My name is Freda Wineman and I survived the Holocaust . I start by sharing my name because the Nazis attempted to take that from me. They tattooed me with the number A.7181; they tried to take everything that made me human. They murdered my parents, my brother and countless other members of my family. But I lived to tell my story.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day . On this day we remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children – my friends, family, and neighbours among them – who were murdered simply because they were Jewish. For me the day is especially significant as it marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the place where my life changed forever.
I was born in 1923, in France. It was a normal, happy childhood with my parents and my three brothers. In 1939, as the Second World War was looming, my entire town near the German border was evacuated and we moved around, settling in St Etienne, near Lyon. Life became increasingly difficult, for Jews in particular. In 1944, my mother approached a convent to see if they would hide us. They agreed, but it was too late. We were arrested and sent to Drancy transit camp.
From Drancy, my entire family was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where we arrived on 2 June 1944. As soon as we arrived, a doctor stood on the ramp and assessed us all to decide who would be sent straight to the gas chambers, and who would be worked for a little longer before being killed. A prisoner came up to us all and started whispering that the older women should take the babies. She told my mother to take the baby of a lady standing next to her – a stranger. She did. She was sent to one side with my brother, Marcel. The baby's mother and I were sent to the other side. We were told that my mother would be looking after the children, and not to worry.
It was a lie. My mother and my brother were taken to the gas chamber. My mother carried the stranger's baby with her.
I was disinfected, tattooed and sent to work. At first, I was digging trenches before being selected to work in the Kanada Kommando – the work unit that was responsible for sorting through the belongings of the new arrivals. We worked in a large warehouse, very close to the gas chambers. I was later sent to dig trenches outside the crematoria, where I witnessed bodies being burned, all whilst surviving off a daily diet of thin soup made from rotten vegetables and a crust of bread if we were lucky.
In late 1944, I was taken by cattle train to Bergen-Belsen. From there I was sent with 750 other women to Raguhn, a satellite camp of Buchenwald concentration camp, where I worked in an aeroplane factory.
As the Allies advanced, I was once again put on a cattle train and sent to Terezín in Czechoslovakia where I was eventually liberated on 9 May 1945.
After liberation, I learned that my parents and my youngest brother, Marcel, had been killed at Auschwitz.
Eventually, I was reunited with two surviving brothers. I was lucky; I was no longer alone. I married in 1950 and made my home here in the UK. I have two daughters, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. I survived to share my story today.
I know I cannot go on sharing forever, but what happened in the Holocaust must never be forgotten. The world should always know what happened to us.
When I speak in schools, I ask students to tell their friends and family what they have heard. I say that in the future, if they ever hear anyone question what happened, they should tell them that they heard Freda Wineman, and she survived the Holocaust. I ask them to be my witnesses. Today, I ask the same of you. Please share my story. Please be my witness.
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