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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January 2005, 12:10 GMT
'I saw so many people go to their deaths'
Child prisoners at Auschwitz after its liberation by the Soviet army
Many children at Auschwitz were left orphaned
Batsheva Dagan, 79, was born in Lodz, Poland. After Nazi occupation she and her parents were moved into ghettos in Radom, Poland.

Her elder brothers and one sister escaped to Russia. Her other sister was killed when she tried to escape the ghetto.

After the ghetto was liquidated, her parents were sent to the Treblinka death camp, where they were killed. She was sent to Auschwitz.


I didn't know anything about Auschwitz before I was sent there.

Once there I was turned from a nice young girl into a prisoner.

They tattooed my arm, shaved my hair, took my clothes, gave me prison rags and sent me to work.

Batsheva Dagan (Picture courtesy Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre)
Batsheva Dagan spent 20 months at Auschwitz
We were put to work in several squads. The worst squad I had to work in was the 'walking toilet', where I had to go around collecting waste in buckets.

I had developed typhus, but I had a bit of luck when I met a cousin who was the wife of a doctor. She got me into the malaria hospital.

I had to experience the 'selection' there, where the prison officers would line girls up against the wall naked.

I had terrible scabies. My whole body was bleeding, but the officers spared me. Other girls were picked out and sent to the gas chambers.

The last squad I worked in was the Kanada squad, which was stationed close to Crematorium No. 4.

There we had to sort through the belongings of others who had died.

I heard screaming and shouting for 20 minutes as the gas was circulated. Then nothing. Silence.
We were told to burn the suitcases, which had the home addresses of the people in the camp.

I saw so many people go to their deaths there. The Nazi officers chased them in naked, and turned on the Zyklon B gas.

I heard screaming and shouting for 20 minutes as the gas was circulated. Then nothing. Silence. The bodies would then be dumped outside.

This would go on all the time. The two years I was there - 1943 and 1944 - saw the highest number of massacres.

Death march

But it was not only Jews. They killed Gypsies, Poles, Soviets, homosexuals, the sick - the first victims were the crippled.

I spent 20 months, or 600 days, in Auschwitz. Imagine that many days - 24 hours a day spent in a state of anxiety, wondering every minute whether you would survive.

I wanted to believe all along that I would survive. That's what got me through.

The fact that I believed I would leave Auschwitz helped me to believe the end was in sight.

Now 60 years later, it is unbelievable that such a thing could have happened. That man can do that to man.
I also survived with the help of my substitute family - eight other girls at the camp who had also lost their families. As a group we helped each other through.

As the Soviet army neared Auschwitz in January 1945, thousands of us were taken from the camp on the death march.

It was so hard and so very cold. He who couldn't march got a bullet in the head.

Those who survived were taken on a train to Ravensbruch, then on to Malchow.

I had to march again to Lubz. In Lubz, we were liberated by the Americans.

Feeling of victory

Now 60 years later, it is unbelievable that such a thing could have happened. That man can do that to man.

The Auschwitz Birkenau gatehouse and surrounding fences and watchtowers (Stephen D Smith/Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre)
Auschwitz Birkenau has been preserved as a museum
I have since dedicated myself to educating young people about this atrocity and can only hope humanity will reject such deeds in the future.

Looking back, there is a feeling of victory. A personal victory and a common victory.

We were all doomed to death but yet we are all alive, despite everything.

The other girls moved to various countries. Some of us came to Israel.

When I think that it is now 2005, it is unbelievable. Who would have thought we would have made it?

I went on to marry and have two sons and 10 grandchildren.

I have visited Auschwitz four times since.

I will commemorate this 60th anniversary speaking to colleagues who were there and will mark it with great joy and deep sorrow.

Great joy that I made it and deep sorrow that I lost my family and so many others suffered.


Your comments:

My heart goes out to all who suffered at the hands of the Nazis
Louise Oates, Bradford, England
I visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II as a student 10 years ago. My grandmother lost her parents to the prison camps, though she managed to get to the UK with her sister aged only 14. Visiting the camps was extremely upsetting. Seeing pictures of the prisoners and hearing stories of pure evil was distressing. Any survivor of this horror is very brave, my heart goes out to all who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. We must continue to be made aware of this evil side of the human race, in the hope that one day we will learn to respect each other.
Louise Oates, Bradford, England

It's a really moving story. Thank God that you are able to tell this sad tale which can remind us how damaging to humanity bad ideologies can be. It is also a reminder that all of us should guard ourselves from extremism.
Chabuka Milliasi, Lilongwe, Malawi

I was reduced to tears again seeing the photos of the children in the camps. I have an 18-month-old little boy myself and cannot imagine the pain people endured. We must learn, we must educate, we must mourn but we must never let this happen again.
Mark Bainton, Essex, UK

Each time I listen to, read or watch narrations like this, I remember the pictures which are given in several films and museums about the Holocaust. What a horrible experience! People should never forget about this part of human history.
Volker Tillmann, London, UK/Wuppertal, Germany

My heart goes out to all who had to go through this terror. I myself have visited Auschwitz and with tears in my eyes I was imagining what the people had to go through. God bless everyone and thank you Mrs Dagan for sharing your story.
Monika Tiles, Orlando, FL, USA/ Poland

It is bad enough when my daughter and I go without food for a day or so but not having food at all is something that I cannot imagine
Ange, Dublin, Ireland
I don't have much but I am so thankful for the little that I have. I am even more thankful when I hear what other human beings had to go through. I could never imagine what it must have been like. It is bad enough when my daughter and I go without food for a day or so but not having food at all, not knowing if I will survive, and losing the people that I love is something that I cannot imagine.
Ange, Dublin, Ireland

It is heartbreaking to know that individuals can do these things to others, whether in 1940s Europe or anywhere else. It is not enough to remember such terrible events while killing continues all across the globe, in all quarters - we must voice an abhorrence to violence of any kind, and hold our representatives accountable for the decisions they make.
Dan, Ithaca, NY, USA

I can't even begin to fathom the atrocities that occurred at those death camps because it just seems unreal that such hate could manifest itself on this planet. And yet, it still happens today in certain regions of the world. One can only learn from the Holocaust survivors and hope that the powers that be will change the world for the better.
Doug Rodriguez, State College, Pennsylvania, USA

Europe has not learned anything at all. Remember the tragedy of Bosnia?
Gorazd Cvetic, Valparaiso, Chile

Batsheva Dagan and others who have survived to tell the tales of atrocities at concentration camps epitomise and celebrate the basic concept of survival. Let their tales serve as a reminder to the human race that it is always the human spirit that will emerge victorious in the end and outlive such episodes as Auschwitz.
Naz, Mumbai, India

I cannot begin to tell how often I have been moved to tears throughout the recent coverage of the Holocaust
Dee, N Wales, UK
I cannot begin to tell how often I have been moved to tears throughout the recent coverage of the Holocaust. My heart breaks as I try to imagine the terror, despair and anguish faced by all prisoners. I pray for the souls of the dead and also for forgiveness and healing on a world scale. Please God let us learn from history.
Dee, N Wales, UK

How Batsheva Dagan and others coped with the pain and trauma of the things they saw in Auschwitz and other camps is beyond compare. They go on to say we never should see things like that again, but did it not happen in Bosnia and the world stood by and did very little until it was too late.
Gary, Halifax, England

My grandfather Adam Rapoport was a Polish Jew who was in Auschwitz. From the train that took him there, he managed to write a letter and dropped it outside. Someone, maybe at a risk for their own life, picked it up and sent it to my grandmother and my mum. In it, he said he knew he would not come back, asked them to be strong and wrote a poem to my mum. We only recently found out he was "selected" to work as an interpreter and that he refused all privileges this special work could have given him. Prisoners were kept in absolutely inhumane conditions and deadly infections were rife. He eventually died of typhus. Although he died, my mum and her mum were lucky to survive. My children are aged five and one. It is my duty to tell them, so that this is never forgotten.
Pascal Jacquemain (Jakubowicz), Welwyn Garden City, UK (French)

Your horrific account of what you endured - against all odds - leads me to a commitment: I will go to Auschwitz with my wife and most importantly, our young sons, to help make sure this human catastrophe is never forgotten.
Jonathan, Paris, France

I'm half Jewish from my mother's side and when I eventually visited Auschwitz Birkenau last summer I couldn't believe how much horror and murder, sadness and humiliation had taken place there. My Cypriot father's great uncle went to a Gestapo prison and was imprisoned for three years. He came home to Cyprus and never spoke about it.
Leah Michaelides, London, UK

Your generation is scarred from that era and its aftermath
W Wyndham, Cape Town, South Africa
My parents were from East Germany. We came from a privileged background and were a part of the Nazi system. After the war, the tables turned and the atrocities you experienced, my grandmothers and parents had gone through under Soviet occupation and then the Communist regime they installed there. Exile to South Africa was the eventual outcome. Europe is generally a harsh place with a long history of atrocities and wars. Your generation is basically scarred from that era and its aftermath. We the children are well aware of it. As far as the future goes, there will most likely be another Holocaust of a different nature.
W Wyndham, Cape Town, South Africa

I grew up in the Soviet Union and I (as many others) used to think that Soviet propaganda deliberately exaggerated the atrocities the Nazis had committed. Later, when I saw numerous documentaries made by the Germans, British and Americans, and after having visited the Dachau camp, I was horrified and shocked to learn that it all really happened in the middle of "civilised" Europe just some 60 years ago. Nobody can change history, but learning from it is a responsibility for all of us.
David, Tbilisi, Georgia

Let us learn from the past. Let us learn from Auschwitz and all atrocities. Unfortunately it seems we haven't learn because it continues to happen, but on a different scale. God bless the Jews. God bless those who still suffer such war crimes.
Francisco Schnekk, Estremoz, Portugal

Today in New Zealand various national radio presenters argued a line should be drawn under the Holocaust, reasoning that other genocides are just as bad and deserve equal prominence. I don't think it matters which genocide we remember, as long as we remember. Batsheva's story made me cry, and as a Jew and a human being I'm glad I cry when I read of such treatment. Please God we should always remember, and always cry.
David, Christchurch, New Zealand

Having been brought up in the forces, and most of that time was spent in Germany, I was always aware of the Holocaust. The thing I find so sad is that the United Nations was formed partly to stop anything like this from happening again. Unfortunately 60 years on this is not the case. The question is will man ever learn to live together and accept each other's differences or will we just continue to fight and kill until there is nothing or no one left?
Debbie, Cardiff, South Wales

Some quarters of humanity don't seem to have learned anything from the Holocaust
Horward, Lusaka, Zambia
Some quarters of humanity don't seem to have learnt anything from the Holocaust that engulfed mankind 60 years ago. As far as I am concerned humans are still killing each other, albeit not on the same scale, but if left unchecked it could happen again. Human beings don't seem to learn anything from the past.
Horward, Lusaka, Zambia

Thank you BBC for giving coverage to Batsheva's brave yet horrific story. Education is so important for those like me for whom these terrible events are 'history' - please continue as a powerful vehicle to enlighten people around the world with Batsheva's graphic and personal recollections and those of others like her.
David, Salford, Lancs, UK

It's always very painful to think of such a crime against humanity. But it's great that we can still read people's experiences and what they think. God bless the souls of those that could not make it.
Adedoyin Adejare, Lagos, Nigeria

Hearing this story and watching the scenes on the various documentaries on TV makes me ashamed to be human. Let us remember that what happened 60 years ago was not the act of one or two insane people. These atrocities were carried out by thousands of people.
Sam, Slough, UK

Batsheva's story, like so many about the Holocaust, is utterly heart breaking and frightfully real in describing the sinful human condition. Today, in the Sudan, millions have perished and untold numbers are sold into slavery. Until very recently the outside world stood by saying nothing, much like during the Holocaust. Let's use this bittersweet 60th anniversary to raise our voices against crimes past and present.
Oscar Vigliano, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

It is beyond words to say how moved I was by this account. The world forgets it wasn't only Jews in Auschwitz but many others, because of their race, nationality or health status. Everyone should visit Auschwitz once in their lives. I visited last year and cannot describe the feeling you get when you walk through the gates. It's as though the whole world has stopped. It is peaceful yet eerie, as though the air has been sucked from the place and you are in a noiseless vacuum.
Karen Smith, London, UK

Mankind must ensure that nobody ever forgets this appalling episode of human history
Helen Taylor, Bradford, UK
Such a terrible story but such incredible survival. Hard to believe that this happened a mere 60 years ago, in my parents' lifetime. It sounds like something out of the dark ages. Not many survivors of Auschwitz are left but mankind must ensure that nobody ever forgets this appalling episode of human history. Educate the young as Batsheva has done.
Helen Taylor, Bradford, UK

I'm doing a school science fair project seeing if people in my community are aware of some of the awful things that are going on in the present and in the past. As I was reading your story I was shocked by how amazingly cruel a person could be to another person who is exactly like them but just has some different beliefs. In doing this project I want to see if people are willing to help their fellow human beings and if they aren't I'm going to try and encourage it. I know this isn't doing much but I figure every little counts. My sympathy goes out to everyone in the world right now who is suffering and who has suffered. We can all work to make the world better. One step at a time.
Hayley, Jonesboro, USA

I am always thoroughly touched by stories such as this, and believe also that it is important to teach the younger generation of such atrocities. To forget the Holocaust is unthinkable, for we must carry with us the lessons it has taught to save mankind from future atrocities. I have so much respect for Batsheva telling her story.
Amy Wiggins, Reading, England

This story gives me hope in the power of good and humanity. I am so touched by Batsheva's willingness to live and obviously to forgive. Today, 60 years after the horrors of Auschwitz, the peace agreement was signed in Sudan ending the longest war in Africa that claimed millions of live. Although there is still so much to do and we are all aware that things can go wrong, the stories of wonderful people like Batsheva make me confident that it pays to believe in good. For that I pay my highest respect and tribute to her and thousands of others.
Roman, Poland/Sudan

Thank you for this realistic description of the tragedy that happened during World War II. I think we should try to help the young all over the world to understand what may happen when we allow some people to attack other people because they were born Jews or, for example, Gypsies.
Andrzej Majchrowski, Warsaw, Poland

My heart goes out to everyone that was put through what you went through. I believe some people just turn a blind eye to this, thinking that it didn't happen, but it did. All of you survivors that share your experiences and stories are an inspiration to us all. I am crying writing this right now, due to the fact that it could happen again. People are so cruel to one another, always have and always will be. I just hope all survivors have had the best possible life anyone could have, they deserve it!
Rachel Fisher, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

My son, 16, will visit one of the camps in Germany this summer. He is so sensitive and intelligent that my hope is that this visit and the many, many stories like this one will mark his soul and lay a burden on him. The burden that is the responsibility of all of us, now that the generation who lived through these things is leaving us.
Larry, Louisville, CO, USA

Atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan show that humanity has learned nothing from this period in history
Marek, Westfield, Massachusetts, USA
The Holocaust is a monument to hate, bigotry and unbridled cruelty, yet what bothers me most is that humanity has once again learned absolutely nothing from this period in history. Atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia and now in Sudan show this fact very clearly. I can only pray that those in power will acquire the wisdom that is crucial to successful governance and do the right thing, not the most expedient thing.
Marek, Westfield, Massachusetts, USA

I was born in Germany in 1949 and learned about the Holocaust on TV in the early 1960s. It made me so sad and ashamed to be German, that is partly the reason I left and emigrated to Canada and then the USA. My heart goes out to all the families that lost loved ones and I pray for their souls. They are in the presence of God.
Brigitte Kiba, Richardson, TX, USA

It is such a miracle we have survivors like Batsheva to bear witness to the Holocaust, and I am so pleased that her life has since been blessed with children and grandchildren. The Holocaust was the cruellest chapter in all of human history - its sheer horror, cruelty and evil is too harrowing to comprehend. Even though it happened only 60 years ago, there are great swathes of the population who do not even know it happened. I am so pleased therefore that Batsheva's story (and so many other survivors) is having prominence at this time. Bless you Batsheva - and thank you.
Laura Bullen, Bexleyheath, Kent, UK

Whenever I hear or read revelations such as these, I am speechless. It is almost an insult to the memories of the millions to say I know what you must have been through because of course nobody can imagine the horrors experienced. I am hoping to visit Auschwitz Birkenau sometime this year. My heritage as a Jew is something I have always and will always be proud of and as I grow older it means even more to me which is why I now want to visit the camps. To all those who perished and to those who survived, may God bless you all. Everlasting rest and peace to the dead and comfort to the living.
Ian Bernstein, London, England

A remarkable lady with the courage to tell the story of how it actually was. I feel very humble when I hear of people like this. They are the heroes - not people who are famous, but ordinary everyday people.
Jo Hodgson, Swindon, Wiltshire, England

I was very touched by Batsheva's story and believe it should be required reading for everyone today as we are all caught up in our own little tiny problem. In the bigger picture of things our problems are nothing compared to the experiences people such as Batsheva had all those years ago. All of us should appreciate the lives we now have due to the sacrifice of people all those years ago - my admiration for her and those like her knows no bounds.
Sinead Flynn, Dublin, Ireland

That a young girl can survive in conditions that claimed the lives of so many people of all ages, is surely something to rejoice.
Alex Stirling, London, England

My mother was born in Berlin in 1936 and escaped to England on the Kindertransports, aged three. Her family, who sent her on ahead, didn't make it. My two grandparents and my aunts, then aged two and one, were horribly murdered simply for being Jews. I applaud Batsheva for standing up and simply putting her experiences into words. Auschwitz continues to blight families 60 years on. Perhaps Batsheva can help me: How do I get over my pain and anger? How do I explain this to my two small children?
Anon, Ilford, Essex, England

Congratulations on your spirit and will to survive. You are to be commended for your bravery. God bless you and your family.
Cindy Selsky, The Hague, Netherlands

A heart rending story, just like all the other stories of the Holocaust. I am grateful to God that people like Batsheva Dagan survived to tell the world what happened. I pray to God to bless the souls of those who did not survive.
Shridhar Rajarao, Malvern, PA, USA

The resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me. What a remarkable woman to survive against such odds and live to tell the tale. I myself have visited Bergen/Belsen when I lived in Germany. It's a shame that all our children can't pay a visit to these places so they don't forget what happened and may prevent it from happening again.
Debbie, Middlesex, UK




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