Praw (Mandelzys), Esther
Opatow (Poland), Starachowice, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen
Praw was born in 1921 in Opatow, Poland, and her family consisted of her mother, a sister, and a maternal grandmother. Her father died when she was about two years old. She also had step-sisters and a step-brother who were forced to leave Lodz and came to live in Opatow. The family was very poor.
When the Germans came to Opatow, Praw describes the bombing and the changes that took place: Jews had to wear an armband with a star, food was rationed, a curfew was imposed, and Jews were forced to leave their homes. Praw was assigned work in a factory and then she worked for a German, a “horrible man,” in an employment office. She remembers the killing that occurred daily.
Praw describes how a small group of people, including herself, escaped from Opatow to Starachowice. She learned that the following day all of the Jews from Opatow were taken away–she never heard from anyone in her family again.
In Starachowice Praw worked in a factory. She slept in a lice-infested barrack, and those sick with typhus were put to death. She herself became ill. In the camp there was talk that it would be liquidated and so a large group decided to escape. Many were shot and those who didn’t escape were sent to Auschwitz the next day.
Praw describes the horrible conditions on the transport to Auschwitz and recalls her thoughts about death at the time. Upon her arrival at Auschwitz she saw ovens burning and people sitting on the floor looking “crazy.” She was issued clothes, tattooed, and assigned work loading coal. She remembers being told that at Auschwitz a needle has more worth than a person.
During a selection by Mengele, she was chosen to be sent to Bergen-Belsen. She describes the work she had to do at this camp and remembers a lot of people sick with typhus. She also recalls the hunger, the unburied bodies, and the smell of the corpses, which caused her to get sick.
Praw was liberated by the English.
Date: May 2, 1983
Interviewer: Anita Schwartz
Format: Audio recording