A toddler when the war broke out, Inge Auerbacher was only seven when she was sent to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia and is one of the few children to have survived it.
Born December 31, 1934, Auerbacher lived a life she described as normal and comfortable. She was an only child, living with her parents in Kippenheim, Germany. Auerbacher first noticed a shift in life on November 10, 1938 when Kristallnacht happened in her town.
“That was the first real rude awakening,” Auerbacher said. “I remember it extremely well although I was not even four years old.”
That night, all of the windows in her home were smashed, Jewish stores and synagogues were ransacked and the men were arrested and sent to Dachau. While her father was there, he realized they needed to leave the country. Unable to get permits to leave, Auerbacher and her parents moved to the home of her maternal grandparents in Jebenhausen in May of 1939.
On August 22, 1942, Auerbacher and her parents were deported. By this time, her grandfather had already passed away. Her grandmother was not able to get out and was shot by German soldiers.
Auerbacher and her parents would eventually end up in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. While there, she came down with scarlet fever. She often searched dumpsters for food and even made toys from discarded scraps.
“I made a bed for my doll in a cardboard box at the head of my upper-level bunk bed,” Auerbacher writes in her book “I Am a Star.” “One day I discovered a dead mouse in it, another victim of starvation. Not even a mouse could find enough leftover crumbs of bread to survive.”
On May 8, 1945, the Russians liberated Terezin. Shortly after being liberated, German survivors were transported by bus to the state of Wrttemberg. Auerbacher said that she and her parents were among the 13 survivors left from the 1,200 who had been on their initial transport.
The family initially joined a displaced persons’ camp, and later returned to Jebenhausen. Auerbacher began making new friends, although she still did not openly talk about being Jewish, and her parents worked to rebuild their life.
In May of 1946, they arrived in the United States.
“We didn’t talk about it for many years,” Auerbacher said. She continued, “The kids in my high school never really knew. I didn’t talk about it.”
Just a couple of months after arriving in her new country, Auerbacher was hospitalized with tuberculosis. This continued to prevent her from having the normal life she longed for.
Auerbacher finally began attending public school when she was 15. She went on to graduate from Queens College and spent 38 years working as a chemist. An author and poet, she has published four books, “I Am a Star,” “Beyond the Yellow Star,” “Running Against the Wind,” and “Finding Dr. Schatz.”
In order to educate others about what happened during the Holocaust, Auerbacher speaks frequently to students, not only in the United States but also in Germany.
“I have a special responsibility in the names of those little kids who didn’t make it,” she said. “I had to do something special in my life, be a worthy person, to make use of the gift that I was given.”