Gloria L.: A Survivor’s Story
by Seth E.
Stuart Hall High School
Gloria L. was born in what she remembers as ‘the enlargement of Czechoslovakia’ on January 20, 1930, in the village of Nagybereg, which was located in the province of Bereg. Nagybereg had a population of approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people, and was only a few miles away from Bereg’s provincial capital and largest city, Beregszász. Her father 1 was a vintner who owned 24 pieces of land, and also served as a volunteer fireman. Gloria’s mother was a merchant and operated the family store. Her grandfather was a Talmud Chacham, a Torah scholar and an expert on Jewish law, who was well-known in the Jewish community. Gloria also had 5 siblings: Joseph, Sandor, Michael, Viktor, and Annushka. Gloria had a special love for Annushka, as she was the only other girl in the family. Growing up in a Hungarian-speaking household, Gloria’s birth name was recorded as “Zora” and nicknamed as “Hanci,” the both of which she fondly recalled during the interview.
The province of Bereg was located near the Carpathian mountains, and was known for its good red wine. Gloria described it as a beautiful place, with rolling, lush hills, vineyards, fruit orchards, and civilization. Gloria attended Hebrew school in Nagybereg when she was young. Beregszász, however, was the most important part of the province Bereg. It was the social and economic center of the region, and had a thriving Jewish community, and two train stations. One ran to various European major cities, while the other ran to nearby smaller communities. Gloria commuted to the city from Nagybereg for High School and to attend synagogue. According to Gloria, Beregszász also was home to “a teaching hospital with a nursing school, medical school and dental school housed in it.” However, in 1933, when Gloria was just three, the Jewish community was shaken by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. His hateful message inflamed many of the prejudices of Nagybereg and Beregszász’s non-Jewish inhabitants, and growing up, Gloria observed increased antisemitism towards the Jews. Gloria said that the Jewish community viewed Hitler as a “maniac.”
In 1938, Hitler made a deal with Hungary, the Munich Agreement, which aimed to give the province of Bereg to the Hungarians. Prior to 1918, Bereg was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was dissolved into multiple states in 1918, due to the nation’s defeat in World War I. One of the many states formed from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was Czechoslovakia, which included the province of Bereg. Eager to claim a bit of territory, Hungary agreed, and sent its army into Bereg to occupy it. The Czechs peacefully left the region two hours before the Hungarians invaded. The Hungarians launched antisemitic raids, vandalizing two businesses in Gloria’s house and store.
After their invasion, Hungary began collaborating with Nazi Germany, in accordance with the 1938 Munich Agreement. Adopting Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies, the Hungarians ordered Jews to close their stores and investments in banks, which left the Jewish community without resources with which to live. However, they still managed to help each other in hard times, barely scraping by, and Gloria remembered this in great detail. The Jews of Bereg were forced to wear the Yellow Star, but Gloria’s family was exempted. This was because her father was a highly-decorated veteran of World War I, who had fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army and received six medals for his bravery. Gloria felt immense guilt for not having been forced to wear the Star, because she was unable to suffer and identify with the rest of the Jewish community. By the 1940s, Hungary started working with Germany to carry out the Final Solution within its territories. Gloria started to notice that teachers and other members of the Jewish intelligentsia were disappearing from schools and universities in Nagybereg and Beregszász, never to be heard from again. In reality, they were forced into slave labor by the Nazis and Hungarians. Simultaneously, young Jewish men of military age were also deported for slave labor, including Michael, one of Gloria’s brothers, who was later sent on a death march along with his fellow laborers. The Jewish laborers marched to the outskirts of Vienna, where the survivors were liberated by the Red Army, which was advancing on Germany. Michael was one of the 75 survivors of the some 10,000man death march. The next victims after the Jewish intellectuals were the “Gypsies”, who were deported from Bereg. In 1942, 2 at the age of 12, Gloria went to High School (the Hungarian equivalent of an American Middle School), aware of the changes going on around her. That same year, her eldest brother, Joseph, tragically died in an industrial accident, which deeply impacted Gloria. In two years, however, something far worse would emerge; something that would define her forever.
In 1944, the Germans invaded Bereg County, ready to implement the final process of their Final Solution. On the last night of Passover, the mayor of Nagybereg informed Gloria’s father that all the Jews in town would be rounded up in the morning and taken to an unnamed place. Gloria’s family quickly spread the word to the rest of the Jewish community and hid their valuables. At 5:00 in the morning, the SS and gendarmes (auxiliary policemen) knocked on their door, with trucks ready for transportation. Crying, Gloria and her family reluctantly boarded one of the several military trucks, as did all of Nagybereg’s Jewry. The Nagybereg Jews were driven into the heart of Beregszász, where they were detained in the Great Synagogue alongside the Jews of that city until Ghetto Beregszász was completed. All of the Jews from the surrounding area were detained in the Great Synagogue as well. With many Jewish populations crammed into one synagogue and only one water spigot to provide for them, Gloria recalled that “you could hear the cries of pain from the old people and the crying of the children.” However, the Ghetto Beregszász was completed quickly, and the Jews were taken from the Great Synagogue, only to be confined in a brick factory. Gloria and her family, along with the rest of the Jews, stayed in this dusty, musty ghetto for a month, until they were herded into cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz.
In the meantime, the train ride to Auschwitz was hellish, as there were hordes of people packed into small cattle cars, which were often freezing cold. Speaking of this experience, Gloria recalled, “The cattle cars were crowded with people. People couldn’t move, and some brought chamber pots to go to the bathroom, using blankets as screens for privacy.” Gloria described the train ride as the beginning of the dehumanization process of the Jews prior to their arrival at Auschwitz, and the trip lasted approximately three nights and four days, according to Gloria’s estimate. When the Jews finally arrived at Auschwitz, they were hastily herded out of the cars, with SS guards viciously shouting “schnell” at them (schnell is German for “fast”). The putrid smell of those that had died on the cattle cars hit Gloria like a thunderbolt. After the starving and trembling Jews were forced off the trains, they were split into two lines by gender, which separated Gloria from her father and two brothers, Sándor and Viktor. After the lines were formed, Gloria witnessed the arrival of a strange man, who inspected the new arrivals. This man was none other than the sinister Dr. Josef Mengele, one of the most feared 3 Nazis in Auschwitz and the most infamous doctor in the camp. Gloria recalled that he wore a white glove on one hand which held a baton, and divided the prisoners into three groups: up to 16, 16 to 50, and lastly, the sick, elderly, handicapped, the infirm, and pregnant women. This third group proved to be the largest group, and as the people in the third group were considered unfit to work, they were immediately marched off to the gas chambers for an instantaneous death. Gloria’s sister, Annushka, was one of those selected to be in the third group.
Gloria, her mother, and the rest of the able-bodied women were marched off to multiple barracks in the Birkenau section of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, while Gloria’s father and brothers were taken to the men’s camp. On the way to the barracks, a wagon passed Gloria, and on it was Annushka, who managed to escape the third group that was destined for the gas chambers. When she saw her mother and Gloria, she jumped off the wagon and walked over to them, where they were reunited. At the barracks, Gloria was told of the horrible truth of Auschwitz by the “old timers,” those who had lived in the camp for some time. Next, the Jews were given their tattoo numbers. Afterwards, their hair was shaved and the Jews were given gray dress uniforms. Gloria recalled that “all of the women in the barracks looked identical, so I had to look at a person’s eyes to identify them.”
In order to lighten the mood during their time in Auschwitz, Gloria, a group of cousins, as well as a few Hungarian-speaking prisoners, formed a singing group that they called the Minyan Singers. The teens wrote a song set to the melody of Israel’s current national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), which they sang to the old timers. Unfortunately, the old timers were so hardhearted that they didn’t clap, which greatly disheartened Gloria. As a fit teenager, Gloria served as a slave laborer in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and it was her task to sort the belongings of the Jewish prisoners and of those who perished. Gloria performed this horrible job directly behind Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV, which was the only facility of all five gas chambers and crematoriums in Auschwitz-Birkenau that wasn’t soundproofed. Thus, as Gloria was working, she heard the agony, crying, coughing, screaming, vomiting and death throes of the victims of Zyklon B, which she still remembers to this day 72 years later.
Towards the end of Gloria’s stay in Auschwitz, Josef Mengele ordered a selection of the prisoners in Gloria’s all-female section of Birkenau. Transported by cattle wagons, Gloria and the rest of the prisoners had to undress before Mengele and his contingent of SS soldiers. Prior to the mass inspection, fellow prisoners hopped onto the wagons and furtively urged her to exaggerate her age, and say that she was older than she actually was. Gloria put this advice to good use, saying she was 16, and Annushka exaggerated as well, saying that she was 15. By doing this, Gloria and Annushka saved their lives, as Josef Mengele had an obsession with operating on younger prisoners, especially twins.
Months later, Gloria was stripped of her clothes and scheduled to be gassed. She was loaded on a truck with thirty other female prisoners and was driven to one of the gas chambers. Gloria recounts how her mother had made a connection with a Hungarian guard, as the spoke a common language and sometimes exchanged words in Hungarian. Gloria believes that because he had a grandchild, he identified with her mother. It was this Hungarian guard who inspected the truck prior in which Gloria was placed prior to its departure. Upon opening the canvas flaps, he spotted Gloria and in Hungarian, said, “Te is [“You too?” in English]?” Fortunately, he told Gloria and the other prisoners that they were destined for the gas chambers, and told them to jump out of the truck when they had the opportunity. After the truck pulled away, Gloria asked the others if they wanted to escape with her. The prisoners all declined. Undaunted, Gloria jumped out of the moving truck, walking naked in the darkness until she found a culvert to hide in overnight. She stayed until the German guards stopped searching for her, and she continued on with her escape. She walked to a nearby barrack and was greeted by female prisoners, who were to be transported to an unknown concentration camp. Gloria joined the prisoners, and was transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau to a staggering six other camps to serve as a slave laborer, which included Bergen-Belsen, Braunschweig, Hannover, Hamburg, Beendorf, and Ravensbrück. Ravensbrück was a brutal camp, and life was hard for Gloria as a laborer there.
However, on May 3, 1945, Gloria’s fate took a turn for the best when the Swedish Red Cross liberated Ravensbrück, freeing some 13,000 inmates and taking her and the other prisoners to Malmö, Sweden. Gloria was to be adopted by a loving Swedish family, who gave her a blue journal. In it, she recorded the songs she learned from her brothers as a child, as well as the song she made up in Auschwitz. From that moment on, she swore to remember her story forever, and ensure that not only her testimony, but the Holocaust as a whole, would never be forgotten.
 Beregszász was the provincial capital of the province of Bereg, and was home to the largest Jewish population in the area. In 1941, Beregszász was home to 5,856 Jews. See: Braham, Randolph L. The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary: AbaújTorna CountyMáramaros County . Randolph L Braham. Northwestern University Press, 2013.
 Called “Gypsies” by Europeans, the Romani people originated from northern India. The Romani were persecuted relentlessly in Europe for centuries, which culminated in genocide during the Holocaust. See: “Who Were the “Gypsies”? — United States Holocaust …” 2016. 6 Mar. 2016
 Josef Mengele was an SS doctor stationed at Auschwitz, who performed horrific and inhumane medical experimentation on prisoners. See: “Josef Mengele United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” 2010. 18 Feb. 2016 < http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007060 >
 Along with 30 of his medical staff, Mengele performed selections of prisoners for him to use in his experiments. Mengele showed a special obsession with twins, and took time to search for them through the throngs of new arrivals at the camps. See: Posner, Gerald L, and John Ware. Mengele: The complete story . Cooper Square Press, 2000.
 Inmates were forced to perform labor for the Nazis, and the prisoners helped build armaments and produce food for the German war effort. See: “Ravensbrück United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” 2010. 18 Feb. 2016 < http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005199 >