Survivor: Nazi Death Camps

Magda Mozes Herzberger spoke in Atlanta, Sunday, January 22, 2017, on her theme of Hope.

Magda survived three Nazi death-labor camps near the end of World War II.

What she believes to be the survival skills all have their base in the human positive attitude of hope.  Her message is as true today as it was then.

As we near the end of January, 2017, RCHS seniors in a few months will end the last period of childhood, their days as school-aged youth.  Afterwards, they will be wise to search in themselves and elsewhere the values they will need to enter adulthood.   And, yes, I know that for many, that door will not open until they have finished college.   But even for many in college that door will be opening as they will be making decisions, like getting student loans that can affect their future in profound ways.

What Magda learned when she was eighteen can serve our coming graduates, and all of us, well.  First, what did she face daily that killed over six million Jews?

This month in 1944 she was in a Nazi camp facing many forms of death:  from the guards who liked to kill people, from illness and diseases like scarlet fever, from fellow prisoners who became so needy as to be dangerous, and, perhaps worse of all, from personal depression as she was constantly denied any form of love and self-esteem and did face evil every minute. 

This month in 1944, thousands of U.S. youth were part of the U.S. forces “Island-Hopping” on beaches of Japanese-held, Pacific islands.  Most would never make it off the beaches.  Those that survived did so, partly as luck and partly as being prepared and following orders.

This month in 1944, I almost died of scarlet fever.  But I did survive, again, partly as luck and partly as a result of being basically healthy and getting good care.



Back in April, of 1944, Magda with a few thousand Romanian Jews had just gotten out of a train of cattle cars, transporting them to Auschwitz. 

Some, including her, had been directed to the "Right."  She, with the others standing naked, had just survived the first death decision, been selected as workers.  Those directed to the Left were being sent to the gas chambers.  Those who could not march, boarded vehicles that were painted to look like “Red Cross” ambulances.

Hope!  Magda in a word survived as she maintained the characteristics that supported her feelings of hope.  Some background: (1) she had lived a loving life with family members who believed in God and practiced their faith; (2) secondly, she was in top physical condition as she for years was in training to be a national fencing champion which required her, in part, to build endurance with a daily running program and, also, to practice fencing with her uncle who was a national fencing champion.

If anyone could, at the moment in April, 1844, be said to possess a “sound mind in a sound body.”  It was her.

When Allied soldiers freed the inmates, she was exhausted and near death.  The soldiers found her unconscious lying next to a pile of dead inmates.

Before that, her duties had included dragging the dead prisoners from the barracks and those gassed in the gas chambers to the gas furnaces.  Those with that duty were supposed to serve for four months and then be shot.  She somehow escaped that.  She felt that she was lucky.  Odd for her to say that.  She knew two young women near her age who got other jobs that evenually resulted in their deaths: one, a very pretty girl got assigned 'personal services' to the guards; the other died as a result of Doctor Helm's (who was known as "Dr. Death") operations.

Daily she had to stay more than seven feet away from the guards as any prisoner within that space could be shot, and usually was.  Daily she would see prisoners who had lost their hope deliberately step into that space or walk up to the electric fencing and grab hold of it and die.  Nightly she had to protect her clothes and shoes, her daily slice of bread and personal water given to each inmate every third day from prisoners who were so needy as to be desperate who would steal to keep alive.  Constantly she had to try to stay clean as filth was every where, and diseased inmates lie all around her.

She writes.

"...gradually I became very depressed and asked myself whether my life had any meaning anymore. I also wondered how long I would be able to tolerate an existence of continuous emotional and physical suffering, living in an environment where love and caring don't exist, where hatred and violence ruled."(pp. 160-161)


"It is amazing how much strength we can evoke when our lives are threatened. The life force within us can uncover more strength and endurance that we ever imagined."(p. 189)


"...I chose life, I made a sacred promise to the Almighty, my Creator, that I would fight fiercely to stay alive and I asked God to give me strength and the courage to overcome my doubts and fears, to be strong enough to continue to bear my suffering and keep on fighting for my life. Strangely, after my resolve to choose life, a peaceful feeling descended upon me, and although my situation didn't change at that time, my faith in God gave me hope."(p. 207)

Magda did survive, was eventually reunited with her mother, and never succumbed to hate and bitterness.  She moved into the later years of her life with the mission to tell her story so that the world would never forget the Holocaust.

Richard’s Note:

That’s it for me tonight.  Mrs. Magda Mozes Herzberger has lived in the United States for over 70 years now.  Her books are not in public libraries.  But you can find them via Wisconsin History Org.  See link below.

And, of course, Amazon