Interviewer: This is Gerda Epstein interviewing Ms. Judith Summer. What is
your name and where are you living presently?
Summer: My name is Judith L. Summer. I’m living in Columbus, Ohio, 273 S.
Interviewer: When and where were you born?
Summer: I was born in 1925, April 12, in Budapest, Hungary.
Interviewer: Were the members of your family long-time residents in that
Summer: Yes, for quite a while.
Interviewer: What was your father’s name?
Summer: Alexander Lederer.
Interviewer: And your mother’s maiden name?
Summer: Marguerite Weinberger.
Interviewer: What was the family makeup? Did you have any brothers and
sisters and where were you in the sibling . . . . ?
Summer: No I was an only child.
Interviewer: What was the Jewish community like and what part if any did your
family play in the community?
Summer: The Jewish community in Hungary was more or less of a central
religious order that you paid your dues to the Jewish headquarters and as far as
I can remember we did not play any certain role in the Jewish community as such.
Interviewer: I would like to spell the names: S-U-M-M-E-R, L-E-D-E-R-E-R and
W-E-I-N- B-E-R-G-E-R. Was your home in an all-Jewish neighborhood?
Summer: No, definitely not.
Interviewer: Was there a Jewish neighborhood in Budapest?
Summer: Yeah there was.
Interviewer: Did your family have any relationship with the non-Jewish
Summer: Yes we had.
Interviewer: Socially or professionally?
Summer: Both I would say.
Interviewer: How strong was Jewish tradition and learning in your family?
Summer: It was strong but not Orthodox. We were what I would call
Interviewer: What was your youth and schooling, your religious and secular
Summer: I went to gymnasium that was I think here the equivalent of two years
of college in this country and we had our religious education as part of our
regular school cur- riculum. We had religious education twice a week all through
Interviewer: What did your father do?
Summer: My father was managing movie theaters. He was in the movie industry
Interviewer: Did you work in Hungary?
Summer: No I was a student.
Interviewer: Were you conscious of any anti-Semitism as a youngster growing
up either socially or at school?
Summer: Yes there was because I was 13 years old when the Anschluss happened
and from that time on we felt it more and more. In school and socially you were
told, we were raised, one has to understand that in Europe we were very
nationalistic and I was raised as a very good Hungarian and then after Hitler’s
time, even though it wasn’t as bad at first, we had Jewish laws in Hungary and
we were told more and more that we weren’t Hungarian, we were Jewish.
Interviewer: How about before Hitler? Did you have any anti-Semitism in
Summer: It probably was but I can understand, I actually was too young to
realize it but from what I understand, there always was anti-Semitism in
Interviewer: When did you become aware of what was happening in Germany?
Summer: I think the first time I became aware during the Anschluss
because Austria being our next-door neighbor and it was more or less considered
as part of the Hungarian-Austrian monarchy even though it was later on that the Anschluss
happened in 1938 so that’s when I first became aware of what’s going on.
Interviewer: Will you spell the word Anschluss please?
Interviewer: Did you then expect the Nazi movement to affect you or your
Summer: Thinking back, I don’t think so. At the age of 13, you really don’t
realize what goes on and when you’re young, you’re very optimistic and also
many of us felt that it can’t happen here.
Interviewer: Do you have any answer to the next question on why were people
so slow to realize what was happening?
Summer: That was what I asked myself many times, not from the fact that I
didn’t realize, but why did not my father realize it and my only answer is
that to what many people ask me in this country, “How come that more people
didn’t leave Europe?” and my answer is that there were the optimists and
the pessimists. The pessimists left and the optimists felt that it cannot happen
Interviewer: Were you in any concentration camp?
Summer: Yes I was.
Interviewer: Any members of your family?
Summer: My father.
Interviewer: What about your mother? She . . . .
Summer: My mother fortunately was not taken really. Sheer luck I would say.
Interviewer: Did she hide or was she hiding out or did she escape?
Summer: Well the Germans, even though they had Jewish laws already in
Hungary, but they weren’t as bad as the German Jewish laws. But in 1944, in
March, the Germans occuplied Hungary and right away they started more stringent
Jewish laws there. I was living in Budapest and my father, having heard all the
rumors what might happen, tried to save me and arranged with a Gentile friend of
his to take me away from Budapest to a little country place of his as his young
child’s nursemaid. So my father paid money to get me false papers because by
that point, you had to wear the Jewish star and had to have paper to prove your
identity when you went out on the street. And everything was arranged that I
would meet the Gentile friend of my father’s at a certain appointed place with
my false papers and that I’m Gentile and go with him and he would hide me
during the war. Somehow at that point, we didn’t know how it happened, later
on we found out it was the concierge of our apartment building who heard it from
our maid that I’m going away someplace, told the Gestapo about that and the
day before I was set to leave, two members of the Gestapo came to our apartment
and the first thing they wanted to see was my purse that had my false papers in
it . . . . to arrest me. My father who just came home, naturally, took all the
blame on himself claiming I didn’t know anything about it so he was arrested
with me. Fortunately they left my mother and grandmother at home. They took both
of us into a building what was a Gestapo building for interrogation and a week
later we were both taken with the first Hungarian transport to Auschwitz. When
we left, we did not know where we were going. We never even heard of Auschwitz.
We thought we were being taken to an internment camp in Hungary and after three
days of traveling, we arrived to Auschwitz which place at that point we didn’t
know what it was or what it meant.
Interviewer: Would you care to further elaborate on your experience in
Auschwitz or any other concentration camp?
Summer: As I said, we were the first Hungarians to arrive. None of us really
knew where we were. We got out of the train and there was the
“selection” and the man who did the selection was the infamous Dr.
Mengele who stood there and was pointing left and right and we were told that if
we were sick or under 15 or over 50 or for some reason cannot work, should go to
one side and the others to the other side. And we kept on asking the other
inmates what happened to the people who went to the other side. And they pointed
to the chimneys and told us that there they are. But it took us weeks to really
believe them. We kept on saying they just tried to frighten us and we still
believed what the Germans told us that they are in the “bakeries”.
Fortunately I was young and strong enough that I went into the working brigade.
That was the last time I saw my father who came on the same transport to
Auschwitz/Birkenau but we were separated there right away. I spent my time in
Auschwitz from April of 1944 ’till January of 1945. In 1945 the Russians were
coming right near to Auschwitz and Auschwitz was evacuated and I was I think
just about the last transport to leave Auschwitz. We were taken by open cars to
Ravinsbrueck what is near Berlin but was quite a long and cold trip and we were
in Ravinsbrueck until March of 1945 when again the Russians were approaching so
we got moved again, at that time down to the Sudetanland where we were for a
short time in one camp near Karlsbad and then another camp and by that time,
1945, end of April, the Americans and Russians were closing in from both sides
so they were walking us for many days without any rhyme or reason and finally
another girl and myself escaped and spent about ten days or two weeks hiding in
different stables, and fortunately walking in the right direction and got
liberated by the American army.
Interviewer: Would you say something more about how you spent your time in
the concen- tration camps? Did you work?
Summer: Oh yes, you either worked or you weren’t there for a long time
because back in Auschwitz, even after you escaped the first selection and you
went in there and you had to work. And there were very periodic selections even
afterwards and if you were sick or for any reason unable to work, you again were
selected for the gas chamber. I happened to be very fortunate being in a way
that I was in the first Hungarian transport and the Germans who were very
efficient, wanted to find out what kind of workers the Hungarians are. They didn’t
have any Hungarians in the camp before. Also they needed a lot of workers
because the Hungarian transports were coming in day and night. They were
bringing all the Jews from Hungary and by that time the Germans knew they didn’t
have much time to wait. They had to do everything much faster than they did in
manay other countries. So I was one of the fortunate ones being selected to a
place in Auschwitz what was the elite com- mando. A commando was the working
group whether you worked in the field, in the factory, you go to a commando. I
was working in a place where all the cloth- ing, luggage, everything people
brought with the transport was taken away from them and the people had separated
all the merchandise so to speak into separate items and everything was sent into
Germany. There were barracks after barracks with almost like department stores.
There was a barrack for men’s clothing, women’s clothing, children’s
clothing, bedding, medicine, shoes. Everything was very methodically put into
bundles of ten or fifteen or whatever and shipped into Germany. The
extermination camp was called Birkenau.
Interviewer: Would you spell that.
Summer: B-I-R-K-E-N-A-U. But very few people ever heard about. Everybody more
or less heard of Auschwitz. Auschwitz was really a showplace that the very
special prisoners could go, most of the political prisoners. The Jewish
prisoners . . . . were sent to Birkenau what had the gas chambers and quite
different set-ups as Auschwitz. It was some miles away from Auschwitz and when
my transport arrived, the Germans knowing that all the Hungarian Jews are
coming, had to build an extension to their railroad into Birkenau and that’s
where I worked the first month before I worked in the clothes and luggage
department. I left Auschwitz in 1945, January. In Ravinsbrueck I worked outdoors
many days building tanks what is called foxholes. By the time we got to the
Sudetanland, there really wasn’t much to do. It was just a question of a
holding strategy because even the guards knew by then that the end is coming but
they ignored that order of letting us go so it was just a question of keeping us
whether in a railroad car or concentration camp or working. Any other questions?
Interviewer: Is there anything else you want to add about the treatment that
you got, whether you got enough food, how you got towels . . . .
Summer: Well nobody got enough food. Food was something you dreamt about. In
Auschwitz working where I did, I could survive easier than other prisoners
because we could steal things what we did. After a while in a concentration
camp, you completely forget any ethics or norms of civilized society. You stole
anything you could. You would try to sneak it into camp and try to trade with
the people who went out on the field for a piece of vegetable, piece of bread.
It was quite a free market in the evening. You slept six to a bunk, three high
looking more like a chicken coop I think is the best way I can describe it. One
of the things I think, you know, people ask me how did I survive it all and my
answer always is I was young, what was in my favor. I was alone. I did not have
to worry about really anybody but myself more or less. It wasn’t like the
people who came there with their children and they didn’t know what happened
to their children. But the other saving grace I think was every transport what
came into Auschwitz, the women were shaved bald. The Germans knew that there
couldn’t be anything more degrading than shaving a woman bald — you lost . .
. . They tried everything to make you an animal and not a human being and they
very well succeeded. For some unknown reason, my transport was, as I said
before, was the first Hungarian transport going into Auschwitz and maybe because
we were not for many weeks in an intern camp or in a ghetto; they couldn’t
claim that we had lice and they had to shave us bald or whatever the reason was,
they did not shave us what gave us a little psychological edge of being more
human than most of the newly-arriving prisoners, even though we got our numbers
tattooed on our arm. So personally I never was tortured or beaten so I cannot
talk about that. I did see, unfortunately by going to work, because we were
stationed at our job right next to the gas chambers, and we would see the
thousands and thousands of people lined up for their so called “baths”
and knowing that they were going, couldn’t say anything to them.
Interviewer: Was your father killed . . . .
Summer: No, as I found out later on, my father was taken to some other camps.
He did not stay in Auschwitz, and he did live through the whole time. He ended
up in Bergen-Belsen where he died after the liberation, whether from starvation
or whether as many people have claimed that the Germans fed the prisoners
poisoned food the last days before the liberation. I don’t know. All I know is
that he died after he got liberated in Bergen-Belsen.
Interviewer: There is the next question, what happened to you emotionally and
physically before you left Europe?
Summer: Well emotionally I think I was quite fortunate. As I told my
interviewer Mrs. Epstein, I used psychology without knowing it. I met an
American captain after the war, an American in Europe and by not only telling
him my story but asking permission from the American army to get married. I had
to go through many, many places and tell my story over and over again so by
doing that, in a way I got it out of my system. As far as physically, before I
left Europe, I only had a very bad case of jaundice what was definitely a
memento from the concentration camp and after I came to America a few years
later, I developed TB what also can be traced to the concentration camp.
Interviewer: Were you married before you came over?
Summer: I was not. I married after the war in Europe.
Interviewer: Did you find your mother again then and would you say how she
survived the consequences?
Summer: I didn’t know anything what happened to my mother the whole time I
was in the concentration camp. After the war naturally my first thought was to
find out what happened to my parents. When I married my husband it made it a
little easier having some help from the American occupational forces. I traveled
around to all the D.P. camps in Germany where we were, trying to get
information. We went to Prague when we got married and the American Ambassador
at that time was a Jewish man who was very sympathetic to my request but found
out that I cannot go at that time back to Hungary to find out about my parents
but they had an American military mission in Budapest at that time. He promised
me to write to them and find out about my parents and finally I got the word
back that my mother was alive and was living and back in our old apartment. So
then I found out that fortunately she was not taken to the concentration camp
because the Germans took all the Hungarian Jews out from the little towns and
leaving the Jews in Budapest for last but by the time they would have gotten to
that, the Rusians were on the outskirts of Budapest so my mother only spent,
after living in so-called Jewish houses, a few months in the ghetto, they set up
a ghetto in Budapest, and fortunately the Russians liberated Hungary and in
Budapest, the part of Budapest she was in in January of ’45. So I found her
and when I finally got in touch, I found out about my father that he was killed.
Interviewer: Did I understand you right? You were married before you came to
the United States? You did get married in Prague?
Summer: Yes I got married in ’45 July.
Interviewer: How did you make your journey to the United States?
Summer: That’s . . . . You want to hear the whole long story.
Interviewer: Yeah we have plenty of time.
Summer: Okay, well my husband was a captain in the army, a dentist, and he
just did not want to leave me alone in Europe and wait for me to come here.
Having no family, I couldn’t possibly go back to Hungary so he tried very hard
to be able to bring me along. But in May of ’45 wasn’t easy because in 1945
there was no pro- vision for a wife of an American soldier to be in Europe. But
finally he arranged it that he got permission to take me, bring me back with him
but he had to make his own transportation what also wasn’t very easy because
there was no ships leaving from France, only army ships. Only from Spain but you
couldn’t get to Spain. So finally we arranged, after very difficult times, to
get two seats on a plane leaving from England. So I came back with him, moved
back from England in January of 1946.
Interviewer: Did you have any contact with the United States . . . .
Summer: No I didn’t. I didn’t know anybody here.
Interviewer: Well you mentioned already all the difficulties that you met in
entering the United States. Anything you want to add to that?
Summer: Well people were marvelous. My husband’s family started to work on
my papers so I could be able to come with him and when we went to Paris in
December of 1944, already all the papers were there waiting for us, what people
in Columbus, Ohio arranged and then all I had to do is prove who I was, papers
and so forth what was not very easy because having been in a concentration camp,
I had no papers whatsoever. But finally all that got arranged. I got my visa and
first papers to come to the United States.
Interviewer: How long did it take you altogether from the time you got
married until you could come to . . . .
Summer: Well we got married actually in July of 1945 and I arrived in this
country in January of 1946.
Interviewer: What languages do you speak?
Summer: I speak Hungarian, German, I used to speak French what is now very
little, and English. With an accent.
Interviewer: What was your first impression of the United States?
Summer: I loved it. I think I loved the United States even before I’d been
here even as a child and never been disappointed.
Interviewer: In a former conversation, something that I thought would be of
interest came out in relation to the time in the concentration camp.
(There is a long, blank section of tape before it resumes on the second
Summer: As we were talking about and I mentioned the fact that except I think
for the Jews in Poland, the rest of the Jewish people in Europe really did not
realize about places like Auschwitz, Treblinka. We just didn’t, at least in
Hungary, we just did not know that places like this exist and the Germans, they
very carefully and methodically made sure that nobody knew about it or heard
about it. So . . . . that when we were sent to Auschwitz, we were given post
cards and told that we can write to our family at home. The prisoners who got
there before us warned us not to write because they said it was the German way
of finding any relatives left or in hiding. But we felt that by any means we
have to let our family know that we are still alive so we did write of course
cards. But my mother received, which I found out later, the post card was
addressed from Waganzieeh what sounded like a very lovely resort someplace in
Austria and my mother was delighted to know that I’m in such a nice place. It
sounded very romantic and she actually spent a lot of money trying to bribe the
German soldiers to bring gold or whatever in to me . . . . So the Germans have a
fantastic logic about what they did and how they ran the concentration camp like
the story that I’m sure everybody knows about giving towels and soap to the
people who went into the gas chamber but that way they needed only one guard to
get them to one room. Nobody thought anything about going in. And by merely
subterfuge like that, the could run the concentration camp with not too many
help and they also made very sure that the outside world did not know what
happened . . . .
Interviewer: You married an American so I suppose your social life here was
not limited to fellow refugees?
Summer: No not at all. I was right away in this American society and accepted
as a member of that society.
Interviewer: What did you find suddenly surprising about the United States?
Summer: As I say, I was prepared to love everything and I did. I loved the
fact that every- thing was available and you had the freedom at that time
especially, and now we’re talking about twenty or some years ago, I think one
of my big surprises was the honesty of the people, the fact that you could leave
a package in front of a door and nobody took it. Unfortunately, I don’t think
that’s true any more but coming from a war-torn Europe where you couldn’t
put down a coat for a minute or it was taken, to me it was quite lovely and very
Interviewer: And you said already the United States did not disappoint you in
Summer: Not really. Maybe the one thing was not a disappointment, was a
surprise, that the caste system in a way was much more so and I’m not talking
about the races so much. I’m talking right now about religion, was much more
so than it was in Europe before Hitler.
Summer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Yes. Did you make your adjustment to the American way of life
easily or were there many difficulties?
Summer: I think I made it quite easily. As I keep on pointing out, being
young when one starts a new life . . . . I had to make an adjustment of being a
housewife and a mother but I guess I would have to make an adjustment to that in
my own country. It was just a little difficulty maybe because of the language.
But even though I spoke English when I came here but it still was a little
difficult at first.
Interviewer: Did you learn English at school?
Summer: Yes, I learned German, French, Latin and English in school.
Interviewer: Do you feel you have suffered any economic, social or other
restrictions by being a Jew or being a refugee among native Americans . . . .
Summer: No I didn’t feel that for a minute. But then I say my situation is
different because I did not come over here as a refugee. I came over as the wife
of an American, got accepted as such right away, so I never had any difficulty
in that respect.
Interviewer: That brings us to the next question. You’ve been here since
Interviewer: ’46? And your husband used to live here?
Summer: Yes he was a dentist in Columbus.
Interviewer: Did you receive any further education or professional training
in the United States?
Summer: No I did not.
Interviewer: Did you ever work here?
Summer: No. No I was a housewife and mother ever since I arrived.
Interviewer: Do you think your early experiences have distorted your life?
Summer: No I don’t think so. I honestly feel that it made a better person
out of me. I can look at life from a different point of view, maybe appreciate
life more than most people do who never had any difficulties to live through.
Interviewer: Outside of your family life, what are your outstanding American
Summer: Well that is a hard thing to answer because I honestly can say I very
much enjoyed my whole life in this country. I don’t, really nothing stands out
as special but just many years of very happy life.
Interviewer: Do you feel that you have made a contribution to your community
. . . .
Summer: Well that’s hard to say about oneself. I certainly hope so. Having
three children who are hopefully very good American citizens and doing my best
to help my community, I hope I did.
Interviewer: What has been your childrens’ attitude and reaction to your
Summer: Well that is quite an interesting point. I don’t know whether
rightly or wrongly so, I never dwelt on my concentration camp experience. They
knew that I’d been there. Naturally, they had seen the number of my arm. We
talked about it but it wasn’t a thing I harped on because I figured that for
children really, parents’ experience had nothing to do with them. But what is
so interesting our daughter, who is now 21 years old, a couple of years ago went
on a trip with United Jewish Fund Youth Mission . . . . in the summer. They
spent four weeks in Israel and two weeks in Europe and the European part was
sort of to trace Nazism and so forth. They started in Munich to see where the
Hitler area where Nazism started and then they went to Vienna and to Rome. In
Munich they went to Dachau, but as my daughter wrote, it’s a beautiful park, I
guess they made a mem- orial park out of it. But in Vienna they went to a
concentration camp and that concentration camp was left as it was before. And I
don’t think my daughter was ever so shocked or so impressed or what you want
to call it, in her life. And I got a letter from her and she said she knew I was
in a concentration camp, she heard about it, she studied it in school, and it
didn’t mean anything to her ’till that moment, when she saw the place and
then the first time she realized what every- body was talking about. So I guess
you almost have to see because that’s the place that your mother or father was
at, it’s like ancient history to most children.
Interviewer: Are your children Jewishly oriented?
Summer: Yes, not real, real religious but first of all, we are Reform and in
that way I think they are proud of being Jewish and keep their Jewish lives.
Interviewer: Did your experiences make you more or less religious?
Summer: I think more so. I was always . . . . but not as far as religiousness
in symbols. I was always firmly believing in God and my experiences really made
me feel more so instead of less.
Interviewer: Have you ever returned to your native land?
Summer: Yes after about 27 years, just a few years ago I went back the first
time to Buda- pest for a few days.
Interviewer: Did you find any remnants of the Jewish community?
Summer: I really did not look for them. I went back with my husband just as
an American tourist for a few days. I didn’t even meet with any of my few
friends and relatives who were left there but I guess there is still some
because I know on our walk we saw the main Jewish synagogue where I was
confirmed. Unfortunately it was closed. We couldn’t go in but it was still
Interviewer: Oh it had been left standing?
Summer: Yes it was never destroyed. No it was not destroyed during the war.
Interviewer: And is there anything more you want to say to the question what
were your reactions to what you found there?
Summer: Well as I say, as far as people in the Jewish community, I really don’t
know because I promised my husband who did not want to go back there that if he
ever takes me back, I will go as a tourist. ‘Cause he does not speak Hungarian
and it would have been difficult for him to meet any Hungarian and sit there and
not understand me and it really wasn’t a difficult promise to make because
most of my generation is not in Hungary any more. My generation all left. I have
friends all over the world, Israel, Australia, South America, Europe. So I
really don’t have anybody except some friends of my parents, but my friends
are not left in Hungary. Everybody left whether before, during or after the war.
Interviewer: Can you answer the next question? What Jewish customs of your
youth not usual in the United States perhaps survived in Europe . . . .
Summer: No I really can’t because I just don’t know any more what life we
lived in Buda- pest. I really don’t know how much of any of the customs are
left or not.
Interviewer: Do you think that the Holocaust or genocide will ever occur
Summer: Unfortunately yes. I think if we’re not careful or watchful, it can
happen again and I had many discussions about that with people who were born in
this country and they just can’t understand how this happened and it never
could happen here. And my answer is, “Don’t be so sure. It can happen
anyplace unfortunately, again and again. We just have to be very careful that it
Interviewer: Why do you think it could happen?
Summer: Well maybe not exactly to the same horrible way as it happened but I
mean we just have to look right now in the Middle East. If the Arabs could have
their way, they would destroy Israel. It could happen, it happened before in
history unfortunately and why I don’t know the answer. That’s the history of
the Jews that any time there is a little rest and even peaceful living and then
something seems to happen and I’m not unfortunately optimistic enough to feel
that it never can happen again because number one, people forget easily and as I
told, that’s one of the reasons I was glad to do this interview so maybe
somebody listening to this tape recording, any youngster, they will think a
little about it because for youngsters, anything like that is past history. Not
can happen again.
Interviewer: Tell me what steps do you think can American Jews take to
prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy?
Summer: Oh that is a difficult question to answer. You have to watch . . . .
so to speak to watch that anti-Semitism . . . . doesn’t get out of hand. That
somebody cannot get into power who can take over the country. That the thing
that happened in Germany will not happen here. You just have to be very careful
and hope that our democratic way of life can survive and when somebody does
something wrong, the people still can do something about it.
Interviewer: There’s still quite a bit of tape left. Is there anything that
comes to your mind, anything at all relating to any of the questions or
unrelated to the questions that you would like to add to what was said before?
Summer: What was that?
Interviewer: I said there is quite a bit of tape left. I asked Mrs. Summer to
tell a little more about her escape from the concentration camp.
Summer: As I had mentioned before, at the end, from Ravinsbrueck we were
taken to the Sudetenland, first into one camp, I never knew the name but what is
Karlsbad, and from there we were taken to another camp. As each time as the
Russians or Americans were getting closer, the camps were evacuated and they
were taking us from we didn’t know where, but then the railroads were being
bombed so they couldn’t use the rails so they were walking us, destination
unknown, not even to them, and food we just got at that point whatever they
could take from the farmers who didn’t have much food left at that point
And by then even the S. S. guards knew that the end was near and they
weren’t quite as enthusiastic in carrying out their job as they were for
example when we left Auschwitz. When we were evacuated from there, anybody who
couldn’t walk or sat down was shot right away. They became more human quote
unquote by allowing the people who really were too sick to walk to get into a
cart what they took from the farmers and they were taking them that way. I was
with a friend of mine and I told everybody that we were sisters and begged them
not to separate use and then the sick people had to stay at one point to wait
’till they could find a cart. I was allowed to stay with her and while we were
waiting, there were some French prisoners of war who came over and started to
talk to us and being able to speak French helped and we had a long conversation
and they were trying to convince me that I should escape.
At that point I didn’t
have either the strength or maybe the willingness to make decisions and I didn’t
know where I was, where I could go, how I could manage to escape without
somebody catching me right away so when we got on the cart to follow the
transport, I think this French man must have bribed our guard who fortunately
wasn’t an S. S. man at this point but a Wehrmacht soldier, to let us go
because as we were going and it was getting a little darker, he motioned to me
to get lost. So my friend and I got off the cart and quietly walked away and we
spent the last week or ten days hiding in farms. Fortunately I did speak by then
a very fluent German and I could explain my accent by saying that either my
father or mother was Hungarian. But the other was German and we were bombed out
of our home and this way we could survive on the road, get a potato or whatever
was available and find a place to sleep, hoping that the war must end pretty
soon, hearing the artillery from both sides and hoping that we would be walking
in the right direction and that we would be liberated by the Americans instead
of the Russians. And one day we found quite a pleasant barn.
We became experts
in which barn looked good or not and we decided to just stay there ’till the
war is over became friendly with all the farm people. This one woman even cried
all day when she heard on the radio that the Fuehrer died and we had decided to
stay there but my friend was getting very sick and I decided I’d better get
her to a hospital so we started off to walk to a little town where we heard that
there was a German lazarette, that’s a military hospital. So we started out
and around noon we got to a little village and it started to rain. We decided we
better stop here and try to get some food and I went in with my usual story. I
found a whole troop of German soldiers and fortunately they were Wehrmacht
soldiers and by then I had my story about being a German refugee down pretty pat
so I told them all the story. They gave us food and being that it was very wet
outside, we decided we better stay here in the barn overnight. The farmers who I
guess suspected that we were escapees from the concentration camp declared that
we cannot stay unless we have permission from the Burgermeister, what is the
mayor of the little village, and one of the Wehrmacht soldiers got very upset
about the farmer’s attitude and he decided to come with me to the
Burgermeister and get permission, what we did, and we decided to stay there
overnight and in the afternoon, I heard a lot of commotion, looked out in the
courtyard and I saw the German soldier taking off in a hurry.
Even though I kept
saying for a week that the Americans are coming but I was determined that we
will be liberated by the Americans, I thought this is relief when the Germans
are running, we must be liberated any minute. And about 10 or 15 minutes later
after complete silence, I heard motors outside so I ran out and it was the most
beautiful sight ever seen, I saw my first American tank, American car, with the
GIs sitting on top chewing chewing gum. And then I knew immediagely we were
liberated and the next morning the farmer’s wife or daughter came in and
offered us breakfast right in the barn saying that she hoped we will tell the
Americans how good they were to us and after that the next day walked to this
German hospital that they took care of my friend and I got allowed to stay
because at that point, I didn’t want to go to any other camp, even a D.P.
I was determined to stay out of camps. So I had them to let me stay and I
would be glad to work and first I worked as a laundress and then I was promoted
and became a nurse in full German uniform and that is where I met my husband who
was a dentist in the American army and his outfit came through this town and
stopped to see the hospital and the set-up and that’s where we met.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you want to add?
Summer: Well there are all these little stories to the time but sometimes
comes to mind and sometimes not too easy to remember. Oh one thing that I want
to mention just to keep the record straight, I keep on talking about my husband
who I met after the war in the hospital in the Sudetanland. Just to keep the
record straight, I want to say that he was killed shortly after we came to this
country in an automobile accident and I’m married now the second time. Joe
Summer is my second hus- band. And thinking about what else I can mention what
would be of interest, maybe talk some more about the set-up there in Auschwitz.
As I mentioned before that was sort of the elite commando. It was really when
you went in this place you had a little assurance of prolonging life maybe a
short time because you could steal things like a pair of good shoes, warm
clothes or a warm jacket or coat.
Also even though your portion of food wasn’t
any different than the rest of the camp got, but you could steal things and
exchange it for food either with the other prisoners who maybe went out in the
farm and could bring in some food or they had ways to get like money to some of
the German soldiers who could be bribed who could get us maybe a piece of extra
bread for it. Also we tried to sabotage things as much as we could because if we
had anything we could destroy, that much less was going to Germany. So . . . .
was easily destroyed like money or just what could be easily stolen like gold or
silver jewelry what the poor people was sewn into their coats, their lapel,
wherever they could hide it. Whatever as I say we could destroy if we couldn’t
exchange it for food, we would use like English pound or American dollar for
toilet tissue. And one of my sad remembrances was — loving music much — we
found in the luggage one day a Stradavarius what we stepped on but we figured it
was better destroyed than having it go to Germany ’cause everything whether it
was household goods, clothes, money, gold, medicine, everything was sorted and
sent into Germany.
Interviewer: I would like to spell some of the German words Mrs. Summer
mentioned. Wehrmacht, that’s the regular German army, W-E-H-R-M-A-C-H-T; and
the second concentration camp Ravinsbrueck, R-A-V-I-N-S-B-R-U-E-C-K. And this
concludes the interview with Mrs. Judith Summer. Another word, Burgermeister,
B-U-R-G-E-R-M-E–I-S-T-E-R. That’s all.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson