David P. Boder Interviews Helena Neufeld; August 3, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] For some reasons the first few words in this spool are missing. This is Spool 9-20. In other words this is a reproduction of the original Spool number 20. Boder.
  • David Boder: [Missing: "This is Spool number 20, taken at the Jewish Committee's home in Paris on Rue Guy Patin on August the 3rd, 1946. The person to be interviewed is Mrs. Helena Neufeld . . ."] . . . a young married woman. She understands a bit of English, German, and Yiddish, but she prefers, for fluency, to speak Polish. Eh . . . [unintelligible] eh, Mrs. Neufeld . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Tell me where you are from, and how did you come to Paris? Speak Polish.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I was in Camp Belsen in Germany till the liberation.When Bergen Belsen was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945, there were some 58,000 surviving inmates and 10,000 corpses. Anne Frank and her sister had died about a month before of typhus and were buried in a mass grave. The survivors were suffering from extreme malnutrition and virulent diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery and typhus. Nearly 14,000 died in the two months following the liberation of the camp.1 Afterwards I came to Paris where I have relatives, the only ones who remained alive.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The rest of the family in Poland was killed.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And where were you born?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In Warsaw.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. You were born in Warsaw. Tell me what happened when the Germans came there.
  • Helena Neufeld: When the Germans arrived in Warsaw. I remained in Warsaw a short time, till October, '39. In October I crossed the Soviet-German border. I went to Lwow.World War II began with Germany's attack on Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 28, 1939, Warsaw, Poland's capital, surrendered, and in the early days of October the last battles were fought. On September 17, 1939, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland and overran large parts of the country including the large industrial and cultural center of Lwow (Ger. Lemberg). Lwow had a Jewish community in 1939 of approximately 110,000 making it the third largest Jewish community in Poland. Mrs. Neufeld was one of the some 100,000 Jewish refugees from German occupied western Poland who fled to the city.2 There I lived about a year and a half. Then I lived through the entry . . . the outbreak of the Soviet-German war.The Soviet German war began on June 22, 1941 with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans routed Soviet forces in the early weeks of the invasion and rapidly captured Lwow, which fell on June 30, 1941.3 I wasn't able to leave Lwow fast enough, because the evacuation took place very fast. I was trapped by the Germans in Lwow. There I lived through a terrible pogrom which took place in the first days after the Germans arrived.There had been a great deal of antisemitism in Lwow in part because the Poles and Ukrainians in the city each accused the Jews of helping the other. The murder of Jews began on the same day as the German occupation with Germans and Ukrainians taking part. The Lwow pogrom lasted from June 30 to July 3, 1941. In four days of killing, approximately 4,000 Jews were murdered. From July 25-27, the Ukrainians carried out another pogrom this time murdering a further 2,000. Only a handful of the Jews of Lwow survived the war.4 I was in Lwow till [words not clear] . . . till the creation of the Ghetto in Lwow.The Germans established the Lwow ghetto in November/December 1941. 5,000 sick and elderly Jews were killed during the move to the ghetto.5 Then I ran away from Lwow illegally, to Warsaw, because my family was living in Warsaw.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You said that there was a pogom in Lwow?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. The pogrom in Lwow took place a few days after the Germans arrived. The Pogrom was carried out actually not by the Germans themselves, but mostly by the Ukrainians. It was really a bestial pogrom. The Ukr- . . . Ukrainians simply made use of the old Polish system. They beat people to death with clubs. They killed children. There were many Jewish victims at that time.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] The Germans allowed them to make a pogrom?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The Germans? [Chuckle.] It had actually been arranged by the Germans. But the Germans preferred not to take an active part, but they preferred that it should look like a spontaneous uprising of the Ukrainians.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How did you return to Warsaw?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Warsaw . . . to Warsaw I traveled actually as an Aryan, as a Polish woman, a Catholic. However, I didn't have any documents. Since I look quite a bit like a Jewess, the trip was dangerous. In Cracow on the railroad station—it was twelve o'clock at night—some Folk-German, that means . . . eh . . . eh . . . a Folk-German . . .Folk German (volksdeutsche) was the Nazi term for an ethnic Germans residing outside of Germany who was a national in their country of residence. Nazi Germany received a good deal of support from these individuals in countries such as Poland.6
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] . . . a German informer, yes, he caught me. He asked me for papers. I didn't have any papers. I found myself at the Gestapo, but by accident, thanks to that, that I had met there some railway official, a Pole, a very fine and descent person, I succeeded in getting out. He accompanied me to the station, and I went to Warsaw. In Warsaw, too, at that time Jews were not permitted to go to the so-called Aryan side. They locked me up in the ghetto. But somehow I succeeded in crossing the . . . the Polish section, and I got in . . . I got into the ghetto through an opening in the wall.The Warsaw ghetto was established in mid November 1940. It was surrounded by a high wall topped by jagged shards of glass and sealed off from the "Aryan" section of the city. Mrs. Neufeld was fortunate in finding an opening in the wall through which she could enter the ghetto and rejoin her family. Perhaps the opening had been made by those who smuggled food into the ghetto.7
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Were you married then?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, I wasn't married.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You weren't married.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] In Warsaw you lived in the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. I was in the Warsaw Ghetto from November, '41, throughout the entire time till the resettlement action.The mass deportation from the Warsaw ghetto began on July 22, 1942 and lasted until September 12 of that year. During this time, more than a quarter of a million Warsaw ghetto Jews were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp where they were murdered by gas.8
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Tell me, how was life in the Warsaw Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Upon first coming into the Ghetto . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I cannot describe the shocking impression it had aroused in me. At once I came upon sights which I later encountered much too often, but which I shall never be able to forget. There were many houses in ruins inside the Ghetto. Jewish children were sitting among the ruins, pale, emaciated, like skeletons, thin little hands and legs. And [they] were begging. With thin little voices they were begging for bread. This was, I remember, my first impression. The second, and an equally shocking one, was [the fact] that all the people were wearing armbands on the arms. It was a strange world of people with armbands. But people were behaving as if that was normal. They were moving about . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What? [For some reason there is a chuckle in which both participate.] Yes. And how long were you in the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I was in the Ghetto till the moment of the main action, that means till Jul- . . . till the 22nd of July, 1942. Then I lived through there the entire action.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Wait a moment. Who was with you? Was your father there? Your mother? Who else was there?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No. When I arrived in Warsaw my father wasn't alive any more, and my brother had been killed by the Germans. My brother had been very early taken away. In '40 yet the Germans had taken many Jewish intellectuals as hostages and shot them afterwards. So that I was [there] with my mother and my sister.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. And where was your father? Eh . . . how did your father . . . did your father die before, or what?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] My father died a few months after the outbreak of the war. I do not know exactly when, because I was in Lwow. He was a very frail man. He had lived through the bombing . . .From the outbreak of the war, Warsaw experienced German air raids, but the antiaircraft defenses of the city were crippled after the first week. The Germans then bombed the city at will and many Warsaw residents perished. German artillery also indiscriminately shelled the city.9
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] . . . of Warsaw. And he was altogether a very delicate person, and everything that he saw . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] . . . and things were looking very bad, and that made his condition worse, so that he died a few months later.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What was your father's occupation? What did your family live on before the war?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] My father was a teacher.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] My father was a teacher.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] A teacher? What did he teach?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Father taught the Polish language, mathematics, in the public schools for Jewish children.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. And he himself, what did he finish [what training did he have] ?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] My father studied in schools established by Jewish synagogues for Jews who wanted to receive a liberal education.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] And afterwards he passed a teacher's examination with a certain Polish professor.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] He received a teacher's diploma.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] That means he died before the Germans entered Poland?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. He died a few . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where did he die, in Warsaw?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In Warsaw.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. Nu, and . . . did he die in the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] There was no Ghetto yet.
  • David Boder: [In Polish] There was no Ghetto yet.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] So you were in the Ghetto. With whom were you in the Ghetto.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] With [my] mother, with [my] sister, and with [my] sister's husband.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where did you live?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We lived on Nowolipia, in . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] In a house?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In our apartment. That apartment . . . Nowolipia belonged to the Ghetto.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. So you remained in your apartment . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] . . . because Nowolipia was made a part of the Ghetto.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] All right. That house belonged to whom? [Pause.] Well, who was the landlord of the house?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Nu, there was the owner of the house. Before the war he was . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] A Jew or . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] It was a Jew. [Words not clear.]
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. And did you pay rent?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In the beginning we paid and later on . . . I don't remember.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] All right. When did you go into the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Then the resettlement action started, on the 22nd of July, 1942. At that time . . . we were hiding a little . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] In the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In the Ghetto itself. If the action took place on one street, we would go over to the next street.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What kind of action was it? Tell me about the action.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Then appeared . . . the Germans . . . posters appeared upon the walls, even signed by the Jewish Community Council, that all the Jews have to report to resettlement points, and they will be resettled to the East. Everyone will receive three kilos of bread, a kilo of marmalade. RR-cars will be supplied, and in these RR-cars the Germans . . . [correction] the Jews will go to the East. There they will be settled in small towns, and there they will work. Next it was mentioned that the Jews who are working in German plants are exempted from this resettlement. Next, the workers in the Jewish Community Council . . . I don't remember. My husband . . .In place of the traditional Jewish Community Council of the city, the Germans installed a Judenrat. It was this body that carried out their orders. Adam Czerniakow, head of the Warsaw Judenrat, committed suicide rather than sign the order for deportation that was couched in the usual deceptive language employed by the Germans. Obviously, Mrs. Neufeld and her family resisted German blandishments by doing everything possible to avoid deportation.10
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And there, what . . . Were there any hospitals in the Ghetto? Were there doctors?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. There were hospitals in the Ghetto. There were doctors. Only the sick were dying simply of hunger. There was little medicine. Even if they did succeed in curing a sick person, there still was no food to nurse him back to health, so that there was a very high mortality.The mortality rate in the Warsaw ghetto was atrocious. The monthly death toll from June 1941 through April 1942 fluctuated from 4,000-5,500. At its height in March 1941, there were about 445,000 inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto. By the time of the beginning of deportations in July, 1942, the population had shrunk by more than 100,000 in what can only be described as gradual extermination. Jewish medical personnel tried to stem the death rate as best they could, but, as Mrs. Neufeld indicates, they were often helpless in the face of acute shortages of food and medicine.11
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And where to . . . where were the people buried?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] What is that?
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where were they buried? [In German] Where were they buried?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Oh. People were buried in the Jewish cemetery.
  • David Boder: [In German/English] Was . . . was the Jewish cemetery inside the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The Jewish cemetery was a little outside the Ghetto, but passes could be gotten, and one could . . . even the family could accompany the deceased.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. And they could be buried in the cemetery on Gesia [Street] , in the old Jewish cemetery.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The poor were buried in communal graves. There were huge communal graves, because the mortality toward the end was around five thousand people a month, and those who could afford it were buried in individual graves.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. Nu? Afterwards how did you leave the Ghetto?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Afterwards, after the first action, I remained, because there was . . . there had remained around forty thousand Jews after the first action. Of them a part was left in a few German plants in which were manufactured uniforms for the army, shoes, fur coats, and so forth. I was able to hide myself. I was working there in a kind of factory dispensary.When the first phase of deportations ("the first action") ended in September 1942, there were about 35,000 Jews who remained legally in the ghetto and about 25,000 who were there illegally.12
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Hm.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I was in the Ghetto till January, '43. In January the second action broke out, and in January I escaped to the Aryan side during the course of the second action.The Germans launched a second wave of deportations on January 18, 1943 but were met with Jewish armed and passive resistance. The deportations were halted after a few days but not before they managed to seize 5,000-6,000 Jews.13 Also the escape was very dangerous, but we drove out in a factory truck. I pretending to be a worker of that factory. There was a check point, that means a gate in the wall. There stood German gendarmes checking on everybody leaving the Ghetto. Well, just as the truck was driving out, as SS patrol which was carrying out the action drove by. Everybody was told to get out of the truck. We were searched. I was the only woman. All the men were sure that I would be taken away to the distribution depot. That was the assembly place where all the Jews were being assembled. But for some strange reason they permitted me to get back on the truck, and we drove away. Near Pulaski Street the truck stopped. I had friends there, Aryans. I got out of the truck, and in this way I left the Ghettov.Mrs. Neufeld's escape, as was the case with so many others, was most fortuitous. She was among the more than 25,000 Jews hidden by sympathetic Poles in "Aryan" Warsaw.14
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What happened then? Continue, please.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Nu, it was very difficult for me to hide, because I have a very Semitic appearance. The Poles with whom I was hiding received me well, but I had to change my lodgings several times. The last time I was living on Muranowski Street right across from the Ghetto. Well, and that is how I was able to see the German action of April, '43, the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.The uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, the most sustained and famous Jewish revolt during the Holocaust, began on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover holiday. 15
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Because our windows . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you live there during the uprising?
  • Helena Neufeld: I lived vis-a-vis. I saw [it]
  • David Boder: Yes, you saw [it] Now tell about the uprising.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Our windows faced directly the corner of Muranowska and Nalewki Streets. In this way we could observe the whole Muranowska Square, part of Nalewki [Street] , and, I think, Mila Street which led precisely to that distribution depot where all the Jews were assembled. So that I was able to see all the Jewish convoys which the Germans were leading to the distribution depot. On the 18th of April in the morning shots were suddenly heard. We didn't know what was going on. We went over to the windows. We saw that the wall of the Ghetto was thickly surrounded by numerous patrols. Each patrol ordinarily consisted of one German, one Ukrainian, and one Polish policeman. The patrols were ten, fifteen feet apart, and I don't remember if each or every other patrol had a machine gun. We knew right away that an action in the Ghetto was in the offing, because every action always began by just such an encirclement of the entire wall. Well, and there began a regular battle, a very furious battle. At first we heard machine guns, then grenades. Suddenly we heard a familiar . . . I heard a familiar noise, but I couldn't believe that they were tanks. I looked on Nalewki [Street] , and there, indeed, two German tanks were slowly driving into Nalewki. Well, that meant the end of the Ghetto.Despite the German use of tanks, artillery and aircraft, the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto fought courageously for about one month. The civilian population hid in ingeniously constructed underground bunkers throughout the ghetto. The Germans burned every building in the ghetto to the ground in an effort to quell the rebellion, but it took them about one month to do so, more time that it had taken them to conquer some European countries.16
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Tell me, what happened to you afterwards? How long were you in Warsaw, and how did you get out of Warsaw?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Afterwards I was still hiding for some time, but it was very difficult for me to hide. Later on the Germans took us to . . . took me to the lager, to Bergen-Belsen. This was in July in the year '43. In this lager I was twenty months, over twenty months, till around the 13th of April of the year '45. At that time they started to evacuate the camp. It seemed that the English were approaching. We were evacuated on the 10th of April. Two weeks I was in the train, until the 23rd of April.Mrs. Neufeld was evacuated just five days before Bergen Belsen was liberated.17
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You were evacuated from Belsen.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Who?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The Germans. The Germans were in the habit of evacuating all the camps which the English or the Americans were approaching, provided they had time.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Hm.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] They began to evacuate Belsen, too, and I was evacuated.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did they know in Belsen that you are a Jewess?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. In Belsen there were very many Jews. There were Polish Jews, Hungarian Jews, Rumanian Jews, Yugoslavian, Dutch Jews.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. How long were you in Belsen?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Over twenty months.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How many?
  • Helena Neufeld: Over twenty months.
  • David Boder: Twenty months?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Tell me about the life in Belsen. How were you living in your block and so forth?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] So . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you work in Belsen?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, we didn't . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] No.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] . . . work.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] That means you didn't work for twenty months?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How many people were in a block?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In the beginning there were . . . we were kept separately, the Polish Jews. This was a group of over two thousand five hundred persons, in the beginning. Later on they began . . . in October, after three months, they sent out over a thousand people from our group.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Hm.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] About two thousand people. Later we found out that they were sent to Auschwitz.Bergen Belsen was established in July 1943 so Mrs. Neufeld was there almost from its inception. It began as a prisoner of war camp but had five satellite camps among which was one for Jews from Poland who had papers issued by various countries mainly in Latin America. As Mrs. Neufeld subsequently indicates, the prisoners in this satellite camp did not have to engage in forced labor and conditions were at first better than those elsewhere in Belsen. The deportation of some 1,700 prisoners from this satellite camp to Auschwitz did indeed occur in October 1943. 350 more were deported to Auschwitz in early 1944. Mrs. Neufeld and, as she will later reveal, her husband, who had been sent to Belsen with her, were among the several hundred who remained in the camp. Just why they were spared is unknown.18
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How did you sleep there in the barracks?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In the beginning conditions were still a little better. It wasn't that crowded, and every one of us had his plank bed.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] But the plank beds were two-tiered, a lower one and an upper one, very closely set. One couldn't turn around. The spaces between them were very narrow. This fatigued us very much. We covered ourselves with blankets. We had such paillasses. We received a soup, bread, sometimes a little margarine.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What did you do all day?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Nothing, nothing. Our group didn't work. There were groups which worked, and which didn't work.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you know in Belsen that woman . . . What was she called? . . . eh . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Irma . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Irma Gray, or . . . [reference to Irma Grese]Irma Grese, a female camp supervisor, was known as "the bitch of Belsen" due to the inhuman cruelty she displayed towards the prisoners. She was sentence to death for her crimes by a British military court and hanged in December 1945 at the age of twenty one.19
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, I didn't know her, but I knew the Commandant Kramer.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You did know Kramer?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. I saw him a few times. In the beginning we had a different Commandant, Kass [?] , and afterwards Kramer took his place.Josef Kramer was appointed commandant of Bergen Belsen on December 2, 1944. Before his appointment, he worked in other concentration camps including Auschwitz where he became known for his ruthless and sadistic behavior. He was tried by a British military court, sentenced to death and hanged on December 12, 1945 at the age of thirty nine. Adolf Hass and Siegfried Leidle preceded Kramer as Auschwitz commandants.20
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Hm.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. And you, were you in good health in Belsen?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No. In Belsen . . . I arrived in Belsen already sick, because I had been in prison for two weeks in Warsaw, in the Pawiak [Prison]Pawiak prison was located in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw. It was the main prison used by German security forces in the Warsaw district from October 1939 to August 1944 and was known for the harsh conditions under which prisoners were incarcerated. Pawiak held a number of Jewish prisoners caught on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw such as Mrs. Neufeld.21
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Hm.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Well, and besides, I had gone through a great deal during the time when I was hiding. I arrived sick, and later on . . . everybody was sick, because we got very little food, so that everybody was very weak. At first we received food. Later on it became worse and worse. The first year we lived through somehow, even though during the winter we lived in stone barracks. It was cold. The roofs were leaky. Water was pouring in.Conditions in Bergen Belsen deteriorated steadily in 1944 and underwent a profound deterioration from January through March of 1945 as thousands of prisoners on death marches from other camps were sent there resulting in chaotic conditions and the spread of infectious diseases. At its height in March 1945, the typhus epidemic in Belsen claimed more than 18,000 lives. From January 1945 to mid April of that year, some 35,000 prisoners perished and were buried in mass graves.22
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. Tell me, if anybody got sick what did they do then?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] There were . . . among the prisoners there were doctors. They treated the sick, and besides that there was a large hospital. In case there were any serious cases it was reported to the German doctor. Well, and the sick were taken to the hospital.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. And later on you were evacuated from Belsen. Where to?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The train was traveling there and back, there and back. Because all the roads were out and were bombed. Railroad stations were burning, so that . . . the train was supposed to go to Theresenstadt, to Czechoslovakia.Theresienstadt (Czech, Terezin) was a ghetto established by the Germans in northwest Czechoslovakia. It was liberated by the Red Army on May 8, 1945. 33,000 Jews perished in Theresienstadt, and 88,000 were deported from there to extermination camps.23
  • David Boder: [In German] Czech— . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. But it didn't travel very far, because the engineer couldn't run the train on the bombed out roads.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. [Words not clear.]
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] There were air raids. No? There were air raids. We were bombed.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You didn't go to Theresenstadt?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] No.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We were of course . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And who liberated you?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The Russians.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] The Russians?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] The Russians liberated you. Tell [me] , how did it happen?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] During one . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Were you in trains?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We were in RR-cars, in a freight car, even during the night. All night the train was standing. It was even quite peaceful. From afar shots could be heard, but there was no air raid. Early in the morning, around six, someone ran past our RR-car and said, 'The Russians are already here.'
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] The Germans had already run away.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did the Russians feed you?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. Then all the people ran out of the RR-cars, and there really were two Russian soldiers on horses. And they said, 'You can leave the RR-cars now. Everybody can go to the village. There you will find . . . go into the houses. There . . . '
  • David Boder: [In Russian] In what town was that?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] It was . . . somewhat around Falkenburg, near Theresenstadt.Falkenberg is actually in eastern Germany northeast of Leipzig.24
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] A small town.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] All right. After the liberation where did you go from there?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We were very sick then.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Your sister was with you?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, there was no one from my family, no one.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Then we went to the nearest German village. There we went into a German house. First of all we bathed and climbed into beds and [chuckle] lay in the beds.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. And from there where did you go?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We lay . . . a month's time we lay there, because we had no strength to walk. We were very weak, and afterwards I went to Paris.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Why did you go to Paris? You have . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Because in Poland I had no family. I knew, of course, my mother had perished during the action. And my sister I also knew had perished. So that I went to Paris where I have family.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You do have family in Paris?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I have two [female] cousins.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You have two cousins here . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] . . . in Paris.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And what do you intend to . . . Where did you get married?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I got married in the Ghetto.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Oh! You got married in the Ghetto.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And what happened to your husband?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] My husband was also in a lager.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] He was also . . . he was in Belsen.It is not clear whether or not Mrs. Neufeld's husband was with her in hiding in "Aryan" Warsaw or in Pawiak prison though this was probably the case. It is also not clear why the couple was transferred to the satellite camp at Belsen for those who had papers from foreign countries in their possession. It is quite plausible that the Neufeld's had such papers, but the interview does not reveal to where.25
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Oh. They sent men and women. Did the Germans know that he was your husband?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. Yes, they knew that he was my husband.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And he went with you together all the time, and arrived in Belsen? And from Belsen you were evacuated . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In Belsen, there we lived separately. And then we were again together. And then we were evacuated.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And you were together . . . And when the Russsians arrived you were together?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. Everybody . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes, you were together. And then you two decided to go to Paris.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How did you travel? Did you have money?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, we had no money whatsoever, but we traveled without money all the time. In military cars and later in trains for the repatriates.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did they allow you to enter France, or you . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] They let us in. I speak a little French, and I have family in Paris.Had Mrs. Neufeld and her husband been liberated in Bergen Belsen and remained there, they would have become part of the largest Displaced Persons camp in Europe after the war. Located in the British zone of occupation of Germany, the Displaced Persons camp at Belsen had a largely self-governed and self contained Jewish community Jewish community from 1945-1950. The DP camp focused on the physical and spiritual rehabilitation of the survivors, the search for relatives, and the political struggle for rights and immigration to Palestine and then the State of Israel.26
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where did you learn to speak French?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I learned it in school yet. I liked the French language very much.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you attend the gymnasium in Warsaw?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. And where did your husband study?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Also in Warsaw.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How come he knows English?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] He studied English.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha, and what does your husband do in Paris?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Well, in the beginning we didn't do anything. We weren't feeling well. Now he is working a little as an interpreter.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha, and what do you intend to do?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We don't know yet. It is a very hard decision. We have friends in America who want us very much to come over. I don't have any family anywhere else. Maybe I will remain in Paris. We don't know yet.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha. You have relatives in America?
  • Helena Neufeld: No. Just girl friends.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] In America I have friends, a girl friend.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] But you have no relatives. And your husband, what is his occupation? What does he do?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] He was working as an interpreter.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What is that?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] With the Americans.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] With the Americans?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Here. In Americans institutions, because he knows English.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What institutions?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I don't even know.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] For the American government or for Jewish organizations?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, no. They aren't . . . I don't know whether for Polish or for American.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. He is working for them.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And he will return home by ten o'clock?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes. He will return . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] [Words not clear.] Tell me, in Belsen did you have any songs which the prisoners were singing?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] We?
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Songs? Very few . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Yes. Jewish or . . .
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes, there were.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] . . . new songs which were composed there in the lager?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, no, no, no.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You don't know any?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, no. By us . . . Of course, people wrote verse.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Verse. [In Russian] Verse.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] People wrote.This was a form of resistance, a way of affirming one's humanity in inhuman conditions.27
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you also write poetry? Do you know any?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No, I didn't write [any] Maybe my husband will remember some.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Do you know any?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You don't know any.
  • David Boder: [In English] Well, this concludes the record of Mrs. Helena Neufeld. She insists on making her record in Polish. She is apparently conscious about her language. And she is saying that she married her husband in the ghetto of Warsaw. And it so happened that during all the deportations they were together. August the 3rd, 1946. Paris. The home for adult Jews . . . After concluding the record, how so many . . . how [it] often happens, you have some new data. On the question 'What is she working in?' she tells me she is a dentist, graduated from Warsaw.
  • David Boder: [In German] When did you study dentistry?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] [Words not clear.]
  • David Boder: [In Russian] When did you study in Warsaw? How long ago?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] I studied from 1931 to the end of 1935. From 1931 to the end of 1935.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] How old are you now?
  • Helena Neufeld: Thirty-three.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] Trzydzieści trzy.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Did you enter a technical school in Warsaw? When? Right after the gymnasium?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] No. I really didn't want to study for a dentist. One year I studied Romantics,Mrs. Neufeld might have been alluding to romance languages. She indicated earlier that she was very fond of the French language in her Warsaw gymnasium. 28 I wanted to travel abroad, to France, but my parents insisted that I study for a dentist, so then . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Aha.
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] . . . after a year, after . . .
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Where are you working here? For a dentist, or are you working for yourself?
  • Helena Neufeld: [In Polish] For myself. I can't [words not clear]
  1. When Bergen Belsen was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945, there were some 58,000 surviving inmates and 10,000 corpses. Anne Frank and her sister had died about a month before of typhus and were buried in a mass grave. The survivors were suffering from extreme malnutrition and virulent diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery and typhus. Nearly 14,000 died in the two months following the liberation of the camp.
  2. World War II began with Germany's attack on Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 28, 1939, Warsaw, Poland's capital, surrendered, and in the early days of October the last battles were fought. On September 17, 1939, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland and overran large parts of the country including the large industrial and cultural center of Lwow (Ger. Lemberg). Lwow had a Jewish community in 1939 of approximately 110,000 making it the third largest Jewish community in Poland. Mrs. Neufeld was one of the some 100,000 Jewish refugees from German occupied western Poland who fled to the city.
  3. The Soviet German war began on June 22, 1941 with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans routed Soviet forces in the early weeks of the invasion and rapidly captured Lwow, which fell on June 30, 1941.
  4. There had been a great deal of antisemitism in Lwow in part because the Poles and Ukrainians in the city each accused the Jews of helping the other. The murder of Jews began on the same day as the German occupation with Germans and Ukrainians taking part. The Lwow pogrom lasted from June 30 to July 3, 1941. In four days of killing, approximately 4,000 Jews were murdered. From July 25-27, the Ukrainians carried out another pogrom this time murdering a further 2,000. Only a handful of the Jews of Lwow survived the war.
  5. The Germans established the Lwow ghetto in November/December 1941. 5,000 sick and elderly Jews were killed during the move to the ghetto.
  6. Folk German (volksdeutsche) was the Nazi term for an ethnic Germans residing outside of Germany who was a national in their country of residence. Nazi Germany received a good deal of support from these individuals in countries such as Poland.
  7. The Warsaw ghetto was established in mid November 1940. It was surrounded by a high wall topped by jagged shards of glass and sealed off from the "Aryan" section of the city. Mrs. Neufeld was fortunate in finding an opening in the wall through which she could enter the ghetto and rejoin her family. Perhaps the opening had been made by those who smuggled food into the ghetto.
  8. The mass deportation from the Warsaw ghetto began on July 22, 1942 and lasted until September 12 of that year. During this time, more than a quarter of a million Warsaw ghetto Jews were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp where they were murdered by gas.
  9. From the outbreak of the war, Warsaw experienced German air raids, but the antiaircraft defenses of the city were crippled after the first week. The Germans then bombed the city at will and many Warsaw residents perished. German artillery also indiscriminately shelled the city.
  10. In place of the traditional Jewish Community Council of the city, the Germans installed a Judenrat. It was this body that carried out their orders. Adam Czerniakow, head of the Warsaw Judenrat, committed suicide rather than sign the order for deportation that was couched in the usual deceptive language employed by the Germans. Obviously, Mrs. Neufeld and her family resisted German blandishments by doing everything possible to avoid deportation.
  11. The mortality rate in the Warsaw ghetto was atrocious. The monthly death toll from June 1941 through April 1942 fluctuated from 4,000-5,500. At its height in March 1941, there were about 445,000 inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto. By the time of the beginning of deportations in July, 1942, the population had shrunk by more than 100,000 in what can only be described as gradual extermination. Jewish medical personnel tried to stem the death rate as best they could, but, as Mrs. Neufeld indicates, they were often helpless in the face of acute shortages of food and medicine.
  12. When the first phase of deportations ("the first action") ended in September 1942, there were about 35,000 Jews who remained legally in the ghetto and about 25,000 who were there illegally.
  13. The Germans launched a second wave of deportations on January 18, 1943 but were met with Jewish armed and passive resistance. The deportations were halted after a few days but not before they managed to seize 5,000-6,000 Jews.
  14. Mrs. Neufeld's escape, as was the case with so many others, was most fortuitous. She was among the more than 25,000 Jews hidden by sympathetic Poles in "Aryan" Warsaw.
  15. The uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, the most sustained and famous Jewish revolt during the Holocaust, began on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover holiday.
  16. Despite the German use of tanks, artillery and aircraft, the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto fought courageously for about one month. The civilian population hid in ingeniously constructed underground bunkers throughout the ghetto. The Germans burned every building in the ghetto to the ground in an effort to quell the rebellion, but it took them about one month to do so, more time that it had taken them to conquer some European countries.
  17. Mrs. Neufeld was evacuated just five days before Bergen Belsen was liberated.
  18. Bergen Belsen was established in July 1943 so Mrs. Neufeld was there almost from its inception. It began as a prisoner of war camp but had five satellite camps among which was one for Jews from Poland who had papers issued by various countries mainly in Latin America. As Mrs. Neufeld subsequently indicates, the prisoners in this satellite camp did not have to engage in forced labor and conditions were at first better than those elsewhere in Belsen. The deportation of some 1,700 prisoners from this satellite camp to Auschwitz did indeed occur in October 1943. 350 more were deported to Auschwitz in early 1944. Mrs. Neufeld and, as she will later reveal, her husband, who had been sent to Belsen with her, were among the several hundred who remained in the camp. Just why they were spared is unknown.
  19. Irma Grese, a female camp supervisor, was known as "the bitch of Belsen" due to the inhuman cruelty she displayed towards the prisoners. She was sentence to death for her crimes by a British military court and hanged in December 1945 at the age of twenty one.
  20. Josef Kramer was appointed commandant of Bergen Belsen on December 2, 1944. Before his appointment, he worked in other concentration camps including Auschwitz where he became known for his ruthless and sadistic behavior. He was tried by a British military court, sentenced to death and hanged on December 12, 1945 at the age of thirty nine. Adolf Hass and Siegfried Leidle preceded Kramer as Auschwitz commandants.
  21. Pawiak prison was located in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw. It was the main prison used by German security forces in the Warsaw district from October 1939 to August 1944 and was known for the harsh conditions under which prisoners were incarcerated. Pawiak held a number of Jewish prisoners caught on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw such as Mrs. Neufeld.
  22. Conditions in Bergen Belsen deteriorated steadily in 1944 and underwent a profound deterioration from January through March of 1945 as thousands of prisoners on death marches from other camps were sent there resulting in chaotic conditions and the spread of infectious diseases. At its height in March 1945, the typhus epidemic in Belsen claimed more than 18,000 lives. From January 1945 to mid April of that year, some 35,000 prisoners perished and were buried in mass graves.
  23. Theresienstadt (Czech, Terezin) was a ghetto established by the Germans in northwest Czechoslovakia. It was liberated by the Red Army on May 8, 1945. 33,000 Jews perished in Theresienstadt, and 88,000 were deported from there to extermination camps.
  24. Falkenberg is actually in eastern Germany northeast of Leipzig.
  25. It is not clear whether or not Mrs. Neufeld's husband was with her in hiding in "Aryan" Warsaw or in Pawiak prison though this was probably the case. It is also not clear why the couple was transferred to the satellite camp at Belsen for those who had papers from foreign countries in their possession. It is quite plausible that the Neufeld's had such papers, but the interview does not reveal to where.
  26. Had Mrs. Neufeld and her husband been liberated in Bergen Belsen and remained there, they would have become part of the largest Displaced Persons camp in Europe after the war. Located in the British zone of occupation of Germany, the Displaced Persons camp at Belsen had a largely self-governed and self contained Jewish community Jewish community from 1945-1950. The DP camp focused on the physical and spiritual rehabilitation of the survivors, the search for relatives, and the political struggle for rights and immigration to Palestine and then the State of Israel.
  27. This was a form of resistance, a way of affirming one's humanity in inhuman conditions.
  28. Mrs. Neufeld might have been alluding to romance languages. She indicated earlier that she was very fond of the French language in her Warsaw gymnasium.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription (Polish) : M. Holiday, I. Laskawiec
  • Transcription (Russian) : Argos Multilingual
  • English Translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz