Budzyn (Poland), Steinbrook, Wieliczka, Auschwitz
Mrs. Luba Elbaum was born in Poland in 1922, and she remembers vividly the years she spent being carted around via train from concentration camp to concentration camp like cattle. Mrs. Elbaum did not undertake this terrible journey with her family, recounting that the Germans killed them in 1941. Instead, she remembers a group of girls roughly her age that she befriended. They kept each other strong and told each other that they had nothing without hope.
Her story begins in the Jewish ghetto. The Germans did not allow them outside after dark. Mrs. Elbaum remembers the train rumbling into town. On Monday, Nazis forced everyone to give up their possessions. There was a pile for shoes and a pile for dresses, along with other piles for them to place all they owned. The Nazis then brought everyone out naked, shaved their heads, and gave them clothes. Then, the Germans loaded them onto the train. Mrs. Elbaum went to her first labor camp at age nineteen in 1941 where she worked in the fields. At this camp, she remembers the Germans utilizing Jewish Talits, prayer shawls, as bed sheets as an act of blatant disrespect. For fear of punishment, none of the prisoners spoke up in protest.
The Budzyn labor camp, is about three miles northwest of the Polish town of Krasnik. Here, the Nazis divided the girls into two groups: those who were fit for work, and those who were unfit. The Germans took those who were deemed unfit to their deaths. Not long after her arrival in Budzyn, she was sent to Steinbrook. Here, she and the others worked in a stone quarry, moving heavy stones from one place to another. Mrs. Elbaum recalls they were only fed a small amount of soup and bread enough for five people, which had to be divided up enough to feed the entire camp. This forced them to divide the portions to sizes, which barely enabled survival. Following her time here, she was taken to Wieliczka to work, a smaller portion of the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp, near the city of Krakow. Both Wieliczka and Budzyn became underground aircraft factories, where the Nazis utilized forced labor in order to build the Heinkel He 111 and He 117 fighter planes for the German air force.
After her time in Wieliczka, the Nazis rounded up Mrs. Elbaum and the rest to ship them to Auschwitz. She recounts clearly the appel, or roll call of that day, describing it as one of her saddest memories. The women wore white kerchiefs around their head for two varying purposes. Before being sent to Auschwitz, they wore them in order to protect themselves from lice, which were a problem in many of the labor camps. This reasoning shifted upon their arrival, however. In Auschwitz, the girls wore them in an attempt to make themselves appear older than they really were, or else they risked being killed due to being too young to work.
Mrs. Elbaum states that the Waffen SS women treated them “uncomfortably” in Auschwitz. The Waffen SS were the elite German soldiers during World War II. She describes that upon their arrival, they ordered the women to take off their clothes and take showers. The Nazis took their clothes away and gave them work uniforms. The women were treated terribly both before and after their arrival in Auschwitz. Mrs. Elbaum describes how often it was for them to be hit and beaten for disobedience or for rule violations.
Recounting 1944, Mrs. Elbaum states that the Russian advance was a cause for near panic amongst the German forces. The environment of Auschwitz became much harsher. Not willing to simply give up their Jewish prisoners, she remembers vividly that the Germans began to murder their prisoners in mass. Several prisoners attempted to flee, and those who were unsuccessful were dragged back to the camp. The soldiers forced the other prisoners to gather around and watch as the unsuccessful escapees were shot before their eyes. They were warned that it would happen to anyone else who attempted to run away. As shootings and murders became steadily more common, the guards forced the Jewish men to dig vast graves and search the dead for valuables, including gold teeth. Mrs. Elbaum describes seeing the smoke fill the sky as the bodies of hundreds of people were burned each day.
When questioned as to how she survived such a terrible series of ordeals, Mrs. Elbaum answers that it was due to her work ethic. She did her best to stay out of trouble, and she worked as hard as she could. Today, she cannot listen to the whistle of a train without feeling that she is packed into one of the cars with the other women. This is something she is haunted by day by day, and most likely, it will continue to haunt her for the rest of her life.
As she walks the area where the concentration camp used to stand, where so much pain occurred, she only expresses sadness that the graves are being neglected. With tears threatening to spill from her eyes, she describes the area as broken, a shadow of what it had once been. Mrs. Elbaum believes the sites of those who lost their lives should be tended to and treated with respect.
Date: August 1991
Length: 60 minutes
Format: Video Recording