Rose Rachel Lenczner – Interview #35
Running Time 59:30
Reviewer: Elizabeth Welsch
Born: Szczekociny, Poland – 1923
Camps: Greenberg, 9/40 – 1/45 & Bergen-Belsen, 1/45 – 4/45
Married Name: Rose Biernbaum
Father died when Rose was 1 year old
Mother, 2 older sisters, older brother and Rose were the nuclear family
Rose’s family was wealthy. Her grandfather on her mother’s side ran a mill and her father was a businessman. Her family helped Jews and Gentiles alike who didn’t have enough to eat. Everyone in town called her grandfather Teta (Uncle) Koppel because he helped everyone who asked.
When Rose was 15 years old, there was a big panic in town. Family who lived in Sosnowiec, closer to the German border came to live at Rose’s house.
Family was orthodox – collected Halas for the poor, hungry people before synagogue then went home for Kiddish. There were many friends and relatives in the house every Friday. Rose was called the baby, “das kind”.
3:50 - Sept. 5, 1939 – everyone had to hide in the basement because bombs were falling in their town. The family ran through the night to her uncle’s village, Dziropczyn(sp?), but the people were running away there too. When they returned to their village, their house, built by her father’s father was burned to the ground.
An uncle hid them in Rose’s grandfather’s mill. It was crowded with all the extended family there, including a pregnant aunt.
A wealthy aunt in a bigger town that was not being bombed because it was closer to the German Border invited the children to come live with her. 6 months later, Rose went there by herself (at age 15). The 3rd Reich was in Poland then. Rose helped her aunt with the children and kept house.
8:00 - All the Jews were ordered to go to one place to register. They were told they could go home after the registration. When they went, the children, including her brother, one sister and a cousin were sent away.
9:00 - Rose and another cousin were sent on a train, 75 miles from Breslau. A German soldier saw Rose crying on the train. He told her she must be glad to be doing what the Fuhrer wanted because when he was finished there wouldn’t be one Jew left in Europe.
9:36 - At Greenberg, they worked 12 hours a day on 1 bowl of soup and 2 slices of bread. Her cousin was told that she had lost too much weight to be useful so she was being sent home. She was taken to Auchwitz and straight to the crematorium.
10:50 - At the beginning, the Jewish prisoners worked with the Germans in the factory. When the Gestapo took over the camp, Jews were forbidden to work with Germans. Rose then had to work from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. During the day, when she couldn’t sleep from hunger, she peeled potatoes to she could eat some of them.
I943 – Hitler liquidated all the Polish camps and her sister joined her in Greenberg.
1945 – Rose lost her job in the factory because the German workers wanted to work overtime.
14:15 - 2000 Hungarian women were brought in from Auchwitz to join the 2000 women already in Greenberg. The Hungarian women had no hair and were barefoot.
Because she wasn’t working, her rations were cut to 1 slice of bread per day.
16:00 - In January, 1945, everyone was given 1 blanket and a pair of wooden shoes. They were taken on a forced march (30 miles per day). Anyone who couldn’t walk anymore was shot. At night, they were locked in chicken coops. Rose had no shoes, she walked in her socks. About 16 people were shot along the way.
16.53 - One night, Rose decided to escape because her feet were frozen and she couldn’t walk. When the group left in the morning, Rose, her sister, and three other girls hid in the chicken coop.
18.45 - When the farmer came to care for the chickens, he told them he would take care of them. He took them to his farm and then called the Gestapo. The Gestapo called from downstairs, “you are dead men, come down”. He asked them, “Why the hell did you escape?” They begged to be allowed to stay and work on the farm because their feet were frozen. The wife begged to be allowed to keep them and feed them, but the husband said that he couldn’t keep Jews. Rose couldn’t eat the dinner they gave her because she was afraid of being killed in the morning.
22:00 - The next day, the farmer took them into town to give them to the Gestapo. The mayor stopped them and said that he would add them to a larger group he was keeping. They were put into a “sausage-cooking place” with other prisoners. This man was an angel because he gave them clothes, shoes, food and water to wash with.
That night, Rose prayed with the women because they were supposed to pray at night.
24.20 - After another forced march, they were put into a train car with 100 women and no windows. Whenever the train stopped, they had to “clean out” the car by throwing the dead women out onto the ground.
25.00 - Once, the train stopped beside a train filled with Italian soldiers. They begged the soldiers for water. Before the soldiers could get the hose turned-on, the Gestapo moved the train to another track.
25.35 - One woman asked the German guard on top of their train car why he didn’t just shoot them instead of dragging them around in the cold. The soldier said he didn’t want to waste using his gun on Jews.
26.35 - After three weeks on the train, they stopped. Rose noticed that Spring had come while they were on the train. She saw S.S. men with dogs and sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei” and she knew she was at Bergen-Belsen.
27.33 - When she went to the showers, the guard took all her family pictures away. There were “mountains of dead people” everywhere. They had to walk on top of women already in their bunks to get into the bunker. The women hit them and bit their ankles.
Rose quickly got very sick. The only way to get any water was to drink from the overflowing toilets.
30.35 - Just as Rose thought she was going to die, the camp was liberated by British soldiers in yellow uniforms. She was immediately taken to the hospital with the very sick. When she found herself in a bed with a white sheet, she asked God to let her live.
33.00 - When she felt better, Rose went to cell block 55 to check the Red Cross lists for her relatives. She asked about her mother and the lady told her to go back to the hospital and wait; that her mother would find her.
35.30 - Rose spent 6 weeks in the hospital with Typhus and then was taken to Sweden with her cousin at the end of July.
36.22 - When she was well again, Rose and her cousin were taken to the beach where families took them home for dinner. After that, they were put into a Refugee camp in Sweden. All the Polish girls were put together. There were 5 Jews and 5 Gentiles.
The Swedish consulate sent people into the camp to give lectures about Swedish culture.
38.37 - The Gentile girls were very anti-Semitic. Zorsha & Besha, sisters, asked “What do you Jews want in Poland? You have Palestine?” They told Rose that they wished they had turned-in a Jewish girl they met at a party because then there would be 1 less Jew in the world.
40.15 - Later, the Swedish government gave Rose a coat, 2 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes, underwear and a suitcase and sent her off to work in a paper factory with 12 girls. They lived together in a large house provided by the company.
41.56 - 1947 – After 2 years in Sweden, a letter came from the Jewish Federation in Stockholm. Rose’s sister in Germany had found her from the lists. Rose fainted.
43.34 - 1948 – Rose moved to Munich because her sister was in America and didn’t want to come to Sweden. Rose married in Munich.
43.50 - Here, Rose tells a story about her best friend from home who gave Rose her last piece of bread in the camp. Later, this friend sent her a letter telling her that everyone from her family had been taken to Treblinka and none were left.
45:45 - Interviewer: “Describe your life before the Nazi’s came”.
Her life was good. She had love and affection from her family because she was the baby.
Rose was a good Orthodox girl. She went to school and studied at the Yeshiva. She studied Talmud and Homish(sp?) and Me’doraisah (the whole law). She was very proud of her studies. She was very happy.
47:00 - When she was hungry all the time in the camps, she argued with God: “God, where are you? We were so good – we served you – are you happy now…?”
47.45 - Her brother died of starvation in the camp with her mother. He was a picky eater and was very delicate. Her mother sent her a post-card from her camp saying that the dead were better off than the living.
Rose prayed to die because of the hunger, no water and the lice.
50:00 - 1959 – Rose came to the U.S.
She had been in the camps for 5 years. She dreamed of a whole pot of potatoes and a bucket of cold water.
53.30 - Interviewer: “What made you come to American and what happened then?”
When she was living in Munich, she had an operation. She heard the nurses in her room saying that they needed all the Jews to be dead. When she got out of the hospital, she came to America so she wouldn’t have to see the “murderers who killed my parents and took away my youth”.
55.00 - Rose came to America with her small children and had a “very rotten life”. She couldn’t speak English which left her “helpless and handicapped”. Her older daughter (8) learned English from TV and taught her mom.
“The U.S. is still the best country for Jewish people to live in.”
56:00 - Interviewer: Have your wounds healed?”
The wounds are healed, but they are still there.
She talks about Vietnam being different.
The rest is a return to stories of searching for food in the camp and the forced marches.