Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Ruth Kent - May 4, 1982

Life in Auschwitz

What's the first thing...

There was a terrible sight, I never forget that. There were many, many people there already. Most of them had these stripe uniforms. But I remember that Dr. Mengele--I found out his name, Dr. Mengele he was the Auschwitz doctor. And I remember like from far away there was a sign, I think, Arbeit uh, macht das Leben Sie, something like this, work, work sweetens life, something to this affect--I don't remember.

Arbeit macht frei?

Arbeit macht frei was also a sign, uh, Arbeit makes you freer uh, work makes you free. Uh, but there was this uh, soldier in a uniform, a Nazi uniform and he had his coat, he never had his coat over his arms he always had it hanging over his shoulders. And the first thing we were told right away with the guns the soldiers came up. We were helpless they didn't need a gun. I mean most of these people in that, in that, in that cattle car already have seen life, they were--more than half of them died. We didn't have any water, we didn't have, not enough food we didn't have any water for two, three days. So only the strongest survived. Our family did survive. Immediately we were told upon arrival, men go on one side and women and children on another side, to the other side. And this is and was and will be the most tragic moment in my life. Uh, this is something that, that it is so emotional. My brothers went on one side and my cousin ??? my mother and she held onto my little brother who was only two years younger than I was. I remember him wearing short pants and I went together and we don't know what happened to the men because they had their own selection process. Uh, they were uh, looking at us we had our, we had uh, they, they uh, just ask us to leave everything on the um, in the cars, in the cattle cars. And so we didn't have any um, suitcases, any belongings with us. And they started the process of I call it elimination. Um, I was told to go to the right with my cousin ??? she was young and, she was older than I was but sort of mature and a, and a pretty uh, lady and my mother and my little brother were told to go on the other side and at this point the world has come to an end for me. But I was very fortunate because I still had my cousin ??? who was like a mother to me. Uh, I have never seen my mother and my little brother again from that day on. And many times I was thrilled, thrilled if you can use that word, that I didn't see my mother next to me go through the ordeals that we went through. Uh, before we got situated for the night, um, I would go many times to the barbwires and, and look for her but it was in vain. I got beating many times just by, by just looking across to another camp. But as we arrived I think that place was called Birkenau. Uh, after the separation already after all the um, departures and, and, and from my mother they sort of like tore her away from my heart [crying] uh, they send us to a um, we all had to stay in line like five in line and they marched us into a bathhouse. We were stripped of our clothes uh, completely. Uh, they shaved our hair. My hair was just like--they used what they call a ??? uh, razor in Europe. My hair, my head looked like my hand. And uh, my cousin and, and in this uh, bathhouse again there was a selection. This Dr. Mengele may have thought he had second thoughts he thought maybe he left a mother and a daughter yet and many times out of there he had taken out people that for some reason or other he knew they were related. I was very fortunate. I, I uh, they didn't separate uh, me from my cousin as I said, we didn't look alike. She sort of was a dark complected girl and I was uh, light, they didn't think we were related. And after a long process of uh, delousing, the shaving and taking everything away from us, they gave me a little dress that was lo... I was short so they gave me a long dress. I didn't get any undergarment and uh, we were, we had to wait for the rest of them in line. I was with my cousin she was very dear to me, she was very devoted to me uh, she was like my mother. And uh, we had to wait for the rest of the transfer to join us. We were waiting on these tiny little pebbles it was almost like little needles that we were waiting on with uh, no shoes. And again I would say, "Oh God, it's a good thing my mother isn't here, how could she survive all this?" Because we had put our mother on a pedestal and we were hoping that wherever she is at this point that uh, she'd have it better I mean they couldn't do this to my mother. And after everyone was uh, cleaned and shaved and uh, dehumanized uh, we all started marching towards a barracks. I remember in the background there was a tremendous, like a fire, maybe like a oven like a tremendously lit up place but we didn't go in this directions we went in another direction, we didn't know what that was. We were thrown, marched, what have you, into a barn uh, that had a cement floor. I remember it had a very long like stove and not a stove, a partition of some sort in the middle. And we were thrown into this barn and again we were sleeping overnight--we didn't get any food, any food or water or anything that night either. And we were put like we kept ourselves warm we kept five in a line. And again, I was with my cousin and, and her warmth, her body was tremendous help to me I knew I could hold onto her hand. And in the morning around four, five o'clock uh, the um, Aufseherin, she was in charge of our barracks, came in and I don't know they, they made some sort of signal anyhow everyone got up. We had to go outside and they had to take the roll call they called it Appell. In the morning we stayed like two three hours and they counted the bodies. There was no way we could go anywhere. Everywhere were barbwires, electrically barbwires. Wherever as far as my eyes could reach there were barracks like this and women standing outside uh, waiting to be counted for and this went on morning, for two three hours at four o'clock and again in the afternoon it went on uh, it just a means of torture I guess, it um, that's how we looked at it. Uh, it was already probably September, it was already fall and it was cold--four o'clock in the morning it was cold. We came back we got some sort of um, uh, refreshment uh, called it some liquid soup uh, soup and coffee mixture I sort of don't know what it was. And this was our food I don't know if we got any--a piece of bread uh, that laid around I don't remember. Uh, in Auschwitz the people that we were with had just come in. They were not physically in the worst shape because they were the chosen one that's why they put them there because they could still walk and their bodies were clean. Every other day we would be taken into this bathhouse, parade in the nude in front of this Dr Mengele, as I said, he never had his hands, like he would be handless, he didn't have--armless I would say. He never put his hands through his coat. And he would just look at you from tip to toe. Not that I was embarrassed by no--I really was so indifferent to his looks. It was like so acceptable. I was not alone I, I didn't feel any sexually um, abused in any sort of uh, shape or form. He looked at all of us like this. And um, again picked out some people where they went, I don't know. It was like every other day we went through this process of elimination. And we went back to our barracks and on our way there were bodies all around us outside of, of, dead um, parts of bodies and uh, some people were working on them uh, into some sort of, of pits or something. I don't know where they took the bodies. I was not involved in it. I was always very healthy in camp. I tried to keep away from other bodies, not to touch other bodies except my cousin's body. I never had any marks on my body. It seemed like uh, once you start getting anything on your body it spread very quickly. And uh, you'd, you'd never wanted to go to the hospital, once they took you--if you complained about anything--once you went to a hospital that was good-bye you never returned from the hospital.

How did you know that?

We never seen the people back. They complained they had an abscess on their knee and it was always a major thing. No one ever worried about a little cold. I remember once having a sore throat and I never said anything about it. Uh, people who did complain it was already, a major um, major symptoms. Either there, they had abscess on their knees, so they had big boils or uh, the stomach would uh, swell up. So when people already complain it was uh, bad. And obviously, every time we went to this bathhouse for these selektions he would pick whoever he wanted. Sometimes he would pick a very beautiful girls, I don't know where they went. We wouldn't see them again either from our camp. And uh, in this fashion um, I spend there about four uh, maybe four, five weeks. And every night we slept on that cement. And we would um, during the day if we had a little time we were, we kept clean because every other day we had to go to the bathhouse. So I did not get sick and neither did my cousin.

Did you work too?

Uh, no I never worked in Auschwitz. Um, at one time I remember orders came and they needed some people and again I didn't know we were hoping it's from work. It's--we always hoped that wherever we're gonna go it's gonna be better than what we've had. I mean, everything was so bad that uh, you live with hope that uh, wherever we're gonna go it can't be as bad they'll give us some food. Our main concern was food. And it was getting cold. We needed clothing. We needed some shoes.

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