Silver Star Itka Zygmuntowicz

Holocaust survivor

By Susan Hindman

“My world is growing smaller and smaller”

In
1939, the Germans arrived in Ciechanow. “They posted orders every day,”
she said. “They started to make laws. As soon as Warsaw was taken, we
could no longer travel from place to place. Little by little, they took
away everything from us. . . . Every day, it got worse than the next
day.”

Then, in 1941, "the Nazis came into our home with dogs
and rifles and forced us out of our house. They took us to a ghetto (in
Nowe-Miasto).” There her family was put into an apartment that already
held seven other families. This arrangement didn’t last long. “My
mother said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ I thought she had lost her mind.
But she very much had her mind. We moved into a storage room that used
to be for grain. . . . She said, ‘At least here, there won’t be any
bickering and it will be peaceful.’” That’s where they stayed until the
Germans came again and forced them onto trains that took them to
Auschwitz. “We had no idea where we were going,” she said sadly.

They
arrived at the concentration camp on November 22, 1942. Waiting for
them was Josef Mengele, the German SS officer in charge of deciding
which person would be sent to forced labor and which would go to the
gas chamber. They were directed to two lines, men on one side (where
her father was sent), women on the other. Then, she said, “They started
to make selections.” Young children were taken away, and when her
mother saw that her younger son and daughter were among them, she
turned to Itka and said, “You are a big girl. I have to go with the
little children. But remember, no matter what will happen, don’t become
hateful and bitter. Don’t let them destroy you.’” She never saw her
family again.

For the next three years, she endured hunger,
long hours of labor, and unspeakable experiences at Auschwitz. The only
bright spot was meeting Bina, a girl who would become a lifelong
friend. Itka held memories of her family close to her heart and devised
ways to get through the inhumanity. She realized that if she became
like her captors, she would not make it. Menschlichkeit would be her
guide.

In January 1945, the prisoners were forced to walk from
Auschwitz to the Ravensbrück concentration camp farther behind Nazi
lines. For six days, in what became known as the “Death March,” they
walked through the snow without stopping. They would eventually be
moved again, this time to the Malchow, Germany, concentration camp, in
an attempt to avoid the Allies, who were closing in. Finally, on April
26, 1945, the Swedish Red Cross liberated her and some others from the
camp.

(Click Silver Star Itka Zygmuntowicz Photo Gallery to see pictures of her early life and relatives lost in the Holocaust.)


Silver Star Itka Zygmuntowicz continues...
“I still see the Sabbath candles” 
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“I know how it feels to be homeless and all alone” 

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Click Silver Star Itka Zygmuntowicz Photo Gallery to see pictures of her early life and relatives lost in the Holocaust.