David P. Boder Interviews Fela Nichthauser; August 1, 1946; Fontenay-aux-Roses, France



Fela Nichthauser was one of thousands of Polish Jews who were sent to work in Germany during the early part of World War II and actually spent the entire Holocaust period there. She had been born fourteen years before the German invasion in Wojsławice, a small community in the Bielsko district of southern Poland, southwest of Kraków. At some point during her childhood the family moved to the nearby city of Andrychów where they lived a solid, middle class existence. The Germans divided the family almost immediately, and as it turned out, irrevocably. In 1941 Fela was sent to slave labor in the first of several textile mills inside Germany, the last of which was part of Gräben, a satellite of Gross- Rosen concentration camp. She shows how conditions for her and her coworkers went from bad to worse as SS control became more nearly complete. She views herself as one who steadfastly retained her dignity through every ordeal, confounding some of her tormentors.

Evacuated westward to Bergen-Belsen at the beginning of 1945, Nichthauser experienced the rapid disintegration of conditions in this hideously overcrowded camp, packed with growing numbers of forced workers from all over Hitler's collapsing empire. Anyone who reads her description of sanitary conditions there will understand why she found three months in Belsen far worse than the entire previous five years. There Fela experienced firsthand the sadism of the beautiful but mad Irma Grese, who had already established a reputation for brutality as an SS guard at Auschwitz.

Nichthauser was living near Paris and studying to become a dental technician at a school run by Jewish charities when she gave her interview in August 1946. Her parents and two brothers and two sisters died in the Holocaust; only she and a younger brother survived. Boder commented: "This once lovely and sheltered girl hides her insecurity and bewilderment behind a determined regal bearing and a rigid emotional control. To contemplate how different her life might have been is to realize afresh the dimensions of the catastrophe that has befallen her."

From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu