Nothman (Garfinkel), Sonia
Chmielnik (Poland), Skarzysko, Czestochowa, Bergen-Belsen, Turkheim, Burgau, Allach, death march
Nothman describes prewar Chmielnik, the city where she was born in 1923, as a friendly place with a large close-knit Jewish community. Her family consisted of her parents, four sisters and three brothers. They ran a grain depot where Polish farmers would sell their wheat, which was then taken to a mill, ground, and re-sold. There was some anti-Semitism but Chmielnik was largely Jewish so they did not have a lot of contact with non-Jews. She relates that many of the young people belonged to Zionist organizations and that her brother was a member of Hashomer Hatzair.
After the Germans entered Chmielnik in the fall of 1939, Nothman states that life changed drastically for the Jews. Businesses owned by Jews were only allowed to open on Saturday and while her father refused to open, she, a sister, and a brother opened the store on Saturdays. She recalls her father being accosted in the street by the SS, who cut off his beard.
Nothman states that she made frequent trips to Lodz to bring food to her maternal grandmother both before and after the Lodz ghetto was closed. She bribed a man living near the ghetto fence to allow her to get in and out and she was never caught.
In 1942 an order was given for all young people of working age to assemble in the center of town. Once there, they were transported by truck to the Skarzysko labor camp. She and her sister stayed together and worked for a relatively decent volksdeutch who later arranged for their brother to join them. They worked in a potato mill, packing dried potato flakes into paper sacks. She states that they were lucky to work here as they had potatoes to eat and they smuggled out paper sacks to use as blankets and a shoes during bad weather.
Nothman recalls being saved by two other female prisoners while she was recovering from typhus. During inspection, they hid her out of the barracks and brought her back to her bunk when it was safe. She also recalls a particularly brutal Jewish guard called “Yarmulkeh” who caught her trying to bring soup back for others in her barracks and beat her.
In 1944, with the Russians approaching, Skarzysko was evacuated and she and her sister were sent to Czestochowa, where they again worked in the mills. A lagerführer named Rosenzweig knew where two of her sisters were and arranged to have them sent on the next transport. Her brother was also eventually sent to Czestochowa and all five were together for awhile. Nothman states several times that she would not have had the will to survive without her sisters and brother.
After several months they were evacuated to Bergen-Belsen by train. She describes the train as jammed, with no sanitary facilities and little food. She estimates that only about one-fourth of the passengers survived that trip. In Bergen-Belsen there was no real work and the only food was coffee each day and a lump of bread every other day. She remembers she and a sister being told to move iron beds from one place to another. Her sister’s hand froze to a bed and she wanted to stop. Nothman recalls encouraging her to go on and warming her sister’s hand in her mouth.
They remained in Bergen-Belsen for three to four weeks and were then marched to Turkheim and from there to Burgau, where living conditions were a little better. There they worked in an airplane factory in the woods near Augsburg painting planes.
In the spring of 1945 they were taken on a death march toward Allach, a camp near Dachau. Nothman remembers being forced to sleep in a ditch filled with water at the side of the road and in the morning many were sick. The Germans were guarding them but they did not shoot anyone because the Americans were in the area. One morning, they woke up and all the Germans were gone. She relates that many of the prisoners became ill and died upon liberation because the Americans fed them too much rich food.
Date: January 4, 1983
Interviewer: Donna Miller
Format: Audio recording
Other oral histories: April 15, 1993, May 26, 1994, May 31, 1994, October 24, 1994, January 9, 1995. All are video recordings.