At 22 years old, Holocaust survivor Rebecca Hauser was uprooted from her home in Greece and sent to Auschwitz.
Hauser spoke to an audience Thursday evening about how her experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps affected both her relationship with God and her worldview.
“I realized one thing: you are your own self, and you have to do the best that you can whenever you can,” Hauser said.
In the past, Hauser has been somewhat reluctant to share about her experiences, said Claudia Koonz, professor of history and Peabody family chair. Koonz wanted to use this presentation, which was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies, as an opportunity to tell an otherwise unknown story.
Hauser’s daughter, Bonnie Hauser, told the beginning of her mother’s story, describing her mother’s family’s forced exile from the small town of Ioannina in western Greece to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Nazi policemen woke Rebecca Hauser and her family the morning of March 25, 1944, Bonnie Hauser said. They were ordered to meet other families at the local market within an hour. From there, the Jews of Ioannina were driven through the cold in open military trucks to a train station where they unknowingly began their two-week journey to Auschwitz.
Upon arrival at the concentration camp, individuals were given the option of either walking or riding to the showers, Bonnie Hauser said. Against her mother’s request, Rebecca Hauser chose to walk. She was then escorted in line to the showers, where everyone’s head was shaven, and they were ordered to walk wet, cold and naked across the grounds to pick up their clothes. She was tattooed with an identification number, still visible on her left arm today.
Rebecca Hauser said her mother, father and the others who chose to ride to the showers were taken to the crematorium where they were killed. Although she occasionally regrets having disobeyed her mother’s request to ride with her on the last day of her life, she also recognizes that if she had done so, she would have been killed.
She noted the daily life in the camps and the monotony of menial tasks, such as moving stones and cleaning, compounded with the constant fatigue and hunger.
“You just take every day as it is,” Hauser said. “We were like zombies—I was like a zombie, I did not think of tomorrow or yesterday. I felt that this is a place where we shouldn’t be and here we are and we can do nothing about it.”
In the camp, Hauser said she lost faith in God. She did not believe that God would have allowed her to be in such a disparaging place. Since her liberation from the camps, Hauser said that she has regained her faith.
“I believe in God, and I believe God created this wonderful world, which is sometimes very ugly,” she said. “I believe that all the religions are teaching wonderful things. Humanity takes the wonderful teachings of Jesus Christ and Moses and Muhammad and turns it upside down and makes a tragedy out of it.”
Sophomore Kirsten Kaplan, who attended the event, said she was interested in hearing a Holocaust survivor speak, especially considering how rare it is to have the opportunity to gain this perspective.
“[The Holocaust story] strikes in a very different way when you hear it firsthand,” Kaplan said.
After British soldiers freed Hauser from Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, she woke up in a hospital bed as one of around 100 Jews to return to Ioannina, whose Jewish community had once numbered at 2,000. With the help of her American relatives, Hauser was able to immigrate to the United States in 1947 where she has since lived.
“I’ll never forget my horrible experience,” she said. “I am thankful for my life in America. At this time I enjoy my children and their families and staying positive allows me to enjoy my life.”