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We Were Strangers

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We Were Strangers The Story of Magda Preiss Magda Riederman Schloss Edited by Aaron Greenberg PhD AJ Greenberg Copyright 2020 bioGraph LLC bioGraphbook com

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biograph llc Published by bioGraph Chicago IL bioGraphbook com Copyright 2020 by bioGraph LLC All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form First bioGraph trade paperback edition January 2020 For information about discounts for bulk purchases please contact info bioGraphbook com Designed by bioGraph Manufactured in the United States of America 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Printed on 90gsm acid free paper Library of Congress Control Number 2019919653 ISBN 978 1 951946 00 5 paperback ISBN 978 1 951946 01 2 eBook A portion of proceeds from this book will be donated to Holocaust remembrance and advocacy for refugees

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To those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and those with the courage to tell their story

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Every instinct within me rebelled against being launched into eternity I loved life I was going to live The nightmarish months began and ended as we went through the motions of living So long as I believed I could not be destroyed so long would I live And even if they killed me I would not die Magda Preiss

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Table of Contents The Story Behind The Story ix Luftmensch 1 Die or Be an Old Maid 15 Holy Day Queen 21 Love Laughs at Mothers 29 Honeymoon 37 Edicts 51 Dominion of Arrogance 73 Gates of Hell 95 Canada 127 Union 155 Who is Afraid of Bombs 185 Stalin s Candles 205 Book of Life 233 Salt Mines 243 Food 269 Death March 291 Free 305 We Were Strangers 329

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The Story Behind The Story Foreword by Bill Schloss T he rebirth of Magda s story began at Kol Nidre services on September 18 2018 when I ran into my former neighbor AJ Greenberg He and his brother Aaron had recently started a storytelling and publishing business called bioGraph I mentioned that my mother had written her story after the Holocaust and it was saved precariously on my cousin s virus ridden computer Intrigued they requested a copy Despite a sad comedy of technological glitches we successfully retrieved the story a 328 page PDF each page a JPEG of the original typewritten manuscript The yellowed pages were torn and wrinkled yet Aaron and AJ were awestruck by the story and its relevance today They urged me to preserve Magda s words in a book The project unfolded and we all realized our obligation to share this story with a wider audience Do you want to know how this book came about asks Aunt Vivian at a meeting at my home on March xi

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We Were Strangers 31 2019 just under a century after my mother Magda was born Aunt Vivian is my mother s youngest sister and while contemplating the publication of my mother s story I needed Aunt Vivian s perspective Vivian reminisces about her older sister playing wonderful Hungarian folk tunes on the family s baby grand piano in Uzhhorod also known as Ungv r before World War Two She d play piano and sing with the windows open and people would gather outside to hear As you ll read my mother was the only member of our family trapped in Europe during the war My mother s family in America spoke of Magda constantly and never gave up hope that she would survive Until one Sunday morning soon after the war a letter came from her husband with a devastatingly brief message he had not found Magda Now the family was scared and prepared for the worst Before long my other aunt Susan had a dream She woke up in the morning and said to my grandma I dreamt that Magda is still alive No my grandma wailed There s no way she could have survived But that very day a policeman knocked on the door and asked Do you have a daughter named Magda Riederman xii

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The Story Behind The Story Yes my grandmother replied Well the policeman cleared his throat She s alive After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust my mother reunited with her family in Rock Island Illinois She had this great need to tell her story and so my grandmother took my mother to Pioneer Women and Hadassah where they listened to her tale between the songs she sang at the piano At home Magda would tell her story to whomever would listen It got to the point where she needed to write a book It was an outlet for her She tried to publish at a few places but dropped it after being rejected This was in the late 1940s There are too many similarities between the Holocaust and events in the world today My mom always said Billy just remember This can happen again and probably will Anti Semitism or any form of hatred is too dangerous to ignore People ignored Hitler and look what happened We must take the warning signs seriously Everything happened gradually for my mother First she couldn t wear a fur coat then she had to wear a yellow star and the next day she had to surrender her jewelry and travel with a special permit Before you know it people are dragged out of their homes and forced to sign away all possessions It was all so legal and strictly within the law my mother coldly reflected It was a gradual erosion xiii

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We Were Strangers of human rights By the time you realize what s happening it s too late My wife Leslie has read many Holocaust books but she insists that this book is a whole different way of telling the story My mother was kind of a romantic and this book is a love story But don t get me wrong my mother was really tough She wouldn t have survived otherwise I would never have been born and this story never told This book is addressed to future generations By having the courage to read and share Magda s story you are preserving the legacy of the Holocaust and helping to create a better world where all people can live free from fear and free to love xiv

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We Were Strangers The Story of Magda Preiss A True Story You shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feelings of the stranger having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt Exodus 23 9

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Food T he next day Edith took me to the paring kitchen They gave me a knife and my job was to peel potatoes The Kapo a primitive dictatorial German woman threatened If I catch you eating a potato or if you try to smuggle a potato out of here I ll beat you to death Jew swine She was the only person I was truly afraid of She was a killer depraved and bestial The first day I didn t eat even a sliver of a potato I was grateful just to be sitting there Others ate I didn t dare Pira was now on the day shift in the salt mines That evening she pleaded Magda I have diarrhea I am so sick I beg you please bring me a potato Just one Pira I ll do it I don t know how but I will The following evening I hid a potato in my groin and slowly walked out of the kitchen I had only to go through the door The Kapo grabbed me by my hurt arm tapped me all over and then pulled my legs apart The potato dropped down She struck me across the head I don t how many times I was blinded She screamed You can t come back to this kitchen You are lucky I don t kill you Jew thief 269

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We Were Strangers Running into the Block I sobbed and screamed at Pira I hate you You are my undoing Because of you I can t return to the paring kitchen On account of stealing a potato for you I have lost my good job I am unable to work in the salt mines They will put me in the Revir and I will die You are my death I hate you I hate you I never want to lay eyes on you I won t sleep with you Get out of my bunk At my hysterical outburst Pira cried like a baby Magda darling don t be angry with me I am so sick When I told the sorry story to the Block Elsterer she was sympathetic I ll try for you in the morning Maybe the Kapo will take you back Edith begged for me and I was reinstated As I peeled Pira was on my mind I truly loved her She was the finest noblest soul I have ever known Every night she prayed me to sleep I loved her Hebrew prayers and chants She was the one slave who never showed vulgarity vindictiveness selfishness or ugliness of character no matter what the provocation She was an angel It must have taken generations of quality breeding to produce a lady like Pira And besides I had no one else to love Luyzi and Suzi were dead I wanted Pira to have a potato God please help me to help Pira She has diarrhea She needs a potato Then what does God do At the exact instant the Kapo stepped out of the kitchen for a moment 270

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Food my Stuben Dienst came in to return a knife I gave her five potatoes and begged her to slip one to Pira We are not on speaking terms I said and she needs it desperately She has diarrhea In the evening Pira put her arms around me and said Magda you saved my life I know you are good We are all nervous Please forgive me We kissed and cried I loved her so And she came back and slept with me Pira was better and I was happy The raw potato never failed In the morning she was able to go to the factory She was making tweezers which she hid in her shoes and smuggled into the Block The Block Elsterer and the German prostitutes wanted them for their eyebrows and facial hair She sold them for a piece of bread Occasionally we were given a half beet The girls colored their cheeks and lips I was not one for vanity I thought if I live through I shall buy cosmetics Those who had men friends tried desperately to keep up their appearance Me I ate all the beets I could get hold of One person I shall never forget Her name was Joly an attractive brunette from Beregsz sz Carpatho Russia She was a Stuben Dienst One evening a few kindred souls were gathered in Edith Hartman s room Through the open door I saw the kitchen Kapo among them They were feasting on wurst cheese and other delicacies and threw bread 271

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We Were Strangers crusts on the floor Joly was boasting of her affair with a Hitler loving German She was proud of the fact that he was not a prisoner He had given her a whole wurst and she came into the main hall and waved it at us My God I said to Pira I d be willing to give my whole life everything even myself for that wurst We sneeringly called her a whore but I knew every woman in that Block would willingly be a whore for a whole wurst However he liked her With the wurst he gave her a whole loaf of bread and a kilogram of butter She ate in front of us and smacked her lips Her lover gave her powder lipstick and cologne and she had a wonderful life One morning in the kitchen my Kapo said to another German prostitute You know what the Aufseherin told me She said the Russians are coming on one side and the Americans on the other We may have to run away any moment She lifted her skirts and revealed three sets of underwear and three dresses She was filling a basket with bread potatoes and margarine The prostitute asked her What are you doing I am fixing this basket of provisions because we may leave at a moment s notice I listened and looked at the other girls and saw the happiness on their faces We tried to hide our feelings That evening Pira told me the factory was being closed She 272

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Food wasn t going back to the salt mines She couldn t believe it I ll know in the morning she said If we have Z hlappell it means work Morning came No one called us We woke up by ourselves All was quiet No Z hlappell No breakfast It was daylight and we were still in our bunks The Germans have run away I said Maybe the Americans are coming today Maybe the Russians are coming to free us said one woman I think the Germans are so scared of the Russians they have fled for their lives to the Americans for protection An Aufseherin dashed in screaming excitedly Get up Roll call The day was bitterly cold About five thousand slaves stood Z hlappell outdoors We waited hours At noon the commandant addressed us He was young and very pleasant We have closed the factory and are leaving Beendorf he said I don t know yet where we are going And I don t know when You must be prepared at a moment s notice You must be ready when I give the order If anyone tries to run away she will be shot We have hundreds of Posten to guard you That is all I have to say The Stuben Diensten brought in the soup and little did 273

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We Were Strangers I realize it was to be the last All afternoon we lay in our bunks thinking and talking None of us has coats I mused We have only dresses to cover our nakedness From the top bunk I have looked over the partition In the next Block are thousands of coats I was on fire Weren t the Americans coming maybe today Let s get coats for ourselves What difference does it make now We are leaving soon I jumped You would think a tornado had struck With one uncontrollable impulse hundreds climbed up to the top bunks and started jumping over the partitions landing on the garments below Other hundreds followed and fell on them Fighting broke out Wildly we struggled and fought for desirable garments pulling and tearing and ripping clothing from each other s grasp It was bedlam I threw a coat up to Pira who was afraid to jump a gray woolen coat And for myself a beautiful beige camel hair God alone knows to whom it had belonged We screamed and we fought When I tried to climb out clawing hands dragged me down We had jumped in by the hundred but how we were to get out never occurred to me It was a frenzied hysteria I punched and I kicked and I scratched and I pulled garments from clutching hands A woman guard evidently startled by the raucous 274

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Food screams and profane outcries burst in She was furious You need coats you dogs I will give you coats I will give you poison Because of you the Russians are coming Because of you I will be sent to Siberia She was flourishing a stout wooden club They always carried weapons of some sort We tried to escape through the door As we crowded through she struck us I caught it right on the head I thought I d drop dead My head was bleeding freely I washed the wound and covered it with a rag I found on the floor Pira and I dashed into bed put the coats under the straw mattress and pretended to be asleep I scolded Pira You are always afraid You pray You think if you pray you will get a coat food and everything And I take the beatings See how my head is bleeding You are to blame I am ashamed to recall how shrewish I was My head hurt horribly The next morning it was swollen but the bleeding had stopped Fearing I would be detected as one of the coat raiders I tore a square of lining from my coat and made a head scarf Yet at Z hlappell I wore my coat What a feeling of pride and well being it gave me to be wearing a warm attractive garment A guard barked We are leaving Beendorf now You must take as many garments as you can carry There was a mad scramble We filled our arms with coats suits dresses 275

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We Were Strangers and soiled slips Who had the strength to carry them Not even a horse if he had lice We formed lines five to a row about five thousand slaves Men and women in separate groups The kitchen being a men s Kommando they carried all the equipment and food Longingly I gazed at the piles of abandoned carrots and I all but devoured them with my eyes Marching along I wondered why I had to carry these garments For whom Not for us Others had the same idea and one by one we dropped them The Germans were driven by an awful urgency to get away They were scared to death and made no attempt to hide it They roared and whipped and ordered us to march faster faster We had no wish to run We were hoping for liberation I glanced over my shoulder from time to time expecting to see the American flag When the commandant was informed that garments had been discarded he ordered the last hundred women in line to walk back and pick them up It was a distance of two or three miles I never saw them again Suddenly we saw a whole field of carrots heaped up in piles In a flash as if driven by the same impulse hundreds dashed frantically into the field We snatched them up and hid them in our pockets our bosoms wherever we could Girls grabbed carrots from each other s hands I don t know 276

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Food why There were thousands of piles of carrots Posten came running and beat us with their rifles We ran back to the road Someone told me two girls had been shot to death I myself did not see it Another few miles and we reached the Beendorf depot Wagons were sitting Only now it was one hundred and twenty to a wagon There was no room to stand to sit to lie down It was dark Only one tiny grilled window admitted air Soon the tightly packed bodies created heat and it became warm and ill smelling The revived lice were eating me alive A voice cried out My carrots have been stolen Another cried You are stepping on my wounds I was dazed So were the others We could not determine if we were moving or standing still We were delirious crazed animals unable to draw the line between reality and imagination Pira crouched in a nearby corner Next to me sat a lady from ilina Mrs Spitzer was a real lady and with her two sweet and gentle teenage daughters Madness seemed to have come upon her She accused her beloved daughter the one who was sick of stealing her bread We had no bread She cursed and beat her cruelly I gave her a carrot which she divided among them It was their evening meal Pira and I each ate one carrot We were in hopes of receiving bread in the morning from the kitchen 277

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We Were Strangers Kommando However in the morning when they opened the doors to permit us to take care of our natural needs on the ground it broke our hearts to see that the train had not moved We had not received food for fortyeight hours but they locked us in Hours later we began moving and no one knew the destination The train came to a stop and they let us out once more to take care of our natural needs Across the fields we saw civilians digging potatoes What do starving half crazed animals do With one shriek we dashed for the fields They couldn t stop us The startled workers gave one look and fled for their lives They were terrified as who wouldn t be before the onslaught of a pack of screaming wild animals running them down We filled our bosoms our pockets the linings of our coats All too soon the Posten were upon us smashing with their rifles and kicking exposed buttocks Helplessly I lay there Another kick another blow with the rifle and another I couldn t move a finger A Russian Christian girl seeing my defenselessness and noting that the Posten were pursuing others robbed me of my hardearned potatoes She left me only two Bruised and bloody I limped back to the wagons Others had sufficient potatoes to live on for the whole trip In the dimness of the wagon I recognized her She and a friend were eating my potatoes 278

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Food Russian swine I snarled you are eating my potatoes You stole them Give me a potato I m hungry I was kicked and beaten for them Russian thief I will not Jew dog Die and you won t be hungry She wore heavy wooden shoes and with all her strength kicked me in the ribs This was the most excruciating of all the pain I had suffered Drawing breath was an agony for weeks I screamed Pira Pira Alas Pira was beyond understanding In her quiet voice she soothingly asked What is it darling What is it honey She was in a world of her own She cried and she prayed and she talked with God She was delirious Then she said I wish to go for a walk Somehow she managed to stand and began to walk right over the women In the dark they couldn t see her But they felt her walking on them They cursed and beat her and cried in their pain Pira heeded them not She neither heard their cries nor felt their blows I couldn t help her I couldn t move I couldn t breathe In the morning light I saw Pira at the other end of the wagon Her eyes were swollen and black I thought she had lost one eye She looked worse than the dead She was praying and singing utterly unaware of her injuries The women laughed at Pira In the midst of their agony they thought Pira was funny and were laughing at her 279

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We Were Strangers This was the Transport of Death Every morning about twenty dead were removed from each wagon and thrown on the ground Guards left the corpses where they threw them The fourth day dawned Outside of one carrot and one potato I had neither food nor water I looked about me Lips were swollen and black No one had the strength to talk not even the mad Mrs Spitzer s daughter was sitting there dead It hurt me She had always been so sweet so considerate so fine And now she was sitting there dead I turned to the mother Mrs Spitzer she is dead Your daughter is dead The poor deranged creature merely shrugged her shoulders and elevated her eyebrows in unconcern At the next stop the poor child was thrown on the ground with the other corpses Word came that the men were becoming enraged and maddened by hunger and thirst They were screaming cursing and pounding on the floors and sides of the wagons Guards finally opened the doors and let us out The commandant ordered that each slave be given his share of whatever food remained in the kitchen All that was left was sugar which I hadn t seen in a year and raw noodles I tried to swallow but the noodles hurt my swollen throat My sense of taste was gone We crushed the noodles in the sugar and tried to lick it with our swollen tongues I find it difficult to believe that creature was I The commandant 280

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Food announced he had nothing else not even water We lacked the strength to raise our voices and were content to lick the noodles and sugar Many drank their own urine We were too weak to climb back into the wagons and the guards helped us And the lice the lice were eating us We never saw a town nothing but fields flat country I don t know where we were Toward dusk the train came to a stop I heard the wagons being opened I missed the sound of voices the sounds people usually make when pouring out of wagons Then the staccato rhythm of machine guns rang out The Germans are battling with Americans or Russians I thought We are in the midst of an engagement I was wrong It soon became apparent they were shooting the prisoners in the wagons ahead That is it I thought Soon it will be our turn We sat there quietly quietly waiting for our own end The quiet During the night the train moved on The men had been punished for their outburst of the afternoon I heard guards shouting Who dares question German authority will die the same way We found out half the men had been murdered Morning found us in a forest From afar I saw barracks and men working Some were cooking in an outdoor kitchen This was a concentration camp We hoped it would be our new home The commandant addressed us Be quiet You are going to get bread and soup 281

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We Were Strangers Too weak to stand we lay on the ground breathing fresh air Hundreds were never to get up They died like flies all about me Time passed perhaps an hour or two A train pulled in on the tracks parallel with ours and stopped It was a long civilian train jammed with German soldiers The doors were opened and they swarmed out staring at us in amazement I think the majority didn t know who we were and what we were They brought with them water coffee and food They washed themselves and began to eat We sat on the ground watching them intently watching the movement of their hands from the plates to their mouths I could not tear my eyes away from their food Our stares must have made them uncomfortable if possible They fidgeted and began to talk Who are you they asked Where do you come from Why are you so filthy and lousy and covered in sores We are dirty and lousy and filthy because of you and Germany because of your ambition and your brutality Pira tried to silence me but I was past caring And I told them the whole story from Auschwitz to the very spot we stood on They listened without interrupting me But they showed no emotion one way or another We grabbed their empty discarded cans and held them up to the soldiers imploringly When guards weren t 282

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Food looking they gave us a little water or a little hot coffee My God how it tasted I cannot describe how good I can only say it put life into me Pira and I walked along the tracks hoping to pick up leavings they might have thrown away The last cars in their train were wagons I climbed in and found a few kernels of rice onion skins and bean skins A soldier poured a little water in my can and I made soup I made a fire from wood shavings I picked up I shared with Pira half and half I climbed into another wagon Here I found a large marmalade can It was empty but sticky With our dirty hands we scraped the sides and licked our fingers It was sweet It was heaven Being liberated or being killed were now matters of indifference My only thought was food Whenever we had the opportunity we talked about the food we used to cook and eat Chicken paprikash stuffed cabbage roast beef strudel hot coffee Hungarian cuisine Russian German these were all fascinating topics of conversation When I talked about food it was almost like eating The mere thought was nourishing and filling We planned menus We promised ourselves that when we were liberated we would have the best food Such non essentials as furs jewelry cars costly furniture and pleasure trips would never interest us But food I always said Girls if ever I have a home again I 283

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We Were Strangers shall fill the basement with hanging wursts potatoes marmalade sugar milk everything the best And I shall eat whenever I wish even in the middle of the night Food was the most fascinating topic of conversation in the world I can t forget how Pira looked She wore the gray coat I stole for her in Beendorf It swept the ground It must have belonged to a two hundred pound woman The pockets had torn linings and whatever Pira put in them fell down to the hem Soldiers were loading trains with cases of food to prevent their falling into the hands of the oncoming Russians and Americans Pira spied a small barrel of herring in sauce She screamed ecstatically Look Magda Herring There were three herring in the brine She put them in her pocket They fell into the lining and the coat was wet Just then the whistle was blown and we formed lines for soup Guards barked Form lines You will be dealt soup Who does not have a bowl gets no soup They didn t care The hundreds of dead lying around were merely part of the scenery Girls tried to steal each other s cans the cans German soldiers had just thrown away Pira gloated I have a marmalade can I shall get a large portion Into the marmalade can she poured the herring brine I shall sell it for bread Everyone is thirsty Everyone is dying for a drink It was so salty no one bought 284

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Food it Pira and I drank the brine and became deathly sick It brought on diarrhea The sun was shining a March sun with a vague promise of spring Several thousands stood in line waiting for soup the soup which was to keep us alive for this day at least Soon we were tearing each other to pieces because we had neither the strength nor the patience to stand in line Maddened beyond endurance we broke lines and dashed for the food Those in front fought tigerishly to hold their places And I I too was maddened by diarrhea pain by hunger and thirst and the aroma of soup They couldn t hold us back We ran wildly I remember going down under trampling stampeding feet and then I knew no more A woman guard was lifting me up There was pity in her eyes As long as God gives me life I will never forget her compassion Her humanity was a balm which healed the hurt of my bleeding heart Half dragging and half carrying me she got to the head of the line I was among the first to get soup Each portion was a half liter of soup and a piece of bread I sat on the ground eating The soup was warm I don t know what was in it I could not taste I only knew it was warm and the heat felt good Pira found me Poor Pira Her half liter of soup was lost in the five gallon marmalade can and she had to tilt the can to drink it She salvaged very little We slept on the ground that night Each saved her 285

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We Were Strangers bread for the morrow It was a wise precaution as they gave us no food at all Walking idly about we conversed with German soldiers When guards weren t looking they gave us a few swallows of water Our Beendorf commandant was still in charge I noticed his interest in a Hollander Jewess a girl of outstanding beauty Her hair was flaxen like that of the Belgium camp messenger who had slashed her wrists in Auschwitz Her eyes were large and intensely blue The short straight nose was almost childlike She looked like Melozzo da Forl s Angel with Violin Where had she come from I wondered The Hollander Jewess Oh don t you know She was in Beendorf when we got there She stayed with the young commandant in his quarters Now I understood why she was well nourished and clean and well groomed On the third day she flaunted a handsome clean woman s guard uniform complete with hat and boots No attempt was made to conceal the romance She was living in the first wagon with the commandant On the fourth day she accompanied him and helped count us You would think she was an empress His gallantry and courtesy to her were in marked contrast to her disdain for us She was cruel and arrogant She was an antiSemitic Jew She seemed to forget that in the eyes of the German government and people she was the same as we 286

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Food and that it was only by a stroke of luck she was not starving and lousy The commandant didn t hate us personally But she did Maybe she had a guilty conscience A more nonJewish face you never saw I expressed doubt that she was a Jew However another Hollander Jewess who knew her background assured me that she was indeed a full blooded Jew I am sorry to report it Proudly flaunting her guard accouterments she insolently addressed us and her voice dripped with scorn Be quiet you Into the wagons quickly You are going to a camp where you won t have to work Be grateful for our considerateness On the fourth day the count revealed hundreds were missing including most of the men who had survived the machine gun massacre the previous week They were mostly Christian prisoners of Beendorf who worked in the factor and lived free The cook said his entire staff all Russian prisoners had fled too And they took the kitchen equipment with them The German prostitutes had also vanished As far as I could learn no Jews ran away We had no place to run to Their disappearance enraged the young commandant and he went berserk The unfortunates who crossed his path during his rages were beaten inhumanely with a rubber truncheon I with my own eyes saw men and women 287

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We Were Strangers beaten to death He ranted and he stormed and reason was gone from him I was happy for the Christians who had escaped With our last strength we tried to climb back into the wagons One helped the other The train started and by morning we were in a city I was in a roofless wagon the only one in the train I climbed up the slatted sides and saw before me a great city a city which had been bombed with a vengeance I was in the upper level of a huge railroad station The windows were smashed The station was a shambles This was Hamburg Below me was a market Women were selling cabbages beets and carrots I saw women doing menial chores and shoveling debris Others were doing porter work Later I learned they were Russian women slaves I shouted to them in German Please throw me some vegetables I am starving I hoisted myself to the top and leaned over Pira held my feet so I would not fall out They began throwing vegetables with a will but we were so high only a few reached us I was lucky and got a few carrots They called in Russian Do you understand Russian Yes Yes I do I called back to them Hearing their own tongue they became excited and began throwing everything up to us In my eagerness I 288

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Food almost fell out once or twice but Pira hung on to my feet for dear life The commandant must have heard our shrill and excited voices and our good fortune ceased as suddenly as it had started Pira I said let s save our carrots We don t know what s in store for us We counted them like misers six whole carrots Now I could face the world again Pira s lining was the vault The train backed up and we were on our way Where next It began to rain to pour The open wagon afforded us no protection Pira repeated from memory the story of Noah and the Flood in Hebrew And she said This is the flood and the windows of heaven are opened They were indeed Volumes of water beat upon us I cried Pira the very heavens are drowning us That rain just had to stop it had spent itself I was in a forest The women were silent and motionless I wondered if they were all dead and if I too were to join their ghostly ranks A sweet peace permeated my soul I lay and looked at the sky studded with glowing stars and I drank in its beauty Physically I seemed to have no existence but my mind was alert and consciously noted every detail of those about me and the heavens above Suddenly the skies were filled with lights and color 289

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We Were Strangers It was a fairy tale come to life illuminated with red and blue and white lights In triangle formation so high they looked like birds came the bombers There must have been hundreds but perhaps this is a figment of my imagination It was a bombardment of indescribable beauty Stalin s Candles those long tubular white candles with red and blue wicks were gracefully wafting earthward German searchlights were sweeping the skies German tracer bullets etched radiant patterns on the darkness They were thick enough to walk on Planes with pierced hearts turned over and over and over and crashed The noise was deafening It filled the world and split the head A bomb exploded so close I was blinded Our bodies which seemed to be only waiting for coffins jerked and spasmed involuntarily Several wagons in our train were on fire Some cried Oh God Why didn t it hit us What a blessed relief from our suffering All about us the forest was on fire We were too spent emotionally and physically to be concerned I was numb Frantic guards dashed about and at last succeeded in uncoupling the burning wagons The train was moving I looked back The whole forest was going up in flames 290

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About the Type ITC Veljovic was selected as the heading font because of its calligraphic heritage The creator of the serif face Jovica Veljovic was influenced by Israeli typographer and book designer Henri Friedlaender who developed the Hadassah Friedlaender Hebrew typeface and co founded the Hadassah Printing School The body text is set in Dante a typeface designed by Giovanni Mardersteig Conceived as a private type for the Officina Bodoni in Verona Italy Dante was originally cut only for hand composition by Charles Malin the famous Parisian punch cutter between 1946 and 1952 Its first use was in an edition of Boccaccio s Trattatello in Laude di Dante that appeared in 1955

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Our Philosophy W e believe that life writing is essential to living that writing life is a privilege right and responsibility that written words captivate the atmosphere of lived experience that there are as many styles of life writing as there are lives We are zealous preservers of memories and legacies Preservation is not just the recollection of ancestors and origins but also pre serving a proactive form of service for family community and posterity Our mission is to create narratives that enlighten entertain and inspire while preserving stories that are vital to life bioGraphbook com

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We Were Strangers is the true story of Magda Preiss a breathtaking masterpiece of Holocaust literature composed in her own words upon arriving in America in the 1940s Lived and told by a beautiful young bride with fearless defiance Magda s harrowing experience reveals a character who is larger than life and death Hers is a love story more complex than any happy ever after tale It recounts the love of culture beauty and life itself that fueled Magda s will to survive the love for her husband that made her stay to face Nazi horror instead of escaping with her parents and siblings and her love for strangers whose humanity amidst the most inhumane circumstances illuminates every page through Magda s heroic voice