Only a small minority of the Jews sent to death camps and other killing sites survived the Holocaust. In addition to their own sufferings, these survivors had to face the loss of most members of their families. Elie Wiesel was deported to Auschwitz from the Hungarian town of Sighet (now Sighetu Marmaţiei in Romania) in May 1944. He later recalled his experiences in his memoir Night.
The cherished objects we had brought with us this far were left behind in the train and with them, at last our illusions. Every two yards or so an SS man held out his Tommy gun trained on us. Hand in hand we followed the crowd. An SS non‐commissioned officer came to meet us a truncheon in hand. He gave orders:
“Men to the left! Women to the right!”
Eight words were spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother. I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father’s hand; we were alone. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sister moving away to the right. Tzipora held my mother’s hand. I saw them disappear into the distance; my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair, as though to protect her, while I walked on with my father and the other men. And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever. I went on walking, my father held on to my hand.
435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in just two months in the late spring of 1944; most – like Tzipora and the people in the photograph – were murdered on arrival. The photograph comes from a collection known as the Auschwitz Album, a series of photographs taken by the SS of a transport from Beregszász in Hungary which arrived in Auschwitz a few weeks after Elie Wiesel’s train.
Photo: An elderly Hungarian Jewish woman and young children being taken to the gas chambers at Birkenau, May 1944; public domain
Testimony: Elie Wiesel, Night (Penguin, 1986)