By Joseph Hamrick
An estimated 1.1 million people were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
With 90 percent of those killed being Jewish, entire families perished during the reign of terror.
Rosa Blum was one of the few of her family to survive, and she shared her story during the “Holocaust: Days of Remembrance,” held April 22 inside the Rayburn Student Center at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Blum was raised as any normal child would in Europe during the 1930s, with a large family and an emphasis on closeness.
Blum grew up in Romania until the family moved to Hungary when she was in the fifth grade.
Because of the move and her ancestry, she spoke the Hungarian, Romanian and Jewish languages.
Everything in her life was normal, until police arrived one day at their house.
“It was very early in the morning when they arrested us,” she said, adding they were marched for a day and a half to their new location. “We had to leave the house in two hours. It was a very hard day; we were not prepared for it.”
The family was moved to a ghetto, where the Nazis would put people who were deemed “undesirable.”
The barbed-wire surrounding the ghetto was a stark change from her childhood.
The Blums were also issued the yellow star they were to wear on their clothes, which indicated they were Jewish.
“So we all got pointed out we were different,” she said. “They put stars on us to point us out.”
Near the ghetto lived farmers, who would secretly help those inside by throwing food through the fences at night to help feed them.
After being forced to live there for a time, Blum said the Nazis told them they were going to take them from the ghetto “to a nice place.”
Blum said the only thing they were told to pack were pots and pans, since they were told they would become cooks.
Since families did not want to be separated, Blum said “we crushed in more and more to the wagon. They packed us in like sardines.”
It was a four-day journey to Auschwitz, with no stops in between.
The families soon found out why they were told to bring pots and pans.
There were no restrooms in the train cars, so the only way to use the restroom and avoid standing in their own waste was collecting it from the pots and pans.
Blum said it was a surreal experience when they arrived at the concentration camp.
Upon arriving, Blum said they were greeted by a band and other revelry to welcome the more than 7,000 people to the camp.
“We got the reception you would never believe,” she said.
Blum had long, black hair, so long that when she pulled it out of her pony tail, it became a tripping hazard.
The 15-year-old Blum was told by her grandmother to go back to the train car and get something to brush her hair with.
Blum went to the train car and found a beautiful black scarf on the floor, which brought a smile to her face.
“My spirit was pretty high for a moment,” she said.
It was that moment when a car with a red cross pulled up to the camp.
When the back was opened up, it revealed nothing but corpses.
“I thought ‘there’s evil going on here,” she said. “Something wrong is going on.”
Blum turned and saw her mother standing in line to enter, but was too far away, and the crowd too large to reach her, despite her screams to get her attention while they were waiting in line to enter a large building.
“That’s the last I ever saw my mother,” she said.
Blum was next in line to enter when the door closed and she heard a large “boom,” which was the lock on the door closing.
Blum begged and begged to enter the room, but was pulled aside by a man who told her she was one of 200 people out of the 7,000 that were “chosen for work.”
Blum found out the man who stopped her from entering was Josef Mengele, who was known for selecting who went into the gas chambers and for his experiments on Jewish prisoners.
Blum would later come to realize she had been in line to enter the crematorium, where those deemed unfit were killed.
There was a hospital in Auschwitz, but Blum was told to be wary of seeking medical attention.
“When you’re sick, you’re not sick,” she was told by an older woman the first night she arrived.
“When it [the hospital] got full they would take the overflow to the crematorium,” she said.
After four weeks at the camp, Blum developed hepatitis A due to the unsanitary conditions they were living in.
Blum attempted to hide it, but said the itching became unbearable, so she went to the hospital.
One night, while on the third floor of the hospital, Blum said she started hearing loud noises.
“I was on the third floor,” she said, adding the Nazi soldiers were clearing out everyone and taking them away. “The first floor went out, the second went out. Then it came to my turn to come out.”
Blum was holding a pair of wooden shoes, but told herself she would not need them where she was going.
“As I looked at my shoes I said ‘you are going to death, you don’t need them,’” she said.
For some reason, Blum said the soldiers did not search where she was standing.
After some time of waiting for them to come to her on the third floor, Blum realized she was the only person left in the hospital.
“I looked more but I didn’t see them,” she said.
Blum was about to leave the hospital when providence stepped in.
While on her way out, Blum fell into a waist-high puddle, and felt something push her to hide there overnight.
“I prayed very hard,” she said, adding she had to muffle her screams when the soldiers were cleaning the hospital out by throwing chlorine to wipe away blood stains, which seeped into her open wounds.
The next day, the Nazis began to admit new people in the hospital, as if nothing ever happened.
Blum said she tried to fit in with the new admittees, but was noticed by a nurse.
“She said ‘don’t tell me you are the one from last night,’” she said, adding the nurse took her a block away from the hospital to give her advice. “She said ‘do not tell anybody you had been here before.’”
The nurse washed her and gave her two new dresses.
“This woman became my mentor,” she said. “I listened to her. I obeyed her.”
Blum stayed at the hospital for six months recuperating and working for the nurse.
Blum said the nurse told her one thing before she sent her back to the camp.
“I had to promise her one thing: ‘don’t ever come back again,’” she said. “I never did return back to that hospital.”
Blum attempted to find the nurse after the war, but was unable to locate her.
When she returned, Blum was given a new job at the kitchen.
It was while working in the kitchen that Blum received a tattoo.
“I was very happy when I got tattooed,” she said. “I became a name, not a number.”
Blum said that tattoo gave her a certain amount of protection.
“They would work me to death but they won’t kill me,” she said.
One day, Blum was told they were adding a new powder that was supposed to be more nourishing to the prisoners.
Blum was gleeful to be helping to feed her fellow prisoners.
Blum said at first she wondered why the Nazis were laughing at her by being happy for the new powder.
To her horror, Blum soon learned the powder was a drug used to weaken the minds of the prisoners.
“There was nothing we could do; we had to put it in,” she said.
Life was dim after that point.
Blum said the camp was receiving fewer and fewer transfers, until one day in September of 1944, she was to be sent to another camp.
Soon after arriving at a munitions factory, Blum was liberated by the United States Army.
After being liberated, Blum later lived in Munich, Germany, until she moved to the United States in 1950.
Blum married, had children and started her new life in America.
Before leaving, Blum gave a piece of advice to the crowd.
“When you go home, give your mother and father a big hug,” she said. “Love and honor them. God bless you all.”