Scrapbookpages Blog

February 16, 2015

Auschwitz survivor Gena Turgel walked out of a gas chamber alive

Filed under: Buchenwald, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:35 am

On my blog statistics, I always check what potential readers were searching for when they found my blog.  There are frequent searches which include the phrase “walked out of a gas chamber alive.”

I wrote about Gena Turgel on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/History/Articles/IreneZisblatt.html

Gena Turgel was saved from the gas chamber when she walked out alive, not realizing that she had been sent to a gas chamber at the age of 21.

Gena Turgel was born in 1925, so she was 21 in late 1944, or early 1945.  Auschwitz was abandoned by the Germans in early 1945 when the prisoners were marched out of the camp on January 18, 1945.

According to recent news stories, Gena spent two months in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp before she was sent to Buchenwald, and was then transferred to Belsen.

This quote is from a recent news story:

Turgel, an elegant woman with more than a hint of mischief in her blue eyes, survived not one or two, but three Nazi concentration camps.

In the most notorious of all, Auschwitz-Birkeanau, she was herded naked into a gas chamber with hundreds of others.

Yet Turgel, who was 21 at the time, walked out alive.

She had no idea the Nazis had tried to kill her until a woman she knew said, “Don’t you know what has just happened to you? You were in the gas chamber!”

Turgel still looks amazed to have cheated death.

“I completely lost my voice,” she said. “I just never realized I was in the gas chamber … it must not have worked.”

All this is very confusing to me, so someone please check my math.  Gena was apparently sent to a gas chamber at Auschwitz in the days just before the prisoners were marched out of the camp on January 18, 1945. At that time, the gas chamber in the main camp had been converted into a bomb shelter. Yet, photos that are included in the news articles about her escape from the gas chamber show the ovens in the main camp.

Before she was sent to Auschwitz, Gena had spent 2 and 1/2 years in the Plaszow camp, which was the camp shown in the film Schindler’s List. There were 3 gas chambers, still in existence at Auschwitz-Birkenau, just before the march out of Auschwitz on January 18, 1945.

Auschwitz was the largest railroad hub in Europe, and prisoners were sent there from other camps, in order to be transferred to another camp. Gina was apparently sent from the Plaszow camp to Auschwitz, so that she could be transferred to the Buchenwald camp.  So how did she end up in a homicidal gas chamber, at the age of 21, in the very last days of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp?  Was she actually sent to a shower room at Birkenau, to get rid of any lice on her body, before being transferred to another camp?

The shower room at Auschwitz-Birkeanu

The shower room at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The photo above shows the shower room in the building called “the central Sauna” at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The shower heads have been removed.

I first learned about Gena Turgel ten years ago when I read a news story in the Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-335392/Amazing-escape-Auschwitz-gas-chamber.html

This quote is from the article in the Daily Mail in 2005:

Gena Turgel entered the gas chamber at Auschwitz and lived to tell the tale.

In the winter of 1944, the 21-year-old was made to strip naked with her mother inside the concentration camp’s extermination block and wait, but miraculously the deadly poison was never released.

“We were trembling. I didn’t know where we were. Inside, it looked terrible. A woman came in that I recognised from a previous camp. She was very shocked I was there and went out again.

“We waited a while and then water came through the walls. It was wonderful. For many weeks we had had no water on our backs. We were all drinking it.

“As we came outside, the women there said how wonderful it was to see us. They screamed with happiness. I didn’t understand what they meant. I said ‘What are you shouting about?’

“They said ‘Don’t you know? You were in the gas chamber.’ I lost my voice. I couldn’t produce any saliva.”

Gena puts her survival down to a “power over a power” and believes that God was watching over her.

“The woman who came in. I never saw her again. Perhaps she did something.”

More than 60 years on, the great-grandmother still cannot believe how lucky she was to escape death.

“Many times, I have to touch myself to check I’m really alive. One appreciates life so much.”