The Last Survivor: April 15th
For the next several posts, we have asked the Survivors in our film to reflect on the month of April and the memories – both dark and hopeful – that they associate with it. Today’s post was written by Hédi Fried.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is
A time to kill, and a time to heal: a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
As a child, April (Nissan according to the Jewish Calendar) has always been my favorite month. With spring on its way, Pesach, our Easter Holiday approaching, and the time to shed the heavy winter clothes, life seemed wonderful.
All of this changed in 1944, when April became a month of mourning. Life changed into a black hole, and nobody would believe that any light could ever break through.
And still, one year passed and in the morning of April 15, 1945 it all changed. With the British Army liberating Bergen-Belsen, a ray of sun penetrated our darkness.
It was a miracle.
Strangely enough, miracles happen. It was a miracle that once upon a time the Jews were taken out from the Egyptian slavery. It happened in Nissan – in April. And it was a miracle that we, the slaves of Hitler in Bergen-Belsen, were liberated in April.
And I will never be able to explain this other miracle that happened.
It all started New Years Eve 1945. The girls in the Labor Camp of Eidelstedt, tired after a long day of hard work, were sitting on their bunks, evoking old memories and talking about past happy days, gay celebrations, past New Years Eves, and the hard present.
“How will next New Years Eve be? Do you think we will be out of here?” one of us asked.
“We will never get out of here. Either we will be dead or back in Auschwitz” was the answer.
Suddenly I felt that I had to contradict them, their pessimism was disturbing:
“Don´t talk nonsense. Of course we´ll get out of here.” I said
“When?” my cousin asked.
Without a moment of thinking I burst out: “The 15th of April.”
The girls both doubted and wanted to believe, questions came thick and fast. “How do you know?” Are you sure?” “Will the war be over?”
“No, I said, but we will be free”.
Looking at me in doubt, though willing to believe, my cousin said:
“Let´s have a bet.”
So we did. I would give her my bread ration if I was wrong.
In the first weeks of April, in the Camp of Bergen-Belsen, there was hardly any food and scarcely any water. On the morning of April 15th, 1945, the famished, dried out girls were waiting for their death. My cousin noted that it was the 15th of April and I had lost the bet. I regretted not being able to pay her, “there will hardly be any bread today,” I said to her.
Time went by slowly, slowly, hour after hour, and the sun was already high up the sky, when suddenly the girl next to the window yelled out: “the British are here!”
Unbelieving, I also went to the window and looked.
And at that moment a tank with soldiers turned up in the yard, and I could see that they were not German soldiers.
We were free.
Hedi Fried:The Road to Auschwitz; Fragments of a Life
Nebraska University Press, 1996
Hedi Fried: Livet tillbaka
Natur & Kultur, Stockholm, 1995
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