Rose Unger: Pishidyaka Camp Holocaust Survivor
On Monday, December 10, 1990, Rose Unger was born to Lezer and Esther Buksapan in Staszow, Poland. Born into a big family, she had six sisters and one brother. Although her family was quite big, they were most certainly not lacking in wealth and were accustomed to life's finer things. Her parents were Orthodox, and they believed very strongly in Jewish education, so every one of the Buksapan children learned Hebrew. One of the many memories Rose recalls about her family life was how they would have people over very often. She looks back fondly on her childhood.
While life was seemingly good for those living in Staszow, they were not aware of what life was like for those in Germany until one day in 1933 when a German Jew showed up in their town. This German Jew had run away from Germany because he wanted to save his life. He told everyone that life in Germany was hard and that Hitler was killing every Jew, trying to eradicate all the Jews from Germany. His goal was apparent: free Germany of all Jews. As an outsider who knows all about the Holocaust, a person understands this was the beginning of the Holocaust; however, those in this town, including Rose's family, couldn't believe it; they could not imagine life would go such a way. Further, they could not believe that the Germans were the ones who were committing such heinous acts. Again, a person from the generations after would question: why couldn't they believe it? Before this instant, the Germans were seen as the nicest people in Europe, and everyone looked up to them. The people thought that miracles would come from the Germans and the revolution would come from them. It was unfathomable to imagine such delightful people could suddenly be acting so cruelly.
Life went on despite knowing all these awful things about the Germans that were relayed to them by the Jewish Germans. They did not grasp the reality of what was happening until 1939, when Hitler came to power, and everything changed. They knew that the best thing for them to do was run, but they didn't know where to run. Then, the real trouble started because the Germans invaded Poland and occupied it. They came to the Jews and took many of their possessions. Although they could stay in their house when the Germans came in, they had many people living with them, so it was very crowded. Many people died from hunger, dirt, and sickness. Some non-Jews brought them food, but it was not enough for many people. Additionally, at this time, her father could no longer continue the business, and on top of that, the Germans threw their merchandise on the street, and all the non-Jews were able to take whatever they wanted. She recalls how horrible the situation was, and one thought that remained with her until she got older was her memory of the Nazi soldiers "When they marched, you thought the ceiling was falling." It is chilling to imagine how scary it must have been to experience such things.
Life became a nightmare for all; everyone was hungry, and they thought this was the end: they knew they were all going to die. During this time, her mother and a few of her sisters escaped, and she was left with her younger sister, her boyfriend, her brother, and a few neighbors. There was a man named Shlosar, a non-Jew who had gone to America and became rich. He wanted to help the children leave, so he took Rose and those with her to his house. Not long after getting to Shlosar's house, Rose wanted to go out and get some food. While she was out, two SS officers came to her and asked what she was doing there. She knew German quite well, so she told them in German that they were young, and they heard there was a camp and they would like to go there. The officers told her to come with them, and they took her on a wagon with them and brought her to the camp. When they got to the camp, she told the officers that she was not alone and that people were waiting for her, so she wanted the officers to bring her to them because otherwise, they wouldn't know what had happened to her. It was a miracle that she somehow remembered where they were and went there. Then, they were all taken to the camps. Life was about to change even more, but they were not aware of it yet.
Upon entering the camp, Rose could not believe what she was seeing; girls were beating each other and calling each other names. She had come in asking for water, but no one would give it to her, and she could not understand why. At night, when the door closed, Rose was crying, and she sat down with the girls and asked them why they were so mean and wouldn't give her a drink. Their response was, "Rose, you will see what is going on here; tomorrow, you will be dead." She did not understand what they were talking about and what they meant by that, and they told her she would soon find out. Then they went on and said to her that there was an SS man who came and took the most beautiful girl and did whatever he wanted with them, and then he killed them, "and tomorrow you are the one he will take," they said. After hearing such horrors, she did not know what to do with herself but to stay up thinking about it all night. She had no choice but to wait and see what would happen, what her fate would be. Was this where it all ended?
Sure enough, a few days later, the SS officer came to her and told her to follow him. He took her to a room full of shoes and told her to count them all. She was met with much confusion as to what he was doing. Then the officer told her to get undressed, so she put her hand up and pushed him to the wall, ran for the door, opened it, and then she fell. She describes herself as "not normal" during this whole encounter. The entire event was something no one could even imagine. The other girls thought she was dead, for that was the fate of all the other girls that were taken. They were surprised when she walked back into the barracks and told them about how she hit the soldier to make sure he would remember what he did to the other girls. At this time, Rose was waiting to die because she could not take it anymore. This was not a life worth living for anyone.
While they all waited for their fate to be sealed, they tried to live in the camps to the best of their ability. The girls would sing and tell each other stories to make things more bearable. Although the girls and the boys were in separate camps, they got together every Sunday. In each camp, they were given different work to do; if the work was not completed, a person would be killed. Rose was able to get some food because she had money from home that she had hidden inside her body so that the Nazis wouldn't take it when they searched her.
While the nightmare that was the Holocaust was going on, a romance was beginning to bud. Rose had met a man named Henry, who would one day be her husband, although she did not know that then. According to Rose, many people fell in love during the Holocaust and got married after. It came to a point where she was separated from Henry, and he told her to promise him she wouldn't be with any other guy. She told him he was crazy because no one was going to be alive anyway.
The living conditions continued to be very bad, and many people were dying from Typhus. Again, Rose remembers all the songs they sang to try and make things easier for themselves. The Germans loved the songs they would sing and always wanted Rose to sing for them. Somehow, Rose knew when all the holidays were even though they did not have a calendar. She will never recall Yom Kippur in Plaszow, where she told the girls not to eat anything. Later that day, some SS officers came, took half of the girls, and killed them. "That was the worst Yom Kippur," Rose recalls.
Everyone was always crying because they never knew what was coming next, but Rose thought to herself, "Why the crying... here is dead, and there is dead." She felt that it didn't matter where they went; they would be dead regardless. The worst camp they went to was Pishidyaka, where the conditions were so bad they only got a little piece of bread for the entire day. Further, there was gypsum there that would come and eat their food, so by the time it got to them, nothing was left. There were fewer and fewer women each day.
The girls knew the war was ending soon because some soldiers came and told them to hang on because it wouldn't be too long. Rose eventually left the camp, went to a German's house, and asked if she could stay with them. They told her she could stay if she cared for the cows on the farm, and she said yes since she was raised on a farm. She stayed there until someone came to the door and told them the war was over and they were free. They were all screaming and jumping because they were so happy.
The first thing she did when she was liberated was go to the camp and cry and begin to search for anyone else who was alive. She had a message that Henry was still alive and that she shouldn't go out with anyone else because he was coming to her. It took him five days to get to her, and when he got there, he came with her brother and sister. People were afraid she would have a heart attack when she saw Henry, so when he came, they told him to wait a day to see her so that they could calm down. A day later, when she saw Henry, they were both screaming and crying because they were happy to see each other. She was also ecstatic to see her brother and sister as well. Rose felt relief that other people were alive because she was always worried that no one would know what happened to them. She never found out what happened to her mother and her other sisters, but she assumed they had been killed. As soon as the Holocaust was over in 1945, Rose got married to Henry.
Many people lost faith during the Holocaust, especially on Yom Kippur, when so many girls died. She recalls crying at night, saying, "G-d, where are you?" She will never forget how one woman gave birth during the Holocaust, and they threw the child in the toilet right away. She couldn't understand why God wouldn't save the child.
Rose and her husband were in Germany for five years. Getting pregnant took her a while, so she thought maybe she couldn't have kids. When she did get pregnant, she went to her doctor and told him she would do anything not to have kids. Although she loved children, she saw what happened to the children during the Holocaust, and she didn't want her children to go through anything so horrible. The doctor got upset and told her she was young and intelligent and she should be having kids because the world needs to be filled with children like it was before. In 1947, she had a son whom she named Lenard.
Shortly after she had her son in September 1950, she went to the United States to be with her aunt. She went through New Orleans to California, where she stayed. It was beautiful being in the United States because she felt like she had a place where she belonged. She became a Hebrew teacher and taught for 36 years. She also had a daughter in California in 1953 named Ida.
Through the hardships that Rose endured throughout the Holocaust, she continued to persevere and push through even when she thought it was her last day. All the people around her had said that she would be the one who died first, but she ended up outliving all of them. She realizes that we should always be prepared when she thinks about what happened and how the whole world stood by quietly. She feels that the youth should always be ready and that war should never be the solution. She never wants the Holocaust to happen again.
~Blog Written by Avigail Meyers