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text Carolyn Ellis: Rachel, were really glad that you were willing to join us today, to tell us your story. And I would like to start by getting you to say your name and then spell it for us.
Rachel Nurman: Oh, yeah?
RN: Okay. Im a little bit hard of hearing.
CE: Ill speak loud, but if you cant hear me, you just ask me to repeat it, okay?
CE: Okay, your name?
RN: My name is Rachel Nurman.
CE: And can you spell your last name for us?
CE: And what was your name at birth? When you were born?
RN: Rachel Zysmanowicz, thats from mythis is hard to spell. I could spell it for you.
CE: Can you?
CE: Okay, go ahead, spell it for us.
RN: I could write it down.
CE: Oh, you can write it? Well, you know what? I think I can spell it.
CE: You tell me if Im right.
RN: Yeah, correct!
CE: Okay, and when were you born?
RN: In Warsaw.
RN: Yeah, a suburb near Warsaw.
CE: Near Warsaw, okay, a suburb near Warsaw. Okay, and when were you born?
RN: January 1, 1926.
CE: Okay, so you are eighty-four years old?
CE: Yes. And what was your fathers name?
CE: Harry, okay. And your mother?
CE: Razel, and thats R-a-z-e-l?
RN: Yeah, yes.
CE: Okay. And can you tell me where your father died? Where?
RN: He died in the gas chambers.
CE: In the gas chambers. Do you know about when?
RN: He was fifty-three years old.
CE: He was fifty-three.
CE: And your mother?
RN: Also, the same; she was fifty-three.
CE: Fifty-three years old. And do you want to tell me the names of your siblings?
RN: Of my siblings?
RN: I had four brothers.
RN: The oldest was Chaim Josef, his full name, and the second one was David, and the third one was Samuel, and then I was Rachel, and then the last one was another boy, Mendele.
CE: Mendele, okay. And I have all those names written down.
RN: Oh, you do?
CE: Yes, because you wrote them down for me the last time I was here. And did they all die in the Holocaust?
RN: Yeah, they all died.
CE: In the Holocaust, okay. Now, lets start with your childhood. So youre growing up in a suburb of Warsaw; can you tell me a little bit of what it was like?
RN: It was like a small town. Not too many Jewish people lived in there; it was about a thousand families. And it was a very peaceful life. It waslike everybody knew each other and they went to school, to the Catholic school.
CE: The Catholic school.
RN: And it was about five or six Jewish children, but at this time they are startinglike in the Polish government, the schools start to separate the Jewish children from theI used to havemy best girlfriend was a Christian girl and I was inseparable with her. I was her best friend and she was my best friend. And at that time they told us to sit in the back of the class, and I was short-sighted all the time and they didnt make no glasses like here, (laughs) so I didnt see nothing on the blackboard and I had to sit in the back. And my parents asked the principal about that; he [her father] told them that I couldnt see that good from the back, that I sit. So he said that this somebody who is in charge of that and he gave that permission to him, that he should seat the five or six Jewish children in the back, and that he cannot do nothing about it.
CE: And were your parents religious?
CE: Can you tell me a little about that?
RN: We had a very kosher, nice home, and my grandmother used to live with us, my mothers mother. My grandfather was a rabbi in our town, our small town, and he died and there was no social security and she came to live with my mother. She was her favorite daughter, so she lived with us about seventeen years, till she died. She died at eighty-four.
CE: Okay, and what did your father do?
RN: We had a store, like the gentile people used to buy in our store everything for Christmas; [it] was our bestfor the Christmas time, they make the money for the whole year to live on.
CE: What did you sell in the store?
RN: Everything: mens clothes and womens clothes, Sunday shirts for the men at the church and all dresses, and food, too.
CE: Food, too?
RN: Everything, yeah.
CE: Okay, so do you remember your childhood as being happy?
RN: Yeah, yeah. I had four brothers and I was very secure. But they were older, but the man that came to take me and they didnt want to take me (inaudible). But I was very happy till my oldest brother went to the army, to the Polish Army.
CE: Do you remember what year that was? Its hard to remember, isnt it?
RN: No. I remember he camefor this time, he wore a pelisse, and he was in the uhlans, in Polish. He was on the horses, riding of the horses. And he came tofor, like, ahow do you call for a couple of days to stay at home. But the whole town came to see, to our house to see, because at this time Jewish people didnt go to the army, so they came to see it, if its true that he had that big rank. He was an uhlan. He wore the big pelisse in our cheder and it looked so beautiful on him, I remember, and I was a child and I was so proud of him. And when the Germans came in, he [was] fighting in the Polish Army against them.
CE: Okay. And then, when did your life start to change?
RN: This was in 1939, when the Germans occupied Poland; we were the first country to be occupied. And then, starting immediately with the Jewish people.
CE: But before that, had you felt any anti-Semitism?
CE: Tell me about that.
RN: Start being anti-Semitism from the Polish people.
CE: Okay. From your friends at school, too?
RN: Yeah, because this friend of mine, she hadher father was a high officer something in the Polish Army, so he used to tell my father that its starting now, being bad for the Jewish people, that we should go [to] some other country, to leave Poland. But my father said that he worked all his life for the things that he has now and he cannot just leave it, and he need a future for the children, too. And he never thought of that. Some people left immediately when Hitler came to power. They came here [the U.S.] or they went to other countries. But my father didnt want to hear even of that. He had accumulated money in the bank and everything we neededour garden, a beautiful gardenand we lived comfortable.
CE: So you were thirteen years old then?
RN: Yeah, fourteen years old, when Hitler occupied Poland.
CE: Okay, and how did life change for you at that point?
RN: After a few months they took us out from our homes, and this is the worst that could happen to us. We were not supposed to take nothing, just to take a certain amount of pounds, like ten pounds. So, what is ten pounds? You left behind everything, the bedding and the furniture and the clothing, everything that we had! And they took us to the Warsaw Ghetto, and there wasthey have trouble themselves, it was such a hungry, such a panic. They used to come into the ghetto, the Germans, shooting just straight at the people walking in the street.
CE: So you had to move into the ghetto from your house?
RN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
CE: And it was the Warsaw Ghetto
CE: that you moved into?
RN: Then on the trucks when they came to take us, it was horrible. They got the dogs near them, the German shepherds, and they [were] chasing the people to the trucks because we didnt want to go, didnt want to leave. Were standing the whole day in the streetit was a summer daywith the children, with the older people and no water, no food; they didnt let nothing go near. The gentile people wanted to give us something to eat, they had pity on the people, but they didnt let it. They didnt let nobody nothing. After standing a whole day, in the end the trucks came in and the people start having a panic. We didnt want to go to the trucks.
So the dogs was making such a big tumult and they are such loud, barking so loud, and I was holding my brother by his hand. He wasI dont remember how old he was. And I let go of his hand, because before they put us on the truck, to make it little quieter they gave everybodythe womena little bread to share. So I got that piece of bread. My mother told me, Go get your father. Hes standing on the other side, also waiting for the truck, for the men separately and the women separately, with the children. So I went to the other side to give him that piece of bread, and the Germans saw it and he hit him so bad, my father. He hit his face, his face was all bloody. And I start screaming so loud and I asked the German, He didnt do nothing to you. I told him, Why did you hit him like that? And I showed him; I just gave him the piece of bread. Why do you scream? he said. Go, because Ill do the same to you.
So I just went straight back to the mom, and my father told me, Go to the mom and stay with her in there and take care of your brother. And to this time, I couldnt find my brother anymore. He got lost in the whole crowd, with this people. And even at the trucksand I was hysterical. So she told me, You must forget about it and go on, and maybe youll live through this.
CE: Your mother said this?
RN: Yeah. And we all went to Warsaw.
CE: So did you find your brother again in Warsaw?
RN: I didnt find him, because I went to a farm.
CE: You went to a farm?
RN: The Germans came in and they picked 100 girls, young. It was like a Zionist organization. So they came to us and they picked 100 girls and 50 boys to work on a farm.
CE: So they picked them out of theonce you were in the ghetto, they picked you out of the ghetto.
CE: Now, as far as you knew, the rest of your family was in the ghetto?
RN: Yeah, I left them behind.
CE: And your father was in the ghetto, too?
RN: Yeah, yeah, to this time. But then they start going outnot just going but they have to go over the wires. It was the wall: there was a big wall in the ghetto and on top the electric wires, and that wasnt good to go through that. But I went through that, too, before I went to the farm.
CE: Before you wentso you were in the ghetto for a little while.
CE: How long, do you think?
RN: I was in the ghetto, like, a couple of months.
CE: A couple of months. So at that point, your whole family was there?
CE: So all three of your brothers, or four of your brothers?
RN: No, not one was with us. They were all separate.
CE: They were all separate?
RN: One hastwo of them was married and had children.
CE: Okay, okay.
RN: And the one after me wasnt married, and my brother Samueltwo of them wasnt married.
CE: Okay, and they were in the ghetto with your mother?
RN: They stayed separate, they wasnt there. There was, like, a youth organization, and they took care of the young people. This is the people that they start a fight in the Warsaw Ghetto, for the uprising; maybe you heard. That was my brothers and all these youthful people in our town and all this, which they was still helping. They put up a fight with them.
CE: Okay, so now I just want to get the timeline. So you were in the Warsaw Ghetto forbefore you went to the farm, a couple of months?
CE: A couple of months. And you lived there with your mother?
CE: With your mother. Did you see your brothers then? You never saw them?
RN: No, she said she doesnt know even where they are. Everybody went their own way, (inaudible). The men run away from their wives, they left them, and the fathers left their children and thats how it was. Everybody want to save themselves, their own life.
CE: So what was life in the ghetto like those couple months?
RN: That was most awfulthat I could describe you even. People are laying dead in the street, their hunger was so intense. They didnt let us go out, and they didnt let nobody in; it was like a closed-up wall. And the wall was built in the Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Jewish police. And I did run out from the ghetto. The young children, we had a little gang like that and whento take out a few bricks, from our side in the wall, and they climbed like that. And I was there, too, and I jumped over thethe wires wasnt always electrified, you know. So I used to go out in there and I fell on my knees and my knees were bleeding, but I run anyway. And they shouldnt recognize me, because on the next, they would jump out people living.
RN: So sometime they give out the Jewish people, and some of them were nice and they didnt: they helped. I dont say that they all was bad, no. There was good people, too.
CE: So did you take your Jewish star off when you
RN: Oh, yeah, definitely!
CE: Where did you put it?
RN: I never wore a star!
CE: You never wore a star! Not even
RN: Never, never!
CE: Not even in the ghetto?
RN: No, I refused to wear that. I didnt. I didnt even have one.
CE: You didnt?
RN: No, because I was so revolting against that, and I didnt put it on. And that was easier for me. I used to walk on that side when I jumped over that wall, on the street. The Germans go right near me, and they didnt even know. I was blonde, very light blonde, and I wore braids, so you know, sometimes put that up on my head. They never thought, even, that Im Jewish. They didnt recognize meunless the gentile people which know me, they tell on me.
CE: Were you scared? Were you afraid?
CE: You were not afraid?
RN: I just walking right near them. I wasnt afraid. I didnt understood the horror of that. I didnt think that somebody wants me to die. For what reason? I didnt do nothing to them, or my family. I was terrified for my family, for my brothers. I loved them dearly, my four brothers. And I suffered a lot from that after thewhen I came back from the farm. I was two years on that farm. When I came back, not one was left: not my mother, not my father, none of my brothers.
I wanted to run to that place where my brother used to live with his wife and the one child they have, one little boy. And they told me, Better dont go, because this is like Judenrein. They took out all the Jews to the gas chambers and whatever leftover in the house, they taken away everything for them and they sending it to Germany, for the people in Germany. And the beautiful furniture and the pictures and everything for the house, they kept sending everythingeven the hair from the people in the gas chambers, which they died. They make mattresses from that and they send it to Germany.
CE: Okay, so lets go back to the ghetto for one more moment.
CE: When you crawled over the wall, jumped over the wall and went out into Warsaw, what did you do?
RN: We sell cigarettes.
CE: You sold cigarettes?
RN: To the gentile people, for the people which go by. And we slept under the bridge: we have a place under the bridge where we came together in the evening, all little girls and boys, with the torn clothes. It was cold and they are freezing, with shmates on their feet, put it on. They didnt have decent garments to wear because everything got to be spoiled from the rains, from the cold. And one timeit was a Friday nightI came back toat home, I came back. And at the time to go back, we have to do the same thing, to jump over the bridge. But standing here are the Germans, in the front, so we have to go through them. So when they saw usI was like that, going with my things under my coat. I bought a very long coat and I kept in the lining everything I have: some potatoes, some pieces of bread, what the gentile people gave me. And I could buy because I sold the cigarettes and I have some money to buy the food.
And I came homeit was a Friday nightand my father, when he saw me open the door he started crying. He was so hysterical. I never saw a man crying like that, and my father never; he was a proud man. And he said that, We all said a prayer to you because we thought that you were dead already, that you didnt come the whole week long. Sometimes it took me a whole week or two weeks that I didnt go back home, cause we couldnt go through the posts. They shooting at the children and the children fell like wounded birds. Thats how they were laying. Then they shooting at them; the rest of them are running, you know, thats how it works. So we have to risk that. So, whoever got the bullet fell.
CE: And how did you get cigarettes?
RN: Huh? Oh, I went into the stores, like to buy some bread for me, to buy food. I need to eat also.
CE: And you bought cigarettes?
RN: Yeah, I bought cigarettes and I bought foodand I bought for the other one too, because they were more looking like Jewish and they believed that I dont look Jewish and I could go more freer than them, for the bread. So I used to takeeveryone give me a little fewthe moneyand I brought everyone a little package with the name on. The lady from the store know me already, and she put the names on the piece of bread. It was like two slices bread; thats what he could afford and not no more. And this is what I brought him and in a minute it was eaten up; we need to go buy something else. Then later on we have more money and we bought some other things. We bought the Polish kielbasa. It was so delicious. But didnt have money for that.
And somebody got to know about us. Thats the Jewishit was like a Jewish organization which theyI know even her name. I got her telephone number, even now. She brought money to the Jewish people, which they was in hiding by the gentile people; they have to pay them because therere sothey throw them out. You know? Some of them kept the Jewish people in a room, you know, that nobody knows, but they took the money for that and a lot of people died in there. Some of them took the money and gave them up to the Germans. But some survived, too, in the gentile homes.
CE: So, then you were picked to go to the farm? Right?
CE: Okay, and how long were you in the farm?
RN: Oh, almost two years. And they always came for us, the Germans; they knew that the Jewish people are there. So meanwhile, they took out from the ghetto the people. And they blocked the streets. That people got to know what the thing means. They told the Jew that they lied to them. They told them that they are going to take them to work in the east, and that the ghettos so bad and dont have no food, so they will be much better. They have food. They going to have for the children more things, and they have schooling for the children. Some of the schools are closed for the Jewish people. And the people believed them. The first transport, they went willingly. And they gave alsosuch a hungry people. They gave a pound of jelly and like five pounds of bread. So the whole family went, mother and father and the children, and they went willingly. And they took them on the trains straight to Treblinka, to the gas chambers.
And that Jewish organization got to know. They went after them, after the trains, to see what they doing with these people and they saw the truth. And they informed the people in the ghetto what they doing with the people, like not to go voluntarily and not to go at all on any transport. But theyyou werent able to hide from them, from the Germans. Lately, if they didnt have theif they didnt have the volunteers, they took them, just like they came to the houses. First they start with loudspeakers, telling them, All Jews come down. We are going on the transport, and you are going to better your life in there. Youre going to have food, youre going to have work, youre going to have everything. And here, you just got hunger. Its better for you to go. And thats the beginning they believed. But lately, they start fighting with them. Because the Jewish organization, they got to know that they killing them immediately when they come in.
CE: Were you part of any resistance in the ghetto? Were you part of any resistance in the ghetto? Did you resist or fight or
RN: Oh, yeah, yeah. I was in this Jewish organization.
CE: You were? Okay.
RN: Yeah. That was my brother, too.
RN: And we are preparing for defend themselvesourselvesand they gave out these leaflets for the people and put it on their walls. Dont go voluntarily, because they killing you. They told them the truth. And the Germans didnt like that, and theyre looking after this people which they did that, and this is what the peopleMordechai Anielewicz, you heard of him, which this. And then you took him on that (inaudible) in that kibbutz, in that place.
CE: Okay. But you left that to go to the farm?
RN: Yeah, they took us back to the ghetto.
CE: Okay, so you went to the farmbut you were in the farm how long?
RN: Like, almost two years.
CE: Two years.
RN: And the whole thing goes on in Warsaw.
RN: When the wholein Polish I could say the wysiedlenie, the taking out of the Jews. The cleansing the ghetto of the Jews took them that long time, till they made it Judenrein; that means they took out all the Jews.
CE: Right, right.
RN: Because Jews resist, and fathers didnt want to give their children. First they left voluntarily with their children, but if they knowand then the German came in to their house, a couple of them came to our house, so our father and the children, he fighted [sic] with them and give the children, some of them. And the stopped the German, and the German kill him at the last, kill him too, and the child. That they prefer more than going to the gas chamber: that was a better death than that. Some people came from United States to visit relatives, and they got caught in that time. And they took them to Auschwitz, in the camp that I was. And they came with a wife and a daughter and a son.
CE: The people from
RN: But they were citizens in the United StatesJewish, but they werent in the ghetto; they came to visit their relatives, so they were Jews just like everybody else. And they showed them the citizenship; didnt help. And they took them to Treblinka, and to that camp, too. Him, they let live: the man was a strong guy. And the wife and the two children, grown up children already, took to the gas chamber. And on the morning when he got up, the prisoners told himno, he asked for his wife. Where is my wife? he said, I just came with her here together. Where is she? What did they do with her? So he told him the truth, the prisoner who was the (inaudible).
So, every morning there was an Appell: they were putting all the prisoners on the street to count them. They were afraid nobody should run away. So this man got from somewhere a knife, and the minute the Appell started he went over to him and he plunged right the knife to that German who counted us. And the German fell back, and we all saw that. He said, Here, this is for me, for my wife, for my daughter, for my son. And then the Germans came and kill him. So that was the end of the family.
CE: Okay, can I go back to your being on the farm, the first time? What did you do on the farm?
RN: Oh, this was a hard life in there. I was fifteen years old, to this time, fourteen and a half, fifteen. I didnt know nothing about farming. I went to school, just out of the seventh class of school, and preparing myself to go to college. Everybody said that I could go to college that I [was] capable. It was very expensive to go in there, to college. But anyway, I was preparing for that. Well, who knew theres going to come out a war like that, and Hitler is going to come? So, that was the end of my dreams.
CE: Yes, yes. So, you had to work on the farm?
RN: Oh, the farm. We have to get up at four oclock every morning.
CE: Four oclock?
RN: Four. And it was cold. The climate in Poland is very, very cold, and the summer is very hot. And we worked on thethey call it (inaudible). Do you know what it is?
RN: It was growing tomatoes or any other under glass.
CE: Under glass, okay.
RN: You know.
CE: In the hothouse.
RN: And when it was very cold, you have to close this with a matthey call it a matto cover the glass. This shouldnt freeze.
CE: Okay, okay.
RN: And there was a walking distance to that, but so small that it could break the legs, walking through that to cover from both sides should freeze that. And a lot of women lost their lives going to them. They were such delicate women, some of them: the learned one, the educated, and they didnt know nothing about things like that. And they wore this clothing, lumpy clothing, but they gave us these wooden shoes, even in there, on that farm. Right away they start making the wooden shoes; it was so very hard to walk in them.
First I worked in theover time they had different jobs. The German was a Volksdeutsche: that mean first he was a Pole, a Polak; then he become a German when the Germans came in. He was our guard and he gave us all the work. He was such an anti-Semite, you know. He had a wife and children living in that place. So every day, like theythe other Germans came in, too, to that farm, to eat and to take out food from them. They grabbed everything they could in that farm.
CE: Did they feed you? Did you get food to eat?
RN: Very little.
CE: Very little.
RN: Very, very little. It was a separate kitchen for the Jews and a separate kitchen for the gentile, gentile kitchen. So for the Jews, they gave like half of the food to prepare in the kitchen than they give to the gentile people. And we had special daysI, too; everybodyto work in the kitchen. So I know about that, whats happening in there. Potatoesthey were feeding the pigs the potato, baked potato, but we never saw a potato in theI was longing so much for a potato. And my girlfriend, she worked with the pigs and she was feeding them.
One time I went from work and I looked in for her to that place where she worked, and I see her, shes laying and all the littleon her, the pigs, the little pigs laying on her. And that was so funny. I see this Hasidic girlI mean, from the Orthodox Jewsand shes feeding them potatoes. I said, They dont give us no potatoes, so she gave me some. Whenever I came, she gave me something. She was such a nice friend of mine. And she gave me a couple potatoes and she said, Go home. No one should see. Go to your barrack. Nobody should see; they could shoot me for that, and her, too.
So anyway, I used to go to see her. It was so unbelievable for me to see her in that situation, very wealthy people in thedoing that. And she got used to that and she was fine, and she looked good. I used to go to her every time, and she helped me a lot in there. As a matter of fact, sheafter the war she went to that place; she survived, too. And she told meI met her in Israel, and she told me that she came into that guy, they call a szlachcic; I dont know how you say in English. The best farm like that; they call them such a royal name, a szlachcic, yeah.
CE: I dont know what that is, but someone will figure it out.
RN: So he gave her a lot of money after the war for her work. But at this time they didnt give us nothingthey didnt give us even food, nothing. The shoes they gave us [were] wooden shoes, so it didnt cost them much either. And then he took me to work, to a prom. There was water over there. We have to take the workers on the other side of the fields to work. So he said to me, Oh, you little girl, you can manage that work. I had a pair of shoes at home: my brother, at the last minute I left, he got me good leather shoes that are for the time there. Anyway, my shoes got so bad that I couldnt put them on. The wood shoes, I have to take them off and put it on; that was hell. So thatsand I did put the people on that prom that youits not a little ship, but you pull it with the sticks. Its a thing that goes on the water: on the strings youre pulling it, till you come to that end.
CE: Oh, I know what you mean. Yes, and you pull yourself across.
RN: It came twelve oclock and I was waiting for them with my little ship. I cleaned it, you know, and I was happy with that work. And at twelve oclock they came, more than the ship could take them. So what happened, they didnt want to go out, I told them, There is too many people; you go with the next transport. Well, they didnt budge. You know what happened? It sink. The whole thing just sink with the people. And everybody fell in the water, including me, too.
CE: Oh! Did they get out of the water?
RN: And he stayed in the end of the water and hes laughing hystericalthe German, you know. And some people came out, they almost got drowned, and we all got wet, the clothes and everything. And thats how it was every day. People got too many in that thing. That was my job. And I told him, the guy, Look at my shoes. I showed him. I cannot put them on anymore. He had a little pity, because I was small, a little girl, I looked even less than I was old, you know. So he said, Okay, Ill give you another job. He put me to a place. Cows!
RN: Cows! And I should clean the cows. To clean themthey had this thing on the back, the things. You have to make the brush, brush it off, that thing. One time, I figured everybody wants to get some milk from them. People come in, the gentile people, to milk them. Now, one, two, three, Ill try it. (laughs) Get a little milk. And you know what she did? The cow, she give me one kick and I was laying on my side. (laughs)
CE: So you didnt get any milk?
RN: I didnt get any milk. I didnt know the right thing, how to do it. Thats why she kicked me over. Okay, then there was an old man, too, working with us. He was with this cow for years, for years. So, he got sick one time. So the guy comes in and tells me, You have to take today, the cows, to feed them on the grass. It was about fifty, or who knows how many of them were there: little ones and big ones and a lot of them.
So I got them out, all; they know where theyre going to eat, they knew already. And I went with them and I was sitting on the grass with them. And it was time to go home and I start taking them back home. They disappeared. Not one I saw. I didnt know whats happening here. I asked someone there what happened. Did I just have too many of them? Theyre not there. He said, They went home by themselves. But I was afraid if the Germans see me and I didnt take them to thewho knows what hes going to do to me? I was so scared. And I went homeI mean, to the farm. It was a distance to walk. And I came back, and he was laughing so hysterical. He took me by my hand. Here, look. Are they all here? (both laugh) I mean, that was so scary, everything, for a girl my age and to live through things like that. Very scary.
CE: Yeah, yeah. So then you came back to the Warsaw Ghetto?
RN: They came a lot of times to take us, but this guy needed us to work. But the Germans went to the war, and they didnt have people to work in the fields. So they gave him some whiskey and they told himthey gave him some more things to let us another while and told us to run to the fields, to hide in the fields. So thats what we did: one day, the whole night, we slept in the fields. And then, took another few months, and thats happening a couple of times, at the end.
But, come the time that they took us to the ghetto, it was Judenrein. Thats what they called. They cleaned up the Warsaw Ghetto. There was no Jews left in the Warsaw Ghetto.
CE: Okay. None at all?
CE: No? Okay.
RN: They was all taken out. It was called Judenrein. You know what they did in Warsaw? They blocked the houses, not to let out no one. People want to run and to hide someplace, so they were standing around that blocka whole block, they blocked, so people couldnt escape. If they saw someone they shot him. And they burned the houses, the same time. And then they start taking them out. The people run from the burning houses, and then theythey jumped from the fifth floor, the people; they jumped to their death. But they shot them at the time when they are jumping down, the people. Thats when we start the fight with them, the Jewish uprising. We were throwing granats on the groundhow do you call that?granats on them.
CE: Oh, grenades?
RN: Grenades, yeah. Some went in the windows in our house, and here the house is burning in the back and choking our throatthe soot from the burning, you know. And were throwing bombs on them.
CE: Were you throwing some of the grenades?
RN: Yeah, I did!
CE: So you were involved in all that?
RN: Yeah, yeah. They showed us how to make them in little boxes. Nothing, we didnt have no prepared ammunition. We could fight more with them. But theyre shooting straight in the window where I was standing. And my girlfriend got killed at this time, in a similar place, similar organization. She was throwing that, too. So, thats what they did. They watched which window the grenades come and they shoot straight in that window.
CE: Okay. And were you thereand then they came in and captured everyone, right? Or just about everyone.
RN: Then they took us to do the stuff for the people left. The (inaudible) wasthe ghetto was emptied out. They left behind a lot of everything, the houses and clothing, furniture, everything. So they took a few people from thethey didnt know that I was throwing the bombs on them. They took a few of our people to help them to take outthey called the Werterfassungkommandthats in Germany, the German languagethat we should go in the houses and throw out everything in the street, and other people took this away in trucks and sending to Germany. So we came to things to see, I could never forget in my life. He came in for the (inaudible) with all bloody sheets, and the bedding was full of blood and some dead people laying on the floor and on the bed, which the German shoot them, you know. Thats what we saw when we came in to take out everything. And anyway, we took out everything from there, the possessions what they left. The people dont live anymore, theyre all dead.
RN: Yeah. So this we worked for a while, but the kitchenwe had a kitchen for the poor; we gave out the soup for people. So, the Germans ate in that kitchen, too. So somea brother of that guy who had the kitchen, who worked in that kitchen, he came to his brother where I worked in that Werterfassungkommand, told him, give me some to the girlsI mean that they could do that. And I made him because they just took away from the kitchen all the kitchen workers even was not enough for the chancellor, so they took the kitchen people in the kitchen. So they eat in that place, give me some too. So he came over to me. Here, Rachel, go, you and another girl. Run into the kitchen. I see a man, a tall guy standing cutting meat. I didnt see meat for ages. He said, Dont worry; if you are here, you have food enough.
So over the time a lot of people came; they escaped from the Umschlagplatz, the place where they loading the people in the train. Who do I see? My girlfriend, also, she was with us throwing the grenade; she came to the kitchen, to the roof. Oh, her face was black, like from the coals, so she went from the roof and she came and she told us. She told us that theyre loading the trains now and she escaped, and she wanted another (inaudible) our leader for now in the kitchen, from the farm that was. She was our leader. And her, too, she was in theshe said, I wanted to saveher name was Leah. She want to save Leah; shes waiting for me to come back. So I give her some food and gave her something to take to her, and she went back, through the roof, the same way.
CE: Maybe we should stop here and change
CE: Lets stop here and change the tape, okay? But dont forget whereso, youre working in the kitchen.
RN: Yeah, yeah.
CE: Well start here on the next tape. Okay?
RN: Yeah, okay.
CE: Okay, thank you.
CE: Okay, this is tape two with Rachel Nurman. So, Rachel, you were talking some about talking in the kitchen; do you want to finish that story?
RN: Yeah. So that same Germans, which they cleaned up the Warsaw Ghetto to take out all the people, came to eat in that kitchen that I worked. And theyre sitting at the big tables and I have to go and put the plate in front of them, and I was so scared to death that they might show on me to take me away. Because that Umschlagplatz was right near that kitchen, that place, on the street, Niska Street.
CE: You remember?
RN: Niska 20, always remember that. So we served them that meal. Thats why the kitchen existed a few more weeks, till they got everything settled and they had their place where to eat, the Germans. And after that, they said that they have to take us all out, the kitchen, to liquidate the kitchen. No people no more; they dont need the kitchen no more. And theyre not going to be there to eat. But when I served then the meal, they holding their bayonets like that, and theywhen I put the food in the kettle, it was a very big kettle, so they was looking what I putting in, in that kettle. They were afraid that I putting poison in there, because they ate in there, too. So they [were] holding to me the bayonet like that.
RN: And I was scared to death. And I was so tiny that I thought they were shoving me in that kettle. (laughs)
CE: Oh, my.
RN: And I watched them, I was sure they going to put me in that. (laughs) Thats what they did.
CE: Oh, thats horrible.
RN: Thats what they did: they catch the Jew in the street and they put in a bowl of hot soup inside, with the hand, with the feet. Or they put him on ice, to see how long he could take it.
CE: Did you see them do those kinds of things?
RN: In the camp, in Auschwitz, they did it.
CE: In Auschwitz later, okay.
RN: Yeah, but they did that in Warsaw Ghetto, too. I saw them. Yeah.
CE: Now, you said the Warsaw Ghetto was worse than Auschwitz?
CE: Can you talk about that a little bit?
RN: Yeah. The Warsaw Ghetto, people didnt have evenwhat to call that?that to put their head down. They get eleven people to one room, who didnt even have where to sit, even. The one was laying on the other. If it was relatives, is was okaynot okay, but it was much better than strange people, you know, laying one on the other just waiting to die. And so people looking only to stay in the street, in the ghetto. And the street was impossible to stay because the Germans came and they shoot. When they saw people together standing, or even individuals, they [were] shooting them right away in the street. People were afraid. They didnt have where to put themselves, where to go. So they didnt mind already; they took them in the trucks to the gas chambers. This is [what] the only solution was for them, thats where they made them to be.
There was a Jewish song like that, as well. A crazy man, his name was Nathan, and he was singing on the street, like he was really crazy. And the Germans listened to what he was singing and let him live another few weeks, you know. He was singing in Yiddish. (sings in Yiddish) You know what that mean?
RN: Its not going to help, no diamonds, and no golddollar goldthat you have to go take a bath in Hitlers showers, Hitlers gas chambers.
CE: So that was a Jewish guy who was singing that?
RN: Yeah, Jewish. He was singing. Jewish is similar to German, and they understood what he was singing. Yeah.
CE: Okay, so youre in the kitchen and they tell you that everybody has to go?
RN: Yeah, and the kitchen, working there (inaudible) the richest. They were waiting for the last to be taken. They thought [if] theyre going to give all the possessions that they have, the Germans let them live. But it wasnt so, theyre mistaking. They got killed the same like every Jew, like every poor and rich, the same thing. So they told us the one, that the Jews has a fight in him. He was like a little better than the others. So he told him, On my honor, he said, that not even one hair will fall off of your head. Go to that place, Poniatowa, they called that place. Its near Auschwitz, some place, Poniatowa. I dont remember exactly where.
So people from the kitchen, all of them, they went. And I didnt have where to go and my parents werent there, so the chef in the kitchen offered me to stay with him. He had one child, a five year old boy, and the child liked me a lot and I stayed with them a couple of days. And they told us to get ready to go there that day. And they was sure that this is true, if he said it; that German, he was to them like an honest German.
CE: Okay. Did you believe it?
RN: No. But our Jewish organization put that contribution on these rich Jews to give money that well be able to buy ammunition. We have some gentile guys to bring the ammunition to the ghetto, but they have to be paid, good paid. So where is the money from? So we put this contribution. They were the wealthiest Jews in Warsaw, but they didnt want to give. They thought they were going to live through the war and they are going to need it, or they need to give [to] the Germans in order to live for them. So theyI have to think of that.
And she packed everythingI had to pack. A whole night we were packing the stuff; they told us how much to take. So she took like two big valises. And this little bacon she had in a special thermos, like a bottle like that. So she said to me, You carry that separately, because in the valise it gets spoiled, so you carry it. I said, Okay, Ill carry it. And when they took us out to the Umschlagplatz, to the place with the wagons, so I saw so many people there ready to take the transport to go and theyto the trains. And Im schlepping this little thermos, and I said to myself, Rachel, throw away that thing. So, I did. I threw away that thing and I was free and I was looking all the sights, a place where to escape, where to go from there.
And all of a sudden I see her; her name was Mrs. Pludova. And I see her, and she said, Oh! and she start going into that train with the child and with her husband. Oh, Rachel, you come with us, together. You dont have no father, no mother. Come with us. Oh, by the way, where have you got that thing with the bacon? We need that on the trip. I told her the truth: that I threw it away. She start screaming at me and calling me names, you know, and I got mad at her and I said, No, Im not going with you. And their little boy start crying. Rachel, you come with us, you stay with us on the train. And here I see so many people packing, going in to the train, and they screaming to us, Faster, faster! Schneller! Go to the train already!
But I didnt. I went to another train, to anotheryou know, it was still empty. And I saw two of my girlfriends that I know them from the Warsaw Ghetto, my age; from that same organization, you know. And they say to me, Oh, Rachel, its good we go together, all three. I saw there was no way to escape, so what shall I do? I have to go. I have to go. You have to go. I went into that train with the three girls, and after me start coming in a lot of people. And it was so sticky in that train, and no air. So I put right away my nose to a crack that was in the floor of the train to get a little bit air. And in a minute a man, a strong man, pulled me away from that and he got near that. But everybody wanted to live.
So I was laying like that with the three girls together, you know, and she was on the train in the front. And all of a sudden wethe train is moving, and some people knew what direction the train is going because it was in Poland and we are Polish, so we know the way the train is going, what town they going through, you know. And it was a couple of hours and we were on the train, and people needed to go to the bathroom, you know, and men start taking off their clothes and womenit was so hot that we couldnt wear that clothes on us. And everybody start makingthey dont have no nothing. They did it on the floor and one on the other, and start smelling most horrible in there! Couldnt breathe, you know.
CE: Oh, Rachel!
RN: And Im starta hundred in that train, or less, fifty maybe. It was cattlesfor the animals, cattles, not for people, but they used it for us. And that stench, we couldnt take it. All of a sudden, some of the youngsters start digging at the window. It was like iron, the windows, the littleand they escaped.
CE: They got the window open?
RN: They got out, got out, and we heard a shot right after that, because theyre standing on the roofs on the trains, the Germans, and they saw whobut they knew, the guys, that the Germans are on the top of the roof, but they did it anyway because it was impossible to be in that train. We are suffocating in that train. And a lot of them survived by that jumping. Some of them that I know today fell in the roofin the ditchand the German didnt spot them. He shoot at him, but he didnt, so the guy survived. And some of them died, too.
CE: Did you think of trying to jump?
RN: Excuse me?
CE: Did you think of jumping?
RN: No, I wasnt able to do that. No, just a man could lift himself
CE: Lift himself up and get through the window.
RN: It was a little one, a little window. I never thought. The things I couldnt doI knew what I could do.
RN: And we are driving and riding with that train, and stopped and going back, didnt know. So some of the people say theyre going to Treblinka, to that place where they getting the people immediately from other camps. They need some young people to work, like Auschwitz. Oh, we came to Majdanek.
RN: Majdanek, from that train. We got off in the middle of the night and the reflectors was shining on us. It was pitch dark on the street. It was so scary. I thought it was hell some placeit was hell. And they took out some people, young, and the rest they took to another place; they took them to the gas chamber. And the young peoplethey took me out, and my three girlfriends, also. And they put us in fives and told us to walk from that camp, Majdanek. And were walking and walking, and I wore this long coat, still that coat. I had a long coat. And he told us to sit down. It was like 200 girls only; they choose them. And we sit on the grass and they didgo around us, the soldiers, with the bayonets and went like that (gestures) to us. You sit here.
So, I thought that this was the end already, and I took off my coat. I was so hot from the pressure, from that scaredness, and I put the coat right near me. And we all thought that this isthis came the end for us. It took about fifteen minutes. They start laughing, the soldiers, the Germans. They played a joke on us! They scared us to death. They told us that. I just played a joke on you, cause we need you to work. Dont be scared no more.
CE: Wow. And so they took 200 girls separate. Is everybody
RN: The rest out.
CE: And what happened with everybody else?
RN: The others went to the gas chambers. The mothers with children, and men which they wasnt shaved that day, people with glasses: that was the first.
RN: Yeah. And they took us to a place where the soldiers, the Polish soldiers which they took him as thehow you call it, when they capture the soldiers? Some Polish soldiers which had fight with the Germans.
CE: The political prisoners?
RN: Yes. There was a lot of Jewish were there, too. And they told us a few things which was very important. They told me to say that Im eighteen. Theyre not supposed to say that, but they went by us and theyre singing like a Jewish song, Say youre eighteen, say youre eighteen.
RN: I didnt know. If he ask me, How old you are? I will tell him the truth, that I am sixteen, and this wasnt good. So, now I was prepared to say Im eighteen.
RN: And a couple of our people, too. And the mothersI mean, before that, they told a young girl which holding a baby, they said to her, Give away the baby to your mother, and you, they take to work. Some of them listened, and they give it to the mother to hold it, and so they took the mother with the child to the gas chamber, and the daughter survived. And a lot of them did that. Some of them did it and some of them didnt; some of them preferred to go with the child, like my brothers. Both of them went with a child together; somebody told me that. So they took them, the children, the little babies. Some of them cried so loud that they took them by their little feet and they did it like that on the wall, on the brick wall, and the mother is standing there and looking, and the father.
Then the chefs wife, what I worked in the kitchen, I saw her in there. And they wanted to take the boy from her away, but she didnt let them, the Germans. So she was holding his hand and the Germanand she was holding this side, this hand, the boy, and the boy is screaming, Mama, dont let them! Dont let them take me. So with all her might she was pulling him on this side. And who was stronger? The German was stronger, and he grabbed him and they schlepped them right into the people, to the gas chamber, the young children there.
And this was Majdanek, and we was like six weeks at Majdanek, the camp. When we came in, I thought that Im in a crazy house. We saw people all naked. Not one of them wore clothing, men or women. Men were on the other side, with the electric wires. We couldnt be together with the men; they have a separate camp. And my girlfriend had a husband in that camp, you know, so they could talk some time in the evening through the wires. So, the clothes they took away, right away, from us, the clothes. So we find ourselves, young girls like that, naked. I was standing like that, I was so ashamed.
RN: It was the worst time in my life. They said theyre taking the clothes to disinfection, to make it clean. It took them like a whole week!
CE: To give them back?
RN: And they disinfected the clothes and they put them on the roofs of the barracks. They didnt dry so fast; it was raining. And meanwhile we were naked, nothing. And it was cold, freezing, so we warmed each other like that, taking around the girls and warm the body. After like a week, they took us in the barrack and gave us clothes.
CE: Had they shaved your head?
CE: Had they shaved you?
RN: Oh, yeah, I forgot to say that. They shaved my head completely, yeah. You know something? In the middle of the street, the men, the young guys, theyre shaving their private place and under their arm and everywhere. It was naked, you know. And the head, everything. Yeah.
So they put us in that barrack to give us clothes. They gave me pants, big, like could fit like three like me. This was pants from a prisoner, from a Russian prisoner. And a blouse, like ten like me could go in that, it was too big. And some of my girlfriends they give too small, too big, some too big, too small, and we looked at each other and we both start laughing, not recognizing each other. We looked caricatures, like somebody from another planet. Oh, the whole camp looked like another planet, like we are on the moon or some place that is unbelievable.
And at that camp was sitting between the barriers: the one side of barriers were mens barracks, and this side barracks was womens barracks. And it was cold, freezing, sitting like that the whole day without work, no work, and no food, no work. Give us like one slice of bread in the morning, and they give us a little bit of the black coffee. So me and my girlfriend had one plate, one thing of food they gave us, so we should share. So when they put in a little bit, like water food made with spinach, with their leaves, the green leaves, but we could feel the sand in that. But we have to swallow that anyway.
CE: What do you think that was?
RN: It was some leaves that growing in the field, and they cooked it with water and they didnt wash it out.
CE: So it was just sand?
RN: Sand, yeah. And also, they used the food that the people brought from homes. They put it in there to cook that, too. So you could find in this soup needles and pins and everything
RN: which the people have in their sack, in their rucksacks, when they came to the camp, you know.
CE: Now, let me ask you a question, because another woman who was in the camps told me that she thought that gritty sand stuff was something that they put in food that women would no longer menstruate.
RN: Yeah, thats whata part of that, but I dont know what it was for. But we couldnt swallow that anyway. But the men used to give us something when we walked to work and they saw us young girls going around with the bloody feet and everything. Theyre working with the trees, they chopping off trees, so they prepared for us the big leaves and they threw to us, by going by to work. So sometime I catch a couple of them, so I have what to wipe my legs, you know.
So after that, the Germans put something in the food, that I know that. But the sand, I thought thats plain sand. But I couldnt even swallow that, thats how much sand was in there. And then we ate the core from the trees. And my girlfriends, they ate it, but I couldnt eat it. It was stuck to my throat. I tried to
CE: What was it?
RN: From the trees, the core.
CE: The bark?
RN: Yeah. They chewing, chewing, and they could swallow, but I could never swallow because it was standing in my throat. I have to have some water to wash it down. Oh, they didnt have no water whatsoever. So thats what we tried to eat at work. Thats how hungry we were, so very hungry.
One time, we working together with the men. Theyre building a little place, a little housenot the crematorium, I dont know what they build it. So some of the boys knew me and the other two girls and they told us, Were going to have a nice meal today. They are preparing a nice meal, that the Germans left for a while and theyd be able to cook that meal; the Germans shouldnt see it. Sometime theyre drinking and they went to sleep for hours and hours, so we had a ball at the times when they werent there. So you know what they did?
RN: They catched a cat, running around cats. And they killed a cat and they putI didnt know about it. Just after I ate, he said to me, my friend(laughs) He said to me, Rachel, did you like that food? I ate that full plate he put down for me, you know, and a little potato he found, and he put it in that, too. Did you like that food? I said, Yeah, the meat was so slimy. And I ate it in such appetite and I really did eat it. And then after we all ate, he told us the true story, what it was. That was something. But we had eaten already.
CE: Thats right. What could you do?
RN: Thats why I keep a cat in my house, thats the reason. My cat is with me for ten years already. I have a white little cat. And I have so much trouble with her, but I still cannot give her up, you know, for so many years shes with me. Shes just like a human being, she knows everything. When somebody comes in, she has to check him out, not to harm me, notyou know. Its something that I sometimes thinking that this is impossible, for a cat to be that smart.
CE: So, you want to go back to the camp and tell me what kind ofdid you end up working there?
RN: Then they start thinking of the Red Army coming near, so they took us to Auschwitz.
CE: So how long were you at Majdanek?
RN: Six weeks.
CE: Six weeks, okay.
RN: Yeah, then took us to Auschwitz. Oh, this was hell on the
CE: Did you go on the train?
CE: They put you on the train again?
RN: Yeah, we went on the train. They gave us little bit of bread. And always the same three girls; we were always together, like a family, even friends after the war. And we came to Auschwitz and the girls start doing that, the tattoo. And I asking hera Jewish girl, speaking Jewish. I asked her, How is the camp here? What is doing here? because everybody said such a bad thing about Auschwitz. She said to me, You wait and see. Here, you dont have no mother, no father, no brother, no sister. You alone here. You live alone, you die alone.
RN: Thats the courage she gave to live. And she did my tattoo with the ink and a pen and it was hurting terriblenot like today they making tattoo. But my hands were swollen up like that. It was a little pen like they use in the olden day; they putting in the ink and they doing that.
CE: So its just a regular, like, quill pen or something?
RN: Yeah, yeah. Thats what they did. Thats why the hand swell up like that. And in Auschwitz, you have to use a little bit head also, and its not just luck. I never believed in luck, but you have to create yourself your luck, I think.
They took us first to work: it was Kommando 105. That was very famous. This kommando was Polish Jews, the mostthey hated the Polish Jews. I dont know why, because they have Jews in other countries. They have Jews in Greece. From Thessaloniki they brought men, tall big men. They told them they could comethe Germans, they occupied in there, too, and they told the men that theyre going to find work with them. They took them on the ships, on the water, and brought them to Auschwitz, and in Auschwitz they finished them.
And the women were most beautiful, the women from Thessaloniki in Greece. And the high officers used to have parties every Sunday night, and theyre not supposed to mingle with Jewish people. So they got drunk in the canteen and they picked about twenty girls, twenty-five girls, and they took them with them. They gave them wine, they gave them food, and they got drunk like they didnt know what theythey knew. I mean, who knows? And the girls were all hungry. They didnt know what the Germans taking them for. Most of them, he took the girls from Greecethey were most beautiful girls Ive ever sawand girls from Czechoslovakia. But I was a short girl, so I always hided even my head amongst the tall girls so they never see me. And anyway, I wasnt that pretty for them; they had more prettier girls that they choose.
CE: Did they choose
RN: But this helped me, too!
CE: Did they choose any Jewish girls?
RN: All Jewish!
CE: Oh, they were all Jewish.
RN: All Jewish, yeah.
CE: Okay, okay.
RN: Yeah, they was afraid to go to the Polish barracks. They didnt. So, always to the Jews. They just came to the barrack and told us all to go down from the barrack, from the sleeping quarter, from the bunks. And they choose and they, This, this, this, and write down the number and thats it, finished. They took them with them to that camp, you know. It was rooms in there, it wasand we heard the yelling from these girls the whole night, yelling and screaming. You know what they did with them. And that got to be a whole night. In the morning when theylike I say, my friend, he was from another town; he used to talk with me all the time, but over the wires. In the morning, he told me, Go, Rachel, have a look. All the girls he picked are laying dead on the sidewalk.
RN: So, put it nice, were near each other. I saw them with my own eyes. And they came to take them to the crematorium, the boys which they were in the Sonderkommando. So you know what they did? They killed them. They was afraid of the pregnancies and they were afraid for theirnot to be punished, cause theyre not supposed to mingle with the Jewish. And that was the end of the girls. And every time they came to the barrack to choose them we all ran, because
CE: Because everybody knew at that point.
RN: Yeah, we knew at that point. And then every Sunday they came, Sunday, like throughout the evening, and told us to go down from the bunks. It was like ten of them, the nurses with the doctors, and they took blood from everyone, from every girl. They need the blood for the wounded German soldiers, for them which they were wounded, and they took from the girls. They had the last little blood in them. They were skinny like sticks, like skeletons.
So what did I do? I always thinking of something to do, not to let them. If they would take meone time they did, just one time, and then I said to myself, Youre not going to do that no more to me. I said it to myself. It was on top of my bunk a little window, a small window, so I know how to work with it from the previous camps. I took out this little window and I walked out from that and sitting on the roofthis is in my book, too. (laughs) And Im sitting on the roof, like that, scared to death, you know, scared just to sit on the roof. But I said to myself, Oh, you sit quiet or youre going to be dead. (laughs)
CE: So they took blood from you one time?
RN: One time.
CE: One time.
RN: And the rest of the girls. So I heard them coming into the bunk already, that they had done already. They came to the bunks and they lay down, they couldnt even move. So I came down and I laid down near them. Nobody knew what I did and where I was, thats how many [there] were, you know. It was hard to keep count of everyone, you know. And I laid down near them, and thats what I did all the time when they came to take the blood. This was the worst. I couldnt take it, the blood taking.
CE: Wow! Now, did the other girls know where you were?
CE: They didnt know. So nobody knew where you went?
RN: No, no, no. Nobody knew that I know about it, how to do that. This you have to know, because I used to have a friend, a man who was a glazier on that farm.
CE: On the farm?
RN: He worked there as a glazier. He used to take me with him sometimes to his place of work, and he showed me how to do it. And I didnt want to listen. Oh, I dont need that to know, I said that to him. He said to me, Look, you never know what life could bring. You learn how to do that, maybe it will come handy to you and your way of life. So he showed me how to do that, and I knew.
CE: How to take the window out?
RN: Yeah! Its so easy to do that. And thatsthat I knew how to do that.
CE: So you could take it out and then put it back in.
RN: Yeah, and then I put it back in a minute and thats all. Yeah. I just wanted tothat no one see me, because they would do the same and I would be in trouble. One time, I escaped in the selection from Dr. Mengele.
CE: Tell me.
RN: He did a selection in the place when we took a bath sometime; they allow us a bath every three months, maybe. It was so cold on the street, and they made hot showers for us. That was in January, I remember. And after the hot showers, they threw us out on the street. It was freezing cold, nohow you call it, the towels to wipe off, nothing. Just like that, a lot of girls had pneumonia, and a lot died of that. And we stayed outside and shivering like that; and the water was dripping, the hot water, and we took also each other like that to warm the bodies for each other, and thats what they did.
But in the same showerthey called it the sauna. In the same sauna, they make selection. Dr. Mengele came in and he looked at everyone. There was a little a chair, and everybody has to go on the chair; and there was a table, a big table standing near him. And from the chair, we have to go on that table. And everybody was scared to death. So that timeI was in a couple of selections, but he didnt choose me, but they still need me to work; maybe thats the reason. But this time, we was in that sauna with the clothes on, and the girls start whispering to each other that we heard the trucks on the outside, that the trucks were prepared to take us to the gas chamber, all of us. Thats what they did sometimes: they took all, whoever was in that sauna.
So, I did again with the window, but I broke the window with my fist. It was so many girls that nobody saw. Just my one girlfriend knew, that I was very close with her. She was constantly near me, like she was even younger than me, so she considered herself as a child. So I just punched a big hole, and I was naked; he told everybody to take off the clothes before the selection, so I didnt have no more clothes on me. So, through that hole, I escaped. I knew that I dont have no place to escape. I mean, where do Ithis is Auschwitz. I could never go out alive from there. But anyway, I tried; I just cannot give myself up just like, not to fight.
So on the way that Im running out, I didnt even realize that the blood is gushing from mythat I hurt myself with the glass that I went out. The little piecesI didnt knock out the hole, just in the middle. So Mengele saw that, or somebody told him from the personnel, and they start running after me. And this little girl also went out, both of us. I was first and she was after me. And I saw a little house for the bees making honey, you know, the little ones. And I figured, Oh, Im going to go into that. Didnt even know if Id fit in that! (laughs) But I opened up that little door, was no bees in there at this time, and Im sitting like that, sitting like five minutes. All of the sudden, I see my (laughs) I see my house turning over. He run after me and he saw the blood, showed them where I went in. And he did with his boots, turn over my (laughs) little house. And he took me out, and I had no hair but he took me by my shoes, and schlepping me just like a dead person, schlepping to the place where he make the selection.
And he told the girlthis was a Blocklteste; that means she was the guard for us. She was from Czechoslovakia, beautiful woman, nice woman. And she knew me because I always did for her some work. I swept her room; I did something always to be with her that she would know me. So he took her and he said to her just like that, Hold on to her, on me, and when I finish all the selection, when I send them to the gas chamber, her, too. Send me to the gas chamber. She should owe me. And my girlfriend, they didnt find her. I dont know where she was then.
And shes holding me, and he goes back because they told him that more escaped. So he didnt want to see more escaping, so he stopped finishing the selection. That mean one on this side, one on this side, one to death and one to life, you know. The girls which wore glasses, they were the first one to go. I dont know what he had against that. (laughs) And the first selection when I was before him, he told me to turn around. I was like all of my ribs you could see in the front, so he want to see my ribs in the back. So he told me to turn around, I thought hed take me this timebut this wasnt the time that I escaped. This was different, that before.
CE: Right, right.
RN: So when she saw him going back to that place to finish his selection with the other girls, she said, Rachel, run! Run as fast as you can. Run out from here. And she made it possible for me, and I did, and I run out. Because there was so many, you know, and she said to me, He cannot be remembering you, maybe, after this whole selection, because he has so many to take care of. But try anyway, she said. So I did. I run as fast as I could, and I come to a barrack. It was a Revier; that was like a little hospital for the sick.
So outside, I see a girl that I knew, also from our organization. I knew her. She was a nurse, really, and she worked in there. And she said, What is that? From where are you running? What you did? And whos running after you? She start asking me questions, and I told her. And she said, Come with me. She took me in thein that place they had little bed, separate beds for the sick, thin boards made little beds. Took me on top of the beds. There was a little straw on that: the sick had privilege, they had a little straw under there, on their little bed. And she said to me, Lay down here, come here. And she helped me and she put me down on there. She put the straw on top of me, and thats how I was laying on there. And I didnt know nothing whats going on in there.
But later, this BlockltesteI was in her barrack, but she knew me; my name was in her, you know. But she told me that, Rachel, he didnt even remember. He didnt even look for you. He didnt remember nothing. After this, everything, and if I didnt do that, I would be taken to the gas chamber. I was very bad condition then, when I did that. So, thats what I mean you have to use your head also a little bit, beside luck.
CE: Yes, I agree.
RN: And then I went back to the barrack and she hugged me, and she gave me some little food from hers. And we became friends, good friends, since then. And she lived through the war, too.
CE: What was her name?
CE: What was her name?
RN: Bei. That was a Czechoslovakian name.
CE: Okay, okay. I think that this is a good place to stop for the tape change.
RN: Oh, okay.
CE: Okay, this is tape three with Rachel Nurman. So, Rachel, we were talking about your time in Auschwitz, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why you think you survived in Auschwitz. Why did you survive? What was it about you? Yes.
RN: Its the will to live.
CE: The will to live.
RN: Yeah, and to tell the word the injustice, what they did to innocent people because of religion, and to kill a nation. The world dont think too much about that now, because not too many was punished for that.
CE: You were talking a little during the break about how it took more than luck to survive.
RN: Its not just luck, but you have to think every step you make in there. But the same time, they hit you for doing things, or not doing, so its better to risk and to fight for your life.
CE: Did you have to work while you were in Auschwitz?
RN: I worked in the crematorium now.
CE: Oh, my!
RN: That is some very sad chapter in my life. Yeah, I saw the people going into the gas chambers, and I was working right near there putting the bundlesclothes, mens to mens and womens to womensfrom the dead people. And these people [are] alive, and they walking into that gas chamber, saw me and they said to me, Hey, Jewish girl, tell us, what they going to do with us here? And they saw the flames from the chimneys and they asked me, Is this a bakery? They are baking bread for us here? I couldnt answer them because they shoot me immediately, the Germans. I didnt say nothing, and they kept asking me, Jewish girl, tell me, what are they going to do with us here? They suspected something already. And the Germans start screaming through the megaphones, Please, ladies and gentlemen, you take off your clothes and go in and take a shower, and make sure your shoelaces are tied, because later you dont have to look for your shoes. And after you shower, you have hot coffee waiting for you.
And thats how theybut the people saw by going in that thiswhat the place looked like, so they start being scared and they didnt want to go in. And theyre hitting; this is the time when they are hitting them over the head with theirwhat they are holding in their hand, and they are hitting them. And the people are running fasterthey dont want to be hit by the guardsand they fill up the place. And then they close the doors and they put the gas through the roof, and we heard the yellings of the people, the Jewish prayer, the Shema Yisrael, and asking God what they doing, why this befell the Jews, why God couldnt choose another nation to be his favorites. They just choose the Jews. We dont want to be the favorites, to be killed.
CE: So, were you real close to the crematorium?
RN: I was right near, and I saw the people walking in, in there, and then when they opened the door they fell out stiff, all of them. It was little kids with the dolls holding, theyre walking in with their parents and the little children on their arms, and I saw everything was going on. And the yelling from the people was going to God. God didnt listen then to these people.
And I supposed to sleep in the daytime, because I was workingtwo shifts we work. Some girls worked in the day and I worked in the night. And we changed every time. So I couldnt even fell asleep when I worked in the nighttime; I couldnt sleep in the day because we listened to these screams from the people, and it was impossible tonot to cry and to lamenting how the people suffered before they going to their death, this humiliation in how they treated the young girls, how they hung the girls with their feet. And about fifty soldiers was around her doing this, raping her. I mean, the women suffered moreI mean, the men, too; but the women, thats what they did.
CE: Was that
RN: Without the shame, in front of everyof all the people.
CE: Was that common?
RN: In Umschlagplatz they did in thein the Warsaw Ghetto, too. Thats what they did for sport. Theyre hanging a couple of girls on the ceiling, by the feet, and thats how theythe German soldiers, some new tactics they have for that. And they keep raping her till she fell down dead.
CE: Oh, boy. Was that a common occurrence? Was that common to happen?
RN: Yeah, yeah.
CE: In the crematorium, near the crematorium?
RN: Yeah, yeah.
CE: (sighs) Oh, boy.
RN: Thatsthe moment I think of that, I remember every little thing. Then they brought to Auschwitz a transport, just children, without the parents. They grabbed them from their houses, from the parents, and they put them in a barrack right near my barrack that I slept in there. And I saw them going in from the trucks, the bigger children holding the smaller, and they were allthey were smeared with human waste, and screaming and yelling, Mama, Mama, we miss you. Mama, where are you? If God would listen thenif he listened and didnt do nothing about it, I dont believe in God. I dont believe in that almighty God, that he could see things like that, that he could let these people do things like that, but he didnt strike them dead.
Like, one time a German hit me very bad, for nothing. I was just going to my girlfriends barrack. She used to leave me a little bit soup. I was shortsighted all the time, and I didnt feel so good and I spitted out from my mouth, and I didnt see two Germans walking just across to watch me. I didnt see them. I wouldnt do that. I just did it because I didnt feel good. And they came over to me, running, running over to me. Why did you spit out? they said to me. Because you saw us? Thats what he said to me. And they start hitting me, one after the other, my headin my head, both of them kicking me. I was on the floor, kicking me. And one of them hit me with the gunwith the handle from the gun, hitting me. I wonder they didnt shoot me.
And the other one said to him, Come on, she still have her milk, her mothers milk, on her lips. Thats what he said in German. So I understand, stillI was stilland then I fainted. I wasntand he told the girls in the barracks to bring me into the barracks and put water on me, pails of water. And thats what they did. And I laying there the whole night, they told me, without any sign of life, and in the morning I woke up and they took care a little bit of me, and I survived from that, too.
CE: Did you ever give up?
CE: You never did?
RN: No, never give up.
CE: Never did?
CE: Thats amazing.
RN: We sometime changed the bread, the slice of bread. I want to change for soup; we could do that withit was like a black market, with the Russian girlsall different nations was there. So, I see a Russian girl holding a big plate of soup, and so I said to her, You want to trade for my portion of bread? Oh, yeah, yeah. She took my bread and I took theI thought I got a bargain, she gave me a bargain. And I ate that soup and I felt sick from that, and I almost died. You know what she did with that soup?
CE: What? Oh, Im afraid of
RN: She make urine in that to make it more.
CE: Yeah, yeah.
RN: To this time we was so hungry you didnt even feel it. And I ate that whole soup. And then I was deadly sick. I wasI thought this was the end. But still, I didnt give up.
CE: You didnt give up?
RN: No, I went to that place where you get water. I could be shot for that, cause it wasnt allowed in the daytime to go to that water. And I didhow you say, shrink it down my stomach? I was washing my stomach as much as I could, so that everything could go out from me, and I got better. And then I didnt do that anymore, to trade for that. That was Auschwitz market. Also, we get a little Blutwurst on Sundays. So you could see the blood from there: it was so red, so bad, I couldnt eat it. So I trade this also for a little bread. Bread I knew its clean, but they said that this Blutwurst was made from human meat.
CE: Do you think it was?
CE: You think it was?
RN: I couldnt eat that. Today, even, I dont eat. I wash my chicken (laughs) fifty times and I salt it and brush it to take out all the blood from that.
CE: So, did you go work during the day? Did you have to go off and work?
RN: When I worked near the crematorium?
CE: Oh, you were working in the crematorium. Was that your job the whole time you were there, the crematorium?
RN: Oh, they took us to Bergen-Belsen from there.
CE: Okay, okay. On a train, again? Were you on a train?
RN: Yeah, on the train. We walked someplace that I dont remember where this was. A short distance we walked. I dont remember that was Bergen-Belsen or what. A lot of things I dont remember.
So this Auschwitz, and the crematoriumoh, being in there, why they send us out? The men made a revolt. We had the barracks and we were laying so much clothes in there from the dead people and were sorting that, mens to mens and womens to womens and childrens, in bundles. And we left the Jewish star on it so we made sure that the German people which they get this in Germany would know from who these clothes is. But they find out about it. The clothes came to Germany without Jewish star on it. And they came into our barrack and start questioning who make that bundle, that bundle. But to this time they didnt know; of course, after that, they start telling us to sign our name: whoever did these bundles to sign the name on the bundles. I put my name on the bundles, that I made that bundle. So we stop doing that; we was afraid of that. And thats what they did with the clothes.
Oh, about the children, what I want to say. The children were standing in that barrack all night, crying, and that the wall could break from that crying. And I stayed outside. I thought its my brother that I heard his crying in there. That mythat was myamong so many children, could I recognize my brother? I couldnt, but I thought so. That is my brother! And I didnt go into the barrack to sleep, I just standing under the barrack. She didnt see me. In the morning, one of the guardsBloody Brygida, they called her.
Hildegard Lchert (1920-1995), also known as Bloody Brygida, was a guard at Auschwitz and Majdanek. In 1947 she was sentenced to fifteen years in prison at the Auschwitz Trial; she served nine and was released in 1956. From 1975 to 1981 she was tried at the Majdanek-Prozess in Dsseldorf, at which Nurman testified. Lchert was sentenced to another twelve years in prison and died in Berlin in 1995.
She came with a truck with a Red Cross band on her arm and start taking out the children. And she opened up that barrack where the children were, and she ordered the bigger ones to carry the smaller ones to the truck. And the rest, the little ones she took and she threw it on the children, on the heads, on the truck because they couldnt walk no more, the children. So she threw them over the heads of the other children, and straight to the gas chamber with them.
And I saw that, and I testified in the court in Dsseldorf. And I saw her in the court, and my son-in-law went with me, Eddy, and he was sitting in the front row. We had to go every day in the court. There was a judge and he didnt like to try his own people, because he was German. Anyway, but thats what they did. He asked me why I survived and my family didnt. And I told him just plain (audio garbled) I said, I fill in for the soldiers which they went to the front in Germany. I worked in the fields first, and then I worked in the crematorium there.
CE: So she didnt get convicted?
RN: No, they got to recognize her, and they say she was a good neighbor to the people. But they took her; they took her to Germany and she got prison, too.
CE: Okay, and she was in life imprisonment?
RN: Yeah, she also got it. Yeah.
CE: That must have been quite an experience, to go there to testify.
RN: Yeah, we was in a hotel, both of us. I have to tell you something.
RN: And people start getting sick with the typhus in there. And here I was talking to a girl; ten minutes later she was laying dead. I mean, that was somethingthe sickness made that. Most we were undernourished, you know.
CE: You were undernourished, okay.
CE: Did you get typhus? Did you?
RN: No. I had typhus in the ghetto, so that saved me from having it another time.
CE: Oh, because you dont get it another time?
RN: Yeah. So one day the men thatwe have friends in there also; theyre taking the same time from to Auschwitz, men that we knew themboys, young boys. They was laying on the floor; there was no bed, just on the bare floors was laying. It was cold or freezing. And also, I have thein the barrack with the people, the Blocklteste; that means the one who was in charge of the barrack. So I did open a little bit the doorthe window, also, for the people to have a little air. It was terrible; it was so many people laying on the floor.
And was a mother, took with her son with her, but we didnt know. They gave him the same dress, like they gave the women. He was a tall boy. He was like fifteen years old, a blond Jewish boy. So the mother risked that, too. She was from Hungary; they start bring Hungarian transports. And theyre laying on the floor, and I was giving out the soup. I helped theI always wanted to be a helper and to own something, that she should give me something in order to survive.
So Im giving out the soup, so I have to see everyone, that I give their little bit, pouring in their thing. And I looked at him and had a suspicion, but I didnt say nothing. I figured, Good luck to her. If she did a thing like that, a motherits a mother, you know. So she knew right away that I have a little idea about it. And she was afraid also when he went out to the Zahlappell. We had Zahlappell every day; no food but Zahlappell. Theyre counting us: they was afraid that somebody escaped. Two men escaped them from the thing.
So, this boy was laying right near his mother on the floor, you know, with a little shmates over their bodies. One day she comes over to me and she said, Look, I wanted to see you behave. You are like you treat the people. But I like how you treat all these people; you must be a nice person. Thats what she said to me. I said, Fine, thank you. You know, I did treat the people nice; I had always pity on these people that what they go through, the same what Ive been through. And she said, Look, I got from my home some jewelry, gold and diamonds. Ill give you whatever you want. Save my son, help me to save my son here. Nobody should see him cause he couldnt go out in the Zahlappell; the Germans will recognize him in a minute. The one who counted and looked in the face saw everyone. So I told her that, Look, if you listen to me, I dont want no jewelry, nothing. I dont know if I would be a survivor, I dont know yet. Youre still under German occupation, and they could do to us whatever they want. Right?
So I told herevery day, like, twenty people died in our barracks, from that thing: from not eating and everything, from the typhus. So we put him in the back of the barrack. The front we used to walk in to the barrack and the back was for the dead people; you put them out to lay there and we covered them with a little shmates, like, you know, because they were all naked. So I said to her, If you agree on that, I said to herthat came to my mind, what we could do with him. Nothing else we could do than that.
We put him into the corpses. I told her, I going to do it; if you are afraid, Ill do it. We both did it. We took him and we covered him with a couple of corpses, him on the bottom and a couple of them on the top, and covered him with the little shmates we had. We covered him and went in to the barrack to beto the Zahlappell, because we needed to be counted, like nothing happened. Nobody knew; only me and her. We made sure nobody should see us doing that. We made believe that he goes to the bathroom, that we all three went to the bathroom when we went out and things like that, to make the people not to know where we going. And nobody was even interested to know.
And thats how hes laying till the Zahlappell was ending. Sometimes three, four hours, it was still no ending; somebodys missing. They counted again and looking for the one whos missing, thats how it was. And that how was laying the boy. And after that, after the Zahlappell, we both went out. It was dark in the street already; it was dark. And we both took him in the inside, in the barrack. And I saved a little soup for him from the day, what we have.
The boy didnt say a word. He didnt complain, he didntbut his face was solike from a dead person, so grey. And I looked at him and I said, You go through this, believe me, and be strong. And I took him into it. Nothing going to happen in there. The dead people couldnt do nothing to you; its just the live ones could do to you, but not the dead ones. Dont be scared. It was a little boy, you know, and hes listening what I say to him. And every day for a while we did it every day with him, and this was a job to do it. And you know something? He survived the war.
CE: Thats wonderful!
RN: And after that she calledher son was in the Hungarian Army, and she called the Red Cross and he came right away to the camp. He came. And you know something, what he did? They told them about me, what I did, and they threw me in the
CE: This is tape four with Rachel Nurman. Could you talk a little bit about your philosophy of life? How you live, how you think?
RN: I dont know what to tell you about it.
CE: Well, we were talking during the break about how you think about death, but you come back to thinking about right now and living. Could you talk about that?
RN: I think that what people believe about heaven and hell, to me, it doesnt make sense. It makes sense to me here. People which has pleasure from their children and they are good situated and they healthy, that mean heaven they have in this world. And people which they have children taken away from them, killed in the war, or sick or dying, this is hell, what they go through on this world. Its only death, and after theres nothing left, just our bodies to rot. Nothing else.
CE: How do you think
RN: Thats my personal thinking.
CE: And youre okay with that?
CE: I mean, thats the way you
RN: Yeah, yeah. Hell I went through already, so if I go to hell, Im not afraid of that.
CE: Can you talk about what impact you think the Holocaust had on you, going through the Holocaust?
RN: I think that the world didnt learn their lesson yet from the Holocaust, and looks like after the Holocaust they start doing it again to other countries, like the war whats going on now. That the world saw what was happening and they didnt do nothing about it. They didnt punish them after people. And being in Germany, I saw Germany so built up, and I hate to say that they built it up is more prettier than the United States, their stores and plenty of food and plenty of everything. And thats what they got from the robbing these people and putting them to death and they got their possessions. What do you think they did with this everything? That went to the German people, to the public.
CE: And what impact did it have on you, in particular?
RN: On me?
RN: That I never knew whyI never had the answer, why they did it to innocent people, why the world let it happen? And the churches, what they did, from the JewishI cannot say nothing. They have nothing to say about that; they were persecuted themselves, too. But the churches, they go for that, that a life and a person is very sacred. And here they knew about what was going on, how theylittle children being killed, and what a humiliation they did to people; sometimes its worse than that. And nobody did nothing to them. Just a few of them got hanged, and that make no impression on them.
And the country is a good country, and they have everything more than everybody else with their robbing, what they did. Why did they have that? But they say nowthey interviewed the big shots, (inaudible) and, you know, the other. They did it because they needed money. They needed the Jewish money, they said. And the world has that and the churches knew about it. For money, its okay to kill people, to kill the innocent people for money? And they didnt do nothing about it, the churches. The priests didnt do nothing about it. And to me this everything what I see, what a priest doing the baptizing, they do that, they do thatto me, its a humiliation to people, too, because they dont deserve to do that, because they dont value human life, because they Christian. Christians and Jews, to me, theyre the same. We are all the same, Gods people. Do I look different than you or somebody else, the same feelings I got than everybody else? So to me, this makes no sense, all these things.
CE: Did you talk about your experiences right after the war, or not?
CE: No? And why not?
RN: A lot of people cannot understand that. They just dontsome of them dont even believe it.
CE: Did you and your husband talk together about your experiences?
RN: Yeah, he told me his story and I told him my story, and we went through almost the same thing. And still, after this everything, we couldnt get along. We should be grateful to live through that, right? We have three children, and he still wasnt satisfied. I was satisfied having the precious children. But my husband, never. No, he didnt appreciate that. He didnt make peace with this world; he never made peace with that. He was always angry, always criticizing, always looking for the bad things in people.
But I did the opposite. I looked [for] goodness in people, too. I dont say that all Germans are guilty what they did to the Jews: was some of them good, too, good people who helped the Jews. So, its not right to say that. Like Hitler said that all Jews were bad; thats why all Jews were have to die, have to perish all Jew. And who did put him to the power? The German Jews put him to the power. In Germany, the Jews were very wealthy. And the first thing, he did away with them, the people who put him to power. They could never imagine that come a time for that, they send them out from their country.
He sent them to the Warsaw Ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto suffered so much from hunger themselves, yet they send in the Jews from Germany. They came so elegantly dressed, so beautiful, such beautiful stuff that was taken away from them immediately. And they told us in the camps, the last minute already, and this was in Bergen-Belsen, Oh, soon youre going to see your friends from England with their cigars, with the cylinders; they come to the gas chambers here. And I said to myself, Not on your life. Thats what they thought theyre going to do to England, too. Yeah.
CE: Did you talk to your children about your experiences?
RN: One of them is interested in that, my youngest son. He has a website on there. Yeah, Freddy Nurman. And the two of themmaybe my daughters right. She tells me, Mama, you have to try to forget as much as you can because it does you bad, to your body, to your mind. Like all my girlfriends that was with me in the camps, they all died from mental illness. Before they died in Israel they spending like two, three years in a mental hospital. I just talking to my girlfriends son from Israel; hes a detective in Israel. He told me, They want to take my mother, he said, to a mental institution, but Im going to keep her in my home, with my wife and children, till she die. Im not going to let them take her out from my home. This her son, my girlfriends son.
CE: What happens when you tell your story like now? Does it help you or does it not? Is it hard?
RN: I feel that with my telling people, theyre not going to let it happen again, to any nation. I just not talking about Jews, but any nation. Any nation whoshow do you callhow you call it, not the majority but the opposite?
CE: The minority.
RN: The minority, right. Any minority, it could happen to them, that. To fight their aggressor all the time, and to Jewish people, also. We didnt fight because we didnt have no weapon. And the second thing: they did have a good system. They hungered out the Jewish people, so then they dont have a mind to fight. They cannot fight. A hungry person could fight just thinking of food, of what to eat today.
CE: Do you dream about the Holocaust?
RN: Excuse me?
CE: Do you dream
RN: Oh, yeah.
CE: You do?
RN: Yes, sir, I dream all the time.
CE: You do?
RN: Yup, yup.
CE: And do you think about it every day?
CE: You do?
RN: It doesnt leave me. No, no.
CE: And does thisdoes telling your story make you think about it more? Does it make you feel bad?
RN: Yeah, that this could happen in my generationand to any human being that this could happen. And the world let it happen.
CE: Is there anything you want to leave the audience with that you havent said?
RN: I want to tell people that no prejudice should be any more. People are all the same. They should live in peace and to see to that, that their children could live in peace. They shouldnt be afraid for any prejudice that they come and pick them up as a single person of their religion and notto me, religion has no sense at all. Religion is just a thing of the mind. People are all the same to me. Are they this religion or that religion? They all the same and they suffer the same and they have the same time on this world and not to let (inaudible) to no one.
CE: Okay. I want to thank you very much for sharing your story with us, Rachel.
RN: And after that I go home and I cry a little bit and
CE: Thank you.
RN: And I thinking of how this people choking in that gas chamber because I heard them screaming and to say the Jewish prayers and to suffer before that, you know? Sometime like the man comes in to spray my house with the things for the
RN: For the insects. And the smell is so bad, and these people went through that, to inhale that. And you know, to die from that, not to have the air in there. There was closed (inaudible) the doors in there, had no windows. And the men, they were stronger than the women, so they was always on the top. They thought if they climbed on the top, on the people, that maybe it would not come to them so fast. But they all died.
CE: And now, I would like to think about your wonderful children, your wonderful son-in-law, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren
RN: Yeah, but still, its a hole in mya wound in my heart. Its never going to heal. And whenever things good happen to me, all of a sudden something says to me, You dont allow yourself to be happy because you lost yourall your loved ones. I had four brothers, which I loved them so much. I never forgot them. I always say a prayer for them, their lives. How good people they were: they working and doing everything as human beings to live in this world, not to harm no one. Now, my two sonsthe older one, when I catch a fly hes screaming to me, Mama, dont kill it, just let it out on the window. Thats how theyand things that I couldnt tell my sons about me, also, that I cannot tell them the story, either. And Ithe reason is that I dont do that, I dont want my sons to carry that hatred in them. Its not good for them to be carrying that, because if they would know, they would go out and kill every German, and I dont want them to be killers like the Germans. Thats the reason I didnt tell them.
And I take this to my grave with me. And why I cannotI cannot think of the reason. I thinking a lot about that, but I cannot find a reason why. The why is always hanging with me? Why? Why this happen to our nation? Jews are not fighters, theyre not violent people; its hard for them to fight back. Like, they come in the town and they put themall the townspeople in the church, in a synagogue, and they locked the doors and the windows and theyre burning the synagogue with all the people inside.
CE: Is there anything else you want to add before we turn the tape off?
RN: Excuse me?
CE: Is there anything else you want to say before I turn the tape off?
RN: I say that the GermansI dont say that all people are guilty, but the ones who did this to our nation should be cursed for generation and generation to come. To the tenth generation they should be cursed for that.
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Rachel Nurman oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Carolyn Ellis.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (173 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (66 p.)
Holocaust survivors oral history project
Interview conducted July 5, 2010.
Oral history interview with Holocaust survivor Rachel Nurman. Nurman was born in Poland in 1926 and lived with her family in a Warsaw suburb. In 1940 the family was sent to the Warsaw Ghetto, where Nurman and her brother belonged to one of the resistance organizations. Nurman was removed from the ghetto and sent to a nearby farm, where she worked for almost two years; this saved her from being deported to Treblinka. Most of the ghetto's inmates had already been deported by the time she returned. Nurman then went to Majdanek, where she was a prisoner for six weeks, and from there to Auschwitz, where she stayed for a year and a half. While at Auschwitz, she worked at the crematorium, sorting the bundles of clothing. As the Soviets approached the camp, Nurman was moved to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated by the British Army. From there she went to a displaced persons camp for two years, where she met her husband. They then immigrated to the United States. In 1981, Nurman was a witness at the Majdanek Trial, testifying against Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan.
Majdanek (Concentration camp)
Auschwitz (Concentration camp)
Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp)
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
v Personal narratives.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Majdanek Trial, Dsseldorf, Germany, 1975-1981.
Crimes against humanity.
Florida Holocaust Museum.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Holocaust survivors oral history project.
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