Zylberminc (Rotenberg), Hanka

Zylberminc (Rotenberg), Hanka

Bedzin (Poland), Neusaltz, Bergen-Belsen

Mrs. Hanka Zylberminc , nee Rotenberg, was born in Bedzin, a small town in southwest Poland, in 1923, the eldest of three children  of an orthodox Jewish family.  She attended a Polish public Jewish girls school in Bedzin, Bais Yaakov after school and Bnos on the Sabbath.  She was exposed to hardly any anti-Semitism, since her home town was populated primarily by Jewish people.

Following the invasion and subsequent occupation of Poland by Germany in September 1939, her town was essentially closed by the occupying army, and it inhabitants were used for occasional labor.  In February, 1941, her mother was given an ultimatum by the Germans in February 1941, to deliver Hanka for labor service or be arrested herself.  Hanka, age 17 ½, felt healthy and strong, and assured her mother she would be OK.  She was transported in a box car to the labor camp Neusaltz, near Hamburg, Germany.  She never saw her parents again.  She remained in the camp for four years until January 1945.  The Neusaltz camp furnished slave labor to nearby industry.  Mrs. Zylberminc worked in a factory making thread.

At Neusaltz, Mrs. Zylberminc was required to work twelve hours each day, six days per week, was housed in barracks and slept on a wooden bunk bed with only a thin blanket to cover her.  Conditions were extremely harsh, but not brutal, and “selections” were held periodically to determine the fitness for work of the inmates.  Unfit persons were sent to Auschwitz for extermination.  Food consisted of substitute coffee in the morning and a watery soup with a slice of bread in the evening, occasionally some potatoes were added.

As the Russian army approached the camp in January 1945, the inmates of Neusaltz were forced on a march lasting around 2 ½ months, which took them to the concentration camp Bergen Belsen.  They marched dressed only in their striped dress plus the thin blanket, wore wooden shoes, and received very little food during the march.  Sleeping was done in stables and those unable to keep up during the march were segregated and placed on horse-drawn wagons for a later disposition –none returned.  The march had a very high fatality rate.

At Bergen Belsen, Mrs. Zylberminc saw thousands of prisoners and witnessed many dead bodies.  She was occasionally taken out of the camp for work details, mostly for “make work” projects, such as collecting leaves.  She became ill with Typhus.  Fortunately, the camp was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945, approximately 1 month after Mrs. Zylberminc’s arrival there.  She was very ill and was hospitalized in Bergen Belsen.  The British was not able to provide adequate medical help and asked her if she wanted to go to Sweden where the Swedes were able to help her more.  She agreed and went to Sweden by boat for further hospitalization and subsequent rehabilitation, followed by employment in Sweden.

Her sister Bena heard that she had survived and sent a letter to Sweden looking for her. When Mrs. Zylberminc received the letter and found out that that her sister was living in the Bergen Belsen D.P. Camp and she made traveling arrangements with a Kibbutz group in order to be reunited with her.  She traveled with the group through Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria and then left the group near the German border so that she could get to her sister Bena in Bergen Belsen.   Her parents, Nuta and Yita Rotenberg and brother, Yisroel Ber, presumably perished in Auschwitz.
After she was reunited with her sister who had married in the meantime, she found work in a restaurant.  It was here that she met her future husband.   She married Mordka Zylberminc, of Sosnowiec, Poland, who was also a survivor of the concentration camps and they lived in Erding, Germany, near Munich.  They had one daughter in Germany before they moved to Baltimore, Maryland to join Bena and her family who had emigrated.  Three additional children were born in Baltimore.

Mrs. Zylberminc believes she is still suffering from the effects of her ordeal, which is substantiated by her frequent nightmares.  She finds the memories very painful and does not discuss them in detail with her children.

Interview information:
Date of Interview:  February 23, 1993
Length of Interview:  1 hour
Interview & synopsis by:  Hans R. Weinmann