Hilda Lebedun: Part III

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

On May first, we got to the German border and were told to disembark. We were guarded by two of them, and they were reading a newspaper. I peaked over their shoulders and was reading it, and in big black letters was: “All is lost, the Furor is Dead.” They were reading it, and the older one said, “Ach! That’s not true, the dog abandoned us.” That’s how we got to the border. We saw people with the Red Cross. There were Danish soldiers there too and they made the Germans give them their weapons.  Then we met the Danish people who greeted us with open arms. They came running with bread and cheese and chocolate, but I said, “Don’t touch us! We’re filthy, stinky, disgusting.” We were skeletons. But they just kept on saying, “Don’t worry about it, you’re free.” I still want to wish many thanks to the Danish people.  They wanted to take care of us more, but they had us go to Sweden, because that country had no bombings from the war. The Swedish Red Cross took care of us, and we worked for some Swedish families, taking care of their houses and their children.

While working in Sweden, we were waiting for some papers to enter the United States.  They had mine ready, but my sisters were not yet, so my family in New York asked me to come and then my sister would come later, but I said, “No way, we went through the camps together. We’re staying together.” After a few more months, we finally went to New York.

The first time I met my husband, he took us to a Hungarian restaurant. He kissed me on the cheek, and I told my friend to tell him, “If I was not a lady I would kick him so hard he would forget who he is.”  He answered, “You tell her she doesn’t want to kick the person she is going to marry.” I came to St. Louis with him for a visit, and I just stayed.  My husband and I raised three great children. My oldest has a PhD in sociology.  My daughter takes brain waves and heart tests, and my youngest son has a Master’s degree in social work from Washington University. They are all three in service, and I am lucky to have them.  
There was one thing that I wanted to leave with. Don’t hate. Hate is a very destructive force. I thank God because he gave me the hope and strength not to hate. We all have the same God. We are so miserable to each other, and I don’t understand why people don’t feel it in their souls: there is one God, we just pray to him in different ways. Until we learn to honor each others’ ways to pray to that one God, we always bring misery upon us. If politically there is such a dissention, why in the name of God?

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Hilda Lebedun: Part II

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

Six months later we were told to get our blankets and our bowls. We marched about six Kilometers past the guard towers with the men with machine guns pointed at us. That’s how I met Mengele. Dr. Mengele was tall, but not that tall. His hair was light and he wore boots up to his knees. He had these piercing blue eyes. My sister and I were in line, and we saw many people going left. We knew what that meant. We promised to stay together. I went first up to the desk. Mengele asked my name and the country I came from. I had no hair, I was shaved and I was clinging to my blanket and my bowl. He then said to me, “Repeat my name, Dr. Joseph Mengele.” I did and he asked, “How do you speak German so well?” I told him that my mother had taught me as a child, and he said, “Ok. I’m going to tell you something else. Whenever you speak to me or to one of us superior people, better than you lousy Jews, in German you must announce your name, your position and you must ask for permission to approach us. Repeat.” I was lucky I repeated it correctly, and he pushed me to the right with his stick. My sister got through without any problems.  There were about 3,000 women there, and only about half got through.

After we got through the line and into the camp, we had role call. The day was very hazy, and it was drizzly, but when the sun came out, I looked into the distance and I said to her “There are barracks, some kind, but I see chimneys.” She says “What kind of chimneys?” I said “the smokestacks,” and she relied, “Oh my god, Hilda, where are we?” And I just said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Luckily we were both assigned to Barracks one. When we stood role call again, an educated Polish woman asked who spoke German. I immediately volunteered, and got another job as a scribe and cleaning woman. She was part of a group of political prisoners, and the Germans treated them better than us stinking, dirty, rotten Jews, so they let me use their latrine and running water.

There were thousands coming each day.  We found out about the gas chambers and the crematoria. The Jewish people had to push the people in and pull the people out of the chambers.  They had to gas their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.  They thought, “We are burning all the other Jews, that way they won’t dispose of us so fast.” We heard that many of the men committed suicide when they saw they had to gas their family. 

I was also a punished prisoner. There was a woman whose mother was catholic and her father was Jewish. She used to say, “I went to a catholic school! I went to a convent! Why wouldn’t my mother leave that dirty rotten Jew?” I said to her “What are you doing talking against another prisoner? Another poor, miserable prisoner like you? I can tell you something, they have a saying those Germans. ‘They like the treason, but they hate the traitor.’—you can’t help yourself for long.” I was taken away and beaten. They put a big red cross on my uniform to show that I was punished.

A little while later, the head scribe of the camp, who was also Slovakian, told me that the next day, 100 high ranking civilians were coming to take us out of the camp to work in the special ammunitions factory. She told me to cover the cross with my jacket and come in a group with my sister. The next day we made it through the gate to the civilians and were being selected by the civilians. Luckily the man pointed at our group and asked for our names and numbers. I responded in German and he chose us for his factory. The head S.S. woman at the camp said to him, “That one may not go with you!” Then she ripped off my jacket revealing the big x, and continued, “She is a punished prisoner.” He asked her, “Who are you?” and she responded, “Well, I am the commander!” He responded, “I am the one who is above you. I want that woman! I don’t care what she did, but I want her. And if she is not in the front row tomorrow morning, do you know what’s going to happen to you? I have a gun too. You are not going to tell me, you low-life, what to do.”  The next morning, I was the first one in line.

We went to an ammunition factory in upper-Silesia, where we had to check bombs. We were all sabotaging the bombs, making sure they were not air-tight. We heard rumors about the Germans being beaten by the Russians from the east and the tummies from the west. Sure enough, several nights we had to go into the bomb shelter and the factory was bombed. Then we left, and we had death marches upon death marches. We ended up in Hamburg after death marches and rides in a coal train. We had bombardments, and one of the bombs hit the quarters where the German soldiers lived. Some of them were killed, and suddenly we didn’t see them anymore after the bombing, but we saw soldiers in other uniforms, who told us we were going to Denmark. The soldiers were “Home Security”—no more S.S.  The man who told me I would be free was missing an arm. We were told that they took all the able-bodied young men, as young as 16, and sent them to the front, but the wounded were in “Home Security.” We rode packed in trains all the way to the German border.