A Real Hero

Posted on October 27, 2009

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Auschwitz-2Today I had the honor of filming a Holocaust survivor as she spoke to a 3rd grade class. She, along with her two sisters, survived both Auchswitz and Bergen-Belsen. Yet I wouldn’t call her a survivor, because she hasn’t just survived. She has thrived.When she came to the United States she had $8.00 in her pocket and spoke no English. She lived in a tiny room with one light bub and a sink so small she couldn’t fit most dishes in it, and ended up washing them over the sink instead.Her first job was polishing silver for a jewelry company. After 18 months, this survivor decided she wanted to become a jeweler. She was told that was a job for men only.

At 81, this amazing woman still goes to work every day in her jewelry store. She has been a jeweler for 33 years. Her two sons are both doctors. She has many beautiful grandchildren.

She calmly shows the children the number on her arm when they ask, with no shame. When she saw her sister tattoed in line just before her, she didn’t like the large numbers. She asked the tattoo artist, in German, if he could make hers with smaller numbers. He was very surprised that she spoke German, and did as she requested. When I asked her if she ever wanted to have it removed, she smiled and said, “No, I paid too high a price for it.”

While in Auchswitz she worked with 349 other women next to the crematorium. Their job was to remove the remains from the oven. There was little left that was recognizable as human beings.

This beautiful woman and her sisters learned very early on to tell no one they were related. Families were always separated and killed. After she had been at the camp a few days, she asked one of the female coppers when she could see her parents. The guard smirked and pointed upwards, replying “There – in the smoke.”

The worst day, however, was Sunday. The prisoners hoped for rain or snow on those days. If it did, they would be kept in their barracks until work resumed the next morning.

On a sunny day, all the prisoners would be lined up, single file, with a line stretching on forever. The guards, bored with no work to do, would discuss among themselves: “Every second? How about every second and third? Okay, we’ll kill both.” Every second and third prisoner would be shot.

This incredible heroine and her sisters never stood together, nor in the same place.When the war came closer, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. 10,000 dead awaited them. One of the dead, she would find out years later, was Anne Frank.It was 18 months before the Americans liberated the camps. The speaker asks the children how long 18 months seemed to them – not that long, right? They agreed. For her, it was a lifetime.

When the Germans took away this then very young woman and her family, there were 56 people. When the camps were liberated, only 3 remained: this survivor and her two sisters. Her husband was the only survivor of a family of 65.

When she speaks to the children, she is careful with her words, not wanting to expose them to the horrors she experienced until they are much older. She makes a point of being proud to be both an American and a Jew. I’m proud and honored just to have met her, and listened to a little of her story. I’ll never see a nice sunny sky on a Sunday morning in the same way – and I’m honored and humbled to do so.

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Posted in: Holocaust