Alexander (Reif), Edith

Alexander (Reif), Edith

Kosice (Kaschau), Auschwitz, Krakow-Plaszow, Auschwitz-Birkenau

Edith Alexander, nee Reif, born in 1922, lived with her parents and her older sister in a town called Kosice (Kaschau), Czechoslovakia. Kosice had a population of about 80,000 of which about 20,000 were Jewish. Her father was a merchant. After graduation from high school she went to work as an assistant for a dentist. Alexander states that she had many non-Jewish friends and she did not experience any anti-Semitism during her childhood.

In 1938 the Hungarian army, an ally of Nazi Germany, occupied the eastern part of Czechoslovakia in which Kosice was located. All Jewish men had to report immediately to the authorities and were shipped to forced labor camps. Alexander’s brother-in-law, a Jewish dentist, never returned from one of those camps.

In September 1939 the German army marched into Poland. The Hungarian government allowed thousands of Polish refugees to find shelter in Hungarian controlled territories. Alexander’s parents accommodated a Jewish Polish family for a few months. Alexander states that she was still too young and naive to worry about what was happening.

Since the Hungarian government turned against its ally in the beginning of 1944, the German army occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, and immediately started the implementation of anti-Jewish laws. Jews had to wear a yellow patch on their clothes which indicated that they were Jewish. Alexander remembers that Jews were not allowed to walk outside in the evening. She states that the Gentile population of Kosice did not participate in the persecution of Jews but only a few helped them. Alexander says that after the war she heard of a Gentile lawyer who had built a bunker in Kosice in which he saved about 17 Jewish families.

At the end of March, Alexander’s family along with all the Jews of Kosice were forced to move into a ghetto located in a brick factory outside the town. They were allowed to bring only as much of their belongings as they could carry. Living conditions in the ghetto were very harsh and German and Hungarian guards made escape nearly impossible. The inmates received very little food and had to perform forced labor. Alexander was among a group of women who worked cleaning the ghetto’s railway station. She remembers seeing cattle cars full of people but she did not know what was going to happen.

After about a month, all the ghetto’s inmates were ordered by the Nazis to report to the train station for resettlement. There they were loaded on wagons like cattle heading to slaughter and shipped to an unknown destination. The journey took two to three days without food or sanitary facilities. From time to time, German soldiers opened the doors of the cattle cars and sold water to the prisoners for jewelry or money. Some inmates died on the train.

Arriving at the Auschwitz concentration camp, SS guards separated man from women in front of the camp’s physician, Dr. Mengele, who selected those who were useful as laborers for the Nazis. Those not selected were sent to the gas chambers. This was the last time that Alexander saw her parents. Alexander and her sister were considered fit for work and taken to a barrack where they had to undress completely. One girl she met at the ghetto was in charge of dispensing the prisoners’ uniforms. This girl gave Alexander and her sister two extra sweaters which they could wear under their uniforms. Alexander states that the newly arrived prisoners were forced by the Nazis to write a postcard to their remaining relatives in the Kosice ghetto saying that everything was fine in the camp.

Ten days later, Alexander and her sister were shipped from Auschwitz to the Krakow-Plaszow labor camp. They had to work in a factory carrying heavy bricks. Alexander tells of an incident when a Kapo started to beat her because she had rested for a moment during work. She ran away and hid behind a pile of wood inside the camp. Alexander believes that she would have been executed immediately if the Kapo had found her.

Approximately six weeks later, Alexander and her sister were taken to the Birkenau camp, also known as Auschwitz II. There they worked in the camp’s kitchen. During the interview she tells about the horrible living conditions and the selections that took place constantly.

Close to the end of World War II, Alexander and her sister were transferred to the Oberaltstadt forced labor camp in the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, to work at the Kluge factory. Alexander tells about the constant mistreatment of prisoners by the camp’s guards. The camp was liberated by the Russian army in May 1945. After recuperating in a sanatorium, Alexander returned to her hometown where she found her former boyfriend, Mr. Alexander, who later became her husband. They married and adopted a one-year old girl, Mr. Alexander’s niece. The child survived the Holocaust as a hidden child whereas her biological parents, Mr. Alexander’s sister and brother-in-law had perished.

In 1951 Alexander, her husband, and her daughter emigrated to the United States.

Interview Information:
Date: June 13, 1990
Interviewer: unidentified
Length: 1 hour 27 minutes
Format: Video recording