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“Overnight the Nazis took our identity and our families”

“The worst thing was not that my parents and brother were gassed. No, the worst thing was that we were robbed of our dignity.” Ghizela Kardos survived the Holocaust. The 86-year-old recently visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen together with her daughter in order to view the archive´s documents on persecution.

Ghizela Kardos, née Tessler, was born on 18 March 1924 in Sapinta, Romania. She and her five siblings were raised in a very religious household. “God sees everything, so lying is forbidden” my mother always said. “However, since Auschwitz I have lost faith.” As German troops occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944, the Tesslers´ lives changed abruptly. Anti-Jewish laws, which had long been in place in German-occupied regions, were now being applied to Hungary Jews, including the Tesslers. They were disenfranchised and herded together in ghettos.

The ghetto in Grosswardein was evacauted at the end of May 1944. Ghizela and her family were deported to the extermination camp Auschwitz. “After four days crowded together in the wagons we arrived,” Ghizela remembered. “Josef Mengele selected women, men and children - he selected my family.” Ghizela never saw her mother, father and some of her siblings again. “At first my father was grouped in with prisoners who were able to work. But then he saw a small boy who he knew from home. He didn´t want to leave him alone.”

Ghizela and her younger sisters Lili and Sophia spent two days at Auschwitz. “After the selection our heads were shaved. We had to shower and put on gray prison uniforms. Then we were registered,” said the 86-year old. “Overnight the Nazis took our identity and our families.” The next day the young women were called by name; they were being selected for a Wehrmacht work commando. In Kretinga, Lithuania the women were forced to mend and clean soldiers´ clothing. “The security staff was not as strict as the SS,” said Ghizela. “We were allowed to wear soldiers´ clothing on top of our own to protect ourselves from the cold. But as soon as the SS came by for an inspection we had to work in our prisoner uniforms again.”

The Nazis began to evacuate prisoners towards the west and away from the front starting in mid-1944. Ghizela and her sisters arrived at the concentration camp Stutthof at the beginning of August 1944 under the numbers 55028, 55029 and 55030. At the end of 1944 the number of prisoners there rose dramatically as transports of 20,000-30,000 Hungarian Jewish women arrived. More and more prisoners were evacuated from camps via the Baltic Sea as the Red Army neared. “The barracks were small and over-filled. We were housed with 800 women in one barracks, which actually only had space for 100,” said Ghizela.

The camp commander ordered the camp´s evacuation on 25 January 1945. “We were lucky to be with the last troops sent on a death march,” said Ghizela. In February 1945 the Nazis forced the emaciated and exhausted prisoners through deep snow towards Lębork (Lauenburg) in Pomerania. “I had a high fever,” remembers Ghizela. “But I was the oldest of my siblings and it was my job to be there for them. Then I also lost my strength.” Her sister Lili had a special position with a female SS supervisor who guarded the march. Lili asked for water for her sister. “We were all so apathetic by then that we were no longer afraid of threats or death,” as Ghizela explained her courage to her sister.

Ghizela, Lili and Sophia were liberated on 13 March 1945 on the march to Lauenberg. “My second birthday,” said Ghizela with a smile. “And at the same time my lucky day, as my first grandchild was also born on 13 March.” The young women returned home and tried to build new lives. In the spring of 1947, Ghizela married Stefan Kardos, who had been deported as a forced labourer under the Nazi regime. Their daughter Eva was born on 28 April 1947. “I cannot leave her any family as I lost nearly all my relatives during the Nazi regime.”

After the Second World War Romania fell under Soviet influence. “My parents had to experience Nazi persecution and on its heels a Communist dictatorship,” reported Eva. Stefan and Ghizela waited 19 years for permission to leave for Germany. In 1965 they were able to move to Frankfurt. “I always knew my parents as quite withdrawn,” said the 63-year-old. “I could feel their fears. Now I would like to learn the details about my family.”