Category Archives: Biography

I DID SURVIVE: A TRUE STORY told by Fran Lewis

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Growing up I wondered why my grandmother had trouble seeing at times, why she constantly had to check her blood levels and why she always seemed so sad and frightened. As a young child and because she was my best ally, best confidante I knew that at the age of 14 I was too young to ask her about her life as a child not of course thinking that she had something she wanted to hide. But, one day she sat me down when no one was around and explained just why my grandmother was her hero, her champion and how she came to be Mrs. Max Goldberg.

My grandmother had five sisters and all of them were in different camps during WWII. The stories she told me that I am going to relate to you as they were told to me will reopen old wounds, replay scenes from the war most would choose to forget and let everyone remember that this really did happen and we better stay on guard or it just might happen again. What was done to my grandmother was an insult to humanity and her dignity. So many suffered at the hands of a select few. Hear her voice as she relates the story behind the stone and then meet the man who did this to her as I made sure he had a stone of talc with his name written on a piece of paper pasted to the outside. It’s more than he deserves.

Here is my grandmother’s story.

My name is Katie and what I related to my granddaughter really happened to me and explains why I had so many medical issues to deal with and why she heard her Aunts and Uncles at first call me by my first name or Tante and not Mama. How the world allowed this to happen is unthinkable and the fact that I survived quite remarkable. Doctors are supposed to save lives not destroy them. I was placed in a cell that was filthy with rodents crawling from all parts, as there were so many holes inside it. No windows, no vent just a small metal opening in the door to push a food through. Food that I would never touch because just smelling it allowed me to know that it was drugged and would make me even sicker than I already was. There was a cot, a small mattress, a small pillow and a blanket with holes in it. The cell was about four feet long and 6 feet wide. The bars on the door were close together you could barely see outside but the screams and cries of the others could not be ignored. Fear entered my heart as I had no idea what they were going to do to me and why. The time period of the Third Reich and the Nazi doctors violated more than my privacy, dignity they tore at my inner core and soul. They were cruel, relentless, heartless and demanded total submission. They taunted us every chance they got and the tortures were many. One morning after trying to make me eat what was supposed to pass for oatmeal but looked like someone’s stomach contents they took me into a stark white lab and placed a burning hot sun lamp on my lower parts. They did this many times and the pain was horrific. My screams were unheard and the faces of those in the room frightening as the just smiled, laughed and wrote down what they saw.

But, this was not the worst of what I endured as they had devised a sterilization plan that led to more than 200,000 Germans being sterilized and based on The Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. ( July 14, 1933). If successful and in my case it was the sterilization could rid the world of inferior races and create what they felt was the master race of those within it who were masterful and rid the world of those of us that were not perfect.

There were two forms of sterilization that they used: x-rays and injections. In my case it was X-rays. Fear was in my eyes but I would not allow them to see me cry nor would I give them the satisfaction of knowing that I was terrified. I tried to hide my feelings as two or three times a week I was brought in to have my ovaries irradiated with x-rays. The dosages varied. I was subjected to these experiments and at times too weak to go back to work but they did not care. I don’t know whether working in the kitchen and making their food was better than living in a state of hell within that cell. Prisoners such as myself were subjected to these experiments and the pain and burns from the radiation did not deter my tormenters. Suffering the serious burns and swelling on my genitals did not receive any medical relief.

The results of these sterilization experiments to some seemed disappointing but in my case they served what they would say was their purpose. Others were victims of surgical castration and they felt that this time more time-efficient.

The sick mastermind behind these experiments was Dr. Josef Mengele who became the chief physician of Birkenau in 1943 hoping to prove the superiority of the Nordic Race. Schumann was the man that created them where I was. But, this was not to be my final destination as they sent me to Dachau where pharmaceutical compounds were tested to supposedly fight off contagious diseases like TB, yellow fever, malaria and other infectious diseases. Sulfa drugs were invented and used on some prisoners but they refused to see that I am allergic to that drug and kept injecting me with it anyway.

These doctors were sadistic and enjoyed what they were doing and they had little or no morals, no consideration for any of use and could care less if we survived. There were some seventy medical research programs at these camps or so they were called and over 200 so called doctors. The fact that they had contacts with leading universities and medical institutions is scary.

After being here for at least two years or more I have lost track I look at myself and wonder that I really am. I can’t sleep, eat and every time they come to get me I have no idea what will happen next until a miracle occurred and God heard my pleas and my voice.

In response to the German occupation, some Poles organized one of the largest underground movements in Europe. More than 300 widely supported political and military groups. I could not believe what happened. We heard little about the outside world or the news but the guards often talked when we were even allowed in the yard for some respite of fresh air but not much.

After finally escaping I learned more about this group and why someone would come to my cell dressed as an SS officer, pretending to take me for another experiment or test and then I was taken into the woods, under tunnels and found myself somewhere else and supposedly brought to safety with many others. Air force physician Dr. Horst Schumann ran the experiments where I was at Auschwitz.

Liberated and free did not help when I was haunted by the nightmares of this horrific place and the stench that never left my body. The bugs, the smell of death and the tattoo on my arm that I hid from everyone by wearing long sleeves, hiding my shame at being a victim of these monsters as I picture the camp divided into three main areas. According to what my granddaughter learned from her research the estimated amount of innocent Jewish people killed at Auschwitz was between 2 and four million people. Those gas chambers burned the bodies in twenty minutes and starvation, showers; sleep deprivation were just some of the horrors. Freedom comes at a high price but those of us that found our way were not ever really safe within our own hearts. Although freed from the horrors we had to remain silent, safe and in close quarters in the homes of others who agreed to protect us until we could gain safe passage to America.

When I finally arrived in America my sisters Fanny, Rosie, Shandina and Tillie all who were taken to safety but had not undergone most of what I did greeted me. We never spoke of our experiences or shared our heartaches. We preferred to keep it all-private. My granddaughter will tell you some of the rest before I complete my thoughts and the reasons why I am behind this marble stone.

Fran Lewis continues the tale:

I am named after my grandmother Fanny. She had four sisters who survived the concentration camps in Poland. Two sisters and Fanny’s parents were brought to America from Poland by my grandfather. Katie and Tillie came from Poland and their parents Tzvia Bella and Joseph Mordecai Cohen as well.

Fanny, my biological grandmother, spoke five languages and instilled in her children the importance of being educated and going to school. Both Max and Fanny taught their children Irving, Kenneth, Harry, Tova and Ruth, to always strive for what they wanted and never give up until you succeed. Always working to succeed on your own with the support and guidance of your family is the only route, Max felt to being successful.

When Fanny passed away, Max was devastated. He no longer had a mother for his five children. Faced with this serious situation he decided to court and finally married the only grandmother I ever knew, Fanny’s sister Katie.

Katie did not walk into a great situation. She had a difficult time making the transition from aunt to mother. A unique and wise woman, she quickly won the love, trust and devotion she so rightly deserved from all five children. Katie and Max brought up the five children with love, understanding guiding them and supporting each one in whatever they chose to do. With a strong and firm manner my grandfather headed his family and received the respect he deserved from every member.

Katie’s story continues:

Five children that learned that I was their new mother after Fanny died and left them. It took many years before they considered me their Mama but they finally did. My grandchildren, many of who live in so many different places never learned the truth. You see, because of those monsters and what they did to me I am sterile and cannot have children. I have this awful brown liquid that comes out of me and I have to use stool softeners and enemas in order to cleanse my colon. My life is great being married to Max and my grandchildren and children are my life.

They are respectful, wonderful and my granddaughter that is telling you this story even taught me how to write my name and read. I still cannot see that well when I walk in the street I have to count the number of steps that I know to my destinations. You see I have these awful cataracts too thanks to everything they did to me plus Diabetes and other illnesses. This would get anyone down but not me you see I DID SURVIVE. The love of one man who devoted himself to me and his children and the love of my grandchildren is what kept me going for so many years. To the SS officer that did this to those and me that helped him torture so many others and they and me your voices have been silenced do not deserve to hear now or ever. This is my story. My name is Katie Goldberg and I DID SURVIVE! They tried and tried but my spirit was never broken.

Fran continues:

Although the facts are there the sequence of events might not be perfect but this is what I recorded when my grandmother told it to me. Historical events sited in this story are written and told the way my grandmother told them to me. She was brave. She was smart. She was KATIE!
Shared by Katie and Fanny’s granddaughter Fran Lewis: