Elli’s Story: Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4

: Page 1 of 2

Elli and her family arrived in a place in Poland called Auschwitz on May 31, 1944. They emerged from the crowded cattle cars into the chaos of screaming officers and barking dogs. They were told to leave behind the few belongings they had taken with them. Then the women were forced to separate from the men.

Jews being deported from Slovakia, 1942.

Jews being deported from Slovakia, 1942.

Elli, her mother, and her aunt Serena went in one line, and Elli’s brother was forced into another. When he tried to say goodbye, the officers kicked him. Other officers were swinging whips through the air and hitting people, chasing them, and making them run towards the selection, where they met the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.

Next, the women had to undress and prepare to be shaved of all their hair. Those who hesitated would be shot, so everyone complied. Then they were given prisoners’ rags to wear, and all emerged from

Testimony: “Are You Jewish?”

“Aunt Serena, I’ll never see you again.”

—Elli Friedman

the process looking identical in their grey shapeless uniforms. Even though Elli worried that she wouldn’t be able to find her mother because all of the women looked alike, Elli still recognized her mother’s beautiful features, and cherished her presence more than ever. Now, her mother was all she had.

The women were brought to the barracks. Each day, Elli and her mother were forced to stand in the blazing sun for roll call. On their tenth day in Auschwitz, the section where Elli and her mother were standing was suddenly ordered to march. The women were marched out past the barracks, past the barbed-wire fences, past the gates of the camp, and onto the cattle cars once again. After some time, the train rolled to a stop in the Polish city of Krakow, where the women were forced onto open army trucks. Driving onward, they soon entered under wide metal gates with a sign declaring their final destination as the labor camp, Plaszow.

Elli and her mother were in hard-labor at Plaszow through the summer. During grueling work days they were forced to flatten out the top of a hill in preparation for construction. The only rest from their work was a brief break in the day for a small portion of soup. Amon Goeth was in charge of the camp, and he was a vicious taskmaster. Elli witnessed the cold-blooded murder of fellow inmates in broad daylight, and was constantly terrified that she too would be killed. To find relief from their fears, Elli and others secretly recited Psalms together at night.


The camp in Auschwitz.

Auschwitz, 1988, photograph © Ira Nowinski.

After seven and a half weeks in Plaszow, Elli and her mother were put on another train together. Elli tried not to think about anything but staying close to her mother on yet another one of their terrifying journeys to an unknown destination. Three days later, the trains had returned to Auschwitz. At this point, Elli’s mother no longer had the will to go on. She refused to leave the train, preferring to stay with those now unable to even walk. From this moment on, Elli took on the responsibility to care for her mother. She forced her mother to get off the train and report for work, cared for her when she was severely injured and sent to the infirmary, and despite her own exhaustion, even found the strength to smuggle her mother out of the infirmary when a selection of the weak prisoners was said to be imminent.

Chapter 4

: Page 1 of 2


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