Remembering the Holocaust

Holocaust survivor Irene Fainman was in Port Elizabeth this week to speak about her experiences at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony
Picture: Ivor Markman

Survivor Irene Fainman was taken away to a prison camp at the age of just six

Irene Fainman was just six when her family were given 10 minutes to pack for a concentration camp where she would not see a tree or flowers again for nearly three years.

Taken to the notorious Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck on September 16 1942, Fainman was rescued by the Swedish Red Cross on April 27 1945.

On Monday, 72 years later, she shared her story during the annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony at the Glendinningvale synagogue.

Fainman was born in Schiedam near Rotterdam to a Hungarian father, Bela Krausz, and a British mother, Rachel Orkin, in 1936.

Life changed after the Nazis invaded.

“I was at a little nursery school.One day we couldn’t go any more and then we couldn’t go to the park,” she said.

She could not go skating on the canals with her father. Jews were also prohibited from riding bicycles or going to the movies.

Then the Nazis, with the help of the Dutch police, started taking them away to concentrationcamps.

On the night she and her family were taken away, the door was broken down and two Dutch Nazis came in.

“You’ve got 10 minutes to pack!” they said.

Fainman clearly remembers walking to a warehouse, where she saw hundreds and hundreds of people sitting on the cement floor of the warehouse.

When it was light they were taken by bus to Westerbork, a transit camp. It was very desolate and muddy with “fences and many, many barracks”.

This was the same camp Anne Frank was later sent to before being sent to the Auschwitz exterminationcamp.

When they arrived, they were taken to a hall, where everyone had to undress. Their clothes were taken and the women given blue-striped clothing and wooden clogs.

Their hair was checked and if they had lice they were shaven.

“I was too small for a uniform so the clothes that I had when I left Holland I wore for a year-and-a-half in Westerbork [and] another year in Ravensbruck,” Fainman said.

Every Tuesday a train came with a large sign reading “Auschwitz”.

Nobody knew anything about Auschwitz, but 1 000 Jews had to be on that train. On February 3 1943, Fainman’s father and brother, Don, were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.

Two days later, she and her mother were sent to Ravensbruck.

Women prisoners were given striped blue dresses, a jacket, a doek and wooden clogs and forced to do manual labour at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Irene Fainman’s mother did this sort of work

Fainman was shocked when she entered the barracks.

There were three-tiered bunks with four people per bunk. “Everybody got the same dirty blanket and a straw mattress. I don’t remember if there was a pillow. I screamed and screamed,” Fainman said.

“The smell – I couldn’t breathe. Can you imagine unwashed bodies? People could only shower once in six months.”

Near the toilets was a long trough with taps, but the towels were the size of face cloths.

“It was freezing cold, so a lot of people didn’t wash. I saw people with [sunken] cheeks, big eyes, shaven heads,” Fainman said.

“I had blonde curls and they all wanted to touch my hair with their filthy hands.

“I just screamed, I couldn’t stop looking at them and screaming.”

That evening “they gave us this soup with beetroot and turnips something called Stück rube, it means [turnip pieces] and it smelt ghastly. I refused to eat it.”

In the morning prisoners were given one slice of bread with a tiny amount of jam and margarine.

“The next morning when they gave that one piece of bread, I was jolly hungry and I ate it,” Fainman said.

“Everybody got up at 5am for roll call. If the totals didn’t tally prisoners stood for hours, sometimes in the cold snow, rain, and hail.

“People got frostbite or collapsed.The guards set dogs on them or came with whips.

“The women guards were worse than the men. They had big leather boots, flannel skirts and big leather coats.

“They weren’t cold and of course they had gloves and everyone was shivering, but you weren’t human, you weren’t a person, so it didn’t matter.“

The Blockälteste (barracks leaders) had immense power.

“Some were very cruel, some were not. We had this Blockälteste who took our name off the[deportation] list.

“I don’t think I ever saw a tree or a flower for a good few years. I was so excited when I saw one blade of grass.”

When the camp was liberated Faiman and her mother were taken to Sweden. Her brother survived the war and they were eventually reunited in England

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