Magda Kessler

"Be nice to each other. Help each other. Tell the story."

Name at birth
Magdalena Klein
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Velyka Dobron, Czechoslovakia.
Name of father, occupation
Abraham Klein, Tailor, had his own store, made suits, pants, etc.
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Shari Freedman, Helped father in the store, sewed buttons, finished clothing, and so forth.
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and three children: Meyer born in 1936; Yehuda Leib born in 1933, Magda born in 1930. My grandmother, my father’s mother, Shaindel Schwartz, lived with us. She cooked, taught us how to pray, etc.
How many in entire extended family?
Half of the village.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Me and two uncles, and aunt, and two cousins.
Before war, growing up in our town was very nice.  I always thought my father knew everything and that nothing bad was ever going to happen to us.  Everyone liked my father.  When I was ten years old, my aunt, Tante Franka, took me to the city of Kosice to get better education.  She came home three times a year for the holidays.  My aunt wanted me to come to the big city.  I lived there four years.  It was unusual for a girl to do this at this time.  

I was happy.  It was a different life in the city.  I went to a nice school, I had nice friends.  I wanted to be a teacher; I went to public school for two years. 

In 1942, they separated Jewish kids from the non-Jewish kids.  A Jewish teacher taught us the Aleph Bet.  My aunt said the Germans were coming.  In 1942, my father couldn’t own his business.  My mother sent a telegram and wanted me to come home.  I was 14 years old.  I wanted my family to be together.  

Margaret Winkler was a relative who took me to train.  They made people show their papers.  Margaret was taken away.  Someone on the train told the Germans that she was Jewish.  I was able to take the train home since my papers didn’t say that I was Jewish.

Jews and non-Jews dressed differently, their faces were different, you could tell who was a Jew and who was not.  

On Passover 1944, German soldiers came to our village.  One of the German soldiers stayed at our house.  He seemed very nice.  My father asked what is going to happen.  He said nothing at all.  

The German soldiers talked to the kids and gave out candy, but not to my little brother who was eight years old.  My little brother had pais (sidecurls worn by religious Jews).  My brother asked to have his small pais removed so he wouldn’t feel different from the others.  He understood what the Germans were saying, he knew Yiddish which is similar to German.  
Ukrainians came with the Germans; they helped the Germans kill Jews from one location to another.  When they saw Jews coming out of the synagogue; they said to us, “You’re still here, you’re still alive?”  

The end of Pesach (Passover), we were told to go pack that they were going to take us to Ungvar (Uzhgorod).  They took us the Ghetto there.  We slept outside and it was raining, it was terrible.  In the ghetto, my father assisted his friend who was a doctor.   If someone died, he would help ritually prepare the body for burial, washing him (Chevra Kadisha).  My mother was sick.  They took my mother out to the hospital.  We were in the ghetto for five weeks.  Then they started taking us to the train station to take us to Auschwitz.  They did this in a rush because the Russians were advancing.

On May 27, 1944, they pushed everyone into the train, young, old, it didn’t matter.  They said they were taking us to “work.”  There was a man named Menachem who came back from Poland who told everyone that the Germans were killing the Polish Jews.  No one believed him.  They thought he was crazy; no one could act like that.  He said they shot the Jews into a pit.  He said for three days, the pit was moving.  This was near Kiev.

In 1942, my mother visited her mother who lived in Slovakia.  At the train station, she saw a transport of Jews.  They called out, “water, water!”  She tried to get water but the Germans stopped her.  My mother now realized that this man Menachem was not crazy.

My mother chose to die in ghetto.  A couple girls who came on the last transport to Auschwitz told me that they buried her.  She is buried in the Jewish cemetery there.  She said, “I don’t want to live if they’re going to kill my children.”

We traveled for three days.   We were supposed to go two together so I went with my When we arrived in Auschwitz, they opened the doors, they yelled in German, “Heraus, heraus, heraus!”  Get out, get out, get out!   

Dogs were barking and it was night.  We were supposed to go two in a row, so I went with my bigger brother and my grandmother went with my younger brother.  Mengele was there.  He said “left, right, right, left, right, left, left, right… They sent to the right, my grandmother and two brothers were sent to the left, to the gas chamber.  

I went to the right with my father’s first cousin.  When we came down from the train wagon, it was cold.  My brother was so cold, he had forgotten his jacket on the train.  I told him to go back on the train and get your jacket.  He said to me, “Magda, I’m so afraid, the dogs, and the fire.  I said don’t be so afraid, go with Papika (grandmother).  So then they went together.  

We went to a place to cut our hair and everything.  I didn’t recognize anyone, we had no hair, we didn’t have our clothes.  They held us in one room till morning.  My father found me and said to say that I was thirteen years old and that I should stay with grandmother.  Nobody knew that my grandmother and my brothers had already been killed.  No one ever asked me my age.

They took us to the barracks, Block C-17.  

We were told to go to the bunk beds, it was three tiered.  I couldn’t recognize anyone.  At first I thought it was for men because no one had any hair.  In the morning we had to go to Zehl Appel, to roll call.  They counted us.  The bloc ober, who was a Jewish girl from Slovakia said you came in through this door, but you are going to go out through there (pointing to the chimney).  She said while you were eating regular food for the past two years, we were here.  I thought, “Is everybody crazy here.”

Every day, sometimes once, sometimes twice, they would choose people who were too skinny and would take them to crematorium.  The mornings were very cold and our clothes were very thin.  They gave us a little black coffee or something in morning. Lunchtime was the same thing.  At night there was a little something in the soup and a loaf of bread that was split for five people.

Then they would take everyone together to the latrine.  When we were in the place where they cut our hair, my father asked the woman who was a nurse to my mother in the hospital to please watch my little girl.  She said, ok, you will sleep with me.  She gave me a little more food.  The bloc ober wanted her to sleep with her so she arranged for me to sleep with her girlfriend.  I cried because I missed my mother, the woman cried because she missed her little girl.  Everybody cried.  

We were ten people in one bed.  This lady, Mrs. Hela Friedlander, she was so nice to me.  I’ll tell you, everybody was nice to me.  One of her sisters worked in the kitchen and the other gave out food.  She always saved her food for me.  She said, “Magda, when this is all over, you will come to me and we’ll have lunch together.”  We always had hope. 

My cousins took me and washed me so I wouldn’t have lice, Serena and Rose Schwartz) we all had lice anyways.

My mother’s four cousins from Slovakia were there too in a different barrack.  One was a bloc ober.  They gave me food.  Food was the most important thing, if you had food then you would stay alive, if you didn’t, then they would take you to the crematorium.

I was there from the end of May till October, 1944, in Auschwitz.  I was not taken to work.

There were non-Jewish Poles who were political prisoners who came to clean the camp.  There was a revolt and they blew up Crematorium #4.  The Germans ran back and forth, they didn’t know what they were doing.  

When the crematorium was blown up, we hoped, we hoped, we hoped that we were going to be free!  We hoped that the Russians were coming.
Later, a man wanted 300 Jewish girls to take to factory in Czechoslovakia.  But we thought we were going to crematorium. But they gave us clean clothes and shoes. 

They took us by cattle train to Freudenthal, Czechoslovakia.  They gave me number, a tattoo, while I was there.  I didn’t want one and I started to cry.  My cousin said if you don’t get a number they’re going to kill you.  They knew how many people were there.  I was given the tattoo number A25790.  Getting a tattoo meant that I was going to live; I would be a valuable worker.

I was so little; they put in the kitchen to work.  The SS came and everyone was sent to work in factory. 

People worked different shifts.  We made material for summer and winter uniforms for the German soldiers; this was for a private company.  Everyone was given overalls to wear.  The same number that was on our arm was on our overalls.  We were working with Germans and Czechs, but you could tell us apart by our overalls and numbers.  I helped a German woman who was pregnant with the material, sorting.  Everyone was nice to me. They wanted to help me. The woman called me “Kleine” – little one.  The food was a little better.  Everyone had a plate and a spoon.  

Some Czech ladies used to whisper to us, pretty soon the Russians are coming and you are going to be free pretty soon.  We had food three times a day.  Some Czech ladies would bring us also a little extra food.  We had a toilet inside and hot water, our boss wanted this for us.

One day we saw Germans running away from the Russians as they were coming.  One morning we got up and we see no Germans, the electric barbed wire was there and so we still couldn’t get out.  Everyone is yelling, “We are free!  We are free!”  The 300 girls came out, all the Germans were gone.

A German SS woman came back, she wanted to take us and kill us.  Our Czech boss heard this and came out and said these are my workers no one will hurt them.  

A Russian tank came.  Girls were running and kissing them, two or three of them.  We said we’re free, we’re free, we’re really free.  At night, the Russian soldiers wanted the girls.  We went to the head Russian officer, he was Jewish and he said don’t worry I am watching you, no one will bother you.  

But we had to wait because all the train stations were bombed.  We were there three months.  We took a train home, still in a cattle car but with more room inside.

A farmer told me that my father was home.  I was very happy.  But it wasn’t my father; it was my uncle, my father’s brother.  My father didn’t come home, nobody came home.

My father’s helper was still there who used to sew.  He said don’t worry, I’ll work and you’ll have enough food.   Everybody helped each other because everybody was is a terrible condition.

I lived with my two cousins.  Then we heard that the Russians were going to close the border so it would be better if we went to Slovakia.  My two uncles who were tailors and my aunt took me to Kosice.  We could go through because we had papers that showed we had lived there before the war.  We went to cemetery in Dobron to see where my mother was buried.   Our non-Jewish neighbor sold her family’s cow and gave me money to put up a Matzevah, a tombstone for my mother.

In 1946 – The Hachshara (Zionists) wanted to smuggle us into Israel.  I was 15.  We picked up more kids in Brataslava,  then to Prague, and then to Paris.  We had a Madrich, a leader who had false papers for us.  Rich Jews had big houses and we stayed there.  From there we went to Marseilles.  We went swimming in the ocean, we were so happy. 

Then we said now we are going to go to Israel.  1500 of us were in small ship.  The ship started to take in water, I said I didn’t die in Auschwitz, but I’m going to die here.  

When we were almost to Haifa, the British airplanes saw us and English boats wouldn’t let us in.  They took us to Cypress by ship, three hours away.  We were there from October, 1946 until March, 1947.  

I was in another camp in Cypress.  I thought I was in Auschwitz again hearing sounds of trucks. 

The English took us to a camp in Atlit in Palestine.  There were different Zionists groups.  I went with a girlfriend and her father to the Aguda Zionist group.  We went to Kfar Saba on a kibbutz (agricultural farm).  I was 16.  The Sachnut paid for us to learn in a school and work.  

One day an English Jewish policeman came to me who was a relative of my mother’s.  We went to Petach Tikvah with him and his family for holidays. 

One morning he said the United Nations is going to decide whether we get a country or not.  We were so happy when we heard that we will have our own country.  We were dancing the Hora.  We were so excited but the Arabs started shooting at us right away.

The English left and left all of their military equipment to the Arabs.  We Jews didn’t have military equipment, a lot of people died.  The European Jews didn’t know how to fight.  The Czechs gave us military equipment and the Jews started to fight back.

I met my husband in Israel through my uncle.  My husband used to work in Europe with my Uncle.  He said I have a good guy and so we met and got married.  My uncle said my husband will work, be a good provider, and you’re not going to be by yourself.  He wanted to get married and I wanted to get married.  We knew each other a few months before we were engaged. 

Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
I went home to Czechoslovakia then later to Israel.
When did you come to the United States?
1957, one year after my husband, in 1956. We came to the United States to have a better life.
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan.
How is it that you came to Michigan?
My husband’s sister lived here.
Occupation after the war
I worked in a factory in Tel Aviv, then on a Moshav (farm) in Israel, then in a nursing home in Michigan, it was very hard because I missed my mother. Later I worked in the drapery business.
When and where were you married?
I was married, March 18, 1950 in the Moshav.
Bernard Kessler, His sisters had a supermarket, he worked there for $40 a week. He later became a partner in a supermarket with another survivor. Bernard was in a ghetto, labor camp, Mauthausen, Death March.
Allen (Abraham) born 1952 in Israel, CPA.
Lindsay and Elliot, A great grandchild is on the way! So I have a family.
What do you think helped you to survive?
When I was in the cattle car to Auschwitz, I said to my father, “I feel I’m going to live. I want to live. I’m going to come back.” That’s what I always said in the camp too, I’m going to live, I’m going to live, I want to live! I have to tell everyone what they are doing here, what those animals are doing to us. I am going to tell the story. When we came down from the cattle car at Auschwitz, the dogs were barking, and then you saw a big chimney with fire, and the smell, and then we went to there.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Be nice to each other. Help each other. Tell the story.

Contact us

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our email newsletter to receive updates on the latest news

thank you!

Your application is successfuly submited. We will contact you as soon as possible

thank you!

Your application is successfuly submited. Check your inbox for future updates.