Edith P.

A Czech survivor describes Auschwitz

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Excerpts copyright © 1996, Yale University Library.

Edith P., the youngest of six children from a middle class family, was born in eastern Czechoslovakia, and never perceived antisemitism during her youth. Her family emphasized education and love for family, principles which have guided her life. The annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany was a tremendous blow. Her brother, who served in the Czech military, emigrated to Israel shortly thereafter. The Hungarian occupation in early 1944 brought further difficulties for the Jews. But despite rumors of atrocities in Poland and her father's position on the Judenrat, they did not suspect their fate.

The Jewish community was forced to live for two weeks in a nearby brickyard, under terrible conditions. Then, in June 1944, they were loaded into cattle cars. Her father's last words to her before arriving at Auschwitz were that those who survived should work and keep their principles. Separated from her family, Edith was shaved, given camp clothing and assigned to a block. Her sister-in-law found her there and helped her move so they would be in the same block, where Edith remained for over six months. She reflects upon the dehumanization, humiliation and her inability to express in words the pain of hunger.

"Auschwitz, if I would like to describe it, I would say there is - there has not been - there has not been - people did not invent an expression what Auschwitz was. It was hell on earth. And the silence of Auschwitz was hell. The nights were hell. And the days - somehow, we got up at three o'clock in the morning, and at four o'clock summertime or four-thirty when the sun came up it was not like the sun! I swear to you, it was not bright! It was always red to me, it was always black to me, it never said, never was life to me. It was destruction."

Edith was transferred to Salzwedel with her sister-in-law, and they worked in a munitions factory. After she obtained a job in the kitchen, she became herself again, because she was not always starving. Determined to conduct herself so her family would be proud, Edith shared extra food with her fellow prisoners. They were liberated on April 14, 1945 by American troops. Among the troops was the first African-American she had seen in her life, to whom she feels eternally grateful. Keeping her father's words in mind, Edith obtained work as soon as possible. She emigrated to the United States, married an American and had three daughters. Edith discusses the importance of her husband's love and support and the loneliness of raising children with none of her own family to share happy moments or give her advice. She reflects upon the importance of taking a stand so that others will never experience what she did.

Edith P. Holocaust Testimony (HVT-107). Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University Library.

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An edited version of this testimony is available for loan to schools and community groups. Excerpts are also included in a second edited program, Seeing.