Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust

By Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz | Go to book overview

The Volunteer Group
Irene Berkowitz
b. Uzhorod, Czechoslovakia (became Ungvár, Hungary), 1920

My mother was starting to weaken. Because she thought that vegetables would help her, I went to the new group of arrivals at Stutthof Concentration Camp to ask if anyone had some vegetables they would trade for bread.

I got back late for roll call. A Jewish-German Kapo reported my late arrival to the German female officer, who took out her leather whip and gave me twentyfive lashes all over my body, including my face.

On a cold January evening some time later, the Germans came to the barracks in the middle of the night, announcing that they needed three hundred volunteers to work at the warehouses. Nobody wanted to go because it was so cold. But I remembered my father's advice that we should always volunteer for work, and felt that someone from my family should go, so I went out. My older sister, Margaret, called after me to come back because I would freeze out there.

Standing in line with the other volunteers, I looked back and realized that there were now more than the needed number of volunteers. Still hearing my sister's plea for me to return, I decided to go back to the barrack.

To my surprise, my family wasn't in the barrack—they were now among the group of volunteers!

The Jewish Kapo who had reported my tardiness that day had heard my sister calling me to come back, and told her not to call me, but that they too should join the volunteers. Now the Kapo took me by the hand and returned me to the volunteer group.

The next day, Stutthof was evacuated. Those who had not volunteered for the work detail were sent on a forced march. Many of them died in the bitter cold.

Did the Kapo know this would happen? Did she feel guilty about the beating? I wondered.

-181-

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