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Ruth Elias - Theresienstadt, Auschwitz

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5003 | Film ID: 3112, 3113, 3114, 3115, 3116, 3117, 3118

Ruth Elias was a Czech Jew who was sent with her family to Theresienstadt, where she became pregnant. She managed to hide her condition in Auschwitz but was eventually discovered and she and her baby were experimented upon by Mengele. She speaks of these experiences and of her solidarity with other women prisoners.

FILM ID 3112 -- Camera Rolls #1-2 -- 01:00:13 to 01:14:46
Ruth Elias tells of her early life growing up in Czechoslovakia. She describes the Germans entering Czechoslovakia in 1939. The foreman of her father's factory immediately seized it from him and the family lost their flat. Her father avoided being sent to Nisko and they lived in hiding in the countryside. On 4 April 1942 they were caught and sent to Theresienstadt, where she was housed in a large room in the Hamburger Kaserne with many other women.

FILM ID 3113 -- Camera Rolls #3-4 -- 02:00:13 to 02:10:53
[CLIP 1 BEGINS] Seven days after arrival her entire family was summoned for a transport but she became ill and could not go. Her father insisted that she go, so she married her boyfriend in order to stay. The rest of her family went on the transport and she never saw them again [CLIP 1 ENDS].

FILM ID 3114 -- Camera Rolls #5-9A -- 03:00:12 to 03:33:50
She became a trainee nurse and her husband joined the Ghettowache. Lanzmann asks her about the experience of the elderly in Theresienstadt. She received a card from her father saying that her mother had been shot before his eyes. She was hungry all the time and decided to leave nursing to become a cook so that she could be near food. She and the others sang in the kitchen as they worked.

FILM ID 3115 -- Camera Roll #10 -- 04:00:14 to 04:11:15
She demonstrates for Lanzmann one of the songs they used to sing, and accompanies herself on the accordian. [CLIP 2 BEGINS] She says that she was able to live with her husband and another couple and in the summer of 1943 she became pregnant. She tried to have an abortion but it had recently been officially forbidden by the Germans [CLIP 2 ENDS].

FILM ID 3116 -- Camera Rolls #11-12 -- 05:00:06 to 05:19:10
[CLIP 3 BEGINS] She and her husband were deported to Auschwitz in December 1943. She describes the rail journey, arrival at Auschwitz, the work and the food. She and her husband were in the Czech Familienlager. They learned from other prisoners that people were being killed at Auschwitz but they didn't want to believe it. In March 1944 an entire transport of people was removed from the Familienlager and gassed. She talks about the orchestra in Block 6 [CLIP 3 ENDS].

FILM ID 3117 -- Camera Rolls #13-15 -- 06:00:16 to 06:33:43
[CLIP 4 BEGINS] She was transported from the Familienlager to the Frauenlager, and when she was eight months pregnant managed to survive a selection by Mengele by hiding behind other girls. She was sent to Hamburg to work cleaning debris at a bombed oil refinery. When it was discovered that she was pregnant she was sent to Ravensbrueck. She and another pregnant woman were then sent back to Auschwitz [CLIP 4 ENDS] [CLIP 5 BEGINS] but they manage to remove the yellow triangles from their clothing and pose as Czech political prisoners upon their return to the camp. The two pregnant women come to the attention of Mengele. Elias describes Mengele as an attractive and polite man, of whom she was very frightened. Once her baby girl is born he orders that her breasts be bound to prevent her from breastfeeding, so that he can see how long a baby can live without food. Her baby cried and became weaker for several days until Mengele came and told her that the next day he would come for both of them. She knew she was to be gassed [CLIP 5 ENDS].

FILM ID 3118 -- Camera Rolls #16-18 -- 07:00:10 to 07:36:56
[CLIP 6 BEGINS] A woman doctor brought her a needle filled with morphine and told her to inject the baby with it, thinking that if the baby died Elias would be allowed to live. She injected the baby and Mengele sent her on the next transport to forced labor near Leipzig. At this camp she manages to consistently steal bread for herself and the other women. In early 1945 the Lagerfuehrer discovers that she can sing and orders her to organize a variety program in order to take the Germans' minds off the constant Allied bombing. It was during the rehearsals for this program that Ruth met her current husband, Kurt Elias [CLIP 6 ENDS]. [CLIP 7 BEGINS] They were liberated by the Americans and after the war she returned to Czechoslovakia and discoverd that none of her family members survived. She went into a deep depression and spent time in a sanatorium but eventually regained the will to live. In 1965 she located the woman who saved her life, the Jewish doctor who gave her the injection for her child. She remains very close to this woman today. She says that when her first boy was born she panicked when they came to take him away, thinking they would kill him. Nobody understood or wanted to understand what the survivors had been through at that time [CLIP 7 ENDS]. She ends the interview by talking about her love for Israel.

Event:  1979
Production:  1985
Tel Aviv, Israel
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:05:20
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