Sharing Magda’s Holocaust Story With Younger Generations

Magda Brown speaks to students at Lena-Winslow Junior High School in Lena, IL. (Photo Courtesy of the Journal Standard)
Magda Brown speaks to students at Lena-Winslow Junior High School in Lena, IL. (Photo Courtesy of the Journal Standard)

Magda Brown frequently spoke with students of all ages who were conducting interviews and research for school projects. Below is an example — an interview between Cedric, an eighth grade student from Wisconsin, and Magda.

1. How would you think that the Holocaust or the Auschwitz camp impacted the world?
I think that it shocked the world. With all the teaching accessible about the Holocaust, I hope that the future generations will learn and will avoid another mass murder.

2. How did they impact America?
In the early years after the war, there was very little education about the Holocaust. Matter of fact, when I first arrived in 1946 and talked a little about my experiences, the people had no patience to listen, perhaps because they associated it with their hardships after the Depression — rationing, housing shortage, men away at war — which in their life was terribly important. No one could comprehend the suffering we went through, but this has changed.

3. What was the Auschwitz camp like?
The horror of horrors! Our heads were shaven bald. We wore ill-fitting clothes without underwear or socks. Instead of shoes, we wore a wooden-sole flip-flop. We slept on the floor without covers or pillows. There was hardly any food or water. The courtyard where we spent the entire day was filled with people; there was no shade, or a chair to sit down. We had to stand in line to be counted several times a day. Nazi women guards with police dogs surrounded us. Every few yards there were towers with soldiers aiming machine gun at us, and the entire camp was enclosed by barbed wire electrified fences. We could view the chimneys spewing dark gray smoke. We smelled a horrible odor of burned flesh, not knowing in the beginning what that was, until later on we found out that our dear family members were gassed in those crematories.

4. Did you lose hope during the Holocaust?
There were times when I wondered where God was, but fortunately there were many older women (25- to 30-year-olds) who prayed with us and kept our spirit alive. Also there were many teachers, who would talk about history, poetry, etc. to keep our mind focused on something different.

5. Have you returned to your hometown and your house since you were liberated?
I returned in 1945 to look for my family. Unfortunately, out of the extended family of 70, only 6 of us survived. I went to my home, that my family owned, and the current occupants refused to let me in or share at least one room. The government gave them this house; I had no money to fight the case legally. I found out that my brother was alive, however, he was captured by the Russian army when they liberated Hungary and was taken to a prison camp in Archangels, Siberia. He suffered malaria there without any medication, and he was first sent home in 1948. I was able to reunite with him in 1962.

6. Does talking about the Holocaust bring back memories?
Frequently. Sometimes when I speak I include something that I rarely talk about. This causes great discomfort.

7. If you couldn’t have done anything in order to escape, how is it that you survived?
By the Grace of God.

8. What do you feel today toward the Germans?
The young people of Germany today are totally different from their ancestors. I have a very close friendship with many young people who volunteer for one year at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Matter of fact, some of these young people, who were here maybe 7 years ago, I am still in touch with them.

9. What were you lacking most in the camps?
My parents and family. Food, water, warm clothes, a real bed to sleep in.

10. During the Holocaust what did you think of doing after the war?
Reuniting with my family. Continuing my education. Living a normal life.

11. How did you feel at liberation?
An unbelievable revelation, like being reborn again. I am forever indebted to the 2 brave soldiers of the 6th Armored Division of the U.S. Army for risking their lives to save mine.

12. What is the most awful thing that happened to you?
While in Auschwitz, we were to have a shower. At the entrance, there were poison-bottle stickers pasted on the door. This was very scary, because by this time, we knew how the people were murdered. We waited quietly, and I re-lived my entire 17 years of life as a way to say goodbye to the world. There was silence — you truly could hear a pin drop. Finally, we entered the shower room. It took an eternity before the trickling of water reached our bodies.

13. What helped you most during the Holocaust?
Positive attitude, faith in God, hope, that the end will come soon.

14. Is there anything you regret doing during the Holocaust?
This is difficult to answer. We lived from minute to minute in fear and were happy to still be alive the next day.

15. Did anyone help you during the Holocaust?
Yes, we had a very nice Catholic woman who worked in my father’s business. She risked her life to bring us some food while we were in the ghetto. And after the war, when my brother returned ill from prison, she took him into her home and took care of him for many years.

16. What scares you most now?
The recurrence of hatred.

17. Did the Holocaust change you as a person?
Yes. I missed being a teenager. Due to all the tragedies, I matured very rapidly. My values for material things vanished.

18. What did you dream about at night during the Holocaust?
Family, food, warmth, to have fun things in my life.

19. What is your personal moral of the Holocaust?
The Holocaust was a pre-meditated scientifically coordinated mass murder!

20. Can you explain the fact that such a civilized nation destroyed human beings?
There are no intelligent explanations. The power of a bigoted leader can arouse the people to do impossible damage without realizing its effects.

My message to all of you young people is:
1. Protect your freedom. Be happy living in a free society.
2. Think before you hate. I am not telling you to hate or not to hate, but to think about the reason why you are hating some one.
3. Stand up to the deniers. Unfortunately, the Holocaust was very real in every aspect.