The story of a survivor

Erzsébet Szenesné Brodt is the last eyewitness of the extermination of Auschwitz’s “Gypsy lager”. She was there, watching from the window of her barrack as an extermination squad chased Roma families into the gas chambers, armed with flamethrowers and dogs.

 Erzsike offered herself to tell the story of her deportation and survival, as well as to give an account on what happened to the Roma on the night of the 2nd of August 1944. We had thus the chance to make an amazingly deep and detailed interview with her. The full interview’s analysis will soon get published. The interview was made by Ágnes Daróczi, in the occasion of the anniversary of 1944 November the 4th, the day on which razzias started, followed by the deportation of Hungarian Roma.

Erzsike Szenesné Brodt in 2012

 The Romedia Foundation took up the challenge of organizing a grandiose project: it brought the power of culture and art to Hungary, in the framework of a big international cooperation, called the Requiem for Auschwitz. The initiative’s goal is to commemorate the victims of the Nazi genocide, amongst whom half a million Roma and Sinti children, men and women. The Requiem for Auschwitz starts on the 26th of October, with a Documentary Film Festival, introducing the audience to the genocides of the XX. Century, from unusual perspectives. The Festival entrance is free of charge. The next, and most important occasion of the Requiem is the spectacular Concert at the Budapest Palace of Arts (MüPa), on the 6th of November. Later on, between the 15th and the 23th of November, an art exhibition will also be shown in the French Insitute, showcasing the astounding works of Otto Pankok, blacklisted by the Nazis, and of Holocaust survivor Ceija Stojka.

Details on the Requiem for Auschwitz even series can be found here: romediafoundation.org/auschwitz-rekviem

 Romedia Foundation wants to finally make the genocide committed against the Roma by the Nazis and their allies a part of collective memory. Our initiative has had an unexpected outcome: it sollicited eyewitnesses and survivors of the Nazi terror to come out of the dark and for the first time talk about what they saw, heard, or know about the fate of the Roma in Auschwitz. This is how our collection of oral histories started, and continues to research the most unknown historical episode of the XX. century, the Pharrajimos, bringing to the surface new data and facts in continuation. Romedia’s filmmakers and cameramen have recorded confessions which are outstanding and unique, both for their topic and for their touching honesty. These confessions are being released in the form of short videos, and appearing on the Foundation’s website, facebook-page, blog and youtube channel.

 The confessions and the life story of Erzsébet Brodt deserve a deeper and more devoted analysis than what a blog spot can give. Thus, while a worthy account is being prepared, the following paragraphs will give a brief introduction to how the life of 17 years old Erzsi started in Auschwitz.

Kaposvár, the “city of flowers” where Erzsi was born

 Erzsike was born in Kaposvár, and she was 17 when she was deported along with her entire family, shortly following the arrival of the German troups to the city. Her story, as that of all survivors, is an array of incredible coincidences, which gave her the chance to survive. However, besides these, Erzsi’s stubborn determination and energy can also give an explanation on how she survived Auschwitz, and how she can, at the age of 86, give a meticulous and mercilessly precise account on everything that she saw or heard there.

 Her father had been previously deported to slave labour, and nothing was known of his whereabouts, or whether he is dead or alive, until the end of the war.

Erzsi was staring out of their apartment window to the street, when she heard the monotonous sound of marching steps.

 “Our blood froze in our veins: the Germans had arrived”

 On the day of the deportation Erzsi and her family was forced in the crowded wagons, which took them all the way to Auschwitz.

 “Prisoners with striped clothes were yelling at us at the arrival: ‘Leave everything in the wagons, eat whatever you have on you, give the children to the eldest women, do not hold each other’s hands’.”

Women and children at their arrival to Auschwitz. Most of them will be dead soon.

 This is how Erzsi remembers the first words she heard upon arrival, of which she understood nothing. Dogs barking, Polish, Hungarian, German orders and yells surrounded the new transport, and nobody knew where they were and why.

The selection happened instantly, and made the words of the prisoners heard at the arrival finally clear: ten year old Ági, Erzsike’s little sister and their mother stood hand in hand in front of Mengele, who, since Ági was not old enough for slave labour, sent them straight to death in the gas chambers. Erzsi’s account returns to this horrifying picture, this missed chance, again and again:

 “My mother was 41: if she hadn’t held Ági’s hand, she could have survived”

 This is how Erzsi’s life started in Auschwitz: after the first couple of hours she was already an orphan.