Kitty Hart-Moxon OBE
Holocaust survivor and honorary graduate (Hon DUniv, 2013)
My childhood was wonderful until the summer holidays of 1939 when the invasion started. I was 12. We fled to a town called Lublin and there they were rounding people up, taking them out of town and killing them. We tried different escapes but you always had to get back to the ghetto at night to register because Jews weren’t allowed to move around.
I was sentenced to death aged 16. My mother and I had already been parted from my father and brother, and a priest had got us non-Jewish identities so we were taken to work in a German factory. But we were betrayed, taken to Gestapo headquarters, interrogated and sentenced to death. We lined up facing a wall, but the death squads shot into the air and our sentence became life imprisonment at Auschwitz.
On 2 April 1943, I arrived at Auschwitz. I was there for almost two years, which was exceptional because the average lifespan of an inmate was between three weeks and three months. It was dangerous for your face to be known to the privileged prisoners. To stay alive, it was important to be invisible. I felt like giving up many times. I was working in the sick bay for some time and managed to hide some of my friends there as they recovered. Every day the SS doctor came in to make a selection for the gas chamber. He would mark the bed with a cross and you were dead. One day he said: ‘We’re emptying the whole block’, more than 1,000 women. I had to help load my friends onto lorries. We all knew they were going to die.
Working near the gas chambers, I knew I was doomed because of what I witnessed, day in and day out. We were told: ‘The only way out is through the chimney.’
We hoped conditions would improve after being evacuated from Auschwitz, but things were actually worse during the last six months of the war. My mother and I were forced on a death march over the mountains, barefoot in deep snow. Then we were loaded onto open coal trucks and taken on a seven-day journey without food or water. Our destination was a cave where we had to work 11 shafts underground. Soon again we were evacuated. This time we were pushed into airtight container trucks and took turns to breathe through gaps in the floor. We heard footsteps and banged against the doors. One truck was opened by soldiers and when we fell out, my mother said: ‘We’re not going back, you can kill us now. We demand to be taken to a camp.’ Out of 100 women, just 12 of us had not suffocated.
Nobody wanted to hear when I first came to England. As my uncle drove me and my mother from the docks he said: ‘Remember, in my house I don’t want you to speak about anything that happened to you. I don’t want to know and I don’t want my girls upset.’ I was very angry at the indifference, the hostility, and the lack of understanding. It took 15 years for anyone to ask me the first question.
I felt a duty to document my experiences not only because of what happened to me, but what I witnessed. People must be warned of the consequences of discrimination.
Auschwitz was my university because you learnt everything about life. You saw the worst of human nature but also saw the best. Friendships and mutual support were vital, you couldn’t survive on your own and you often risked your life for friends. Auschwitz taught you to cope with everything life would throw at you because it could never be as bad as that.