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Holocaust Survivor Comes to RHS to Share Unique Story with Students (Part Two)

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Holocaust survivor Edith Lowy speaks to RHS students Feb. 23.

Holocaust survivor Edith Lowy speaks to RHS students Feb. 23.

Holocaust survivor Edith Lowy speaks to RHS students Feb. 23.


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This is the second installment in a three-part series about the life of Holocaust survivor Edith Lowy. Watch for the next installment, coming soon.HolocaustRememberanceDay

At Skarżysko-Kamienna, the Lowy family was separated once again. Lowy and Rudolf went to Camp B, which many inmates thought had somewhat better conditions than the others. Polly was sent to work as an assistant to the camp commandant, Paul Kuhnemann, and Lowy’s uncle’s whereabouts were unknown. Life at Skarżysko-Kamienna, Lowy soon learned, was harder than anything she had experienced before.

Once a month, the inmates at Camp B were sent to Camp A for delousing. As they had the lice removed from their bodies, they were forced to watch executions of prisoners who had angered the Nazi guards or simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lowy frequently saw inmates there who had been in the camp much longer than she had. “They looked … like ghosts,” she said, “Their faces reflected such despair.”

To obtain a job at the camp and therefore lower his risk of execution, Rudolf lied to their Nazi supervisors and told them that he knew how to work with tools. The supervisors asked him to name a certain tool to see if he seemed to be telling the truth. He was able to name it correctly because he had sold tools like the one in question in his general store before the war began.

Lowy, meanwhile, was assigned to work in an ammunition factory. One day, she picked up a hot ammunition piece off of the machine she was operating. It burned one of her fingers down to the bone; she bears visible signs of the injury to this day.

Over time, she became too hungry and exhausted to produce good-quality ammunition, which got the attention of the obermeister, her German supervisor, one day. He angrily called her to his office. Lowy feared that she was going there so that the supervisor could shoot her away from the other workers in the factory. However, he only made her sweep the office’s floor.

After her time at the ammunition factory, Lowy joined Rudolf’s group of prisoners. They did not need words to communicate their recent experiences. “In silence, we shared our pain, our fears, our hope and our luck,” she said. Somehow, Rudolf managed to scrape together a birthday gift for her. It was a steel comb he had made in (and stolen from) the factory where he was working.

Food in the camp was extremely scarce, to the point that one day, Rudolf attempted to steal a rotten carrot for Lowy out of a trash can. He was caught, though, and the Nazi guards beat him savagely. After this incident, he was too weak and tired to even line up for his daily bowl of soup. The prisoners’ barracks were cramped and filthy, creating a perfect breeding ground for diseases. Lowy caught typhus and narrowly escaped being shot due to her illness.

Rudolf begged Lowy’s aunt to use her connections to Kuhnemann to have him and Lowy transferred to Camp A, seeing as the Nazis would periodically select prisoners from Camp B and Camp C, especially from among the elderly and the sick, to send away to concentration camps by cattle car. Nine months after arriving at Skarżysko-Kamienna, Lowy was separated from Rudolf once again. This time, she found herself on a train heading to the women’s section of Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany.

The new arrivals at Buchenwald were forced to surrender any valuables they had to the Nazis. Lowy desperately wanted to hold on to her steel comb, though. “There was no way I would give away my precious comb that my father had risked his life for,” she said. She decided that rather than hand over her comb to Nazi guards, she would bury it in the ground and return to look for it if she survived the war. Lowy was never able to find the comb. She still held on tightly to the memories it gave her of her time spent with Rudolf, though. “One has to find a reason to survive. My father was my reason,” Lowy said.

By March of 1945, there appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Jews in Europe. Germany appeared to be losing battles continuously to the Allied forces, and the United States was bringing down the Axis Powers further by planning an invasion of Japan. That month, a gentile (non-Jewish) Belgian friend of Lowy’s visited her in Buchenwald with some smuggled newspapers. The newspapers suggested that the end of the war was near.

As March turned into April, the Germans learned that U.S. troops were advancing on Buchenwald and its subcamps from the west. They desperately evacuated the Buchenwald camp network and other camps in the area, pushing the prisoners away from the approaching American front in what became known as death marches.

More than 5,000 women at Buchenwald, including Lowy, were marched eastward. The German guards made the prisoners march almost nonstop and provided them with very little food. The women often had to resort to eating grass, and the guards could even ban that if they felt like it. Many of the women became too weak to continue on the march, and starved to death or were shot. Trying to escape from the march would also get a prisoner shot by the guards.

Lowy’s group passed through several already-evacuated concentration camps on their death march, which made them worry about what the Germans would do to them if they lost the war. One day, they walked by a farm and saw some farmers harvesting potatoes in a field. Lowy was barely able to restrain her Aunt Polly from trying to grab some, which was sure to anger their guards.

The women moved on and soon came to another farm. Weak and starving, they were hoping to get some food there, but instead, the guards locked them in a barn and lit it on fire. Once again, Lowy almost died, but before the flames consumed the barn and everyone in it, a Russian soldier rode by on a motorcycle, stopped the Germans, and let the women out. Lowy was finally liberated.  

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Holocaust Survivor Comes to RHS to Share Unique Story with Students (Part Two)