Testimony of Valerie StraussováView Fullscreen
S t a t e m e n t
of Valerie Straussová, born July 25th ,1907, former prisoner of the concentration camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Schlesiersee, currently living in Prague XII, in Horní stromka 5.
I, the undersigned Valerie Straussová, née Kantorová, born July 25th, 1907 in Vienna, daughter of Evžen and Emilíe Kantorovi, a Czechoslovak citizen, currently living in Prague XII, in Horní stromka 5, am submitting a true testimony of my fate shortly after my arrival from various concentration camps on July 13th, 1945. I declare and swear that everything stated herein is true.
On February 12th, 1942 I was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, where I was imprisoned until December 4th, 1944. In Theresienstadt, I worked at the haberdashery workshop, as cleaner for the SS command, as a typist at the hospital and I was also sent for two months forced labour in Křivoklát (forced labour in the forest). My husband was employed in Theresienstadt as musician in the coffeehouse. On September 28th, 1944 he was transported from Theresienstadt. We were told that our husbands are leaving for work; it was supposed to be in Germany, one hour away from Theresienstadt. A week later, I was called, as his wife, to a transport. I departed, because I thought I would go to him. All the women were wildly crowding and each of them was happy when they succeeded in getting on the transport. Also many children went with us. Near Dresden, we prepared to disembark. How big was our disappointment, when we passed Dresden and saw, that we are heading east. Instead of one hour, our journey took twenty-four hours, after which we came to the station of Auschwitz. There, we had to get off, without our luggage, and the selection process began directly in front of the train: women with children and elderly people went to the right, we, the childless, to the left. At the time, we didn’t know what it meant to be sent to the right (gas chamber). We were taken to the shower room, where all of the clothes we wore were taken away from us, our heads were shaved, we were taken under the showers, and dressed in old rags. Then, the soul-destroying life of the concentration camp, which we were already familiar with, began. Five days later, we underwent a new selection process and were taken to a train. We received better rags and were sent to forced labor to Germany. We were taken to the S c h l e s i e r s e e station in north-east Silesia, near the Polish border. We walked from the station for two hours and were placed in two farms, 1, 000 women in each. We stayed in two huge barns full of straw. The next morning, we were given shovels and spades and we had to dig trenches that were 3.5 meters deep. For us women it was very hard labor. We received very little food, and so we shortly lost a lot of weight. At the end of October, one of the girls ran over my foot with a wheelbarrow while we were working. I had a tiny scrape and didn’t pay any attention to it. After few days, my foot started to ache. It became swollen, and I got a small phlegmon. It got worse and the doctor had to perform an operation in the barn. Afterwards, my fever dropped, but I couldn’t stand on the foot at all and for the next three weeks I had to crawl around on all fours. Once I felt a bit better, I had to perform domestic chores. I peeled potatoes. I got up at 4 AM and all day long until the evening I had to peel potatoes. Two days later, I got a fever of 40 degrees. I felt a huge prickling on the right side of my chest, and I started coughing. The doctor told me that I had pneumonia. Due to the fact that it was impossible to apply the wet pack in the cold barn and that there were no medications in the camp, I was left alone to my fate. I was not allowed to lie down. So I sat in my clothes, leaning against the wall of the barn (coats and shoes were taken away from the sick and given to the healthy). I was covered with an issued blanket. After ten days, the pneumonia miraculously disappeared, but the wound on my foot got worse. It suppurated. Around January 10th, all of the sick people were moved into wooden barracks. Before we were moved, we had to give away everything that we wore and afterwards we washed ourselves so that we wouldn’t infect the barracks with lice. It meant that we taken to the new barracks completely naked and told that we would get new clothes after the disinfection. We didn’t get rid of the lice by washing.
In the barracks, it was much better. We slept on bunk beds with straw mattresses, two of us covered with one blanket. We felt terribly cold. On January 22nd, we heard that the battlefront was just twenty kilometers away. People were talking about evacuation. Sick women were to stay in the camp. We were happy and we hoped that the Russians would liberate us soon. But it was too soon to look forward to this. At approximately 7 PM, a German commander walked in and ordered the evacuation of the rest of the people, even those who were seriously ill. The situation was desperate because we were lying down, all of us naked. Everyone started to panic and each one tried to find something to put on. I asked our superior for some clothes, but it was in vain. At the last moment, one of the nurses gave me a summer dress, which I pulled on over my naked body. I wrapped my legs with pieces of blanket, even though it was sabotage. By a lucky coincidence I captured two blankets. I tied one around my waist like a skirt, the other I draped over my shoulders. I also took a pair of clogs. A lot of women went barefoot, and their legs suffered terrible frostbite. When we walked out to the courtyard, we were barely standing on our feet. It was freezing, and there was a lot of snow. We got one piece of bread for the journey, which was supposed to last for three days. We were marshaled in lines of five and the march began. I wasn’t able to walk, because I hadspent almost ten weeks lying down, but the Schutzpolizei forced me to walk the whole time and he threatend to shoot me. So we marched all night until the afternoon of the next day. A lot of us died or froze to death on the way. At 3 o'clock the next afternoon, we arrived near a forest, which was four kilometers before Ostweide. The commander ordered the sick to sit down, saying that soon a vehicle from Ostweide would come to pick them up. The healthy continued marching. I sat down at the edge of the forest next to a ditch and I was happy that I didn’t have to go any further. I believed that a vehicle would come, even though the others claimed that something else would happen. Around forty of us stayed as well as one doctor, who listed our names. There were also two corpses. About sixty meters away from the edge of the forest, the Schutzpolizei were digging a hole in the ground. I thought that the hole was for the corpse. When it got dark and we gave up hope of the vehicle ever coming, two Schutzpolizei came to us and grabbed about six women, shouting: “arbeiten - arbeiten” and forced them to go to the hole. The women were screaming and they wanted to escape, but the next moment we heard the sound of shooting and then silence. Now we knew that the vehicle would never come, and we knew what would be next. After a while, the Shutzpolizei came for the next six victims. I was in the third group. I was reconciled with my fate and I was absolutely calm. The Schutzpolizei came to me, grabbed my shoulder and shouted: “Komm.” I told him: “Just a moment, I will just give my bread and blanket to the doctor for the others, I will not need it anymore.” When he saw that I was absolutely calm, he said: “You can do that.” So I went to the doctor and thanked her for treating me and I gave her the rest of my bread and the blanket. Then, I walked calmly with my murderer up to the hole. There were approximately thirteen corpses laying in it. He told a few women to sit down on the mound of earth that was dug out from the hole. He ordered me and another two women to turn around. He first shot the women near the hole and then it was our turn. I was standing in the middle. It was a beautiful night and the moon was shining. I was looking at the moon and thought: It is such a pity that I have to die and nobody would ever find out what happened here. Just then I understood how beautiful it is to live, in spite of everything that we had gone through. I heard a shot and my neighbor on the right tumbled down. A second shot, and I felt an intense pain at the back of my neck. I tumbled down, but I didn’t lose consciousness, not even for a brief moment. It was strange that I wasn't dead, but I was waiting for death to come. In a moment, I found out that the shot wasn't fatal. I felt the blood flowing from the wound, and I quickly placed my hand on my neck. This lasted just a moment, while my neighbour on the left was shot dead. I became terrified that I would be buried alive. I heard the conversation of the two Schutzpolizisten who were standing straight behind me. Their conversation was interesting. One of them wanted to throw our bodies into the hole; the second wanted to wait till all of us were dead and then the doctor would take off our clothes and throw us into the hole. “Those who are severely ill, who were brought here on wheelbarrows, we will beat to death with rifle butts,” said one of the Schutzpolizisten. After this conversation, they went away from the hole to the edge of the forest to bring the next victims. Without thinking, I turned around and crawled away to the forest. If they found me, I thought it would be better if they shot me again than to be buried alive. The night was bright and the trees around me were tall, so I could not hide well. I crawled away, a few meters from the hole and I hid behind a tree. And then I became upset. I saw how the Schutzpolizei chased more women to the hole. I heard shooting and I realized that they weren’t looking for me at all. I heard how they were finishing up their work; they undressed the women and threw them in the hole, they put soil over their bodies. I didn't know what had happened to the doctor. I think that afterwards I must have fallen asleep, because I didn’t see how they left. I woke up and saw from a distance two Schutzpolizisten with wheelbarrows, which were filled with the clothes of those who were shot. I knew I was safe. I started my journey. I walked around the hole and went across the state road, which headed from Schlesiersee to Ostweide. In the afternoon, I spied German tanks on the road through the forest. I thought that there might be a battlefront and that I would meet the Russians soon, and so I went down this road. I had been walking for approximately ten minutes, when I saw a pile of straw beside the road. I hid in the pile and soon fell asleep. I was exhausted. We had marched throughout the entire previous night and my leg hurt terribly as did my wound on the back of my neck, which hadn't hurt as much during the first day. I slept till the next morning and then I continued on my journey. I walked through beautiful forests and didn't meet anyone. I was terribly tired, but I was afraid to sit down in the snow. I didn’t want to fall asleep and freeze to death. In the evening, I found a ruined barn with straw, in which I stayed overnight. In the morning, I walked on and by noon I reached a small village. I entered the first house I met and I asked whether I could rest there. To my relief, I found out that I was in Poland. They gave me food, and the next day the mayor of the village looked after me. We burned my dress, which was soaked with blood. They gave me warm clothing, a dress, and blankets. They gave me a room in the house, which was vacated by the Germans. The Polish girls got a fire going and brought me food. There was no doctor in the village. Every day a nurse came to visit, and she changed the bandages on my leg and neck. The pain was so great that I couldn't sleep at night. Five days after my arrival in the village, i.e. one week after my injury, the Russians arrived in the village and I was finally liberated. One week later, the Polish nurse took me to a hospital in Wolstein. And so fourteen days after I was injured, I received my first medical aid. In the hospital I felt well, I was recovering quickly and the wounds were healing. On March 18th, the Russians took me from the hospital to Schwiebus, where I helped out in the hospital. Then I stayed to serve the Russians, in a group that was assisting the Russian soldiers. After the end of the war, I was released from service, and in July I returned to Prague, thanks to the repatriation committee.
In Prague, I found out that my husband didn't return, nor did my parents, nor my sister with her husband. Only my brother came back. Before my deportation to Theresienstadt, I was worked in an insurance office, which I plan to continue.
I know the exact location of the place where forty women were executed and I am willing to show this place to the authorities.
Prague, July 23rd, 1945
The statement was accepted by:
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