I can't begin to describe our terror as Vera and I were lined up with the other young women and taken to the showers. Our heads were shaved and we were stripped and disinfected as the guards smirked at our nakedness. We were given discarded clothes, herded to quarantine, and six weeks later, led to permanent barracks in an adjoining camp. As Vera and I stood in line for our meager food—thin soup and a piece of hard, dry bread—a girl approached us. It was Miriam! We were thrilled to find each other again, but clearly she was frightened, desperate, and alone. It was common for girls to bond together in the concentration camps for support; there was even a name for it: lagerschwester. "Eva," she said, "will you be my camp sister?"
From then on, the three of us were inseparable. We were together when they tattooed our forearms; at the quarry where we loaded rocks into wheelbarrows; and at night, in our hard bunks, unable to sleep. We were kicked and beaten, called swine, whores—names I'd never heard before. When Vera and Miriam refused to eat because they didn't want to live anymore, I made them eat. When they cried at night, I comforted them. When they refused to work, I urged them on so they wouldn't get beaten. Every five minutes we were told that the only way out of Auschwitz was through the chimneys. I knew my mother and sister had left that way, but I prayed my father was still alive. My dream that Vera and I would see him again kept me going.
One day the elder of the camp block said the guards needed 200 girls to work at a factory in Germany. They assembled us and divided us into two groups. For the first time in nine months, Vera and Miriam were separated from me. Everyone was ordered to strip. When the guard led my group to the showers, and when hot water, not gas, came out of the pipes, I knew that I was leaving Auschwitz and that my sisters were condemned to death.
After the shower we were herded back into the anteroom. The other group was still there, naked and shivering. Miriam and Vera were holding each other, sobbing. There was a bench between us and an SS officer with a rifle and a dog. On the floor lay a hose. Suddenly the guard was called away, leaving us unwatched.
Many times I've wondered what made me do it—despair, the will to help my sisters survive, the courage to resist. I toppled over the bench, picked up the hose and began to spray the other group. "Get wet! Everybody get wet!" I cried. When the guard came back he couldn't tell which group was which. He demanded to know who had done this, but miraculously, nobody turned me in. Fortunately, we were needed for the German war effort or they would have killed us all. By the time he had regrouped us, Miriam and Vera were with me.
We spent the winter of 1945 in Germany marching from one factory to another. With no coats, and in shoes held together with string, dozens of Jewish prisoners walked for miles through the snow. Our numbers dwindled. Several times, when Miriam and Vera wanted to give up, I forced them to continue—anyone who sat down was shot. At Salzwedel concentration camp, a French POW told us that the end was near and urged us to hold on. That night, American tanks entered the camp, but we were too frail to celebrate.
We Hear You!