One of Baldwin County's most academically successful elementary…
One of Baldwin County's most academically successful elementary…
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Talbot is their chief meteorologist. He …
Tuerk Schlesinger said he was just a teenager when he made …
FOX10 News recently sat down with the Commander of the Keesler …
Mike Gottfried is called coach by most folk who know him from …
Updated: Thursday, 15 Nov 2012, 5:24 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 15 Nov 2012, 5:24 PM CST
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Author Agnes Tennenbaum has written two books and continues to speak to audiences about her experiences during World II. She was just 17 years old and newly married when Nazi Germany attacked Poland in 1939. She said over the next six years she lost loved ones and experienced things she never imagined could happen.
Tennebaum recently sat down with FOX10 News about those experiences and surviving the Holocaust.
"It's over 60 years ago, and it is as vivid as it had happened yesterday. I have bad nights still. I have to be grateful to God that I survived. I firmly believe that this is God's wish that I reach 90. I never thought I could reach more than 60," said Tennenbaum.
HEARING THE TALES
Tennenbaum will celebrate her 90th year of life in December. Born in Hungary, the author and poet is a six year resident of Mobile. She is also a survivor of the Holocaust.
"When the refugees from Poland and Czechoslovakia came to our border, and they started to tell us stories, but they seem to be so incredible that we thought maybe they were just exaggerating. And we just didn't know what to think," said Tennenbaum. "I never liked living in Hungary, it was sort of a socialistic government, and you weren't free really, like here in America.”
But, she never believed those refugee stories could ever happen in Hungary.
"I couldn't imagine that what happened in Poland and in Czechoslovakia that it can happen to us, because of those many, many mixed marriages and the children born from that. So it was just unbelievable in my mind as a young woman that it can happen to us," Tennenbaum reflected.
Eventually, Hungary's Jewish community started seeing changes. Her husband, who had a college degree, was forced to dig ditches. He developed tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium.
"I never saw my husband again. And, then my father was taken away from us, and I never saw my father again," sadly she shared.
A successful businessman, her father was also an American citizen, born in New York. He anguished over not fleeing Hungary in time.
When he was taken away, Tennenbaum and her mother were removed from their home and sent to a ghetto. One morning they were told to walk to the trains.
"They were squeezing us into the cattle trains in Hungary. No water, no food, no bathroom facilities and then the door closed. It took about, I believe, two and a half days until we got to Auschwitz. I took a deep breath when the doors were opened because it was so little oxygen in the cattle car. I was so thirsty, all through the trip I was so dehydrated," Tennebaum remembered.
She said when those doors opened, things changed again in a split second.
"And then I faced Dr. Josef Mengele, directing traffic with his tongue: left, all old people, older middle aged people, young women with babies and sick. And young people on the right side. So in one second, I had my mother’s hand in my hand; I was holding on to her. And the next second, she was gone, and I never saw her again," shares Tennenbaum.
Dr. Mengele, the so-called angel of death, sent Tennenbaum to the right side with the young people.
"A woman came and cut off, shaved off my hair, and all my bodily hair was removed. I had long blonde hair. I didn't feel a woman anymore until the end of the war, long after the war," said Tennenbaum.
As she was led to the barracks, a female guard told Tennenbaum to look towards a brick building.
"She said, ‘Look up to the chimney.’ And I saw the curling of smoke from the chimney. And she said, ‘That is your family.’ Minutes ago, practically, I had my mother’s hand in my hand. Could it be possible that she is dead or that they burn her? The Germans actually put into the gas chamber, and then into the crematorium about 3,000 Jews a day. An older German officer came and told us that we are all going to die because there's no use for Jews in this world, because every trouble in this whole world caused by Jews," shared Tennenbaum.
She said Jews weren’t the only ones suffering in concentration camps.
"I met a few Christian women in Auschwitz, and they were from my hometown. And I asked how come you are here, and they all give me the same answer: ‘I tried to save my husband and my children.’ So they suffered the same the way I suffered. Some women of mixed marriages made a terrible sacrifice," she remembered.
She miraculously survived daily inspections and the challenges of Auschwitz, as the Nazis looked for any reason to kill their captives. Tennenbaum and a cousin were selected to work in a munitions factory making bombs and mines.
"I did everything they told me to do because I figured that's the only way to survive. Working in the factory, my blood had turned fire red; my skin on my face was green, and my hands were yellow. They were very dangerous chemicals for the lungs," said Tennenbaum.
As U.S. bombs and troops got closer to the underground factory, the Nazi guards started marching
Tennenbaum, her cousin and the thousand other women to another camp.
"We were supposed to reach another concentration camp and be killed. They had accused of us sabotaging the munitions. So we walked for two days, no food, nothing to drink," remembered Tennenbaum.
TIME TO FLEE
She said that’s when she knew if she wanted to survive, she had to escape.
"I thought it was time to take a chance to run away. And I said to my cousin, ‘We are going. We are going to escape.’ And she says to me,’ You think it's safe.’ I said, ‘I take the chance.’ Very slowly, we walked away from the group," Tennenbaum reflected.
They made their way through a field and came upon a farm. As they hid in a barn, an escaped French prisoner of war found them. He helped them get food and water, and find the American troops and "freedom.”
"I must have looked terrible when the first jeeps stopped, and I ran over to the American soldiers. The one I came up on first, looked at me and he says, ‘You don't have to tell me anything. I liberated two camps.’” She recalled.
She said the condition of her health was a lot worse than just skin deep.
"Can you imagine one year (with) no toothpaste? No toothbrush? My teeth were in terrible condition, and I was in terrible condition. I was skin and bones," said Tennenbaum.
She continued, "You know, when you are young, it’s unbelievable how much you can take."
HOME TO THE UNITED STATES
The U.S. Army soldier who Tennenbaum first encountered actually lived in the same New York neighborhood where here American relatives lived. He helped her contact her family.
In 1949, with her new husband and their son Henry, Tennenbaum finally arrived in the U.S. She dearly loves the United States and feels that too many Americans take it for granted. She also loves Mobile.