Liberation of Inmates from Lippstadt
With the approach of the Allied Armies, the SS forced the women to march towards Bergen-Belsen on 29 March 1945. 25km away from Lippstadt, at Kaunitz, near Gütersloh in Eastern Westphalia, the guards ran away and left the women in a field. On 1 April 1945, the American Army arrived and liberated the 830 women. The American Army housed the women with the inhabitants of Kaunitz, a measure which was to cause much friction and resentment. Even today most of the people at Kaunitz reject putting up a small monument to the memory of the liberation of the Jewish forced labourers.
· Anna Kaletska: 1945. They drove us out from Lippstadt—at night we were evacuated. We were to go to Bergen-Belsen [ this with irony in her voice]. They couldn't take us any more to Bergen-Belsen, but they didn't know. Driven at night and during the day locked up in shops. [In the midst of her German she uses the English word "shops". That is one of those new words that was adopted into the German language during the war]. They had everything ready to finish us off. But there was no more time.
· David Boder: What do you mean, finish you off?
· Anna Kaletska: They had orders not to release us alive. On the third day at dawn we remained standing in a little lane, deep in mud, and the top division leader was frothing at his mouth. We heard already the rumbling American tanks, and we were led into the woods. I don't know how they happened not to hit us. So he says (he still yelled then), "You band of Jew-pigs." And he left us alone with all the SS men, and he himself ran away. So I said then to one of the girls, "You know, I don't know whether we shall survive, but he will not come back any more." So she says: "I have a half a bread and I give you this half a bread if that should happen the way you say." And I still thought that I would have a chance to eat that half a bread in case he should not return. But it has become very late. And it happened the first of April, 1945, a quarter of nine. Shooting!
· David Boder: In the evening or in the morning?
· Anna Kaletska: In the morning. Shooting, [with joy in her voice] Americans! They are shooting at us, and here we are, together with the SS men, lying under the trees. The bullets whistled. [She uses the expression—bullets burned]. And we laughed—crazy of us. The SS men stood around. They were no heroes any more. They don't know where to run. Only five minutes before, they wouldn't run away. They could not leave us alone. They still believed in the Fuehrer. And now they were standing with their arms down. They were still ordering to go to the "shops", but nobody went. We remained lying down right there. The Americans fired three times, and then a silence came over us. An aeroplane came down at low altitude, and a white flag [here she sobs again], and it was spread out.
· David Boder: What do you mean, a white flag?
· Anna Kaletska: The Germans raised a white flag. The name of the town is Kaunitz, in Westphalia near Lippstadt, twenty-seven kilometers from Lippstadt. And here we were, almost crazy. We haven't a strip of a white thing. Somebody had a bandage around a wounded leg, and that bandage was raised at an approaching American tank, and the women prostrated themselves on the ground, kissing the wheels. The Americans thought it was a house of the insane. They looked at us. [I am not sure of the correct translation of the next few sentences.] And how we looked! All in tatters. [Her words are barely audible.] And speaking—nobody could. We were all speechless. And then he understood, and two tears rolled down his face. [Again the text is not clear, she is very upset.] And until the others arrived, he wept with us. Not a Jew—a Christian. And then they began to arrive, the tanks. It was Passover. The last day of it. And matzos [Unleavened bread, eaten by Jews at Easter] fell from the tanks. And chocolate and cigarettes. And they would jump off the tanks and they were kissing us. Us dirty and lousy ones. "Do not weep," they would say. But we wept more and again. And incessantly the tears ran. The Ninth Army had not seen any Jews in Germany, and we thought that we were the only Jewish survivors, and we did not want to live. But they consoled us. They were telling us that there were many other armies that have reached other lagers which were liberated. That was liberation. We were all dead sick. I was half swollen. Immediately the American army led us into homes. They burned everything we had on us, although we wanted to save the clothing. But it was all infected, and we were afraid to keep it. Dirty. And we changed our clothes, putting on whatever we could. We could take things, good things, from the Germans. We took it from the Germans [with irony in her voice], they gave it to us themselves. They were afraid now. We dressed [here her voice again breaks into sobs]. We washed ourselves, with soap, warm water, a clean towel, pure underwear. [She uses the English word "pure"]. Oh! The Americans themselves were crazy with joy. They now understood—"You are going to liberate human beings." And that army hadn't seen before those who were liberated. We were the first ones, and they were rejoicing like little children. And in the evening one American put on his head a hat, a German hat, a womans hat, and another one played some kind of instrument, and he danced with a little girl from our lager. I shall not forget it, ever. [She weeps again and speaks in exhaustion.] For the first time we got into the lager a radio, and we heard the news. Bergen-Belsenliberated. Thirty thousand hopelessly sick. Thousands and thousands dead. Who knows whether my people were there? Everybody thought so, and their eyes would run out [in tears].