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Centenarian recalls the 20th century’s dark highlights

CM 19/08/2021


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On December 10, 2020 Elizabeth Markovich celebrated her 100th birthday in Haifa. She was born in 1920 in the city of Cluj in Transylvania, Romania. 
 Happy birthday (credit: PIXABAY) Happy birthday (credit: PIXABAY)
Elizabeth’s mother was born into an Orthodox family in a small village named Chimishana, near Daij. She was a dressmaker and her father was a butcher. 

Elizabeth’s father David Lazar was from Vima Mare, a small village near Cluj. He was a very young soldier during WWI. His father introduced him to a Jewish girl, and on his next break from the military they got married. He was 22 years old when Elizabeth was born. They lived in Cluj, and her mother opened a small eatery for the soldiers in the area. Her parents spoke Hungarian and Romanian; they had six girls and two boys. 
When Elizabeth was four years old, her family relocated to the small town of Abrut, near Daij. They were the only Jewish family in the area. Although Elizabeth does not recall much overt antisemitism in school or in her neighborhood, it was still there, with jokes about Jews and name calling. However, major antisemitism started after Hitler gained power. In Abrut, her sister died and they did not have a minyan for the funeral. Therefore, her father asked a military officer to send Jewish soldiers. The child was buried near the regular cemetery, and the rabbi told them to separate between the two cemeteries by putting up a fence.
Since the Lazars were the only Jewish family in Abrut, her mother used to take the train to the city and buy kosher food there. For Passover, her father used to invite Jewish soldiers to the Seder, and sometimes their gentile officers also joined. 
AFTER GRADUATION from high school, Elizabeth went to live in Cluj with her aunt Elona. Elona was married to her non-Jewish high school sweetheart and was childless. Elizabeth was hired to work in a fancy ladies’ clothing shop. There were many Jewish communities in Cluj, and Elizabeth, along with her aunt, attended a liberal synagogue where the rabbi conducted the services in Hungarian. Elizabeth joined one of the Zionist movements. Her aunt had a blue box where she put in money, to send it to the poor in Jerusalem. Elizabeth married a Jewish man named Alexander, who was an opera singer. The local Jews heard little about the pogroms that were happening in Germany. 
In 1940, Transylvania was annexed by Hungary, which was Germany’s ally. The whole city observed when the Hungarian soldiers marched into Cluj. Among them were many Jewish soldiers as well. The Jews hoped that now they would gain equal rights. Six weeks later, however, all the Jews were fired from their jobs and every business had to put signs in the window saying that it was “clean of Jews.” Elizabeth and her husband were required to do this as well. Alexander was allowed to wear a “white band” on his arm for having special privileges. 
The Jews were then ordered to wear the infamous yellow star. Elizabeth’s marriage came to an end. There was a shortage of food, and one day when Elizabeth returned from the market, she saw the non-Jews crying on the streets. They told her that the Jews were taken to the ghetto. Her uncle returned after Elizabeth sent him a telegram and went to the ghetto to release his wife. But someone in the ghetto reported on Elizabeth, and the police arrived to take her. Elizabeth’s aunt joined her and the other relatives in the ghetto, after her husband returned to the fighting front.
The ghetto was in an industrial area with empty storage houses. It was very crowded; one room per family, separated for some privacy by a hanging sheet. The Jews believed that they were going to work for the Hungarians until the end of the war. Cabbage soup was prepared by women who worked in the kitchen, and everybody slept on the floor. At night, some Christian residents of Cluj threw food into the ghetto. Most of the food fell between the two fences that surrounded the ghetto. Brave Jews were smuggled into the area between the fences to get the food. Elizabeth met her ex-husband’s uncle in the ghetto; he had been beaten, wounded and tortured. Some of his toenails had been pulled off by the Hungarian officers who were told that he was wealthy and had hidden money. 
Her uncle offered to help her escape from the ghetto and go to Switzerland, since he had connections and wanted her life spared. However, Elizabeth refused to leave her aunt and waited to be taken to a place where they would work. Elizabeth and her aunt were in the last deportation. Approximately two weeks after her arrival, they were taken to the trains, bringing with them some food and some other belongings. 
THE JEWS were sure that they would be taken to specific destinations and work there until the war was over. Never in their wildest imagination, did they guess their horrific fate. The train was extremely crowded; 60 people were pushed into each wagon. The voyage took seven days. There were no windows for fresh air; they only had the little food they had managed to bring with them. They slept by sitting down wherever they could find a spot. There was a large tub in a corner for sanitation use. Many times, when it was not emptied, the content would spill on the floor causing a horrible smell. There were some 1,800 people on each train traveling this way. 
The people did not know about concentration camps. After seven days, the train arrived at Auschwitz and people received the order to get off. Elizabeth saw the famous words at the entrance, saying that work gives freedom – “Arbeit Macht Frei.” She was sure that they had arrived at the place where they would stay and work, and told her aunt: “I like it, this is my place.”
After passing the gate they were taken to a huge room, where people wearing striped clothing yelled at them. They were confused, they suddenly realized that parts of their families were missing. Women kept looking for their children and husbands. The women were shaved all over and were ordered to remove all their clothes and shoes and walk naked to a room for a shower. Elizabeth as well as some women in her group had a real shower, but older women and mothers with their children never came out. The surviving women were then given a dress and a thin coat. Elizabeth was concerned what would happen when she got her monthly period, since they did not receive underwear. This “problem” was solved when she heard that a drug was put in their food to stop periods altogether. 
Elizabeth and her aunt lived in hut number 17. They slept on a wooden bunk that contained three levels. In lieu of a pillow and blanket, they used straw. In the camp was a section for the sick, and these people did not receive food. Some Jewish doctors risked their lives to feed these people. One day Elizabeth’s aunt volunteered to work in the kitchen and grabbed Elizabeth with her. It turned out that their job was loading bodies from the gas chambers three times a week. The rest of the week, they had to sort out money and other valuables from piles of clothing. 
In Auschwitz there was a bathroom without a place to sit, so when one used the lavatory, they had to bend down. Elizabeth’s aunt found a place to wash their hands, and later they found out that it was chlorinated water that was used to clean the crematorium. One day, an elderly woman pushed a bulb of garlic in Elizabeth’s hand. This garlic saved her life as well as the lives of other women who had dysentery. 
After two weeks, Elizabeth and her group were loaded on a truck and taken to Lithuania. The women worked in teams of two. They chopped trees and used the logs to make huts and camouflage them. There were 1,800 women there. It was a cold winter in 1944. They worked 12 hours a day. At night they received their only meal, which contained 200 grams of bread and sometimes old spoiled cooked chicken. In the morning a group of women received one cup of coffee, and they were allowed to have five sips before giving it to the next woman. They were under the supervision of the SS. 
EVERY FEW months, the women were transferred to a new place, doing the same type of work. They were in Riga, then moved to another city. Summer came; there were no nights in the summer, but one long day. The kapo was a Hungarian Jewish woman and she treated the women badly. In Estonia, their next location, they had to load heavy stones into a wheelbarrow and bring them to a railroad. One day Elizabeth passed out and was put in a field under a bush. Two gentile men brought her bread and milk.
After three months, they were taken to Leipzig, Germany. They then ended up in Schnehause, in a training place for young German men. Elizabeth worked in a factory, and now had a real bed and food. There were different prisoners there: German Communists, Russian POWs and Italians. A German man who approached Elizabeth and spoke to her, was taken away and was punished. 
After eight months, the war ended. The German commander gave them the choice to walk toward the British soldiers and be saved instead of marching them to Auschwitz. There was no food. Everything was bombed, people were breaking into stores and looting them. Elizabeth and her group lived in a basement waiting for their turn to be sent home by train. When her turn came, she became sick, and was hospitalized on the way. When she recovered, she was asked to stay there and be a translator since she spoke five languages. When she arrived home, she found out that her whole family, other than her siblings, had disappeared in Auschwitz.
Her sister got engaged to a widower named Moshe Yaakov Markovich, who had lost his first wife and five-year-old daughter during the war. He was very sad when the engagement was broken and Elizabeth liked him and proposed to him! He was her second husband; they were together for 54 years. Moshe Yaakov lost most of his family: his father, stepmother and her daughter, two sisters named Raizle and Maytal and their families. His brother, Berl lost his wife Sara and one and a half-year old daughter named Blooma. 
The couple moved later to New York, then to Israel. 
Throughout history, many enemies tried to kill us, yet we survived, as illustrated in the life story of Elizabeth Markovich. Now we are finally here in our homeland, stronger than ever. 
Happy birthday, Elizabeth – and many more! 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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