Doctor shares story of Holocaust survival

Dr. Truda Rosenberg spoke during Holocaust Education Week.
Dr. Truda Rosenberg spoke during Holocaust Education Week.

Truda Rosenberg was 19 years old when Nazis invaded her small hometown in Poland. Her family was forced to live in a ghetto, where there was no food, no running water, no heat and so little space that people had to sleep in shifts.

“I was covered with lice ... and typhus was rampant,” Rosenberg told a group of about 50 students last week as part of Holocaust Education Week, organized by Queen’s Hillel.

The horrible conditions prompted Rosenberg to take action. She assumed a new identity and fled the ghetto. She was caught shortly thereafter and taken to a prison where she was bound at the wrists and ankles. Prison guards told her and other Jewish captives to prepare for the death march.

Rosenberg survived the Holocaust, however, earned a PhD in psychology and at the age of 83 continues to share her wartime experiences with audiences.

“I think it’s really important for the Queen’s community to hear the story of a Holocaust survivor,” said Kim Edwards, ArtSci ’07 and event co-organizer. “We’re one of the last generations that has this opportunity.”

Before relating her wartime experiences as young Jewish woman, Rosenberg encouraged students to ask her questions.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you are not going to bring back memories that I cannot deal with,” she said.

Rosenberg then proceeded to tell the audience about how she and the other prisoners we forced to walk for miles.

“If you stumbled, you were shot and put on the side of the road,” she said.

She and her companions were marched to a railway station and herded onto cattle trains, which traveled slowly forwards and then in reverse, as a form of torture.

“At the train station, rows of people looked at us as if we were animals going through the circus,” she said.

Rosenberg said she and others who were small and slim were thrown from the train by people through the small windows, and after surviving the fall she returned home to her mother.

She told the group she was discovered again by the Nazis, was arrested, and taken to a German torture prison. At the prison she was questioned by a guard about whether she was Jewish.

“I have committed many sins in my life, but being a Jew is not one of them,” she told the guard.

Rosenberg subsequently claimed to have an important appointment and demanded that the guard take her to the tram.

“I had no appointment,” Rosenberg said. “But I had nothing to lose.”

Rosenberg said she outsmarted the guard, and he agreed to take her to the station. She jumped on the next available train and went to Warsaw to find a woman who was helping Jewish individuals such as herself escape the Nazis.

“There were Poles who risked their lives to help people like myself,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said she spent time in Poland as a nanny, in Germany as a forced labourer and a law clerk and in England as a registered nurse and midwife, before coming to Canada to work as an employee of the health department in Ottawa.

Years later, Rosenberg said, she returned to the camp where her mother and father were gassed and burned.

The audience was able to ask questions following Rosenberg’s speech.

“Could you ever forgive [the Nazis]?” asked a student attending the lecture.

“I have forgiven them a long time ago,” Rosenberg replied. “I feel so proud that I am a part of that nation that suffered so much.”

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