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Leah Sjoberg

image of Leah Sjoberg holocaust survivor
Nationality: Polish
Location: Auschwitz Concentration Camp • Berlin • Denmark • Germany • Israel • Lodz • Missouri • Poland • Ravensbrück Concentration Camp • St. Louis • Sweden • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp • Family Died in Ghetto • Family Survived • Forced on a Death March • Helped by the Red Cross • Liberated • Lived in Lodz Ghetto • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Worked in Factory

Mapping Leah's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Leah. Use the timeline below the map or the left and right keys on your keyboard to explore chronologically. In some cases the dates below were estimated based on the oral histories.

“[W]e must believe. We must be on our guard. We must bring the torch to life. We must educate people. We must even request that there should be a regular history curriculum in the schools, in the universities between the students. There should be a hour or two or more basic—a curriculum in which you should learn about our mistakes, about their mistakes. They should learn about what really there was going on.  And now, in the future, in the generation to come, this terrifying, horrible Holocaust should not reoccur.” - Leah Sjoberg

Read Leah's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

POPKIN: What I’d like to know first is when you were born and where it was.
SJOBERG: I was born in Poland in a town called Lodz in 1927.
POPKIN: O.K.  Well, you were born in a big city really.  Lodz was a big industrial city.
SJOBERG: Yes, it was a big city and most of – where we lived were mostly occupied by Jews.  We were very much aware of the Jewish community, and my mother was of the tribe of Levi and she don’t let us forget for one moment.  I was raised in an Orthodox family so that Judaism and that tradition was very much a part of our life.
POPKIN: Did you live near a synagogue then so you could go?
SJOBERG: We were in walking distance, and as I recall my father never really missed one morning or even one night of services.  The High Holidays were strictly observed in our home. I grew up in a normal, healthy, fighting, loving Jewish family.
POPKIN: Who was in your family besides yourself, your mother and father?
SJOBERG: I did have two sisters and two brothers.
POPKIN: What was your position in the family?
SJOBERG: I was the fourth child.  Two of my sisters, Faiga.
POPKIN: That means bird.
SJOBERG: Chava, the life, Moishe, which, he was a doctor – died, killed.  There was me, and there was Solomon Isreal which came to this Country.  They amputated his legs, and he died of a heart attack in 1968.
POPKIN: Did he have diabetes?
SJOBERG: No, he froze his legs in concentration camp.  He was just a very, very – at that time he was about twelve years old when they taken him in the concentration camp.
POPKIN: What was your first language?
SJOBERG: Yiddish.
POPKIN: Yiddish was your first language.
SJOBERG: Polish, Russian.
POPKIN: Russian.  When did you learn Russian?
SJOBERG: As a child.
POPKIN: In your school or from your family?
SJOBERG: No, no we learned Polish in the school and lots of Hebrew.
POPKIN: You went to a public school?
SJOBERG: No.  We call it “Viezer” which was translated “knowledge”.  As a child, you know, there was a kind of very strictly jealous feeling about the Jewish children.  We kept kind of isolated. I don’t know—
POPKIN: You mean the Jews kept to themselves deliberately.
SJOBERG: Very much so.
POPKIN: And your family wanted you to have a Jewish education.
SJOBERG: Yes.  It was obvious that I was born Jewish and should die a Jew.  There are – like my brothers, most attention was coordinated into them, you see.  They’re supposed to live by mitzvah, carrying on the tradition of Judaism.  The girls supposed to be Jews, grew up, find a nice Jewish man, get married, have nice Jewish children.  This has been going on in generation before me. And we have educated, trained this same way. I did have my Polish little friends to go with, and so did my sisters.  But it was obvious that we would never consider to get assimilated or go beyond our Jewish beliefs. I don’t think it was so much religion as tradition.
POPKIN: You really feel you were a separate people and wanted a separate tradition; you were part of a separate tradition.
SJOBERG: Yes, we felt, you know, somehow that “I’m Jewish.”  Yet I remember many of our friends asked and was wondering why we kept to ourselves, really.  Maybe if I grew up as a normal child, my point of view would have changed. I never did have the chance, so again I was watching my sisters and brothers, you know.  They grew up. They got married to Jewish men. They were born Jewish children. We didn’t have literally time to go beyond our traditions.
POPKIN: All right.  You knew that.  When were you first aware that a new and more hostile world was coming?
SJOBERG: I remember when I was a child.  This is quite vivid in my memory.  I was so little still, and I could crawl under a chair when a cousin of ours who lived in North Poland –
POPKIN: Do you remember the town?
SJOBERG: Yes, it was Gedidya.  He came to us, and this has been 1935.  He came to say goodbye. He left to Israel, Palestine then.  And when my father and my mother asked him why, he told us about the movement, about the hostility and hatred toward the Jews.  Their children were abused and were cast rocks on them –
POPKIN: By the Poles, of course.
SJOBERG: Yes.  Also which turned to be a lot under the German influence.  You see, the whole west part of Poland turned out to be German later.
POPKIN: Yes, I know.  It became part of Germany during the –
SJOBERG: Yes, but their children have been abused physically, and they called them “Christ Killers”, you know.
POPKIN: But you hadn’t yourself experienced anything like that.
SJOBERG: Yes, I did to a certain degree.  I did find myself that they always picked on us.  We are richer, or we are dishonest, or we make our money in a dishonest way.
POPKIN: You mean children said these things to you when you were a child?
SJOBERG: Children, yes.  A child has ears, and they are influenced by the talk of their parents and in the schools, I’m quite sure.  Because when, between 1939 and 1940 the door of the ghetto closed behind us, all our so-called friends and associates could murder us.
POPKIN: You mean there wasn’t a single friend left you could trust outside of the Jewish community?
SJOBERG: Absolutely not.
POPKIN: Were you aware, was your family aware when the Nazis were actually coming?  Did you have any warning in advance?
SJOBERG: Yes we did.  Unfortunately we didn’t pay attention to it because a relative of my brother-in-law, which was married to my oldest sister, his brother came from Wiesbaden and this must have been in 1936.  We did know.  My father was educated and read the papers and the news.  And everything we knew about the Hitler movement. But you kind of, you know, like a horse – didn’t want to believe it.
POPKIN: With blinders.
SJOBERG: Yes.  I remember him saying, and I quote, he said, “In the time of Goethe and Schiller, this is not possible that one house painter like Hitler should take over the world.”  Those were the words.
POPKIN: It was unbelievable.
SJOBERG: Unbelievable.  We were trusting.  We were full of trust in God even.
POPKIN: What sort of work did your father do?
SJOBERG: He was a  importer of cotton.
POPKIN: So you were a prosperous family?
SJOBERG: We didn’t lack anything.
POPKIN: What kind of home did you have?
SJOBERG: A nice, very nice home.  We were cultural. We got a maid eighteen years, a Pole.  I take back what I say because when she has to leave our home, she has to.  I thought I was breaking my mother’s and her heart, and I was, too. She was with us eighteen years, a Pole.
POPKIN: She was part of the family.
SJOBERG: Yes.  She grow up with us.  She was crying and laughing when we did, you know.  She cried on the funerals and rejoice on weddings. And she has to leave or else she would be even executed.  And when she left and later on, you know, I tried so hard to get contact if someone know about her. She just disappeared in the blue.
POPKIN: You never found out what happened to her?
SJOBERG: Never, if she died or whatever, but we never did find out where Rosa is.  But she was eighteen years in our family, and I remember even her talking to my father which name was Abraham.  And she called him “Pan Abraham” which is “Sir Abraham”.  “Go to Palestine, go to Israel, go to Palestine.”
POPKIN: She said that?
SJOBERG: Yes.  My father just laughed, and he say, “Don’t worry, Rosa, nothing will happen to us.”  And there we were trapped in our own cotton. Later on, you know, it was a kind of irony because when we went to the ghetto, we had to leave our home.
POPKIN: Do you remember when you had to go to the ghetto?
SJOBERG: Sure, not exactly the date, but I remember.
POPKIN: The month?
SJOBERG: Yes, it was in late summer because it was still warm in Poland.  And I remember they was in such a hurry that my sister was just having lunch.
POPKIN: They just came and told you, you had to move to the ghetto.
SJOBERG: Yes, we know they were building the ghetto.  We did know. But the chaos, the shock, and we were just thinking of God.  We did not know what to do. Of course, as I heard later, a lots of our Jewish people could still leave the country.  How and when I don’t know. Many went to Russia and just disappeared. Many maybe through Russia went to Israel – to Turkey to Israel.  Well, we were sitting like a sitting duck.
POPKIN: Your whole family was caught, including the married members of your family and the younger generation?
SJOBERG: Yes.  As a matter of fact, when we left – we had to leave the ghetto after two and one-half years – my older sister was still there with her children.
POPKIN: When you were forced into the ghetto, how did you find a place to live?  Did they tell you?
SJOBERG: They assigned to us places to live.
POPKIN: I see.
SJOBERG: We were sixteen people in a room.
POPKIN: Sixteen people!  And you were one of the youngest ones.
SJOBERG: My brother was the youngest.
POPKIN: And you were next to the youngest.
POPKIN: I see.
SJOBERG: Sixteen people – some we did know, some we didn’t.  It was a tremendous house.
POPKIN: Do you remember the name of the street?
POPKIN: What was it?
SJOBERG: Bazarna.
POPKIN: That’s where my aunt and uncle and their two children were also.  There name was Harkaby. Does that mean anything to you?
POPKIN: She was a dentist, Vieta Harkaby.
SJOBERG: Number 7 – I remember the number.  But I remember one thing. There was a cemetery behind our houses, and there we ran quite frequently and hide when the German came to take us out.  After the ghetto was locked and closed, we were just trapped. We didn’t know what to do. The Jews from our people, they were called militia, policia.  There was a kind of police there.
POPKIN: I’ve read quite a bit about–
SJOBERG: Yes.  And the Jewish man who ran this show —
POPKIN: Rumkowski?
SJOBERG: Rumkowski, yes.
POPKIN: Were you aware of him even as a child, or did you hear this from your parents?
SJOBERG: No, I knew that he was there.  I even saw him once. He was a very attractive man.  I was so young, and my brother, you know, he was younger by two years than I was but about a head taller than I was.  He was so curious, and I remember my mother used to tie him up and hide him because he was always picking at his nose.
POPKIN: You were afraid he’d get in trouble?
SJOBERG: He did.  They caught him.
POPKIN: And what happened?
SJOBERG: Yeah, at first they didn’t believe him, but he was so young.  So they sent an armored soldier to our home with one of the Jewish Police, and when it was established he was just a youngster, that did not disturb them, they take him every day to work, to clean the streets and clean the toilets and work for them.  They were terrorizing my family, you know, sending him to start with, they will harm us. So he left. But he was – he came home and he was glad and always full of joy. I think he rather took it as a comedy more than a tragedy. He did not believe that really something could happen.
POPKIN: I think it’s hard sometimes to have perspective.  How did you feel? Were you a happy child in spite of —
SJOBERG: Very much so.
POPKIN: You were.
SJOBERG: Yes.  And when the ghetto came by – you know, they started to kind of organize and do whatever was to the best of their abilities, you know.  I felt that this is nothing so hopeless, but I can go on. We were worked because this was the motto or saying of the German, “If you work, you will live.”  So I felt as long as we were worked, no harm would come to us.
POPKIN: Were you made to work as well as the rest of your family?
POPKIN: What sort of work did you do there?
SJOBERG: My sister was in a sewing factory.  I was so little still, you know, to work, but I helped.  I collected what is supposed to be. We made uniforms and tents for the Germans.  And we were rationing. We tried to get my mother in. When my mother was killed, she was only fifty-one years old, so she was a very young, attractive woman, you know.  And we tried just to get everyone in to work because we felt that this is the straw we were hanging on to.
POPKIN: Apparently the Lodz ghetto was best organized of all the ghettos.
SJOBERG: It was organized.  There was lots of – they obeyed the rules.  But, you see also – I don’t know – there was maybe one problem which there was.  Once they organized the whole theater, we were yellow bellies, you know. You know, we didn’t defend ourselves.  But we – I guess the Lodz ghetto was the first to be closed.
POPKIN: Yes, I know.
SJOBERG: Through and during the time the Warsaw ghetto didn’t have time to organize, to get ammunition to defend themselves.  Have you ever read the Bible? “–and we went like sacrificial lambs.”
POPKIN: I don’t believe that that’s really true.
SJOBERG: Yes, in Poland we did, and Lodz we did.
POPKIN: Oh yes, of course.  What I meant is though, that what I’ve heard about the Lodz ghetto is you were more effectively sealed off than any other part of –
SJOBERG: We were the first sealed off.
POPKIN: And you were put into Germany as they changed the name of Lodz to Litzmanstadt.
SJOBERG: Litzmanstadt, yes.  But also we were trapped.  We did not have a voice between us and the outside.
POPKIN: There were no outsiders.
SJOBERG: We obeyed the rules.
POPKIN: Uh-huh.  Now what happened to your family?  You say that your mother died. Was that during the time that you were in the ghetto?
SJOBERG: No, she was gassed in Auschwitz.
POPKIN: Well, you lived there as a family then?
SJOBERG: We lived as a family.  In the beginning there were sixteen.  Later we were nine. My brother has been taken to work, and we worked.  My sister, my older one, her husband and the children was in the same house, one flight above us.  My sister got three small children. I remember that there was constantly a fight to keep those children hidden and quiet.  In December of 1940, the ghetto was closed there sporadically, and right away the German came in every day.  In the beginning they took out boys to work, and I can still, you know, hear the voices and clumping of the shoes and the bayonets.  And looking at them, and there they was standing clean, you know, shaven and smelling good, and just waiting for us. And who done the gathering was our own people, our own police.
POPKIN: So they came looking for the small children.
SJOBERG: No not to start with.  First there were the workers.  Later there were the elderly people.
POPKIN: And then the small children?
SJOBERG: The elderly people, you know the Chasidim?
POPKIN: Um-hum.
SJOBERG: And they, I think, went through a horrifying experience because to die maybe is not so terrible difficult, but they put them through a lot of shame, you know.  Put the tallis1, if you know what a tallis is – [a prayer shawl]
POPKIN: Yes I do.
SJOBERG: And even the T’fillin [item used for morning prayers], you know.  They took the prayer book and let them shovel the toilets and beat them and spit at them, and put the payess [long side curls worn by the Chasidim] and pulled them, collecting themselves and just beat them up and taken them away, or just – they fell and died.
POPKIN: You think they were worse treated, more obviously.
SJOBERG: They were worse to the elderly which couldn’t defend themselves.  There was no difference who they was, a doctor, lawyer, a shoemaker or a caretaker, anything went by them.  I remember we were – I was deprived of some feeling. Later on, which was killing me inside was, “How could they be given the right?”  This was more on my side. I did not grieve for the dead Jews. Even if my heart say, “Oh my God, how could it happen?” but I was furious!
POPKIN: You were angry?
SJOBERG: Yes, “Why?”  I asked alles [always].  And even when we came to this country, you know, and to Sweden.  When I came to Sweden in 1945, from Ravensbruck, and my husband, you know, tried to classify everything.  We went to a town in Sweden, and we had to be six weeks in quarantine.  And all the Jews, which they’re not so very many, but there are still Jews in Sweden, came to bring us gifts, clothes, food.  I hated them. Oh God, did I ever hate them. I never forget there was a woman, and I was almost attacking her physically because she brought me a dress which was in sequins.  You know what sequins is?
POPKIN: Uh-huh — decorated.
SJOBERG: Yeah.  And I was flat.  You know, I was sixty-eight pounds, yeah like a chicken.  The only thing on my face was my nose and the big hatred in my heart.  I attacked her so wildly. I say in Yiddish, I say, “Where have you been when we got killed, when they killed and tortured us?”  Now she gave me a dress with sequins. What would I do with it? I was as flat like this table.
POPKIN: To go back a little bit – when you were in the ghetto two and one-half years –
POPKIN: To what year?  1943?
SJOBERG: The middle of 1943, yes.
POPKIN: And why were you moved at that time?  Did they explain? Were all of you taken at that time to Auschwitz?
SJOBERG: There was me, my sister, my mother, my sister’s boy.
POPKIN: I see.
SJOBERG: Still trusting, still believing, still –
POPKIN: What did they say to you?
SJOBERG: Rumkowski, he spoke this particular day.  As you know, my mother, my sister and I worked in this factory.  Food got scarce. More of our people got sick, first blowing up with water, later to be turn into just idle bones.  The challenge rivalry between our people was so enormous. It was just to eat or be eaten. We sold most of our possessions already – not the most, but a lot, you know, to be fed, because the Russian was getting scared.  My brother has been taken to Germany. We didn’t hear a word of him. My older brother, you know, which was with the army. We had a word to begin with, but then when the army really deserted it, he came to – flew to Russia.  My oldest sister and her children, my brother-in-law, they tried to hold on as much as possible. Everything was caving in, and believing like Rumkowski and the German what had one of the proclamations that we are going to go to a farm somewhere in Germany.  A farm, our own soil to work but just to say be fed and live because they don’t want to do us no harm.
POPKIN: So they told you.
SJOBERG: Yes.  They – “We are civil persons, and as such, they don’t have no fight with us.  And this is not the truth that they hate all the Jews, and Hitler he truly tried to make a living for us.  If we survive the war, he will give us a free passage.” Which turn out before and after was poison gas and whatever.  We believed him. I remember my sister and her son. He was a youngster. He was about eight, nine years old, a tall, beautiful boy.  We were discussing what we should do. And all nine of us which lived in this room decided that we go and give ourselves up to work. And, I tell you I have never had in my life – the war ended.  I didn’t believe it was me. I think many times I tell you about someone not me. I don’t believe it.
POPKIN: It’s hard to believe it was really you.  So you took your few things and came out.
SJOBERG: We took our few things and also things which were hide, you know.  We hide a thing which would eventually give us a start later on.
POPKIN: Did you have some jewelry?
SJOBERG: Yes.  My mother got a gold chain, and you could eighteen times around her neck.
POPKIN: Oh my!  How did she hide it?
SJOBERG: We hide in bundles, you know, and hide it.  I wasn’t very much aware. But this supposed to be, you know, kind of falling back after, you know, when they let us go back.  And the day when they took us out from our home, my father got a stroke.  It took him two minutes. He died, thank God.
POPKIN: It was a fortunate death.
SJOBERG: Yes.  The only thing he was –
POPKIN: How old was he?
SJOBERG: He was fifty-four.  And I remember the only thing that was on his mind, he was delirious before.  He just couldn’t believe that this was happening, and it happened. And I guess – you know, I was very close to my father.  I looked like him, and I was, you know, born a girl. And he loved me very much. The more I think as we go on, we were very close and always talking together.  I remember during the war, he was carrying me on his neck, you know, jumping even. I know I have lots of my father’s vitality.  I know what kill my father most of everything was that he didn’t believe, you know.  He felt kind of responsible for our ordeal because there were so many, so very many which told Abraham, leave the country.
POPKIN: What was your maiden name?
SJOBERG: Rosas-Levinson.
POPKIN: Was it hyphenated or one name?
SJOBERG: Hyphenated.  There were two family Rosas and the family of Levinson which was my mother’s name.  She took it. Like I told you, she was very, you know, try to bring the generation and carry on, so I’m very much concerned for my daughters to take this name.
POPKIN: The same.
SJOBERG: Yeah.  I don’t have no grandsons yet.  I have granddaughters, and I kind of want to continue with the tradition really.  But he died, and I was happy. I remember I didn’t fell a tear. I felt, “Oh, he is out of the misery.”  He would have nothing to do.
POPKIN: And you were just fifteen or sixteen years old at this time.
SJOBERG: This was – I was born 1927.
POPKIN: He died in 1943.
SJOBERG: No, he died in 1940.
POPKIN: 1940.  Oh, so you were only thirteen when he died.  And your mother died–?
SJOBERG: She was executed.
POPKIN: She was executed later.
SJOBERG: I, my sister, my mother and our friends we associate, you know, when we came in the morning to this big group.
POPKIN: Where were they assembled?  In a square?
SJOBERG: No, there was kind of schools, buildings.  We were in buildings because I remember there was bundles and people and there, you know, there was a soldier in a company.  But our Jews were still just Jews. Already, you know, there were our names. We get a passage card – oh, how ironical – at the last moment.
POPKIN: They kept up this farce.
SJOBERG: They kept it a secret.  And you know, I believe with all my heart, that Rumkowski didn’t know about it where we are going.  Not a word was whispered. We were just, somehow, you know, amazed that you have so very much – the contact with our people were just cut off.  The one who had been taken to so-called working camps, like when my brother –
POPKIN: You got no word back.  You knew nothing about what was happening.
SJOBERG: No, but just the same, we attributed it to the lack of communication now the war is going on.
POPKIN: Of course.
SJOBERG: But at the last moment, this we were taken off the train in Auschwitz.
POPKIN: You still didn’t know where you were going?
SJOBERG: We traveled sixteen hours, and you know it wasn’t so very far.
POPKIN: You were in these cattle cars?
POPKIN: How did they transport you to the train?  Did you have to walk?
SJOBERG: We walked to the train nicely and there, you know, we went into the cattle trains.  And still there was order, even if we were amazed. But I suppose, I don’t know – but I used my logic, and I suppose it was one of the reasons they couldn’t give us trains or anything—it was lack of passes.  We have to go. But as soon they squeezed us in and just locked outside there. For the first time in my mind and everyone’s minds, was we are going to camps, to working camps. But just the same, we had never heard of Auschwitz or Ravensbruck or Buchenwald.  I remember my father reading that Dachau was built before the war. But all, you know, many concentration camps. We attribute this to communists or the Germans.
POPKIN: But some people did come out of those camps before the war.  Some came out.
SJOBERG: Well sure, it was political.  We did not hear or associate the racial connection, you know, of the Jews—
POPKIN: You didn’t know there was going to be an extermination program against the Jews, so you went to Auschwitz –
SJOBERG: In 1939, in a world of civilization.  Men you know, Haydn and Goethe and Schiller were spoken with Hitler himself, but a Jewish doctor – did you know that?
POPKIN: Yes, I think I heard about it.
SJOBERG: Yes, he got a medical doctor, and he trusted –

Tape 1 - Side 2

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.
POPKIN: Uh-huh.
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—

Tape 2 - Side 1

POPKIN: You were saying you wanted to be crazy.
SJOBERG: Yes.  A psychiatric doctor, you know, a psychologist and everything.  We found a doctor. His name is Kurt Ritzner. He and my brother, you know, were students together.  When he saw my name, he knew exactly who I was. He came and visit me, and I remember—
POPKIN: But where were you then?
SJOBERG: I was in Lund.
POPKIN: You were in Sweden.  But where were you put up?
SJOBERG: We were up in the cloisters, which is a nun convent.
POPKIN: Oh, a convent.
SJOBERG: Universities and everywhere.  He came, Kurt Ritzner, and this is many years, but I remember so vivid, like now.  He came in and asked where Leah Rosas-Levinson is, and they showed him. I was sitting on a straw mattress, and he start crying.  He didn’t say a word. He start crying. He come and lift me up and hugged me, and I look at him, and I didn’t know what’s going on—why.  He told me his name is Kurt Ritzner. He was a doctor, a Swedish doctor, and he was together with my brother, Moishe, in the university.
POPKIN: Oh, isn’t that nice.
SJOBERG: Yes.  And he was at my home. They went skiing in the Tatras, which is the mountains.
POPKIN: Mountains.
SJOBERG: And I remember he opened the bag, and there was a bra there.  And I start laughing, so hysterical because I did not have a shred of breast.  You see, I was flat. And not a hair, nothing. I didn’t—
POPKIN: They had kept your head shaved through the whole—
SJOBERG: The whole time.  In the end, you know, about three months—I show you a picture because they took it in Sweden.
POPKIN: Oh, God.  It’s pathetic, really.
SJOBERG: Uh-huh.  And I look at this bra, you know, and I can’t stop twirling it.  And there, you know, in my mind is exactly like I’m sitting with you here.  We are talking intelligent conversation, but deep down, the second part of me is Dr. Jekyll, and this is Mrs. Hyde, or vice-versa, is absolutely deceiving and trying to speak intelligently like nothing.  But this other part of me is saying, “You going to be crazy, you are. And you don’t have no desire. Why should you go on living?” And there as I wished, so did I become. They put me under psychiatric observation, and I was just sitting, you know, and thinking, and I know, you know.  Have you ever fantasized things from all over except for the nights? When the night come, I brought every episode to life. I lived it through. Maybe this is why I can relay every date, everything so vivid because I lived it thousands and thousands of times. I injected myself with those emotions, and there Dr. Ritzner came, and he explain to me how there is a thin line between sanity and craziness.
POPKIN: Oh, sure.
SJOBERG: And he asked me—he told me, he say, “Make your choice.”  On this particular day when he slapped me, he shook me, he almost killed me and cried and screamed.  He was more a patient for the sanitarium as I was. He say, “Live, for the sake of your people who died!  Live, so you can tell of the crime!”  And you know, Dr. Jekyll killed Mr. Hyde.  I came back. Through this time, you know, my husband—
POPKIN: How did you meet your husband?
SJOBERG: He was one of the soldiers.
POPKIN: Oh, he was one of the soldiers there at that time.
POPKIN: I suppose your body became feminine again.
SJOBERG: Oh, we were put—we were six weeks in—two weeks in Lund.  We came to a little, little town what they called Geting, G-E-T-I-N-G, a little town in Sweden, and there, you know, all the Swedish Red Cross, they—I have never seen such emotion that the Swedes, you know, work with us in trying to bring us back to life.  We again went through a very thorough medical experiences, you know. And this is hideous—I didn’t even have a tooth decay.
POPKIN: So your teeth were all right?
SJOBERG: Everything except, you know, my eyes were watering, and I needed glasses and so forth.  But I was six weeks in this camp, and later there was exactly, you know, someone to let you out like a chick on the road, and I was better by—I remember the first time when they let us walk on our own.  They gave us five Kroner in our hand and took us to Haemstad, a town which was bigger. And there I was, you know, in almost five and one-half years, I could walk by myself, and I didn’t.
POPKIN: Uh-huh, it was hard to learn that, to be free.  Now you were—how old were you now? This was in 1945.
SJOBERG: This was in 1945.
POPKIN: You were eighteen years old.
SJOBERG: Seventeen.  I’m born in July.  And there, you know, through the time, my husband was coming and bringing me every single week packages and try, you know, to take me places.  I don’t know if you know that, but he is not a Jew. He’s a Gentile.
POPKIN: Yes, I heard.
SJOBERG: There, you know, is one thing, you know, Lapidus made paper ready for me.  Time goes; I start working in Haemstad in a hospital.  Everything is ready for me to go to Israel.  Everything is settled when, you know, we talk.  Another side of my husband, he’s truthfully heartbroken because he, just like he told me, fallen in love with me, and he say, “We can have a future.”  And there he is, a Gentile, and I am a Jew, and this is one of the most problem really what occurred.
POPKIN: How much older is he than you?
SJOBERG: He is four years older than me.
POPKIN: He was very young, too.
SJOBERG: Oh, sure.  And there I am, you know, glowing on one side and just feeling sick, trying to settle out my feeling—what is this all about?  And being a rebel, you know, hating everyone really, not making that I hate which is common, but really which is like a cobra which someone poked a stick to, and she just race and say, “Leave me alone.  I want to attack you.” There I go, and burning inside, you know. “The Lord is sweet, the Lord, our Jews…” I told you. When he came with packages to us, I just tell him, I just literally flew on them like a wildcat.  I couldn’t just stand the thought of them being secure and living in comfort when through the time of almost five and one-half years, they were very much aware. You know, when I came to this country, and I heard how they turned back this boat—oh, I thought, you know, that this is the end.  I prayed for the whole world to just blow up in pieces. There is something in my side, you know, what hurting. And this is funny. I got married.
POPKIN: When did you marry?
SJOBERG: 1946, April 11th.  All my papers was ready to go.
POPKIN: But how did your husband feel?  He didn’t want you to go.
SJOBERG: No, this particular night, we spoke the whole night, and I was so tired physically, mentally.  And I was thinking, “What in the world am I going to go to Israel for? Live between my own people, between the Jews who really didn’t care.  I will not do that. I will burn all bridges behind me. I will just take the past and bury it so deep that not ever in my life will I ever consider myself a Jew or be aware what happened or even memorialize my family.  This is done, over with! I am a new creature.” 
This what I thought I was really.  But we got married. You know, my mother-in-law was very unhappy, as you understand.  You know, I mean she was, who am I?
POPKIN: She wasn’t—
SJOBERG: No.  I mean there was a tragedy on her, but I was—
POPKIN: Was he the only son?
SJOBERG: No, he has a brother and a sister, but just the same, there I am.  When she spoke to me, she was very frank. She said, “You don’t look nothing, and you don’t have nothing.  And you are Jewish.” She say, “How can we ever let you marry our Leonard?”
POPKIN: Was he a Lutheran?
SJOBERG: Yes.  He’s more Jew than I am, believe me.
POPKIN: Why do you say that?  How can that happen?
SJOBERG: Oh, yeah, really.  And my daughters, you know—
POPKIN: Are they Jewish?
SJOBERG: They’re Jewish, all right.
POPKIN: Because they have a Jewish mother?
SJOBERG: Yes.  They’re Jewish.
POPKIN: They want to be Jewish.
SJOBERG: Oh, yeah.  My younger one, she knows more about Judaism now than I do.  I never spoke to them on the concentration camp, but I did speak about my family, you know, and about what is this all about.  During the year, you know, like I say, I went to the school, and I finished my studies. I became a teacher, you know. It just keep me occupied.  Never, it was exactly like a bleeding sore inside you. When some would try to provoke me to talk–as you know it’s a kind of psychosis with my daughters.  I never spoke to them about Germany.
POPKIN: You never talked to them?
SJOBERG: Never, never.
POPKIN: When were they born?
SJOBERG: One is born in 1947.
POPKIN: In Sweden?
SJOBERG: Yes, in 1948.  And one is born in 1957.  There are nine years between the girls.
POPKIN: I see.
SJOBERG: Yeah.  My daughter is going to be—
POPKIN: Was one born here, the second one?
SJOBERG: No, no, in Sweden.
POPKIN: Oh, still in Sweden.
SJOBERG: Yes.  You see, the reason I came to the United States was because of my brother.
POPKIN: How did you persuade your husband to come?
SJOBERG: He came where I go, you know.  This is in Latin as we say, “Where you go, ‘kaia’, there will I go, ‘kaius’.  He loved me.  He felt so long as we go together, it doesn’t matter really.  He loved my brother with a passion later.
POPKIN: Was this the brother who wrote this—
SJOBERG: Yes.  My brother was—you know, came to this country, and they have to amputate both legs above the knee.
POPKIN: Was he able to walk after that?
SJOBERG: No, he was in a wheel chair, but send me pictures and letters, you know, standing up straight and–
POPKIN: Is he married, too?
SJOBERG: No, he was engaged to a very rich girl from here, and when this happened, you know—
POPKIN: You came to St. Louis when you came to America?
SJOBERG: Yes, I came to him.  I came 1961 when he got his first heart attack.  They were waiting for me in the Jewish Hospital telling me that he don’t have no legs.  I didn’t know that. So when I went back to Sweden, you know, I decided to leave my husband, to leave my children and just come to stay with my brother.  I owe him. I remember him as a young, beautiful boy, and there, there was a shriveled, you know, picture of my father.
POPKIN: You hadn’t seen him in all that time?
SJOBERG: No, in 1945 when I came to Sweden and I work in this Halmstad in Lazarus in the hospital, I got a letter, you know, from the Red Cross, and it was my brother.  He was liberated in Lansburg, you know, Germany, Frankfurt.  They liberated him in Lansburg and from Lansburg he came to the United States, you know, to St. Louis.
POPKIN: I see.  Was he able to work here?
SJOBERG: Sure.  He worked for the butcher.  You know Simon Kohn?
POPKIN: No, I don’t think so.
SJOBERG: Diamant?  Leo Wolf?
POPKIN: Uh-huh, yeah.  I’ve heard his name.  You see, I’m not a St. Louisan.  I’ve only been here since ’73.
SJOBERG: Anyway yes, you know.  And this is—this why we came.  When I went back, I told my husband, I say, “I owed him, to repay him.”
POPKIN: You owed him.  I see.
SJOBERG: Something from my family to let him be he is not alone.  I just felt in my heart, you know, that I have to come. And when my husband accepted this, and he say, “Let’s take the girls.  We can always come back to Sweden. We pay our own way.” And my brother spent about the most eight beautiful years with my children—’62 to ’66.  He died in ’68, but I have never regret coming over here. But maybe when I came to this country where all the past start to revive, to reveal, I felt in my heart that I have never been more Jewish, then and now.  I felt in my heart when the State of Israel was born, I was wild of excitement and exhaustion. I danced. If I would drink, I would drink myself to death!
POPKIN: So by ’48 you really were feeling.
SJOBERG: Yes.  I felt my people, my beloved people, this beautiful people, this magnificent people, this intelligent people, the unique, and we need a country; we need someone to back us.  We need like the word in the Bible spoken by God alone. “This is my country, and I give it to you.” I remember, you know, the word of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I remember I am a Jew!  I will die a Jew! And there would—it start everything coming, you know. I start, you know, communicate. I start seeking out my cousin. I just became more alive. And I start open my eyes and tell, you know, “We don’t do nothing to protect our people.”  There everything was, just sleeping—those dragons which was just snoring is coming up again. He hasn’t been killed. He has been subdued. This same tragedy what occur in 1934 to’45 will occur if we are not on our guard since we can fight over here with guns.  We have a very articulate, important task to do. We have a tongue, the oral communication to let everyone know–not only our Jews here, but everyone, everyone. To let the churches know how the churches in Germany closed the door beyond and behind them and let them murder the children of Israel.  Now I let them know. I have discussions with Pastors when I literally tell them how all clergymen–even in this country very few spoke out against Hitler. And this is what is so important.
POPKIN: So you really changed completely.  It all came back to you, your being Jewish, your pride and your desire to—
SJOBERG: You know, when I was in Israel, when I look at the Jews, they don’t even look like we.  Those beautiful people, those  Sabras—funny enough, they don’t even feel love for us.
POPKIN: Oh, no.
SJOBERG: They don’t even know what this is all about.
POPKIN: Well, they’re beginning to learn now, I think.  We were there last year for half the year. There is more connection being sought now.
SJOBERG: Yet this is quite a different story, you know.  They are falling back on their Judaism. There are lots of disappointments, lots of heartbreaks, lots of—less support than they should have.  A lots of people which emigrated to this country moved back because they can’t stand how the standard has been cut down. Lots of agitation; lots of Russian immigrants; the Jews who came over there and expect the red carpet will roll toward them.
POPKIN: Believe me, work for them; that’s the biggest problem.
SJOBERG: Yes, but we need to support our Jews.  We need to support our people. We need to put out such a vivid propaganda—not a propaganda, this is not a propaganda because it’s true—to let the whole world know what this is all about.
POPKIN: May I ask you something?  Does your husband feel, too, very strongly identified with the Jewish people now?
SJOBERG: Very much, very much.  He don’t like—
POPKIN: Is he still on good terms with his family back there in Sweden?
SJOBERG: His mother passed away.  Yes, my sister-in-law was here visiting.  My husband, my daughters go back almost every year.
POPKIN: Oh, they do.
SJOBERG: I didn’t go back because I want to go to Israel.  So every time when they go, I go to Israel.
POPKIN: How many times have you been there?
SJOBERG: Only twice.  I will go this year.
POPKIN: You will?  When are you going?
SJOBERG: I will not go to this (INAUDIBLE)  No, first of all it is only three days.  Of course, I can stay with my cousin.
POPKIN: Where is your cousin there?
SJOBERG: He is in Tel Aviv.  My niece is in Tel Hoshomer.  I have a cousin which I didn’t know even how he lived.  I found him in Ramat Gan.
POPKIN: Ramat Gan?
SJOBERG: Yes.  But, oh, my heart, I tell you if I wouldn’t be bonded now, and I know, you know, I can take a half crippled man to Israel, and I don’t know how he’s feeling he’ll be over there, I would go and scrub the floors.  I would cook, and I would clean.
POPKIN: Just like your family.
SJOBERG: More in my life, really.  But like I say, this has been a tragedy that not many people are educated about.  I was with “Sister” Prince in Francis Howell School—a high school here. I think I was with her five hours.  And, you know, I saw the faces of those students. Now, they were high school students that are not children.  There was first disbelief that something like this can occur. Later there was a shock that it did occur. Later there was a kind of a agony, and many of them were asking, “What can we do that this mistake shouldn’t be repeated?”
And I told them, “Talk.  Speak up. If you see something like the Ku Klux Klan or the swastikas, just stop it!  This is the embryo gangrene which can blow up to enormous proportions.  We have to choke it! No one believed in 1934 that something like this would ever occur.”
POPKIN: Nobody believed it.
SJOBERG: “But we must believe.  We must be on our guard.  We must bring the torch to life.  We must educate people. We must even request that there should be a regular history curriculum in the schools, in the universities between the students.  There should be a hour or two or more basic—a curriculum in which you should learn about our mistakes, about their mistakes. They should learn about what really there was going on.  And now, in the future, in the generation to come, this terrifying, horrible Holocaust should not reoccur.”
POPKIN: Right, I agree with you.

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