Erna de Vries | I wanted to see the sun again
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Curriculum Vitae

by Alexandra Hebbelmann

Though there were countless numbers of people being maligned, persecuted and deported under the National Socialist rule, Erna de Vries’ story is yet a special one: She is one of the few women who have witnessed the Death Block 25 in Auschwitz-Birkenau and survived. This touching story is what we would like to present at the next few pages.

interner Link Childhood and youth in Kaiserslautern
interner Link Night of Broken Glass
interner Link Apprenticeship in Cologne
interner Link Deportation and detention in Auschwitz-Birkenau
interner Link Detention in Ravensbrueck and liberation
interner Link Post-War-Period in Cologne and Lathen

Deportation an detention in Auschwitz-Birkenau

July – September 1943

On July 6th, 1943, in the morning Erna is told by a neighbor who has rushed to find her at the iron foundry that her mother is to be deported. She borrows the neighbor’s bike to get home as quickly as possible. Arriving there she is told that only her mother, but not Erna herself is to be deported. She insists on accompanying her mother at least to the Gestapo prison in Saarbruecken, even if she is not to be committed to a concentration camp together with her. On their way to Saarbruecken she succeeds in persuading the Gestapo officer to send her to that prison as well. Two days later she is called to the Gestapo office, and after being informed that her mother is going to be taken to Auschwitz Erna has to decide whether to accompany her mother or not. She settles on going with her, though she knows from the radio station BBC London, which is forbidden in Germany, what Auschwitz is meant to be. Erna is advised to collect her suitcase and be back at five the same evening. Having walked all through Kaiserslautern she finds the family’s house sealed up so that she has to walk through the whole town again to the Criminal Investigation Department in charge. When she has eventually entered the house and packed her suitcase Erna realizes that she has no chance to reach the railway station in time with the baggage, so she decides to leave it behind. Three neighbor women, though, who have seen her around the house and whom she has told about the family’s deportation to Auschwitz carry the suitcase after her with the help of a handcart. Her mother is dismayed at Erna having succeeded in being committed to the concentration camp as well, but Erna herself is happy that they can stay together.

On July 23rd, 1943, the women finally reach Auschwitz-Birkenau where they are deprived of their belongings, their names are recorded to the register and they are tattooed and shaved. Subsequently they are quarantined for four weeks: In the blazing sun they have to endure a month in an area outside the camp. They hardly get any water and their food mainly consists of boiled potato peels. Released from quarantine, the women are assigned to labor service, which consists in raking sliced reed from a lake nearby, stacking it up and taking it to some other place a few weeks later. Their clothes are constantly damp as they are standing in the water all day long and do not have any clothes to change. Moreover the blankets are full of pests so that Erna Korn soon contracts severe fibrosis that never heals up due to the catastrophic conditions they are living in.

In a selection on September 15th, 1943, these wounds are discovered so that Erna is selected and sent to the so-called Death Block 25, which is already occupied by approximately 600 other women. No one tells them, but all of them know that they shall be gassed the next day: The light is not switched off the whole night, the women are not allowed to use the latrines and they do not get anything to eat. When the women are chased out of the block the next morning, Erna huddles up on the ground due to her weakness and starts to pray: Her last hope is to see the sun once more. While the first prisoners are already driven to the gas chamber she suddenly hears someone yell out her number: Pushing her against the wall, an SS guard tells her that “fortune favors fools”. She is then sent back into the block, whereupon she learns that she is going to be taken from Auschwitz to Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp only for women. This transport includes another 83 women who are half Jewish just as she is – only her mother is Jewish whereas her father was Protestant. Against the new block leader’s will she leaves the block to say goodbye to her mother. Happy that at least her daughter gets out of Auschwitz, Jeanette Korn tells Erna: “You are going to survive and report about what they have done to us.”

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