The number on your forearm is blue like your eyes
Eva Umlauf was born on December 19, 1942 in a forced labor camp for Jewish prisoners in Nováky, Slovakia. On October 17, 1942, her parents Imro and Agnes Hecht, born Eisler, were deported there. Her father was an accountant. The young couple from Trenčín just got married that year. Eva was the first child their first born in the Nováky camp. Her mother later told her how she became a symbol of life for her fellow inmates. But Nováky was a transit camp for deportations to the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek extermination camps.
On November 3, 1944, at the age of almost two, Eva Umlauf was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on one of the last transports. Together with her pregnant mother and her father. Upon arrival, her father was separated from his wife and his daughter. In view of the advancing Red Army, the SS had been preparing to evacuate the extermination camp since the summer of 1944. At the end of October they stopped the mass killings in the gas chambers. That's the only reason why little Eva wasn't killed immediately upon arrival, but was taken to the camp with her mother and registered as a "prisoner". Her mother Agnes received the number A-26958 tattooed on her forearm. Eva became very ill in the camp and her mother also fell seriously ill.
Eva's remembers Auschwitz
The following are excerpts from her book
If the story of my survival is also a story of miracles - or the fortunate chain of coincidences - then our comparatively late arrival in Auschwitz is certainly one of them. 26.661 Slovak Jews were deported to Auschwitz in total, according to the transport lists drawn up by the Jewish Central Office in Bratislava - more than 18.725 of them between March and October I942, 7.936 between August and November 1944. Only a few hundred survived.
A few days before our arrival, on October 28, 1944, a transport from the Theresienstadt ghetto had arrived in Auschwitz. 2.000 women, children and men. 1.689 of them were immediately selected for the gas chamber. Arriving in Auschwitz as a child was tantamount to a death sentence. In the perverse hierarchy of a person's purely material worth, children were at the bottom. If you want to live, then leave the children behind, the inmates assigned to work at the unloading ramp called out to the newcomers. And they said: Don't take your children by the hand, put your babies aside or give them to the old, otherwise you too are condemned to instant death.
I have read accounts of those final moments after arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau: the noise, the chaos, the glaring headlights on the ramp, the snakes, the dogs at the side of the SS, the panic, the overwhelming powerlessness, the robbed people of every opportunity to think clearly and made them become puppets. In a matter of seconds and sometimes emotionally uninvolved, but often also full of satanic malice and cynicism, the SS doctors on the ramp made decisions about life and death: children, women, the elderly and the sick on the left! Working right!
Selection also made it clear that the life of a Jewish woman was completely worthless in the understanding of the master race. While their physical labor often saved the young and healthy men from immediate gas death, the SS doctors on the ramp often sentenced healthy young women to death as well. Their bodies were considered too weak, unsuitable for slave labor in construction - the Auschwitz camp was built by the prisoners themselves - or in the industries of one of the numerous satellite camps. Of the more than 405.000 prisoner numbers assigned in Auschwitz, around 132.000 were given to women.
In addition, the SS soon had the following experience: the murder machine ran more smoothly if they didn't even try to separate women who were able to work from their children, from old parents or relatives. In this way, the murderers spared themselves the riot that had disturbed the regular course of the selection. And I don't have the slightest doubt: my mother had never separated from me on the ramp. Also if she had known our fate, she would have died with me.
To this day, it is the grim novels and autobiographies of male survivors that shape our idea of life and death in the camps: Primo Levi, Bruno Apitz, Elie Wiesel, Imre Kertész ~ the latter two not only wrote bestsellers, but also received the peace— or the Nobel Prize in Literature. Later there were also some important and widely read depictions of women: I can think of, for example, the biography of Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who survived as a cellist in the girls' orchestra in Auschwitz, or the autobiography Burnt Child Seeks Fire by the Swedish Auschwitz survivor and journalist Cordelia Edwardson. Finally, Ruth Kluger's books live on and lost on the road, which moved me a lot, also because we made similar observations: the female experience is traditionally uninteresting if it is not about love and childbirth. This contempt for women in thinking and acting has improved in Western countries in recent years, but I have the feeling that hatred of women has increased in the world at the same time. In the case of the concentration camps, surviving women were to be found in the category (also running), which of course dampened the urge to tell our stories for a long time, writes Ruth Klüger about my plan to write down my story.
I too hesitated for a long time. What should I tell? I was a little girl then and later lived a relatively unremarkable life as a mother and doctor. How could this groping, this searching, this ignorance stand up in public next to someone who survived five camps and who had burned every detail into his memory? And who later might even have had a career as an artist or writer?
Why weren't we sent to die immediately after our arrival in Auschwitz? Maybe, I think, Marta knows details. Although some historical accounts say that our transport was taken directly to the camp and without selection, Marta remembers from her sister to have been separated: she was chosen to work and I was singled out for the gas chamber. Then suddenly Soviet planes appeared in the sky above us. That's when they decided they didn't want smoking chimneys, that was all evidence. So they brought the two groups back together.
I also know from my mother's story that men and women were definitely greeted upon arrival. It was the moment we saw Imro for the last time. I don't know where they took my father, just know that we never saw him again during our time in the camp. Maybe they have immediately deported him to one of the four satellite camps in Gleiwitz, as the historian Gilbert writes. There, inmates did slave labor, among other things, repairing railway wagons or expanding the factories of the Deutsche Gasrußwerke.
"Did you know that this is the moment of farewell?"
'What else did Imro tell you?'
"Did he hug me?"
Questions to my mother again arise - even if I think I know the answer, because some witnesses reported on those final moments at the ramp. There was usually no time for saying goodbye, a last word, a final tenderness. Not even for tears. Others, too, are known to have had to cleave this moment of separation from their consciousness in order to survive, so deeply did the pain of loss shake their souls.
Was it really the concern that the smoking chimneys would arouse the suspicions of the Allies? From the summer of 1944, the Red Army was steadily advancing west, and those responsible at Auschwitz began to worry about covering up the traces of their monstrous crimes.
November 2, 1944: Killing with the gas Zyklon B in the gas chambers of KL Auschwitz is probably stopped. The selected prisoners are shot in the gas chamber or on the grounds of Crematorium V. This is the sober entry by Danuta Czech in the calendar of events in the Auschwitz concentration camp
The memorial site worker spent many years of her life meticulously examining all the documents and using them to compile a list of what happened in the camp. So today it is understandable what happened there day after day. At the beginning of November 1944, the commandant of the Auschwitz camp received orders to stop killing with Zyklon B. With this the SS lost their efficient murder weapon, a highly toxic one originally used for pest control. The agent that developed prussic acid gas when it reacted with oxygen and quickly caused death by suffocation. In the fall of 1941, the first attempts were made to use this new method of killing Soviet prisoners of war. After the organisational issues of the final solution were clarified at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin on January 20, 1942 the expansion of the gas chambers had begun.
Gas killed far more people in less time. Anonymous and well covered up. By the spring of 1943, four new, high-powerful crematoria were built in Auschwitz-Birkenau, each consisting of three parts: undressing rooms for the victims, a gas chamber and a room for the incinerators. In May 1944 the deportation of Hungarian Jews began. 438.000, just over half of them, were deported to Auschwitz, for three months now more than 10.000 people were arriving every day. Women, children and the elderly immediately took to the gas. The exact numbers are te was not determined, but it is certain that the murder machine was running at full speed until October 1944: Four transports out Slovakia arrived in Auschwitz, almost all 8.ooo people were immediately selected for the gas chamber. On November 26, the Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, as chief of the German police also in charge of the concentration camps, ordered the dismantling of the crematoria in Auschwitz, possibly in order to have them rebuilt near Mauthausen. Himmler regarded the negative Allied reporting after the liberation of Majdanek in July 1944 as a PR disaster. He was determined to put an end to this.
But the last gas chamber was not blown up until January 26, a day before the first Red Army soldier arrived at the camp. Usable Zyklon B cans were still lying around. In the late autumn of 1944, the Auschwitz system began to disintegrate. That did not mean salvation, because people continued to be shot and killed. They died of malnutrition and disease. But the end of the gassings increased the probability of our survival.
So my mother and I were sent to Camp II in Birkenau. We went through the usual and often described procedure. Eternal waiting in the freezing cold. taking off our clothes. Surrender of all personal possessions. Control of all body orifices. Shave all body hair. Disinfection. Equipped with completely filthy, inadequate prisoners, yes, which word fits here: suits hardly, maybe: rags. Registration, and in the case of Auschwitz that also means tattooing.
"I held you in my arms."
Finally, in my inner ear, I hear my mother's voice again.
"We stood in a long line in front of the man who tattooed the number on our arms and I held you tightly on one arm. On the other he tattooed the number A-26958 on me."
"And then?" I ask, involuntarily holding my breath. Countless times she's told me this episode, this one little scene that's so important because that's where the stamp was put on us, the mark etched on our skin that we'd never be able to put down.
"Then he took your little arm. You didn't really know what was happening to you. The man, a fellow inmate, held you and looked for a suitable place on your forearm. Then he tattooed you".
I have no memory of that scene, but I think I can feel the needles penetrating the skin.
"You cried out briefly, then you stopped breathing. Your face turned blue and suddenly you passed out".
As a pediatrician now I can diagnose what happened: A respiratory affective spasm, which occasionally occurs in children under the age of four when they are startled or feel sudden pain. It looks like an epileptic seizure, but it's not serious. A pat on the shoulders and back is usually enough to bring the child back to consciousness. So did I in my mother's arms in Auschwitz. Everything happened in a few moments...
From the databases at Yad Vashem, Eva learned the true fate of her father. Imrich Hecht born August 30, 1911 in Subotica, survived the day-long ordeal of the death march, the transport to the west without supplies in an open freight car. An access list from the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria records his arrival on January 25, 1945. Four days later he was transferred from there to the Melk concentration camp, a Mauthausen satellite camp set up in March 1944, in which the prisoners worked under inhumane working conditions for the “Quartz project " were used.
Without protective clothing and under the most difficult conditions, they had to break quartz rock out of the mountain in order to build an underground armaments factory here. Of the more than 14.300 prisoners who passed through the Melk concentration camp, only a third were Jews, but they became special badly treated.
Ironically, Melk. How often and how gladly did we stop in the Wachau on the way to Bratislava. In the middle of the apricot area, a lovely landscape, we have the baroque collegiate church, ate apricot dumplings and enjoyed the Austrian idyll. But Austria was and is not idyllic, the beautiful landscape cannot hide that.
In terms of cruelty and sadism, the supervisors and those responsible there were by no means inferior to their colleagues in Auschwitz. I read about the gruesome murder of a group of Slovak prisoners who were air-bombed by the Allies while being deported from Bratislava. They arrived injured in Melk in mid-February 1945, were not registered, but were locked up naked in a cleared out room and were subjected to cruel interrogations by the notorious SS medic Gottlieb Muzikant. Without medical help, without furniture, without heating and food. Muzikant came daily to beat the freezing, starving people, until the last Slovak after at least seven days. was dead. He embezzled medicines and forced terminally ill prisoners into the work columns. In March 1945, in Melk - as in most concentration camps - the food supply almost completely collapsed and the mortality rate skyrocketed. Dated from these days also a change report from Mauthausen, which announced the death of Imrich Hecht on March 23, 1945 shows. Cause of death: general sepsis, right phlegmon. Upper arm. Phlegmone is a purulent skin inflammation, usually caused by streptococci, which, if not treated with antibiotics, can lead to a Blood poisoning and eventual death.
Whether he collapsed dead while doing slave labor in the tunnels or was injected to death by one of the SS doctors - phenol, petrol and air injections were I didn't find any more details. The dead were cremated in the local crematorium and their remains dumped into the Danube. Imre's ashes drifted through Vienna, past Bratislava and Budapest into the Black Sea. Less than five months had passed since our arrival in Auschwitz on November 3, 1944.
Eva is liberated
On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz - Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army. In June 1945, Eva returned to Slovakia with her mother and little sister, who was born in April. The mother's search for her relatives was unsuccessful. Eva's grandparents and great-grandparents and her mother's three siblings died in the Holocaust.
For the few Jews who returned to Trenčín, it was a miracle that 21-year-old Agnes Hecht and her young daughters had survived the Auschwitz - Birkenau death camp. But Eva fell ill again very seriously with open tuberculosis, which was cured in a sanatorium in the High Tara. She was also absent from school, which she loved to attend, for weeks at a time because of serious illnesses.
At the same time, Eva's childhood and youth were shaped by the adults' fear of a new persecution of the Jews - especially when anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe reached its peak with a show trial of communists with Jewish roots in Prague in 1952.
Eva's life after the war
Her serious childhood illnesses made Eva Schloss want to become a paediatrician. After completing her medical studies in Bratislava, she followed her husband to Munich in 1967. He was an American citizen and worked in Germany. The two had a son. Just a few years later, in 1971, her husband died in an accident. Eva Umlauf did her specialist training at the children's clinic in Munich, remarried in 1973 and had two sons with her second husband. She spoke about her story for the first time at a memorial service in Auschwitz in 2011 and has been an active witness ever since. In 2016 she published her life story in the book "The number on your forearm is blue like your eyes".
She lives in Munich and is still working as a pediatrician and psychotherapist.
A very big heartfelt and warm thank you to Eva for her approval to post her story!
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