- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Maria Hay
- Location of story:
- Poland, Germany and England
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 April 2005
My two brothers, a sister and I lived with our parents in the town of Leszniuw in Poland. Our family were not Jewish but we lived in a Jewish neighbourhood so I went to school with Jewish children and spoke Jewish.
Farmers in Poland were Germans and we all got on very well together. Before the war my father had a flour mill and was in partnership with a Jew. Jewish people bought the business and our house and we moved to a farm in the country.
Before the actual war started the Russians moved in and took many people to Siberia, but we were lucky not to be taken.
I was seventeen years old when the Germans came, for a while they treated us well, my mother spoke German which helped, but then they began to take the children, some only three to five years old, blond with blue eyes — Hitler’s Children.
After that Hitler started getting nasty with his SS men in black uniforms but the ordinary soldiers were all right. My mother had a Ukranian helper and she told us they were coming to take my brother as they were starting to take grown ups. My brother ran away to another farm to hide.
One morning about ten am the SS arrived with a big van. My father was out working on the farm, they came in with their guns and asked for my brother. Mother lied and said he had gone away to an uncle a long way away. The soldiers then said they would take me instead, mother objected and told them I was only eighteen but they would not listen. They told mother to pack my bag and she would not stop crying. The soldier told her to stop bubbling as he had left a wife and two children at home and did not know if he would return.
I told my mother not to be upset as I would escape. I ran to the stable to give my favourite pig a cuddle the soldier followed me he thought I was trying to escape but when he saw what I was doing he looked sad.
I was taken to the lorry with my bag and sandwiches my mum had made. Inside were more girls and boys of my age all crying. There were more SS men in the lorry. When the lorry left everyone was crying, me, mum and the other children and we were put in a train.
We were in a cattle truck, no windows, straw on the floor, no water, no toilet. We travelled night and day. We stopped in a forest so we could go to the toilet and we were given some bread and water.
We travelled to Berlin where we spent three days in an army camp. We were given cabbage soup and slept exhausted on a camp bed. The next day we were selected to work for the Germans on farms or factories etc. I was picked along with a lot of other girls to work in a factory.
It was a camp at Seesen near Hanover with a seven foot fence round, there was no way I could get out. We slept in bunk beds with army blankets and straw pillows, nine to a room. I was asked if I was a Jew as they said I sounded like it. They accepted that I was not Jew but two of the girls were Jews but we kept it a secret.
A bell rang at five o’clock in the morning to be at work for six am, I would finish work at six pm sometimes ten pm at night. It was a spaghetti factory. It was very hot. Sometimes so hot people fainted. We dragged sacks of flour around and heavy water. We were given nothing to eat or drink until nine am two slices of bread, beetroot marmalade and black ‘coffee’, the next meal at one pm was cabbage soup with macaroni in it and more ‘coffee’. If anyone complained the soup was tipped over your head.
If you worked late you got more cabbage soup.
On Hitler’s birthday the Germans did not work and we did not work. We were supposed to have meat that day, it was horse meat.
I was in the camp for four years, I spoke seven languages so I acted as an interpreter. When the prisoners were sick and coughing they were sent to the doctors I went with them to act as interpreter. We travelled by train, there was no food and we had to stand all the way, we were not allowed to sit. If they found anything wrong with these people you never saw them again. We were told they had been sent home but we knew they had been put down like a dog.
I wanted to put a knife in the doctor.
The people who came back on the train had nothing to eat or drink and were too weak to stand.
Life was a misery I did not know what had happened to my family, they didn’t know what had happened to me. I considered putting my hand in the machine so that if it cut my fingers off they would send me home. My head was going round and I thought which hand should I put in, I decided on the left one so I could still write with the other. I was just going to do it when the German man shouted ‘you, its your time off’
I had a very bad cough so I went to the Freu in the office to tell her, she said she would write me a letter and the next day I should go to the doctor.
I got on the train but I was stopped by the train police because I had a stamp on me to say I was a prisoner, he checked my pass. On the train I was not allowed to sit, I stood holding onto the window as I was so weak. After leaving the train I asked a young woman the way to the hospital, she replied “find your own way you foreign swine”!
I asked an old man with a stick he said, “my child you are not well” he walked with me to the hospital, he was an old German, Hitler wanted to kill the old ones because he said they were wasting food.
At the hospital the doctor I needed to see was not in till the next day so I had to stay the night, I was starving so I was brought a ‘coffee’ and a crust of bread out of the rubbish bin and told to wipe it clean. More cabbage stew later.
During the night there was a young girl screaming I was told they were experimenting. It was a young seventeen year old Russian girl. She was cut up all over.
I saw the SS German doctor who said there was nothing wrong I was just anaemic. He gave me a prescription for three raw carrots a week from the kitchen and wished me good luck. I returned on the train. There were officers on the train. I was standing again.
A young officer came and said “don’t look at me” and asked me a lot of questions, He asked me if I had a German friend. He said he wanted to help me and discreetly gave me his ration book for a months rations and some money, he said he came from a wealthy family and didn’t need it but don’t keep it in the camp in case it is found, I could get shot. I couldn’t believe it. We made eye contact when I left the train but nothing more.
When I got back to the camp I called to Frau Henkle, who lived the other side of the fence and I gave her the ration book and explained, she was in tears. She kept food to feed the children and she bought bread and patty for us, when the other girls came in and saw it they couldn’t believe it.
Twice a week she brought food.
One Saturday morning everything sounded different, bells were ringing, we looked out and saw the Americans, the Germans were hanging white pillow cases out of the windows.
We didn’t know what was happening at first.
We were told we were free but not to go out on the street as we may get shot. We all cried and cried and wanted to go home, they broke into the shops and brought us wonderful food, an American Army padre came, and then a doctor to examine us who said we were undernourished.
The Canadian Red Cross gave us parcels. The Americans were not being very nice to an old German man, but this man had an orchard and he had been passing fruit to us and told us his heart ached for us - he was lovely - so we stopped the Americans from abusing him and explained this to them, so they stopped and gave him a cigarette.
A lot of girls went to Canada, I was supposed to go to America but I didn’t want to, I wanted to go home. So I stayed at the camp and worked as an interpreter at the Red Cross hospital, it was full of people from the concentration camps.
I was treated well and fed. I worked there for just over a year.
There was a young English man from Sunderland who delivered medication, I got to know him. He asked me if I wanted to go home but I didn’t know if home was still there. He said he would take me to England, and ‘you can stay with my family’ and I will try and trace your family.
I had to have a lot of papers which was almost impossible so his Captain said, why don’t you get married, it is easier, he is a good chap.
We had known each other for about a year and I was fond of him and I knew he loved me, I found at that point in time difficulty in loving anyone.
We got married.
The Army paid for the wedding — a white dress and veil, flowers everything. There were two vicars one Catholic and one Church of England.
After the Wedding Ted, my husband, returned to England but I had to stay in the camp for nine months while the papers were processed. An officer visited twice a week and took letters for us. Eventually I was put on a Royal Navy ship to Hull where I was met by the Army.
At Sunderland station I was met my husbands mother and we got on very well.
Ted was a glass blower and we stayed with his mother for six months and then we got a council house.
I was cared for in England by a Jewish doctor.
The Red Cross searched for my family and found them but they had moved to another farm but they were all safe.
My mother came over to England to see me and couldn’t recognise me, she told me how the family had prayed for me when I was taken, she went home with photos of me and my husband.
Ten years later I went to Poland with my two daughters.
Ted was a very kind and loving man and I grew to love him very much.
I am not bitter with the Germans especially the older ones who were very kind, I have no anger with the civilians only with Hitler’s Germans.
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