborating with the Germans and got the
death penalty. His son was arrested and put in jail. "Thieves end on the
When we arrived in Pavenciai after a long, hard journey, we were put in a large
hall of a defunct sugar factory. We stayed there for a few days until the
Germans acquired transportation to take us to Stutthof. Stutthof was a death
camp where Jews from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were brought and went through
hell. Many were selected as soon as they came and were sent to be gassed. The
night we arrived in Stutthof, we were lined up and divided, one group of strong
young prisoners to the right, mothers with children up to thirteen years old to
the left. Our family was cut in two, Dora and myself to the right, mother and
Sonia--left. I took on courage, walked up to the S.S. guard and tried to tell
him that my sister is fifteen years old, would he please let my mother come with
us. He would not even listen to me. The group of mothers and children were taken
the same night to Auschwitz and were gassed. Those were the rumours, but after
50 years I got proof. I found out through a friend of mine that there is a mu
seum in Stutthof and one can find information in the archives about some of the
inmates. I wrote to them and got my answers. The rumours were affirmed.
Another thought that comes to me during my sleepless nights: Life--what an
irony! I could see the happiness when we saved Sonia from the kinderaktion,
but then my thought goes to Stutthof and I ponder, if Sonia wouldíve been taken
away with the kinderaktion our mother might have lived through the rest
of the war with Dora and myself. She was only 44 years old, strong, tiny, smart,
vivacious... who knows? One can deliberate in those thoughts... and it hurts, it
does not let one rest... It will be there till the rest of our days. The first
night in Stutthof, we were pushed into a large room, all naked. We were examined
internally by some German gynecologists in case we hid some jewels in our
vaginas. What a degrading feeling, how humiliating to young people, they reduced
us to dirt. Next we were shoved into a large shower room. We were told to wash
up and as we exited the showers they threw clothes at us, dress, shoes, coat.
There were no questions to be asked, does it fit?... If one of us mentioned that
the shoes are too tight, we were all barraged with hits and punches, one didnít
anticipate where they came from.
The next morning we started to learn about on goings in Stutthof. One has to be
an artist with very special imagination to be able to describe the situation
there; to make people understand, or just have an idea--but this is impossible.
One cannot understand it, if one has not lived through it. Dora and I decided
that we will not make it through one week in Stutthof and we tried to find out
how to get into a working group. We heard that some girls were taken out to do
all kinds of jobs outside the camp and this is what we aimed for. A few days
later we heard that some girls are wanted to work on farms during the
harvest-time. Dora and I became one of the lucky ones chosen. Life on the farm
was heaven. First of all there was enough food, and the security was run by
British prisoners of war. All we could wish for was for the war to end as soon
as possible. But unfortunately all good things come to an end. Harvest time was
over, and we were sent back to Stutthof.
While we were away Dora and I missed two "events": the tattooing numbers on the
arms, and the shaving of the girlsí heads. When we came back, Dora and I looked
like two "sore thumbs." My dress was very long, and so we decided to cut it off
and make two head-scarves. We wore those all the time, so that not a hair
showed. Again a little luck--we saved our hair. Just a few days after we
returned to Stutthof they were choosing five hundred women to work in an
ammunition factory in Ochsenzohl near Hamburg. Dora and I looked real strong,
after the summer on the farm, and so we had no trouble to be chosen. Ochsenzohl
was a fairly small camp. It contained two barracks of 250 women each. We worked
in a factory, making ammunition in two shifts. There were civilian Italian
workers, who overlooked the production and many of them helped us out with an
extra piece of bread or other food items.
Our first Lager Kommandant at Ochsenzohl was a real murderer. When we
arrived back from work, he kept us for hours on the Appel-platz, counting
us over and over again. We were lined up in rows of five, and while he was
counting, the front person in each row of fives was hit on the head with a thin
stick, that looked like a conductorís stick. Of course nobody wanted to stand in
the front, and so appel time was a disaster, people shoving, pushing,
falling... and that was what our commandant was waiting for. Then he really got
outraged and he started throwing punches, hitting people, like a lunatic. One of
our friends was made to stand all night on a pile of brickets for "misbehaving."
It was bitter cold that evening, a big miracle that she came out alive of this
ordeal. We were really fortunate that he lasted only a few months at Ochsenzohl
and we got a wonderful human being as commandant of our camp. Life became
bearable at camp. It was also only a few months before liberation, which helped.
Every Sunday our commandant chose a few women to dig potatoes for the kitchen.
Most of us loved the job, because there was a chance to steal a few for the
inmates. I had a small bag sewn up that I wore hanging from a belt, and while I
was digging up potatoes in the field, I also filled my bag. My coat was big and
I wore a belt on my waist, and put some potatoes around my waist, as well as in
my large pockets. One day when we returned from the potato field, we were
stopped, asked to open our coats and leave all the stolen potatoes on the
ground. My sister and the other girls watched through the bunk windows, shivered
and wondered what is going to happen to us.
I walked into the bunk, opened my coat and yelled out: "May you all go to hell!"
I still had my little bag full of potatoes hanging from my belt under my coat.
When the commandant told us to empty our pockets and the rest of our clothes, I
did so, but left the little bag in my back full of potatoes; I took a chance.
Dora wanted to kill me. How does one take a chance like that, in this situation?
But we all cut up the potatoes, stuck them to the stove and enjoyed the special
feast. We said after the liberation that we were the inventors of potato chips.
We were the first, making them in Ochsenzohl on our bunk oven.
We stayed in Ochsenzohl until about ten days before our liberation. Hamburg was
bombed constantly. They packed us up on a train one morning and shipped us to
Bergen-Belsen. The trains stopped in the village of Bergen and when we looked
out, we saw a large field full of men sitting next to each other, legs crossed,
in tailor fashion. We decided that there were no Jews in that group. It is
interesting, that when I met Paul after the liberation and we talked about our
arrival to Bergen-Belsen, we found out that Paul was one of the men sitting in
that large field. It was true there were no Jews, but Paul was there, because he
went through the concentration camps as a non-Jew.
When we came to the Bergen-Belsen camp gate, the girls in our group started
saying: "This is the end, weíll never survive that." But Dora said: "It wonít be
so easy, they will make us suffer, torture us before they will be ready to let
us die." And this was true.
Bergen-Belsen in the last days before liberation was a camp that committed mass
murder by plainly neglecting the inmates. By the time we came to Belsen the
gas-chamber ceased to work. Dead bodies were lying around one on top of the
other like garbage piles. When we came to Belsen there was diarrhea and typhus
going around. Corpses were found all over the place, rotting in the barracks and
outside. It is absolutely impossible to describe this horrible situation. It was
beyond anybodyís imagination. They absolutely dehumanized us. People from
different countries, different backgrounds, were brought together, confined in
the dirty, cramped bunks, deprived of all necessities, living in the most
degrading conditions. All human weaknesses and passions are let loose in such
situations and peopleís selfishness and mean behaviour was unimaginable. The
dirt, mud, lice made it impossible to keep clean. Our daily evening activity was
to kill the lice. Our underwear, the elastic band of our panties was full of
them. The more you killed, the more came back the next day. It was a lost
All day long people were shuffling about, carrying little cans (just in case
theyíll find some food), arguing constantly, swearing and making life
intolerable. Meal time was a disaster. When the Capos turned up with the soup
cans (that was more like dishwater) the inmates pushed each other as though they
were ready to grab a treasure. The weak and sick ones got pushed and stepped on
and could not even get near the soup. The Nazis turned us into animals, they
drove us out of our minds. The sores of malnutrition, ulcers, boils was an
everyday occurrence in Bergen-Belsen. Epidemics were spreading. One day the
water was cut off. In the communal wash place, all of us stand close together,
the wind blowing in from outside, the filth, refuse, and excrement all over the
place. Some cold water dribbling out of the taps and everyone fighting for a
Our food the last few days--turnips and water--one bowl, if you were lucky. The
systematic starvation in Belsen was atrocious. Auschwitz was a camp of
mechanized genocide, Belsen killed the inmates by starvation, violence, terror
and the spreading of infectious diseases. The lice, the vermin, dysentery was
wide-spread. The yards, washrooms, and latrines (open holes) were penetrated
with dirt. The guards watching on top in their booths were laughing. They
mustíve thought to themselves, "Look at those Jews, how dirty they are, they
stink, they are worse than any scum of the earth." I tell myself now that I
couldnít even blame them. To stand up there and look down on that horrible
sight... what could anybody say or think about it?
I got typhus a few days after my arrival in Bergen-Belsen. This is a horrible
disease. Your hunger disappears, the headaches are intolerable, one becomes
delirious, diarrhea appears. You feel near death. My place in the bunk was a top
third bed. When I got sick and tried to step down in order to go outside--the
diarrhea was intolerable. It was impossible for me then to keep the bowels and
the diarrhea took over. The people around me made my life miserable. They were
so mean, called me piece of shit and cursed me. I kept saying for Dora to let me
die, leave me alone but she kept repeating: "You mustnít die, you have to hold
on. What will Mama say after the war? She will look for us, and if she will not
find us, sheíll die. You have to keep fighting! Keep fighting! We must live to
tell the story!" It took me fifty years to be ready to tell the story.
The last few days in camp, one could feel the end coming, it seemed close, but
who could even imagine what it will look or feel like? Rotting bodies
everywhere; less and less Nazis appear. Where are they hiding? And as
unbelievable as it sounds, one morning Dora came into the bunk running and
shouting. We are free! We are free! Come letís meet our liberators. I was
dragged down from my bunk, pulled outside and closer to the gate. And there they
were near the beautiful tank. I raised my arms and then dropped down to the
ground and fainted. Dora was always near me, tried to help, but she got typhus
as well. Lucky we were liberated. A hospital was immediately organized and all
the sick were cleaned and taken to the hospital. It took weeks for us to get
better and strong enough to stand on our feet. When one gets better after
typhus, one gets very hungry, and I used to drive Dora crazy, she should go to
the hospital kitchen to ask for more food. It is interesting that in camp people
could kill each other for a bite of bread, but as soon as life became
normalized, Dora was too shy to ask for food. She said: "Are you crazy? Iím not
going to beg for food." The truth was that the hospital kitchen was very careful
not to make us overeat. We had to get used to food very slowly. Over 25,000
people died in Belsen after the liberation because of overeating.
When we got well and started a more or less normal life, the reality after
liberation set in. Who is left of our family? Only Dora and I and the part of
the family that emigrated to the U.S.A. before the war. Hundreds of family
members, aunts, uncles, cousins, great uncles, great aunts, Mama, Sonia, Daddy--
nobody is alive. You feel so tiny and alone in this big, big world.... And so as
soon as we could stand on our feet and got our strength back Dora and I tried to
do something to get involved in the Bergen-Belsen cultural life. Soon a Central
Committee was established, different organizations evolved and even a theatre
was set up -- the Bergen-Belsen K. Z. Theatre, and Dora and I joined. Our
director was Sami Feder, a Polish Jew, who was involved in Jewish theatre in
Lodz before the war. Dora became an "actress and dancer" and I worked as
accompanist and did all the musical backgrounds. I played the piano and
accordion and wrote my own musical notations, because there was no Jewish music
available at the beginning. We, the group, even published an Anthology of Songs
and Poems from the Ghettos and Concentration Camps. We collected those songs
from people who remembered them. The anthology was edited by D. Rozental and P.
Trepman who were by then editors of the first Jewish newspaper on the British
zone of Germany and published by the Central Committee in Bergen-Belsen. Once
the theatre group worked up a decent repertoire, we went on a tour to Belgium
and France, arranged by the "Joint." In Paris we performed in the Sarah
Bernhardt Theatre. Where did we get the strength to start life all over again
after such a disaster, after this genocide? Maybe loneliness helped? Because we
were so alone, we tried to build a new world for ourselves. New families,
I was very lucky to meet such a wonderful young man like Paul. When I met him,
he was already one of the editors of the first Jewish newspaper published on the
British zone in Germany, Unzer Shtyme. How did I meet Paul? As a
correspondent for the newspaper Paul was sent to the NŁremberg trials. There he
met a young newspaper man, J. Meskauskas, who lived through the war in London,
England, but who was originally from Siauliai, Lithuania. When he heard Trepman
came from Belsen, he inquired whether there are in Belsen liberated people from
Lithuania. Paul told him that he happened to know about two sisters, that
perform in the K. Z. Theatre and they come from Siauliai, their name is
Widutschinsky. Mr. Meskauskas happened to know our family and asked Trepman to
please give us regards and he also tried to find out whether we knew something
about his own family. Paul Trepman brought us regards from Mr. Meskauskas and
this is how I met him. We were married the 28th of March 1946, almost a year
When our K. Z. Theatre was ready to go on tour, Paul came along as well as a
correspondent of the paper and this was how he had a chance to get reunited with
some members of his family, who lived through the war in Belgium and France.
Through the newspaper Paul was in touch with the Canadian Jewish Eagle
and many prominent Jewish writers. As a matter of fact, the Eagle sent us
the needed papers to immigrate to Canada. We arrived in Montreal in July 1948
and a few weeks later were hired by the Jewish Peopleís Schools to teach the
Yiddish and Hebrew studies. I taught only two years at the J.P.P.S. evening
school and in 1950 our daughter Charlotte was born. I returned to teach after a
year of absence at the Shaare Zion day school, which later changed the name to
Solomon Schecter Academy. I taught there for 40 years. In 1956 our son Elly was
born. Paul taught for many years at J.P.P.S. and in the summer he became
director of Unzer Camp in the Laurentians. Paul led a full, busy life,
contributing to the Jewish community in Montreal, Canada. His last 13 years he
worked as director of the Jewish Public Library. He also wrote and published
extensively and was involved in many aspects of Jewish life. Paul left an
important imprint on our Montreal community. Our two children, Charlotte and
Elly are both married. Charlotte is married to Dr. Howard Yudin and they have
four children. She is still teaching English as a second language in the French
American School in N.Y. Elly is an orthopedic surgeon, a graduate of Harvard
Medical School, married to Dr. Pamela Becker and they have two girls.
When I think of my own life, always running, always pushing, trying to live
every minute of the day, I am sure this also has to do something with my life in
the concentration camps. I was always trying to make up for the lost time,
always trying to catch up. For forty years I was teaching, going to school
myself and graduated cum laude from Concordia University. Always belonged to the
YMHA, jogging, folk dancing, playing the piano, involved in different
organizations. And I ask myself often: "What made Babey run?" I think youíll
find the answer in this paragraph.