Yesterday, I had the unique opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor speak at a seminar. Her name was Inge Auerbacher, and she was an amazing woman. Inge was the last Jewish child born in Kippenheim, a village in South Western Germany located at the foot of the Black Forest. She was the only child of Berthold (1898–1987) and Regina Auerbacher (née Lauchheimer, 1905–1996). Both of her parents came from observant Jewish families who had lived for many generations in Germany. Her father proudly served in the German army, but when the Nazis came for them, his loyal service meant nothing to them. They were Jewish, and that fact condemned them to the concentration camps. Loyal service could not compensate for Hitler’s crazed hatred of the Jewish people.
Inge had barely started school when her family as deported to Czechoslovakia and sentenced to the Terezin camp. When she and her parents went in, Inge was seven years old when she went into Terezin. She would be there for three years. I will not say she called it home for three years, because it was definitely not a home. Inge tells of the companions she always knew would be there…the rats, mice, fleas, and bed bugs. The prisoners were allowed two showers a year…yes, I said a year. No wonder those companions hung around. Another occasional companion was lice which meant shaved heads to make removal easier. All of this was horrible, but it was the least of the nightmare. The guards gave brutal beatings…especially the women guards. The scientists performed experiments on the people, and they were given very little to eat. They were doing everything they could to kill their prisoners. Nevertheless, it was all too slow for Hitler.
A total of 140,000 people were shipped to Theresienstadt concentration camp near Terezin; 88,000 were sent primarily to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, and 35,000 died of malnutrition and disease in Terezin. Of the 15,000 children imprisoned in Terezin, Inge and her parents were among the 1% that survived. Her childhood friends, especially her best friend, Ruth lost her life at Auschwitz. Ruth’s father was half Christian and half Jewish. She was raised Christian, but it didn’t make a difference. She and her family were executed for their Jewish heritage. Poor Ruth was deported to Auschwitz in one of the last transports. Ruth and the other children marched with their parents to their final destination, not knowing what was to come. They were told they were going to the showers, but it was the gas chambers, and their parents would not tell them otherwise. It would have been far too cruel. For me, the picture that Inge found years later, of Ruth as a little girl, has stayed vividly in my mind. She was a sweet, innocent little girl, who had done nothing wrong, but her life was taken away from her because she was pat Jewish…because Hitler hated the Jewish people. Hate…an ugly word. Inge says that this type of treatment happens when people lose their humanity. She would tell you, “Never lose your humanity.”