My memories of the concentration camps
On the 9th September 1944, I was forced out of Warsaw along with many other women from the city and transported to Pruszkow – a town just outside Warsaw. There transports to many locations were prepared. I ended up in a transport which went directly to Auschwitz. I will not describe the condition or how we were treated. From the first moment of our evacuation, it was quite simply hell.
When we were unloaded in Birkenau, people began to cry terribly. I asked why they were crying so. The answer – child, do you not know where they have brought us to? Look at those smoking chimneys. They are crematoria in which they are burning people. Fear pierced me that I had just escaped one hell and I had been brought to another. People were weeping terribly, embracing and hugging one another, encouraging one another. We survived each day thanks to this comfort, stoked up by the adults continuously. It was this that enabled us to survive the nightmare of the concentration camps. The faith in us that we would come out alive was very strong in us.
Dear ladies from Germany, you ask whether we believed we would once again be able to live in freedom and how we reacted to the liberation. Faith in whether we would survive was, at times, lacking. We were very starved and emaciated due to extreme overwork. In the camp in Neustadt-Glewe, we were taken to the forest with picks and spades where from dawn to dusk, we dug trenches, eating only a small piece of bread and a watery soup without even a pinch of salt. It was not until evening that we ate this meal. There was barely any life in us. We accepted the liberation unenthusiastically. The most pressing issue was to eat our fill. All other issues were secondary.
Ms Ania Wonsack asks about our relationship to God. I personally lost faith in God, and from conversations with colleagues, I know they also lost that faith. In the prayer “Our Father,” it says “Give us this day our daily bread” yet there wasn’t any bread and even if there was, there was such a miniscule amount that it was as if we hadn’t eaten anything at all.
You ask if faith is a support, a foundation on which to build a future life? My answer is a definitive no! I used to be a very religious person, but with the passing of time and due to life experiences, I understood that that faith leads nowhere. You just have to be human, be able to work on your weaknesses and be friendly to other people, irrespective of his religious or national identity.
Hitler was a demon possessed man, who, with the Pope’s blessing planned his shameful scheme. Did he not cry “I am eternal” after the attempt on his life in the Reichstag? The German people, of course, also recognise religion and God, so why did they put Hitler higher than him?
After the liberation, for me as a minor, I did not have time to think about the gehenna of the camps. I tried to live every day with joy and do so today too. My nightmare has been and is the dreams I have of those times.
It took a quarter of a century for me to be able to speak about the hell of the camps. I am neurotic and have a bad headache after every lesson – and this state lasts a few days. It is hard to speak of hate, because there are not many perpetrators still alive today, but in those terrible times our hearts were filled with hate for the death of so many innocent people. The perpetrators in the concentration camps were people who had been selected for their sadist characters.
It took me many long years to change my attitude to the German people. Today, they are not the same people! Friendly, sincere, smiling! They make contacts willingly and are helpful in bringing aid through their work with the Maksymilian Kolbe Werk Association. It is not possible to count how much we have benefited for the needs are very great due to our age and illnesses. We ask that the German people continue their cooperation with the Kolbe-Werk. It is an organization which is considered very trustworthy.
Everybody in the world longs to live in peace, and yet there are still wars. Innocent people are dying. Is it not enough that millions are dying daily as a result of natural disasters, catastrophes and diseases? The cause of war is people wanting to get rich, revenge and religion as well as lack of tolerance. All that remains for me to do is appeal to the nations of the world for wise leaders who think rationally and can foresee the consequences of decisions made, who can achieve aims not by their own whims, but who always consider the good of all nations.
May there never, never(!) be a repeat in any nation in the world of the huge cemetery without graves that there is in Auschwitz-Birkenau!
Marta Baruk – Elżbieciak
Translated by Karen Forth