This article tells the story of holocaust survivor Kitty Hart-Moxon who recently gave her testimony at the University of Birmingham.
Kitty had a pleasant enough childhood. She was born in the southern Polish town of Bielsko in 1926, an area which was fairly prosperous at the time due to the thriving textile industry. She took a keen interest in swimming and even represented Poland in the Youth Swimming Team in 1939, winning a bronze medal. However, this idyllic childhood was cruelly snatched away from her when she was aged just twelve.
By 1939 a wave of anti Semitism had swept throughout the town fuelled by the rise of Nazi Germany, leading Kitty and her family to move to Lublin in central Poland, away from the dangerous German Czechoslovakian border. However, it soon became apparent that they were to be no safer here and shortly after arrival they were rounded up along with other Jews into their new ‘home’: the Lublin Ghetto. After a failed attempt to escape to Russia the family returned to a vicarage in Lublin where they obtained false identity documents. Kitty and her mother, using these documents, were subsequently rounded up with other Poles to work in a factory in Germany. This was the last time Kitty saw her father.
However, it was not long before Kitty and her mother once again found themselves in trouble. With a noticeably different Polish accent to their fellow colleagues, Kitty and her mother caught the attention of one particular worker who betrayed them to the authorities. They were taken to the local Gestapo headquarters and interrogated for days. Suspected of being Jewish they were sentenced to the death penalty. They and ten others were lined up in front of a firing squad waiting to die when all of a sudden a gunshot went off. In a daze Kitty patted her body and realised she had not been hit. The gun had been shot into the air. There had been a change of plan. Their death sentence had been commuted to a life sentence in a concentration camp. Kitty and her mother were heading to Auschwitz.
‘My greeting to hell’
On arrival at Auschwitz ‘prisoners’ were greeted by men struggling to hold back barking Alsatians. Everything was at running pace. When stepping off the platform prisoners were told to line up and were segregated immediately. Families were parted and would never see each other again. The point of no return. Kitty remembers seeing a Red Cross ambulance in the distance, providing some sense of safety. It turned out that the SS doctors inside were measuring out gas dosages for the gas chambers. Nothing was as it seemed. After segregation prisoners were then taken to ‘the sauna’. Here they were whipped, stripped, shaved, tattooed and showered.
This was just the beginning however. There was no escaping the atrocities going on inside the camp for Kitty. Her block where she slept was opposite the gas chamber. In her documentary, Kitty: Return to Auschwitz, she recalls her most prized possession within the camp, a bowl tied round her waist. This served as a plate, toilet, wash basin and water carrier. There was no opportunity to wash the bowl. Kitty also recalls her mother saving her life on numerous occasions. On one such occasion Kitty was ill and the guards were carrying out a routine selection procedure where they would execute the weak. Her mother hid Kitty under a mattress, saving her life. On another occasion Kitty had been working at the Auschwitz crematorium where there had been an uprising by the prisoners. Her mother, unheard of for a prisoner, directly requested the commandant to bring her daughter back to her. The commandant obliged.
‘The Death March’
With the ever encroaching Red Army the Nazis sought to hide evidence of Auschwitz, evacuating the camp. On November 11 1944, Kitty and her mother were evacuated from Auschwitz after living there for two years, a month before Kitty turned eighteen. They were evacuated on foot, commencing what became known as ‘The Death March’. During this time they trekked though the wilderness of Czechoslovakia and spent six days and seven nights on an open coal train. Many did not make the journey. Kitty and her mother did. Eventually they reached the German town of Salzwedel, near Berlin where they were transferred to another camp. This was to be the last camp they would stay in.
On 14 April 1945 the American forces liberated the town of Salzwedel. Kitty and her mother were free. Their family however had all been killed. Kitty’s father had been shot by the Gestapo; her brother died in battle; and her grandmother had died in Belzec concentration camp. In 1946, Kitty and her mother moved to England. Initially Kitty recalls, people did not want to hear her story, she forced them to listen and continues to do so. When asked by a student after giving her testimony whether she felt that the world had learnt from the horrors of World War II her response was short and to the point. No. I would have to agree.