Note: This is off topic but it was a unique and powerful experience in a university history class. It changed a lot of lives, including mine.
“Every day they would come in and just choose people and take them to the gas chamber. I lived by the minute.”
Dina Jacobsen spoke in a soft but distinctive voice. At times it rose with the intensity of her feelings. The tiny 90-year-old woman made it clear that seven decades has not softened the horror and suffering of three years as an Auschwitz prisoner where 1.1 million people died.
She spoke to an audience of history students and visitors at Andrew Gaskievicz’s World War II History course at Mansfield University. She recounted how the German soldiers raided her family’s Poland farm and took her parents and six siblings. “I never saw them again,” she said. “I know they were killed.” Two weeks later she was captured and sent to Auswitch.
She was 16-years-old.
She described having to get up at 3 a.m. every day and stand in line for “a little piece of bread and coffee that was really dishwater.” She spoke of having to pick up rocks and put them in another place, then pick them up and put them back, day after day.
Students asked questions.
Did you ever give up hope?
“I never had hope. How could you have hope when at any minute they would take someone away to their death? And the next time it could be you.”
Did you make friends in the camp?
She shook her head. “You didn’t make friends because at any minute they might be killed, or die of sickness. You didn’t want to know anyone.”
She told of a woman who escaped the camp. “But someone turned her in. They brought her back, and made us gather to watch. They stripped her naked and hanged her.”
She told of a young mother who would not turn her baby over to a guard, and so went to the gas chamber with her child in her arms.
Did you ever ask God why this (the holocaust ) had to happen?
“I asked God. He didn’t answer. So I stopped asking.” She leaned forward in her chair. “You ask your God why this had to happen and see if He answers.. . . .” She sat back and stared defiantly at the stunned audience members.
Have you forgiven your captors?
“No. How can I forgive them? Could you forgive them if they killed your family?”
If you could meet one of your captors today, would you speak to him?
“Yes, I would,” she answered. “I would say ‘you are a son-of-a-bitch!’” She paused. “And then I would kill him.”
Could something like the Nazi movement could happen again?
She nodded slowly and gravely. “Yes. I am very afraid it could happen again.”
“I want to talk about this so people know. You need to know. You don’t see me cry. I won’t do that. But I go home and I cry. Every night I have nightmares.” She paused to let it sink it. “Then I find something to laugh about,” she said. “Because if you don’t laugh, you die.”
As the presentation ended, an acquaintance made a request. Without a word, Ms. Jacobsen pulled up her sleeve, held out her arm and displayed her identification tattoo as students silently filed past, many moved to tears.