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‘From My Memories… I Will Never Forget It’

My grandmother’s account of her liberation from Bergen-Belsen

Daniel Goldberg
April 15, 2015
Charna (Sarah) Francus Faber in 1949. (Photograph courtesy of the author)

Charna (Sarah) Francus Faber in 1949. (Photograph courtesy of the author)

On April 15, 1945, 70 years ago, British soldiers liberated Bergen-Belsen, and my grandmother, then Charna Francus, became a free woman. She was 19 years old when WWII began, and the proximity of Kalisz, her Polish hometown, to the German border, thrust her almost immediately into the turmoil of the war. At 24, she emerged from the ashes sick and with little family. But like so many others, my grandmother picked herself up and, with eyes firmly planted on the future, rebuilt her life. She married, had a daughter, and lived to see all three of her grandchildren born before passing away in 1991.

This brief letter, written for her English language class in 1950, reflects so much of what I have been told about my grandmother. She was intelligent, and she was reserved. My family treasures this artifact, and it is proudly read every year at the Passover Seder.

From my memories…

It happened on an early spring day. I will never forget it. I was a prisoner in one of the many concentration camps in Germany. It was April 15th, 1945, the day of our liberation.

There were 500 people packed as herring in our barrack, there wasn’t any water to drink in the whole camp. We haven’t gotten our bread ration for 8 days, and what kept us from starvation was a little watery soup they gave us once a day (soup, in which you had to fish hard to find a piece of potato). All of us were weak, starved to death and wary, I among them were suffering from a high fever (Typhoid fever).

We knew something was going to happen, but we were too indifferent to care. We just lay on the floor in a kind of stupor and listened to the mar and thunder of machine guns far away.

A few hours earlier a girl passing our barrack stopped at the door and said “keep it up girls! Now it is only a matter of hours until we will be free. The English army is coming closer.” But we who had been disappointed many times before didn’t pay much attention to her words.

Some hours passed and it seemed it was getting quiet outside. Then, we heard voices and suddenly the door flew open. In came three soldiers in English uniforms. My first thought was ‘I am asleep and dreaming. Good G-d let the dream become truth.’ Then I saw that it wasn’t a dream because one of the soldiers said something in English we couldn’t understand. One of the girls translated. They said, “Women, The war is over (as far as you are concerned). For that you can thank G-d and the English Army. Now you will get water and as much bread as you like!”

It wouldn’t be possible to describe our reaction to those words. Everybody began to scream, cry, and laugh at the same time. I looked at the three soldiers at the door and they were no three tired men in dirty uniforms that I saw, but three angels who came to us straight from Heaven, to tell us our years of suffering are over and we were saved…

Daniel Goldberg is a rabbinical student and doctoral candidate in Bible at Yeshiva University. He is also a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

Daniel Goldberg is a rabbinical student and doctoral candidate in Bible at Yeshiva University. He is also a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

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