“I Became a Number.” Lusia Segal’s Account
“When the train entered the ramp in Birkenau, all the doors were opened. We saw soldiers wearing uniforms and leather shoes. Big black dogs were barking. Loud music was playing, the sky was completely dark. We smelled something burning,” she says about her first moments at the death camp.
People from her transport were sent to work. They went through a preliminary selection earlier, at the camp in Bliżyn. “The SS probably made a mistake. We were lucky. They sent us towards life, instead ofdeath. Far from the crematoria”.
Lusia arrived in Auschwitz in July 1944, together with her aunt Sala and her aunt’s daughter Janeczka. Her father probably died of typhus, her mother stayed at the ammunition factory in Skarżysko. Her grandparents perished in Treblinka.
“They brought us to a room where they cut our hair, dressed us up in stripped uniforms and tattooed numbers on our forearms. At that moment, I stopped being Lusia. I became a number”.
The prisoner number A15515 was six year old at the time. Until then, she had always been together with her aunt; now, in order to survive, she had to promptly adapt to the new conditions. “I was clutching my metal bowl, waiting for the soup. By that time I already knew that you needed to wait till the bottom of the pot. There were more potato peels and less water at the bottom”. She was also looking for bread heels, because they were supposedly more nourishing. This habit turned into her post-camp trauma. “My family and friends know that up to this day, the first or the last slice of bread belongs to me”.
Soon after their arrival, Janeczka became ill. “Aunt Sala didn’t want to part with her, so both of them were killed. I was left totally alone”.
Thanks to some kind women who took care of her, Lusia survived the camp and witnessed its liberation on 27 January 1945.
One day after the liberation, a 16 year-old girl from Oświęcim, Kazia Nowak, came to the children’s barrack. She took Lusia to her house. Two months later, Lusia was located there by her mother. The two of them went to Palestine in 1947. In Israel, Lusia changed her name to Pnina.
“For 51 years I hadn’t spoken about it with my children. My husband saw my Auschwitz number only after we got married. He was very moved”.
Interview: Joanna Król
Editing: Mateusz Szczepaniak.
From the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews oral history collection. Interview conducted on 31 October 2015.
Witness accounts are recorded within the framework of the project Neighbors–Witnesses. Objects, People, Stories realized as part of the Jewish Cultural Heritage program.
Supported from the Norway and EEA Grants by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.