Life in the ghetto

"dreadful dreadful smell"
Edith Birkin



"So when you came to the ghetto there was this dreadful dreadful smell. It was in the winter, and it was freezing, and you could smell rotten cabbages and beetroot; there was this smell of beetroot. And what we were given was beetroot soup, which I couldn't eat at first, it was so awful. It wasn't a sort of good beetroot soup, it was terrible beetroot soup, it was just water with bits of beetroot swimming in it. And I couldn't eat it for a few days, but then I was so hungry I ate it and didn't get enough of it. Or it was cabbage soup made of rotted cabbage, and I think we got a loaf of bread a week, and I think a little bit of sugar we got sometimes. And then we got what they called coffee, it was just a sort of brown water, it wasn't really coffee, and with that you cleaned your teeth and did everything. Another thing I remember on that first day is that cart where they picked up the dead people, you know, when people died they came and collected all the dead people from the rooms, or out in the street, and just shoved them onto this sort of, like a cart, took them away. And people standing outside wailing you know, if a relative died, and get these people to collect them and they stood out there, wailing. It was very very frightening, because people didn't do that in Czechoslovakia, all this wailing and moaning and shouting and crying and screaming, all that. That was our first day in the ghetto. It was a very very severe winter, and people didn't have fuel, they didn't have food enough. They got diseases, they got typhus and typhoid and dysentery and all kinds of diseases. And lots and lots of them died, thousands of people. We there were a lot of children my own age whom I knew in that same building, and we did sort of, we found a place in the, there was a sort of attic, and we used to gather in the attic sort of place, sing songs and make up plays, and talk, and played games, you know, all kinds of games. And amused ourselves. We never went out for a walk together somehow, for some reason, but I remember being in that attic and singing and dancing a bit, and making our own amusement. In the spring then we used to go for walks; there was a place just outside the ghetto, but it was still in the ghetto you know, it was in the boundary of the ghetto, but it was like a sort of wasteground, there weren't any houses, and occasionally there was a tree, because I remember trying to eat the bark of it, to see if one could eat it, which you couldn't. And there were a few trees, yes. So we used to go there, and through the barbed wires you could see a bit of countryside, so we had walks in the spring."


Edith Birkin
Born 1927, Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Lodz ghetto 1941. Auschwitz camp 1944. Sent to work camp and munitions factory. 1945 death march to Flossenburg camp, then to Belsen. Arrived in England 1946. Married, three adopted children.