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September 25, 2011

Stories of escape from the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:36 am

This morning I read an article in a college newspaper about a traveling Holocaust exhibit that was recently shown at California State University Fresno.   Holocaust survivors were on hand to tell the students their personal stories.  Among the survivors, who attended the opening ceremony of the Courage to Remember exhibit from the Museum of Tolerance, were Anna Levin-Ware and her husband Robert Ware.   Photos of Anna, taken when she was a prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, were included in the exhibit.

Anna Levin was Polish, but her husband was Hungarian.  This quote from the college newspaper tells how Anna was saved from the gas chambers at Birkenau:

Later Levin-Ware shared how she was placed in a gas chamber, doors locked, ready to die. Then, suddenly, guards suddenly opened the doors and announced that any Hungarians were to leave, including her by marriage. To her surprise, they removed her from the chamber.

But to her horror, they left her father, mother, brother and baby sister in the gas chamber and could only listen as the sounds of panic slowly became silent, marking their deaths. Along with other parts of her story, she showed the audience a picture of her assembled before the Nazis of her camp when she was in her 20s.

Did something get lost in translation here?  Did this student reporter misunderstand Anna’s story?  It is well known that 400,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in only ten weeks at Birkenau.  Yet Anna was saved when German guards opened the gas chamber doors (plural) and announced that the Hungarians would be saved, leaving Anna’s Polish relatives to their fate.  

Anna was saved because she was Hungarian by marriage?  Could it be that her Hungarian husband was Aryan and that’s why she was saved?

Another survivor of Birkenau claims that she was saved because she was “Aryan by marriage.”  Dr. Josef Mengele (the surgeon of Birkenau) was the chief doctor for the women’s barracks. He would periodically show up at the barracks to select women for work or the gas chamber.  Sophia Litwinska, a Polish Jewess, survived one of these selections because she was married to an Aryan man.

Sophia Litwinska made a sworn affidavit that was entered into the British trial of the SS staff at Bergen-Belsen in the fall of 1945. Some members of the SS staff at Belsen had previously worked at Birkenau and they were put on trial by the British for crimes committed at either or both Birkenau and Belsen.  (The Belsen camp was in the British zone of occupation after World War II, so the British had jurisdiction over the German war criminals who had worked at Belsen.)

As quoted in the book The Belsen Trial, Sophia Litwinska said the following in her affidavit:

AT AUSCHWITZ, on 24th December, 1942, I was paraded in company with about 19,000 other prisoners, all of them women. Present on parade were Doctors Mengele and Konig and Rapportfuhrer Tauber. I was one of the 3000 prisoners picked out of the 19,000 by the doctors and taken to our huts, where we were stripped naked by other prisoners and our clothes taken away. We were then taken by tipper-type lorries to the gas chamber chute. They were large lorries, about eight in all and about 300 persons on each lorry. On arrival at the gas chamber the lorry tipped up and we slid down the chute through some doors into a large room. The room had showers all around, towels and soap and large numbers of benches. There were also small windows high up near the roof. Many were injured coming down the chute and lay where they fell. Those of us who could sat down on the benches provided and immediately afterwards the doors of the room were closed. My eyes then began to water, I started to coughing and had a pain in my chest and throat. Some of the other people fell down and others coughed and foamed at the mouth. After being in the room for about two minutes the door was opened and an S.S. man came in wearing a respirator. He called my name and then pulled me out of the room and quickly shut the door again. When I got outside I saw S.S man Franz Hoessler, whom I identify as No. 1 on photograph 9. He took me to hospital, where I stayed for about six weeks, receiving special treatment from Dr. Mengele. For the first few days I was at the hospital I found it impossible to eat anything without vomiting. I can only think that I was taken out of the gas chamber because I had an Aryan husband and therefore was in a different category from the other prisoners, who were all Jews. I now suffer from a weak heart and had two attacks since being at Belsen. I do not know the names of any persons who went into the gas chamber with me.

To which of the four gas chambers at Birkenau was Litwinska referring?  The Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were on the ground floor and had “small windows high up near the roof” where the gas pellets were thrown in by the SS men. But neither of these two gas chambers had a “gas chamber chute” for dumping the victims into the gas chamber from “tipper-type lorries,” which Americans would call dump trucks.  Krema II and Krema III had underground gas chambers with no windows and no chute.  Krema I at the main camp also had no windows and no chute.

Another survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Regina Bialek, a Polish political prisoner, who was saved from the gas chamber at the last moment by Dr. Josef Mengele. Bialek, who was apparently not Jewish, also gave a deposition which was entered into the British Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty-Four Others, aka The Belsen Trial.  According to Bialek’s testimony, the gassing of prisoners at Birkenau was a daily event which did not stop even on Christmas day.

The following quote is an excerpt from the Deposition of Regina Bialek:

3. On 25th December 1943, I was sick with typhus and was picked out at a selection made by doctors Mengele and Tauber along with about 350 other women. I was made to undress and taken by lorry to a gas chamber. There were seven gas chambers at Auschwitz. This particular one was underground and the lorry was able to run down the slope and straight into the chamber.

Here we were tipped unceremoniously on the floor. The room was about 12 yards square and small lights on the wall dimly illuminated it. When the room was full a hissing sound was heard coming from the center point on the floor and gas came into the room.

After what seemed about ten minutes some of the victims began to bite their hands and foam at the mouth, and blood issued from their ears, eyes and mouth, and their faces went blue.

I suffered from all these symptoms, together with a tight feeling at the throat. I was half conscious when my number was called out by Dr. Mengele and I was led from the chamber. I attribute my escape to the fact that the daughter of a friend of mine who was an Aryan and a doctor at Auschwitz had seen me being transported to the chamber and had told her mother, who immediately appealed to Dr. Mengele.

Apparently he realized that as a political prisoner I was of more value alive than dead, and I was released.

4. I think that the time to kill a person in this particular gas chamber would be from 15 to 20 minutes.

5. I was told that the staffs of the prisoners who worked in the gas chamber and crematorium next door changed every three months, the old staff being taken to a villa in the camp to do some repair work. Here they were locked in the rooms and gas bombs thrown through the window.

I estimate that in December, 1943, about 7,000 people disappeared from Auschwitz by way of the gas chamber and crematorium.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, written by Gloria Deutsch on June 25, 2009, Livia Bitton-Jackson was saved from the gas chamber at Birkenau because she looked Aryan.

The following quote is from the article in the Jerusalem Post:

“I was 13 when I arrived in Auschwitz. I had long blonde braids and looked Aryan. Mengele beckoned me aside and asked, ‘Are you a Jew?’ I answered yes. ‘How old are you?’ he said and I said 13. ‘From now on you are 16,’ he said and he sent me to the side where those who could live a little longer were sent. Thirteen-year-olds were immediately sent to the gas.”  […]

Today Bitton-Jackson is professor of Judaic studies and Jewish history in the History Department of Lehman College in New York and the award-winning author of several books. Her latest book, Saving What Remains, tells the story of how she, together with her second husband, Dr. Leonard Jackson, and her mother, who also survived Auschwitz, brought the remains of her grandparents to Israel.  […]

Livia has a Holocaust Memoir of her own, titled I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust.

After the war, Dr. Josef Mengele worked on a farm under an assumed name for a few years, then escaped to South America; he was never put on trial as a war criminal. If he had been captured and put on trial, Dr. Gisella Perl was prepared to testify against him. Dr. Perl worked as a prison doctor under Dr. Mengele, and was a prisoner herself.

According to the book Mengele, the Complete Story, Dr. Perl claimed that a woman prisoner named Ibi had escaped the gas chamber six times by jumping off the truck that was taking the prisoners from the Judenrampe to the gas chambers; Dr. Mengele was enraged when he discovered that she had returned to the selection line.

The following quote is from a book by Gisella Perl, entitled I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz, published in 1948:

“You are still here?” Dr. Mengele left the head of the column, and with a few easy strides caught up with her. He grabbed her by the neck and proceeded to beat her head to a bloody pulp. He hit her, slapped her, boxed her, always her head–screaming at her at the top of his voice, “You want to escape, don’t you. You can’t escape now. This is not a truck, you can’t jump. You are going to burn like the others, you are going to croak, you dirty Jew,” and he went on hitting her poor unprotected head. As I watched, I saw her two beautiful, intelligent eyes disappear under a layer of blood. Her ears weren’t there any longer. Maybe he had torn them off. And in a few seconds, her straight, pointed nose was a flat, broken, bleeding mass. I closed my eyes, unable to bear it any longer, and when I opened them up again, Dr. Mengele had stopped hitting her. But instead of a human head, Ibi’s tall, thin body carried a round blood-red object on its bony shoulders, an unrecognizable object, too horrible to look at; he pushed her back into line. Half an hour later, Dr. Mengele returned to the hospital. He took a piece of perfumed soap out of his bag and, whistling gaily with a smile of deep satisfaction on his face, he began to wash his hands.”

There are many stories of Holocaust survivors who were pulled out of the gas chamber at the last minute and saved.  If any of the readers of this blog know of other stories, please add them in the comments section.

8 Comments

  1. Dr. Mengele took a special interest in the Ovitz Lilliput Troupe and composed couplets which he sang to them!

    “If I was a healthy Jewish girl, one meter seventy tall, I would have been gassed like the hundreds of thousands of other Jews in my country. So if I ever wondered why I was born a dwarf, my answer would have to be that my handicap, my deformity, was God’s only way to keep me alive.”

    Read intrepid Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff’s review of the book about this family of Transylvanian dwarfs who escaped the Auschwitz gas chamber here: http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=868 There should be a miniature Holocaust museum dedicated just to them.

    Comment by who+dares+wings — September 27, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  2. Nahum Hoch miraculously escaped the gassing chore too.

    It seems being from Sighet gives you a knack for telling tall tales; here is his Eichmann trial testimony.

    Comment by Eager for Answers — September 26, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  3. A few years ago, I went to the exhibition presented by USHHM called “The Deadly Medicine”. One of the documents attracted my special attention, as it was obviously a fake.
    That was an official form to be used by the mental institution in Berlin-Pankow district. That official stationery form had a script in the top right corner: “Ist mit eine Schreibmaschine auszufüllen!” To be filled out on a typewriter! The exclamation mark clearly indicates, that it was a direct order. Regardless, the document was filled out by hand, and one could not recognize, not just the words, but even single letters. However, it had the original seal of the institution.
    At the end of the war, the Allied Forces were able to capture the stationary forms and original seals of many German institutions. Most of the institution were not able to, or did not even care about destroying their clerical stationary and seals/stamps. However, the Allies have a great use for all of it, by creating bogus documents, which could pass for the originals.
    But the whole atmosphere of that exhibition was something else. We were in a secluded area with no windows, walking around exhibition stands with the gruesome pictures, etc. I have spotted several observers there, who were monitoring the people’s reaction. At the end of that “show” there was a TV stand and few chairs to watch the short video. The video was about 6-7 minutes long and it was re-run all the time.
    An elderly Jewish man, with reddish-gray hair and light blue eyes was telling his personal encounter with Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz. He was just five years old upon his arrival in Auschwitz and it just happened that, Mengele was testing little boys’ testicles on that day, by squeezing them really hard. Every boy, who would scream from pain would get a personal syringe shot from Dr. Mengele straight into his heart. “Our hero” just had observed that and he endured the pain and wasn’t killed. After all, he was enjoying the attention of other SS personnel, for appearing to be an “Aryan”.
    This TV gentleman, with no name, said that he was liberated by Americans at KL Buchenwald, not Auschwitz. Mengele had never been in Buchenwald. I am not even going to question, what was the purpose of testing five-years-olds testicles.
    In front of that TV stand was sitting an elderly couple, which was and they were providing an emotional support to the video by shaking their heads and wiping off their tears. But their heads turned to me immediately, after I loudly noticed that the video hero was sent to Auschwitz and liberated from Buchenwald. The distance between the two camps is about 500 miles. I could clearly see the anger in their eyes.
    It came to my attention that almost all the survivors have claimed personal encounter with Dr. Mengele.
    Mengele’s tenure at Auschwitz was somewhat around 20 months, which would roughly give the number of 600 days multiplied by 24 hours, times 60 min and times 60 seconds. That would equal to 51,840,000 seconds.
    As of the year 2000, there was, at least, 1 million survivors living in Israel, USA, Europe and everywhere in the world. Almost everyone of the claimed that he met Dr. Mengele. That would give as a ration of 51.84 seconds per survivor, providing that Mengele did not eat, sleep and just worked 24/7.
    It appears that Mengele would not even have time to do his “experiments” or whatever. All his time he has spent, meeting the future “survivors”.
    How interesting!

    Comment by Gasan — September 26, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

  4. This miraculous escape from the gas-chamber is extraordinary; it’s certainly due to Anna Levin-Ware’s physical proximity to Pope John Paul II.

    Incredibly enough she forgot to mention this #5,469,376 Holocaust Miracle in her 2008 recollection.

    I wonder why.

    Comment by Eager for Answers — September 26, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

    • Anna Levin-Ware was born in 1922. At her age, she probably has some memory loss. I have been reading more about her. She ended up at Bergen-Belsen, which probably means that she was shipped out from Auschwitz in October 1944. She could have been on the same train to Bergen-Belsen as Anne Frank. She had typhus when the Bergen-Belsen camp was turned over to the British. This saved her life because she could not eat any of the food given to the prisoners by the British. 13,000 prisoners died at Bergen-Belsen after the camp was turned over to the British.

      It is possible that Anna was not selected for the gas chamber since she was between 15 and 45 when she arrived at Birkenau. Maybe she dreamed that she was taken out of the gas chamber because she was “Hungarian by marriage.”

      Comment by furtherglory — September 26, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

      • Here it’s not a case of memory loss but of memory gain, similar to Denis Avey’s “broke into Auschwitz” story,

        She suffers from loss of hearing because of Auschwitz beatings 66 years ago, not because she’s 89 years old.

        How perverse is it to force Holocaust tales coming from a survivor “in stages of dementia” on schoolchildren?

        Comment by Eager for Answers — September 26, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  5. FG
    I am writing a blog at present about Auschwitz (although I have never been there) using material from individual researchers sponsored by the Cultural Dept of the Federal Republic of Germany and not by any self-styled author, here is an extract of another survival story, more believable than others:… “Many did not want to part from their loved ones and preferred death in the gas chambers rather than live without them.(137)(a)If a pregnancy was noticed after arrival the SS would kill the infants as a rule immediately or it died soon after birth due to inhumane living conditions. One of the few cases where a baby was able to be protected until the liberation is described by Anna G.: “On April 18, 1943 shortly after assembly was finished I brought my son Joseph into this world right in the open,[meaning the delivery was performed on open ground sic] with the help of fellow prisoners I succeeded to hide my baby in my bed in the dormitory ….. about four months later, however, he was found ….. by a big dog and and run with the bundle of my child into the courtyard where we were gathered. Although my mates wanted to hold me back I’ve made ​​it known that I myself am the mother.”The SS tried to kill mother and child but by pure coincidence it was found during the subsequent counting in the gas chamber that one person was registered too many. Thus, both narrowly escaped death. The boy was tattooed on his right thigh.”From that time my son was officially recognized. I always kept him with me even at work. The child even delighted SS women and often had fun [sie hatten viel Spass mit ihm]….. Some times I was warned that my child should be killed, but with the help of a Jewish nurse….I was able during all these years to keep my child alive.”(75)
    PS. The translations are my own

    Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — September 25, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

    • There are many stories about babies born at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Olga Lengyel, a prisoner at the Birkenau camp, wrote a book entitled “Five Chimneys.” In her book, Lengyel described how Dr. Mengele would take all the correct medical precautions while delivering a baby at Auschwitz, yet only a half hour later, he would send the mother and baby to be gassed and burned in the crematorium. Lengyel herself was selected for the gas chamber, but managed to break away from the group of women who had been selected, before the truck arrived to take the prisoners to the crematorium.

      Ruth Elias, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, wrote a book entitled “Triumph of Hope.” Ruth was one of the women who gave birth to a child at Auschwitz. In her book, Ruth described Dr. Mengele as follows:

      “Mengele was an attractive man. A perennial little smile showed the gap between his front teeth. Immaculately dressed in jodhpurs, he wore a cap bearing the SS insignia and carried the obligatory riding crop, constantly slapping it against his gleaming black boots. Whenever he spoke to me, he was very polite, giving the impression that he was interested in me. It was hard to believe that his little smile and courteous behavior were just a facade behind which he devised the most horrific murderous schemes.”

      Ruth Elias and her husband had conceived a child while she was a prisoner in the Theresienstadt camp, although the men and women were kept in separate barracks. When Ruth arrived at Birkenau on a transport of Czech prisoners in December 1943, she was three months pregnant. In spite of this, Ruth passed several selections for the gas chamber even though she was obviously pregnant. She and her husband were assigned to the Czech “family camp.” On July 11, 1944, after a selection made by Dr. Mengele, 3,000 prisoners in the Czech family camp, who were not considered fit to work, were sent to the gas chamber, but Ruth passed the selection even though she was in her eighth month of pregnancy. On July 14, 1944, Ruth was sent to Hamburg, Germany to work in clearing rubble from Allied bombing raids, even though she was pregnant.

      After only four days of working in Hamburg, Ruth Elias was escorted by an SS man, in a private compartment on a passenger train, to the infirmary at Ravensbrück, the women’s concentration camp near Berlin. From there, Ruth and Berta Reich, another prisoner who was nine months pregnant, were sent back to Auschwitz on another passenger train. Ruth wrote in her book that she gave birth to a baby girl at Auschwitz, but Dr. Mengele cruelly ordered her to bind her breasts and not to nurse her child because he wanted to see how long it would take for a baby to die without its mother’s milk. Mercifully, a woman dentist named Maca Steinberg, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, obtained some morphine and gave it to Ruth so that she could inject her baby and end its life, after Ruth told her that Dr. Mengele was due to arrive the next morning to take Ruth and her child to the gas chamber.

      Berta Reich gave birth a few days later and immediately injected her baby with morphine, then told Dr. Mengele that her child had been stillborn. After saving themselves from certain death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz, both Ruth and Berta were sent to Taucha, a labor camp near Leipzig, which was a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

      Gerda Schrage was 24 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. She had been in hiding in Berlin during the war, until someone betrayed her to the Gestapo and she was arrested. According to Gerda’s story, as told in the documentary film “Gerda’s Silence,” when she arrived at Auschwitz, she was pregnant by a married man with whom she had had an affair while she was in hiding. Her baby died in her arms at Birkenau because Dr. Mengele was conducting yet another cruel experiment and would not allow her to nurse the baby.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 25, 2011 @ 5:41 pm


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