Monday, June 1, 2020

Escape from Auschwitz: A WWII Story

by Cindy K. Stewart

Inside the Gate of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp occurred this past January. Many stories have been written about the atrocities that occurred at this notorious camp during the German occupation of Poland in WWII. Many who survived Auschwitz and the death march west in the dead of winter have shared their heartbreaking stories, and each one holds a valuable lesson for readers. Today's post is about a prisoner at Auschwitz who was chosen for execution but escaped. 

Klara Iutkovits was a teenager from Sighet, Hungary (formerly Romania). She, her parents, and five of her siblings were transported to Auschwitz in May of 1944, just one year before Germany's surrender. Their home had been part of the Sighet ghetto, formed only months before. One very hot day they were told to pack a few clothes and some food - they would be taken to a work camp and would not return home. 


Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

The Hungarian police loaded Klara, her family, and hundreds of others into railroad boxcars. They reached Auschwitz on the third night. Dr. Joseph Mengele, a chief medical officer at the camp met them on the selection ramp. At the age of 33, he was "described by camp survivors as a tall, handsome Hollywood actor-type who was always impeccably dressed." With his magnetic personality, he "cast his spell on the new arrivals at the ramp, smiling and joking and creating a safe and comfortable environment where as little as five minutes later" he would send some of them to the gas chambers. 

Because Klara's transport arrived during the night, German soldiers grouped their flashlights around Mengele, and he made his selections. He sent Klara's sister and brother and her parents to the right and Klara with her two other sisters to the left. He smiled and said they would see their family members the next day. Klara, Rose, and Hedy were taken to their barracks in B Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The rest of the family went immediately to the gas chambers. 


Auschwitz-Birkenau 1944. Selection of Hungarian Jews for work or the gas chamber. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the next several months, Klara and her sisters toiled at 11-hour shifts on work details in the surrounding fields and factories. They were fed three meager "meals" a day. They endured the cold and SS beatings and observed hundreds of new arrivals herded into the gas chambers daily. Klara's mind as well as her body began to break down, and she stopped eating. In November, Dr. Mengele announced one day that he would conduct a selection among the prisoners. After he viewed Klara's emaciated body, he chose her and others in the same condition to die in the gas chambers. 

The Nazis knew they were losing the war and needed to eliminate the evidence of their atrocities, so they pushed their extermination efforts to the maximum. A backlog of people awaited execution, and Mengele could no longer send camp prisoners directly to the gas chambers. New arrivals had priority. Klara and the other women selected were taken to the bath house, given black dresses to wear, and told to wait. Klara felt she would rather die than continue suffering in the camp, but her sisters, Rose and Hedy, came to the window of the bath house to comfort her. They were pulled away and beaten for their efforts.

Joseph Mengele is in the middle. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The guards moved the girls to another holding room, a smaller brick-style building next to the gas chamber. Once the others fell asleep, Klara inspected her surroundings. The walls were made of inferior brick, and she noticed someone had dug around the bottom of one of the bricks. She pushed and pulled on it until it was free, then she used the brick to chip away at the others. After pulling out more bricks, she slipped through the small passage and into the night. The fresh, cold air and her newfound freedom awakened Klara. She decided she wanted to live.

Klara stayed close to the buildings as she moved through the camp. Because of the wet, snowy rain and very cold weather, the guards stayed indoors. She noticed lights on in the bath house and thick steam covering the windows. She found an open window and climbed inside, hidden from detection by the steam. After taking a shower, Klara and the other girls were given a dress and shoes. They were told to line up outside - 100 girls had been chosen to work in a factory in Czechoslovakia. After the guards counted 101 prisoners, they started to drag the last girl in line away, but she objected. One of the other girls volunteered to stay behind with her family and returned to the barracks.

After traveling for three days and three nights, Klara's train arrived in Weisswasser, Czechoslovakia, the home of a Nazi slave labor camp and the privately owned Telefunken Company. Klara lined up with the other girls but didn't make it to the camp gates before she collapsed. She woke up in a hospital bed in the infirmary, where a female Jewish doctor nursed her back to health. After six weeks, Klara went to work in the town factory, putting wire transmitters and radio relay systems together. She painfully began to eat again. Those in charge fed the workers three meals a day with bread and meat included in each meal.

A few months later Klara and her co-workers were ushered to their job site as usual but nobody brought work for them to do. The girls discovered the Germans and their soldiers had left. They were free! The next day Russian soldiers arrived, and their captain arranged transportation for the girls to the nearest operating trains - two days away. The girls were all allowed to board without paying, and Klara traveled home to Sighet. Several weeks later her sisters, Rose and Hedy, arrived. As far as they knew, Klara had died in the gas chambers. What a reunion of crying, laughing, and screaming took place!  

Klara met Ezra Wizel in Sighet, and they married in 1947. They escaped communism and eventually settled in Los Angeles, California.   


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Resource:  Auschwitz Escape - The Klara Wizel Story by Danny Naten and R. Gifford, 2014.


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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, placed second in the North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-eight years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.



5 comments:

  1. Wow! What a story! Thanks for posting.

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  2. The photo of the arrivals at Auschwitz is haunting. That sweet little baby in the forefront surely didn't live through that day.

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    1. You're correct, Terri. The mothers and babies were usually sent straight to the gas chambers. There were exceptions, such as, twins who were kept alive for "research."

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