THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
1-7-1998 Eighth Program in Series
Guest: Lucille Eichengreen
Book: FROM ASHES TO LIFE: My Memories of the Holocaust
ISBN-10: 1562790528 : and ISBN-13: 978-1562790523
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. Imagine living through the experience, being dragged off in a cattle car against your will, put in a camp, having them shave your body hair, strip you of your dignity and send you on a number of tortuous journeys, malnourishment, cold winter nights!
Just trying to keep your mind on the business of survival, you would think might be enough; but, imagine having the strength of mind and character to remember the names and addresses of 42 of your assailants! That’s exactly what Lucille Eichengreen did! We have her book, “FROM ASHES TO LIFE”. Lucille, welcome aboard!
Lucille E: Thank you very much!
Roger: I was rather intrigued, Lucille, that you were able to remember the details against these SS officers who later came to trial as a result of what you remembered. Is that true?
Lucille E: I remembered their names. I remembered their addresses. The reason I remembered was that I worked for a short period in the camp office. We did not have typewriters so we kept records on pads which were handwritten. If you write it over daily, once or twice for a period of two or three months, you just keep remembering the names and addresses.
Roger: I guess it would seem that with all the trauma, it would be hard to do that ;but, you managed that! Tell the audience a bit of your experience, Lucille, where you came from and how you ended up in Auschwitz and other places.
Lucille E: I was 8 years old when Hitler seized power in Germany. My parents, my sister and I, were Polish nationals residing permanently in Germany.
I think it was in the summer of 1933 that I first heard the word “anti-semitism”. I had never heard the word before and I still did not know exactly what it meant. I found out only too soon. I went to a private school, a parochial school. It was a long way to school, a walk of roughly 40 minutes. During the fall of 1933 the German children, none Jewish, would wait for us, they would spit at us. Ultimately, they would beat us up! For a child 8 years old, this was impossible to comprehend!
The neighbors that used to talk to us prior to the 1933 either ignored us or would pass us on the street and spit. There was nothing but contempt and hate. How does an 8-year-old child cope with that? I tried to talk to my parents about it, and like all the adults in the early years of that regime, their answer was, “It is a passing phase. Things will return to normal.” Life did not return to normal. It got worse!
Jewish men and women lost their jobs at universities, at government agencies as civil servants. Jews had to pay heavier taxes. They ultimately had to hand over their jewelry; gold and silver. Their property was taken, no compensation was granted. And still, people believed that life would improve.
The last warning for us should have been November 9, 1938, the “Night of Broken Glass”, “Kristallnacht”. I went to school the following morning. I saw the synagogues burning. I saw books burning. Germans in uniform were laughing!
That same day the Germans rounded up most Jewish men from the age of 16 up to, I guess, 80. The men were ultimately taken to a concentration camp not far from Berlin. Over a period of 6 weeks to 6 months they were gradually released. I remember vividly that the men that returned did not speak of their experience. Their suits were rumpled. The wrinkles would not disappear. They were run through a disinfecting process and no amount of dry-cleaning or pressing would remove those wrinkles. The men had missing front teeth. They were very thin, very gaunt; but, they had one thing in common. Most of them made an effort and managed, with very few exceptions, to leave Germany immediately.
It should have been a red flag for all of us. Regrettably, the world did not make visa available. Immigration quotas were so tight and so strict that you had years to wait before you could enter the United States or another European country or Great Britain. Australia didn’t want any part of it. So, we waited as best we could.
My grades in school dropped drastically from an A and B to C and D because I was afraid. I could not concentrate. My parents supplied tutors and the grades somewhat improved; but, I don’t think that fear ever left me. If you had asked me, in those days, “fear of what?” I don’t think I could have told you. It was just fear, an intrinsic feeling that I could not escape; that I was afraid. Something was looming on the horizon. I could not tell you what.
Germany, of course, took over parts of Alsace, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria. On September 1, 1939 the German army invaded Poland without provocation of any sort. Poland fought as best as they could. It was a very small country. Within a week the country was practically occupied. There were pockets of resistance but it did not do any good.
We heard all this in Germany. In the meantime, we were asked to move into furnished rooms. We had to give up our apartments, our houses for a small room for four or five people.
We tried desperately to get papers for the U.S. But the quota number was tremendously high! It would probably have taken three years. We tried to get a passport to Palestine. The British wanted pound sterling to facilitate entry. The irony was that you were not allowed to hold foreign currency. In order to obtain the visa to Shanghai, you needed 400 US dollars. Our accounts, our money was blocked. We got a very small amount monthly; but, we had no access to any of our bank accounts, any real estate, nothing. It was all confiscated by the main office in Berlin. We petitioned; but, the petitions were all denied.
On September 1st, the day the Germans invaded Poland, the German secret police, called Gestapo, came to our door, asked for my father and arrested him as an enemy alien. After roughly 10 days, there was no more Poland. He was shipped from a regular prison to concentration camps near Berlin and ultimately to Dachau.
The communications we received from my father were one or two sentences: “I am fine. Take care of yourselves. I hope to see you.” Nothing else! You couldn’t write anything else because it was obviously censored. My father survived Dachau for roughly two years which was quite a feat considering how people were treated in a concentration camp, the fact that they were neither fed nor clothed.
On January 31, 1941, the German secret police came to our house, dropped a cigar box tied with a rubber band on the kitchen table with the words, “Ashes- Benjamin Landau.” I think it was one of the very few times that the Germans ever returned ashes. We, of course, knew, and it was explained to us, that these were not my father’s ashes. The Germans did not want to bother with individual cremations. They cremated 50 or 100 bodies at a time and it was a handful of somebody’s ashes. There was a burial, a stone was set with my father’s name. It took me 50 years to go back.
We still lived in Germany. The British were bombing parts of northern Germany. In fall, October, 1941, we received notification to pack some belongings and we would be resettled. Rumor had it that it would be in the east; but, no further information. We each packed a suitcase, my mother, my little sister and I. We were transported in sealed cars, 3rd class railroad cars, under guard, for three days and three nights.
When the doors were opened we faced a group of men who wore black uniforms. Their hats had the Star of David. On their coats, on the right side they wore a yellow star that said JEW –the same as we had to wear. This was called Ghetto Police. We were told that we were in the ghetto of the City of Litschmanstadt (sp?)— the Germans had renamed the former city of Lodz which was eastern Europe’s Manchester with a lot of textile weaving and related professions. We were told we would work and live there.
It was a two-hour walk from the railroad siding into the center of the area which we were to occupy. It was dirty. It was dusty. The road was not surfaced, it was just dirt. It was warm and we looked around. The houses were ramshackle shacks, they were not houses. One of the policemen explained to us that this was the *BALOOT* section of the Lodz ghetto. The *BALOOT* meaning the slum of a large industrial city. Prior to the war it had been occupied by very poor people, by an element that was into illegal activities; Jewish as well as non-Jewish, Catholic. It had a reputation of not being a very savory area.
The room we occupied in the ghetto, probably a 10 x 10 room, together with five other people, had just three wooden cots and a small metal stove, nothing else. It had a small window which looked down on barbed wire and and sentry house. Every two hours the sentries would change, the German guards would change and a new contingent of guards would take over. We were stunned! Coming from a middle class lifestyle into a place of this sort was incomprehensible!
It was late fall. It started snowing. It was unbelievably cold! Probably not quite as cold as the state of Minnesota; but, not far from it. We had no proper clothing to protect us. We had no coal to heat the oven. The bucket of water in the room froze overnight. We had no running water. There was a pump in the courtyard. There were no toilets. There were no bathrooms. There were no showers. There were no bathtubs, just the pump of cold water in the yard. We had to drag up a bucket at a time, up three flights of stairs. The outhouses in the backyard defied description! It was an unbelievable situation!
I was the only one in the family that ultimately found work as a clerk; first in one office and then in another office. As a working member, you could get a watery soup at lunchtime. The soup had no nourishment. It was devoid of any kind of potatoes or starch. It was just a watery mess; but, it was better than nothing at all.
I suffered most under the cold. I could not tolerate the winds and the cold. There were no buses. There was no public transportation. You walked! My shoes soaked through. I had frozen toes. That first winter was a nightmare, not that subsequent winters were any easier!
We had epidemics of dysentery, of typhus. The ghetto now has a head count in the cemetery of roughly 60,000 to 70,000 dead! That was not enough for the Germans. Periodically, they would have the Jewish ghetto administration draw up lists of the very young ones, the very old ones, the recent arrivals, the infirm. Those people, at irregular intervals, would be deported; sent away from the ghetto, supposedly to a different work camp. We never heard from them again. They were all killed.
In the ghetto we manufactured coats for the German army, hats for the ladies in Germany, metal gadgets for the army, straw boots for the Russian front, carpets for the ladies in Germany, corsets for export to Germany. We figured out the coal ration for the entire German population in Germany. We did the clerical work and the forms were sent back to German.
The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire with sentry guards.
There were no sewers. They were open sewers! You had to jump over them to cross the street!
We had no contact with the outside. There was an occasional radio; but, when the Germans found it, you paid with your life for it! Even the radio would only tell us what the BBC would report, which was really not what we needed to know. We needed to know if we could get help from anybody — would anybody smuggle anything into the ghetto — any guns, any food, anything?
I had friends in fairly high positions in the ghetto administration. They had no information whatsoever! We did not know what was going on half and hour away from the ghetto. We did not know how close the Russians were to the ghetto and that they just stood there for six weeks and waited. We did not know that the children they deported from the ghetto, including my sister, were gassed in portable gas vans an hour from the ghetto and buried in mass graves. We did not know of the existence of Auschwitz, of Stutthof, of Bergen-Belsen. We had never, never heard of it!
My mother died of hunger in July, 1942. My sister was deported in September of that same year. My mother is buried in the Lodz in the cemetery; but, there were no gravestones. I left a little wooden marker. The marker had disappeared after 50 years. There are no records.
Roger: Lucille, I’ve got to take a break here. Ladies and gentlemen, Lucille Eichengreen is our guest. Her book is, “From Ashes to Life” the story of her memories about the holocaust. Quite compelling stuff! We’ll continue right after the break.
Roger: Welcome back, folks! “From Ashes to Life” is the book. The author, Lucille Eichengreen joins us!
Lucille we’re back! You were telling us of your mother buried in this graveyard. Were you able later to find her grave?
Lucille E: I went back after 50 years. No. Among 70,000 graves there are maybe two dozen stones remaining. All the others are not to be identified. It’s a grassy hill and you know you have 70,000 human beings buried there. But, that is all.
Roger: You were working as a clerk?
Lucille E: Yes.
Roger: So you were spared death because of that?
Lucille E: Well, I was spared the deportation. I worked in several offices. Ultimately, I worked in the factory sewing leather gadgets for the German army. My name did appear on a deportation list. A friend of mine tried, through a friend of his, to have my name deleted from the list and he managed that on the last day. I felt, and I was very young then–I was 18 years old — that here I knew the horrors; but, to leave into new horrors would be worse. So, I stayed. The people who were deported were never heard from again.
The ghetto had roughly between 150,000 and 200,000 people at any one time. It remained in existence until August, 1944 when the Germans ordered the systematic and fast liquidation of the ghetto.
We had to report to the railroad siding where we were pushed into cattle cars. After two to three days we arrived at the platform in the early morning hours, about 4:00 a.m. –brightly lit — Germans in SS uniforms with guard dogs. Before we even realized where we were or what this place was, the men were separated from the women, the old ones from the young ones. Within 10 minutes we were marched into different directions!
I, and friends of mine, were marched with the women who were still halfway young and halfway able to work. As you mentioned before, we were stripped of all our belongings, all jewelry. The worst part was that they shaved our heads! I cannot begin to tell you what women look like with any hair, with bald heads!
I think I will skip over Auschwitz because Auschwitz was one place that people have heard most about; the gas chambers worked day and night! The chimneys were smoking day and night! It only took us hours to find out through the grapevine what this place was!
After a few weeks we had to run past a German inspection team. One of the German officers was Dr. Mengele; but, we did not know that. We had to carry our one rag, which was all the clothing we had, in our left hand. He had separated the fit ones from the ones he deemed not so fit.
Those of us who looked a little younger and a little stronger were pushed into cattle cars. We were given an additional garment and after three days we arrived at the outer harbor of the City of Hamburg, which had been badly bombed by the British and the Americans. The place was called *DESSAWA-UFFA* . We were put to work cleaning up the bomb damage in the outer harbor; glass, metal, bricks, you name it! We were given no gloves, no protective clothing. It was cold. It was beginning to be winter. It was raining. We were coughing. Most of us caught pneumonia; but, we worked! There was really not other choice, if you didn’t work you were shot!
From that camp we were put into a different camp which was called *ZAZEL-NOIMGUMA*
It was an enormous camp. It housed mainly French prisoners, male prisoners. Ours was a subdivision of 500 women. We had to build concrete houses out of concrete, not blocks; but, plates, for the Germans that lost their houses in the bombing. It was hard physical work! Of course, food was at a premium and there was not much food. At least, the place didn’t have a gas chamber!.
It was at that camp that I worked for a short time in the office and somehow managed to memorize the names and addresses of the guards.
From there we were shipped to another camp. This camp was called Bergen-Belsen. I remember walking through the gates. On the right and on the left of the gates were huge mountains of shoes. No feet, no legs, no people—empty shoes! Old ones, large ones, new ones–empty shoes!
We were housed in barracks in Bergen-Belsen which, at that time, spring of 1945, was totally diseased! The bodies were no longer buried. They were lying in the barracks, on the walkways in huge open pits! Decaying bodies!
We were given sometimes some soup or some food. More frequently than not, we were not given anything.
I don’t think anybody could have survived Bergen-Belsen for, at most, a month! We were fortunate that on April 15th, the British army in their advance up the Elba to cut off the Russian army, stumbled across the camp! The came with tanks up the camp avenue and they did not believe what they found! They had no equipment, they had no medical help, they had no food, they were absolutely stunned! Of course, they were afraid to let us out of the camp. We were diseased. We were lice infested. Some of us were very, very angry and full of hate and there was nothing but revenge on our minds. The war wasn’t over yet. It was April 15th . The war didn’t end until six weeks later when Germany capitulated.
I was fortunate enough that I spoke English and I started working almost immediately for a British Major as an interpreter, a translator.
Eventually the British managed to get food into the camp; but, even after they had come, another 10,000 people died! They could no longer be saved. They were too far gone!
Roger: Oh, Lord!
Lucille E: The dead had to be buried with bulldozers! There was no other way to bury them.
We were eventually housed in the former German army buildings. Within weeks, the camp was burned down! It was so infested and so beyond saving, that today there is nothing left of the camp!
As I worked for the Major, in a conversation once, the 42 SS guards from the camp came up and he didn’t believe me. I wrote down the names and addresses and he checked it out. I went with the British army, with huge trucks and we picked up 40 of the former SS. I asked to walk past the prison cells that housed them the following week, just to look at them. All of them said, “We never did anything bad unless you deserved it. We never did anything against the law. We never did anything against humanity. Please help us!” I did not answer. I did not argue. I did not respond!
Shortly thereafter, I gave a deposition. It was an English military court setting. The Germans sat in the first row….
Roger: Let me take this quick break, Lucille, and we’ll be right back! Folks, if you’d like to ask Lucille a question, we’ll have time for a couple of calls.
Roger: Welcome back! Lucille Eichengreen’s with us! Her book, is “From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust.” Lucille managed to memorize the names and addresses of 42 SS officers and was there when they were rounded up…. by the way folks, you can call in!
Now, Lucille, you were at this court for the deposition?
Lucille E: Right! I remember most things fairly clearly; but, I don’t remember the questions. I don’t remember my answers. It lasted a couple of hours; but, I have no recollection!
I do recall that within the following week I got several threats, handwritten notes under the door of the dormitory setting where I lived, threatening my life! They were probably from the families of the Germans who had been arrested. As a result, the British drove me to Paris because Paris was the only place in Europe that had an American embassy.
In March, 1946 I received a visa for the United States, thanks to the help of some friends in New York and a letter of commendation from the British War Crimes Department. I arrived in New York at the end of March, 1946.
I did not go back to Europe, to Germany or to Poland until 50 years later.
Roger: When the British military came, you worked for this Major, you said. When they first saw the camp, had they seen anything like that up to that point?
Lucille E: No, they had not!
Roger: So, this came as a total shock to them?
Lucille E: For this particular group of people, it was the first major camp that they encountered on their advance to Germany.
Roger: Do you think that people just didn’t realize, I mean the people of the world; Great Britain, America and other countries, didn’t realize how bad, how traumatic this really was.
Lucille E: No, I don’t believe that because Professor Kauski (SP?) came to the United States in 1942 after he’d been to Warsaw. Professor Kauski (SP?) is not a Jew. He told Washington how bad it was! There are records now declassified in Washington that spells all this out. There are also aerial photographs. The allies bombed the oil fields near Krakow which is less than 10 miles from Auschwitz. So, yes, the world knew! The world did not care!
Roger: But, the British troops rolled up to the camp. I mean, it’s one thing for someone to tell you how bad it is, it’s quite another to witness it!
Lucille E: Yes, I agree.
Roger: The rap that I always think is fairly given to the governments of the world is that they didn’t respond hard enough and soon enough to this issue. And, I don’t know why! What bothers me is that even in modern times, although quite different; but similar in the sense there’s a lot of death and mayhem, in places like Rwanda…. it seems like the world doesn’t respond!
Lucille E: Right! Look at the former Yugoslavia!
Roger: It takes a long time for people to respond to anything!
Lucille E: Which is inexcusable.
Roger: Is it the world’s responsibility to respond, do you think?
Lucille E: If we want to call ourselves “human”, I would say yes. We should care about our fellow human beings. We should also learn from the past! Have we learned from the past? Regrettably, very little. And that hurts!
Roger: Why do you say that?
Lucille E: Because of what you said. You said, look at the world around us.
Roger: Yes, yes!
Lucille E: Okay! Have we made any progress? I’m not talking about scientific progress. Human progress! Do we care about our fellow human beings? I mean, what has been going on and is going on in the former Yugoslavia is inexcusable! This is the 21st Century!
Roger: How do you know what to do in those circumstances, using Yugoslavia as an example. They’ve been warring factions, the Muslims and the Christians, for a thousand years!
Lucille E: Yes; but, that doesn’t mean you have to kill people by the millions! And, the world stands by and watches. I don’t think that is human! I really don’t have the answer! I’m not a politician.
Roger: We’ve got a lot of young people listening out in the audience. As a matter of fact, our phones are ringing with people wanting to order tapes of this program rather than going on the air! But, what I’m curious about, is what message can you send to this next two or three generations of kids that might help them ensure that this doesn’t happen again? I believe it can happen again!
Lucille E: Yes, I believe the same! If you see or hear of an injustice, speak up! Do something about it! You might pay a price for it; but, that is life. Nothing comes cheaply!
Roger: Yes! Do you think there are signs of things happening, even in America today?
Lucille E: I would hope not. I would hope that this country is diverse enough in backgrounds that it would not happen; but, I don’t think it is totally impossible.
Roger: I mean….
Lucille E: History can repeat itself!
Roger: The issue is, I think, most appropriately, that government, given too much power and authority over the people, can selectively destroy any people they want.
Lucille E: Yes. But on the other hand, if we live in a free country, we can elect or not elect representatives. If we disagree seriously enough on any one issue, we can demonstrate. And we’ve done so more than once!
Roger: Yes! Do you think that after the holocaust, at the Nurmeburg Trials, did the world act appropriately? Did they respond appropriately? Were the punishments doled out appropriately?
Lucille E: No, definitely not! The 42 SS received sentences between 3 years and 20 years. They all were paroled very rapidly. There was one death sentence. The trial at Nuremberg was not nearly adequate. It was a “show” for the world. You still have war criminals around Europe, in France and Germany and other countries that have never been punished! Properties have never been returned to the full extent of which they were taken away! If they took $100.00 away, they gave you $50.00 back!
Roger: Not fair! Lucille, we’ve run out of time. I want to tell you it’s been a wonderful hour! I’ve enjoyed it very much! God bless you!
Lucille E: Thank you very much!
(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)