Holocaust Survivor Eva Iszak Djordjevic Tells It Like It Was!
Holocaust survivor Eva Iszak Djordjevic spoke at the "Days of Remembrance" observance in Heidelberg, Germany
She was was just sixteen years old when Hungarian police rounded her up in Budapest in October 1944.
And Eva, along with her mother, aunt and others, were forced to march for a month through the cold and rain to the Austrian border.
And upon arrival there, they were handed over to the Nazis.
Days later, she was transported by train to Ravensbrück, and then later sent on to Dachau, which were just two of the German Reich’s concentration and death camps, where millions starved, suffered unimaginably and died.
"The fear every day! It was so awful. It is a very sad story, but it must always, always be repeated. So people will know not to hate".
said Dr. Eva Iszak Djordjevic.
The Killings And The Death Marches
On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its sub-camps.
And according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"Starting that day, the Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to the south. During the death march, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion".
"When American forces liberated Dachau’s main camp on April 29, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies".
An Audience Of Soldiers And Civilians
Now 84, Djordjevic repeated her story of loss, terror, humiliation and suffering, but also of endurance and survival, to an audience of about 220 U.S. soldiers and civilians in a theater in Nachrichten Kaserne in Heidelberg.
Accompanied by a grandson and daughter, it was the retired physician’s first visit to Germany since she was liberated from a Dachau sub camp by U.S. soldiers in 1945, restored to health and returned to her home in Belgrade, which is now capital of Serbia.
Choosing to Act; Stories of Rescue
Her talk was sponsored by the Europe Regional Medical Command, for which her son-in-law works as a clinical social worker.
It was part of the Days of Remembrance, an annual, week-long commemoration of the Holocaust in which six million Jews, along with Gypsies, disabled people, homosexuals and political enemies, perished in state-sponsored, systematic, race-based torture and mass murder.
The theme of this year’s commemoration was "Choosing to Act; Stories of Rescue", and Master Sgt. Mark Jordan, of U.S. Army Europe’s equal opportunity office, told the audience,
"We have to choose to take a stand against persecution".
The small, fragile Djordjevic walked up the stairs onto the stage after a video about the Holocaust from the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Life At The Ravensbrück Camp
She sat in a chair holding her notes and matter-of-factly told her story.
"At Ravensbrück, the Reich’s largest concentration camp for women, north of Berlin, each terrible day began at 4 a.m.".
"From 4 to 8 a.m., standing on the Appell Platz, which is the square where the roll calls were held, with the temperature below zero, being beaten with leather belts".
"At 8 a.m., exhausted and frozen, with a cup of black water they called coffee and a thin piece of bread made of a mixture of flour and scrapings of wood, we were pressed to work outside. We saw every day a lot of corpses".
And Then To Dachau
Later, she was sent in an open wagon to a Dachau sub-camp, near Munich, that used slave laborers to make munitions.
But by March 1945, she and the other women were too sick, starved and weak to work.
"We were living corpses",
Life After The War
Despite the life she made for herself after the war, a long career and marriage to a prominent psychologist, three daughters and two grandchildren, she could never forget, she told her rapt audience.
"I started a new life. But a scar persists in my soul and body. The loss of my home, the loss of my father, so many relatives and friends, the humiliation and tortures".
Djordjevic began to weep.
So did her daughter.
And so did the soldiers and civilians in the audience.
"For me, I have every day Days of Remembrance".
Djordjevic said in closing.
Lost For Words
said Col. Talida Crosland, commander of Heidelberg Medical Department Activity (HMEDDAC), but as she took the microphone to make her own closing remarks, she found that she could barely speak.
Other soldiers reacted the same way.
"I knew about the Holocaust, but to hear somebody actually talk about it, she made it, but she’s still struggling".
said a wet-eyed Sgt. 1st Class Veronica Pippers.
Capt. Jose Real, the chief of operations and security for the HMEDDAC, said Djordjevic’s experience put his own major problem . Seventeen years in the Army and the resulting fatigue, into perspective.
"It didn’t seem too bad after today",
he said, and then moved for cover to the back of the theater as Djordjevic ended her talk.
"Nobody wants to see the chief of security bawling up".
Djordjevic was given a unit coin, a plaque and a bouquet of flowers after which dozens lined up to thank her, whisper in her ear, or hug her.
"I was very surprised and very flattered that so many people came",
she said, after her well-wishers departed.
Still Grateful To The U.S. Army
She then sat down for an interview, fishing creased, age-yellowed documents out of her stuffed handbag, including her old U.S. military government pass for displaced persons, signed by one Lt. Nesbit Pinnon.
She was still grateful to the U.S. Army, she said, whose soldiers had shown up in her camp after increasingly louder and closer shelling.
"I never forget it, it was 27 April 1945",
The Day Of The Rescue
That morning, she’d woken in her lice-infested straw, sick from typhoid fever, near starvation, to a male prisoner’s voice.
"Women: wake up! There are no guards, no Nazis!".
I looked everywhere!
"We are free!".
That afternoon, three or four Jeeps appeared in the yard, and the American soldiers jumped out.
"They wore nice uniforms. I remember they all had silk scarves. They gave us chocolate and tins of food".
"They were also terrified when they saw us, how we looked. They got some German guards and made them prepare food for us",
The Difficult Return To Germany
Djordjevic’s daughter Isak-Jarmus, said she wasn’t sure if her mother should return to Germany for the talk.
"I was so afraid for her to come. It’s so emotional. But she’s the winner! "You know? She’s coming back to Germany and getting all this".