In Part 28, Olga and her friends try to help a fellow inmate who can no longer walk, but the SS drag the woman away by her legs and shoot her. The SS tell everyone that she was shot because she tried to escape. Obviously, everyone knew that she was not able to walk. They had just executed her.
Olga and her friends were terribly depressed having witnessed this cruelty. No matter how long they had been in Nazi concentration camps, they could not accept the cold-bloodedness and viciousness of the Germans. As they walked back to their camp, the execution they had just witnessed stayed on their minds; they could not shake it off. It was all they could think about.
They returned to their barracks in a terribly sad mood. Conversation was not easy as they spoke in monosyllables. In addition to being depressed, they were now also frightened.
Olga lay down on her bunk and tried to keep the vision of the execution from her mind. She felt exhausted. The work they were doing was meaningless but still backbreaking. Walking eight kilometers back and forth daily, with backbreaking trench-digging in between, seemed so useless. Olga knew that there was no rhyme or reason to doing this work. They made them dig trenches not because they needed the trenches but simply to keep them occupied. The Germans knew that the war was coming to an end, with German defeat imminent. What to do with all these Jews? All these witnesses to the barbaric brutality of the German nation were sure to come back to haunt them.
The following day was a repeat of the one before, as they were marched out to the trenches for digging detail. By now, Olga was just going through the motions of working. She made believe she was working hard with a sharp eye out for the SS. She wondered if the SS were watching. She and her fellow inmates were just moving the shovels on the ground, but not really digging. They did not want to become weaker and further debilitated, so they tried to conserve their energy.
One day while on the daily trench detail, Olga was slapped hard by the nearby SS. The aufseherein must have reported Olga and others as malingerers who were not really working. The slap was hard enough to make Olga stagger. She felt as if she were going to fall down.
Next to Olga was another Hungarian girl from the town of Gyor who was also called Olga. The other Olga was also slapped and she actually fell down from the force of the blow. The two Olgas helped each other to stand and quickly left the area so they would not be in the eye of the Nazi.
This happened shortly after the comment by Olga’s friend Vica, asking the aufseherein why, with the Russians at the door of the town, she was punishing them. The aufseherein suddenly appeared and summoned Vica. Vica was told to report to one of the Nazi officers. Upon hearing the summons, Olga and the rest of the girls became very alarmed. They began to yell and demand, “Where are you taking her?” and “Vica, where are you going?” Vica turned around at these questions, and announced, her face ghostly white, “I am going to my death.”
The look of terror and utter resignation on her face was indescribable.
They all stopped working. As they tried to get their mind off the situation, Olga said, to lessen the tension for everybody, “Let’s keep working. Let’s cook.”
Olga and her friends often daydreamed about what they would do after liberation. They all thought they would survive and see liberation day arrive. In their dreams they agreed they would invite each other to their homes, where, dressed in their Shabbos best, they would bring their husband and children (if they were all alive after the war). Olga and the others would then describe what they would cook, how they would cook it, and how they would set the table. They would describe the color of the tablecloth, the linen napkins, down to the color of the dishes they would set upon it. The description of the entire menu would follow, with minute details about the recipes for each dish, not skipping anything. This became a daily ritual they pulled out of their consciousness whenever they were especially depressed and homesick.
One day, during such a “cooking” session, a fight broke out. An elderly lady was describing the way she prepared a dish. One of the younger girls commented that her mother made it differently. “First she would brown the beef and then add the garlic.” The older woman retorted, “No one does it that way.” “First you sauté the garlic and then add the beef.”
“Well,” the younger girl snapped back, “my mother does it that way!”
“Well then,” retorted the woman, “she does not know how to cook!”
This caused such an uproar that they became bitter enemies and refused to talk to each other from then on.
Cooking was an escape from reality. It not only distracted them from the hunger they felt in their bellies, but also from the rain that poured into the barracks and onto their beds. It took their mind off the brutality, the bitter cold causing frostbite on their toes, and the blisters on their feet from the wooden shoes that didn’t fit. Cooking in Auschwitz and then in Ravensbrück was Olga’s favorite pastime that was an answer to all the suffering. Some of the girls tried to get scraps of paper and a pen to write down the recipes, but such luxuries were hard to come by. So Olga committed them to memory.
But now, with Vica marched off to see the SS, words failed them. No recipes came to mind. All they could think about was Vica and what would happen to her. It was not hard to imagine such a thing happening to any one of them.
When Vica arrived at the aufseherein, she was ordered to climb down in a ditch up to her waist. Vica climbed into the ditch and began to cry. The aufseherein yelled at her, “What are you crying for?”
Vica looked at her and through the tears answered, “I said something foolish and now I know that I am going die for my comments.”
Vica, a school teacher back in Hungary before the war, taught German and spoke the language fluently, even eloquently. The aufseherein looked at her harshly and sent her back to the work detail.
Shortly after this episode, the “murderer,” the SS guard who executed the prisoners, appeared. When they spotted him, they surrounded Vica to hide her and not to allow the German beast to become interested in her. Vica survived the war, was liberated together with Olga, and returned to Kaposvar, the town neighboring Olga’s Dombovar. Upon returning, Olga and Vica visited each other frequently.
They stayed at Reinickendorf until Saturday, April 18, 1945. Following an especially brutal zahlappel lasting several hours, the Germans marched the entire camp out to Oranienburg.
They marched all day and arrived at a forest at nightfall. They were ordered to lie down on the ground and rest. Naturally, this aroused much consternation among them and they became apprehensive about their fate. They eventually fell asleep on the cold forest ground.
Upon waking in the morning, they found that one of the women had escaped together with one of the SS guards! The girl was Agi Richta, a blockelteste. Olga later heard that Agi ended up staying in Germany after the war together with her German. How they managed to slip away was a mystery.
Arriving in Oranienburg, they were placed in a different camp. But by the next morning, they were driven out and marched to various destinations in Germany. They marched for days without any food or drink. The hunger was becoming unbearable. At this point, a large German soldier attached himself to their group. As they marched, he would forage in the farms they passed to look for anything edible. He was able to find some raw potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables that were still in the ground. This German was very rude to all of them, yelling and frightening them. But because he was able to secure food, they tolerated it without any complaints.
One day, Olga was sitting on the ground during one of the rest stops, when she suddenly looked down and, lo and behold, saw a large slice of bread lying there. Ecstatically but quietly, she picked the bread up and began to chew slowly, savoring each bite. She was happy beyond imagination at her good fortune.
Two weeks went by, marching all day and resting in forests at night. Food was scarce and never enough. The hard physical exertion without adequate food and water made them weak and debilitated. Olga was not sure she would survive. Those women who could not keep up due to exhaustion or injury were shot and left at the side of the road. Some simply collapsed and died.
Soon, they didn’t even want to stop to rest as the rest stops became more and more frequent.
They seemed to be marching in different directions daily. It did not appear that anyone amongst the SS really knew where they were going. They marched northbound, only to change directions and walk south. North, east, they marched in all directions. The guards led the way at times, while other times they shifted to the back of the group. They were acting strange and confused.
When they reached a forest and were told to rest, many felt that their time had come to an end. Olga often felt that they would all be shot. They would wake up in the morning and feel that G-d had given them yet another day of life. They accepted this present from G-d as they accepted all the other presents.
But one morning when they awoke, things were different. They awoke, as always, tired and filthy from sleeping on the forest ground, but when they looked around, they didn’t see any German guards! There was no aufseherein to be seen anywhere. They were all alone. For the first time in over a year, they had no Germans or Hungarians to order them around. During the night, the brave SS soldiers snuck away from the sleeping, helpless women and disappeared into the forest.
“Could this be true?” Olga wondered. “Is this a dream?” But after waiting a short time, wondering if they would return, they realized that it was no dream. They were free!
Dr. Alex Sternberg authored the forthcoming book “Recipes from Auschwitz–My Parents’ Story of the Murder of Hungarian Jewry.” He is a lifelong student of Jewish history, focusing on the development of Zionism and the Holocaust. He is presently teaching graduate studies and is active in several pro-Israel organizations. He is a retired research doctor in children’s pulmonary health and a master karate instructor.
Rántott Csirke, Olga’s fried chicken or schnitzel (Ravensbrück)
- boneless chicken breasts
- chicken legs
- all-purpose flour on large flat plate
- bread crumbs (seasoned or plain)
- several eggs, beaten, in bowls
Cut chicken breast into palm-sized pieces. Add seasoning to flour. Beat chicken with meat tenderizer on both sizes (do not beat into very thin pieces). Dredge beaten chicken in flour, then in eggs, and then in seasoned bread crumbs. Repeat the process with the chicken legs.
Put chicken in oiled skillet over moderate flame. Fry on both sides until chicken is golden-brown. Remove from skillet, place on plate on top of a paper towel to soak up the extra oil. When plate is full, place additional paper towel on top of chicken to soak up more of the oil.
Some of the ladies in Auschwitz said that they didn’t use flour, but dipped chicken into bread crumbs, then in the eggs, and then into bread crumbs a second time. They then fried it as written above.