David P. Boder Interviews Roma Tcharnabroda; September 24, 1946; München, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] Munich, September the 24th, at Deutsches Museum, the UNRRA University. We are going to interview now a Polish-Jewish girl, a student, Miss Roma Tcharna— . . . Tcharnabroda, of whom . . . who has lost both of her legs in a concentration camp. That is, she suffered from frozen legs, and they were amputated three days after the Americans came to liberate them. We are going to . . . I am passing the microphone to Roma.
  • David Boder: [In German] . . . and so Miss, it is Miss or Mrs?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Mrs.
  • David Boder: Is your husband here?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Lost
  • David Boder: You have lost your husband, you are then a widow.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now then Mrs. Tcharnabroda, will you please tell me where you were, and what happened to you when the war started.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In 1939 I was in Poland. Then when the Germans approached, my husband was subject to the draft and was a physician. So he was called to service.
  • David Boder: In what city of Poland were you?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Kielce.
  • David Boder: Kielce?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes
  • David Boder: Is this the city where they recently had the pogrom?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes
  • David Boder: Now go on
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: go on . . . Then my husband . . . he had to go with the army. However he was not enlisted, but received orders to, to move on eastward. I, as a "sister," because in the gymnasium we also completed courses . . .
  • David Boder: Then you were a nurse, a . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, my training was only from the gymnasium, what we completed in the gymnasium . . .
  • David Boder: but as a nurse
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, but one of those who are being called in emergency.
  • David Boder: Yes. A kind of nurses aid
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes . . . aids
  • David Boder: Yes, [in English] a cadet nurse.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so we both traveled east, in the eastern direction towards Lemberg.
  • David Boder: Do you also speak Yiddish?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Very badly [laughter]
  • David Boder: Then speak German.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. Also in the direction of Rovna. And then from Rovna—the Russians were already there. And then we traveled to Lemberg and from 1939 until 1941 I was under the rule of the Russians—in Lemberg.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In 1941, the Germans arrived in Lemberg. I sat through all the pogroms which took place in Lemberg right from the beginning. That means, from the first day when they arrived, and Brezizky [??] the prison, the famous prison was opened. The Germans have ascertained that there were many corpses, and that the Bolsheviks, before retreating have committed many atrocities, that is they had many . . . for example have cut off the legs, etc.
  • David Boder: And Bolsheviks did that?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: That's what the Germans said, that Bolksheviks had done that.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: But a committee of physicians, of Polish and Ukrainian physicians, who entered together with the Germans the Brezizky prison, made the remarks that the corpses, on the corpses no blood was visible at the cut off limbs. They even observed very "comic" situations, that when a part of the body is cut off from a living [person], blood is visible. But on these people no blood was visible, so apparently that was done after they were dead.
  • David Boder: And how did the dead get there?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: These were prisoners who were left behind in the prison when the Bolsheviks departed.
  • David Boder: And then who shot them.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: These were massacred apparently, by the Germans themselves.
  • David Boder: If the Germans themselves had massacred them, then they could have cut off the legs and hands immediately, then blood would have been present?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, it is possible that the bombs and the fragments of grenades which fell there, at the time when the Bolsheviks departed, as well as during battle, that [?] could happened.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, and so it was perfectly clear that they have arranged it so.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so, as reprisals, pogroms were perpetrated against the Jews. Naturally.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The Jews had to pay.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then took place the first incidents when the Jews were dragged away to Bielsetz. The first extermination camps were then installed. One had no idea
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: about creamatories.
  • David Boder: Now will you please tell me all about what happened to you.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: to me . . .
  • David Boder: . . . to you, what happened to you [a few words not clear]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Also in 1941 when the Germans arrived I was in a lager of Yanovska street, a labor lager . . .
  • David Boder: You mean the Germans put you . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, drafted for a labor lager . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, and where was your husband?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: My husband too was in Lemberg, and he too was in the labor camp.
  • David Boder: Go on . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Then I . . .
  • David Boder: In the same lager?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In the same lager that was a labor camp.
  • David Boder: Were you able to see him?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. Then I could still see him.
  • David Boder: Continue
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Then I ran away from the labor lager and from my husband too. And we arrived "on the black" in the Governor's General District.
  • David Boder: What does it mean "on the black"?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: "On the black" means without permission of the German authorities.
  • David Boder: Where did you arrive?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Near Kielce in a small town, to Nielpe [??]
  • David Boder: Yes. Why do you call it the "Governor General's district"?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Because then they established already the term "Governor General's district."
  • David Boder: So. Continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then from the Governor's . . . I then, I spent a few months in the Governor's General district, that was at the end of 1941, 1942, and then the deportations began.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: My Polish friends, when things started in Warsaw, so the Polish friends came to me and said: you all go in the "smelt"
  • David Boder: They were all in Warsaw.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, that was in a little town in the environs of Kielce . . . of Kielce . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, and what did the Polish friends say, "you all go in . . . "
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The Jews of Warsaw go all to the "smelt"
  • David Boder: What does that mean, to the "smelt."
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: To the smelt that is a German term: all go into the oven.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The Jews from Warsaw did[not]know yet anything for sure . . .
  • David Boder: But these, the Poles knew already, because they knew where all these transports . . . Yes
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . with Jews came from. And so I obtained Aryan papers, and fled to Warsaw. I was on the Aryan side until the end of 1942.
  • David Boder: The Aryan side means outside, outside . . . ?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Outside of the ghetto.
  • David Boder: Yes. Outside the ghetto, yes
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: At the end of 1942 I was compelled to enter the ghetto.
  • David Boder: How come? If you had Aryan papers . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes . . . because there was an entirely special strata in Polish society which occupied itself with betraying of the Jews, very simple.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. And then simply I was compelled . . . I was robbed of everything and I was compelled to go to the ghetto.
  • David Boder: Hm
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . naturally without a penny. That was after the so-called first deportation from Warsaw. The Warsaw ghetto was already then very small. According to statistics it had only fifty thousand Jews. But some were still in hiding and there probably were more. I went through the second deportation in 1943, in January. Then there were the so-called "Value Conservation Installation," that was a Germany Company; it occupied itself with sorting out of all the things that remained after the Jews.
  • David Boder: What was it called, "Value . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Value Conservation
  • David Boder: Value . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Conservation
  • David Boder: Conservation
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: That was a German Company?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. And the Jews were compelled to work there. It so happened that I worked on this installation.
  • David Boder: And what were they doing there?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: What were they doing . . . they were sorting . . . bed linen, and such clothes, each
  • David Boder: and where did they get it?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: From the ghetto proper. There was a big store-house of all the things that remained behind.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so. There I went through the second deportation. There still remained people in Warsaw. May I tell something about those people in misery, whom I have seen . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, yes, yes. What you have seen, you should tell.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so. During the actual deportation, troops were taken from us "for work." That means I entered a room where an old woman was lying on a bed. She held in her hand a card; she apparently wanted to show that she was occupied somewhere. And with this card in her hand and her mouth open, she was shot. The cry of death was still "glaring"[?]from her face, and the open mouth, the last outcry . . . one should not forget it. Then we came, we saw the most varied scenes, which are completely indescribable, because this could last for long hours. The Jewish police has gathered together the bodies, which we still saw, saw them at work. The streets were full of blood.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, bodies that you had seen, or people that you had seen?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: With bodies of people, because they were shooting during the march. All the columns which were led to the square, now the name of the square, that I have already forgotten.
  • David Boder: Yes, go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The square, that was a siding that led to the railroad. And from there all transports were sent to Treblinka.
  • David Boder: Where is Treblinka?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Treblinka is eastward from Warsaw.
  • David Boder: How far about.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: A three hour trip.
  • David Boder: Hm. Near what city is it.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: What city . . . towards Bialystok, in the direction of Bialystok.
  • David Boder: Yes, now continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. We had then already the first attempts at resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto . There were cases of shootings but not yet coordinated. The organizations worked, but it was not yet, the work was not yet coordinated, and the help from outside was very small. Second—we knew only one thing—that the struggle was lost. We are a last platoon that must die. At that time they took the children, the children's home where the [rather ] famous Jewish . . . Jewish educator had worked. The Child of Poland—is his work.
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I have forgotten his name too . . .
  • David Boder: Continue
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. The children were taken. The way in which the children were taken was also interesting. The Germans SS entered and gave the children chocolate, so that the children [would]be willing to go. The management of the hospital . . . of the childrens home went with them. There were even attempts to demand the release of a few. But they would not accept the demand. They would not accept the demand for release.
  • David Boder: That means to return [the children]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, the release . . .
  • David Boder: Of the children or of them?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The management. The management of the Jewish children's home.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: went with them . . . also then many went. Many however still remained. We were still needed for work. Not everything was yet in order. And so we continued working for a couple of months. In March came the last deportation. That was the day of the Jewish holiday, Easter, Pesach. And so we continued working for a couple of months. In March came the last deportation. That was the day of the Jewish holiday, Easter, Pesach. And so before Pesach.we were given a large [allotment]. That means a food allotment, a larger one, so that we should be more calm. The [first] . . . at night, at two o'clock, the signals were passed: "yes, there comes again a deportation." The Ghetto was surrounded with various collaborators of the German SS. The "deportation" started.
  • David Boder: And the Collaborators, who were they?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Ukranians, Lithuanians.
  • David Boder: Nu . . . go on
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And there were many Ukrainians from Russia who changed over to the side of the Germans.
  • David Boder: Now will you tell us . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Now about the deportation itself . . . that is the burning down of the ghetto and the revolt of the ghetto.
  • David Boder: That we have. That has been
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, that you have
  • David Boder: . . . described.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, also continuing . . .
  • David Boder: Not that I am not interested, but my train leaves to-night.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: I want to know more about you . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . from the lager
  • David Boder: Now were you deported, and what happened to you later.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Deported—to Majdanek. The first transport during the last deportation went to Treblinka.
  • David Boder: [In English] It is here . . . as I said before an interview at the university where I am forced to interview a certain number of students. I therefore have to give them a limited time. That is the first time in my procedure that I am doing it and am therefore insisting to get the personal story of Mrs. Tcharnabroda, to skip the possibly very important personal story about the ghetto and about the transportation to the concentration camp.
  • David Boder: [In German] And so you were in Majdanek?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so the first transports went to Treblinka. The last, I was in the last, went to Majdanek.
  • David Boder: And where was your husband?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Always with me, together, to Majdanek.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: First we got to the airfield Plaza Lashkevich.
  • David Boder: Have you no children?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. First we were taken to the airfield Plaza Lashkevich, that is near Lublin. There, at this airfield, we already . . . the men were taken in another direction, and we in another direction. It was then that I lost the husband.
  • David Boder: Oh. Did you ever hear from him?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Then we were . . .
  • David Boder: How does that stand up legally and officially? Are you recognized as a widow?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: How come, in spite of that you . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Because I had received later a message that he was sent to Travniki, and Travniki was so annihilated that not a single witness had remained.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [pause] Then, the next day we were taken to Majdanek. That is two kilometers on the Kelmer [??] road, that is the read to Kelm [??]. We were led two kilometers along that road under guard [??] of the SS. That means that for every five women, four SS were marching along, [laughter] with their arms.
  • David Boder: For every five women, or for every five rows?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Five women.
  • David Boder: . . . four SS.?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Four SS were marching along, with arms.
  • David Boder: Now continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Of course we did not know, where we were going. We thought that straight into the ovens. We . . .
  • David Boder: How come, did you know already that such things are happening.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, then we knew that it happens.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . because many had already escaped from Treblinka.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Also, then we arrived there, first to the bathing installation. Then in the bathing installation they proceeded with a selection.
  • David Boder: Describe that, how was that done.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: That means that there came an SS—man, and . . . we were completely naked . . .
  • David Boder: and this SS was a man not a woman . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. Men, women also, but men with dogs.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then they simply looked us over, like animals; looked into our teeth, tested our muscles simply with their hands. And the dogs barked, and then some [people] the older women and the sick were pushed to one side. These did not come out anymore from the bath house. Afterwards we were bathed, and we were . . .
  • David Boder: In the same bath house?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. But the bath house was divided in two parts. This was the old crematory. The new was not yet ready. That we ourselves constructed.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And so there . . . these never came out from there. We had our turn in the bath house, bathed, then we were given other clothes, everything was taken away. In addition we were told that we should conceal nothing, because we shall be gynecologically examined.
  • David Boder: Men did that?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: And . . . [not clear]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Some women, out of excitement, that they were standing for the first time completely naked [she giggles] before men [?] became hysterical. They cried terribly. But among us were such [women] who said: If they are not ashamed, why should we be ashamed. And so, later we were given other clothes . . .
  • David Boder: Did they cut off your hair?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . No . . . rags of course and we were sent off to Field 5. That is the renowned extermination field[Footnote: It is obvious that in an extermination camp, hair serves a purpose as a cultivating media for lice—[the main carriers of typhus—DPB.] There were . . .
  • David Boder: In what year was that?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: 1943, March [Her voice sounds like a military command] And so . . . in this extermination camp, the first days everything was almost excellent. We were told everything will be allright. A propaganda was even conducted that we are going not in the ovens, but that we are here for work etc. They even brought in women with children. Among the women and children there were two barracks, which represented the so called quarantine, quarantine. Then we were naturally assigned boards and [word not clear]
  • David Boder: What?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Boards, in the barracks
  • David Boder: to sleep on . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. The first days it was not so bad. Then it began. They have received orders to beat more, because too few of us were dying. The contingent of dead was too small, Right the first days. Then the sickness of diarrhea [?]. From this sickness very many died. Why? [??]—[in a positive tone] the Jewesses were not permitted to come to the revier.
  • David Boder: . . . hospital?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . to come to the hospital. For the Jewesses it was only one thing: healthy or dead. No revier, no sick . . . no help for the sick. There were also Polish women. They came from Warsaw, from Paviak [?] from the prison, political [prisoners]. And they were helping us.
  • David Boder: What does it mean Polish political prisoner?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Political prisoners, that means no such that were simply picked up on the street. But such who for politics [were] taken to the Paviak prison and later sent away to Majdanek. These were helping us. That means they brought us medicines, which were simply stolen from the revier, and they gave us [?] various medicines. Later is started, that every week there was a selection [the spool becomes noisy and in places indistinct]. The SS[?] for that selection [here is an empty streak on the reproduction and it should be checked with the original. It is also possible that we have turned away from the microphone. I apparently asked her about stoppage in menstruation].
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . about 90%. Right after we arrived in the lager we all stopped menstruating.
  • David Boder: How was that explained?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The German physicians explained it was due [??] to excitement, and also due to absence of men.[Footnote: There were various "medical" legends in the lagers and in the DP camps.—DPB.] Such was the explanation of the physicians. We were unable to detect whether there was something in the food or not. Of course we were too exhausted from the journey [?] to be able to notice, what was going on. At any rate up to 90% lost the menstruation.
  • David Boder: And how long did that last.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: For some it was forever, for some, for quite a few it has returned.
  • David Boder: After liberation?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, after liberation. After nine, ten months. Also in Majdanek. [?] Each week begins with a selection, that means the theme in Majdanek was completely obvious [?]. We spent sixteen hours in the open air. We were not permitted to enter the barracks during the day. That means even if it rained or anything we had to stay outside. We could not enter the barracks—for full eighteen hours. Only eight hours . . .
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . eight hours in the barracks.
  • David Boder: What kind of work were you doing.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. I must tell you still about the climate. Such was the climate. It was windy, and then again sun. And it burned very hot [?] so that the legs would swell, and at that time during selection he looked only at the legs: whether they were swollen or not. So that many completely healthy and strong women, only because their feet were swollen—were compelled to go into the oven. [With didactic expression] And then exactly every week, a whole transport went into the oven. The SS man stood there eating candy bonbons. And, with the bonbon in his mouth, he pointed, this one to the right, and this one to the left. And what that meant—we knew already.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 155 [B] with the interview of Ms. Roma Tcharna— Tcharnabroda. In spite of . . . [spool ends abruptly]
  • David Boder: Munich, September the 24th. We are working . . . we are working under very great pressure. I am leaving tonight and it's four o'clock. The Senate of the UNRRA University, the International University of displaced people is expecting that I will attend a short meeting of theirs; and I have here a most interesting interviewee, Ms. Roma Tcharnabroda.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: After this selection, a few hundred women disappeared from the warehouse. In the evening we saw a big fire and the next day, the whole day we felt the smoke of burning flesh.
  • David Boder: Were they burned in the oven or in the crematoria?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In the creamatories. And then—the creamtories were not yet completed. For that reason they gas-killed them in the bath house, and then they laid the bodies out in the field. There was a big ditch in the field, such as in a [word not clear] and there they were burned. For that reason we every week right after the selection, we observed a large square fire, and then we "felt" the smoke of burned flesh.
  • David Boder: That was in Majdanek
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then
  • David Boder: How do you spell Majdanek?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Maj-da-nek. M-a-j-d-a- . . . that is known—Majdanek
  • David Boder: Yes, I know
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Maj-da-nek
  • David Boder: . . . nek. Continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then a few days later, we would go as a working crew to that place, and carried the ashes into the fields. The fields of Majdanek are now fructiferous, from the ashes of the burned people, Now then . . . these selections were insufficient. They had to present us with another spectacle, and that was the hanging in Majdanek. It was supposedly as punishment for escape, allegedly some had attempted to escape. That was also not true. Because it was impossible to imagine that such a thing could be attempted there.
  • David Boder: Were there women and men, or . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Women. I am speaking about the women's field.
  • David Boder: And women were hanged?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now what . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: A . . . that happened . . . that was soon . . . two months . . . March . . . April, May, in May, a woman was brought in. She must have . . . all at once we noticed that in the middle of the field some- thing was standing. We really did not know what it meant. And so they had . . . what do you call it?
  • David Boder: The gallows . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: the gallows erected, and this woman . . . we all had to stand for appell, we stood forming a square, facing the gallows, and then . . . the woman was compelled to fetch the chair herself. She stood upon the chair and then the SS man asked: what would be her last wish.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I stood then very near. She said she had no wish from the Germans. So he asked her whether she regretted her deed. So she said, she was not attempting to escape, because that was absurd. But if she only had a chance, she would have done it. She regrets nothing at all, because life at any rate has no worth, and she dies readily. But to slap him in the face, she probably was too weak. She died calmly without a single outcry. That woman was twenty three years old. Then we had to stand as punishment,—we don't know what for—but as punishment we had to stand and look at the dead [woman] for three hours. When the appell was over . . .
  • David Boder: Who performed the hanging?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: An SS man. He . . .
  • David Boder: Did she suffer much?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. He only swung the noose around her neck and pushed the chair away with his foot.
  • David Boder: Did he first cover her face?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. She died with open eyes.
  • David Boder: So you saw the dead woman afterwards and the face of the dead woman?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I stood for two hours afterwards, directly in front of her at a distance of about ten meters.
  • David Boder: How did she look?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Perfectly calm. Her hands were stretched downward and folded.
  • David Boder: And her face?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . her face downward, fixed like this [one word not clear] looking downward and perfectly alm as if she would have been . . . no, perfectly calm as if she slept.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Afterwards we had to stand for several hours and look at the dead. When the appell was over we did not go away. There were at that time twenty thousand women at the appell.
  • David Boder: Twenty thousand . . . ?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [emphatically] . . . thousand women, prisoners, for appell.
  • David Boder: Now how do you know the number?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [irritated] It was . . . we carried numbers.
  • David Boder: But not all were there. Many were annihilated . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, sure, but how many . . . few were missing because every day they take count.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And each block was counted.
  • David Boder: And you knew how many there were?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I know exactly. [emphatically] There were over twenty thousand in the lager at that time. We all remained standing, without having agreed upon. We all remained standing for several minutes. The SS even thought [giggling] that we had attempted a revolt. We only remained standing to honor the dead [woman]. And even all [of us]. That time there were already Russian [women], Polish [women] and Jewesses. And all remained standing like dead after the end of the appell. Afterwards it started . . .
  • David Boder: Did you not have there a clergyman, a rabbi?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Where?
  • David Boder: . . . to give the woman the last rites?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Oh God, the SS does not recognize, did not recognize any clergy. They had torn down from the Polish women all the medallions, and all such objects; they said, "Here one needs no God any more."
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: 'God won't help you anyway:
  • David Boder: You see I do know it, to be sure; but I am asking it for my American friends . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [laughing] Yes, they know very little about this [laughter]
  • David Boder: Now continue.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Interesting, a chapter by itself is the qurantanne, the quarantanne where . . .
  • David Boder: the quarantine?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: the quarantine, the quarantine, yes, where there were women with children. There were no multiple level plankbeds, because the children could not climb up there. All children were lying on the floor. We were not permitted there, but we wanted to see what that really was. So at times we would enter with one cleaning detail to sprinkle around the chlorine. And the children were lying on the floor and it was full of excrements, because the children could not step out at night. And a child does not look out. In hell one does not see such sights as one has seen there. Dirty, hungry children, like animals, everything, they all looked. And then one "nice" morning, all the children with . . . with their mothers were taken in such a vehicle, in automobiles, a few automobiles, arrived, they were all taken [to] the creamtory and that was all. Then they brought into the quarantine Greek Jewesses, [didactically] two hundred women from Salonika. These were brought from Auschwitz. We could understand each other very little, because they spoke only Greek.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . they spoke Greek. Some of them understood Hebrew.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And with these one could communicate a bit. After a month, these too had disappeared from the lager. The quarantine came to an end. The two hundred Greek women from Salonika were killed in Majdanek. Then they brought in Russian women, Russian [women] from Smolensk, from that district, from that region. This was a part.
  • David Boder: Russian Christian women?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. This was only a part, who had come alive from the battle of Smolensk. They too went to the "smelt."
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Later, the strongest from among twenty thousand women were sent away in several transports. I was in the first transport, which was sent to a factory. I belonged that time to the strongest women and therefore I was sent away. Also this selection was terrible. We were looked at like at horses, the muscles tested like . . . the teeth, all that inspected . . . completely naked; this the SS men did.
  • David Boder: Did they ever make a gynecological examination in search for coins, money or the like?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . for money. A few of the women were picked out at that time and examined.
  • David Boder: Yes, now . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. And . . .
  • David Boder: I mean not at this particular occasion, but in general . . . did they just threaten with . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, at that time that was done
  • David Boder: They performed gynecological . . . Who was doing that?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: A physician. A German physician in uniform.
  • David Boder: And that means they really searched for . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes . . . yes, yes.
  • David Boder: No go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then I was gone to a labor lager, to Skarzysko-Kamienna. There was a lager only for Jews who worked in a factory, an ammunition factory. Most of . . . there were already not SS, that is the lager were SS and Ukrainians, but as shop- shupes [shop-guards] we had Ukrainians and then there were German foremen, not SS. That was chateristic of the German psyche, that not only SS have all that perpetrated, but German foremen as well. There is known the name of a German foreman Krause, who out of Malice [?]
  • David Boder: What was the name?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Skarzysko-Kamienna [one word not clear].
  • David Boder: Do you know his first name?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No. Krause. That was the most terrible [thing] in the factory. When Krause would go by [laughter], then the machinery would go differently, even that [laughter]. He could [treat] women . . . sometime he would come drunk, pick a few women and rape them, and later they were shot—so that there [would] be no race polution.
  • David Boder: Yes. [three words not clear]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: There was a well known SS Waffenschlager, Waffen- schlager [the name really means gunsmith but schlagen also means beating]. He did the same thing. The brother of such a raped woman lives here in Germany.
  • David Boder: I should like to ask you something in general . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [interrupting] And here one more interesting thing. There was work of the furnaces [?? This word is either not clear or is a colloquialism which she did not clear up even when asked about it. One could not be too persistent with such questions]. The so called "yellow labor" [with pathos], at this yellow labor at the factory people perished.
  • David Boder: What kind of work was that?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: At the furnaces [??] That is so . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, furnaces [??]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Furnaces [??] Yes. One must take precautions, otherwise one perishes. And at these . . . at these furnaces [??] . . . at these furnaces the Jews worked, and perished in a few months. When they were already badly sick, they were . . . they were led away somewhere, led into the woods and there they were exterminated.
  • David Boder: I want to ask you one question: in general to what extent did women suffer from attempts of rape, or other advances of the guards?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Officially it was prohibited. But it only appeared that way. For instance, from Majdanek, the most beautiful girls had disappeared.
  • David Boder: [a pause] Now go on.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And then from Skarzysko we were taken to Czestochowa, also to a munitions factory. In Czestochowa there was a repetition of the beatings at work. The provisions were such that several died from hunger. The people from Majdanek suffered most. From twelve hundred women who came from Majdanek to Skarzysko and Czestochowa only very few remained. From the twenty thousand women at Majdanek there are now here—as far as I am able to ascertain—there remain approximately fifty. Then from Czestochowa we were transported to Germany, when the Russians approached. The first . . . I was in the first transport. The others remained behind, because they were already unable to drive them out. I came to Ravensbruck. In Ravensbruck the lager was prepared for approximately three thousand people. Afterwards by the end of nineteen forty-five . . . no 1944 and at the beginning of 1945 there were over sixteen thousand . . . sixty thousand people. I can not give the exact number. All the transports from the east were sent to Ravensbruck. The conditions were terrible. Four persons on one plankbed. Lice and the food, terrible. My work was chopping wood. At this wood chopping I had my feet frozen.
  • David Boder: That was in what year?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: At the beginning of 19 . . . in January 1945.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The SS woman saw that I am walking without, without stockings. And when I once reported to her that I am unable to work in the woods, I was given twenty five [strokes].
  • David Boder: What does that mean you have . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Twenty five strokes on the bare back.
  • David Boder: When did that happen? As soon as you told her?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes right away.
  • David Boder: Not during the appell.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Not at the appell, right away.
  • David Boder: Who administered the twenty five strokes?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: An SS woman.
  • David Boder: Another, not the same to whom you spoke.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: The same, the same. [pause]
  • David Boder: [timidly] Now did you permit it?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: What do you mean "permit"? [loud laughter] "permit"? What does that mean "permit"? Can you imagine that "permit"? [laughter]
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In a lager there is no more resistance. About resistance we could speak only in the WarsawGhetto, but not here.
  • David Boder: Were they holding you?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [still laughing] But of course, they stretched me out and gave me twenty five.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [the laughter has subsided] I have from it still now a very large scar.
  • David Boder: What were you beaten with?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: With a horse whip [riding whip].
  • David Boder: So.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: By that time I was already sick but I continued to go to work in the woods. There I worked for several months and had my legs frozen. When the Americans approached we were sent from Ravensbruck in the direction of Dachau.
  • David Boder: On foot or by . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, on vehicles.
  • David Boder: In automobiles?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, in locked box cars.
  • David Boder: Oh yes, by train, by railroad . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes. And for eight days we were given nothing. That means not even water.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how does one live eight days without water.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: That is interesting. [with apparent hostility]. Of course you are unable to imagine how much a human being can stand. That we know [ironic smile—revealed in a hm, continues accentuating every word] Eight days without water. At the end, that was near Bayreuth, we decided, there were already many dead, out of hunger, and of course, out of exhaustion, we decided to knock. Let them shoot. And we knocked so that they were afraid we will break up, smash up the whole boxcar.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: They threatened: 'we are going to shoot,' and we said; 'shoot,' and so then they brought us ? from the Red Cross. And they said [she ironically imitates a supposedly friendly tone]: 'children, we want to help you, why are you so restless?' Then we . . .
  • David Boder: That was the Red Cross?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, the SS. Then we were already children, because they saw, that with us it is not so easy. And then we continued traveling. We arrived in Burgau, a branch of Dachau.
  • David Boder: Not far from Dachau?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: A branch of Dachau. I don't know how far . . .
  • David Boder: . . . a branch?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, a branch from Dachau.
  • David Boder: That is not very far from here.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I cannot orientate myself, because I don't get around much on account of my amputated legs. We arrived there. It was still very cold, in white mantles, without underwear.
  • David Boder: What does that mean in white mantles?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Such . . . no, what do you call them . . .
  • David Boder: Cotton . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Not cotton, such smocks.
  • David Boder: Oh smocks.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: They gave us such mantles. No stockings. If one would get stockings—one was yellow and one black. And when we arrived we looked so terrible, that when the foremen from the Messerschmidt factory arrived to look us over and to take some of us for work, they openly stated: 'That is an outrage.' And then we came to Burgau. In Burgau were to be five hundred persons. But they sent in another transport. So there were a thousand women. And it started—spotted fever typhus. Very many women died from spotted fever. The Hungarian Jewesses suffered most, from spotted fever and from diarrhea. The lice were so spread out that one could not stand it. Then I came down with spotted fever, and with . . . and it commenced with my legs. I was unable to get up any more. From Burgau we were sent to Kirkheim.
  • David Boder: And how did they send you? You . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I was carried. The prisoners carried me, to Kirkheim. And from Kirkheim . . . I was completely sick, the legs were already black, so I was sent to the lager-revier, lager four, near Landsberg. The famous lager-revier in which thousands, more than thousands of people have died from spotted fever.
  • David Boder: That is not very far from here.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, not far, Landsberg. There I already . . . there it started already to fester—and they could not help me any more. The physicians came of course. They told me nothing, but I saw it was the end. Then evacuation from the lager. Whoever could still walk was chased away. I of course could not get up anymore. The first . . . the SS came and brought a horse cart. I told him then 'shoot me.' So he said: 'no child, now you will live, it is I who will be hanged.'
  • David Boder: Why, did he know already.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [laughter in her voice] He know already that the Americans are approaching. And there . . . it is interesting about the SS. If somebody comes forward and pleads to die, then you must live. But if you wish to live—then you must die.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And because I told him with complete indifference that I wish to die—then he says—you must live. Then I was taken again to another lager, lager one, and in lager one I was liberated by the Americans. The last day before liberation,—the SS had run away, and we remained. The front passed through our lager. On one side were the Germans, on the other the Americans. And they were shooting at each other. Those who could get out, got out. I had to lie there. Then by accident the barracks of the SS caught fire, which stood nearby. And I thought then that the barracks were set on fire by us. Everybody who could still drag his legs, ran out. I did not know what to do, because such a death in . . .
  • David Boder: . . . fire.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . in fire I did not want. Then I threw off all the blankets, and threw myself down . . . from the plankbed. And so I slid out.
  • David Boder: Was it a high plankbed or a low one?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: These were such earth barracks . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, what kind?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . built into ground, very deep in the ground . . .
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Like for dogs. And then, it was after the rain, I slid out, and it was after the rain. I did not have a good bandage, but only a paper dressing, and the . . . dirt and all that got in [into the wounds] and then everything came to an end and went kaput.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Two days after liberation the Americans took me to a German hospital, and physicians said, I will live only ten days. But I told them that I will stand ten operations. And I did stand it. However due to the beating that I got, as well as from lying—that spot was not completely [searches for words] nu . . .
  • David Boder: Not completely healed?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . was not healed, and due to the lying it became irritated, and I developed a decubitus, and a hole [was formed] and still today the scar is that big. And I got through three operations. I got through three amputations.
  • David Boder: What do you say, a decubitus?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Decubitus, that is the scar, here such . . .
  • David Boder: Go on. Did they operate under chloroform?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And the physicians predicted that I will die in ten days.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I had thirty two kilos after liberation [weighed thirty two kilograms].
  • David Boder: How much do you weigh now?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Now? [laughter] Approximately over sixty. My height is one meter, sixty four [cm].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And I had thrity-two and in spite of that I pulled through. After liberation still very many died. From diarrhea. Because they started eating. It was terrible. People saw food for the first time [smiling].
  • David Boder: In what lager was that, in Landsberg?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: That was in the lager, I was in lager one at the end.
  • David Boder: But you were in the hospital in Landsberg?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, no. First I was in Holzhausen. There they cared for me very well. And from Holzhausen—to Landsberg to Schwaben [??] in Munich.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . the lower leg, twenty centimeters below the knee. Right here, touch it.
  • David Boder: Yes. Twenty centimeters under the knee. Now.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: That is called lower leg amputation.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . both are lost.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: And now I walk very well. In spite of the fact that the Germans said I won't be able to walk.
  • David Boder: And what are you doing here at the university?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I study pharmacy.
  • David Boder: Yes. And how are things here?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I am very satisfied with the university. The professors are very good to us, and they are so friendly. The relations between professors and students is so great, that indeed one could not find it at any other university.
  • David Boder: And how do the students get along?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Very well. It is interesting. One was able to see that it is possible to live together. And when man lives with man then nationality plays no part. What matters is the person not the nationality.
  • David Boder: Have you relatives in America?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Do they write to you?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where do they live?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: In Chicago. I received affidavits from Chicago.
  • David Boder: I am from Chicago, could I look them up?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [laughing] Yes.
  • David Boder: What is their name?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [cheerfully] La Salle Street . . . Helberg
  • David Boder: Write down their address.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I bring it right away.
  • David Boder: What is their name?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Helberg.
  • David Boder: Helberg. The first name?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Charles Helberg.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Charl Helberg.
  • David Boder: Charl?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Charles.
  • David Boder: And that is an office on La Salle street.
  • David Boder: What is his profession?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I don't know anything about that.
  • David Boder: Yes. Is it his office?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: I don't know.
  • David Boder: What number on La Salle.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: La Salle, North, 224.
  • David Boder: 225?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: 24.
  • David Boder: 224, La Salle, North.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: North La Salle Street.
  • David Boder: Now I shall see that man in two weeks.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes, that will be very . . .
  • David Boder: I shall transmit regards from you.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: You may tell that I have received the affidavit.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: But I must wait for the quota. And "two legs" are not enough to get any preference.
  • David Boder: How long . . . under quota do you come? The Polish?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: On the Polish quota, and it is filled. Probably I have still to wait a year. And if by then UNNRA is out of existence then I have nothing to . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, we'll arrange that with the Nias. I myself will take care of it.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [with friendly and somewhat skeptical laughter] Ya, they told me there that the quota [she means waiting list] is very large and that I can't get over.
  • David Boder: And the name is Charles Helberg.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: You don't know what his business is.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No.
  • David Boder: What is he to you?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: He is the uncle of my mother. But he was interested very much from the beginning, but he is unable to do [much] and . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean—unable, no money?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, it is not the money. But besides what can that help me [her voice fades, she mumbles].
  • David Boder: You have what.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [disconcerted] here I have nothing. I am maintained by UNRRA but . . .
  • David Boder: Does he send you packages?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No, because he can't send. Because they sent me a few times, [but] I did not receive them.
  • David Boder: Hm. Now is that all that you want to tell us?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes that is all that I want . . .
  • David Boder: What do you want to tell to the American students. [laughingly]
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: [also laughingly] To tell the students?—I want to say we have learned very much. Still we are not pessimists. That is we have come to learn . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: . . . that there is only one reality. The reality of the Evil. But in spite of that we are not pessimists. We have also learned that the potentiality of the human soul is very great. One can stand very much [laughter]. And that is told by a human being who runs around on false limbs. Life is more interesting than death, possibly not easier.
  • David Boder: How old are you?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Thirty.
  • David Boder: I shall look up that man. Charles Helberger?
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Helberg.
  • David Boder: Hellberg, 224 North La Salle Street.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: Yes.
  • David Boder: Chicago. And you don't know his occupation.
  • Roma Tcharnabroda: No.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes the most interesting spool, number 155 at the UNRRA University. [Pause. Knocking sound.] These knocks are the knocks of the artificial legs of the young girl, who just talked to me, and she is now leaving the room.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder