POPKIN: You were taken to Auschwitz, and what happened when you got there?
SJOBERG: We were shocked. It was unbelievable. The first thing we saw was the soldiers. The old people behind the wires—the wire fences, you know. And big dogs. And there was a shambles of everything. We jumped out of the train and just pushed. We didn’t know where, how, when, what place we were. That was what the Germans did.
POPKIN: Were you still together or were some of you taken away?
SJOBERG: We were together, and then they were putting us on – And (inaudible) then one look at me and my sister. And my sister was a young, a very attractive woman, and she didn’t want to give up her seat. So she went on one side, and they pushed me on the other side. I did not know the significance or the meaning of it, what’s right, left – work. Why my mother went, I don’t know, but she went. She was very young and attractive.
POPKIN: You mean they sent her to one side off?
SJOBERG: And my sister, yeah.
POPKIN: And her child?
SJOBERG: Yes. We went through a long corridor. There were women right away over there. They pushed us down, even checked our organs, you know, if we got hidden something in them. Looking for rings or jewelry in there, you know. They shaved our hair, put something on us, and pushed us to the bath. There were showers. The water came down, and we heard cries and screams for a moment. And suddenly everything was quiet. We didn’t know—we didn’t know what was going on, on the other side. I never would consider, you know. I never would consider that the people who went to the other side was gassed right away.
POPKIN: They were.
SJOBERG: Yes, they were.
POPKIN: That was your mother and your sister.
SJOBERG: Yes. When we came out, they pushed us outside. We never saw the rest of the people.
POPKIN: Who was with you from your family still at this point?
SJOBERG: My oldest sister. She was still in the ghetto with her husband and their three children.
POPKIN: And she’s the one who died.
SJOBERG: She’s the one.
POPKIN: Now were you alone then?
SJOBERG: Very much alone, yes.
POPKIN: So where did – were you put into a barracks then, get clothing first, or –
SJOBERG: We got a long dress of some kind of a cloth, and we didn’t know where one should go. Pushed and tumbled and collected and taken. Anyway, the next day I remember we were sitting on the floor, really sitting near each other like a chain. The next day they came and kind of sorted us out, who should go where. And, as a matter of fact, I was with three of the girls later on to the last moment, which I didn’t know who they were. One was a niece of this Mrs. Lapidus who is an American. And there, you know we start walking. We walked, you know, several hours. I never even in my life would consider the enormous yard and area of this camp, with the buildings, with the dogs, with the people. Some of them worked outside cutting grass and cleaning up. Some walking and the guard walking out somewhere, I guess, later where I knew the work—we were sitting about two weeks, not knowing what’s going to happen with us.
POPKIN: You were put in a barracks with three young women who were about your age?
SJOBERG: They were more people, but it was the girls who just shuttled together. We went together. But we didn’t know our destiny. We didn’t know what is going to become of us. In the end, you know, we were kind of organized, and I was in the barrack 313.
POPKIN: How many were there?
SJOBERG: Oh several hundred in this small barrack. You know, I was amazed because someone told me they got bunks. We did not have bunks.
POPKIN: You did not have bunks.
SJOBERG: No. We just slept on the floor. I suppose because I was so little and physically you know, very unattractive to the Germans, you know.
POPKIN: You were lucky.
SJOBERG: We was lucky? But also the same, you know, I was just prone to be taken up every single day.
POPKIN: You were so small.
SJOBERG: Very small, very childish looking, really. I did have you know, I was physically fit – developed, yes, my breasts and everything. And this, I suppose, saved my life to start with. But later during the years of hunger and misery, I just literally shrunk. The menstruation disappeared. I remember I did have it several times in the camp. There was no means to give you a sanitation napkin or anything. And later, to our relief, no one hardly ever was menstruating.
POPKIN: Someone mentioned, two places I’ve seen, that people who were in Auschwitz said that the women were given bromides. Do you remember that?
SJOBERG: No. I don’t remember nothing given us in our food. I remember what – I remember, I know, you know, the food was lacking in all kind of nutrition and anything. We just were handed a piece of bread and this watery soup and went without, and there was rain and snow and everything. We just – I guess I was very fortunate just because I was so little. My job in the camp wasn’t so severe physically.
POPKIN: What did you do?
SJOBERG: I just cut the grass and collected it. It was an easy job and required a lot of bending, but I used my knees. And I remember when it come to that attention thing, I always was shoveled in the back of some taller person than me. And I remember this particular time when I got the chills, and there was just – and my face was just covered with herpes. There were blisters all over. The Germans hate it, a blister on you or something.
POPKIN: They hate it?
SJOBERG: Yes, so right away they were afraid. We were washed and cleaned, our shaved head even, with a kind of mixture between naphtha – what is that in English?
POPKIN: Naphtha – it’s the same.
SJOBERG: And a kind of mixture of disinfectant which is most clarifying. They were extremely scared for diseases.
POPKIN: Oh sure, they were afraid they would get them too.
SJOBERG: Yes. And if they discover on you something, you know, you have been taken out and put to death.
POPKIN: So the Germans kept a very careful watch on you. Were you sent to an infirmary?
SJOBERG: Yes, I did not stay there. They have to send me, and I remember they gave me some kind of a white thing to put on my face. But just the same, this particular day, we saw the Gestapo, the SS men coming and just checking it over. And during that time, the food got scarce for them, too. Our rations became smaller and smaller.
POPKIN: Now what year are we talking about?
SJOBERG: Now we are talking about 1943. The soup was watery, you know. When you got – you know, after we were lucky enough to go in control and seek through the garbage cans, and if we got a potato peel there we were lucky. I eat more potato peel than potatoes now. Really there was just mice growing on the other side, and we were just planning how to jump the fence and get us the mice, which we didn’t. But I was constantly hungry. My brain was constantly occupied, and on one side I promise if I survive, I’m going to kill all the Germans. On the other side, I was just dreaming about food. We froze constantly.
POPKIN: No warm clothes.
SJOBERG: No warm clothes. There was wooden shoes, you know, which almost killed our feet. And just constantly this pressure. It was just a time of disgust. I don’t know how I survived. On this particular day, when this German took me out, you know, it was –
POPKIN: For the herpes?
SJOBERG: Yes. Sixteen of our girls, you know crawling with it. I don’t know what happened. I do contribute, believe me or not now, I say, God must have watched over me, maybe to be a witness later on. Because of some reason, some commotion appeared, I have been put back in the colony as they call it.
POPKIN: The concentration camp?
SJOBERG: No. All the sixteen of our girls put back to the colony and we survived. Now, time passed by. We never saw twice almost the same guard because they just started taking them out, too. We did not have communication. Everything was singing. There were victory songs of Hitler occupied every part of Europe and he was going now occupy Russia also, and England is almost a –
POPKIN: Was this what you heard from the Germans?
SJOBERG: Yes. We did not know, had no faith and no radio.
POPKIN: But didn’t you have any underground rumors in your barracks?
SJOBERG: Nothing. If there was, you know, they’d be able to reach our ears. We were too little significant for them. Of course, there were rumors, but there were people just working in cooperation even with a German who understood. The fight is lost. The kind of precaution is security for the future, you know. Just look through the fingers because we were just isolated totally what’s really going on. There was a vacuum surrounding us. Our major objection was that we don’t know nothing. But again, on the other side, we were very happy that they leave us alone. We just were going on and hanging on to life – why, I don’t know.
POPKIN: Did you have any religious feelings at that time?
SJOBERG: No, on the contrary, I promise as long as I am alive, I will never speak or talk or pray to God. You say, I didn’t know, you know. We were his chosen people, the apples of his eye. And why he let us – I thought, you know, God is going to put a dunder and blitz on every German and just liberated us. And when this, during the years, didn’t occur, I just became so empty. There was just an empty shell, truthfully. Nothing even budged me. The only mind was going on from day to day, and this was in 1944.
POPKIN: And did you feel any friendship among you?
SJOBERG: No. Our three – two girls. Mala was one. She is in Israel. Helen Shumaker was one. She was a teacher. She left later. We try to keep contact, but one is in the United States, and I don’t know where she is.
POPKIN: While you were in the camp, you did feel friendship for these women, these girls?
SJOBERG: No, there was not friendship. There was a survival. We covered up for each other. There was no friendship. There was a kind of togetherness really.
POPKIN: You knew you were in the same boat.
SJOBERG: Yes. We have to pull together. We have to stick together. We did not develop friendship since we came to Berlin. Then we felt, you know, some miracle. We were destined to be together to the end of the war. We were.
POPKIN: It was in 1944 –
SJOBERG: 1944, one day, and it was early in the spring, this rumor start that they are going to pick up workers. And I didn’t care about anything. I never thought that I would even be physically fit to go and work somewhere. I was so skinny. My breasts just disappeared. I was flat. You know, not a pretty picture. We got a German woman, and for some unpredictable reason, her name was Leah. Do you know Polish Leah what this is?
POPKIN: Is it Leah also?
POPKIN: No, I didn’t know that.
SJOBERG: She just, you know, because of the sake of the name or whatever, she felt a kind of compassion for me, gave me a piece of bread and didn’t push me around. She was a big, strong woman with boots, always beating on her boots with her little leather thing. And this day they need a transport of 500 women to Berlin, to Neukiren, the Krupps – to make ammunition. And I remember her coming in and taking me out and talking to me. She say, “I know you don’t qualify, but I’m going to try to get you on this train. Maybe you won’t survive there. You will not survive here.”
POPKIN: I see. So she really helped you.
SJOBERG: She is the one who just pushed me on the train and met those girls. We were 500 strange women, from all different barracks, some of them very tall, built different. And there, you know, we traveled to Berlin. I was so sick on the train. I thought I never make it. Fever and again this blowing up.
POPKIN: About how big were you then? You were very small.
SJOBERG: But look at me now. I was sixty-eight pounds when I was liberated.
POPKIN: So you were sent to Germany to work in the munitions factory.
POPKIN: As slave labor.
SJOBERG: Yes, I was sent to Germany. There we went through a quarantine and there was guards. They needed our work, so they have to treat us half decent.
POPKIN: What were you working with? What kind of materials?
SJOBERG: Bombs, ammunition. Would you believe – look at my hands, how little they are. They were even smaller.
POPKIN: Of course.
SJOBERG: And I don’t know, but I spoke perfect German.
POPKIN: You had learned it in the camp?
SJOBERG: In the camp. I spoke Polish, Yiddish, Russian –
POPKIN: Hebrew also?
SJOBERG: Hebrew, not very much, but I understood. But for the most, I could speak a lots of French, too. Well, we came to Germany, to this Krupp Neukiren. There they let us go a couple weeks. We were checked by a doctor who’s going to die or live. Now I was physically little and worn out, but just the same fit, like you say. And later they try and they segregated us to a different kind of work. And just because of my knowledge of languages and my little hands, I was a controller. I controlled the uruh and steigreit which is the very heart of the bomb.
POPKIN: I see. This is what made it explode, right?
SJOBERG: Exactly. So I don’t know how many people I really killed.
POPKIN: That’s a tragic story, but then it’s the whole story that’s incredible. You had no choice, that’s why.
SJOBERG: No, but you know –
POPKIN: Well, how long did that last, that period?
SJOBERG: We were – till 1945 in the spring. We lived there and worked. We walked from our barracks to this Krupp. It was a beautiful building, you know. And the production was kept up night and day. But just the same, into the time all the Allies started bombing Berlin. It was the biggest blitz –
POPKIN: The Allies?
SJOBERG: Yes, the Allies, yes. They were bombing – Americans, Englishmen, Russians. We did have radio contact because of the German –
POPKIN: Well, then you knew what was happening.
SJOBERG: Yes. I know, you know, they are coming closer, and I know that they won’t be very long. I know now this is just a question of hanging on, like grasping a straw. And I know that the German did know that this is the final epilogue, you know. And because, like I said, they knew they lose the war. They didn’t have no reason or desire to liquidate us.
POPKIN: They didn’t?
POPKIN: Because they did – people in the camps they did.
SJOBERG: People in the camps – these were two quite different. They were the SS men, the storm troopers. There were the Germans. There were more civilians working, there were the elderly working, a lots of women working, and they did not really harm us physically or even abuse us mentally. They had been told that we are prostitutes, that we are murderers. We have been, you know, named as the scum of the human race, that this is why we had to suffer as a slave. But many of them didn’t know about the concentration camps. And where we came from, there were special two women. One was Frau Vinker. One was Natasha. They brought even to us single days cookies and apples and they told us the news, that the Russians and the Americans were closer, and we really should hang on. The aufseeren, which we called the blonde, poison, blonde gift, she was a menace. When she understood this is just a question of which side to support, she stopped beating on us. And in the country she asked me if I would testify for her that she was not harming us. So we understood Hitler was losing his battle through the time, I guess, that he was killed in the bunker.. But just the Germans hang on to the last moment. In spring of 1945, when we came one day back from work, they bombed our barracks. We have to stay in the factory. And, you know, there was one, again, vivid sign of they lost the war because the Americans and the Englishmen, they could bomb you and fly on the ground. By they did not bomb this factory.
POPKIN: Why, I wonder?
SJOBERG: They were too valuable for them. They knew it would fall eventually in one of the occupiers’ hands, that it would be American or Englishman or Russian. So they did not want to destroy a billion dollar worth factory. The production continued this particular day in spring, early spring. There must have been in the beginning of March when one day we came back from the factory and there, you know, we discover the fence which is just taken apart. There was no fence surrounding us, nothing. We had been given a piece of bread, a piece of liverwurst, a spoon and just let us go. We did not know where to go. We did not know what to do. There were two elderly persons, soldiers, of the Wehrmacht, (regular German Army), which is more like a civilian guardian. We start walking. We walked hundreds of miles.
POPKIN: Which direction did you go?
SJOBERG: We went to Ravensbruck.
POPKIN: You went to Ravensbruck?
SJOBERG: Yes. We walked back.
POPKIN: Is Ravensbruck in Poland or in Germany?
SJOBERG: Auschwitz is in Poland.
POPKIN: Yes, right. So you went to Ravensbruck, but without knowing why you were going there?
SJOBERG: We did not know why, when or what, you know. We walked a forest –
POPKIN: How many of you were walking?
SJOBERG: There was about 320. We came back, there was 100 left. They were dying, or believe it or not, a lot of them just skipped. I don’t know where, why and how.
POPKIN: Were you being taken by these Germans?
SJOBERG: Two Germans—just, you know, they would let us go.
POPKIN: So then you arrived at Ravensbruck, and you were still controlled by the Germans?
SJOBERG: Yes. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp of concentration camps.
POPKIN: I knew there were terrible experiments they had there.
SJOBERG: All the people from working camp. Now you have to distinguish the difference between a concentration camp and a working camp. Ravensbruck was a concentration—they concentrate all working camps. We were there not knowing what, when and how. I remember I got a coat, and there was a star of David. And there were in Ravensbruck people, women, strong women. I don’t know how they survived and how, you know. There was a lots of Poles, a lots of French women, a lots of Greek women. When we came, they did have their priority, but we didn’t know a thing. Just this particular day, Red Cross packages started arriving.
POPKIN: Well, then you knew the war was just over.
SJOBERG: It was not over.
POPKIN: It was still not over? They were beginning to treat you more decently?
SJOBERG: We did not know what’s going on. I remember we received a Red Cross package. You know, inside there were those crackers, rye crackers. There was inside little cans. We didn’t have no knives, no nothing—
POPKIN: No can openers.
SJOBERG: No can openers. How they opened it, I don’t know. But it was ham and beans. We ate it. We got diarrhea. The whole camp was stinking really. But we didn’t know. It was the most confusing experience through all those years. This particular day the camp put us up, and they looked at us. And I remember this woman came over to me, and there she took her finger and grabbed the star of David and pulled it off my arm.
SJOBERG: This I thought, “Okay, now this is the final.” I was almost relieved. I was tired of fighting, tired of trying to survive—for what reason? It didn’t make no sense. She put herself. She choose really the most physically fit persons. I remember there was someone which they had to be carried into the buses. We walked about an hour. Again, the monstrosity of the big barriers when those camps were built. We walked over railroad tracks, we walked over places and suddenly there was a huge—have you ever seen Wild West, those Fort Apache, those big palisade where they went?
SJOBERG: They opened, and there outside, there were seventeen buses with the Swedish flag.
POPKIN: Oh, what a moment!
SJOBERG: I didn’t know, I didn’t realize—
POPKIN: You still didn’t know you were going to be free.
SJOBERG: No, I didn’t believe it. I was—do you know—I thought that, knowing the Germans, they would use all the trick in the world to have us killed.
POPKIN: So you were loaded on to these buses?
SJOBERG: Yes, I remember—
POPKIN: Do you remember the day?
SJOBERG: Yes, I remember the day. April 23, 1945.
POPKIN: The Swedes had come to take you away.
SJOBERG: They board us like cattle. There was an agreement between Jolke Bernadotte which unfortunately was killed later in Israel, also a tragedy, and Goering and all the—you see, Goering’s wife was a Swede. They didn’t have no steel or wood or they did need some security to fall back. So they let us go, be taken out, paid for. The Swedes paid.
POPKIN: To take you out.
SJOBERG: To take us out.
POPKIN: How many came out at that time?
SJOBERG: Well, there were seventeen buses. I don’t know. Seventeen buses, we was squeezed like sardines. Many of our girls had to be carried in, and I remember they asked us if we speak Swedish, which we didn’t.
POPKIN: You only had all those other languages.
SJOBERG: Yeah. A German, and I remember his name was Anderson, he told us to squeeze as much as possible so they could take up so many girls as possible. And this what they did. We traveled and was bombed in Germany.
POPKIN: You were bombed by the Allies?
SJOBERG: By the Allies.
POPKIN: Because they didn’t know?
SJOBERG: No. Matter of fact—
POPKIN: Were any of the buses hit?
SJOBERG: Yes, and all the girls—one girl got her legs amputated in Sweden.
POPKIN: Oh, my.
SJOBERG: And a lots killed. But just the same, we came then from Germany to Denmark. There in Denmark, which was also occupied by the Germans, they build Red Cross camps for us. You know, there was just on the floor, but we got a terrible big tent they put up with a Red Cross on it. And then for the first time, I did understood, you know, we were liberated. But have you ever seen so much emptiness in your heart? I mean, what for? And I didn’t even rejoice. I was just—I wanted in my heart to die. I wanted to live all those years. When the liberation came, I will die. And we traveled to Copenhagen, and in Copenhagen we were segregated with the rest of the girls, parties taken out in different places in Sweden, so we came at the boat, you know, sick in our souls and bodies, diarrhea, tuberculosis. The deficiency in the bone and the prostatis and everywhere. We came to Sweden, and there we were in Lund, a town in Sweden, a very much—
POPKIN: The university city?
SJOBERG: Yes. And there, you know, this was May 1st. May 5th we looked out through the window, and there the Swedish students were laughing and rejoicing and crying and hugging, and come up and hug us. There was an official armistice. There was—you know Hitler, he was dead, but just the German military just capitulation of the thing. And there I was sitting and didn’t feel nothing. This where one part of my world finished, and the other one started. I decided that I am insane.
POPKIN: You found it hard to believe.
SJOBERG: I wanted to be crazy. Have you ever experienced one thing like this? I guess not.
POPKIN: I suppose I understand. The stress was too great. You really didn’t want to deal with reality.
SJOBERG: There was no—