Thursday, March 12, 2009

I met a Holocaust Survivor tonight

   Agi (pronounced "Aug-gie") Geva brought the crowd to their feet at the end of her presentation. I am so thankful that my office mate told me there was a Holocaust survivor coming to town. "They're dying off," my office mate had told me. This was a rare opportunity to meet a piece of living, breathing history.
Agi was only 14 when she and her younger sister and mother were sent to Auschwitz. She showed me the tattoo on her anterior forearm that started with an A (for Auschwitz) and a dash followed by numbers.
   The prisoners were transported in stuffy cattle cars to the concentrations camp. They had to remove their clothing and all the hair was shaved from their bodies. They were "humiliated" by being sprayed with disinfectant, and put into showers. "We were lucky that water came out of our showers," Agi said. Others, as most people know, were gased to death in some of those showers.
   Agi was fortunate enough to have a super-sharp mother who quickly picked up on survival tactics to keep her small family together. First off, they had to act like they weren't related. Agi's mother had seen that the Nazi officers made a point to break up families in the camps, so Agi and her younger sister Zsuzsanna were told to act like they were on their own.
   The also girls lied about their age, as their mother said to do, and claimed to be 18 and 19 (instead of 13 and 14.) Daily screenings were done at the camps, and people who appeared too weak to work were murdered. Agi became sickly-looking and sunburned at one point, and she was asked by a Nazi official to move to an area away from her mother and sister. Agi, quick to say the right things, claimed that she wanted to go with the other group so she could work. The Nazi, none other than Mengele himself (the doctor who performed horrid medical experiments on the prisoners) said, "You don't look well enough to work." She claimed that she was indeed, and she wanted to prove it when Mengele realized that she was speaking German to him. (Agi's father had insisted that his children learn multiple languages when they were growing up.) He agreed to let her work, and she was reunited with her mom and sister.
   The family of three were moved to another camp called Plaszow, and eventually back to Auschwitz. They were beyond distraught. Hardly anyone got sent back to Auschwitz a second time.
   They had to do ridiculous tasks like move big rocks back and forth to keep their physical strength zapped, and for a while they worked the grueling night shift at a factory in Austria making parts to support the war.
   Agi wore glasses, and before the physical health inspections, her mom would take her glasses and hide them in her shoes. She did not want her daughter selected against for having "weak eyes."
   One day 199 of the factory workers were rounded up and told to walk to the train station. This was the beginning of the Death March that became written into history. The prisoners had no idea what was going on, but the Germans had just been defeated by the Allies and were attempting to hide the evidence of the prisoners. Many people were marched into the woods and shot. Agi and her family had to walk 400 kilometers of rough terrain, over hills, through creeks. It was in February, they were poorly dressed, and it was very cold. They were "scared. Cold. Hungry. Tired. Desperate," she said. It was one of the very worst things she experienced, aside from the first day they were captured and indoctrinated into the camp.
Eventually, one of the prisoners looked around and noticed there were no guards around. They began talking amongst themselves to try and figure out what to do. They were "199 people with 199 opinions," she said. Before long they heard soldiers talking, and they were speaking English. They were greeted by American soldiers, who said they'd never seen such dirty, ugly women! Agi claimed they were very nice to the band of prisoners, and took them to a nearby ski lodge. They were allowed to take down the curtains to make dresses for themselves, since their clothing was so shabby. The soldiers took their requests for things like food and schnitzel, but Agi asked for a tube of lipstick after looking at herself in a mirror. She could not believe how bad she looked.
   Agi moved to Israel after the war. She said it was "great!" because "there were Jews everywhere!" She lived in Israel for 53 years, and she currently resides in Washington D.C. where she works as a volunteer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
   Her sister is still alive today, but does not like to talk about her own Holocaust experiences. Their mother, Rozsa, lived to be 97 and a half before she passed, but never shared her own thoughts about the imprisonment. Agi said her mother's opinion was, "You are out. You survived. Forget it. Move on!"

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