Choose: Board the truck or stay and burn!
(Ursula) “Things were pretty uneventful until one day my life, my future - everything changed. I wouldn’t know peace for a long, long time. Bohemia’s eastern side shares the Russian border. One night the Russian’s, who must have been allied with the Germans at the time, came into our little town. They took over, and we were herded like cattle to a marketplace. All of a sudden military trucks with gun-carrying military, appeared in our little town. The officers informed us we had two choices: stay in Kinwasser, or mount the trucks, which were waiting on the roads at the edge of town. This was not an easy choice because they neglected to tell us where we would be going - if we mounted the trucks. My mother chose to get out of Bohemia, hoping to get back to Germany. My aunt’s family and friends decided to stay. In the confusion, while being loaded into the trucks, I got separated from my mother - that was horrific in itself, not that I cared for her, but she represented the only secure or familiar anchor to me.”
(Jim) “Can you remember any details of that day?”
(Ursula) “Here is what I see in my memory: There were about 3 trucks with Russian soldiers that pulled into our little town. I got separated from my mother as the soldiers were shoving, and pulling on people– just chaotic! We were given a choice, stay or get on the trucks. They were like farm trucks with very high sides, so there was no getting off if you changed your mind. If I would have stayed, I would have been killed. The soldiers herded us from our houses to a marketplace. Most of the people were local residents, unlike us who had escaped from Germany. Many of them said, ‘it looks like we will be invaded, so let’s get out of here!’
My mother must have thought that leaving would eventually enable us to get back home. They loaded us onto the trucks and we slowly pulled out, waving good-by to my aunt and cousin and all my friends - leaving behind the safe and beautiful ‘paradise.’ We waved, and shouted, ‘We love you, and we’ll see you soon!’ Then at a sharp command - rapid gunfire, people screaming……people were slaughtered. The trucks sped away. My aunt’s family and friends…… now all dead. That was the beginning of the nightmare which would last seemingly for ever. It still haunts me at times.
It was a long ride, a very long ride. I was hungry - I was thirsty and wanted my mother. So, I cried. I was hit on the side of my head with the butt of a gun and soon realized that you don’t cry, you don’t complain. You make yourself as small as possible and you try to survive. That’s the key word - survival! I did what I had to do - no matter what, because in the beginning I had hope. I wanted to live, I wanted to survive…… but that was only in the beginning.
The roads were very rough - jostling us from one side of the truck to the other. There was nothing to hang on to, so we hung on to each other. They treated us cruelly and hard, but we thought that surely, they would take us to a better place.”
(Jim) “Had you heard anything about concentration camps before?”
(Ursula) “I vaguely remember my mother talking to her sister once about camps, but they chased us children out of the room when that discussion came up, so I didn’t get any details.
It seemed like it would never end. We left around noon, and when it got dark, we stopped at a compound for the night. We slept on the ground, and the next morning we were loaded onto the trucks again, and strange as it sounds I never saw my mother. After some time of travel, the trucks - one or two hours apart from each other arrived at a concentration camp.”
(Jim) “How did you handle some of the necessities of life?”
(Ursula) “Well, to be perfectly blunt, when you needed to use the bathroom, you just relieved yourself whether standing in the truck, or sleeping on the ground. As I was brought up very clean, that part bothered me extremely. I lost all dignity, all pride, everything! I was in such a miserable state I wanted to die. But all this was not God’s perfect plan. There was indescribable acts of horror to come - this was just the beginning. But, I tried my best to survive. I learned to survive the rapes - which were daily or nightly – whenever a guard took a notion. The other women, men and children underwent the same treatment.
It was a long and agonizing ride and I knew that I had arrived at my new home, surrounded by barbed wire and open space – no shelter or trees. We were assigned to little divided spaces, framed with four boards, each filled with some dirty hay about the size of one’s body. That was your space, and you protected it because that little space was all you had left. This ‘house’ was your playroom, eating room, sleeping room, and bathroom. Everyone had their own “house” and you were careful not to get into some else’s. Some people were mentally afflicted, and so sick in their minds that they mistakenly got into someone else’s ‘house.’ That caused serious problems.”
(Jim) “Did they ever change out your hay?”
(Ursula) “No. After awhile, your hay began to move with the insects. Bugs crawled all over me, especially during the night. This was enough to bring on the nightmares. The lack of privacy bothered me at first, but I got used to it. People see everything you do and you see everything they do. The need to survive makes you adjust to whatever is necessary. What can you do about anything? If you complain, you get shot, or even worse.
All we had for clothes was what we had on when we left Bohemia. Eventually, they just deteriorated into dirty tatters - especially due to the beatings. There was almost nothing left of our clothes. Later, a guard gave me a man’s T-shirt that came down to my knees. I had no underwear, as they just ripped it off of you day or night! Those men were worse than animals!
The camp was large, stretching out a long way, and our little ‘boxes’ were spread out so no one was right next to you. The military guards slept in huts. I think they were assigned to do this job, and maybe had no choice. They seemed almost as miserable as we were. I’d hate to think that they chose their jobs.
After awhile, an officer felt sorry for me and moved me into his hut, where there was a cot with a thin mattress. He had a heart. He treated me fairly well. I got a kick here and there from him, but it was nothing like before that. I took whatever I got and was grateful. More about him later.”
(Jim) “Did you ever get connected to your mother?”
(Ursula) “Not until the end. There were many other children and babies. Some babies and children were not with their parents, so when they cried and screamed, there was no one to console them - the guards just killed them. We had to dig trenches to dispose of the dead AND the living. If you refused to dig the trench, you went into the trench. If you just stood there, they would push you into it, to be buried with the rest. Your chance of survival depended on doing whatever was required. No matter how bad it was, you did it, just to make it through one more day!
The elderly were beaten to death - not shot to death because that was cheaper….. and more ‘fun.’ One day, they arranged us in a large circle, and a man shouted, ‘we are going to open up the gates, and whoever gets through the gate, is free.’ You can imagine the confusion and pandemonium that created. So, they opened the gate, and everybody surged toward the gate, and then they began mowing us down with machine guns!
These were the games they played. Another time they lined us up and made us march together, cursing us and calling us the vilest of names - profane Jewish slurs. They spit on us. They had real fire hoses that they would turn on us. The people in the front would fly through the air as the water stream struck them. A lot of people died that way. You can’t imagine the extreme cruelty of these ‘animals’. They weren’t forced to do this - it was their ‘entertainment.’ It was their job to be there, but I don’t think it was their job to torture us as they did.”
(Jim) “Were there any non-Jews there?”
(Ursula) “Yes many. If they thought that anyone was sympathetic or friendly to the Jews - they included them. Anyone who didn’t come up to Hitler’s standard of ‘perfection’ was eradicated as inferior. Disabled people, homosexuals, and anyone not considered members of the ‘master race’ were weeded out. There were compounds developed where Hitler put the most intelligent, handsome and viral men, along with the most gorgeous women. They mated them together to create a ‘master race.’ They were all blond with blue eyes, of the Arian race.”
(Jim) “Ursula, did you have any exposure to God or the Bible at this time? Since conversation was not allowed, and you had no knowledge of Christianity, what went through your mind?”
(Ursula) “Let me tell you about my ‘white-haired gentleman!’ Early in my camp experience, there arrived a distinguished, white-haired gentleman. They picked him up in the middle of the night, as he was still dressed in his nightgown, which went all the way to the ground. He had a Bible under his arm - I don’t know how he got it in there. As he walked around the camp, he would bend down and whisper words of encouragement to different ones. I think he said to me something like, ‘child, things are going to get better.’ He gave people hope. The guards were furious at him and beat him mercilessly. They took his Bible and beat on it until the covers came off. It got worse and worse. One day, he was doing his ‘ministry.’ He didn’t care what happened to him, but went to those that were in real bad shape and leaning down, laid his hand on them. That was a real no-no! Well, they got him. Oh, my God! They drug him off, and beat him up. His nightgown was covered with blood. They thrust him back toward us, almost falling down. His Bible clutched in his hands was all torn and falling apart. He raised his arms toward heaven and shouted, ‘it is time!’ As he raised his arms, the pages fluttered to the ground. He came toward us -- the pages continuing to fall to the ground. Then they shot him in the back! I can close my eyes and see it all again. My white-haired gentleman! A beautiful man - a beautiful man.
I didn’t understand what he or his Bible was all about. Later, when I understood there was a God, and thought….. maybe that man was God. I saw pictures later of Jesus, with a beard, but my gentleman didn’t have a beard. Maybe that was Jesus - I was confused. I thought, maybe that was the man they are talking about as God. At that time, I didn’t know anything about God. I had no clue who God was. In spite of my spiritual vacuum, He never forsook me or forgot me - because I was his child and He loved me. Whether I knew Him or not, it didn’t matter to God - He loved me.”
(Jim) “Describe your diet in the camp.”
(Ursula) “My diet consisted of a cup of warm water once a day which was supposed to be soup. God only knows what was floating in it! Sometimes we got a crust of bread, which was the outside of the loaf - dry and tough, not the soft interior. They didn’t want to feed us, they wanted us to die! I’m surprised that we got that much. They could have just killed us, but that was too easy - not enough suffering for the Jews! They wanted to make examples of us. Many people committed suicide as a result, and many died of heart attacks. Old ladies were raped, and not always the normal way, until they died of heart attacks. I was raped several times a day and night, whenever they wanted to ‘play.’ This was done right in front of everyone, and you had to watch and hear the torment and pain, and there was nothing you could do.”
(Jim) “What sustained you emotionally in all this inhuman treatment?”
(Ursula) “It’s a miracle I’m sane - just from fear alone, not including the pain inflicted on my body. No child should have to go through something like this. But, God’s guardian angels were surrounding me even though I was not even aware of it. I had no knowledge of angels or God at the time.
Later, when I went to church and found out about God, I had a real problem. ‘Why did God do this to me, a 10-year-old girl?’ I had a real struggle with that. At that time in my life I didn’t have any help from anyone. My husband and I attended a Catholic Church, but there was no help there. We then went to a Baptist Church. I went there for 12 years, and that pastor couldn’t give me any help either. I really had a hard time reconciling everything - worse than when I had no knowledge of God. After I found out there was a God and that He is a loving God, it was inconsistent with that love for what I went through. I desperately needed a pastor to explain these things to me, but he didn’t. That was a really rough time for me emotionally. What, God loved everybody else, and He didn’t love me? It was a mental conflict,
Now back to the camp. Regardless of night or day, they would come to play or beat me up - depending on their mood. They did their thing, I became their plaything. They even attacked the men. Oh, would they scream! Many would be dragged from their space, beaten and raped and some, after 3 to 5 days, would just die, many laid across the barbed wire fence. Without water and decent food, the people would just waste away and die. We were there to die, but our captors were in no hurry - or they would have just killed us the first day. They wanted to use us for their own evil, twisted, perverted purposes. Because they considered Jews inferior, along with homosexuals, retarded people, weak, sick or old people, they justified torturing and eliminating all undesirable people as a way of purging and purifying the race.”
(Jim) “Describe the living conditions and climate.”
(Ursula) “At different occasions trucks delivered more people, and once in awhile the big ‘brass’ would arrive - inspect, and make a report. The climate was damp, with a fine mist almost every day. I was never dry, and smelled to high heaven. Even now, I flash back to those days, 68 years ago -- I’ve never gotten over that. Sometimes I go out into my yard and tell myself, ’Ursula, this is your yard -- you’re safe, there is nothing to be afraid of.’ I’ve sat out there talking to myself many times - but those thoughts still come back. It stayed cold most of the time, and because of lack of clothing, I could never get warm. I’ve had cold feet ever since, even in the summer time.”
(Jim) “Did you have playmates or socialize at all?”
(Ursula) “Playing with other children? Not allowed – besides, you didn’t feel like playing. You had no contact with anybody, you didn’t want to talk to anyone - nobody talked or made eye contact. The only noise you heard was when someone screamed. That’s what drove you crazy. If someone thru out a bread crust, (so hard, you could hardly chew it) there would be a scramble and a fight to get it. If you had a chance, you just grabbed it right out of their hands.”
(Jim) “Was this camp like the famous Auschwitz concentration camp?”
(Ursula) “Auschwitz was one of the three largest death camps in Germany. The camp I was at was much smaller -- more primitive. They had no gas showers, or ovens where they burned people alive. But, they were just as brutal. We had to dig trenches, and at a certain point, they made people get in these trenches, lay on top of each other in layers. When the trench was filled, we had to close these trenches, and to this day, I hear the screaming of people begging to be let out. But, you know, God was always there with me and aware of everything that happen to me and would someday come to my rescue.”
(Jim) “Ursula, how long was you imprisoned in the concentration camp?
(Ursula) “I lost track of time - not having calendars, or any events to mark time. I had my 10th birthday just before the camp and after I got out, sometime in the next year, it was my 11th birthday, so it was a little over a year. There was no celebration or party at that time because the war brought destruction, and poverty. I have a lot of things in my head, which sometimes come out that I didn’t know was there. My psychiatrist told me I must have blocked out certain things, probably in a self-defense effort - triggered by current experiences. Sometimes when I get depressed, I get a flashback of something horrible. I think, ‘Oh my God that really happened to me.’ The doctor said that to really get cured, I would need hypnosis – but I never agreed to do that.”
(Jim) “Do you think that if you could get it all out and talk about it, you’d get over it?”
(Ursula) “No, I don’t think I’ll ever completely get over it. You learn to live with it - it always stays with you.”
(Jim) “Do you think that you could step back and view what happened to you as if it happened to someone else?”
(Ursula) “I have tried that, and I tell you, it doesn’t work. I can never listen to my own testimony. Charlie, my friend and I sat down together to listen to a recent recording of my testimony that I gave at a church. I found myself imagining that it wasn’t me that was talking – but someone else telling their life story. I felt that woman’s pain! I sobbed for this child who never had a childhood. They took it away from her. But I didn’t believe it was me. I imagined it was someone else I was listening to. It was bad, it was really bad! I listened up to the point that they hung me upside down at the camp, and then I had to shut it off - I couldn’t handle any more.”
(Jim) “Tell me about that experience.”
(Ursula) “I’ll never get that out of my mind. One day, God performed a great miracle, but first I had to go through something. It was ‘fun’ time at the camp for the guards. They had been drinking all day, and it was target practice times, and people were the targets! Some were cut on and cut up. It was a bloody mess. They took me and hung me upside down by my feet from a horizontal pole - supported by poles on each end. There was a hook like a meat hook at the top. They tied my ankles together and hooked the rope over the meat hook. Then they began whipping and beating me and doing horrible things to my body.
They wanted us dead, but they wanted even more to enjoy the torture and abuse preceding death! This was a typical example of their sadistic behavior.”
(Jim) “Were they trying to get information from you, or get you to deny your religious beliefs?”
(Ursula) “No that was done at the beginning, trying to get you to tell where Jews were hidden, etc. Threats and torture succeeded in rounding up all the ‘unfavorables,’ especially the Jews. They would say, ‘where are the Jews, where are the Jews?’ People would hide the Jews, and you probably have read those stories. But now they were only interested in satisfying their thirst for cruelty and sadism. They got liquored up and made a party of it. They invented new ways of torture and rejoiced with their comrades at the pleasure it gave them.
Some people say to me, ‘I never would have given in, never would have told them where Jews were, or denied my faith. I tell them never say never! You absolutely don’t know what you would do in those circumstances. You don’t know what unbearable pain will make you do. I never thought that I would say this, but, I am grateful that God let me go through this whole experience. Because out of it, I became the person I am today. I know that God was with me in all those situations…..I know that now, but not then. I had no concept of God at all.”
(Jim) “What were you thinking as you were hanging by your feet, with the blood rushing to your head? Like, ‘When are they going to quit hurting me? Or, am I going to die?’”
(Ursula) “You really don’t think. You are so overcome with pain. All you want them to do is just stop! You moan, and scream – which only gives them more pleasure. You try to restrain yourself from reacting to the pain, as it just goads them on to do it all the more. I would make sounds that came from within, more like an agonizing groan. But, sometimes I couldn’t help but scream.”
Excerpted from "I Survived the Holocaust: To Share His Glory" by James L. Larson. Copyright © 0 by James L. Larson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.