“The last thing I remember before we left was when my mother was taking me from our place to our grandparents’ ”, Martha Alsenz tells the story of her family during the deportations. She was leaving in Berlin with her parents, Ruth and Joachim, her older sister Jette and her little brother Samuel, 5 years old. Their house was pretty, they all had their own room to invite friends, to study and play. But on November 5, 1942 they only had one choice: to try to escape from the city. “ The roads were full of dead corpses. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop crying. To calm me down, my grandfather told me they were mean people, but I still prayed for them, because even if some considered them mean, they were still dead human beings.” However, they were too late and after that day, Martha never saw her grandfather again.
A few days later the Alsenz family was traveling on a train. It was not a trip that anyone would want to be part of. The conditions were unimaginable, hundreds of people were stacked like animals. Joachim was scared for his children, since the journey was long, cold and everybody was hungry. “The engine stopped three or four times. The women and children were crying. I felt that we were going to die.”
They didn’t know, but their condition would only get worse.
As soon as they got out of the wagon, the family was separated. Like many others, they tried to stay together; Ruth and Joachim tried to keep their children with them. They failed, but they were lucky: other people were used as an example by the Nazi commanders: “my friend was shot dead in front of me. I had no idea I would end up in this camp”, says Jette.
And Jette was the chosen one, maybe because she was beautiful, maybe because she looked already like a woman. The guards brought her somewhere else, far from her parents and siblings.
It’s not sure what happened to her after that day, we can only read a last testimony about her arrival in the camp “Yesterday we arrived here and they gave me a coat and a blanket. They didn’t give me any shelter and all night I slept on the ground. I tell them I don’t have anybody to support me, I’m on my own.”
The rest of the family was probably even worse. “The children were so cold last night, we had no blankets. My son is sick, he has been shivering and shaking”, Ruth says in a letter to her sister.
Their situation never improved, time didn’t bring better living conditions. They tried to find a way to survive “We have been here four months; the conditions are indescribable. Sometimes there is no water, when it rains we fear for our children’s lives, that they will die of the rain, the cold, the wind. Sometimes we consider this just a place for waiting for death”.
Probably the hardest thing for Martha was not that much living in a concentration camp, but remembering the life she lost in Berlin: “ Back at home I left a friend, her name was Sarah. I miss her a lot and I miss going to school with her. I also used to have pigeons, one of them had eggs. I would feed them and care for them. I’m worried about them, I really pray someone is still caring for them. But here I have a small kitten that I really love! I miss my home a lot. I hope one day we’ll be back and things will be just like before”.
Things never went back like before for Martha and her family. Nobody knows for sure what happened to them, since tracks of the Alsenz were lost in history.
In a recently found document we can read a statement from an SS guard working in Auschwitz camp: “I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber” he said. “The parents, son and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save the kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.”.
This new discovery casts disturbing shadows on the fate of the family as historians believe that most probably the guard was referring to the Alsenz.
We could also choose to believe that they were saved and they lived a long and happy life after this horrible experience, but maybe it would not be fair: we should never forget the victims of the Holocaust; we should never forget how human beings can be treated by other human beings. Luckily, this was happening 75 years ago.
Luckily, today societies and people would never accept similar patterns and such horrific events.
Today this would not be possible anymore.
Except from the fact that it is.
This story is fictional. Ruth, Joachim, Martha, Jette and Samuel are fictional characters. The events described are also fictional.
Every single word put in the mouth of these characters is true. These statements are real experiences from real refugees, prisoners and people whose rights have been violated. And this is happening today.
We should never forget the past, we should keep an eye on the present.
Please take a little bit of time to read the real stories: