The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 16, 2012

Holocaust survivor: ‘I must have dreamt all this’

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — Three million eyes haunt Dr. Inge Auerbacher.

They belong to the 1.5 million children who were killed during the Holocaust. They were the kids who didn’t make it out alive.

Auerbacher, now 77, is one of the lucky ones. She survived the terrors and was in Sharon Wednesday to tell her tale of surviving the horrors of the Holocaust.

Sometimes she thinks, “I must have dreamt all this, I couldn’t have been there,” she told a packed forum Wednesday at Forker Laboratory of Penn State Shenango in Sharon.

Auerbacher told her story and showed photos and artifacts like the yellow star of David she was required to wear when she was a little girl.

Born Dec. 31, 1934, in Kippenheim, a small village in southwest Germany near the Black Forest, Auerbacher was delivered by a doctor who was a Nazi. Despite his allegiances he gave her mother Regina Auerbacher good care.

Auerbacher’s father, Berthold, was a World War I veteran who served with the German army and was awarded the Iron Cross.

He was a successful textile merchant and the family lived a comfortable life in Kippenheim, Auerbacher remembered. She was the last Jewish child born in the village, she said.

“We considered ourselves German,” she said.

Her childhood changed for the worse on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. Known as the “Kristallnacht” – the “night of broken glass” – it was the start of Nazis’ persecution of Jews in Germany.

Police took Jewish males taken into custody and Jewish homes and mobs ransacked businesses on those nights. Inge’s father and grandfather were arrested and every window of their home was broken.

Both were released after two weeks of terrible treatment and the family sold their house and moved to Jebenhausen, where Inge’s grandparents lived.

Her grandfather died in 1939, of what Inge described as a “broken heart.”

He was broken both physically and spiritually, she said.

By September 1941, Inge, then 6, was taking a train by herself to attend school, and she was forced to wear the yellow star of David on her right breast, where it loomed large on her little frame.

She remembered a woman who left a bag of rolls next to her during one of the train rides in a simple show of kindness.

That gesture looms large in Auerbacher’s memory, she said.

“She will be in my heart forever,” Auerbacher said of the nameless woman, whose face is unforgettable to her.

It proves that people’s actions toward one another, no matter how small, can have a huge impact.

“A small deed can be monumental,” she said.

In August 1942, the Auerbachers’ numbers came up, literally, and they were slated by the Nazis for “transport” to a holding camp.

Inge, number 408, and her family had to pay for the trip, where they were crammed into a train with few belongings. Inge was able to take her doll which she named “Marlene” after Marlene Dietrich, she said.

The doll survived with Inge, who has since donated it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

She was seven years old during the “transport” – the youngest of 1,200 people, according to the biography on Auerbacher’s website.

They were held in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, until May 8, 1945, when it was liberated by the Soviets.

According to Auerbacher’s website, 140,000 people were shipped to Terezin during World War II; of those, 88,000 were sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and 35,000 died of malnutrition and disease. Of the 15,000 children who were held at Terezin, Inge is among the 1 percent who survived.

They lived confined to a tiny room at the camp, she remembered.

“We did not have heat in that room for three years,” she said. “I know how it feels to be cold and hungry.”

It gives her a different perspective over people complaining of a few days’ discomfort after Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the city where she now calls home.

“It was a matter of survival,” she said of the hardships she and her family endured.

She’s written three books about her life and travels the country sharing her story.