David P. Boder Interviews Irena Rosenwasser; August 22, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] Paris, August the 22nd 1946, at the headquarters of the Joint, American Joint Distribution Committee. The interviewee is Miss Irena Rosenwasser. Also . . . and she prefers to speak German although her English is . . . seems to be rather satisfactory.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now then Miss Rosenwasser, will you tell us where you are from?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: From Hungary
  • David Boder: You are from Hungary. You were telling me that you wanted to go to America and that you belong to the Hungarian quota. Is that so?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: And you have an uncle in Los Angeles; and what is his name?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Rabbi Goldberger.
  • David Boder: But you must talk straight. When you turn your head [with a chuckle] . . . we don't have television yet, is that not so? He is the Rabbi, Dr. Goldberger, is that so?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now then, Miss Rosenwasser, will you please tell me where you were when the war started—where did the war reach you? Speak louder.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so, I was home until the year '44.
  • David Boder: Where is that 'home'?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Hungary, in Kisvarda . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . with my parents, with my whole family.
  • David Boder: Will you please tell me how many people there were in your family?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Six children . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, you father . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and the parents.
  • David Boder: You father and your mother . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . and six children.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Six children.
  • David Boder: And which child were you? The oldest or which . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: My brother is the oldest. I follow afterwards.
  • David Boder: Yes. And then the other children. How old . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were smaller.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, 'they were' . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Now, one was eight years old, ten years, seventeen, and twenty years [old].
  • David Boder: Yes . . . And you were then already over twenty.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . . Now, you lived in Hungary; and tell me what happened there when the war started.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: When the war started it was, in general, not bad for the Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Only when the Germans had come in, in '44, the Jews were concentrated in various ghettos, and from the ghettos they were shipped away.
  • David Boder: Now will you tell me what happened to you personally, in you city—what you, yourself, have seen and experienced. Also, how did that start?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The Jews could not leave their homes. The names of all Jews were registered, a list was made of the children, of the business, of the property. And the Jews had to give up everything, and they could take to the ghetto only about fifty kilos.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Now how did that happen? How was that announced, that they must go to the ghetto?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The gendarmerie have announced that.
  • David Boder: Yes. And do you remember about what month it was?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, it was in May, '44; in May.
  • David Boder: Also what did they say? You must . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Already before there were always [?] 'Jewish Laws', against the Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Already everything was taken over.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The business, for instance, the fields and . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, what was the business of your parents?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Dresses.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . They had a dress business.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: So how was the business taken away? What did they . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Padlocked. Everything was registered and padlocked—and they took the key.
  • David Boder: And the things remained in the store?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . . And do you know what happened afterwards to it?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That I don't know. I think they have . . . the Germans have taken everything.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Now they simply padlocked you business. Did they demand the money?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Everything, yes! The cash box, the full cashier box, and the merchandise.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . And all that they have taken away. And then what did they tell you to do?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That we should remain in the homes . . . the homes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And there were daily two or three hours free [open], when we could get something, provisions, . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And then, after a week, they told us that we would all be concentrated. a few buildings were . . .
  • David Boder: . . . assigned?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . assigned. And so we came on a cart [carriage?] to the ghetto.
  • David Boder: What was the name of the city where you lived, again?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Kisvarda.
  • David Boder: How many people lived there altogether?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Sixteen thousand.
  • David Boder: Altogether?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: And how many Jews were there, approximately?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Jews, there were two thousand, but the whole environs were concentrated in Kisvarda. That is, we had there in the ghetto about six thousand Jews.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . That is, they have also [brought in] the Jews from the environs?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. That was a concentration point, Kisvarda.
  • David Boder: Yes. And then, how did they get up the ghetto? How was that set up?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Two streets were designated for this [purpose], with large buildings. Everything was vacated, the Christians had to go away . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and we got that. In one room we were approximately twelve to twenty people.
  • David Boder: Yes . . . In one room!
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In one room. Yes . . . Children with men and women together.
  • David Boder: Now, how did they sleep there?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were lying on the floor . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . no beds, no furniture of any kind was there—no chair, nothing. It was strictly prohibited.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And we made [we cooked] kitchen . . .
  • David Boder: Where?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . in the hotel. Well, there was a place . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . a school yard . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . There they, they built . . .
  • David Boder: [word not clear, sounds like 'streets']
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . a large, large kitchens, the Jews [built them] . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] There is a break in the spool which has to be fixed after rewinding. [Pause] [In German] Now then, Miss Rosenwasser, we were talking about the order that you had to go to the ghetto. You were twelve or ten people in one room, men, women and children, and your property was taken away, and you say that the money was taken away. What else did you have to surrender? You said something about jewelry. Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: About jewelry . . . All things of value we had to surrender, only foodstuff and a few pieces of clothing were we permitted to take with us. Then . . .
  • David Boder: Have you hidden any of your money?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, we have hidden nothing. Daily the police came and led away the Jews and beat them horribly.
  • David Boder: Already in the ghetto, from the ghetto?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, from the ghetto where they have hidden their money and their wealth. A few they even killed.
  • David Boder: Yes. Did something of the kind happen to your family?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No.
  • David Boder: Why? Did they believe you that you had surrendered everything?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Because we were not such rich people.
  • David Boder: Oh, you were not rich people from the start. And so . . . now what happened afterwards?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were . . .
  • David Boder: What were people doing in the ghetto in order to live?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Nothing at all. We only organized [the] Jews to do what we could. There were a few physicians . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and . . . police, Jewish police, but from outside there came no help.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Nothing at all. The Wehrmacht [German regular army of occupation] was in the city, the German Wehrmacht and a few SS men.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Now and so . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We figured that we remain here. But at the end of the month there came the notice that we must leave the ghetto. In two transports we were led out to the railroad station. There everything was again inspected and everything was taken away [a chuckle], and afterwards we were crowded in, seventy-seven people, in one cattle car.
  • David Boder: Why do you call it a cattle car? A freight car? Or was it really a cattle car?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was for horses.
  • David Boder: How did you know?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was written on it [forty men and eight horses].
  • David Boder: Oh, yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: A German RR-car, it was for . . .
  • David Boder: Forty men?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . forty or thirty horses.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I don't know so exactly what it was . . .
  • David Boder: Now then?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It [the car] was lead-sealed [with a seal of lead]
  • David Boder: Yes. And how many people were you there?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Seventy-seven people.
  • David Boder: Who counted that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Well, the gendarmerie. When we embarked the people were counted, so that nobody be absent . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . . And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There was a large counting place, and the people were counted [one word not clear].
  • David Boder: Yes. The Germans called that appell, which means to count the people . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . and call out their numbers, etc.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now . . . and . . . now then . . . were you and your whole family together?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. In the RR-car we were still together.
  • David Boder: [There is some interruption] In the RR-car you were together . . . Yes?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Up to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We traveled approximately three days without air, without water, and with two dead . . .
  • David Boder: How come? The dead were not removed?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [In English] No. [Repeats in German] No.
  • David Boder: You say without air, without water, Were there no windows in the RR-car?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were only . . . there were only a few openings [holes]. But in spite of that . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . but they were not open.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, was there a toilet?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, altogether not a single one.
  • David Boder: So, how did the people . . . take care of themselves?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Well, a curtain was made . . .
  • David Boder: They made a curtain . . . Yes . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. And . . . when . . . when was that thrown out?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Only upon arrival.
  • David Boder: Only upon arrival. So the air was very bad?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Very bad. That is why two had died. Two [of the] more feeble people.
  • David Boder: Men or women?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: An old man, and a rather young woman.
  • David Boder: All right. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We arrived in Auschwitz about . . . but the journey was very bad, because constantly the SS would enter, they opened the RR-cars . . . with arms [in hand] and demand sliver [?] watch . . .
  • David Boder: watches . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Watches, and toiletries, and money, jewelry . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so they looted again.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Then we arrived at about twelve o'clock at night in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Now, how many days did you travel?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: About two and a half, three days.
  • David Boder: Yes, and then you arrived in Auschwitz . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was on a Friday night . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . We arrived at the rr-station of Auschwitz. We had to wait two to three hours, and afterwards they opened the RR-car and we disembarked
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They told us immediately, we have to leave all the baggage, everything in the RR-car, we shall get it tomorrow.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Then they started the 'selection'. We, of course, did not know what that meant.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: My mother, with two siblings, were assigned to the right side . . .
  • David Boder: Were those sisters or brother . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: Two sisters?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and I . . .
  • David Boder: How old were the girls?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Eight and ten years old.
  • David Boder: Yes, the mother with the two children.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. My mother was forty-eight years old.
  • David Boder: Yes, and . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And my brothers again by themselves, separately . . . the men were immediately . . .
  • David Boder: And your father?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The father too . . .
  • David Boder: With the brothers?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . . again . . . because I was . . . You see, the younger people were again gathered separately.
  • David Boder: Yes . . . and?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [She weeps] . . . and I have never seen them again.
  • David Boder: Whom have you never seen again [the question arose from the ambiguous meaning of the pronoun sie/?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: None of my family.
  • David Boder: Your brothers, neither?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No . . . Nobody. [Pause] My brother . . . one of them . . . you see, we were six children.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: One brother did not come with us.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So this one remained alive.
  • David Boder: How old is he, was he?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Twenty-six years [old]. He is now twenty-eight years old.
  • David Boder: Was he married?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: no.
  • David Boder: And how come he remained behind?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: You see, he by himself, escaped from the ghetto.
  • David Boder: He ran away?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . . ran away. They looked for him everywhere. He hid himself, and afterwards with trouble and pain he reached Budapest . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And from Budapest he was 'carried' out to Belgium.
  • David Boder: Sent . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, sent, and from Belgium—there he was liberated. He came to Switzerland, and from Switzerland to Palestine. Since then [a few words not clear] he lives in Palestine.
  • David Boder: Did he come to Palestine illegally?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, legally.
  • David Boder: He got a . . . [permit]?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: With the last transport.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Now . . . and the . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The others . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The . . . two younger ones . . .
  • David Boder: Have you seen him in Belgium?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, I have not seen him.
  • David Boder: Have you seen him since the start of the war?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I have not seen him at all.
  • David Boder: Yes. And the two younger ones?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I heard about them. They were in Auschwitz, in another camp, because in Auschwitz there were very many, many lagers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . And afterwards they were sent away with a transport, and never were they seen again.
  • David Boder: And your father and mother?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I heard nothing [from them]. They were unfortunately selected [doomed] right at the rr-station, because close to the station were two crematories. [She apparently weeps again] Immediately the people . . . they were told, we are . . . we are going to bathe.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And I saw the crematory myself, because, when the Russians had approached nearer and nearer, the crematories were destroyed. I have seen them well. There was a sign: 'to the bathing room!, to disinfection . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so the poor people were driven in, and . . .
  • David Boder: They did not come out. [This was really a remark to help her finish the sentence.]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and they did not come out anymore . . . Burned!
  • David Boder: Now, and what . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And, the children . . . too. Because Mr. Mengele, the physician of the lager, said he does not want to see any children . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, the physician of the lager . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . said he does not want to see any children, and then?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: He does not want to see any children, only workers. This is a work lager and not for children, and not . . .
  • David Boder: The physician?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The physician.
  • David Boder: What was his name?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Mengele.
  • David Boder: Mengele. Don't you know what happened to him?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Oh, Yes. I have heard he was captured.
  • David Boder: He was captured.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: He was [word not clear, may mean possibly 'executed']
  • David Boder: Yes . . . Now then . . . what happened to you?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Tho whole night I was in the bath . . .
  • David Boder: You said . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . At the station.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In the bath, and . . .
  • David Boder: You have seen the crematories at the station. Did the chimneys smoke?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They burned. There was a big fire [visible] from afar, and there was an uproar and screaming. We did not know what was going on. Such a smoke, it was horrible. This we are unable to describe.
  • David Boder: Did the smoke come from the chimneys?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. And outside there were also big fires, always.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was always seen from the lager, the crematories. They were not far.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We saw them day and night.
  • David Boder: What? The . . . the . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was always burning.
  • David Boder: And what fires were outside the crematories?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were outside large . . . because they were insufficient . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . Only about a thousand people could be burned at one time. So they made large ditches outside. The people were first gassed [gas-killed], then placed in these ditches and set to fire with petroleum, something like that.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But it was burning outside [in the open].
  • David Boder: And the smoke was visible?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Oh, always. And it was a very, very large fire. It was as high as the heavens. Incessantly transports were . . .
  • David Boder: Well, So the prisoners knew what was going on there?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . . what did you say about transports arriving . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Transports continued arriving from Hungary, more and more; because in Hungary there were one million Jews. And everybody outside of Budapest . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . was sent to concentration camps, and mainly to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Outside of Budapest. And in Budapest, where were they taken?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Budapest, too, very many people were caught on the streets, but a few saved themselves in spite of that.
  • David Boder: Yes. And among them was also your brother.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . . my brother.
  • David Boder: When did you hear for the first time from your brother?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I received a letter from England, from a woman who was married in England. And she communicated with me [about him]. I was in Bergen-Belsen after liberation.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was a great joy for me.
  • David Boder: Did you see him?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so we spent the whole night in the bath.
  • David Boder: In the bath?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In the bath. Also, first they cut our hair. And all, all pieces of clothing were taken away, and without socks. We were given a shirt, a bad dress, wooden shoes . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was very cold, the place in is Polonia, in Poland . . .
  • David Boder: In Poland, yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was . . .
  • David Boder: In what month was it?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In May.
  • David Boder: In May, but it was cold . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Very, very cold.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Especially at night it was terrible. Then at about six o'clock we were thrown out and we were counted . . .
  • David Boder: What does it mean, thrown out?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were always beaten, from the first minute the people were beaten.
  • David Boder: Who did that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: First of all there were SS men, soldiers, and SS women, with large sticks. 'Faster, faster, move on, run'. And afterwards there were also Jewish persons.
  • David Boder: Capos as they were called.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Where we women worked, there was, for example, a Slovakian woman. She would say to us: 'Ladies, you never will be ladies again'. That's how she greeted us, and laughed.
  • David Boder: [words not clear]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so it was going on [??].
  • David Boder: Yes, now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We got very bad pieces of clothing, made out of silk . . .
  • David Boder: Made out of what?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Of silk.
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was a silk dress, the material was silk.
  • David Boder: Silk?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: How come?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Bad, torn clothes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was very cold there. We had to wear something . . . [??] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And then we finally entered the lager.
  • David Boder: Now about that silk. Do you mean cotton or do you mean silk? [In English] Silk?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [In English] Silk.
  • David Boder: [continuing in German] Where did they get it?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The people, [as you know] have brought with them their bundles . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Up to fifty kilograms . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . we were permitted to take.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And there everything was taken away . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . And the better pieces were selected and sent away to Germany.
  • David Boder: And . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . And we were given the completely torn . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, these were not your own things . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, definitely no!
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And in the morning we finally . . . it rained, it was cold; everybody was crying, we were in despair and we had a terrible thirst, and . . .
  • David Boder: There was no water?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were not given any water. It was said that it was dangerous to drink, that there was t . . . t . . .
  • David Boder: That there was typhus . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: When we arrived in the morning we had to go to the counting lager, the so-called counting lager. We were counted at the gate, before the SS people . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . And we stopped at the kitchen and finally after two or three hours the block elders arrived and counted up thirty, forty people from our transport. And they took those people with them from this block [the words appear clear, but not the meaning]. We arrived in Block 17 . . .
  • David Boder: By that time your hair was already shorn off?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Everything was already [done].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were disinfected.
  • David Boder: Who did that . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Their hair . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The prisoner barbers.
  • David Boder: With electrical . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, no, no. With scissors.
  • David Boder: With scissors.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: With scissors or—that did not matter.
  • David Boder: Men or women?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Women.
  • David Boder: Women . . . Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And . . . I was in block 17 . . .
  • David Boder: Were you tattooed?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Afterwards . . . afterwards . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, you have a tattoo number?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . that is . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: A10421.
  • David Boder: . . . 10421. Does the [American] consul take note of these tattoo numbers?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, [a chuckle] but he says that means no preference [by itself].
  • David Boder: But he takes note of the number!
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: He writes it down?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: A ten thousand, four . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: .four hundred twenty-one.
  • David Boder: . . . twenty-one.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [two words not clear] I got it on my right hand.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was raining and the rain fell into the block. I was very cold,, I was very tired, and was unable to find a place [for myself].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were beds, such three levels . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . made of wood . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . And in all these beds there were about twelve people lying in one bed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Naturally when a new one would come they did not want to make room . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . because it was crowded already. The blankets were wet from the rain, because it rained through . . .
  • David Boder: How many people were in one bed did you say?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Ten, twelve . . .
  • David Boder: In one bed?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In one bed—without bedding; so if one had a blanket [a chuckle] it was instantly stolen.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So the block-elder came and made order, and I . . . and so I too, got a place.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I was immediately given something to eat . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was . . . I don't know what it was, but very bad . . . and it stunk badly. I could not eat it at all. The others who had arrived already a week ago were very hungry, and they told me right away, 'if you can't eat it, give it to us.'
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I gave it to them immediately. For two days I was unable to eat. Afterwards, I too, was very hungry. The new ones were not getting any bread at all.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: As long as they had not yet been registered.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It took three days . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I hardly ate anything for three days, and then after three days [chuckle] the soup tasted good to me.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was something [made] of oats.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Without vitamins, without vegetables . . .
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And twice a day there was a 'count appell'.
  • David Boder: A 'count appell'. And how was that [done]?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: A 'count appell' meant that the people in the lager were counted. In the lager C where I was, there were thirty-two thousand people. We had to get up early, it was still dark. A command went through the lager, 'everybody get up, get up. Fetch the coffee!'.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We got bitter coffee, very little. We had to drag the kettles from the kitchen . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and then we were all chased out into the washroom.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The washroom was rather large; bad, the facilities [?] were very small. We had to wash without a towel, without soap. We tore pieces from our shirts.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And with it . . . that was a . . .
  • David Boder: a towel?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . a towel.
  • David Boder: And what did you have on your head?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Nothing. That was strictly prohibited. Not a piece of blanket [to cover the shorn head outdoors—see story of Fela Lichtheim-Nichthauser]. That was [considered] sabotage. And nothing, and so we stood . . .
  • David Boder: Where was that, in Auschwitz?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: But the others . . . In some transports they were given something to cover their heads?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: With us it was prohibited.
  • David Boder: That was in Auschwitz. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In the washroom there were always bad fights. The lager capo would come; of course, the people coudd not wash themselves—everybody wanted to wash himself at the same time.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And they were just beaten. Then the appell would start. It lasted from about 5:30 to 8 o'clock, or half-past eight. We stood there; and when the number [of prisoners] was correct it was all right, otherwise we had to kneel another two, three hours, or . . .
  • David Boder: What does that mean, kneel?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The whole lager, [had to] kneel.
  • David Boder: You mean, to stand on their knees?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No.—Yes!
  • David Boder: Yes, like in a church?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. [There may be some misunderstanding. The prisoners were often ordered during appell to take a squatting position. See Matzner's story.] And the German SS women and men would come. They counted; at times they made mistakes, and then we were punished. The punishment consisted, that we would not get bread, or 'supplement' [food], or soup.
  • David Boder: What was that 'supplement?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The 'supplement' was for the bread. For instance, in the evening we were given twenty deca [about six ounces] of bread . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and with it there was a little piece of margarine, or a teaspoonful of marmalade, or a little piece of salami; or something like that . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . was the 'supplement'.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Not always . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . but still [we got it] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: And they, they would not give . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . would not give it, because they would not know . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, they were not sure . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They did not count right, and then we were punished for it. And the block-elder used to say, 'I don't want to see any sick.' That was [word not clear due to outside noise] when somebody got sick she was taken to the 'revier.'
  • David Boder: Aha. 'Revier' was the hospital?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . taken to the hospital, and often the people did not return from the 'revier'.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were removed at night in a black truck, without clothes, and they went to the crematory. So it was better to be 'well' even if one was half-dead [pause].
  • David Boder: Now, what were you doing?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Now we started to work. The first job for us was to carry bricks from one lager to the other lager. That was rather unpleasant—four pieces of bricks to hold straight . . .
  • David Boder: Why hold them straight?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: To march five in a line, with arms stretched out, and to hold them that way.
  • David Boder: Well, would it not have been easier to carry them differently?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The Gestapo demanded it that way—that we should carry them that way.
  • David Boder: That is how? Stretched out arms?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . arms, four . . .
  • David Boder: . . . four bricks.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . bricks.
  • David Boder: And then?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Three, four times.
  • David Boder: You were lined up in rows?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Always five in a row because the people had to be counted.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Always when we were leaving the lager, at the gate the SS counted us and wrote it down.
  • David Boder: Aha. Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And that was the first job—four, five walks [trips] from one lager . . .
  • David Boder: What was that necessary for?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Because they were always building new blocks, block-buildings . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . . And the bricks were carried without any carrying device?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. Only . . .
  • David Boder: With stretched out arms, and so you carried them.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . carried them, and without shoes, because we had no shoes at all. Or wooden shoes. And it was impossible to walk in those large wooden shoes.
  • David Boder: And you had the shoes from home?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The good shoes were taken away immediately—exchanged in the bath.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Those were the only things that they had permitted, the shoes. But the good shoes they have . . .
  • David Boder: . . . taken away?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . taken away. And it was always so muddy in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Muddy?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It always rained . . .
  • David Boder: It always rained.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and the shoes were 'kaput' [torn beyond use] in two, three days. The wooden [?] shoes too . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They, too, were 'kaput'.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was the first job. And in addition, three times a day, we had to carry something from the kitchen. In the morning, coffee—only coffee; midday, a soup; evenings, bread with the 'supplement'.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was . . . from that one could not die, neither could one live.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The lager was rather clean. At the beginning there were no lice, and we were disinfected. There was a delousing every month. But that was also very badly done, because we were compelled . . .
  • David Boder: How . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to stand the whole night through, outside and wait until we could get into the bath. And again the hair was cut, and that was . . .
  • David Boder: Now describe . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The clothes?
  • David Boder: Yes, the clothes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The clothes were really disinfected.
  • David Boder: Now will you describe how that delousing proceeded. How was that done?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The delousing took place in the washroom.
  • David Boder: Yes. It was . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Not in our lager, but in Auschwitz, because we were actually in Birkenau, up [hill?] Where the lager was located.
  • David Boder: You were in Birkenau?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. And below also, was Auschwitz, another lager.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But we were also in Auschwitz. There were lager baths for disinfection.
  • David Boder: There were not the same baths where the people were gassed [gas-killed]?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No . . . No . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: These were not the same.
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The clothes were immediately taken off . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and they were disinfec . . .
  • David Boder: . . . 'fected?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . disinfected and . . .
  • David Boder: What with?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: With a gas.
  • David Boder: With gas?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We didn't know [much about] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We didn't see it. That was also done by prisoners—by men.
  • David Boder: Yes. But you got back the same clothes?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, no . . . definitely not. That was . . .
  • David Boder: You never got back what you gave them?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . Just whatever would come out.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: One could not choose.
  • David Boder: Yes. And one did not have a [identification] number for one's own clothes?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were no one's own. Such [things] did not exist in Auschwitz. The number was never observed, you would always get another number [??] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and then clothes would also disappear, because some people would run and take out more pieces . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And then some would remain without clothes. And then everybody got a beating for it, naturally.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: After the disinfection [?], all blankets were disinfected, also the hair. That always lasted a [full] night.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And we stood without clothes . . .
  • David Boder: Where?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and in the morning . . . in the bathing hall, but it was never heated.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . And the water? Was that cold water?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Oh, it was a bit lukewarm, but it lasted for only two minutes [per person?].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We had to got very fast . . .
  • David Boder: What were these, shower baths or what?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, showers.
  • David Boder: Showers, Yes. Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so we were, unfortunately . . .
  • David Boder: Did they give you soap?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We got some there, very little—a piece of soap for about twenty [people].
  • David Boder: And what did you do then, soap each other?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, we had to.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So we would finally return to the lager, and then the appell would start again, the count-appell. Twice a day. In the afternoon it lasted until evening, until late in the evening. Then I was glad when the people were selected [screened] for work. So I got to another lager . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and there I succeeded in getting accepted for the kitchen. And I spent about four months in the kitchen. And the whole lager was emptied, about thirty-two thousand people. We did not know where these people were shipped, where they were going. We alone remained in the kitchen.
  • David Boder: That is, how many of you remained? There were thirty-two . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Birkenau there were about two hundred, two hundred fifty [thousand??; numberically these statistics are probably incorrect].
  • David Boder: Aha . . . , and thirty thousand people were selected . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . selected.
  • David Boder: And where were they taken?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was the lager [??]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were taken 'to transport,'—it was said 'to transport;' shipped out of Auschwitz. But I think very few actually got out . . .
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . of Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Aha. Where were the crematories, in Birkenau or in Auschwitz?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Birkenau, four, and Auschwitz also . . .
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were everywhere, everywhere.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the chimneys one always saw . . . with fire . . .
  • David Boder: Smoking?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, smoking, and fire . . .
  • David Boder: And the fire from . . . from
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . tall fires . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were tall flames.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: For instance, I had a girlfriend in the hospital, in the revier. She was already well, and the last day . . . she already wanted . . . she already hoped to get out of the hospital . . . she was gassed. The whole hospital was emptied out and let to the crematories. That was Auschwitz. But in spite of that some [people] have returned [from the hospital], because that was a great theatre.
  • David Boder: What does that mean, a 'great theatre?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I think it was just like a theatre ['demonstration unit,' see also page 40] because some [people] were left without legs. For instance, somebody there had one leg . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . So he remained alive. Mengele wanted to show that he permitted even such people to live. There were also a few children, a few . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . heads.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were all kinds . . . even a few were sent back from the hospital, so that we would think that our parents were alive . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . that our siblings are alive, only that they are somewhere in another . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . lager. For instance, if he would empty out a hospital he would say, 'I am taking these people to a sanitarium, because here the food is not good . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . neither is the air, so I must give them something better.'
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so . . . the people were taken to the crematory.
  • David Boder: Well, but the crematory was right nearby, it was known . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No . . . that was not . . . we never saw it. We only saw that the transports were departing, where to—we didn't know. There was always block 'shut-off.'
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The people . . . when a transport was departing, the whole lager had to be confined . . .
  • David Boder: In the block . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to the blocks, so that we did not know . . .
  • David Boder: Nothing [?] ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Nothing that happened there . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . Actually . . . in actuality, and that was . . . so I was in the kitchen. From the kitchen . . . the kitchen was dissolved [I do not use 'liquidated' because of the specific meaning of the term in the camp lingo] . . . the whole lager was dissolved . . .
  • David Boder: When was that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was in October.
  • David Boder: What year?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Forty-four.
  • David Boder: Forty-four . . . Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Then I got into another lager. I worked again, because I always wanted to work, because that was the best [to do].
  • David Boder: Which lager was that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was . . . first it was a Czech lager . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: From there the Czechs were all led into the gas [chambers]. When we arrived in Auschwitz [It is possible that she has confused the name, or else she used Auschwitz as a general term for 'lager.'] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was then a Czech lager . . . And afterwards it was completely empty [she is possibly confused about the course of events]. And in October . . .
  • David Boder: Were these Czech Jews, or Czechs [in general]?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Czech Jews . . . Czech Jews.
  • David Boder: Czech Jews, yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was a 'family lager.' It was interesting [a chuckle] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Women, men, and children were together . . .
  • David Boder: Were you ever in a family lager?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, I was not.
  • David Boder: But you have seen it?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I have seen it. But these people were se . . . 'selected' [sorted out]. The old, the children, were gassed [gas-killed].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . We heard that only the young had gone with the 'transport'.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Czech Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So the lager was empty. There we were taken from the kitchen—we were transferred . . .
  • David Boder: To the Czech lager?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to the Czech lager. There was also a large weaving mill in Auschwitz. So I worked at the weaving mill.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were weaving . . . we wove some war material.
  • David Boder: Aha. Go on . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was not hard but it was very unhealthy, because it was full of dust. We processed the old rags . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, you processed old rags?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and the capos were very bad—German prostitutes, women.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And they always cursed, 'Jew-pigs.' They beat [us] very, very much . . .
  • David Boder: How did the prostitutes get there?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were the capos. All criminals and gigolos and prostitutes—they were . . .
  • David Boder: The capos . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were [one word not clear], they were on top. They could beat, kill, and send to the gas; select mark some people for going into gas, and then they talked about it [make arrangements] with the SS men and SS women.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were not Jews. They were German Arians. There were many Polish and German Arians.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Also Russians.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were treated very badly, but in this weaving mill we were given 'supplement.' That means a half-loaf [?] of bread weekly and some 'supplement.'
  • David Boder: How much bread?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Half a bread; that is, about forty deca [about one pound] bread . . .
  • David Boder: Do you mean, forty deca bread additional?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Additional.
  • David Boder: Yes, and . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . a ration for the workers.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And at the end of the year the weaving mill was dissolved and I was assigned to the block [unskilled] labor detail at the Weichsel.
  • David Boder: At the River Weichsel?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: At the river. That was . . .
  • David Boder: That is Wisla, in Russian.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was in December.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The weather is, in general, very, very cold in December in Poland, and we were doing earth-work, the hardest earth-work at the river.
  • David Boder: What kind of earth-work? Fortifications?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Fortifications.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Trenches?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . . And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and the earth was frozen. We worked with large hammers, carted the earth with 'fuhren' [this word is not clear], and it was five kilometers away . . .
  • David Boder: Mit 'fuhren' [?]; Those are just small carts, isn't that so?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. But that is no work for women.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Altogether not for women. We did not eat all day, only evenings.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: When we returned to the lager we were given something warm. The shoes were very bad, and we walked daily five kilometers [to work] and five for the return. That makes ten kilometers.
  • David Boder: Aha. And then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And always, 'Faster, faster, run.'
  • David Boder: Is it true that you were singing when you marched?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, we did not sing. But a few had come who did sing.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We did not. There was always music in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: For the details the orchestra played already in the morning.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and the details went to work.
  • David Boder: And who . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And also when . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . people were led to the crematories, the music always played . . .
  • David Boder: Why so?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . The orchestra. That is why I say [chuckle] it was like a theatre.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Like about in Nero's time.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That, that was . . .
  • David Boder: Where did the music play . . . prisoners?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Prisoners.
  • David Boder: Men and women?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Men and women. That was a rather privileged position . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to belong to the orchestra, because they had better blocks [quarters] better clothes, and also better food.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . . What were they doing during the day when thery were not playing?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That I don't know.
  • David Boder: Were they free? Did they rehearse?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Possibly yes . . . rehearsed.
  • David Boder: And who was the conductor?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were interestingly [chuckle] selected for the concert.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There was a square where the prisoners . . . the music orchestra rendered beautiful concerts [chuckle] for us.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Instead of bread they gave us music. We got but a little [?] to eat.
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was the hardest period in Auschwitz for me—in the exterior detail [those who worked away from the lager] at the Weichsel. Very many people remained there. They were unable to march. They also froze.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They simply froze [to death?]. The clothing was insufficient, and to stand all day outdoors without food or drink. Many, many people have died there. Also the Gestapo have killed some people with the shovels. We worked with shovels, and . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . when we would come to work and were unable to move very fast, she beat us over the head with a shovel, with a hammer . . .
  • David Boder: Have you seen that yourself?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, of course.
  • David Boder: An . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [with a chuckle] I, myself, got it too, and did not die [chuckle].
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Others were beaten, and . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: For example, when we arrived, there was a certain hill that we could not walk down; it was frozen [slippery from the frost]. So the people were simply pushed down.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They would fall down. That's how they arrived . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to work, Afterwards I was picked for 'transport.' That was always, always very complicated . . .
  • David Boder: What does that mean, for 'transport?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . because we did not know what that meant.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: 'Transport'—we are going away from Auschwitz . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Somewhere . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and we shall work again.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But at times it meant the crematory.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Eight times I went through selection. The selection meant that we stood completely stripped and the physician of the lager would come and look us over.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the back . . . If we had the slightest thing on the skin . . . from [lack of] vitamins, vitamin eruptions, these people were instantly selected.
  • David Boder: What does it mean, 'vitamin eruptions?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: 'Vitamin eruptions' means . . .
  • David Boder: Vitamin? [The word before was not clear]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: But vitamins are something that are [good].
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Vitamin . . . You see, deficiency, avitaminosis.
  • David Boder: Oh, avitaminosis.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . . Yes.
  • David Boder: So when it appeared that one was deficient is vitamins . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . that one . . .
  • David Boder: For instance, beriberi.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, for instance . . .
  • David Boder: . . . the mouth is swollen . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, swollen.
  • David Boder: The gums are swollen, now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The tongue is swollen, and the legs . . . horrible,—large eruptions [boils]
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: From avitaminosis.
  • David Boder: Does one get that from avitaminosis?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, definitely. I have seen very many; and I, myself, had a bit of it but not a very large one.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Some had it on their backs . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So Mengele, the lager physician, would come and see it. He would say immediately, 'These are scabs. Scabby people must step aside.'
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There was also a scabby block.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the scabby block was naturally, sent to the crematory, and gassed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They would give them something against the scabs. And that was somewhat remarkable—that they would give some medicine. But in spite of that the people were gassed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So that the people should think that they would live . . . remain alive, and afterwards they were . . .
  • David Boder: Gassed.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . gassed. Yes.
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So I was . . .
  • David Boder: Tell us something about that selection. You say you went through . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes?
  • David Boder: . . . eight selections?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The selections . . .
  • David Boder: That means, you were told . . . what would they announce? What did they tell?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The block elder would come, 'Oh girls, now there will be some very fine work, and a good transport, and all of you should present yourselves for transport, because . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . it will be exceptionally good!
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Then there was a count appell again in the lager, a special one . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . a new count appell, and the SS people would come, and looked the people over. When . . .
  • David Boder: What does that mean? They made you strip altogether naked.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That varied.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: If there was a selection for . . . for the crematory, then we did not undress.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They just looked over the sicker, the weaker, the thinner people. They were pulled out. We had to form a kind of circle [?].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The people were not led out—counted again and led away. These . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . were designated for gas. But when the people were selected stripped, that meant that they were really being chosen for work.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In this manner I was selected for the kitchen.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Completely naked, and afterwards they took blood samples and various other things.
  • David Boder: And so the women were completely stripped, and who made the selections?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Completely naked. We held up our shirts in our hands.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So that he could see us well from all sides.
  • David Boder: And who was that . . . were there women physicians?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The lager physician . . . No, no, men! There were also SS women present.
  • David Boder: Yes. But how many men were present at such selections?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The physician and about two SS men. Not many, two or three.
  • David Boder: Yes. But these other SS men were not physicians?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, definitely not! Simply plain soldiers. We were [Footnote 2: The spool ends in the middle of the sentence, This spool appears to be oversize already. Possibly the additional three minutes of wire have been spliced on, or the current might have been slow.] . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] Spool 63 . . . Miss Irena Rosenwasser continues. Spool 62 has thirty-six minutes and has to be checked up.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now then Miss Rosenwasser, you were telling me about the selection for . . . of workers. Will you please again . . . will you please tell us again about it. [Aside] Speak a bit louder. [Test of microphone] Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The selection for work was such that the people had to take off their clothes, and the selection took place at night. And when the physician would . . .
  • David Boder: And when the physician of the lager . . . Yes . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . would find the people strong and healthy, they would really get assigned to a labor detail. And the others still remained in the lager and afterwards they were transported away somewhere.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Sometimes the selections were held for medical purposes as well. So the stronger people . . . blood was taken from the stronger people.
  • David Boder: Blood, for what purpose? For transfusions?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: For transfusions, for German soldiers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . but not for us.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There was a war, of course, and they . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . had to have blood. That was very bad because they would not give better food to people who gave blood . . .
  • David Boder: Did you, too, give blood?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No.
  • David Boder: And then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so at the end of the year I was quite fearful, because I, also, had been assigned to 'transport' . . .
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But that was a real transport. On the 21st of December we were sent to Bergen-Belsen.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were supplied with some food, and SS people accompanied us. Three days the trip la . . .
  • David Boder: lasted?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . lasted.
  • David Boder: Where were you? In what kind of cars were you?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were again in cattle cars.
  • David Boder: In what month and year was that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The twenty-first of December, [the RR-car] it was not heated . . .
  • David Boder: Did they tell you why you were going to Bergen-Belsen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were definitely not told where we were going. That was never made known in the lager.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The prisoners knew nothing—what that meant . . .
  • David Boder: Were you men and women, or women only?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No, only women.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Auschwitz the women, the men were separated. They were never . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . together. Only in the family lager [such as she described for the Czech Jews. Gypsies were also kept mainly in 'family lagers'], but I was not there.
  • David Boder: Tell me, how did the people behave in the lager, or here in the transport? The women towards each other? Were they more or less decent? How . . . how did all that proceed?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Well . . . a human being always remains a human being. Who was at home a good person, he remained the same in the lager. But . . .
  • David Boder: That is you opinion? Yes?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That is my opinion. But some [people] unfortunately, have forgotton. And they would say, 'I am holding on [?? She says this sentence in Yiddish as if imitating the speaker] so that I should hold out [pull through]; the others do not interest me.' For example, our block elder [a women] would say, 'I am a prisoner under protective custody. Nothing can happen to me. But to you—do you see the smoke [obviously a reference to the crematories]? I can have all of you sent there if you . . . '
  • David Boder: Was she Jewish?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes . . . would make sabotage.What was meant by sabotage?We were not permitted to tear the blanket, to take a little piece—because it was so cold—to wear it underneath, under the dress, or . . . When we were doing something not the way that she had ordered us, she always, always would tell us that she would send us into the gas.
  • David Boder: Then this was spoken about openly? They were talking about the burning . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Frequently . . . Yes . . . were talking frequently. And she would beat old women. And once I told her, 'How can she [you] beat such and old woman? That could be my mother, or her [your] mother.' So she looked at me and replied, 'My mother, too, was gas-killed. To me it is all the same.'
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so there were people without sentiment, mostly those who were in positions—the block elders, the capos, they . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . had no scruples anymore.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were already in the lager for three, four years; but there were also [among them?]very good and decent people. And they helped [us] a great deal.
  • David Boder: Capos?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Capos, and also . . .
  • David Boder: . . . others?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . others.
  • David Boder: Now . . . and so you arrived in Bergen-Belsen. Where is Bergen-Belsen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Bergen-Belsen is near . . . near Hamburg, Hanover.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Yes. In North Germany, North-west Germany.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now then.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We had it good in my transport, because we were not traveling on foot . . . on foot.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Others made the same journey in about a week on foot.
  • David Boder: They marched on foot for a week, yes?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: On foot. And very many were shot down, [because] they could not walk. They remained behind, so the SS would say, 'If you can't walk, then . . .
  • David Boder: . . . we shoot'?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . we shoot.' And they have indeed shot down very many. We arrived after three days in Bergen-Belsen. In Bergen, and from the city of Bergen we went on foot to the lager, Belsen. There, upon arriving, it appeared not to be so tough, not so bad. I thought, 'Here it will be much better than in Auschwitz.'
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Indeed, there was no discipline. During the first days there was no count-appell . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was a big surprise for us. But there also was no discipline and that was very tough, because the lager was full of dirt . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And on the third day I had lice already, and saw lice everywhere. And the food was steadily worse and less.
  • David Boder: In what year was that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: '45, in January.
  • David Boder: That was already when the Russians had reached Auschwitz?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to Auschwitz. From Auschwitz . . . [a few words not clear] remained there. The Russians liberated the few from Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But we got out of Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And we had destroyed the crematories before.
  • David Boder: Who destroyed them?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The prisoners, in Auschwitz. These were crematories where the . . .
  • David Boder: [both talk at the same time] they told to destroy . . . [?]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [Very excited, she begins to shout]. There were always details assigned . . . I was there one day, I worked there. I carried bricks, I carried wood, so I saw exactly how it looks.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. You worked one day in the crematory. When [was that]?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: When I was in the transport block.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Then we were given just a little bit of work every day, for which we were led out of the lager.
  • David Boder: Yes. Will you please describe that day for me? Describe for me the day when you worked there.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That day . . . it was in December.
  • David Boder: Yes. Cold?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was cold. But the crematory detail, assigned to destroy the crematory, was not the worst detail . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, your task was to destroy the crematory . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . it was destroyed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We haven't seen it at all. Only how it was. How they had all these inscriptions. For example, 'to disinfection.'
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: 'To the bathing room.' The people did not know all together what was going on. They thought it was a bath.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were benches for the clothing, there were even mirrors . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They told us the people even received towels when they came in . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Soap and towels and this way they were . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: These were very small gas chambers and they shoved the people into these . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and these were shower heads, showers, showers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, showers.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and no water came from the showers.
  • David Boder: Only gas.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And afterward when the door was opened . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . This was the crematory detail . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They would pull out the half-dead people, cut off their hair, pull out their gold teeth . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean, 'Half-dead people?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were not completely gassed—they were not yet . . .
  • David Boder: Who said that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That we personally heard from the men who had worked in the crematory detail.
  • David Boder: So they took out the half-dead people and cut their hair?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . cut their hair . . .
  • David Boder: But you told me the hair was cut off before.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But those who went to the crematory were not in the bath [she obviously refers to new arrivals, who were either assigned directly to the crematories or to the barracks. Only the later category went through the cutting of hair and disinfection].
  • David Boder: Ah.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . that was in the bath.
  • David Boder: Yes, yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was . . . was set up very precisely. Across the rr-station was the crematory.
  • David Boder: Yes, and there were . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So directly from the station . . .
  • David Boder: to the crematories?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . they were sent to the crematories.
  • David Boder: . . . to the gas chamber . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . either to the lager, or at selections they were taken to the crematories. That was a daily event, always . . .
  • David Boder: And then from the dead or half-dead people they cut off the hair . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The hair, and the gold teeth . . .
  • David Boder: Who pulled that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: These . . . these special commands. The prisoners, unfortunately.
  • David Boder: And they had to give that up [hand over the gold teeth to the SS].
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They had to do that. And the SS were, naturally, everywhere. The SS did not work, only the prisoners were . . .
  • David Boder: And what did they do with the hair?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The hair was used for military material—I don't know myself . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . but something was made of it.
  • David Boder: Yes, and . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And afterwards they were burned, and they would either burn [??] in four crematories, since there were very large . . .
  • David Boder: Ovens?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, ovens; or outside in the ditch, in ditches . . .
  • David Boder: But . . . Were they not first put to death? Or . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . still, for that they had no sufficient time. Transports arrived incessantly and they worked all day . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They didn't look much . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . how far dead they were. But the one day that we worked there, we were only destroying it . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It was in December, when the Russians came. We took from there the lumber into the lager . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They wanted everything . . .
  • David Boder: It should not be seen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: It should not be seen. There remained only one or two crematories, for the actual dead [who died a natural death?].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so, I was telling about our arrival in Belsen.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The first days in Belsen were not so bad, but afterwards I saw that in some respects Auschwitz was possibly better. Because there it was cleaner, there were no lice. And the food, though it was insufficient, one could not die from it. Belsen was much, much worse. Bread about once a week; once or twice we got no bread. That was the punishment, and always thinner and thinner pieces of bread. And the [portions of] soup became less and less. The lager was, so to speak, lice-ridden. It was full of lice, and shit [she uses the German vulgar equivalent]. There were no regualr work details, people did not work, and typhus broke out. I was there. There, too, was a weaving mill . . .
  • David Boder: Did you get anti-typhus injections?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Auschwitz I was in the kitchen . . . When I worked in the kitchen, they gave me . . .
  • David Boder: You received typhus injections, yes? [she possibly nodded]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So I worked again in the weaving mill, because I could not lie all day on the bed and look on at how people were dying. I went to work in the weaving mill. But they were unable to keep the weaving mill going, because more and more people got sick.
  • David Boder: In Belsen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Belsen. Afterwards [?] the lager was divided into separated parts [sections] The healthy . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . the healthy part and the sick.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Here there was no crematory. There was a crematory, but only for the dead [ not for the purpose of extermination].
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But it was not necessary. I think that as many people died here as in Auschwitz where the people were gassed. All day we saw from the weaving mill the big, big freight carts full of dead [bodies]. They were not covered. A coachman with a horse carted them . . .
  • David Boder: With a horse . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, [words not clear]
  • David Boder: And where were they taken?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Where? To the crematory, [to be] burned. They were dead.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were really dead. Afterwards when the lager-elder arrived from Auschwitz she ordered count-appells. For the half-dead people . . . count appells . . .
  • David Boder: Who was that? The . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [words not clear, possible a name] she was called. Also a Slovakian woman.
  • David Boder: Did you know the woman who afterwards was sentenced [to death] in Belsen, Erene . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, yes, yes. Irma . . . Irma Grese [See Fela Nichthauser-Lichtheim story].
  • David Boder: Irma Grese . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And Kramer . . . [he] was our lager commandant.
  • David Boder: Did you know Irma . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Grese . . .
  • David Boder: . . . Grese?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. I often was beaten by her.
  • David Boder: Would you please describe that woman. There are so many different reports . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . about her appearance.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Well, Irma Grese was rather young. I think she was about twenty-one years old. She was blond, well Germanic.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Very beautiful, just like an actress.
  • David Boder: Was she tall in stature?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No. About, say one hundred sixty-two . . .
  • David Boder: Pounds?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . centimeters [about 5 feet, 4 inches]
  • David Boder: Aha, one hundred sixty-two centimeters . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: centimeters. Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So. And she was always very trimly dressed . . .
  • David Boder: Was she taller than you?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: About the same height as I.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And always with a whip [crop], and revolver . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . walking around in the lager. And naturally, she looked around . . . where she could do a bit of cursing [?] and where she could beat up [somebody].
  • David Boder: Why was that so 'naturally?'
  • Irena Rosenwasser: She was a real sadist.
  • David Boder: Did she have a dog with her?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Dogs? But the SS always had large, very beautiful dogs. She often came with a dog [dogs]. And some people had large bites [wounds] from them. They [would bite] below, at the legs. In the lager Belsen, mostly at work the dogs were . . .
  • David Boder: Set on?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, set on the people.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Well, the Irma Grese was really terrible. She took part in all selections and she picked the people to go to the crematory. [This appears, on the surface, in contradiction to her previous statement that people were not directly exterminated in Belsen . . . A time factory is apparently operative. She may be reporting in part about things that happened before her arrival. See also Matzner's story].
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: What can I say about her? I think she was a [she stumbles at the word] fana . . . a fanatic.
  • David Boder: A very fanatic nature . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, a fanatic Nazi. [She believed] in Hitlerism. She also had a military insignia [of distinction].
  • David Boder: Aha. Did she sometimes, make any speeches?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Not big speeches.
  • David Boder: What would she usually say?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: She would deride us often, derision and so on. We had to take heavy rocks and run with them, and if one could not run fast enough, she would beat her with the whip. That was our sport—kneel and get up again—with the big, heavy rocks.
  • David Boder: Kneel with the rocks and get up again?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: To run for a distance with them . . . and . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and with . . . she always wore boots; and with the boots she trampled [kicked?] the people . . .
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Blood was always flowing in the lager; be it from the nose, be it from the ear, from somewhere it had to . . . they were beating in a manner . . . not just in a simple way, but always so that blood should flow.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That was Irma Grese. Kramer was a big, stout man, always with a cigar. He was not often in the lager, but whenever he came we were always punished.
  • David Boder: For instance . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [word not clear] no food [?], that was the greatest punishment.
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . no food. The blocks were not clean, he would say; or things were not in order outside; the people did not march properly five in a row, they did not march smartly, and we were immediately punished.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Belsen, Kramer made a big speech, that we shall be liberated . . .
  • David Boder: When?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In a short time, about in January.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That we obey the lager orders, . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and liberty is about to come. Irma Grese herself, told us when the English were already very near . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . that, 'I was very good to you, isn't that correct?'
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and, 'We shall all be liberated by the English, 'he said. [Pronouns are confused.]
  • David Boder: Oh, that is what she said?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I am very happy [words not clear]. Prisoners have come and have told us . . .
  • David Boder: . . . that the English were coming?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. So then he wanted to be very friendly and good to us. [It is reported by several sources that during the 'last days' the SS depended on information from secret radios which were in possession of prisoners in the lagers.]
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And so I worked in the weavery. The weavery was dissolved because the people were constantly sick. And in my block . . . I happened to get in a horrible block where there were a thousand people without beds, just lying on the bare floor, with the dead among the living. There was no food, and the lice . . . there were very many lice. Everywhere were lice. And I saw that was the end if rapid help did not come. It was . . . at the end I was in the so-called death detail. That was the most horrible detail, I think, that could happen in [one's] life.
  • David Boder: What was that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: All day we had to drag the dead out of the block. Daily there were about twenty, twenty-five dead, and we were compelled . . . there was a big mountain [of dead bodies], the dead could never be buried [on time] there were so many . . . big mountains, not like in other lagers . . .
  • David Boder: a bit louder . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: to drag across the dead, four or five people [to carry them]. We, too, were very, very weak.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But in spite of that, since we still got a double [portion of] soup . . .
  • David Boder: Oh. You got some extra soup?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But if we wanted to live we had to do that. It was [word not clear] in the lager. No water for two weeks. Afterwards there was no more butter [margarine]. Some butter was still [she is very excited] . . .
  • David Boder: Why was there no water?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Because they said that the water caused the typhus, and that is why all the water was blocked off.
  • David Boder: So what could people drink?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: To drink there was altogether nothing. That was very mournful when my girl friend next to me had died and had only pleaded, 'Erenka, [an endearing form of Erene] bring me some water, bring me water,' because she had 41 and 42 degrees [Centigrade] of fever . . .
  • David Boder: That was in the block, not in the revier?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were already all in the block, it was . . . the revier was . . . everywhere, before every block there were thrown out twenty-five, thirty dead. And so there was no order, there was no more bread; altogether no more bread was given, only a bit of soup . . .
  • David Boder: Well, when you carried out the dead, could you wash yourselves?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No . . . that was [the trouble]., that we ate with the same [dirty] hands and without water. In general, there was no water. Some people [of the death detail] have died from infection, of course. And so . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . the lucky ones; for instance, I remained alive. The strongest, the most beautiful have died [this sounds like a strophe from the Ancient Mariner]. I had a girl friend, eighteen years of age. We were in Auschwitz and everywhere together, and in Belsen she died one day before liberation After liberation the situation was not better, because . . .
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . the forces of occupation brought food, but army food. Canned food, again hard to digest.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Greasy soup. The people were badly starved, they ate fast, and became still more sick. I think that after liberation another thirty thousand people died . . . after liberation . . .
  • David Boder: After liberation?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: How many do you estimate, were altogether in Belsen when . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In Belsen . . . In Belsen it is impossible . . . one cannot estimate at all because from all lagers people were brought to Belsen. Very many died. But daily transports arrived. So it is altogether impossible . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to estimate . . .
  • David Boder: But at a given time, how many people were there in Belsen . . . at a given time?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: That I don't know . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In general we were . . . we also could not conceive [realize, embrace the idea] that the English were coming.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We were all so sick. I, too, was [sick]. I had 41 degrees of fever . . . [Centigrade]
  • David Boder: Oh, you yourself got sick?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I did not lie down [??].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Not for a moment was I lying down . . . It is interesting, I know that I was sick because first of all a girl friend told me that she couldn't sleep next to me because I was so hot. My hair afterwards fell out; and all who had typhus have lost their hair.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The ones that laid down never got up. The lice ate them alive. [In these barracks, according to other sources, there was hardly any room to lie down. The prisoners slept sitting on the floor back-to-back.]
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Now then, we were liberated.
  • David Boder: Now . . . tell me, how did the liberation come about?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We did not notice much of the liberation [??]. We could . . . we did not go around much in the lager. Everywhere the roads were full of dead. They were sitting with their small . . . what are they called, bowls . . . ?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . for soup [?]; and so they have died.
  • David Boder: . . . and so they died with their bowl of soup?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They were . . . nobody buried them, nobody carried . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . then away. No patrols [?] waled through the lager. And we were all so apathetic . . . I noticed [the liberation because] the Germans were not at the gate anymore.
  • David Boder: They had disappeared?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They had disappeared. And a few soldiers . . . also the Hungarian soldiers who were in Germany, appeared with white ribbons.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So I asked one of the soldiers why he wore a white ribbon . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . So he told me that he didn't know anything.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: We didn't know. We only knew then, when we saw the English in uniform, with tanks . . .
  • David Boder: They entered . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They entered. I remember that I saw the commander of the lager, Kramer, with—I think, [name not clear] or Eisenhower was there.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I don't remember for sure . . . And he showed [them] the lager, to those gentlemen. He stood in the automobile and showed them his labor.
  • David Boder: Kramer?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The many [?] dead . . . Yes, Kramer. He said that he wanted to help but that he had no means and could not do anything else.
  • David Boder: You have then . . . Oh, yes, Kramer was afterward hanged.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes, in Duna . . . [?] was the trail.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Grese, and Kramer were there, and a few SS were hanged.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Such was the liberation. The English came afterwards and really disinfected us; not like in Auschwitz but with a powder which was [word not clear] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. With DDT.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the sick, the gravely ill . . .
  • David Boder: How did they do that? The powder . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So, with a . . .
  • David Boder: . . . with sprayers?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes. It was very pleasant. The lice disappeared immediately. They reappeared afterwards again, and again we were given of the same . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . the powder. And so it became better from day to day . . . First of all, I cannot describe what the conditions were like in the lager. There was no toilet. Everything [was done] in the open [word not clear] the whole block was in such a condition, because in typhus one has terrible diarrhea.
  • David Boder: Yes. Which kind was that—typhoid or spotted typhus?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: There were both.
  • David Boder: Both typhuses. And the diarrhea . . . and there were no toilets.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No toilets. And the block was full of it, the yard and everywhere, everywhere.
  • David Boder: And who removed all that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The SS people. The English brought the SS afterwards and they put the place in order. And they afterwards dragged the dead, not we, not the death detail.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [a chuckle] We, too, were half-dead . . .
  • David Boder: Did you talk with the SS? How was that, then? [??]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Not at all. The men, the people from the lager have thrown rocks, but the English told us that was not our business.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And the SS women worked afterwards, we saw that. And they had the dead . . .
  • David Boder: . . . removed?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: removed. [There is not an iota of satisfaction or enthusiasm in her voice. She sounds weak as if the indifference and exhaustion of those days have come again over her.] Add there is a cemetery, a large cemetery, in Bergen-Belsen. And we were transported to a different lager, to a new lager, where the SS themselves, had lived. Large buildings, healthy buildings, with windows . . .
  • David Boder: Near Bergen-Belsen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Near . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Near Belsen, at the station.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Near Bergen-Belsen. There it was much, much, better. A larger kitchen . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: A clean kitchen. We got clothes, food . . .
  • David Boder: Who brought that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: The American Joint Committee was there. Jewish [?] relief and the British Red Cross, various big organ . . . organizations. They supplied all the people with clothing, the best . . . good . . . the best food . . .
  • David Boder: Did you have beds for yourself then? [chuckle]
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Everybody. One person in each bed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: But unfortunately many, many died afterwards from exhaustion. They could not . . . they were . . . For example, some were [weighed] twenty-five kilograms [about fifty-five pounds]. I was [weighed] thirty-five kilograms. Now I am [weigh] fifty-five, so I have gained twenty kilograms.
  • David Boder: Well, you don't look too stout [chuckle].
  • Irena Rosenwasser: No [chuckle].
  • David Boder: Now, tell me where did you go then from Bergen-Belsen?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I worked.
  • David Boder: Where?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: In the Army Post Office, British post office, because I speak a bit of English.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And French, various languages, and . . .
  • David Boder: Did they pay for the work?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: They paid something, in marks . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . in military marks. And we got cigarettes, and packages, those [words not clear] gift packages [?]. That was very pleasant. And it was nice work, in general, to forward the letters for the people. With the military mail we have . . .
  • David Boder: done that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . done that.
  • David Boder: And then . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And then I stayed in Belsen. I worked there until October, and in October, traveling with a convoy of the American Joint [Distribution Committee] from Bergen-Belsen through Belgium, I arrived in Paris.
  • David Boder: Why didn't you return to Hungary?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Because I knew, I have nobody there to look for [voice fades].
  • David Boder: A bit louder.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: You know . . . that unfortunately I have no business there; because my brothers were lively [active] young people and they . . . we knew already . . . I was in Belsen from the fifteenth of April when we were liberated, until October . . . and I did not receive any word. And many have returned again from Hungary, they were in Hungary and have come back . . .
  • David Boder: Now what does that mean? They went from Belsen to Hungary . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . went to Hungary . . .
  • David Boder: And then they returned . . . ?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . and then they returned, because they found nobody there and had only terrible worries.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Difficulties and worries, and they have decided to emigrate, and from a lager that was . . .
  • David Boder: . . . easier?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . easier.
  • David Boder: And then how . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: When they returned, I wrote immediately and I received word that, unfortunately, nobody of my family was home.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: So there was no purpose for me to return, because I, too, wish to emigrate to America, and have received an affidavit already in Belsen . . .
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: . . . to go to America, and on that basis I have come to Paris.
  • David Boder: Oh, You are in France for the first time?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I was never in France before. In a week I found employment, a position here with the Joint, and since then I work here.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: And I am waiting to emigrate. [There are a few words aside of . . . the microphone. There is apparently a reference to Los Angeles]
  • David Boder: You will have to look up my daughter. She is a physician there.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Aha . . .
  • David Boder: And her husband is a physician. She is Dr. Boder.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Boder . . .
  • David Boder: My name, too, is Boder.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Could you possibly, give me the address?
  • David Boder: Give me your address.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Yes.
  • David Boder: [In English] Now then, this concludes the interview with Erene [Irene] Rosen . . . Rosenwasser, Spool 63. The beginning is on Spool 62, Paris, August 22, 1946. Would you say it in English, your address -- the address of your uncle in Los Angeles. Will you say that?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: [first name not clear] Golder . . . Goldberger, 2417 [?] Street, Calif . . . Los Angeles 33, California.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . All right.
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I graduated from the Gymnasium, passed my 'Maturity Examination' [a special European degree].
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Irena Rosenwasser: Afterwards I studied [term designates university training], but I did not complete my training.
  • David Boder: What did you take up?
  • Irena Rosenwasser: I took up Latin literature and history.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder