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Bar of soap stamped RIF issued to an inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Object | Accession Number: 2007.469.2

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    Bar of soap stamped RIF issued to an inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau

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    Brief Narrative
    Soap bar received by 21-year old Rudy Zelmanovics when he was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland in 1945. Rudy was living in Nagybanya, Hungary, when it was occupied by German soldiers in March 1944. In early 1945, Rudy was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and tattooed with prisoner number A-13161. At the end of the month, the inmates were sent on a death march to Buchenwald. They arrived in March, but a few weeks later, were forced on another death march. Rudy and a few inmates escaped and found a place to hide. On April 23, 1945, they were discovered and liberated by American soldiers.
    issue:  1945 January-1945 April 23
    issue: Birkenau (Concentration camp); Oświęcim (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Margo Selby
    front center, stamped : RIF / 0531
    Subject: Margo Selby
    Subject: Rudolf Selby
    Magda Roth (b. 1929) was born in Debrecen, Hungary, to Erno (b. 1898) and Hermina Roth (b. 1903). Erno worked as a mechanic for the Hungarian transit authorities. Magda had three siblings: Tibor, Irene (b. 1925), and Ilona (b. 1927). In 1935, the family changed their name from Roth to Rozsahegyi.
    On March 20, 1944, German soldiers occupied Debrecen. Within two weeks, Jews were ordered to wear a Star of David badge, property was confiscated, and Jewish businesses were closed. Erno and Tibor were taken into forced labor battalions in April 1944. Tibor’s battalion was sent to Nagybanya. By the end of the month, Magda and her remaining family were forcibly relocated to the ghetto. The residents were made to erect a wall surrounding the ghetto which was sealed on June 7, 1944. Two weeks later, mass deportations began. The inhabitants were taken by Hungarian police to the nearby Serly brick yard, where they joined Jews brought from the surrounding region. Some were sent to labor camps in Austria, and the rest were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Magda, her mother, her two sisters, and her maternal aunt, Aranka, with her two small children, Agika and Kato, were loaded into a train and deported to Birkenau. During the journey, the German guards would come to the small window demanding valuables; no one had any, so the guards took their socks and underwear. After several days with no food or water, they arrived at the camp. As they were getting out of the wagon, Irene helped one of her young cousins and was mistaken for the child’s mother, so she, the two children, her mother, and her aunt were sent in one direction, Magda and Ilona in another.
    Magda and Ilona were shaved and given rags to wear, and Magda was placed in Lager C and Ilona in Lager B. After several weeks, Magda learned that dead bodies from her camp were taken to Ilona’s camp for disposal. She got assigned to help carry the corpses one day. While she was in camp C, there was a commotion when a guard started beating a girl for breaking some rule. Magda snuck into Ilona’s section, while another girl took Magda’s place.
    On August 13, 1944, the Germans selected 1,000 young Hungarian Jewish women for transfer to Allendorf labor camp, a Buchenwald sub-camp. Magda and Ilona were not selected, but there was a miscount and while the lines were reorganized, Ilona grabbed Magda’s hand and they mixed in with the selected group. At Allendorf, Magda and her sister worked twelve hour days as slave labor in a large ammunition factory hidden inside a mountain. The factory produced grenades, rockets and bombs. Magda, at the end of her assembly line, put in fuses, stamped the bombs, and loaded them in crates. The prisoners were frequently beaten by the female SS guards, until the camp overseer intervened to end it. Magda was smaller and weaker than many other inmates and her sister began making decorative boxes and miniature furniture from scrap materials that she was able to trade for milk for Magda. After a while, Magda noticed that she and the other women were turning colors: their skin became yellowish green and their hair became orange and red from the poisonous gases that filled the camp air. Others inmates, such as her sister, Ilona, had more visible signs of sickness, such as vomiting and fever. Known as powder scabies, the gasses caused fatal blood and liver disease. Not long after this, Magda was transferred to a sewing workshop.
    In April 1945, as US forces closed in, the camp was evacuated and the inmates sent on a death march. As they walked, the prisoners noticed that there were fewer and fewer guards with them, so they split into groups, making it too difficult for the small remainder of guards to catch them, and began walking away. Magda and Ilona walked through a small forest until they reached a town where they met a man who told them that he was the mayor of Homberg. He explained that all the residents were hiding and helped the girls find a place to shelter, and other townspeople gave them food. They spent one day in the village before the American soldiers arrived. Magda and Ilona moved to Mardorf where they made themselves clothes from abandoned German parachutes and banners. After a couple of months, the sisters decided to try to return home to Debrecen. Some US soldiers helped them travel to Cham, Germany, where they received aid from the Jewish Committee. They met two survivors from Hungary who told the sisters that their father, Erno, had left the labor battalion and gone to Budapest to look for his family. He was captured by the Germans and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died just before liberation. They learned that their sister Irene, their mother, aunts, and cousins had been killed in Birkenau.
    While in Cham, Magda met Rudolf Zelmanovics, a fellow survivor from Czechoslovakia, and they married on April 14, 1946. Ilona met Dawid Kronunberg, a survivor from Warsaw, Poland, and they married around the same time. Their brother, Tibor, also survived and, in 1946, emigrated to Palestine, where he married and had two children. Magda and Rudolf relocated to Regensburg where they had a son on February 14, 1947, the same day that they learned that they would be permitted to emigrate to the United States. Rudy had an aunt, Hermina, who lived in the Bronx in New York who sponsored their visas, and their boat fares were paid by HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). Her sister and her husband arrived in New York a little later. Magda and Rudy settled in the Bronx and had a daughter in 1953. The family adopted the surname Selby, and Magda changed her first name to Margo. Rudolf died in 2006.
    Rudolf (Rudy) Zelmanovics was born on March 19, 1923, in Tiszaujlak Karpato-Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, (Uljak, Croatia) to Ignatz and Rosalia Zelmanovics. He had two siblings: Kati, born November 18, 1924, and Karoly, born in 1922. His parents owned a porcelain shop. In the late 1920's, the family moved to Nagyszollos, Hungary.
    Germany occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, and the next day, Rudy was relocated to the ghetto in Nagybanya, Hungary (Romania). He decided to escape, but was caught, brutally beaten, and given 25 lashes with all the prisoners forced to watch. He was unconscious for a several days. In early 1945, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, tattooed with prisoner number: A-13161, and selected for work in an ammunition factory. He was severely beaten many times during his imprisonment in Birkenau. On January 18, 1945, Rudy and the other inmates were sent on a death march, stopping at Gross Rosen and many other camps on the way to Buchenwald, where they arrived in March 1945. After a few weeks, the Germans forced the prisoners on another death march, but this time, Rudy and a few of his fellow prisoners were able to escape and find a place to hide. He became ill with typhus while in hiding.
    On April 23, 1945, they were found and liberated by American soldiers.
    Rudy was hospitalized with three types of typhus. He discovered that the doctor treating him was an SS officer pretending to be a physician. Rudy was able to tell his cousin, John, that he was being overmedicated by this imposter and his cousin alerted the officials. After recuperating, Rudy settled in Cham, Germany, where he met and fell in love with a young Hungarian Jewish girl, Magda Rozsahegyi, a fellow survivor born on November 18, 1929. They married on April 14, 1946, and had a son on February 14, 1947. This same day, they learned that they would be able to emigrate to the United States. Rudy had an Aunt Hermina who lived in the Bronx in New York. A US soldier had contacted her and she supplied the necessary affidavit of support. The HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) paid for their travel and they settled in the Bronx. They had a daughter in 1953. The family name was changed to Selby and Magda changed her first name to Margo. Rudy died on February 2, 2006, at the age of 83.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Soap (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, dense, brown bar of soap with letters and numbers stamped in the center.
    overall: Height: 0.875 inches (2.223 cm) | Width: 2.250 inches (5.715 cm) | Depth: 1.620 inches (4.115 cm)
    overall : soap

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The bar of soap was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2007 by Margo Selby, the widow of Rudolf Selby.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 17:51:04
    This page:

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