Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Franka Charlupski - June 18, 1985


When the doors opened, on the cattle car, do you remember what you saw, thought, felt?

What I saw? There were kapos around and they kept on saying, "Give us everything that you have." Which were inmates, the kapos were inmates. They could have been Jews, they could have been Germans, Polacks uh, Russians, whatever. They were inmates. "Give us whatever you got because they'll take it away from you anyhow." We didn't because we thought maybe we still survive. And then we were taken into the showers, undressed, we had to leave everything that we had on and whatever we had with us, they were right, we had to leave it, and we were shaved. I did not get a number. For some reason, I understood later that it was awful late, they didn't have time to put numbers. So the group that came in August from Łódź, none of us had a number. And uh, the SS men were walking by. Whoever saw, Holocaust, the movie, that wasn't one percent of what really was going on over there. I don't think anybody could watch the real thing. The way it really was. There was SS men walking around and the women were standing naked, their heads shaved and they were going with the whip on whoever they thought had a scar or a spot or whatever were taken out right away. You had to be perfectly clean in order to go through the showers to get into the camp. And my sister and I, and I found my girlfriend and my sister-in-law, and uh, we got into the showers and we got...If you were tall, you got a short pajama top, if you were short you got a long one and uh, were put into barracks. I don't remember how many in one barrack. With the straw um, bunks and uh, in the morning there would be an Appell, we were called out, we were to stand up in fives and there was a little uh, dish, some kind of a dish. It was rusty, horrible, and it was handed from one to the other with a drop of coffee, and each one took a sip of it. And then, we, we didn't go to work, somehow I don't remember working in uh, Auschwitz. I was only there three days and on the third day we were sitting in front of a building, and we knew from other people that this was the gas chamber and ready to go in. And it was late in the evening because it was dark and it was cold, on an August night we were sitting and shivering. And we're hanging onto each other because you couldn't recognize...Once you let loose of someone that you...You couldn't recognize them. So, my sister and I and my girlfriend were hanging on and a woman came, an SS woman with the whip and with the whip she was counting. And as she was counting, my sister was 298, I was 299, my girlfriend was 300. And we were taken away. We didn't know where we were going but one thing we were sure, we're not going into the gas chamber, it was the opposite direction and they took us through the showers and gave us another top and a skirt and a babushka. And we stayed overnight in the, in the, in the barrack and then the morning they took us on a train. Nobody asked, nobody knew where we were going. And we wound up in Bremen. Outside of Bremen there was a working camp. There were...When we got there, there were 500 Hungarian Jewish women. And we were 300 Polish women that came into that camp. Uh, we were assigned barracks, same thing uh, straw ban...bunks to sleep. And we were right away assigned to work. I don't know, somehow I was lucky enough I was assigned to the Hungarian women. And I couldn't speak Hungarian and they couldn't speak Polish or Yiddish. But some of them did speak German. Most of the Hungarian women did not like to have the Polish women in their uh, in their group. Somehow I was lucky, they did like me and I stayed with them. And we would walk every morning eight kilometers one way and evening eight kilometers back in these wooden Holland shoes. They were open. And we would work on uh, they were bombed homes. And we would clean the, the bricks and supposedly put 'em back up, stack 'em up, that they can reuse them. This was our work. Uh, in that place where we worked, somehow I wandered around and I met a German woman that lived around there, a very poor woman with one arm. And as I was walking by, I asked her if I could help her. Somehow the one arm bothered me, although she was German and I really shouldn't have felt probably that way but it did bother me and then I thought maybe some chance I'll get an extra piece of bread. And the woman said, yes, she would appreciate that. And after I did it for her and stacked it up for her, she says to me, "Why don't you come into the house?" I said to her, "That's too dangerous. It's dangerous for me and it's even more so for you. Why would you want to do that?" She says, "Please come in." I did go in and she made lunch for me. Amazingly enough, this woman didn't have anything. Whatever she gave me, she gave it from her ration cards because at that time Germans were rationed uh, with coffee, bread, butter, whatever. They had uh, marks, uh-what do you call it?-stamps. Ration stamps. And I ate and she asked me who I'm with and I told her, I have a sister and I uh, have a girlfriend that is with me and she gave me sandwiches for them. And she put on the radio. I says, "You're risking enough, why are you putting the radio on?" She says, "I want you to know what's going on. This is your only chance to find out." And I would discreetly leave there and somehow I got back to my group and, and it went on for quite a while. And almost every day, I spent a couple hours in that woman's house. I never forgot it. And I felt that I owed the woman an awful lot. In the same part where we worked, there was a bombed home and uh, we would steal. At that time, it was called organizing; it wasn't called stealing. And I could never thought that I was capable of stealing, I mean, I wasn't brought up like that and it wasn't in my uh, in my nature but I guess if you want to survive, you can do everything. And uh, there was a basement and normally the Germans, they had everything in the basements. Just for fear, in case the house goes, the basement is safe. So they had butter uh, fruits, canned uh, you could find everything in the basement. Uh, one time, somehow, my instinct told me, and I got into a little basement window, and I found everything. It was a ball. And, I used to wear these pants uh, knickers? That are tight here and I could put everything in, they were quite wide. And while I was in there uh, there was a vest, a velvet vest. To this day, I can't figure out why I put it on. And I put that vest on. Not realizing 'cause I knew it was a Hitlerjugend vest but not realizing that I might have trouble with it. And a woman walks in and she happened to be the owner of that house and she says to me, "What are you doing here?" I says, "It was cold out and I came in to warm up." And she says, "And what are you doing in my son's Hitlerjugend vest?" I says, "I just put it on while I was here and I was planning on taking it off and leaving it. It's just that it's so cold, you know." And she doesn't say another word. Then she runs out and she went the front door and I went back the same window and I was hiding. I did worry and I didn't because, out of that basement, the SS woman had a beautiful silk nightgown. I didn't need a silk nightgown and I got it out of there, so I gave it to her. So, she had to keep her mouth shut. Uh, but you never know there might have been another SS you know, SS man around or something. I was hiding and she did go to the SS woman because the others told me and she told me that so and so and I look so and so and I was in her basement stealing but I was never caught and I was never punished for it. What I did get always hurt for is that I couldn't get up in the morning and my sister kept on begging me, "Get up already, you're gonna get hurt again." I used to be slapped all the time because I couldn't get up in the morning. And, uh...

Did any of other Germans help you?

Yes. We had a man who was a Wehrmacht and uh, he lost his arm and then he didn't go back into the army and they gave him a position of watching us on another project that we were doing. He was the foreman. Very fine man. Uh, if we were like uh, there were, what do you call these that you keep in the ground uh, where you put away vegetables and uh, for the winter. Um, in Germany, they keep it and it's with straw covered up and we would go there and we did take. We take carrots, we took beets, whatever we could find, the potatoes and we would cook right there where we were working. And if the owner would come and say that the Judenfrauen, they uh, stole his vegetables, he would say, "You must be mistaken, it had to be the Russians from the other camp." I mean, he would always be on our side. He ate the soup too that we cooked. But uh, he did...He was good to us. He watched over us. I don't know if that's the way he felt but I think he did because he never scolded us, he...If they came and complained, he never said it was our fault or he blamed himself or he blamed somebody else but never us.

There must have been air raids going on at this point.

Oh, yeah.

Were you ever caught in one?

You remember that. Uh, we were once uh, caught in an air raid and the SS men, I don't know for what reason but they had to take us to a uh, bunker, a, a shelter. And this was a shelter, one side was bombed, the other was in full tact, it was all right. Now the SS men took us to the one that was all right. And the Germans that were in there said they will not be there with the Juden. And he had no choice and he had to take us to the other side. At that point, I did think there was a God above and a bomb fell, fell in the one that was intact where the Germans were and it didn't touch one of us in the open space. How it happened, I can't figure it out to this day. But uh, this is what did happen.

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