Kain (Roth), Helen

Kain (Roth), Helen

Tibava (Czechoslovakia), Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Gross-Rosen

Kain was born in Tibava, Czechoslovakia, in 1925 to an orthodox Jewish family. She was one of nine children, of which only three survived the war. Her father was a cantor, a Hebrew school teacher, and ran his own business.

Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Kain attended public school and does not recall any overt anti-Semitism. Following the occupation, the area in which she lived was ceded to Hungary and restrictions against Jews began. Her brothers were taken into Hungarian labor battalions, and Kain moved to Budapest where she found work. She lived with an elderly couple in a suburb of Budapest.

In May 1944 everyone was moved to a large ghetto in Monor. From there she was taken in a boxcar to Auschwitz, arriving at 1:00 AM. She recalls being completely naked, shaved, and then given a black dress with a hole in it, wooden shoes, and an assignment to B Lager 23 in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Kain describes the recurring Zehlappell (roll calls) during the night, the cold of having to strip naked during work selections, and of being assigned to kitchen duties on the night shift. When she was caught stealing some food in the kitchen, she was punished by having burning coals placed on her knees.

After two months in Auschwitz, Kain met another inmate through a barbed wire fence of an adjacent camp who was a butler for the SS. He provided her with clothing and shoes by throwing them over the fence. These items and the food she managed to steal helped her survive.

Kain remembers becoming quite ill and eventually waking up in a bed with clean sheets and being attended to by a Jewish Greek girl who spoke German. She had apparently contracted typhoid fever and was taken to the infirmary. Kain was in a coma for several days and eventually recovered. She recalls that the infirmary was one of the show places used for propaganda purposes.

After leaving the infirmary, Kain had no clothes and had only a blanket with which to keep warm. She again received help from her acquaintance in the adjacent camp. He told her to see a specific person, who in turn found her clothes and shoes. She recalls being forced to give blood for transfusions for German soldiers on the front.

When Auschwitz was liquidated, Kain was put in a group that marched three days and nights. They then boarded a train and received food for the first time. The train took them to Gross-Rosen. That camp, however, was filled to capacity. After receiving some food, they continued on. Another march, about three days long, followed and they ended up in the Bergen-Belsen camp in January 1945.

Kain states that Bergen-Belsen was much worse than Auschwitz. There were no assigned barracks, very little food, and the stealing of food by non-Jewish Russian women was common. After two months, she found her aunt, her father’s sister, who was able to get her a job in the kitchen. In March 1945, however, Kain fell ill again and only remembers being liberated by British soldiers.

In June 1945 she traveled to Prague and met another survivor, who had spent four years in the camps. They later married. When she returned to her home town, Kain discovered that her sister had also survived. Of a family once consisting of thirty-three people, only Kain, a brother, a sister and three cousins survived the war.

Interview Information:
Date: May 26, 1992
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Format: Video recording