Kessler (Klein), Leah
Dobrany (Czech Republic), Auschwitz, Fraudental
Kessler was born in Dobrany, Czech Republic, in 1930, the oldest of three children. Her father owned a tailor shop where her parents both worked. She describes her family life as happy and simple, with payment for tailoring services often given in the form of chickens and other food items. She recalls little anti-Semitism before the arrival of the Hungarians.
In April 1944 the Jews in Dobrony were sent to a ghetto in Ungvar, Ruthenia, where they lived for one month in a brickyard in makeshift tent-like structures. Kessler's father worked sewing knapsacks and was able to buy extra food for his family. There was no resistance that Kessler knew of and few people tried to escape.
Kessler's family was sent to Auschwitz by train in May 1944. Kessler remembers that the trip lasted from three to five days. No water was provided and they survived on the meager amount of food brought along by individual families. She remembers being unable to move, children crying, old men praying, and others breaking down and screaming. Upon Kessler's arrival at Auschwitz, she was immediately separated from her family and she never saw her mother, grandmother, and younger brother again. She did see her father once through a fence after her head had been shaved and they had both been issued camp clothing. Kessler states that her father told her that she should ask the guards if she could go with her grandmother and mother to help them with the younger children. That was the last time she saw her father.
Kessler remained in Auschwitz for six months where she recalls endless roll calls but no work. Food consisted of a watery soup with grass in it and a lump of black bread which she ate immediately so that it would not be stolen. She believes that the inmates had been given a tranquilizer called "brom" in their food. She remembers a group of small children and their mothers being housed near her block and how much she enjoyed seeing them since there were no small children in Auschwitz. Then one night she heard the sound of large trucks moving back and forth and the next morning the children were gone.
In the fall of 1944 she was chosen for a transport and sent by train to Fraudental in Sudetenland to a work camp. Kessler worked in a clothing factory there, making gas masks and other apparel. The women lived in the factory and the food rations and living conditions were better. The Russians liberated the area on May 6, 1945. Kessler states that they received no help from the Russian army, but that one Jewish soldier did put her on a train for home.
Upon her arrival, she found that her family had not returned, and a surviving uncle from Kosice urged her to move near him. She did and lived in a Mizrachi orphanage until it was learned that the Russians were coming. She was sent on to France, then to Cyprus, and finally to Israel, where she remained until immigrating to the United States in 1957.
Kessler expresses anger at God and states that for a time after the war she no longer wanted to be Jewish. She blames her inability to have more children on the "brom" she was given in the camps and expressed her strong desire to have had a larger family.
Besides Kessler, only two uncles and two aunts from her large extended family survived the Holocaust.
Date: November 1, 1982
Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Interviewer: Donna Miller
Format: Audio recording