Regina Hirsch hid in a straw field for nine hours as the German police searched for Jews within the Lodz ghetto in 1943. The police did not discover her hiding place until she had already left.
Hirsch calls moments liked this simply a miracle ‘- one of many miracles she experienced while struggling to survive under Nazi control in the 1940s.
‘There were deportations day in and day out. Every night German trucks came into the ghetto,’ she said.
‘ Hirsch, now 80, shared her struggles and triumphs with more than 40 students who gathered in a classroom at Sierra Hall Monday evening. Professor Beth Cohen invited Hirsch to CSUN in an effort to connect the readings assigned in the History of the Holocaust course that she teaches with a personal account.
‘I feel particularly fortunate to have her here today, and have her speak to you, especially because we’re lucky to have survivors speak to us and share their story,’ Cohen said as she introduced Hirsch to her students and others in attendance.
First discussing ghetto life and then deportation to Auschwitz and later Theresienstadt, Hirsch spoke passionately for three hours about her family’s efforts to survive these camps.
‘My little sister Lily’hellip;she was like a spy,’ said Hirsch.
Recalling one instance, Hirsch said her sister overheard two ghetto supervisors from Lodz discussing when another deportation would take place. With this information, the children of the family were hidden in cupboards and under the bed. The police units met their quota of 2,000 people to deport prior to reaching Hirsch’s building.
Hirsch also discussed the importance of work within the Lodz ghetto, where she made boots out of straw for German soldiers fighting in Russia. Work was essential because it provided rations of bread and soup.
‘We made this. I made this. My sister Ruthie made this,’ she said of the boots. ‘It was worse than anything. Your hands were always swollen.”
Hirsch explained to the class what the conditions were like and that hunger was unbelievable. She had to walk to work in shoes made out of wood, describing the weather as more frigid than the winters of Siberia.
Eventually, Hirsch, her mother, and two sisters were all deported to Auschwitz and reassured by a German officer that they would be fine and would receive housing.
‘They stripped us completely,’ she said, referring to the arrival. ‘They shaved our heads. If a woman had a gold tooth they pulled it out.’
The Germans used the hair to make mattresses, said Hirsch.
During the speech, Hirsch spoke in German several times and then translated to the crowd what had been said to her years ago by German officials.
She remembers one official telling the children who didn’t want to part from their mothers to ‘get going, because where you are going you don’t need a mother.’
‘ After four and half years of starvation, abuse and constant fear, and both her father and mother being killed, Hirsch admitted she didn’t want to live anymore.
‘We had a life like normal people, and here we are like animals,’ she said.
Still, Hirsch and her two sisters continued to use survival tactics such as staying at the back of the line when children were chosen one by one for death or labor, which did succeed in keeping each of them alive. To witness which children were being pulled to the right and which were pulled left could help others in line determine what side meant life.
For students enrolled in History 357, the speech added another perspective to the other personal accounts already studied this semester.
‘She is Dawid (Sierakowiak). She is Primo Levi. It’s kind of like bringing these characters that we’ve read about to life,’ said Victoria Hurtado, a history major.
Xerxes Croes, a history and biology major, explained that there were moments that emotionally grabbed him.
‘The thing that touched me the most was when she talked about how she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about her mom and (how) the gas is coming down and how she is thinking about what her mom did to protect the baby’hellip;that made me sad and angry again,’ he said.
Along with anger, Croes said the discussion also brought forth a feeling of fear. ‘There is fear that this can happen again, but not just to Jews, but to anybody,’ said Croes.
Once students had a chance to ask questions, Hirsch revealed that she has been speaking for the last thirty years and her goals now are to help children stay out of gangs.
She urged those in attendance to teach their children about this period and all that it entailed.
‘Don’t ever in your life forget about what we Jews went through,’ she said.