Times Past

Dan Krieger: Holocaust survivor remembers

‘I have been able to forgive those who killed my mother. I work very hard at it. It would destroy me and my family if I didn’t.”

Sara Moses survived six years of inhumane treatment by the Nazis, ultimately going to the Ravensbruck and Bergen-Belsen. She was barely alive when a British-Canadian military unit liberated the camp.

Sara came to the Central Coast at the invitation of the Jewish Community Center of San Luis Obispo in conjunction with Congregation Beth David two weeks ago.

Sara recalled the final “cleansing” of Piotrkow’s Jewish ghetto, as old and young were force-marched to cattle trains.

Sara’s mother had already been gassed at Treblinka.

Sara traveled with her aunt in the dark, sealed cattle cars to the slave labor camp for women at Ravensbruck. The camp was infamous for its medical experiments and gas chambers. Her earliest memory of Ravensbruck was “the crowded bunk that (she) shared with (her) aunt and six others. There were 500 people waiting to use three toilets. There was only imitation coffee in the morning and watered-down soup in the evening.

“There was a scarlet fever outbreak with the youngest children the first to die. I contracted scarlet fever.”

Sara’s fair features helped her survive.

“A female prison guard thought I looked like her own daughter, with pale blond hair and blue eyes. She would sneak me a bowl of quality food when she could. I am convinced that it was this food that gave my immune system an advantage, allowing me to live.”

While the children lay in their bunks, sick, Sara took herself to her imaginary world and always imagined her mother was with her as she fell asleep.

There was nothing for the children except sleep. Sara imagined her mother was telling her stories.

As the Soviet army advanced on eastern Germany, Sara was moved to Bergen-Belsen in northwestern Germany. The camp was filled with people who had been force-marched there from other camps to the east.

Sara saw a skeletal child chewing on a dry bone on the floor and envied her. Today, Sara carries lots of food with her. When she arrived at Lauren Bandari’s home for her talk in San Luis Obispo, she brought baked sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables.

There was severe overcrowding at Bergen-Belsen. There was no running water, no sanitation and no medical services for Sara’s barrack.

“As we deteriorated, we had no strength to take the dead out. I was sick with typhus a month after Anne Frank’s death from typhus.”

On April 10, 1945, Sara’s seventh birthday, she just lay on the floor, too weak to stand up. Less than a week later, the British army entered the camp.

Sara heard the prisoners recite the prayer beginning Shema Yisrael (“Hear O Israel”). They thought the Nazis were trying to finish them off.

Then she heard her first words in English, “A baby, a baby!”

The British soldiers thought she was an emaciated baby. She woke up with her aunt in a hospital room with a bar of chocolate next to her.

The soldier who found her came and stood by her bed each day, unable to believe she was alive.

“He asked what I wanted. ‘A doll!’ He brought me a damaged doll that he said reminded him of me, going through the war damaged. I kept it until it eventually fell apart.”

Liz Krieger contributed to this week’s column. Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.