Welcome to Hell
She is a direct witness to mass murder. 'From our hut I looked out on the gas chamber and crematorium number four.' She gestures to her sitting-room wall, maybe three metres from our chairs. 'That's how close it was.


The unspeakable horror of Auschwitz
I saw people going into a building and never coming out. I saw the SS go up the ladders and empty tins of white crystals [which produced the poison gas] into a hole in the roof.

I heard screams a few minutes later. I saw smoke and fire and men wheeling barrows of ash. That went on 24 hours a day. At one point, an SS woman escorted some of us back to the main camp on an errand. We were taken around the outer perimeter past the woods at the back. There they were driving people alive into burning pits.'


The Nazi gas chambers used Zyklon B poison gas

Kitty became aware that there was a resistance movement among crematoria staff. She managed to pass on valuables she found hidden in the seams of clothing to the men working in the gas chambers. One day – she now knows this to be 7 October 1944 – there was a huge explosion. 'The chimney fell to the ground. I lay spread-eagled on the ground.

I thought that we were being bombed but it was the uprising [of 250 Jewish crematorium workers, who broke through the outer fence after setting fire to the building].' She says briskly that tanks appeared and a massacre ensued (all the escapees were killed). Her control is rigid because the imperative is to impart the facts, not to release her emotion.

She learned how to manage her own mind long ago. 'I couldn't get it into my head that those were people disappearing into smoke,' she says at one point. But she also admits this was a psychological trick. She tried to see the streams of people as a crowd because if she focused on individuals – a mother with a child – it was too much and would lead back to suicide.

By late 1944, with the Allies advancing, Kitty and her mother were evacuated from Auschwitz. That winter, barefoot and in rags, she took part in an infamous death march across the mountains. 'We were eating the snow. Then there was a miracle.

In front of us were German refugees in their wooden carts. It took my group two seconds to weigh up the situation. We attacked them, took their food and I grabbed a bucket of lard.

My mother was jubilant. We smeared ourselves with it and it saved a lot of us from exposure.' At another point, she was herded into an air-tight truck on a train journey in which some 300 people died of suffocation. She was in the small Salzwedel concentration camp when liberated by the Americans on 14 April 1945.




 

Eyewitness To Auschwitz
The Kitty Hart-Moxon Story

 

"Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease." Lamentations 2:18

Kitty Hart-Moxon was 16 when she arrived at the notorious Nazi death camp. Against all odds, she survived there for almost two years. "Arrival in Auschwitz is a defining moment in your life. The doors open, you are thrown out, greeted by barking dogs, screaming figures with whips, a stench of burning flesh and a glow of fire. Everything happens at breakneck speed. "Out, out, out!” You are driven off running." - Kitty Hart-Moxon, Auschwitz Survivor

She was 12 when war broke out and her family left behind a comfortable home in western Poland and fled the advancing tanks. With her parents, she got as far as a town called Lublin in the east while her 17-year-old brother continued towards Russia. She remembers watching the German bombers with childish fascination. But after the Nazis entered the town, herding the Jewish population into a ghetto, she lost her innocence. 'I was walking down the street with a boy from my home town. We met a patrol and I stepped off the pavement into the gutter.

My friend didn't and this German pulled out his gun and shot him in the head in front of me.'

It was her introduction to terror

SS soldiers dividing prisoners into two groups at Auschwitz, 1944
SS soldiers dividing prisoners into two groups at Auschwitz, 1944

It was her introduction to terror. Conditions in the overcrowded ghetto worsened: the family needed cunning to survive the hunger, disease and casual brutality. 'It was often children who kept life going – men were grabbed off the street. It was easier for children to get around. My father would give me bits of jewellery and I would go down the sewer and out on the non-Jewish side to barter for bread or potatoes.' The family made several escape attempts, at one point living in a forest for three weeks on berries and rainwater until eventually a Catholic priest provided them with new identities.



Kitty (front, second from right) at a displaced persons' camp in 1946 - her arm is bandaged where she tried to remove her Auschwitz tattoo

It was too dangerous for the three of them to remain together. Audaciously Kitty and her mother Lola would pose as non-Jewish Poles and join those conscripted to work in factories within Germany itself. 'That was the last I saw of my father, at the vicarage,' Kitty says. 'My mother and I found ourselves in Germany. We thought we could survive the war there because we didn't look particularly Jewish and the Germans thought our documents were in order. But we came under suspicion among the Polish women working next to us.'

Twelve Jewish women were betrayed to the Gestapo and sentenced to death. 'The night before our execution the 12 of us were held together in a cell with a window. I sat next to it all night, my last chance to look at the night sky.' Lola prepared her daughter to die bravely. Led out at dawn, they lined up facing a brick wall with the machine guns behind them. 'There was an almighty explosion.' Even today, Kitty's hand flies to her chest. 'Then a laugh. They had shot high. Our death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Auschwitz. A quick death for a slow death.' Kitty was 16 when she boarded the train to the most infamous of the Nazi death camps. She arrived on 2 April 1943.

No one here in Britain really wanted to know what had happened at Auschwitz

'Arrival in Auschwitz is a defining moment in your life. The doors open, you are thrown out, greeted by barking dogs, screaming figures with whips, a stench of burning flesh and a glow of fire. Everything happens at breakneck speed. "Out, out, out!” You are driven off running. You are taken to a building, stripped, put under cold showers, driven into the next hall where they shave off your hair. There are no towels so you are still wet and cold. Then women prisoners smear your body with a mop dipped in green fluid which stings.

In the next hall you are thrown some rags and wooden clogs. In the final hall there are women sitting at tables with funny pens in their hands and before you know it needles are piercing your skin. That is when you become a number [39934]. Whistles blow and there is a roll call. Thousands of women are rushing to stand in line. For hours you stand in the rain and people fall to the ground dead. Then you are driven into a hut and you think, "At last, I can lie down.” But you can't. There are 1,000 women trying to lie down on the bunks. You are lucky to find a corner to cling to. Welcome to Auschwitz. Welcome to hell.'


Most newcomers faced selection on arrival, with the old, the young and the weak sent directly to the gas chambers. The rest slaved for the Third Reich until they became too weak to be useful and were also sent to die. Some died of starvation, disease or simply lost the will to live. The average survival period was between six weeks and three months.

That first morning, Kitty discovered the woman next to her had died during the night. 'I said to my mother, "She has clothes, she may have a piece of bread. We've got to have it off her.” I realised that everything in this place had to be paid for. The kapos [ruling prisoners who helped run the camp] were your worst enemy, your first enemy. My philosophy was, I will pay them with whatever is available from the dead. But I never took anything from the living.'


Kitty Hart-Moxon today

She has never suffered from survivor's guilt. 'My conscience is clear. My good friend committed suicide ten years ago. She had a high position in Auschwitz as a messenger for the SS. She didn't do anything bad to anyone, but she could have done more to help. It was a lot worse for women than men.

Many men had some kind of skill but girls were used for hard labour. Yet women formed little "families” for mutual support. Outside it, there had to be bribery; within there was help.'

Kitty lost 30 members of her family in the Holocaust. Her father was betrayed and shot. Her brother died fighting at Stalingrad alongside the Russians. She and her mother came to Birmingham, to an aunt and uncle who'd escaped Europe before the war. Her uncle's greeting: 'In my house I don't want you to speak about anything that happened to you.'

Adjustment took time. 'I didn't know how to hold a knife and fork. I was slopping my food out of a bowl. I used to take the bread my neighbours had thrown in their dustbins.' What about schooling? 'I eventually educated myself through my children [she has two sons and eight grandchildren]. I did my sons' homework with them and managed to catch up enough to do a pre-nursing course and was accepted to study radiography.

'My first husband came over with the kindertransport. My second was my boss, the consultant radiologist. My first husband didn't want to know anything about the past, even though his parents and brother died in the Holocaust. My second husband, who had no connection to the Holocaust, understood the importance of my doing talks and educational work. Strange, isn't it?'

A lust for revenge kept Kitty alive at one point: revenge for the friends she lost in Auschwitz and those shot or clubbed to death if they lagged on the death march. After liberation, she was part of a group that rampaged through Salzwedel town. But confronting a cowering German family, a knife in her hand, she knew she could not hurt them.

Today, her work takes her throughout Europe, and when she talks to German teenagers, 'I tell them, "It is not your fault. You are not to blame." They must notice that every sentence she says is imbued with rigorous honesty. Perhaps they also sense the stark dignity shaping her compassion. source - Daily Mail UK

 






 
 
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