We were seven siblings, and I was the youngest. Our parents, Sarah and Hirsch Perl, had something like a guest house in Krasna (today, Ukraine) for Jews who were passing through. My oldest brother, Sruel, was taken away for forced labour in 1940. He died from Typhus one week before the war ended in the arms of his brother-in-law, Martin. Sruel’s wife, Rivka, was killed in Auschwitz in 1944 with their two children as were my sisters Lilly and Ethel and their children. Lilly had three children, Ethel two children. Lilly’s husband, Martin Löwenstein, survived. Our parents had already been murdered in Galicia. Of us seven siblings, four survived: Mendel and Jakob, who were in Mauthausen in the labour camp, Bluma and I. We were taken away at the beginning of 1944. It is bizarre to have to say that Bluma and I owe our lives to Josef Mengele because he assigned us to work and not to gassing.

Bluma and I were responsible for cleaning toilets and washrooms in Block 15 of the Auschwitz labour camp. In September 1944, we were first taken to Ravensbrück, then we came to Lippstadt to work in a factory. Airplane cogs were produced there in two shifts. As the Allies approached, the death march was assembled. For days, we were pushed forward under inhumane conditions. Bluma was badly bitten by a dog on her knee. SS women had fun setting dogs on us prisoners for no reason. Two days later, we were free, but we still had to walk 30 kilometres to Wurzen. There, a doctor saved Bluma’s leg. We made our way to Prague. Like many other former prisoners, we didn’t know where to go at first.

From Prague, we went on to Budapest, where I actually found my siblings again. From Budapest, I then returned to Krasna, to my home. There, I found our house destroyed. Local Ukrainians had been looking for hidden valuables. In the rubble, I only found one photo of our mother and one of my sister Ethel. That was all I had left. Still, I couldn’t stay there. As there were always pogroms against Jews who returned and wanted their property back. Under unbearable conditions, we arrived at a displaced persons (DP) camp in Heidenheim, Württemberg, fleeing from Russian rule.

In Heidenheim, I got to know Haganah, a group that informed us about the British Mandate of Palestine. With their help, in 1947, I went to Emden and onto the ship Exodus. Together, with 4,500 refugees on board, I too wanted to try to immigrate to Palestine illegally. The attempt failed. Ten British ships escorted the Exodus to the Port of Haifa and forced all the passengers to transfer to a British ship. We were first taken to France, the only country that had agreed to let us dock at the time. There, we spent several months on the ship. In the end, we returned to Emden by ship, and I returned to Heidenheim. After the foundation of Israel on 14 May 1948, I got on the next ship that sailed there and arrived on 22 May 1948.

Bluma, Martin and Motti as well as Jakob came to Israel later. They all started families and had children. I worked in a glass factory in Haifa. Through a friend, I met a German, Harry from Berlin, and we fell in love with each other. In 1953, Harry went back to Germany to study music. In 1956, he brought me to Berlin. We got married in September 1956. Soon, our first child, Maya, was born, then Daniel and Manuela. They all have children – in 1991, I became a grandmother for the first time. With these grandchildren, regular family gatherings began on Shabbat. Thank goodness, we have a great-grandson, too. In 2020, Maya’s daughter, Selina, became a mother to Liam, the sunshine of the family.

But still, I go to bed and wake up with the consequences of the Shoah. What my ancestors once owned – houses, land – was stolen from us. We were never ‘compensated’ for this, and many Germans did not agree at all with the ‘reparations’ paid for the bestial torment of the Jews. Antisemitism has never and still has not disappeared today. It changes constantly. That makes me very worried. I, therefore, wish my descendants a peaceful life above all else.

The decisions of the gentlemen at the conference table of the Wannsee Conference destroyed my life. I only had six years of school. Christian children in Germany or Europe were allowed to learn and study. Jews were only allowed to study in Auschwitz how a ‘civilized’ people rose above a humane people and became mass murderers. Another thought about the Wannsee Conference is that Jews survived pogroms for two thousand years, most of them in Russia and in Europe. Hitler is dead now and Judaism lives on. Am Israel Chai.

Rachel Oschitzki (born Perl)

Born in 1931 in Krasna, Czechoslovakia