At 7 years old, Inge Auerbacher was deported from her home in Germany to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. On Monday night at age 83, she told Penn State students and State College community members her story.
Many people gathered in Eisenhower Auditorium to listen as Auerbacher retold the events of the Holocaust from the perspective of someone who was only four years old when it began.
She was born Dec 31, 1934 and described herself as the “typical German little girl” at the time.
She showed a presentation that included photos of her and her family when she was young to show how happy and normal their lives were at the time.
While the first couple years of her life were what many would describe as normal, it all changed in 1938.
Protests began in Germany directed toward Jewish people, and people were being transported to what would end up being concentration camps.
Between November 9 and 10, which became known as the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, Auerbacher said all synagogues in Germany were destroyed.
Jewish homes were also being targeted at this time including her own, with the windows and glass being broken.
At this point, her family had considered leaving the country, however her father did not want to leave the nation he defended in war.
She said her family knew of people being taken away, but did not think it would happen to them. However, as she said, “the doors to the free world were closing very rapidly.”
Eventually they left their home to move to their grandparents village. They were the last Jewish family living in the village, but the Christian families were very polite and welcoming to her and her family and allowed her to play with their children, making her feel normal.
Auerbacher said it was “a very short but very nice childhood.”
Things in Germany got increasingly worse as Jewish children were no longer allowed to go to school with the rest of the children, as well as being forced to wear the Jewish Star on their shirts after age 6, which she still has and brought to show the audience.
She recalled her family at the time telling her ways to make her star less visible to protect her from being bullied by other children, however she would get picked on for it anyway.
In her old village, she said she watched many families be transported to concentration camps, and she brought rare photos from her village that showed people being taken away as their friends and neighbors watched and did nothing.
Her family was able to avoid being taken during the first few groups to be transported, which Auerbacher said was completely due to luck as there was no system in place that determined who would be taken when.
However, their luck did not last and were taken eventually in a transport group of about 1200 people. She was the youngest one in the group at age 7.
She took with her a doll that she had her entire life, and was even able to bring it with her into the camp and after when they were released. It is now on display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
The train ride was very crowded and also two days long before arriving at the camp in Czechoslovakia.
As they marched into the camp they had their belongings taken away from them aside from her doll.
She said as they marched in they were being whipped and her parents had to walk closely on both sides of her to soften the blows before they hit her.
The conditions of the camp were terrible. They had to drink water from polluted wells that gave many people typhoid fever, as well as their living conditions being infested with rats, mice, fleas and bed bugs.
Almost all the children living on the camp developed scarlet fever, and in the “hospital” there were two children to a bed.
Food was also scarce on the camps. The bread rations came in once a week, and her mother had to ration out a little each day so they would be able to continue to have bread each day.
For lunches they often had soup or potatos, Auerbacher said the portions were “not enough to live and not enough to die.”
On May 8, 1945, Auerbacher heard an explosion. People were throwing in hand grenades to kill the rest of the Jewish people.
She and her father hid while she prayed and repeated to herself “God is one, one is God.”
She remembers the day they were released from the camp. She said someone came running to her family screaming “we are free.”
While they were happy, Auerbacher said it was not in the way most people would assume because they still had fears and worries about where the remainder of their family was.
“it was muted exhilaration,” she said.
Both her parents remarkably were able to survive, and they moved to Brooklyn, New York.
While in America she went on to finish her education and go on to college to become a chemist.
After her speech there was a question and answer where students asked her about a variety of topics such as activism, maintaining her belief in God throughout her experience, and whether or not she was able to forgive, to which she said “only God can forgive something like that.”
Megan Loftus was in the audience and said she found the pictures from Auerbacher’s childhood to be a very powerful part of the speech.
“There were about eight kids in the picture, and she said that only one of them survived which was her,” Loftus (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said. “It’s just crazy to think that she grew up with people and here she is today, no ones left.”
Casey Fern (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) also thought that the photos included in the presentation were a fascinating part, saying they “brought the whole story to life.”
Matthew Hampel was happy he was able to listen to Auerbacher speak, and liked the way she presented her story.
“I thought she was really well-spoken and has a meaningful story,” Hampel (junior-information systems technology) said.
Now, Auerbacher lives in a neighborhood in Queens, New York surrounded by a diversity of religions and cultures.
She said she loves living among people of all religions in harmony and hope it represents the future of our world.
“That would be my wish for the future and my wish for today” she said.