Interview Commentary

Sometimes a survivor's experiences of the camps arouse less interest than the events surrounding them. Nelly Bondy spent two years at Auschwitz and then in Ravensbrück and its satellite camps, but what happened to her during that time was exceptional only in that her knowledge of German and English qualified her for a comparatively protected job in the Political Department of the Auschwitz administration offices. Of that job she has little to say beyond her matter-of-fact report that she learned from the files of the death of her husband, who had been sent there long before her arrival.

Bondy has more to say about her frantic efforts between 1940 and 1943 to keep her family together and protect her children from the Germans. Born in Vienna around 1915, she had met and married her husband, a Czech Jew living in Paris, in the mid-1930s. When Paris came under German fire in 1940, she bicycled to the south of France to reunite with her husband, then serving in a Czech unit under French command, and her two children. Her husband was arrested in 1941, shortly after the birth of their third child, and she smuggled all three of the children to safety in the unoccupied zone. She was arrested herself in March 1943 and after three months at Drancy was sent to Auschwitz.

Still more interesting is Bondy's account of her escape from a Nazi death march at the end of the war. Evacuated from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück and then to a series of work camps south of Berlin, she simply walked away from her camp during an air raid and passed as a German refugee. Fluent in German, she had the wit to exploit the chaos of the collapsing Reich and secure the assistance of Nazi welfare agencies to stay alive in spite of her frostbitten feet. We will never know for certain if escaping saved her life, but it may have done so. SS men sometimes shot their charges at the last moment rather than let them go. In the last days of the war she found herself in a German-held area surrounded by Russian and American forces, encountering little sympathy from the latter when she approached them for help.

Boder interviewed Bondy in a storage room of one of the Paris offices of the Joint Distribution Committee.

From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.