Lehrer, Sally and Sylmon, Rosa
Lodz (Poland), Auschwitz-Birkenau, Neukölln-Berlin, Ravensbrück
Sally Lehrer and Rosa Sylmon were identical twins born to a large Jewish family with six other siblings in Lodz, Poland, in October 1920. At the time, Lodz was a city with almost five-hundred thousand inhabitants, including a very large Jewish population. In Lodz, Sally and Rosa’s father worked for a large textile manufacturer. Sally and Rosa attended Polish public schools in Lodz for nearly seven years, before they largely remained at home to help out the family. As Sally and Rosa explain, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Poland at the time. Many of the shops in Lodz had slogans written across the windows that read, “Don’t buy from the Jews.” In another instance, a friend of theirs from a neighboring Polish city was stabbed to death for simply being Jewish. Sally and Rosa assert that all this anti-Semitism spawned from parents teaching their children at a young age to despise their Jewish neighbors.
Sally and Rosa remember hearing of Hitler’s threats to invade Poland and his plans to unite the Volksdeutsch, although most people in Poland just laughed it off. Even the German Jews, who were expelled from Germany in 1938 and came to Lodz, believed they would soon be able to return to Germany. However, on September 1st, 1939, when German troops first crossed the Eastern border into Poland, many of the Jews in Lodz began to panic. Some fled east to Russia, while most remained where they were. On September 5th, 1939, Sally and Rosa remember being terrified, for it was the first time they saw German troops marching through the city streets of Lodz. That night they heard that three Jews were hanged in marketplace near where they lived. This was the beginning of Sally’s and Rosa’s horrifying experiences in Lodz. Immediately, Sally and Rosa’s family was no longer able to buy bread from the Polish bakeries. There was complete cooperation by the Polish people to conform to the Nazi propaganda.
By 1940, the ghetto in Lodz had been established. The ghetto was separated into two sections and fenced off with barbed wire, with a bridge in between, which the SS soldiers guarded vigilantly. Some of the old Jewish buildings were demolished or burnt down to make room. Sally and Rosa, who were by this time living on their own, received ration cards for food and had to report to a German workshop, where they worked daily. When they worked they were given small portions of soup and bread, but, for the most part, food was difficult to come by. One day, Sally and Rosa noticed that an old apartment building, that had housed nearly fifteen-hundred people (including some of their relatives), had been completely emptied of its inhabitants overnight. Policeman became more and more vicious as they took away small children from their parents and obliterated the sick and elderly. One night, they heard that a local hospital had been emptied of its patients; the guards were loading babies onto trucks by throwing them out of the hospital’s windows.
Eventually in 1941, one side of the ghetto had been demolished and Sally and Rosa were forced to relocate. In the meantime, Sally’s and Rosa’s parents and siblings had been transported away onto trains. Their parents promised to keep in contact with them no matter where they went; unfortunately, they had been deported to Treblinka. One day, while at work, Sally was informed that her sister was on the list of Jews being deported from Lodz. Sally said that she would under no circumstance separate from her twin sister. Sally and Rosa went to a Jewish official who helped them out. He hid them in a room his house (which was then covered up) for nearly two weeks before letting them out. Sally and Rosa remained in the Lodz ghetto until 1944, when they went with a few neighbors to the Jewish officials to be relocated. Their neighbors had heard they were to move to another ghetto in a nearby Polish city, where they were to work in a factory, so they thought they might as well leave Lodz. However, after they had been loaded onto the cattle trains, their transport took them all directly to Auschwitz.
The trip lasted only two days. Once they arrived at Auschwitz, there was a selection process. The SS guards asked the Jews in their transport if there were any sets of twins among them; Sally and Rosa remained still, not speaking a word. Hiding the fact that they were twins, Sally and Rosa were sent to the showers in Auschwitz, after being shaved and stripped of all their clothes and jewelry. Many of the girls in the shower began screaming, as they feared that they were to be gassed; however, only water began flowing out of the shower heads. Sally and Rosa were handed plain-looking dresses to wear, before being sent to their barrack. After ten days of being in Auschwitz, Sally and Rosa were sent into a long line for the crematorium. However, after waiting in the line for three days, Sally and Rosa were finally pulled out and loaded onto a transport that was heading for Berlin.
Once in Berlin, Sally and Rosa were forced to work in a camp called Neukölln. There they worked galvanizing metals for German artillery for the German manufacturer Kruppswerken. Once the Allies began bombing the city, however, the water pipes to the factory had been destroyed, so the prisoners were forced to leave Berlin. Sally and Rosa then came to Ravensbrück, but they did not remain there long before they were liberated by the Allies. In April 1945, Sally and Rosa were loaded onto Red Cross trucks, which took them north into Denmark. Soon they were taken to Sweden, where Sally and Rosa lived for three years in a barrack. While in Sweden, Sally and Rosa received word that they had aunts living in Paris, so they moved to France in 1948. While living in France eight years, both Sally and Rosa married fellow Holocaust survivors, before moving to the New York City in 1956.
Date: June 11, 1990
Interviewer: Florida Atlantic University
Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
Format: Video Recording