David P. Boder Interviews Rita Benmayor; August 5, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 27 of the collection of Illinois Institute of Technology, taken in Paris on August the 5th, on 9 Rue Guy Patin, a home for adult displaced people, especially Jews. The interviewee is, eh, Miss Rita Benmayor, eh, age twenty, from Jewish Greek, from Saloniki? From Saloniki. Eh, she carries on her left arm a tattoo number, 38758, underneath a little triangle, indicating her Jewish descent.Ms. Benmajor was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Once they left the Birkenau quarantine, prisoners were registered, received numbers which were tattooed on their left arm and then left for forced labor in Auschwitz or one of its sub camps. Camp authorities registered 405,000 prisoners of different nationalities in this way.1
  • David Boder: [In German] Now tell me, Mrs., eh, Miss, eh, Benmayor, eh, where were you born, who is your family, and how many were in your family, and what were your parents doing?
  • Rita Benmayor: I was born in Greece, and in '43, in '43 the Germans came to Greece, they took the whole family.Nazi Germany invaded Greece on April 6, 1941 as part of the effort to secure its southern flank in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Salonika fell to the Germans on April 9, 1941.2
  • David Boder: Yes—how many people were in your family?
  • Rita Benmayor: My family, was five people.
  • David Boder: Five people, who were they, you say?
  • Rita Benmayor: My father, mother and two brothers and I.
  • David Boder: Yes, now—where are now your father and your mother?
  • Rita Benmayor: My father, my mother were deported, and the whole family was in the crematorium, was in the crematorium, all died.
  • David Boder: Eh, your two brothers, too?
  • Rita Benmayor: My two brothers, too.
  • David Boder: And?
  • Rita Benmayor: I am left alone from the whole family.
  • David Boder: Yes, so—say, when the Germans came in '42 [sic], how old was your father?
  • Rita Benmayor: My father was forty years old.
  • David Boder: And your mother?
  • Rita Benmayor: My mother was thirty-eight years.
  • David Boder: And the two brothers?
  • Rita Benmayor: Two brothers, one twenty-five and one eighteen years old.
  • David Boder: Were you—and how, how old were you?
  • Rita Benmayor: I was sixteen years.Given the ages of Ms. Benmajor and her siblings, it is difficult to imagine that her parents were only thirty-eight and forty. Boder mistakenly thought that the Germans had conquered Greece in 1942. Ms. Benmajor would have indeed been sixteen years old in that year which would have made her twenty at the time of the interview, the age Boder says she was in his concluding remarks.3
  • David Boder: Your were sixteen—now, and were your brothers married?
  • Rita Benmayor: The one was married and the other was not married.
  • David Boder: . . . was not married—and where is, eh, the wife of the married brother?
  • Rita Benmayor: The wife of the married brother was also in the crematorium, she had small children and was in the crematorium.
  • David Boder: She had—oh, she had a little child?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, she had many little child[ren] . . .
  • David Boder: How many?
  • Rita Benmayor: Four.
  • David Boder: She had four little children?
  • Rita Benmayor: She was four . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Four.
  • David Boder: Now, tell me, eh, your whole story, where did your brother, your married brother, with his wife—did he live with you, or did he live by himself?
  • Rita Benmayor: He lived with yours.
  • David Boder: What, he lived for himself—tell me—lived for himself?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: So tell me, you lived in Saloniki?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, speak louder, and please speak into this direction [?]. Well now, so then: the Germans came to Saloniki, what did they order there and what did they do there?
  • Rita Benmayor: When the Germans came Saloniki, that was good [?] you . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . and then in '43—'42 . . .
  • David Boder: Aha, yes . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . and then in '43 the Gestapo came and took all Jews.
  • David Boder: They took all Jews—where did they take them?
  • Rita Benmayor: It was two o'clock at night, came to the house, and took the whole family.
  • David Boder: And where did one take you?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, brought [us] to Auschwitz.Transports of Jews from Salonikia arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau from March 20 to August 18, 1943. At least 48, 850 were deported. They were told they would be "resettled" and had no idea of the horrible fate that awaited them at the end of their journey. Most were gassed upon arrival. Some 7,000 men and 4,200 women, among them Ms. Benmajor, survived the initial selection. The great majority of these died later. These statistics illustrate the uniqueness of Ms. Benmajor's survival.4
  • David Boder: Well now, right from the house, where did they take you, to the, eh, station?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . to the station of Saloniki.
  • David Boder: Well, say, one came at two o'clock at night—and where did one take you, directly from the house . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . from home . . .
  • David Boder: . . . from home . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . from home took the whole family and—
  • David Boder: . . . and has . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . and was in the station in a railway car . . . and [there] were seventy-two people in the car . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, what was that, a passenger car, or a, eh . . . a, eh . . . goods . . . a eh—freight car . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, eh, car . . .
  • David Boder: . . . a freight car—were there benches to sit on in the car?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, [one] sat down . . .
  • David Boder: One sat on the floor . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . sat, yes . . .
  • David Boder: Was there, eh, a toilet- was there a commode?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, there was a bucket . . .
  • David Boder: There was a bucket there . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . a bucket . . .
  • David Boder: And were men and women together in the car?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, [there] were seventy-two people, men and women, little children, all together.
  • David Boder: . . . and little—yes. Now, and what was said, where would you be taken?
  • Rita Benmayor: [He] said, all go to Poland, and all Jews [would be] together.
  • David Boder: All Jews together . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: But [we] did not know what was done . . .
  • David Boder: You did not know.
  • Rita Benmayor: We did not know.
  • David Boder: Yes—so . . . and so you rode, how long did you ride?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . eh . . .
  • David Boder: . . . from Saloniki on the train, how long did you ride?
  • Rita Benmayor: Eight days . . .
  • David Boder: You were eight days . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . [after] eight days, we came to Auschwitz, were in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: . . . came to Auschwitz—what happened there in Auschwitz?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . we were in Auschwitz, the Germans came, saw—the men . . .
  • David Boder: . . . separated . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . separated, and the women separated . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: The men were taken by an automobile, soon to the crematorium. Those were the old people . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, those were the old people . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . the old people soon [went] to the crematorium . . . and the young people were in [a] lager.
  • David Boder: Yes—and what did they do with you?
  • Rita Benmayor: I was young, I was sixteen years, and [they] took me and all together . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . to work in lager, in a lager.
  • David Boder: Yes. And, eh . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . my . . .
  • David Boder: You came to Auschwitz together with your father and your mother?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, my . . .
  • David Boder: And your fa— . . . yes?
  • Rita Benmayor: [I saw] my mother in [the] car, go into a car—why, they were old—and my father also in the car, soon [to be] brought to the crematorium . . .
  • David Boder: Good, you say, your father was forty years, that is not old.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes. But [it] was done so . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. They did that—and your brothers, eh, and your two brothers?
  • Rita Benmayor: The one brother I did not know all . . . and the other one was also in another camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And goes free . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, and he became free, liberated?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . became liberated.This was Ms. Benmajor's elder brother who lost his wife and four young children.5
  • David Boder: And where is he now?
  • Rita Benmayor: Now he is in Palestine.
  • David Boder: In Palestine?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: How did he get there?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . .
  • David Boder: Without permit. Please speak into here . . .In 1946, Palestine was controlled by Great Britain which barred entry to Jewish refugees. Ms. Benmajor's brother was considered an illegal refugee by the British.6
  • Rita Benmayor: Without permit . . .
  • David Boder: . . . just went there and got in?
  • Rita Benmayor: When [he] was freed, he was in Greece, searched for the family. He knew the whole family . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . nobody—and he [went to] Palestine.
  • David Boder: Yes, and he is—did he write you from Palestine?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, he did . . . back, he, er, yes.
  • David Boder: Did he write you?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: You know that he is there?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, and, er . . . now, and so you stayed in the camp, what did they do to you in the camp?
  • Rita Benmayor: Me?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: When I was in the camp, the Germans took [me] and had all my hair c— . . .
  • David Boder: They cut all your hair off.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . cut.
  • David Boder: [In English] She now has a wonderful head of hair, that she says that her hair will—was cut off entirely.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now, they cut your hair off, and then?
  • Rita Benmayor: Cut the hair, took all clothes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Gave me male clothes.
  • David Boder: Yes, male clothing?
  • Rita Benmayor: Male clothing, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, a men's outfit—pants, too?
  • Rita Benmayor: Men's outfit, pants and jacket.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And then I was [at] work on the road.
  • David Boder: Work on the road?
  • Rita Benmayor: On the road.
  • David Boder: And when did they tattoo you—when was the tattoo made?
  • Rita Benmayor: The first day when [we] came into the camp . . .That is, after leaving the quarantine.7
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . that was two prisoners, who did the whole . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, that did . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . made the number.
  • David Boder: . . . made the number.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . was two men . . .
  • David Boder: . . . and then, when they gave you the number, then you knew already that you would stay alive, that you . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: No.What Boder meant by "stay alive" was that there was a chance of survival since the large majority of those who arrived in the camp were sent to the gas chambers immediately and were not included in any kind of registration. Ms. Benmajor's, "no", relates to the fact that even those who were registered faced difficult odds in order to survive.8
  • David Boder: Why not?
  • Rita Benmayor: Why, we got the number, but we were gaunt, all month, like—every month there was a selection.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . who was gaunt, who was in bad condition, all went to the crematorium, that had . . .
  • David Boder: . . . that was in Auschwitz?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, and, eh, why did you keep yourself healthy?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, I ate all dirt, we stole each other the bread, we did that.There are other prisoners who contend that most inmates of Auschwitz did not engage in this kind of theft and maintained a commitment to group solidarity and survival throughout their incarceration in the camp.9
  • David Boder: What does that mean we have eaten dirt, we ate dirt?
  • Rita Benmayor: The dirt of the potato [means the peel] . . .
  • David Boder: The dirt from the potato you ate?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . the potato—I ate.
  • David Boder: . . . and that kept you a little stronger?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And, eh, you say, further you say you took the bread away from each other?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, eh . . .
  • David Boder: Keep on talking [please] . . . Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now, and what did you work? In Auschwitz?
  • Rita Benmayor: The first month, three month[s], I worked at the road, through road, eh, did stones . . .
  • David Boder: You worked on stones . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: Stones . . .
  • David Boder: Yes—now?
  • Rita Benmayor: And then I was in the shoe detail, I repaired shoes, I was [in] the shoe detail . . .The indoor work on the shoe detail rather than the difficult outdoor work on the road detail was a significant factor in Ms. Benmajor's survival.10
  • David Boder: Eh, you were in the she detail?
  • Rita Benmayor: Shoe detail . . .
  • David Boder: Did you learn to repair shoes?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . repair shoes.
  • David Boder: Eh, eh, whose shoes were they?
  • Rita Benmayor: From the SS.
  • David Boder: Oh, those were SS shoes?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . SS shoes.
  • David Boder: Eh—have you—what did you work with, with eh, with [a] hammer, or with the machine?
  • Rita Benmayor: With arms.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Rita Benmayor: With arms.
  • David Boder: You worked with your hands?
  • Rita Benmayor: With your hands.
  • David Boder: And, eh, did you really learn to repair shoes?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Can you still do it?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: You could be a shoemaker?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, now, and . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: I was one year in the shoe detail.
  • David Boder: You were a whole year in the shoe detail.
  • Rita Benmayor: A whole year in the shoe detail.
  • David Boder: A whole year in the shoe detail.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And then, what happened then?
  • Rita Benmayor: And then, when we—when the Russians came [to] Auschwitz, we were transported to another camp . . .
  • David Boder: Aha, when the Russians came to Auschwitz . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . we were transported . . .
  • David Boder: You were transported to another . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . to another camp, we were in Ravensbrück.Ravensbruck, the only major concentration camp for women, was established in 1938 and was located fifty six miles north of Berlin. Ravensbruck had thirty four sub camps. Over 100,000 prisoners of various nationalities were imprisoned in Ravensbruck during the seven years of its infamous existence. As was the case in other camps, inmates suffered from malnutrition, illness, beatings and shootings. Tens of thousands perished in Ravensbruck.11
  • David Boder: Ravensbrück, where is that?
  • Rita Benmayor: In Germany.
  • David Boder: That is in Germany, now tell me, how many days did your drive from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, five days we went, on foot . . .
  • David Boder: You went by foot for five days?Ms. Benmajor describes a typical death march which became more and more common as the end of the war approached. Her subsequent testimony illustrates that many did not survive this terrible ordeal.12
  • Rita Benmayor: Five days . . .
  • David Boder: Er, eh, who, how many people walked the way?
  • Rita Benmayor: Three peop—, three hundred people.
  • David Boder: Three hundred people, men and women?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, only women.
  • David Boder: Only women, and who guarded you?
  • Rita Benmayor: The, eh, the guards of the SS.
  • David Boder: The SS, were they good to you?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, who could not walk much, was quickly . . . .
  • David Boder: What, shot?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . shot.
  • David Boder: Oh, did you see that yourself?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, what did the . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: Many.
  • David Boder: What did they do, shot them with a revolver?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, shot them . . . they shot . . . [?]
  • David Boder: Ah the, the shotgun?Translator's Note: Boder uses "Flinte," the word for "shotgun," most likely he means rifle.13
  • Rita Benmayor: The shotgun, yes.
  • David Boder: Took them and shot them right there.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . and . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . who could walk, would walk, who could not walk, did not eat, did . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . only one [piece of] bread for four days . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . has eaten every two days, eaten the bread . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . could, could not walk, was quickly shot.
  • David Boder: Now, and so you came from Auschwitz to where?
  • Rita Benmayor: To Ravensbrück.
  • David Boder: You came to Ravensbrück, what did they do there?
  • Rita Benmayor: There we, eh, worked on the road again.
  • David Boder: What, you worked on the road?
  • Rita Benmayor: Carrying stones.
  • David Boder: Carry stones, and what, they built a road?
  • Rita Benmayor: R—, eh, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, now, and then?
  • Rita Benmayor: We worked there for four months, and then we were, eh . . . at Stucko[?] that was . . .
  • David Boder: What?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . worked in the block.
  • David Boder: [You] worked in the block, how many people were in the block?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . in the block were a hundred and fifty people.
  • David Boder: One hundred and fifty people, how did you sleep in the block?
  • Rita Benmayor: [?] . . . in the . . .
  • David Boder: What?
  • Rita Benmayor: In the bed.
  • David Boder: [There] were beds, or . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: [There] were five people sleeping in one bed.
  • David Boder: Five people in one bed?
  • Rita Benmayor: Five people in one little bed.
  • David Boder: Eh, so, have you, eh, have you, was it clean, was it clean?
  • Rita Benmayor: Clean, yes . . .It is not clear what Ms. Benmajor meant by "clean" since the inmates had to contend with filth and lice.14
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, it was clean.
  • David Boder: You were able to wash and so on—did you have lice, fleas, lice?
  • Rita Benmayor: Lice, many.
  • David Boder: Oh, you had many lice?
  • Rita Benmayor: We had many lice.
  • David Boder: And what did you do to get rid of the lice?
  • Rita Benmayor: [?] we did so in . . .
  • David Boder: What, scratched yourself?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: [In English] Eh . . . ? She said they scratched themselves.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now, so, eh, and then, how long were they there in that camp, what is the name of the second camp?
  • Rita Benmayor: Is Ravensbrück.
  • David Boder: That is called Ravesblick [Boder does not seem to know the camp] . . . and, eh, how long were you in Ravensbrück?
  • Rita Benmayor: Four months.
  • David Boder: Four months. And what happened then?
  • Rita Benmayor: Was always there . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, but after the four months, what happened there?
  • Rita Benmayor: And then we were transported again, why [because] the Russians came to Ravensbrück, [we] were transported to another camp, Retzow.
  • David Boder: To, you were transported to Retzow . . .Retzow today is a municipality in northeastern Germany in the Havelland district of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. During the war, it was a sub camp of Ravensbruck and held over 1,000 prisoners.15
  • Rita Benmayor: Retzow.
  • David Boder: Yes, and what did . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: We had to carry stones again, worked at the roadside . . .
  • David Boder: What, did you always build roads?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, always there.
  • David Boder: . . . always built roads, now, and so you worked in Retzow, how long were you in Retzow?
  • Rita Benmayor: Three months.
  • David Boder: Three months—you were you treated there, how did they, eh, treat you? Were they good to you or kind?
  • Rita Benmayor: In Raven—, in Retzow, it was not good, there was nothing to eat, we had soup once and a little piece of bread to eat.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Many people died of hunger.
  • David Boder: People—now tell me, died of hunger, how does one, of hunger, what, how does that [?] happen?
  • Rita Benmayor: Early we had coffee . . .
  • David Boder: And?
  • Rita Benmayor: At midday half a liter of soup . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And in the evening a little piece of bread to eat.
  • David Boder: Now, and you say, people died of hunger, how did it happen to them? Did they get sick, did they became gaunt, what . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, emaciated . . .
  • David Boder: Emaciated . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . cannot walk, the SS has, eh, . . .
  • David Boder: Eh, with the whip . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: With the whip, and long . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] She makes a gesture.
  • David Boder: [In German] They whipped them, now, and?
  • Rita Benmayor: And [they] died.
  • David Boder: And they died. Oh, tell me, what did you call a Mussulman, do you know what that is?
  • Rita Benmayor: Mussulman, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, what is that?
  • Rita Benmayor: The—did not eat, was Mussulman, and the SS, they took the Mussulman, straight to the crematorium.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • David Boder: So, Mussulman was a . . . [?] person—and what did the SS, do with the Mussulman, you said?
  • Rita Benmayor: Straight to the crematorium.
  • David Boder: And, now, eh, and so, how long were you in Retzow?
  • Rita Benmayor: Three months.
  • David Boder: And then, from there you went where?
  • Rita Benmayor: And then we were again transported to, eh, Malchow.Malchow today is located on the river Elde in the Muritz district of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. During the war it too was a sub camp of Ravensbruck. It was built to house 1,000 women, but at the time of the Ms. Benmajor's arrival its population had grown to 5,000 women.16 One day and the two days—we had the Russians coming. We had, eh, . . .
  • David Boder: You were freed?
  • Rita Benmayor: Freed . . .
  • David Boder: Now, so, the Russians, eh, that was in Malchow?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . Malchow.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, when the Russians freed you, what happened then?
  • Rita Benmayor: We had a . . .
  • David Boder: Where did the SS go when the Russians came?
  • Rita Benmayor: We got up early, and we . . . stayed with the SS. And then we all five together went in [?] we stayed, the five, for a whole hour there, and then the SS [was] gone. . . . We stayed without Russians, without Germans.Prisoners formed bonds with one another that increased their chances of survival through mutual aid. Especially in the waning days of the war, the Germans greatly feared the Russians, and many fled west in order to try to surrender to the Americans.17
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . we were all alone, the people . . .
  • David Boder: And what did you do, were there . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . the prisoners. We walked on the street, just like that, the prisoners alone, and the whole day we were without guard . . .
  • David Boder: Without guards.
  • Rita Benmayor: Without Germans, without guards.
  • David Boder: You were, on the road . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . to . . .
  • David Boder: . . . or did you go in to the Germans, what did the Germans do?
  • Rita Benmayor: Nothing, the Germans [were] all gone.Countless German civilians fled their homes to escape the advance of the Red army. Although Ms. Benmajor and the other prisoners were liberated by the Russians and treated well by them, they also wanted to flee to the American side.18
  • David Boder: The . . . the, the civilians, too? [He uses the term "private individuals."]
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now, did . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . the civilians, too, they t— . . . took a suitcase, and . . .
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Rita Benmayor: All gone.
  • David Boder: Gone.
  • Rita Benmayor: We did not see, we just . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: So [they were] gone.
  • David Boder: Did the houses remain open, did you take a look inside?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: In the houses?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Did you go in?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Did you take anything, food, did you find food?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, we went into the houses, we took food, we took clothes . . .
  • David Boder: Clothes?
  • Rita Benmayor: And then we quickly left.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: We were without Russians, without Germans, for two days . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: And after three days we saw tanks . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . we saw . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . the Russians coming. And quickly, eh . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. And?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . an officer came there, [asked] who is prisoners, who was in the camp, we quickly [went] with [the], eh, officer, and then we [went] to another camp with the Russians . . .
  • David Boder: . . . went with the Russians?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes. Went back to the other . . . .
  • David Boder: . . . went back to the camp with the Russians. Did you get to eat?
  • Rita Benmayor: And the Russians gave us much to eat, we fixed ourselves up, we had soap to wash . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: They were good [to us].
  • David Boder: Aha. Yes. And then you went back where?
  • Rita Benmayor: Then we went back to [the] American [side] . . .
  • David Boder: Where?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, we walked a lot, one, one, three weeks [we] walked on foot, we wanted [to get to the] American [side] . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, you ran away from the Russians?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, we ran away from the Russians, we wanted to go with the Americans.
  • David Boder: Yes, and so, where did you . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: We should walk for three weeks, we, we, we did not know . . .
  • David Boder: How many people walked?
  • Rita Benmayor: We were twenty-five people.
  • David Boder: Men and women?
  • Rita Benmayor: Men and women.
  • David Boder: And where did you go, through Germany?
  • Rita Benmayor: Back in Germany to [the] American [side] . . .
  • David Boder: To the American side?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And how long did that take for you to get to the American side?
  • Rita Benmayor: Three weeks.
  • David Boder: Speak louder, three weeks?
  • Rita Benmayor: Three weeks.
  • David Boder: Didn't anybody stop you, did nobody ask you where you are going?
  • Rita Benmayor: No, we had an address where the American [side] was . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And so we walked . . .
  • David Boder: Where was that?
  • Rita Benmayor: That was in Germany.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Where it was—the side of the Russians.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . we took an address from an Americ— from a Russian officer who said how long to the American side, if [we] wanted to go, [we] could walk for three weeks . . .The fact that the newly released prisoners, who had suffered so many privations and afflictions, were willing to set out on a three week journey by foot to reach the American side dramatically demonstrates their great determination to do so.19
  • David Boder: [laughs] . . . could walk for three weeks . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: We walked for three weeks we came to the American [side] . . .
  • David Boder: And what did you eat on the way?
  • Rita Benmayor: We went to the houses of the Germans, we stole food.
  • David Boder: Did the Germans themselves not give you to eat?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, it—what—No.
  • David Boder: Did not want to take . . . ?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . did not, we stole.
  • David Boder: [laughs] . . . stole food?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: What did you steal?
  • Rita Benmayor: Bread, butter, sugar, eh, we stole . . .
  • David Boder: From where did you steal that?
  • Rita Benmayor: And very—, and, from the houses of the Germans.
  • David Boder: Where the—where the Germans were gone, where they were not at home?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: Didn't you meet Americans, didn't you meet . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: And then after three weeks, we had—we came to the American side, and quickly the American [Red] Cross gave us to eat, gave us much . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, but [during] the three weeks that you walked, were you on the Russian side?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And the Russians let you go?In the early chaotic days following Germany's defeat, hundreds of thousands of refugees were on the move across Europe. The Cold War, which divided the country between east and west and established the Iron Curtain, had not yet begun.20
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Aha. And then you came through to the Russian side, and came over to the Americans, and there the Red Cross . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And they helped you?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now, why did you come to Paris?
  • Rita Benmayor: I did not, I did not want to go to Greece, why, I had no family . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And I [would be] all alone in . . .
  • David Boder: Yes—now?
  • Rita Benmayor: In Greece . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. And so?
  • Rita Benmayor: [If] I went to Greece, see my house without my mother, without father, I cannot see that . . . I have quickly, eh, had, I have had two friends, French . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Who told me: do you want to come to Paris? I said yes. . . . [so] I came to Paris.
  • David Boder: Who were the two French?
  • Rita Benmayor: Two French.
  • David Boder: Man, eh, men or women?
  • Rita Benmayor: Women.
  • David Boder: French women?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And they had walked with you?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: Aha, and so you came to Paris, did the French let you in?Ms. Benmajor was among the some 40,000 Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in France in the war's immediate aftermath. The Red Cross along with both French and American refugee relief organizations helped to care for them. The key French organization was the Committee for Social Action and Reconstruction, and the key American organization was the Joint Distribution Committee.21
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Eh, speak up [please] . . . the French let you in?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And when did you get on a train, that you could ride?
  • Rita Benmayor: Came with a train, yes.
  • David Boder: Who, from where have [you,] from the American side?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . from the American side.
  • David Boder: Then you got on a train, to drive off—how many people together?
  • Rita Benmayor: It was a hundred and fifty people.
  • David Boder: A special train?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: With refugees?
  • Rita Benmayor: With refugees.
  • David Boder: And did one give you food and so on?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes, the Americans gave us a lot to eat.
  • David Boder: And then you came to Paris?
  • Rita Benmayor: To Paris.
  • David Boder: And who did you go to here, who did you meet?
  • Rita Benmayor: I met nobody, I had two Greeks, two Greek friends, we had a big, eh. Greek cross coming . . .
  • David Boder: . . . a Red Cross?
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . Red Cross came . . .
  • David Boder: From Greece?
  • Rita Benmayor: From Greece.
  • David Boder: Yes, and?
  • Rita Benmayor: And [they] gave me a dress, a coat, and to eat . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: And then the Jewish organization gave me shelter.
  • David Boder: Yes, a—yes, and now you live here?
  • Rita Benmayor: And I live here.
  • David Boder: Now, and, eh, what are you doing now—what are you doing here now [Ina?]—what, where do you want to go, what do you want to do?
  • Rita Benmayor: I go to America.
  • David Boder: Oh, you are going to America?
  • Rita Benmayor: I have an uncle . . .
  • David Boder: Who found the relative for you, or did you search?
  • Rita Benmayor: I found a soldier . . .
  • David Boder: A . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: . . . a Greek soldier, American . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes. I told him. Maybe he can [find] my uncle. I gave him my addre— . . . eh, the address I did not know, I gave him the name of my uncle, he found [him].
  • David Boder: The soldier . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: Just with the name . . . the soldier.
  • David Boder: Now, who is your uncle?
  • Rita Benmayor: And the soldier quickly sent [a letter] to my uncle, and my uncle sent me a letter.
  • David Boder: A, eh, a letter?
  • Rita Benmayor: A letter.
  • David Boder: Did one send an affidavit?
  • Rita Benmayor: An affidavit, he sent me all papers.The "affidavit" was a sworn assurance by family or friends who were American citizens that they had the financial means to care for the would -be immigrant so that he or she would not become "a public charge."22
  • David Boder: So, why don't you go to America?
  • Rita Benmayor: Because the quota for Greeks is closed, I cannot go.The highly discriminatory United States refugee quota system, finalized in 1924, was still in effect. This racist system limited the number of refugees from southern and eastern Europe in favor or those from northern and western Europe.23
  • David Boder: And so you are waiting here now, what do you do here?
  • Rita Benmayor: Now I wait, until the quota is open.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Rita Benmayor: I go to America to my uncle.
  • David Boder: Aha—and you are all alone here?
  • Rita Benmayor: All alone.
  • David Boder: And your brother is where?
  • Rita Benmayor: My brother is in Palestine.
  • David Boder: Palestine? Now, and now tell me, you live in the same room with Mrs., eh, Bottom . . .Boder is most likely referring to Mrs. Eda Button, who was interviewed previously on Spool 26.24
  • Rita Benmayor: Bottom . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, and why were you in such a hurry this morning, to [go to] work, what did you work?
  • Rita Benmayor: I go to work—every, eh, . . . [?] vacation . . .
  • David Boder: Mmh.
  • Rita Benmayor: All . . .
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Rita Benmayor: All [?] I cannot [get] work. After mo—, after month of September, we go to work.She obviously refers to the fact that many businesses are closed for the summer vacation during the month of August in France which makes it hard to find work.25
  • David Boder: What can you work?
  • Rita Benmayor: I can sew a little.
  • David Boder: You can sew, don't you want to make shoes again?
  • Rita Benmayor: No.
  • David Boder: Why not?
  • Rita Benmayor: That was in the lager.
  • David Boder: And you don't want [that] anymore?
  • Rita Benmayor: No.
  • David Boder: But you can still do it?
  • Rita Benmayor: I can.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • David Boder: And, eh, are you learning a new vocation here, or you can sew?
  • Rita Benmayor: Well, I can sew.
  • David Boder: Yes, eh—how long did you go to school in Gree— in Saloniki—did you go to school?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: How many years did you go to school?
  • Rita Benmayor: At sixteen I was in [a] Greek school . . .
  • David Boder: Yes—eh—tell me, eh, they say, that there were songs in Auschwitz that the girls would sing—can you remember which, which poems that were made there in Auschwitz?
  • Rita Benmayor: No.
  • David Boder: No songs either? You don't know camp—, camp songs . . . what?
  • Rita Benmayor: No.
  • David Boder: You don't know any camp songs. And, eh, where is your uncle in America?
  • Rita Benmayor: In Hartford.
  • David Boder: In Hartford, Connecticut? What does he do there [plenty]? [apparently said to someone else] What kind of job, what does he do there?
  • Rita Benmayor: The one, I have two uncles, the one works in the factory, I don't know what . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. Yes, and the other one?
  • Rita Benmayor: The other one, I don't know, I can't . . .
  • David Boder: You don't know what he is working? Now, eh . . . but you think you will, eh, in, eh, in a year or so, get an affidavit?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, and until then you will stay in Paris?
  • Rita Benmayor: I have been in Paris for one year already.
  • David Boder: And you will wait until . . .
  • Rita Benmayor: I wait until the quota for Greeks is open . . .
  • David Boder: Were you told when it could be open?
  • Rita Benmayor: I, eh, the—the American Consulate, does not know either . . .
  • David Boder: Does not know either—now, something will probably be done. Look that you can learn something here. If not, in the town—learn a nice vocation?
  • Rita Benmayor: I would like to learn.
  • David Boder: Yes, you want to—now?
  • Rita Benmayor: Everybody—all, hm . . .
  • David Boder: All are on vacation?
  • Rita Benmayor: [I] must, in the month of September . . .
  • David Boder: In the month of September you will start. Now, I thank you very much, Miss Benmayor.
  • David Boder: [In Spanish] Do you speak Spanish?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: And, eh . . . What other languages can you speak?
  • Rita Benmayor: Italian . . .
  • David Boder: Where did you learn Italian?
  • Rita Benmayor: At the scuola.
  • David Boder: At school . . . And, eh . . . do you speak French now?
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Can you read French?
  • Rita Benmayor: A little.
  • David Boder: Well, it would be great, in the end, [unintelligible] this book, then.
  • Rita Benmayor: Yes.
  • David Boder: Well, thank you very much, madam.
  • Rita Benmayor: [In English] Yes.
  • David Boder: This concludes . . . this concludes the spool of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Spool 27, taken from Rita Benmayor, age twenty, tattoo 38758, and the triangle. Eh, she is a husky looking young woman, and eh, has her affidavit from America, but the quota is not yet open. The spool is, eh, of, eh, about twenty-six minutes length.
  1. Ms. Benmajor was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Once they left the Birkenau quarantine, prisoners were registered, received numbers which were tattooed on their left arm and then left for forced labor in Auschwitz or one of its sub camps. Camp authorities registered 405,000 prisoners of different nationalities in this way.
  2. Nazi Germany invaded Greece on April 6, 1941 as part of the effort to secure its southern flank in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Salonika fell to the Germans on April 9, 1941.
  3. Given the ages of Ms. Benmajor and her siblings, it is difficult to imagine that her parents were only thirty-eight and forty. Boder mistakenly thought that the Germans had conquered Greece in 1942. Ms. Benmajor would have indeed been sixteen years old in that year which would have made her twenty at the time of the interview, the age Boder says she was in his concluding remarks.
  4. Transports of Jews from Salonikia arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau from March 20 to August 18, 1943. At least 48, 850 were deported. They were told they would be "resettled" and had no idea of the horrible fate that awaited them at the end of their journey. Most were gassed upon arrival. Some 7,000 men and 4,200 women, among them Ms. Benmajor, survived the initial selection. The great majority of these died later. These statistics illustrate the uniqueness of Ms. Benmajor's survival.
  5. This was Ms. Benmajor's elder brother who lost his wife and four young children.
  6. In 1946, Palestine was controlled by Great Britain which barred entry to Jewish refugees. Ms. Benmajor's brother was considered an illegal refugee by the British.
  7. That is, after leaving the quarantine.
  8. What Boder meant by "stay alive" was that there was a chance of survival since the large majority of those who arrived in the camp were sent to the gas chambers immediately and were not included in any kind of registration. Ms. Benmajor's, "no", relates to the fact that even those who were registered faced difficult odds in order to survive.
  9. There are other prisoners who contend that most inmates of Auschwitz did not engage in this kind of theft and maintained a commitment to group solidarity and survival throughout their incarceration in the camp.
  10. The indoor work on the shoe detail rather than the difficult outdoor work on the road detail was a significant factor in Ms. Benmajor's survival.
  11. Ravensbruck, the only major concentration camp for women, was established in 1938 and was located fifty six miles north of Berlin. Ravensbruck had thirty four sub camps. Over 100,000 prisoners of various nationalities were imprisoned in Ravensbruck during the seven years of its infamous existence. As was the case in other camps, inmates suffered from malnutrition, illness, beatings and shootings. Tens of thousands perished in Ravensbruck.
  12. Ms. Benmajor describes a typical death march which became more and more common as the end of the war approached. Her subsequent testimony illustrates that many did not survive this terrible ordeal.
  13. Translator's Note: Boder uses "Flinte," the word for "shotgun," most likely he means rifle.
  14. It is not clear what Ms. Benmajor meant by "clean" since the inmates had to contend with filth and lice.
  15. Retzow today is a municipality in northeastern Germany in the Havelland district of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. During the war, it was a sub camp of Ravensbruck and held over 1,000 prisoners.
  16. Malchow today is located on the river Elde in the Muritz district of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. During the war it too was a sub camp of Ravensbruck. It was built to house 1,000 women, but at the time of the Ms. Benmajor's arrival its population had grown to 5,000 women.
  17. Prisoners formed bonds with one another that increased their chances of survival through mutual aid. Especially in the waning days of the war, the Germans greatly feared the Russians, and many fled west in order to try to surrender to the Americans.
  18. Countless German civilians fled their homes to escape the advance of the Red army. Although Ms. Benmajor and the other prisoners were liberated by the Russians and treated well by them, they also wanted to flee to the American side.
  19. The fact that the newly released prisoners, who had suffered so many privations and afflictions, were willing to set out on a three week journey by foot to reach the American side dramatically demonstrates their great determination to do so.
  20. In the early chaotic days following Germany's defeat, hundreds of thousands of refugees were on the move across Europe. The Cold War, which divided the country between east and west and established the Iron Curtain, had not yet begun.
  21. Ms. Benmajor was among the some 40,000 Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in France in the war's immediate aftermath. The Red Cross along with both French and American refugee relief organizations helped to care for them. The key French organization was the Committee for Social Action and Reconstruction, and the key American organization was the Joint Distribution Committee.
  22. The "affidavit" was a sworn assurance by family or friends who were American citizens that they had the financial means to care for the would -be immigrant so that he or she would not become "a public charge."
  23. The highly discriminatory United States refugee quota system, finalized in 1924, was still in effect. This racist system limited the number of refugees from southern and eastern Europe in favor or those from northern and western Europe.
  24. Boder is most likely referring to Mrs. Eda Button, who was interviewed previously on Spool 26.
  25. She obviously refers to the fact that many businesses are closed for the summer vacation during the month of August in France which makes it hard to find work.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Stefan Meuser
  • English translation : Stefan Meuser
  • Footnotes : Eben E. English, Elliot Lefkovitz, Stefan Meuser