Pregnant in Auschwitz: Toronto Holocaust survivor recalls split-second decision that saved her and unborn son
Miriam Rosenthal was four-months pregnant, starving, bone-tired, cold, filthy and afraid when an SS officer in big black boots and a crisp uniform appeared before the barracks in Auschwitz with a loudspeaker in hand.
All pregnant women line up, he barked. Line up, line up — your food portions are being doubled.
“Can you imagine?” Miriam asks. “Even women who were not pregnant stepped forward. I was standing with my younger cousin, but I wouldn’t go. She says, ‘Miriam, what are you doing?’ ”
“Something was holding me back. Someone was watching over me. I feel maybe my mother, maybe God. Two hundred women stepped forward and 200 women went to the gas chamber. And I don’t know why I didn’t step forward.
Tears are welling in Miriam Rosenthal’s eyes. Talking about those long ago days “rips ath er guts.” She remembers everything. “Every step.” Every horror. Her body might be shot through with arthritis, her legs barely work, her neck aches and she is turning 90 on Sunday, but Miriam remembers.
“I don’t have dementia yet,” she says, smiling.
Not stepping forward at Auschwitz was a beginning, not an end. There were other mysteries of fate that, in the dying months of the Second World War in the deadened landscape of Nazi Germany, brought seven pregnant Jewish women together in Kaufering I, a sub-camp of Dachau, where seven Jewish babies would be born.
The Germans murdered over a million Jewish children. Like the sick and the old, they were viewed as useless mouths to feed and often among the first killed. Some were used in medical experiments, but newborns were typically murdered at birth.
Almost seven decades after the war, the seven Jewish babies of Kaufering — three boys, four girls — are still alive, scattered about the globe, the youngest living survivors of the Holocaust.
“Here is my miracle baby now,” Miriam says, pausing mid-sentence, grinning at the appearance of her 67-year-old “baby,” Leslie.
“And here is my miracle mother,” Leslie Rosenthal chimes back.