You can read the full story of 88-year-old Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor, in a recent news article here.
This quote is from the article:
Here is a woman who at 15 survived the ghetto of Miedzyrzec before being ripped from her family and herded into a cattle car to stand atop heaps of bodies. Starved close to death inside the Majdanek concentration camp, she watched as her own mother marched off, arm in arm with other mothers, to the gas chambers.
“I shall never forget in my life, this was the last time I saw her,” Warshawski said, her voice catching.
She witnessed children hanged and prisoners torn to pieces by German shepherds. In the fields, Warshawski spread the ashes of the dead.
“As fertilizer,” she said.
Later, at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Warshawski found herself face to face with [Dr.] Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who experimented on children and prisoners, but survived his “selections” to the gas chambers and was sent on a winter death march to Bergen-Belsen. On a day in April 1945, as English troops swept in to liberate the camp, a German soldier shot Warshawski in the chest.
After 21/2 years in the camps, she survived that, too.
“I was only 18,” she said.
Why did the Nazis allow Sonia Warshawski to live, after she had seen all this horror? She was a witness to the gas chambers at both Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Then she was sent on a “death march” to Bergen-Belsen, which had, by that time, been converted from an exchange camp into a concentration camp.
The article continues with this quote:
A pile of bookmarks sits near the register [of her tailor shop]. They bear Warshawski’s photo along with images of barbed wire, the number tattooed on her left forearm , and a poem about Auschwitz-Birkenau that she wrote in the hospital after the war. It begins:
In the dusk of night / What a terrible sight / Five chimneys are blasting
Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivoor’s True Story of Auschwitz, is the title of a famous book by Olga Lengyel. The “Five Chimneys” are the chimneys of the crematoria at Auschwitz. I haven’t read the book, but I assume that she means the 4 crematoria at Auschwtiz-Birkenau and the one chimney in the crematorium in the main Auschwitz camp.
Apparently, Sonia Warshawski also saw the 5 chimneys. Fortunately she didn’t go “up the chimney” herself, but lived to tell her story.
It seems strange to me that Sonia Warshawski was first sent to Majdanek, where she was not gassed in any of the 4 gas chambers there, but was transferred to Auschwitz, where there were 4 more gas chambers, to which she was not sent.
Then she was marched out of Auschwitz in the dead of winter, to Bergen-Belsen, which had been voluntarily turned over to the British, yet German soldiers had been allowed to stay in the camp, so that they could shoot innocent prisoners on the very day that the camp was “liberated” by the British.
I was curious about the location of the Miedzyrzec ghetto, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and found that the ghetto was in the German General Government, which means that it was close to Auschwitz, which was also in the General Government.
This quote is from Wikipedia:
On the seventeenth of July 1943, the [Miedzyrzec] ghetto was liquidated, with all Jews deported to Treblinka and Majdanek death camps; at which time the last 160–200 residents were shot, and the city was officially declared free of Jews. Fewer than 1% of the Jewish population of the city survived the German occupation.
Auschwitz was the only place where prisoners were tattooed, so Sonia Warshawski was not tattooed until 1943, yet her tattoo number is a very low number. I was curious about this, so I looked it up on the Internet and found this quote on the USHMM website:
A third series of [tattoo] numbers was introduced [at Auschwitz] in March 1942 with the arrival of the first female prisoners. Approximately 90,000 female prisoners were identified with a series of numbers created for female prisoners in March 1942 until May 1944. Each new series of numbers introduced at Auschwitz began with “1.” Some Jewish prisoners (but not all) had a triangle tattooed beneath their serial number.
Curiously, an exception was made for Sonia Warshawski, whose tattoo number does not start with a 1.