The Guardian has published some stories from Holocaust survivors. Here are two. Please go HERE to read all of them. Polar Bear and Company has published books by Neil Rolde about the Holocaust. Rolde’s latest seres has dozens of stories, like the Guardian’s, about survivors and about the people that help them escape in clandestine ways. Rolde highlights the work the War Refugee Board did throughout this time. Please go here to read more from a Maine Insights’ article.
The Guardian article also highlights the photography by Harry Borden, who traveled far and wide to capture soulful images of these nobel survivors.
Holocaust survivor Lidia Vago at home in Israel – Photograph: Harry Borden
Lidia Vago was born in Romania in 1924. She was a 20-year-old French and English student when she and her sister were selected for a women’s work camp. They were liberated in May 1945.
On 10 June 1944 we were taken to what the SS called the Central Sauna (disinfection chambers) at Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II). We had our heads shaved, even our pubic hair, everything, and I was given a black gown to put on. My sister and I were empty-handed because everything had been taken away from us. We had been separated from our mother and father, and didn’t know where they had gone.
We were marched to a row of huts, surrounded by electric barbed wire, that had no bunks, just wood floors and a leaking roof. This was the horrendous quarantine camp. It was a terrible place we would never have been able to imagine, even if someone had told us about it. We were defeminised: all our periods stopped. And we were given a metal bowl for five women to share but no spoon; so we had to sip this horrible soup-like liquid, taking a gulp and passing it to the next woman. We slept on the floor without blankets and after a few days everyone had diarrhoea. There was a makeshift toilet but we weren’t allowed to use it all the time, so we had to use the metal bowl for our physical needs; we washed it out in water so dirty, there was a sign above the ditch that read “Danger of epidemics”.
One of the women asked the head of our block, Hella, “Where are our family members?” and she pointed at dark clouds of smoke and flames in the distance [coming from the gas chamber]. Most of the women did not want to believe it, but I knew then that I’d never see my mother again.
Peter Lantos was born in Hungary in 1939. Aged five, he was sent with his parents to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
On 8 July, we were selected for work (anyone who was found limping, or deemed unfit for work like my mother, was sent straight to the gas chambers). We were not human beings any more, we were numbers, and they were tattooed on our left arms. We worked 6am-6pm in a weapons factory in Auschwitz before moving to night shifts in October. It was hard work but it saved our lives. We were starving to death and when I became ill in December 1944, I was taken to hospital. A female doctor recognised me from our local town, and gave me and my sister cubes of sugar. I was in hospital for three weeks and I was forgotten about, but I was glad I didn’t have to work.
By January 1945, the camp was evacuated. My sister and I survived the three-day march to Ravensbrück concentration camp and were eventually liberated in May 1945. Our father, who had been taken to the notorious Ebensee camp in Austria [where cases of cannibalism were reported], died in an American military hospital the following month. And so he died a free Jew. Thank you, American GIs.
Peter Lantos was born in Hungary in 1939. Aged five, he was sent with his parents to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. He has lived in the UK since 1968.
I was at Belsen in the winter of 1944, probably the worst period in the camp’s history for two reasons. It was winter and bitterly cold, and Belsen was originally built for 6,000 people and in the end imprisoned nearly 10 times more. Epidemics of typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery broke out, and many people, including my father, died of starvation. I remember the physical hardships; the hunger, the freezing weather and, to some extent, the boredom, because we had to stand around to be counted for hours, in the cold and wind. My mother (who had been put in a separate building from my father) would teach me to count, multiply and divide, and also some German words, which I remember finding odd because the Germans were the enemy.
The hunger was a constant. There was a brown liquid like coffee and a slice of bread in the morning, and we were fed a thin soup which contained vegetables and, if you were lucky, some potato. As the war went on and the Germans were losing, there was less food, and in the last few days there was none at all. When we did get some bread, my mother would give me only part of the ration, saving a little in case we did not get any the next day. Even after we were liberated in April 1945 and had plenty of food provided by the Americans, she would feed me gradually. She knew that if we ate a lot, immediately, our digestive systems wouldn’t take it and we could die for that reason. I don’t remember ever getting sick, which was a miracle.
Belsen wasn’t an extermination camp but it had a terrible reputation because of the overcrowding and the epidemics, and people died by the thousands. I don’t know if my father was buried in one of the mass graves, or cremated. My large family suffered heavy losses. Five out of eight siblings died on my father’s side and four out of eight on my mother’s. I also had a brother, who was 14 years older than me, who was taken from Hungary to do hard labour and died of typhoid on his return.
For a while my mother didn’t want to talk about the Holocaust but when I became a teenager I started to ask questions. Despite the infernal time we had, I don’t think I carry a psychological burden. I was a child and as an adult didn’t allow any hatred to grow. But I don’t blame those who did.