Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education
About Magda Dorman
The following is a summary of Magda’s Dorman’s unpublished memoir Determined to Survive. It was written in February 2009 by NWCHGEE Graduate Assistant Jamie Daniels.
April 14th, 1944 was a heartbreaking day for Magda Klein. It was the day Gestapo troops came to the family’s home and ordered her father to leave. In the days that followed, everything would change in Magda’s life. Just a few days after her father’s deportation, Magda’s family and neighbors were crammed into a kitchen and forced to remain there, and, soon Magda was sent to work on at a tobacco plantation. Things continued to get worse; troops came into their neighborhood and ordered them to move to the ghetto. After only two weeks there, they were relocated to a “brick factor y,” – a huge area surrounded by fences with guards monitoring the exit. Magda’s worst nightmare became a reality when – after only one week in the brick factory – they were loaded up onto trucks and driven away. Having been separated from her family during the loading of cars, Magda never saw her mother, grandmother, or aunt again. After several days of traveling in wooden boxcars, Magda recalls entering a gate which read, “Work makes you free.” It was the infamous entrance sign at Auschwitz.
Walking out of the boxcar, Magda was instructed by Dr. Mengele, “the master of life and death”, to proceed to the right and march to the barracks. Entering the camp started a ritual process of showering, shaving, and being issued over-sized clothing. Her first night in Auschwitz – June 30, 1944 – began a three month journey, which, Magda explained, required faith to survive. She wrote, “This place functioned by humiliation. That was at the root of everything. Humiliation is what hurts. Not hunger, not lack of sleep, nor harsh words, nothing measures up to the pain of constant humiliation” (Dorman, 19). Magda suffered several days without food or water, and became ill. She recalls, “We were told that we had scarlet fever, which seemed to be at epidemic proportions and [we were told] that we could not remain here, but immediately were taken to ‘quarantine’” (Dorman, 27). Magda recalls that in this desperate time, The American Red Cross was in the infirmary giving her frequent amounts of food and water which helped cure her sickness. After surviving three months in Auschwitz, Magda and the other women of her bunker were inspected. Those in good health were to be transported to another location. Magda recalls, “The life we left behind couldn’t be topped in misery and humiliation” (Dorman, 32).
After two nights in a truck, they arrived to their next destination, Bergen Belsen. Their time at Bergen Belsen was short, only being two weeks, and Magda was transported yet again. This new destination was Salzwede. Compared to the previous living situations, Salzwede gave them a healthy amount of food and water each day, but expected them to work six days a week in the factory. Salzwede was a work camp, where Magda and other women produced bullets that the Nazis used in the war. Although under careful inspection, Magda was able to sabotage some of the bullets by placing them in the wrong containers.
On April 14, 1945, exactly one year after her father was taken from her home, American troops arrived at Salzwedel to liberate the camp. Magda served as a translator for a soldier. Later as a token of appreciation for her help, he sent a military car to drive Magda and two other women to Hamburg. From Hamburg they traveled by train to Budapest, Hungary. Being back in her hometown, Magda searched for information about her father and serious boyfriend, Steve. Her father was alive, and they rejoined soon after her arrival, sometime around August 1945. However, the news about her boyfriend Steve was not so fortunate; he had not survived the labor camps.
Magda survived Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, and Salzwedel. She endured immense pain and obstacles during this tragic experience. Still, she writes, “With all the difficulties, with all the pain, the hunger, the injustice, the status of life, the loss of dignity; the real suffering just began after my arrival back home” (Dorman, 56). Although Magda survived the travesties of Auschwitz, she lost nine members of her family in the concentration camps.
Magda didn’t begin to tell her story until forty-five years later. Both Magda and her husband attempted to hide the truth and ignore it. However, realizing there was a void in their daughter’s life because of truth being ignored Magda opened up and told her story. She states, “Things are trying to surface now. My life happens on two levels. There is an underlying layer below the surface. It follows me like a shadow. I cannot toss it out, I cannot isolate it, and I cannot ride myself from it. It’s part of me. I will be part of me, as long as I shall live” (Dorman, 56).
Magda passed away February 1st, 2009. May Magda’s story of strength and survival be encouragement to all who knew her.
Dorman, Magda. Determined To Survive. Unpublished Memoir.