From Death to Life in Dachau
“Do not hate them. You will not hurt them. You will only harm yourself!”
THOSE words, spoken to me, a young girl, by a kindly woman in Dachau concentration camp during World War II, were instrumental in saving my life and sanity.
I was born in Moscow in 1926. My father was from Kiev and my mother was from Georgia. They were scientists attending Moscow University. Father fled from Russia in 1929 to live in Danzig (Gdańsk, Poland, today). I was brought up to speak only German and most of our friends were Jewish.
When Hitler began his reign of terror, Jewish families began disappearing from our neighborhood, especially during the night. The day the war started between Germany and Russia, our family also disappeared. Yes, we were taken away with only a few minutes to get dressed. Everything was left behind.
At the first interrogation camp, I was questioned repeatedly under bright light and beaten until I was black and blue. And to this day I do not think that they realized I could not answer their questions about my parents’ activities anyway. Why? Because my parents spoke Russian to each other, and I had never learned that language.
I never saw my father again after we were taken off the truck at that interrogation center. And in this year of 1985 I still have no idea if he is alive or dead.
Mother and I were next locked into a cattle train for four days. There was standing room only and no food, water, or toilet facilities. We had no idea of our destination—Dachau—that infamous establishment of torture and death!
After being tattooed, pushed, kicked, stripped of all our clothing, and made to run the gauntlet of baton-wielding SS men, we showered and were given striped clothes to wear. Then I was separated from my loving and beautiful mother and sent to barracks for children only.
Death—A Daily Experience
There I had my first experience with death. Each morning, adult male prisoners would remove the bodies of children who had died during the night, some from malnutrition, others from torture, and some because they were bled to death to provide transfusions for wounded soldiers. There was always a heap of bodies awaiting incineration. The ovens could not keep up!
And why did I not end up in the ovens? Well, it was decided that I was to be used for medical experiments. So I was first injected with some disease, then with an antidote. I was not much fun for my sadistic tormentors, however, because I had been brought up never to cry or show any emotion. So they eventually turned their attention to someone else.
It would be impossible for anyone who never experienced these things to understand the effect they had upon us mere children. We did not know whether we wanted to die or not. Some of us thought we would welcome death, but as children we were also afraid to die because of the burning hell that awaited us according to our former religious educators. But then we reasoned: ‘Surely, hellfire could not be worse than this!’
From time to time, prisoners were ordered to take communal showers, where the “water” turned out to be gas and the whole group would be executed. To this day I find it impossible to take a shower. If I try, I break out in a sweat and start to shake all over. At times, I looked forward to death so much that I would actually try to get into the shower ahead of others. But it seems that on the occasions when gas was used, I was pushed away.
“Do Not Hate Them”
It was at this time that I met Else. She talked to me about death, telling me that there is really nothing to fear. Else explained that when a person dies, he does not go to any hell of torment but simply falls asleep. Then, ‘in the morning,’ as it were, he would wake up and the earth would be a paradise. (Luke 23:43; John 5:28, 29) At that time, there would not be any pain, hatred, or racial discrimination—only joy and happiness everywhere. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4) I believed her! Her words were like sunshine in my dark life.
Else risked her life to talk to me. She was very careful not to let the guards see us talking. Whenever an opportunity arose, we would hide behind the garbage heap and talk for a few minutes. She would tell me wonderful things from the Bible, things that made me long for the Paradise that God would give us. Soon, I no longer feared death but felt a greater acceptance of the conditions in which I found myself.
Else was of especially great comfort when my mother died. My mother was a strikingly beautiful woman, one who turned heads in the streets. This was too much of a temptation for the SS men, and so they used her for their sensual gratification. Night after night I was forced to watch as they inflicted their sadistic desires upon her until she finally was brutally murdered by torture and pack rape.
Being only 14 years old, I was very impressionable. Hatred was the natural reaction! But Else’s words still ring in my ears: “Do not hate them. You will not hurt them. You will only harm yourself!” This harmonized with Jesus’ statement about ‘loving our enemies and praying for those persecuting us.’ (Matthew 5:44) It is not that we have warm feelings toward such persons. Rather, we show love by excusing them for their actions as our persecutors.
Else also helped me to get a clearer view of God. I used to hate him because the SS had “God is with us” on their belt buckles. I would think of the torture, the sleepless nights, our being sprayed each week with insecticide, the bugs that would suck our blood, the rats that came to feed upon our living flesh at night, the stench of death that grew ever stronger, the ovens that worked overtime, the cold, the lack of blankets, and the obvious enjoyment others gained from our misery. If God was with them, I thought, then I wanted no part of him.
Shining Faith and the Lilac Triangle
Else helped me to understand that God was not responsible for what these sadistic men were doing. Rather, in his own due time, God would require an accounting. Then he would restore the innocent ones to full health and life, rewarding all those who placed their hope in him. She said that the god our tormentors talked about was not the true God, but one they had invented themselves, and that, if they thought they could receive any blessing from the true God, they were only fooling themselves.
Else also explained the reason for the world’s troubles, telling me that Satan is the ruler of this world and that God would use the Kingdom in the hands of His resurrected, glorified Son Jesus Christ, to rid us of the Devil. (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 14:30; Revelation 20:1-6) All those words were music to my ears and a source of strength in those sorrowful days. Else’s words and motherly kindness were, indeed, an inspiration to me.
The SS gave her a very hard time because she was a German national and yet would not succumb to the will of the Nazis. The SS seemed to take this as a personal affront and never missed an opportunity to impose some indignity upon her, all of which she bore with patience. I noticed that she had a lilac-colored triangle sewn on the arm of her uniform and wondered what it meant. After surviving my internment in Dachau I checked and found out that the triangle was reserved for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, Else was a witness of Jehovah God.—Isaiah 43:10-12.
Poor Else! She was very thin, just like a skeleton. But there was something very special about her. I never learned her last name or found out where she came from, although she was so kind and special to me. I used to think that she was the kind of mother I would like to have. Some time after my mother was murdered, Else also disappeared, and I did not see her again. But I was never to forget the words she spoke or her spirit of quiet confidence.
Freedom to Find Life!
After four years in Dachau, my release came. Three days before the American forces arrived, the SS guards locked all of us in the camp and disappeared. Nobody was able to escape since the wires around the camp were electrified. When the Americans finally arrived, they started to feed us, but for many it was too late. Sadly, after having fought so hard for life, many apparently had just lost their will to live and succumbed to death.
Since I was of Russian nationality, I was handed over to the Russians. Now that I was 17 years old, I was told that I was to marry the commandant of the headquarters. But a colonel who had known my father at a university hid me under a blanket in the back seat of his car and smuggled me out of the barracks. I traveled by train to the Russian border and, just before dawn one morning, found a place where the guards were inattentive. On my stomach, I crawled across no-man’s-land, a distance of more than a mile. The American soldiers on the other side watched me crawling toward them. They picked me up and put me on a train to Heidelberg. Sitting opposite me was a Ukrainian man that I eventually married.
Conditions became unbearable, as the Russians were still trying to find me. They would even announce on the radio that my father was looking for me. But I was afraid to answer, thinking that it was a trick. Perhaps it was my father; yet I could not risk responding to those radio announcements. One day I was being followed by two communist agents. So I went into a department store and rode the elevator to the top floor. I met the manager, and when I told him what was happening, he hid me in his office until the agents went away. After that, my husband and I decided to emigrate to Australia, arriving here in April 1949.
A New Life and Renewed Hope
A new life then started. We were visited by a local priest, but I refused to attend church because of the things I had seen religious people do in Europe, and due to the fact that Else had shown me that the churches were not of God. I started to pray to God to find the truth and went to all the local religious people, asking them where they were going when they died. They all said “to heaven.” At that, I would pass along to the next church group.
A few days after I started praying, a young man knocked on my door offering me The Watchtower and Awake! “Are you going to heaven?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “I hope to live forever here on earth when it is transformed into a paradise.” Here at last was a person from the same people as Else! At last, this was the truth for which I had been searching since those days in Dachau. I was so excited that we must have talked for about two hours.
The Witness sent his aunt to see me the next day, and in just two days I virtually devoured the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. I then started reading the Christian Greek Scriptures, the so-called New Testament, and completed this in three days. How wonderful all this information was! The Paradise book and the Bible said exactly the same as Else had told me. Now, at long last, I had found her people—17 years after being released from Dachau!
As I look back on my life, I see the most important days as being those I spent in Dachau with beloved Else telling me of the wonderful hope in the Bible. Because of her efforts, I have been able to ‘pass over from death to life.’ (John 5:24) I now think appreciatively of those inspired words of Psalm 94:17, 18: “Unless Jehovah had been of assistance to me, in a little while my soul would have resided in silence. When I said: ‘My foot will certainly move unsteadily,’ your own loving-kindness, O Jehovah, kept sustaining me.”
And as I face the future, these words of Isaiah 41:10 strengthen me: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.” Thanks to the efforts of dear Else, Jehovah did indeed help me to find life in Dachau.—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 17]
Mother and I were locked into a cattle car for four days
[Blurb on page 17]
It was decided that I was to be used for medical experiments
[Blurb on page 19]
Else helped me to understand that God was not responsible for what these sadistic men were doing
[Blurb on page 20]
At long last I had found Else’s people
[Pictures on page 18]
Gas chambers and ovens in Dachau