Hilda Lebedun: Part I

Story was recorded at the Covenant House on May 20, 2008, by Michael Naclerio.

I was born and raised in Czechoslovakia, in the Slovakia part. I had a beautiful family, one brother and two sisters. My father was a government employee. In the smallish city where I was born and raised, we were the only Jews, and we didn’t face much anti-Semitism. When my father went to Prague, he brought back the disturbing news that a person by the name of Hitler was starting problems in Germany and Austria, but we didn’t think anything of it. Nobody thought that Germany was so high up in technology and other things, and we didn’t hear about much. I only found about Krystallnacht when I was in a camp in Poland. Nothing was talked about.

In 1938, there were things starting to trickle down. We heard rumors that Hitler was going to get Czechoslovakia for nothing. We had great trains and uranium that Hitler needed. He then took over Poland very easily. When he occupied them, he interned all of the educated people, the ones who were leading the country. We found out things were going really bad when no Jewish children could go to school, and Jews couldn’t open new stores. That was hard for us to understand, because we didn’t usually feel much anti-Semitism. We sold the house so that the Germans wouldn’t take it, and we kept the money in the bank. We would take 50 crowns for the week and that would be it. Little by little we were put on a curfew, and we had to wear the Jewish star on our clothes. It was unbelievable what could happen to people when there was war, unrest and unemployment in the land. Since the government could not take care of its constituents, they needed somebody to place the blame on, and that was the Jews, because we were in the minority.

I married very young, and they took my husband first. They took men from 16 up to about 45 or 50, where we didn’t know. About two months later, they took my sister. Then two months after that, my parents got the notice, but not me. It turns out that the person in charge of the Slovakian party was my former high school principal. My parents suggested that I go to my grandmother’s house—she lived far away in the mountains—but I refused.  I went to my high school principal and asked why I had received no notice. He told me “Go to your grandmother’s house, hide.” I refused, I asked him to let me stay with my family.

I got the notice, and within 24 hours, we were in wagons on the way to a nearby big city. Our family was there waiting to be transported for two weeks. When we got to the train stations, right away we heard, “You damn, stinking, dirty, rotten Jews. We’re going to put you to work.” We rode to Auschwitz—packed 120 to a cattle car like sardines. In the early morning we stopped, and we jumped out to see S.S. men with machine guns and heard dogs barking. People were screaming. I looked back to see my father, but I was pushed with people that I never knew. We were marched towards the camp, and because I am farsighted, I could see the barbed wire and the towers. I heard the hum of the electric fence, a noise that I can still not get out of my mind. In the distance I saw a huge gate that read, “Arbeit macht frei,” (work will make you free). We went through the gate with the dogs barking and the S.S. men screaming. I kept on looking for my family, but I could not find them.

We came into the barracks, and we got into lines. They asked if anybody spoke German, and I immediately volunteered. They said, “Ok, stand here. You are going to tell them what I tell you. If you talk to us, you are going to talk to us in German.” We were dumped in a foul-smelling bath, then stripped naked. There were five Jewish men sitting there, and then they shaved us—everywhere there is hair on a human body. It was so degrading. We were pushed into the next room, given a generic uniform, shoes—clodhoppers, we called them—a blanket, and a bowl that we were told to guard with our life. They told us, “If you don’t have that bowl, you won’t get fed.” We stood for role call, and then we were marched to the barracks. That was how we got to Auschwitz.

The next day we were marched out for another role call, and somebody told me that somebody was waving to me from the other barracks. In the distance I looked and I saw my sister, so after the role-call was over, I was not supposed to go, but I went over and talked to her. Then we got foul-smelling scoop of soup, made out of rotten beets and rotten potatoes. It took me many years before I was able to eat beets and potatoes again.

Since I spoke German so well, a young Polish woman who had been interned by the S.S. asked me to come help her.  She told me I spoke German better than her, and she also needed somebody to help her talk to the Jews who didn’t speak their native languages. I no longer had to go out to the fields. I was given a sheet of paper to record everybody’s name. I also had to help clean the barracks, with only a shovel and a bucket—there were no floors. We were in Auschwitz proper about six or seven months.

In the meantime, my sister and I wondered what was happening to our brothers.They didn’t separate the mothers and the children, and we were told that they all went to another camp. About four months later we found out that the Germans took all of the mothers and children and disposed of them. My sister found out because the Germans kept immaculate records—my mother and my brothers had a GU, or gas sentence marking, by there names.

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