Sunday, September 26

Dita Kraus, the woman who survived Auschwitz … and the coronavirus | Culture

Dita Kraus, at her home in Netanya (Israel), with a copy of her autobiography, published in English by Penguin.
Dita Kraus, at her home in Netanya (Israel), with a copy of her autobiography, published in English by Penguin.JULIUS TUTSCH

“During the many hours that I spend in the hospital bed, in a kind of sleepless sleep, my mind wanders into the dark cellar of my memory. There are the memories, locked up for decades, too horrible to face. Now they fill my semi-conscious state and I am unable to get rid of them. The gas chambers. What’s that? People say they didn’t exist. It was something to do with the Holocaust. Some kind of Jewish myth. In that war, somewhere in Europe. Who cares, it was so long ago! But the memories keep knocking on the door. Out of! Out of! It must be counted! ”. Dita Kraus (Prague, 1929) wrote this text, given to EL PAÍS, in January 2021, while, at the age of 91, she was fighting to overcome the coronavirus. A survivor of Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen and other death camps, his eyes have witnessed the evils of the world for the last century, a life of suffering and overcoming that now counts in I, Dita Kraus (Roca, translation by Ana Momplet).

People ask me where do I get the strength to endure all the pain and all the tragedies in my life. I don’t believe in God, I have never prayed but what could I do?

Dita Kraus

Kraus responds in English by email from her small attic in Prague, where she spends time when she is not in Netanya (Israel) and where she was trapped by confinement: “When I review my life it is difficult to find a moment to which I would like to return. Maybe just my childhood, before the war. My life has been full of pain and loss. I feel that it has been out of all proportion, that there has been much more bad than good ”. From his window you can see the park with the lime trees in which dozens of magpies gather at sunset to spend the night among its branches, he comments to give rise to some beauty in the midst of the memory of horror.

The prisoner 73305 of the BIIb camp of the extermination complex set up by the Nazis at Auschwitz, the granddaughter of a prestigious Social Democratic politician, saw her middle-class life in a Czech family of German-speaking Jews suspended forever in 1939. She was 10 years old. Then began a hell of persecution and seclusion in filthy ghettos that ended with deportation to Auschwitz in December 1943. His father died shortly after. His mother survived until the arrival of the allies to perish, like thousands others, exhausted, after the liberation of the camps.

Even the most sordid detail of that nightmare is told in a sober and solid style, without embellishment, in a book that might not have seen the light. “It was never my intention. I was a writer’s wife [Otto B. Kraus, del que también Roca ha publicado El maestro de Auschwitz]. Over the years I wrote descriptions of what had happened to me. They were texts intended for my children or my grandchildren, but my husband’s Czech editor read them ”, she says. He liked them, passages were added that filled the temporary gaps in the narrative and the autobiography that now reaches Spanish bookstores emerged from all that process.

Dita Kraus lived an unexpected fame a few years ago, when it became known that she was the woman on whom the protagonist of the novel by Antonio G. Iturbe was based. The Auschwitz Librarian (Planet, 2012). “When he told me he wanted to write about me, I couldn’t believe it. I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who had a similar destiny, many even more interesting than mine, ”he says. In her autobiography, the episode does not take up much space and she tries to demystify it. “Honestly, what helped me at Auschwitz was not the books. There were 12 or 13 volumes and few were literature. The fact that it was indoors, not in the rain and cold outside, is what helped me. Sorry for disappointing book lovers, who believe they are enriching and satisfying. They do, but when you have a full stomach and a warm bed. ” There is, however, a tribute to those who acted as teachers in that children’s ward, people who knew that they had days, hours to live and used them to teach others who were going to suffer the same fate. “They were unique. They are the heroes of Auschwitz ”, he emphasizes. Her future husband, Otto, was one of them.

Few survivors will have been able to pass through the ordeal he faced in 2002. He learned then from his son Ronny that there were recordings of Bergen Belsen’s liberation at the Imperial War Museum in London. Without hesitation, he went there, asked for the video and saw the horror again, the skeletons of the undead, the graves, until he identified himself, with a scarf on his head, asking a soldier for fire. “I stopped the movie, unable to breathe. There is the proof, it really happened, it’s me in Bergen Belsen. I was in shock”He comments.

In his responses, Kraus is optimistic and underlines his confidence in the effect of extending good to those close to you. While he was going ahead in hell, on earth he met love, but it is about the only thing he does not answer during the interview. Upon returning home, she was reunited with Otto, whom she married in 1947. His assets were expropriated after the arrival of the Communists and in 1949 they left for Israel, to start a new life in a country without resources and that had just left a war. Poverty, struggle and hope followed one another. “Despite having lived there for 72 years, I don’t feel completely at home. I love Israel, but when I come to Prague I feel at home, Czech sounds even more familiar to me than Hebrew ”. He had three children. Shimon, the eldest, suffered from mental problems all his life, and Micaela died young from cirrhosis that had developed since she was a child, an event that Kraus confesses has never overcome. “People ask me where do I get the strength to endure all the pain and all the tragedies in my life. I don’t believe in God, I’ve never prayed, but what could I do? Collapse and give up when my children needed me? ”He responds when asked about his faith.

“I am happy that, despite Hitler’s efforts to exterminate us, there are now 14 descendants of Kraus; the last one is my great-granddaughter Michelle ”, she says proudly at the end of the book, providing, perhaps unconsciously, proof that absolute evil does not always triumph.

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