In this poignant memoir, The Birds Sang Eulogies, Anna and Danny Geslewitz's incredible stories of survival are told by them, their daughter and their granddaughter, three generations affected by the Holocaust. Danny's harrowing story began the moment the Germans invaded Lodz, Poland in 1939. His harrowing story of survival begins in the ghetto where starvation and death were rampant. When the Germans liquidated the ghetto in 1944, Danny and his remaining family members were sent to Auschwitz. Danny's account of hell on earth leaves the reader horrified. After enduring Auschwitz for three weeks, Danny and his brothers began nightmarish journeys to seven forced labor camps were they endured inconceivable deprivations. After witnessing two brothers perish, Danny is near death when suddenly the Germans disappear.
Living in the eastern Polish city of Lvov, Anna vividly describes life and death in the Lvov Ghetto. When it becomes clear that the Germans will kill every remaining Jew in the ghetto, she and her sister flee into Germany. There, Anna works as a maid in German household. She lives a life of constant terror fearing that her Jewish identity will be discovered.
The mayhem of liberation brings its own challenges to Anna and Danny. Barely alive, Danny struggled to regain his health. Anna scrambled to find a way to survive in the chaos and find her sister from whom she had been separated. As Danny and Anna worked to find their place in life, they meet in Germany. Together, they begin a memorable new chapter. Years later, their daughter and granddaughter travel to Poland. Their personal accounts of their trips are riveting.
Anna Geslewitz was a poet. One can feel her sorrow, terror and angst as one reads her poems. The poems are included in The Birds Sang Eulogies: A Memoir.
And there was real terror. When we got to the camp and they took over, the inmates looked to see whether we got hidden on the body some other diamonds. They threatened if they’re gonna find we have something hidden we’re gonna be hanged. He was a Jewish kapo. He just walked around, this kapo, was just beating up people. This wasn’t so important if you got hit. It was just the terror. You found out that you’re in Auschwitz.
In Birkenau, my father became prisoner 50864. To the Nazis, he was no longer Gedalia Geclewicz, because names were for humans and Jews were subhuman.
After they were disinfected and shaved, from head to toe, they were given striped shirts and pants. The clothes were handed to them without regard to how they fit. The prisoners were left to exchange clothing with each other when what they were given did not fit.
When we got to Birkenau they took away all our clothes. They stripped everybody. We were shaven, everything. All the body hair, everywhere. Then they disinfect us. You were issued uniform or other clothes. The prisoner’s garb, we got a striped uniform. They gave you a shirt, a pair of pants. No underwear. It didn’t even matter what fit or didn’t fit. So you had to exchange it with another.
They asked an old prisoner how one got out of Auschwitz. He pointed and said through the chimney. They could see the crematorium. It was a red brick building with black smoke belching out of the chimney.
The kapos gave a threatening speech to the new inmates. This was accompanied by beatings if the prisoners didn’t stand correctly, for anything, for nothing.
There were appels, roll call, where everyone had to line up. You had to stay for an hour. And if anything didn’t add up, they counted us you know, til everything didn’t add up we would stay and they used to make certain exercises, punishment exercises. If someone didn’t stay proper in the line everybody had to do exercises. You had bend down, knee bends and stretch your arms out and sit there like for 10 minutes. If you fell they beat you. There was such a terror there. And until they had everything, everything was tallied, all the prisoners, the amount of prisoners and nobody escaped.
The prisoners were told which block would be theirs. All the prisoners slept on the bare concrete floor. The building was an empty rectangular building. The toilet, rows of concrete with holes, that everyone used, was in another barrack.
You could hardly stretch out. If you slept you had to sleep on somebody else’s body. In other words, if you slept your body was laying on somebody’s chest or his leg was laying on your body.
Each daybreak, the prisoners were chased out of the barracks through a single door.
They chased us out fast. And some were standing by the door and you had to move fast. If we didn’t go fast some they used to hit like cattle. Have you seen how they move cattle here through a one door opening, a bunch of cattle they have prods? There they had sticks. They used to hit the people to move faster. There was always constant beating going on.
In the morning they gave us coffee, if you could call it coffee. Brown water. For the day we got one piece of bread and a soup. That was all. A soup and a piece of bread and in the morning it was coffee no sugar and this was it.
Mirla Geclewicz Raz is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She is on the Board of Directors for the Phoenix Holocaust Association and the head of its Education Committee. In addition to The Birds Sang Eulogies, Ms. Raz is a retired speech pathologist and the author of the popular Help Me Talk Right books as well as a contributing author to other books in her field. She has two grown daughters and a granddaughter. She lives with her husband in Scottsdale, AZ.