Plotnik, Ilona Izsak
Berintza (Romania), Bortpatak, Auschwitz, Boizenburg
Ilona Plotnik was born in a small village in Romania called Briceni (Berintza) in May 1916. Her village had about four hundred families but only three of them were Jewish.
Ilona was the youngest of three children. Her father bought and sold animals and traveled for his business. The family celebrated the Sabbath with a Friday night dinner and a freshly baked challah that her mother prepared.
Her father davened at home as there was no synagogue although there was a Torah kept in one of the Jewish homes.
The gentiles were very friendly to Ilona but she refused to eat at their homes because her mother was a religious Jew and told her not to eat non-Kosher food. She was the only Jew in the public school she attended.
Ilona remembered having to wear a Jewish star, which surprised her as there were neither radios nor newspapers to warn her family of what was to come.
In 1940, the Hungarians took over Romania and were very polite to her family.
Somehow the family was informed that they were going to be deported and they begged Ilona to disguise herself so she could stay behind. She refused, wanting to stay with her family.
In 1944 they were sent to the Borpatak Ghetto where all the Jews from other villages were sent. Ilona’s brother, who was 12 years her senior, was deported by the Hungarians. They stayed in this ghetto for one month.
Hearing that the Russians were approaching, they were all packed into cattle cars and the Germans took over their train, giving them bread and water to eat. It was silent on the train and many of the passengers were praying. They arrived at Auschwitz in the daytime. The guards were Jewish men who told them that the separation would be temporary. Ilona was separated from her entire family.
She saw the aged and the infirmed being thrown on trucks . . . it was fast and quiet. She was told to disrobe, shaven all over and then sent to the showers. She was given a dress to wear that was worn and ripped. She remembers seeing the crematorium in the distance with high leaping flames.
There were over one thousand in each barrack and the women couldn’t even turn around. The roof leaked and it rained inside . . . the days were bad but Ilona said that the nights were horrid. Some women were screaming for their children who had been taken away. The dead were removed daily. She remembers thinking that the dead were lucky.
The only time they left the barracks was for the count, with half of the women inside and half outside. One rebitzen refused to kneel, so she was beaten and later disappeared. Ilona was in Auschwitz for three months and never saw her family again.
No one could recognize each other until they spoke. They had a shower every ten days or so . . . but no one cared any longer.
One day, they were once again, packed into trains and sent to Boizenburg work camp on the Elbe River. Here they had their own beds, straw mattresses and worked for twelve hours every day. They walked to work and the guards forced them to sing along the way.
The allies were approaching (this was September, 1944-May of 1945) and there were so many raids that they could not sleep. They had coffee for breakfast, lunch consisted of “green sand” and dinner was a loaf of bread to be split 10 ways. The food stopped coming and the prisoners dug out potatoes from the ground, if they could find them.
Ilona said that because she was stronger and did a lot of walking, she survived. Men, who didn’t know they were Jews, sometimes brought them an apple or a sandwich.
At the end of the war, she got an infection and went to the factory’s nurse who said she should see the doctor, which Ilona knew was dangerous. She had a high fever so she finally wound up in the infirmary where someone operated on her, lying her over three chairs for the surgery. She passed out and when she came to, her hand was bandaged.
The Americans came and liberated them, bringing them chocolates and blankets. They were taken into the city and housed in a vacant movie theatre. They had no idea that they were free. The American soldiers forced the farmers to give them food. Then they were taken to the border, now realizing that they could go home.
They found a wagon and some chickens and were on their way with mixed emotions, not knowing where to go. When they finally reached their old homes, there was no family, but the Romanians brought her a cow and some chickens that her father had left.
Suddenly, one day her brother Frank appeared. He had been a driver for the Hungarian army and then wound up in Bergen Belsen. He wanted to go to the U.S. but it was easier to get to Canada, Ilona wanted to go to Israel. Her brother reached Canada (Montreal and then Windsor) first and she followed. She met her husband and married in 1949. She has four children: Michael, Judy Herskovitz, Sidney and Barbara Caza and six grandchildren.
She never spoke to her family about the Holocaust.