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Voices of Auschwitz

Aired January 28, 2015 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These gates mark the sight of one history's greatest horrors.

ANITA LASKER-WALLFISCH, SURVIVOR OF AUSCHWITZ: We are in the biggest cemetery of the world here.

BLITZER: During the holocaust, more than one million Jews were murdered here at Auschwitz.

MARTIN GREENFIELD, SURVIVOR OF AUSCHWITZ: All my aunts and my uncles, everybody is dead now.

BLITZER: Part of Hitler's plan to wipe out the Jewish people.

RENEE FIRESTONE, SURVIVOR OF AUSCHWITZ: We saw my mother. She went straight to the gas chambers.

BLITZER: Liberated 70 years ago, only a fraction of the prisoners survived.

EVA MOZES KOR, SURVIVOR OF AUSCHWITZ: I was crawling at the barrack flow because I couldn't walk.

BLITZER: Beaten but not broken.

GREENFIELD: The real story is what I accomplished there.

BLITZER: These are the stories that must never be forgotten. These are the voices of Auschwitz.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a survivor of Auschwitz.

KOR: We lived in a tiny village that's not even on the map. Had 100 families.

GREENFIELD: I was the first born, so I was very special there.

LASKER-WALLFISCH: I had two sisters, we were three girls and then it was a very happy childhood.

FIRESTONE: We had a beautiful home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My father had very good business. He had men's tailoring and textile business. LASKER-WALLFISCH: Culture was written in very big letters in my

family. The classics, we have classics were read to us on Sundays, everybody had to learn an instrument. We were the typical German- Jewish family.

FIRESTONE: We were upper middle class Jews. As a child I never experienced any anti-Semitism, we had a wonderful childhood.

LASKER-WALLFISCH: It was all very gradual. You see, I never knew that it was a problem to be Jewish. I must has been eight years old, I was wiping the blackboard and somebody said, don't get the Jews the sponge. I said, "What the hell is going on here?"

KOR: Because we were concerned, my father bought a battery operator radio and I remember hearing Hitler's voice, he was always yelling. I would ask my parents "Who is Hitler? And why is he yelling and why he is saying that he would kill all the Jews?" And both of my parents say, "Don't worry, Hitler won't come here, the Nazi won't come here."

LASKER-WALLFISCH: If it had been less gradual perhaps my father would have been more conscious and has to get out of here.

KOR: It was 1944, mid March.

GREENFIELD: And there's ((inaudible)).

KOR: ((inaudible)) came on horses as they pack food and clothing.

GREENFIELD: They surrounded the house, they gave us one hour.

KOR: All the villagers lined the street, not one single one of them, not they were my best friends said they were sorry.

GREENFIELD: Every Jew was on the street, we have to walk 14 kilometers to the train station.

KOR: We were loaded into the cattle cars.

FIRESTONE: Nobody spoke. There was silence through the whole journey. They didn't give us any food or any water.

GREENFIELD: There was no bathroom, nothing.

FIRESTONE: There was a bucket, an empty bucket in the corner. A hundred feet overtaking our cattle car.

GREENFIELD: There been no (inaudible).

KOR: We would (inaudible) and it would become more like a nightmare that you were fading in and out of it.

FIRESTONE: We didn't realize that the journey is going to last three days. We were actually traveling all over picking up Jews.

KOR: The end of the third day, the train stopped, I heard latches, the doors open. FIRESTONE: The crowd was pushing and then they're coming out of the cattle car, they were pushing.

KOR: I was standing there trying to figure out what is this place.

FIRESTONE: The kitchen door opens and the (inaudible) walks in. Everybody jumps up, (inaudible) rumors are in the camp, that I was going to be shot.


BLITZER: For days Renee Firestone was packed in a cattle car like this one, with 120 other people. When the doors were unlocked and opened, she was here at Auschwitz.

Renee and her sister were told to go the right, there mother to the left and straight to the gas chamber.

FIRESTONE: We had a beautiful public swimming pool and this was taken only a few months before we were deported. They always played music and they played the song "It's Now or Never." And even today, when I hear that song, how we didn't know that it's now or never.

The first thing we heard was the loudspeakers that were telling us to leave our suitcase and enter the railroad station.

My sister was telling me, "Wait for mother and dad." And that's when I look around and I realized that I'm I will never find them. It was impossible.

When they were loading the trucks and we saw my mother. And she went straight to the gas chambers.

About three days later, then a group of men were marching. I recognized my father. I saw him in a strip uniform with a shaved head. And I was trying to hide from him. I didn't want him to see us, my sister and I, knowing what it would do to him to see us the way we looked also with their shaved heads in a rag. But as he walked our eyes locked.

I saw him crying and I was crying. And I was crying. And at that point we knew that something terrible has happened to us. That was really the first time that I realize that this is a hopeless situation.

I was worried about my sister because she was skinny and tall and so young, especially when we were separated.

And every morning to the buyers, we could see each other and say to each other, "I'm still here. Don't worry, I'm still here." And then she didn't come the second day and the third day and then I knew that she must have been taken away.

Everyday I thought, it will end soon. Don't worry, it will end soon.

I went in to the kitchen and the head kitchen maid was a girl from my hometown. She knew that I was studying to be a designer. But she says to me, "Renee, we didn't you peal potatoes. I'll give you some paper and pencil and why don't you draw some pictures for us of gowns that we will be wearing if we survive and we'll go to a New Year's Eve party.

I sit and I was drawing. Everybody was looking, come and go over and talking about it and having a little fun really.

We did notice that the commander of (inaudible) is on there way to their kitchen. And the kitchen door opens, and the (inaudible) walks in.

Everybody jumps up, (inaudible) and these pictures are flying all over the kitchen. She bends down. She picks one of these pictures, looks at it and she ask, "who made this?" And I said, "I did."

She says, "Follow me."

Rumors are in the camp that I was going to be shot. She takes me to her apartment. In the closet is a sewing machine. She picks one of the pictures and she says to me, "Can you make this?"

I never made a gown in my life but of course you have (inaudible), of course I can make it. (inaudible) going to say I can't.

A few days later, the camp was liberated and I didn't have to finish the gown, unfortunately.

The Russian soldier rides in and he tells us that the war is over. This officer jumps off that horse, comes around the women, starts hugging them, kissing them and cries. Then he stands up in the middle of these women and he beats his chest and he asked to us, (inaudible), I'm also a Jew.

And we all start crying. Yes. That was our liberation.

That was probably the worst time of my life, wondering did any of my parents survived. Did my sister survive or even my brother. Where is he? Where am I going?

We were roaming around Europe, hitch hiking. And Budapest, we found out that there is a school. There are survivors come and sign in so that those who are looking for somebody may find somebody in those lists. And I was there the whole day, found nobody.

And on the way out, there was a slinging door and I pushed on the door to leave and somebody was pushing from the other side, so I step back and the door opened and my brother was there.

We settled in Prague. And we studied an industry. My brother was an artist. We both sang "Silk Parachute" and he made those circular scarves. My brother painted on them and we were selling them and we made a lot of money.

We arrived to America and I studied all over again. I was a successful fashion designer here. I am still here 70 years later, I am in all -- I am in shock and amazement that I'm still here.

I really never thought of revenge. There is no other revenge. Auschwitz, I wake up (inaudible).

My name is Renee Firestone and I am an absolute survivor.

GREENFIELD: The story that shapes me as a person is my father. He said if we don't survive, you honor us by living.


GREENFIELD: It's good.


The words above the gate here at Auschwitz say, "Arbeit Macht Frei," work makes you free. Martin Greenfield was sent to work as a tailor. When he ripped the guard shirt it could have finish him, instead it saved his life.

GREENFIELD: We were the last transport. I was 14 years old. That's when my life stopped being what it was.

My name is Martin Greenfield and I survived Auschwitz and I'm happy about it.

You can see the gates together into the camp. You can see the guys who to come helped gather all the prisoners into strips and they were talking to us.

I was still a kid, you know. They showered us and they give us the strips. They give us some kind a shoe, no shocks, no underwear, nothing.

And then my father and I got tattooed together and then my father sit down with me and he said, "You are strong, I am strong, we're both going to survive. You got disciplined. You learned things. We taught you how to survive, how to live."

Then I got to Auschwitz. They put in the tailor shop. But I wanted to build cars. I was a grease monkey. I didn't know any about tailoring, I was a kid. And the tailor I could spoke Jewish. And I said to him, "What should do here?" And he said, "Well you could wash the shirt for the Gestapo." And he said, "Take a brush and take the soap and rub it till it's clean."

It was so dirty that I kept on rubbing it until I ripped out. He says, "That is a little problem," he says, "because tomorrow he's coming for the shirt." So I said, "What can I do?" You're going to show him it's ripped. He wasn't too happy about it. Who ripped the shirt? I said, me who rip the shirt.

So he gave me a little beating, but he threw the shirt at me. And then I asked the tailor, can you show me how to fix the collars so I could have a shirt. Nobody has a shirt. And he says, "I'll fix you a shirt." So I putted on. Guess what? I ripped another shirt. I got beaten up for another shirt, that's two shirts. And those shirts I used to shower in, I used to wear in and nobody ever stop me.

So I was on the death march when the Russians were coming, so 10, 000 people started, 500 of us alive. I was one of them. I don't know if it's because of the shirt. It made me feel warmer because I had something below. And it taught me something how important it is to be dressed right. It has a big influence on me.

I came here to borrow $10 in my pocket. I started here for $35 a week but I wanted to learn everything perfectly. All my teachers would taught me here, tailors and everybody. I always wanted to be better than them. We make very special hand made clothing. And people that I dress, the Presidents going back to Eisenhower, to mayor (inaudible), Clinton. And they try on my suit that we measure here. They don't recognize themselves.

When I came to work here I had to do it the right way, everything. That's why I became what I am.

All my aunts and my uncles everybody is died now but I never go into any funerals of my family, because (inaudible) see them. And I believe that they die. They never touched anybody, they only helped other people. Why would they die? That's inconceivable. That is my biggest problem. But it's not a problem for me because I will never forget them.

The story that shapes me is as a person is my father, because before we were separated he said, "If we don't survive, you honor us by living." So my past is sad, but my future is great. I have a new family. I have four grandchildren. I have to sons work with me. I'm happy.

How could you not be happy when you have your sons working with you? And I hope I could work for the next still a hundred because I have the energy. And if God keeps me here that time in my head works, and I would be here.

BLITZER: The last time you saw your mother was right here on this platform.

KOR: All I remember see her arms stretched down as she was pulled away.


BLITZER: Here at block 10 at Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele ordered hideous experiment on twins. Eva Kor was one of the few who would live to see liberation day.

KOR: We got to get out of German yelling (inaudible) and then the cattle car door slide open. Thousand of people poured out.

The biggest confusion that have -- can ever remember yelling, screaming, dogs barking, people looking for one another.

BLITZER: When you heard them screaming in German, you thought what?

KOR: I was only 10 years old and I looked around trying to figure out what on earth is this place.

My mother grabbed my twin sister and me as we stood here on this selection platform 70 years ago.

We've been holding on to mother a Nazi was yelling me in German, zwillinge, which means twins. He notice Miriam and I because we were dressed alike and we look very much alike and he demanded to know from my mother if we are twins. And my mother asked, "Is that good?" And the Nazi nodded "Yes" and my mother said, "Yes."

That moment in Auschwitz they came, pulled my mother just the right of me. We've been pulled to the left. All I remember is see her arms stretched out, she was pulled away.

Our processing began late in the afternoon and I decided to give them as much trouble as a 10-year-old could. Four people restrained me, two Nazis then two women prisoner.

They heated the needle over the flame of a lamb. When it got hot they dip it into ink. My name never came out clear because I was not very cooperating victim. I bit the Nazi holding my arm.

This was my home for most of the time I was in (inaudible) which is almost nine months. As the barrack was filthy in about 200 to 300 children. And Miriam and I were given a bunk bed on the bottom.

One of the biggest problems we had was the rats. They were good Nazi rat.

We would be awakened in the morning at 5 a.m. It was shrinking sound of whittles. A (inaudible) was coming to count us every morning. He wanted to know how many again guinea pigs he had.

We used to be brought here three times a week. There were benches or we would stand. We were about 100 kids at the time four eight hours naked.

As they would measure just about every part of my body compare it to my twin sister and then compare it to (inaudible). Measuring, comparing, measuring, comparing.

BLITZER: And they drew a lot of your blood.

KOR: At least two vials and sometime more. From my left arm and give me minimum of five injections into my right arm. How we didn't faint? I don't know.

I tried to hide the fact I was ill because the rumor in the camp was that anyone taken to the hospital never came back.

They measured my fever and I knew I was in trouble. I was immediately taken to the hospital. It was filled with people who look more dead than alive.

The next morning Dr. Mengele and four other doctors came and then he began laughing sarcastically and saying, "Too bad. She is so young. She has only two weeks to live."

For the next two weeks, I remember only one memory. I was crawling on the barrack floor because I couldn't walk. I would faint and then out of consciousness, and even in a semi-conscious state of mind, I kept telling myself, "I must survive. I must survive."

It was late in the afternoon of January 27, 1945, it was on Saturday afternoon and somebody had a watch and I clearly remember saying it was 4:30.

A woman running on a barrack and begin yelling at the top of her voice, "We are free. We are free."

They're smiling from ear to ear and the most important thing for me was that they didn't look like the Nazis.

The most dramatic part of Auschwitz children are marching between the two roads of barbwires. They gave us chocolate and hugs. And this was my first taste of freedom.

How Miriam and I ended up on the front, I do not know. I do remember it's being (inaudible) but I didn't remember that we are in the front. It was so iconic. I recognize myself.

BLITZER: And now 70 years later, you're here.

KOR: I am here and I can tell the story. I discovered that I, survivor of Auschwitz Mengele experiment. I have the power to forgive. I am not possessed by anger and fear. I can rise above it. And to me that is the ultimate victory.

My name is Eva Mozes Kor. I am a survival of Auschwitz.

LASKER-WALLFISCH: We were the sort showcase, you know, I mean if anybody who came to visit the camp they didn't show the gas chambers.

They'd show us, we are the showcase.


LASKER-WALLFISCH: My mother was a violinist. There was always music in the house. My elder sister played the piano, my other sister played the violin. I've got pictures of me, pretending to play the cello on the children's room (inaudible) and I was singing to myself. The cello has become (inaudible) the red lines through the life.

My name is Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, I am a survivor of Auschwitz.

We arrived at night and we waited all night in the dark. And the next morning, came the situation which in a way saved my life because a various prisoners do the tattooing and the shaving of head, et cetera. And the girl who was doing me, she asked me if what I was before the war. And I said, "I used to play with cello, you know."

It seems completely ridiculous thing to say, in Auschwitz I play the cello. "Fantastic", she said, you'll be saved.

I was naked without hair. I had the toothbrush in my hand. That was already a great privilege, she must slip me a toothbrush. You know, a toothbrush was fantastic. And then Alma Rose came and I didn't understand anything because she was quite well dressed, and we had the conversation about cello playing.

Where did you study? I mean, you cannot imagine, a more unbelievable situation. She said, well fantastic because we haven't got a cello in the (inaudible). You know, the (inaudible) was just being created and everybody who would play anything, you know, a little bit of mandolin, and scratching on the violin, it was a very peculiar collection of (inaudible) five people who could play the instruments. The rest of the old people who were trying to be safe in to this so called temporary survival possibility.

She said to me, "Look, you have to go to quarantine, but we'll fetch you to the music block and then you play, you know." So now I was in this quarantine block, I'm in for about say -- that was really terrible, I mean, not many people got out of there. Then they fetched me and said, (inaudible), you know. No, I haven't played the cello for two years or something, so really excuse me, I'm not so sure whether I can still move my fingers. Look, I wasn't particularly frightened at the (inaudible), I was the savior, they didn't have low notes in the orchestra.

Every camp have some sort of band, you know. But we were the only one really that consisted of children, more or less. And then there was Alma, she was very, very strict. We were almost more afraid of her than of the (inaudible). But she somehow managed to, I think, let us be more afraid of what we were doing than looking out of the window and seeing the smoke.

It was a sort of complete escape mechanism. I can't remember what we sounded like, but some people say, we weren't too bad. Marche Militaire by Schubert, I can hear it now. We were the sort of show case, you know, I mean if anybody came to visit the camp, they didn't show the gas chambers, they'd show us, we've has a show piece. They would think, "Oh, it's not so bad here."

The other people who thought it was wonderful to just shut their eyes and forget where you are. And there people find it very offensive. Music here as we are in the biggest cemetery of the world here, without graves, you know.

My whole life seems to consist of the most unbelievable coincidence, like this is shoes, that I have when I was still a normal person. I had a pair of pig skin shoes which bears a light leather.

We dyed them black, put red laces in and put very big pompoms at the end of the laces and I had this shoes in Auschwitz and then comes the situation where the girl who tattoos me ask me if what I did before the war. And then she saw my shoes, the one who tattooed me. She said, "Look if you lose your shoes, and you're going to give them to me, I can use them." And then my sister arrived, by sheer coincident, it's the same girl and the shoes (inaudible).

"I know these shoes." Well, "Yeah they belong to a girl, she's in the office now." Well that's my sister. The girl who did came running to my block and said, "Come quick, your sister is here." That's how we meet again. And then suddenly one day, we were put on a train and sent to Belsen.

We didn't think that we would survive because, you know, Belsen was completely different from Auschwitz, you know. There's nothing in Belsen, you just waited to die, that's all. But the feeling to actually go away from Auschwitz was fantastic. I'll be very away from here. I mean we didn't care if where we are going, as along as we are going to away from this unspeakable hell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war and dark has ended. The hour for which the world has been six years waiting has come.

LASKER-WALLFISCH: It was an unbelievable moment, the liberation. When we saw the first (inaudible) uniform, I said, "Oh my God. They're soldiers who don't want to kill us." We just couldn't believe it, really, we said, "May be we are dreaming". No, no, actually, British uniforms we see.

Then came the terrible realization, what are we doing now? Where do we belong? Do you want to go back to (inaudible). Nobody there that I know, my parents are dead.

I came to England and that was my only idea of was to catch up with eight years that I've lost in, you know, become a musician.

And I was lucky, I met a lot of very good musicians and soon eventually record a tape with BBC and eventually, you know, more and more international. Then become (inaudible).

This was where I belong somehow.

I did never really accepted that anybody has the right to murder me because I happened to be Jewish. Forgive, no, that's just not for me to forgive. How can I forgive somebody who -- how can I forgive, it's not me -- but I can go on.

Survivor was complete luck. It was very lucky to live.

STEVEN SPIELBERG, AMERICAN FILM DIRECTOR: When I walked down the rail line to where the crematory were, I just felt the ghosts. I just felt a ghost.


BLITZER: Auschwitz, it hunts us to this very day.

SPIELBERG: It was one of the most efficient killing machines that anyone has ever experienced throughout history.

BLITZER: Walking this grounds change Steven Spielberg life forever as it did mine.

I walked under that sign Arbeit Macht Frei, work makes you free.

And then when I went to Birkenau and saw the crematorium, the gas chambers, that was a powerful, powerful moment.

SPIELBERG: The second time I went to Auschwitz with my wife, a rabbi took us and we said a prayer. And he ask me to come over near where the remains of the crematory laid. And he said, if you could put your hand in the sort of like mud-hole? And I did. It was very soggy, it been raining. And I put my hand in there, and I brought my hand out and there was white sort of bone meal all over my hands.

Because the remains of everyone over those years of mass murder, rain back down unto the earth -- excuse me and they're still there. And that something I'll take to my grave.

BLITZER: Despite all of your brilliant films, you've said this is really your calling.

SPIELBERG: I think it is. I didn't know as my calling until (inaudible) came into my life.

I invited some of those survivors whose stories we were telling to come to Poland at our expense and watch as shoot the scenes where they were being represented by actors.

How do you survive?


SPIELBERG: By miracles?


SPIELBERG: One of the survivors came over to me and said, I have a very, very big story to tell you. And all I'm asking from you is do you have a tape recorder? You turn on so you can remember my words. So my words can be somewhere in perpetuity.

And when she said that to me, it suddenly occur to me that this was something more than a movie, that the movie was going to be a foot in the door to open up these testimonies and disseminate them all over the world, encouraging very courageous survivors to tell us their stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the middle of each (inaudible), there's a bucket.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm running out to the fence where we were locked in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was wounded, so they (inaudible).


BLITZER: It has a special meaning to you, not only as a filmmaker but as a person, but also as a Jew.

SPIELBERG: Yes. This was my renewal as a Jew. This entire experience of directing (inaudible) listed in founding the survivors of the Shoah of Visual History Foundation in 1994.

Do we have 53,500 heroes in our visual history archive?

We hear from four Auschwitz survivors. Anita was a cellist young girl. Martin was a tailor. Renee was also a designer in the making. Eva, she was a 10-year old little girl when she was brought to Auschwitz.

Why did they survive whereas others died? And just to say luck, that's not enough.

SPIELBERG: It's not a luck.

BLITZER: It's more than that.

SPIELBERG: These survivors somehow hang on tenaciously for life. Whatever didn't cause their death, disease, hypothermia, murder, somehow this group of kids made it out and were able to live very, very productive and almost inspired lives.

Unfortunately, the number of survivors out there is dwindling.

SPIELBERG: Is dwindling, which is why this commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years is so important.

There aren't going to be enough survivors for the 75th commemoration.

This is the last significant commemoration of the worst atrocity in, I believe, human history. But their stories will live on.

KOR: My name is Eva Mozes Kor.

GREENFIELD: My name Martin Greenfield.

LASKA-WALLFISCH: My name is Anita Laska-Wallfisch.

FIRESTONE: My name is Renee Firestone.

SPIELBERG: I really believe that everybody who has given their testimony, they become in perpetuity.

KOR: I am a survivor.

LASKA-WALLFISCH: I'm a survivor.

GREENFIELD: And I survivor Auschwitz.

KOR: Auschwitz.


FIRESTONE: Auschwitz. GREENFIELD: And I'm happy to be here with you.