Polish Jews who had money could hope to bribe their way out of painful situations during the early years of German rule. But wealth by no means assured escape from the Nazi net. Hadassah Marcus’s family was prominent in Warsaw's gem and precious metals trades, which gave them skills and access to valuables that helped them avoid deportation until near the end of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. But whatever remained of their wealth probably disappeared in the ransoming of Marcus's husband from the SS torture squads. In hiding during the last days of the ghetto, she and her family were betrayed by other Jews, and she and a younger sister were sent to Majdanek, where they were assigned to the work crew building the crematorium. She was twenty-nine at the time.
After three months at Majdanek the sisters were moved to Auschwitz, arriving at a very "lucky moment" indeed; by summer 1943 the camp had temporarily run short of laborers, and the mass exterminations had been suspended. They managed to stay together and were assigned to the justly feared task of clearing aquatic vegetation from fish ponds near the camp. One of Marcus’s deepest impressions of Auschwitz was the gassing in 1944 of large numbers of children held at the family camp at Birkenau. Postwar research has confirmed her impression that they had been kept alive solely to deceive the Red Cross, which had been pressing for an opportunity to inspect Auschwitz. Once the Red Cross dropped its demands—perhaps satisfied with what the Germans showed its representatives at the model Theresienstadt ghetto, or else caving in to German resistance—the children and the adults who lived with them in the family camp were liquidated.
The sisters managed to stay together during the last months of the war as they were sent to Ravensbrück, the German concentration camp for women, and then to one of its satellite work camps northwest of Berlin. There they were liberated, twice, in a sense, first by the Americans and then by the Soviets. They returned to Poland and settled in Łódź where Hadassah organized a Zionist kibbutz for the orthodox Agudat Israel, which was then shedding its earlier opposition to Jewish nationalism. There she ran into revived Polish anti-Semitism and encountered opposition from the official Central Committee of the Jews in Poland, sponsored by the new Communist government and dedicated to persuading Jews to stay and (as they confidently hoped at the time) help build a new Poland free from racial strife.
1. Hadassah M. was interviewed at a home for displaced Jews at Hénonville, about thirty miles from Paris. Still a passionate Zionist, she managed the camp kitchen for her own large kibbutz and a Lithuanian yeshiva located there.
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. www.uncpress.unc.edu