It is estimated that only about 200,000 of the millions of people who entered Auschwitz survived. Each Holocaust survivor has a unique experience of life in the camp. Here we’ve collated some memories of Auschwitz from those who survived the Holocaust. Please note the following accounts are real experiences and memories and may be difficult to read:
Laszlo Bernath, Auschwitz survivor: "In the area next to us there was a barrack and a football field next to it, where the Germans played football on Sundays. I stood by the electric fence to watch the match, meanwhile behind that football field there were crematoriums which often let out smoke and the air was vibrating on top of the chimneys."
Erzsebet Brodt, Auschwitz survivor: "We had to go down to work to a swamp. The fat of the people who were burned was let into that swamp. There is still a small area of that left which is slippery, that's where the burnt fat was let out to."
Eva Fahidi, Auschwitz survivor: "Somebody who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau is having two lives; one life prior to Auschwitz-Birkenau and one life after. And what is in between, that is something you never get rid of."
Bronia Cyngiser, Auschwitz survivor: “They came with dogs and we were pushed into cattle cars. We’d no idea where we were going. There was all this commotion — people were screaming, children were crying and they were hitting people and pushing them inside the cars until they were full to capacity.
“I must have fallen asleep because when we arrived in front of Auschwitz it was dawn. The air was so heavy and here was a certain smell but we didn’t know what it was,” she said.
The men and women were separated. Her parents would never see each other again.
“They said to undress and you are going to have a shower and to leave whatever you had behind. My mother must have already known about the ovens because she gathered up my sister and me like she was saying goodbye.”
Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor: "Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed."
Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist, writer, and Auschwitz survivor: "For the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man."
Eva Mozes Kor, a Romanian-born Auschwitz survivor: "Auschwitz is like a deep wound on the soul of humanity that may never heal." See her video interview below.
Roman Kent, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor: "From Auschwitz we learned, that if you want to survive, you must have hope."
Kitty Hart-Moxon, a Polish-English Auschwitz survivor: "I always had a feeling that one day we'll be free. That's the only thing that kept me going."
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a German-born Auschwitz survivor and cellist: "Music was the one thing that saved my life."
Renee Firestone, a Hungarian-born Auschwitz survivor: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that they are building factories to kill us."
Judith Jagermann, Auschwitz survivor: “After the tattooing, we were driven into barracks withoutmattresses. From now on the women had to live squeezed together,on three levels of bunk beds. It was terrible and cold, and wedidn’t know what the next minute would have in store for us. Theonly thing one could do, was to swallow hard and to suffer insilence.
“The food was some kind of feed, called soup, a dark, watery liquid, for which one had again to stand in line in order to get some of it into a small tin bowl – not even full.Within a couple of weeks we all became thin, numb and listless,just as those who had been before us in Auschwitz. Our camp was called Birkenau. B 2 B. Block 12.”
Zofia was a Jewish woman born in Kraków, Poland, on October 5, 1920. She was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on June 14, 1944, from the Płaszów concentration camp. After the war, she settled in Israel and later in the United States. Zofia Rozenstrauch passed away on October 10, 2006.
I'd heard rumors that Jews were going to Auschwitz. But I didn't know what Auschwitz meant. I didn't know what "extermination camp" meant. People told me, but I couldn't imagine or understand it. We were rounded up and packed into cattle cars like sardines. We could not move our arms or legs. We traveled for two days - day and night. The heat was unbearable. Then one morning at dawn, we looked through the cracks in the cattle car. I saw the name Auschwitz or Oswiecim in Polish. I was paralyzed. I got numb. I didn't feel anything. When daylight came, they slid the car door open. All we heard was, "Raus, raus, get out of here, get out of here!"
I had to crawl over people who had died from the heat and from lack of food and water. When they opened the doors to the cattle car, we jumped off as quickly as we could because we were under orders. SS men with the skulls on their hats and collars stood in front of us stretched out at intervals about every 10 feet. The SS officer in charge stood with his German shepherd. The officer had one foot propped up on a little stool. We lined up and filed by him. Right there the selection took place. As each person passed by him, he pointed left or right. The thumb left and right was your destiny. The people sent to the left went to the gas chambers, and we went to the right. They told us we were going to be given some new clothing, but before that, we were sent into the showers.
Luckily, when we turned the faucets we saw water instead of gas. We started washing ourselves. We got out and stood there. We were deloused because we had lice. One guard stood there putting some kind of a chemical on our heads. Another put it under our arms. A third one shaved our heads. Then we were given some prisoner's uniforms, very similar to the uniforms a prison chain gang used to wear here. We got wooden shoes. We didn't get the sizes we normally wore. We had to make do with what we got. Then we were lined up again in single file and tattooed on the forearm. My number was B-3348. We were marched to a barracks in Birkenau. Birkenau was a part of Auschwitz. Above the entrance was an arch with an inscription which said in German, Work Makes Men Free, pretending that this was a work camp. There were two rows of barracks with a wide street between them. In front of us was a crematorium and gas chambers. We smelled the flesh of human bodies burning. We couldn't mistake that smell for anything else.
Every day we were awakened by a German prisoner who served as the block or barrack captain. He woke us at 5:00 or 5:30 each morning. We slept in beds stacked three high and about three feet wide and three feet long. We laid on straw. We were told to get out of the barracks as fast as we could. We lined up and everybody was counted. Then we stood there and did absolutely nothing for quite a while. We got a little soup at lunch time, around 12 or one o'clock. We got soup or just plain warm water in a metal tin like a mess kit. It wasn't hot. We each had a spoon, and we were fishing all the time in the soup to see if there was anything in it to eat. Unfortunately we could never find anything in there. In the evening we got a slice of bread about a quarter of an inch thick. On Sunday we got something with the bread like a tiny piece of margarine and a slice of salami.
Sometimes I was too sick to eat my soup, but I treasured it so much that I hid that little soup behind my bunk. One day when there was an inspection, the guards found the soup I was hiding. We weren't supposed to have any soup in the barracks. They took me outside and beat me. I passed out after three blows. A friend gave me coffee. He saved my life because I felt so sick I couldn't even move. With the coffee I was able to stand up when the camp officials came into the barracks for the next inspection. Anybody who couldn't move from his bed was taken away during the day sometimes. German guards on trucks ran back and forth telling prisoners to jump on.
One time I was taken to do a little work carrying steel beams. It was winter time, very cold. Fifteen or twenty guys were lifting each side of the beam because it was a wide beam. Eventually they told us to place it somewhere. But when we tried we couldn't tear away our hands from the steel because they were frozen to the beam. The skin came off and started bleeding. They didn't permit us to put any kind of cloth over our hands. We had to carry it bare. The next day we put this same beam back in the original spot. We stayed there until the end of 1944 when the Russians started pushing the Germans from the eastern front back to the west. The SS loaded us into cattle cars and took us to a forced labor camp in western Germany called Sachsenhausen. There was no crematorium, so it was by far a better feeling. I was there about a month or six weeks. At the end of 1944 I was moved again. This time I went south to a German concentration camp called Dachau closer to the Austrian border. By this time I was just a skeleton. Shortly after I arrived, camp officials decided it was time to leave. We could hear the machine guns and the heavy artillery booming and they told us to march. The Allies were getting closer. I marched for about five kilometers to Allach which was a tiny little camp. Then I felt I couldn't walk anymore. The rest of them continued walking. The Germans killed all the people who kept walking. That was the death march. I survived because I could not walk."
These quotes provide a glimpse into the unimaginable experiences and resilience of Holocaust survivors, who endured the atrocities of Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Their testimonies serve as powerful reminders of the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of never forgetting those who suffered and perished.
See also: The Frankfurt Trial
Below is a video interview with Eva Kor, an Aushwitz survivor and subject of the Mengele's Twin Experiments.
"Memories of Auschwitz". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.