Holocaust remembrance: childhood years in a concentration camp

Inge Auerbacher survived the hell of Theresienstadt. During the Bundestag’s hour of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism, she talks about her fate and her special connection to Berlin.

Bundestag remembers Holocaust victims

"I am a Jewish girl from the Baden village of Kippenheim." This is how Inge Auerbacher introduces herself when she speaks at the Bundestag’s commemoration ceremony for the victims of National Socialism. For this event, which has been held since 1996, the 87-year-old took the long way from the USA to Germany. To tell about her early childhood, the deportation to the concentration camp Theresienstadt and the new life in a distant country.

The doll Marlene comes along to the concentration camp Theresienstadt

Inge Auerbacher is born on 31. December 1934. The National Socialists have been in power since January 1933. "Jews and Christians lived together peacefully", she remembers her early childhood. But soon she feels exclusion, has to wear the stigmatizing yellow Jewish star in public, is bullied by other children. When she is just under seven years old, the deportations of Jews to the East begin. "My blessed grandma was murdered by the Nazis."

Parents’ hopes of leaving Germany with their only child dashed. In August 1942 the small family is deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt in a transport with about 1100 Jews. Before being taken away, the girl fears for her beloved doll, which an attendant snatches from her arms. "Tears poured down my cheeks. I was overjoyed when he gave my doll Marlene back into my hands."

Theresienstadt

Visitors at the cemetery of the former concentration camp Theresienstadt in today’s Czech Republic

"All life revolved around food"

In the concentration camp, everyone has to sleep cramped together on multi-story cots with straw sacks. Toilets are far away. Hunger is omnipresent. The most important words were bread, potatoes and soup. "The whole life revolved around food."

The children’s playground is a "foul-smelling pile of garbage". They dig around for hours, hoping to find a "treasure half-rotten turnips and potato peels where you could still cut off an edible slice". Under these unsanitary conditions, epidemics such as typhoid fever occur again and again. Rats, mice, fleas and bugs are everywhere.

"Dear Ruth, I am here in Berlin to visit you," she calls in a broken voice

And then Inge Auerbacher talks about her Berlin-born friend Ruth, whom she met in Theresienstadt. The girls of the same age feel like sisters. They cannot keep their promise to visit each other later: Ruth and her parents are gassed in Auschwitz.

Almost eight decades later, an old lady sits in the Bundestag and sends a personal greeting to her friend who was murdered by the Nazis: "Dear Ruth, I am here in Berlin to visit you."

She and her parents are lucky: In 1945 they experience the liberation of Theresienstadt by the Soviet Red Army, return to Germany for a short time and emigrate in 1946. New York becomes their new home.

From there, the Holocaust survivor observes how anti-Semitism is once again spreading. "Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened." Hatred of Jews is once again commonplace in many countries of the world, including Germany. "This disease must be cured as soon as possible."

"Anti-Semitism is in the midst of us"

The difficulty of doing so in the country of the perpetrators is addressed by Parliamentary President Barbel Bas right at the beginning of the memorial hour: "Remembering and commemorating does not make us immune to anti-Semitism, it does not protect us from racism and right-wing extremism." The knowledge of history has not prevented a third of the German population from thinking that the Jews perhaps have too much influence after all. "Anti-Semitism is in our midst", says the social democrat.

Berlin Bundestag Holocaust Memorial Day

Parliamentary President Barbel Bas: "Remembering and commemorating does not make one immune to anti-Semitism"

By 1945, some six million people of the Jewish faith had fallen victim to the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazis, including 20 of Inge Auerbach’s family. After three years in Theresienstadt, she herself suffered for a long time from a severe lung disease – a consequence of the inhuman conditions in the concentration camp.

The Knesset President embraces the Holocaust survivor

In her new home in America, the young woman studies chemistry and works as a researcher for nearly four decades. Personal wishes remain unfulfilled: "I was never allowed to wear a wedding dress." She has no children of her own. "But I am happy and the children of the world are mine", she says. Her deepest wish is to "find reconciliation among all people"."

Berlin Bundestag Holocaust Memorial Day | Inge Auerbacher and Mickey Levy Knesset

Knesset President Mickey Levy sought comfort from Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher after his own speech in the Bundestag

Inge Auerbacher ends her moving speech with an appeal to light a candle in memory of the murdered, innocent children, women and men. "Let us see a new morning together! This dream should never, never, never be lost again!", she calls in a broken voice into the plenary hall of the Bundestag.

Members of parliament sit opposite her there, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many other guests. Afterwards, a very special guest takes her in his arms and hugs her tightly: Mickey Levy, President of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

In his speech, he paid tribute to Inge Auerbacher’s commitment to reconciliation: "In describing and presenting her memories of the Holocaust, you have created an outstanding, unusual, human voice."

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