The original; http://migs.concordia.ca/memoirs/trepman/trepman.html
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 didn't 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
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 Businessman's 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 father's statement as a pretense 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 father's arrest came before the Jews were put into the Ghetto. It
came so unexpectedly that my father didn't 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 mother was a housewife. We always had live-in help, which was very
common in those days, especially for middle-class families. Housework
wasn't 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 many friends.
Children usually perceive parents or their friends as "older people."
But when I think now that our parents perished in their early 40 years
of age, 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 didn't 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 kms 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
so the rest that was left a young girl like myself was strong enough
to pull what was in the little cart.
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 Frankel family, 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 on 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 so it happened, her feelings were
right. The whole truckful 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 ladies' 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 there one had
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 Ghetto 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 summer 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 didn't even try. He found all kinds of
excuses and the bottom line was--he didn't 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 policeman's 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 one's 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
policeman's 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, he 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
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 should've 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 one's 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 weather.
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 didn't 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 in 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 next.
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. Dora's 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 Montreal).
On the way to Pavenciai, after all that bombing, people were
disoriented, and security was very lax on the way. When I think back
now, I ask myself the question, why didn't 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
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 gallows."
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 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 museum 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
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 would've 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 didn't anticipate where they came from.
The next morning we started to learn about ongoings 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
While we were away Dora and I missed two "events": the tattooing
numbers on the arms, and the shaving of the girls' 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 conductor's 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, we'll never survive that." But Dora
said: "It won't 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 anybody's 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 people's
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 battle.
All day long people were shuffling about, carrying little cans (just
in case they'll 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 washplace, 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 drop.
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 must've 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
couldn't 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
mustn't 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, she'll 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 let's
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? I'm 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, children, grandchildren.
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 Nüremberg
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 after liberation.
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 People's
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 dayschool, 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
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 you'll find the
answer in this paragraph.