HERMAN: My name is Hortense Herman. I am interviewing Frieda Reinstein on Tuesday, June 9, 1987. This tape is being made for the Oral History Project of the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies.
Frieda, when we were together last, you told me how you had been taken by the Nazis, in whose house you had stayed, that they had taken you back to Bergen-Belsen and that you explained to the people at Bergen-Belsen that you had fallen and no one picked you up.
REINSTEIN: Well, when I came to Bergen-Belsen, I thought that they gonna send me to die, yeah, that they gonna send me to die. I stay all night by the wall, with my hands up and I was punished because I did run away.
HERMAN: They put you at a wall?
REINSTEIN: Yeah by the wall.
MR. REINSTEIN: They punished her. (OVERTALK)
REINSTEIN: But I had to turn around with my face to the wall, with my hands up and this was – I was stayin’ all night and all day. And I was (PAUSE)
HERMAN: If you can, don’t be upset.
REINSTEIN: Yeah, I thought then, this is my death. And then…I stood there all night. But they didn’t have too much time this time no more to shoot, to kill people, so they took me in a special barrack and there was like punishment every minute I was in that. And I was have to lay down, and stand up and then outside ran out there was special people for this sign up. And there was shooting down in the, the – concentration – in the Bergen-Belsen, in this lager down there and they was saying that, “In any minute, we should get that bread to eat it.” (OFF TAPE, HILDA HAD EXPLAINED THAT THERE WAS POISONED BREAD TO BE GIVEN TO THE INMATES OF THE CAMP SO THAT THEY WOULD DIE BEFORE THE ALLIES ARRIVED.) 60,000 people, Jewish people, thought they were going to die any minute, at any time.
HERMAN: I see. But you – specifically – there was a certain place because you were being punished and there was someone who was watching you and forced you to lie down and stand up and do things. But you didn’t do anything but be punished? Is that right? Did they ever give you food?
REINSTEIN: I was just being punished. No, no food, no there was no food, the last things was no food at all. We was just living like that for good five days. And then all of a sudden while we was in that room, and we should stand up and go out, making that exercise like stand up and goin’ outside, nobody came in through the door and we was looking out and nobody – was quiet. Nobody show up. So, we looked out the door and there was nobody around. Then we look out on the tower and nobody was on the tower. So I was by myself, just went on my stomach and went through – how should I say.
HERMAN: Barbed wire?
REINSTEIN: Not barbed wire, but just was like to a little…grass, and a little trees, and we was looking down what’s going on. And slowly, slowly we was going down and they was saying that Germans didn’t have time no more and there was –
HERMAN: Who was saying that?
REINSTEIN: Who was saying that? The other people. And then when I came to the barrack and everybody said, “Oh my God, we thought they shoot you.” And it was quiet in the whole camp and everything, and then all of a sudden after maybe the whole, the evening, then we heard some tanks going in, tanks going in, and then came in (HUSBAND IN BACKGROUND) the British. (CRYING)
HERMAN: That’s right, and you have every reason to cry because that was a special day, I know, in your life. But you are saying that you saw no Germans around and you spent the day there even though there was nothing to keep you there? People didn’t see that there were no Germans and they didn’t run out of the camp?
REINSTEIN: No. Nobody couldn’t run out because right away came in the…(SPEAKS TO HUSBAND; BOTH TRY TO EXPLAIN WHO CAME IN)
HERMAN: Oh, there were Ukrainians?
REINSTEIN: There was Ukrainians, that’s right. (HUSBAND SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) But then after a while they came the Ukrainians, and they was start watching things. But then Britain came in; the tanks was just horrible.
HERMAN: It was horrible?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, because they came in, and they all in the tanks and you didn’t saw who it was.
MR. REINSTEIN: Let me explain. (OVERTALK, TAPE STOPS)
HERMAN: (SPEAKING TO MR. REINSTEIN) Okay. Now, Alex, you weren’t with Frieda at this time, but you know what happened. Now you tell me how things went before the Germans disappeared.
MR. REINSTEIN: (UNCLEAR)
HERMAN: Now, you tell me, Frieda, when you woke that day and there was no one on the tower, you went to the people in the barracks from where you had been. Is that right?
REINSTEIN: Yes. Well, this time was quiet and then after a while, maybe after a few hours or so, came the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians, they was just murderers. And who move out, they shooting down too. But when the tanks came in, we was just very scared because we don’t know who was that.
HERMAN: So that frightened you, is what you’re saying.
REINSTEIN: Yeah, everybody was frightened. The English people was inside, everybody. The tanks was closed. Just the tank move in, one of them, then another one. The second one got a white flag and then when we saw the white flag, we just, everybody ran out. Imagine there’s so many thousands of people running out!
HERMAN: It was a very emotional time.
REINSTEIN: Yes. The people was just kissing the tank and die.
HERMAN: And they died, really.
REINSTEIN: I was this time young and I just want to help it so much.
HERMAN: You wanted to help the people?
REINSTEIN: The people, yeah. I just took ’em (CRYING) –
HERMAN: If you’re upset…don’t be upset.
REINSTEIN: No. I took them to my hand – I just can’t talk because you remember a lot of things; it hurts you.
HERMAN: Of course, of course.
REINSTEIN: So I took a few people my hand and I was keepin’ sayin’, “Live, live!”
HERMAN: That was a very hard thing to do.
REINSTEIN: Yeah. And they just died. (CRYING)
HERMAN: Can I ask you a question? Why do you think that you were strong enough to help someone else?
REINSTEIN: At this time I felt that strong. I don’t know, there was the nerves, there was young. And I told myself, “I have to live and I get through it!” Few people couldn’t live through it. I don’t know how I did it, but mine goal was, “I have to live through it and I’ll be living through it.”
HERMAN: All right, so you took people in your arms and…
REINSTEIN: And I beg them. I said, “Live, see!” (CRYING)
HERMAN: Yes, and that was very hard.
REINSTEIN: Yeah, and they said they can’t. They was very skinny, very (PAUSE, HUSBAND SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) emotional; they could not get over it. And afterwards I was sick because this time when they came in I was getting lots of fever and I was sick on a typhus.
HERMAN: You had typhus?
REINSTEIN: And I became typhus. And I was maybe three months in a hospital; they took me in a Red Cross…in a truck. And I was in the hospital, Celle. (HUSBAND SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) It was kind of like a hospital there. And I got typhus very bad and I was there three months.
HERMAN: Three months. I would like to go back to that time that you were helping the people. How did the British treat you?
REINSTEIN: Well, they treated pretty good; what they couldn’t treat is anything much because we went back in the barracks and everybody was sick. They gave us to eat cans of food; they brought it. That was very dangerous for us because we was so hungry, some of them. And they give them a can of meat, and some of them start to eat and right away they die because if you don’t eat (OVERTALK) and they right away die because they couldn’t take this. And who can live, some of them get – most of them was sick. Everybody was typhus and typhus and typhus.
HERMAN: Do you feel like you got the typhus after you got to Bergen-Belsen? Or did you have it while you were on that march?
REINSTEIN: It might be, might be. I mean, you know, you didn’t feel nothing. You didn’t eat, and dirty.
HERMAN: And if you had to go to the bathroom, like in that period when you were being punished, could you go?
REINSTEIN: I don’t think so I couldn’t go. I don’t know with what was to go. We didn’t eat nothing even before we came to Bergen-Belsen. There was one can for hundreds of people to get food, and who was stronger grabbed it like a garbage can. They put a garbage can on one block and who was stronger went and grabbed something out. But a woman who was barely walking, how can she go to that garbage can and take something out? So you didn’t eat it.
HERMAN: So, how many days do you think you went without food?
REINSTEIN: Five days, five days for sure. They didn’t give us nothing. Just was unbelievable how we – how somebody can survive, if you think now about it.
HERMAN: Yes, because you were on that march, and you told me you didn’t get any food, although you did have some food in the people’s home.
REINSTEIN: In the people’s home what I get. But we was in that march; we was marchin’ all day and the evening, the people – German people got like a, someplace where the cows was stayin’ –
REINSTEIN: In a barn. Only those people bring in some piece of a bread, cut it up bread, and everybody, just the SS men came in and opened the barn and just throw a piece of – the Nazis throw a piece of bread for everybody.stay in a barn at night. With this you was living. And they put a box of water with something and that’s what we survived, day after night and day after day. We didn’t have a date; we didn’t have a month. We just keep on was going. Summer, winter, winter, summer – that’s all what you know it. We didn’t know what was.
HERMAN: So, on the day that the British came, did you go – there had to be a celebration there, or as much of a celebration as possible.
REINSTEIN: There was not celebration. We just laid down in the barracks, sick. They came in. And, you know, they caught all the SS men, and they brought us all the Nazis, tore it down with the rings, something like this. Some of them had a ring. And they came, the Red Cross, the British Red Cross, the big ambulance and started taking people. That I never forget it because I was layed down. I was so much got maybe a hundred and so much fever, 102…
HERMAN: It started right that day.
REINSTEIN: Right that next day. They brought something food; nobody could eat. Everybody just was sick, yeah.
HERMAN: So, the irony was, here you have food and now you can’t eat it.
REINSTEIN: No, you can’t touch it. You couldn’t touch it. You was sick. Some are – a cup of water. They brought in a big bucket of water; everybody could take the water. Water, that’s all. Then they says that the SS man want to pick us up, the Nazi want to pick us up and get us to the ambulance, you know, and carry us out to the ambulance.
HERMAN: They were made to work by the British?
REINSTEIN: People to help us, the British, yeah – they was staying next to them to help carry us out to the ambulance and they told them to carry us out to the ambulance on a …stretcher. So, who can do it; I will never let him touch that. Then they came to me and I said, “NO! You’re not gonna!”
HERMAN: Good for you.
REINSTEIN: (CRYING) I couldn’t. So, they just stand aside. I was three months in that hospital and I was signed up to go to Sweden because I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t; you know, I was very down. And I don’t know how – downstairs I was supposed to get some little clothes to puttin’ on because we just got a blanket over us and I went down to pick up my little clothes and somebody saw me, a lansleit, what she recognized me. And she said, “Oh, you’re living! I mean, where you going?” And I said I was sick. And she said, “No, I was sick,” and she felt that okay. She was the cook already there. And I said, “No, I got…”
HERMAN: She was in the what?
REINSTEIN: She was cooking already, working in the kitchen.
HERMAN: Oh I see. Now, this was in the Red Cross hospital?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, yeah. And then she said – I said I going to Sweden tomorrow. They take me. And she said, “Oh, go find, there’s a list. You might find somebody.” And she said, “Your name was Awent. So, look it up.” And I look it up and I found mine brother. (PAUSE) So, I didn’t went to Sweden. No, I went back and I said, “I can’t go. I found a brother.” And I wanted to go to someplace in Munich, in Munich, in Feldafing. And I wanted to go look for him. From Bergen-Belsen, we took a group. Some of them found a sister, some of them found a sister-in-law, and some of them found an uncle. And we took all the people –
HERMAN: The people found them on this list?
HERMAN: So you were in the Red Cross hospital in Bergen-Belsen and this is where you met this lansleit who told you to look on the lists?
HERMAN: So then you said you decided to go to Munich.
REINSTEIN: Munich, yeah. We don’t know what where Munich is. (LAUGHTER) We didn’t know nothing.
HERMAN: Why did you choose Munich? Did you feel like your brother was there?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, he was there.
HERMAN: You knew he was there.
REINSTEIN: Yeah. That’s what I found on the list because Feldafing is the second thing from Munich. First Munich, and then it’s Feldafing. (OVERTALK) Outside the town, yeah, Feldafing.
MR. REINSTEIN: It was a displaced persons camp.
REINSTEIN: Yeah, displaced camp there was in Feldafing. But you go into Munich first, and then you go to Feldafing. This was the camp for displaced people. And we went there on a – I don’t know how – on freight cars.
REINSTEIN: Again in freight cars because we didn’t have any money; we didn’t have any nothing. We just came to the station where the freight cars was empty and we just sat down and went. And we just going like this for days and days until we came to Munich. (HUSBAND SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) And then we came to Munich, and inside Munich there is no camp, no D.P. camp. There is in Feldafing D.P. camp. We came to the Feldafing –
HERMAN: Excuse me. Were you traveling with a group of people that you knew from where you had been sick?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, when I was sick in Celle, from Celle. And some of them we came on the block. It was already signed up like a lady of a band what to take care of those people, to give us something to eat. Some of them got the name; somebody know it. You know, like you find each other.
I was there, and nobody could find my brother. I couldn’t. I tryin’ for three days. I was going to this block and this block – number five, number four, and everybody said he’s there. Well, I almost wanted to go back to Celle there because there was no place where can I go. So I was sitting and one policeman came, a milizen. He was a milizen – Jewish policeman. In that camp, Feldafing, they was making milizen, they was called, policemen. They did take care of those, all the people if something happen or what. (HUSBAND SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) From the Nazis – they was goin’ around at night. Some of them, the Nazis came in the night in the camp. They wanted to do something. They wanted to kill the people; they wanted to do in the night…after the war. And came to me that one milizen and I said, begged him, “Would you look, and my name is so-and-so.” And my brother was working already in that block. (PAUSE) They came to him and said, “You know, you got a sister.” (CRYING AND HAVING TROUBLE SPEAKING) And my brother said, “No, my sister die already.” He said, “She was there and there and she – I don’t think so. She is so teensy. She could not make it through.” Everybody told him they saw me in Auschwitz. The next day another guy came up and I said, “How he look. Let’s go come on and see him.” If he is from the same town what I am, from Oswiecim, from Auschwitz…Then I was staying downstairs. And he said, “No, it’s too much. You stay here…” (CRYING AND UNABLE TO CONTINUE TALKING)
HERMAN: That’s a very hard thing for you to talk about.
REINSTEIN: – “and I’ll bring him down.” Well, he came down and he said, “You have to go down, somebody wait for you.” Yeah, and he came down and I was there. This was my brother. I was living in the same block what he is, was very nice, very fine, we was very happy.
HERMAN: You say it was very nice and very fine – what was it, a house or – ?
REINSTEIN: No, they was blocks, same blocks. There was one time was a German camp there, Nazi schools. And when the Nazi school went out, and when they brought up the D.P. camp, the people, they put them in the same camp. So we just got like a little room and they give us some food.
HERMAN: And it was clean.
REINSTEIN: And it was clean. That means a new life. And we have to keep it clean and everything. And there was going in there, was all kind of people – single people and girls, and then I meet a young fellow, (PAUSE) the same age from me, and he was Polish, the same thing – born in Krakow, a mile from Auschwitz. (CRYING)
HERMAN: Now, had you looked in the mirror at yourself anytime at this period after you were sick? Had you seen what you looked like?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, sure. I didn’t have any hair, no hair. Typhus – all the hair went out. I was very skinny. I weighed maybe 90 pounds, maybe 95 pounds.
HERMAN: How did you feel when you looked in that mirror and you realized that was you?
REINSTEIN: Well, what can I say? I was glad that I was alive, that I free; you know I was alive. It was unbelievable that I just really, a little girl from a little town made it through. It was just unbelievable! I just didn’t believe that I could make it through. And I saw what happened, and I saw the German – now even I sit and – I sit and watch sometime a German show, a German television, something from the Nazi and I can’t believe it. I was there and I lived through it, and I saw this. It was unbelievable, all those years what I went through. How many ______, how many Judenrein I saw. Judenrein means like “our little city,” (OVERTALK) Final Solution, like our city, Auschwitz, and there was so many Jewish nice people, religious city. And this was clear. I saw what happened to the last minute.
HERMAN: Because you managed to stay there as long as you did. So, you met your husband, Alex.
REINSTEIN: Yeah, we met in 1945.
HERMAN: And where did you get married?
REINSTEIN: In the camp, at Feldafing. (MR. REINSTEIN SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) And you know what kind of marriage this was, what kind of wedding it was? I have to tell you.
HERMAN: I wish you would.
REINSTEIN: There was one dress in the whole camp and everybody put the dress on. (LAUGHTER)
HERMAN: Can you describe the dress?
REINSTEIN: This was a white dress, I don’t know how long, no it was three-quarter maybe, and it was such a size that it fit everyone (LAUGHTER) – and we get it every week. (MR. REINSTEIN SPEAKS IN BACKGROUND) Yeah, it was long, I think. And it was every week we get it bread and milk and zulage of Germany. So we get flour and this. We baked like a cake and we baked a little –
HERMAN: You had your own oven?
REINSTEIN: Yeah, we got a little oven. And we baked a little cake and we cooked something. And who was living close around, who was the oldest guy could speak Jewish made up the condition. That was the wedding. And I took off the dress and said, “Who’s next? Who’s next? Who is the next girl?” Who is the next girl took the dress and married again.
HERMAN: Now this picture that you’re showing me. Is that actually in the camp when you were married?
HERMAN: Well, you look – you both look very well. You look healthy by this time. How much time had passed from the time you were liberated until the wedding?
REINSTEIN: (SPEAKS WITH MR. REINSTEIN) From May to November.
HERMAN: So that was only six months.
REINSTEIN: Six months.
HERMAN: That’s amazing because you look beautiful there.
REINSTEIN: We tried to do the best and keep on going and having very courage. And of mind to go to Israel and to be – you know, to do something to show the world that we live through.
HERMAN: So that was really a great celebration. So, now you were married. What determined how long you had to stay in the camp?
REINSTEIN: Nothing. My husband this time took a job policeman. There was the milizen. He was a milizen, he was watching the camp and I help people what I could to go and help something until I was pregnant with my older son. And we wait for visa to immigrate to Israel.
HERMAN: Now, Alex didn’t get paid?
REINSTEIN: Nothing, there was nothing. You would just get a little food more, (OVERTALK) food, a little more food. Maybe a bread more, maybe a couple pounds flour more and something. There was no money to get anything…
HERMAN: So, tell me how you would spend the day. I want to hear how you spent the day, say in the camp, in the D.P. camp.
REINSTEIN: In the D.P. camp, well, we just clean and cook something. Very hard because it was a little stove for the – there was a little stove for the whole camp what we got it and we just didn’t have much to do. Just to go out and there was people to help. Was a lake there and – but older people what was sick to help them to get through the day. And some of them didn’t make too long, in fact. My brother was married the next day, the same day almost, very close, and he was affected from the camp and the work and the Nazis, and he was sick, and after five years after the war, he died. He was only 29 years old.
HERMAN: Well, when you talk about you lived with people, how did people react? How did you go about your business? Were you smiling or were you crying?
REINSTEIN: Everybody just – we was only way where we get together only talk. The names from the past, what we did in the camp, and how was Bergen-Belsen, and how was Dachau, and how was Auschwitz and how you were then, and how the parents was gone – that’s only we know it. That’s only we was talking. In fact, even now, we can be at a wedding; we can sit and enjoy ourselves and even drink and see a beautiful wedding, and we start talking. The end of it has to be from the concentration camp. The end has to be we have to all remember it all the time. We go to a funeral, we get together or someplace. We always remember from this one who always came to us to talk about it. Even if our vacation we got food; we eat and enjoy ourselves and left this United States, where we are we’re always looking for some people to find, that we find somebody from our hometown, that we find some people what from concentration camps. In fact, I was last winter, in February, we was in Florida. I found from my hometown what I didn’t saw him in 42 years. And we just recognized. I heard his name was and he heard about me, and we was looking for each other.