Burton, Barbara

Burton, Barbara

Zwolen (Poland), Starachovice, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen

Burton was born in a small town in Poland in 1926 as Basha Grinspan. She remembers the wonderful peace and joy of Shabbos dinner. Father and two brothers would come home from the shteble for Shabbos dinner. After services on Shabbos, they would eat and rest and then were visited by aunts, uncles and cousins. “A lovely time to remember.”

They knew that the war had started because their town was bombed on the first day, September 1, 1939. They fled to the woods and her older brother joined the partisans. On November 8, 1939, a young Jewish man also named Grinspan killed a German officer in France. The Nazis used this murder as a justification to start a pogrom, known as the “Kristallnacht”. For safety reasons her father changed his name to her mother’s maiden name. They moved to Radom but left when they heard it was going to be turned into a ghetto. They moved around.

“It was never normal, I was always afraid, and we needed papers when the Germans came. Before the war, it was peaceful. Parents talking about survival but trying to shelter their children. Our lives were threatened at all times.”

In 1942 they were captured by the Germans and sent to the labor camp in Starachovice. While there, her mother was “selected” and Burton never saw her mother again. Burton was in the labor camp with her father and her younger brother. The barracks were dirty and filled with lice, et cetera. They knew that her aunt and uncle were also in the ghetto. Since her mother and father were each the eldest in their families, all her cousins were younger and most were killed right away.

At Starachovice, Burton worked in an ammunition factory making bombshells. She remembers that her father was sad that he couldn’t provide food for his children. He and her brother were killed while trying to escape. She was working hard and it was normal to be hungry. Once she passed out from hunger. She broke her leg just before Starachovice was liquidated in 1944. Then she was sent on crutches to Auschwitz. Burton was in the hospital and a girlfriend of hers was there as well. They were inspected by Dr. Mengele, the camp’s physician, who sent her girlfriend to the gas chamber. They made “selections” all the time — “things I do not want to remember.”

After a few months in Auschwitz she was sent to Bergen-Belsen. The conditions were horrible. They lived in tents on straw in the mud. The inmates worked all day and there was not enough to eat. The Kapos and the guards were mean, rough and aggressive. Burton avoided them and punishment. She liberated from Bergen-Belsen by the British in 1944 where she had been working in the bathhouse putting coals in water to heat it for delousing newcomers.

A male friend of hers visited her after the liberation in Bergen-Belsen. They were married in 1946 when she was 19.

“Memories and talking about it is more painful than I can tell you.” However, she concluded that it was important for her children and everyone to know what happened and she emphasized the importance of testifying.

Interview Information:
Date: June 28, 1988
Length: 40 minutes
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Format: Video recording