This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Oradea (Romania), Auschwitz
Belle Frajnovits Selman was born in Oradea, Romania (Hungary). Her father, Mauritiu, had an import/export business. His trucks delivered materials for factories.
Her mother’s name was Leni (Bergida) and she had five brothers and one sister, many aunts, uncles and cousins. The family was modern, meaning conservative by today’s description, in a town of about one quarter of a million Jews.
Belle was about six years old when the war began and the Nazis told them to leave. They lived on the outskirts of the city and, early one morning, they awoke to see Nazis in their home.
Belle remembers going somewhere with a tall wall and locked gate. Before they left, the family buried valuables under a rose tree in a big wooden crate in the yard. They were taken to a small home with lots of other families, who all wore yellow stars.
Because so many of the women and young girls were abused, Belle’s father cut her hair so she would look like a boy and be safe. She saw constant shootings and any women who were taken never returned.
She remembers resistance efforts on the part of the Jews . . . such as sharpening sticks to make arrows.
Speaking German saved her life as she was used as an interpreter.
Belle said that the Romanians obeyed the Germans, but the Hungarians did not.
In April of 1944, the Germans came and took them to the train station, packing them into cattle cars on the way to Auschwitz. There was no water, food or sanitation. Her parents thought they were going to work camps. When they arrived, her older sister and her three year old child got out first, the Germans separating male and female. Her mother, sister and niece went in one direction and she in the other. She learned that they were killed the same day they arrived. Belle was stripped and all of her possessions were taken, such as jewelry and glasses. They were given striped dresses and taken to a huge room and assigned a bed, actually three women to each single bed. They each had one blanket and lay on the top of boards. She was in Block #28.
The Germans needed ditches to be dug . . . she was the translator who told the others what to do: to dig a trench, about forty feet by fifteen feet and five feet deep. They had no idea that the ditch was a grave until they saw trucks pull up with live children in them. The screaming children (mostly between eighteen months and two years old) were thrown into the ditch and the prisoners were told to cover them with dirt and bury them alive.
After that, Belle couldn’t eat or sleep . . . others begging her to eat to stay alive. She was in Camp “C” and wanted to die, so she touched the barbed wire, but that time it was not live and she survived.
She was in Auschwitz for one year. Her youngest brother was chosen to be the assistant to a German, cleaning his clothes and boots. He now lives in Brazil.
Belle lost her hearing in one ear because she was beaten so often.
One thousand of the women were marched because they were told that “the Russians were coming.” They walked from Poland to Germany on side roads, four abreast, as the winter turned frigid. They had no underwear, no coats or boots and only one blanket each. They were given soup (which was water, mud and potatoes) once every day. When they passed a farmhouse, they took the pigs’ food, if there was any and the horses’ oats to eat. Those who couldn’t keep up were shot.
There were twelve guards during the daytime and only two at night, so they decided to escape during the night hours, knowing that they wouldn’t survive if they stayed. The Poles and Hitler youth would catch as many escapees as possible.
Belle and her fellow prisoners helped each other, dragging people if they were too weak to walk. Although farmers witnessed the walk, none helped. It snowed for eight days straight and they ate the snow for nourishment. She and some friends found a farmhouse and begged for food. The farmer’s wife took care of them even though Belle told her they were Jewish. She said she didn’t care.
Belle was weak and ill and the farmer’s wife took care of her until an American soldier came by the name of Silverman. Belle thought he was German and although an ambulance came for her, she fought bitterly and had to be placed in a straight jacket.
She then went to Grapenau and stayed for two years. She was sexually abused by a dentist who was treating her. She reported this and the dentist was sent to prison.
Belle’s uncle in Detroit, Jacob Frajnovits, brought her to the United States on August 17, 1949. Although Belle’s brothers went to Israel, she didn’t want to go because of the weather.
She was witnessed quite of bit of anti-Semitism here, while working in a chemical company. Her two bosses demoted her although her work was superior to others. Belle took organic chemistry at Wayne State and now works in Industrial Waste/Pollution, where she is a prevention specialist. She is very successful and owns her own business.
She married and had three children: her daughter is now a doctor and one son is her marketing director.
She never talks about her experiences saying she wouldn’t be where she is today if she cried about the past.
Interviewer: Burt Ansell
Format: Video recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.