A Paperwork Mistake Saved Her Life: An Auschwitz Survival Story

Auschwitz is now a museum, a reminder of the Nazis' inhumanity, but Dagmar's story is a precedent to the endurance and force of the human spirit

Auschwitz
Damar had every reason to believe that she, too, would be cremated in Auschwitz. Wikimedia commons

In 1940, the Nazis created Auschwitz in the Polish suburbs of Oswiecim, constructing a network of camps that became a key area for Hitler’s pursuit of a “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” At Auschwitz, the Nazis killed between 1.1 million to 1.5 million individuals, including not only Jews, but also Roma, homosexuals, political dissidents, and others.

It is believed that when the captives arrived at Auschwitz, they segregated the small children, the elderly, and the infirm and promptly sent them to take “showers,” and sprayed lethal Zyklon-B poison gas into the rooms. Daily mass executions, malnutrition, sickness, and torture turned Auschwitz into one of World War II’s most lethal and horrifying concentration and extermination camps. According to estimates, the Nazis killed 85 percent of those transferred to Auschwitz.

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It is still a dreadful place to visit. Here is a story of a fortunate girl who was saved from torture because of a simple mistake in the paperwork. Dagmar Lieblova was 14 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz with her whole Czech Jewish family in December 1943. While her entire family died there, she was permitted to leave owing to a bureaucratic blunder that spared her life. She is now 85 years old and feels victorious over her great escape.

Auschwitz
According to estimates, the Nazis killed 85 percent of those transferred to Auschwitz. Wikimedia commons

” I was almost 15, and I couldn’t picture everything being over,” she explained. “That I would never see anything other than the blocks and the wire, that I would never see a tree or a shred of grass in my life.” Damar had every reason to believe that she, too, would be cremated in Auschwitz. She remembered that her days were spent assisting her mother in emptying the latrines. “The food was very simple… there was what they called coffee – a type of warm liquid – in the morning,” she recalled. “There was a portion of soup available during the day. Then, in the evening, a piece of bread was served.”

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Little did Dagmar know that she was about to be spared by a miraculous turn of events. The Nazis compiled a roster of people aged 16 to 40 for war service in Germany. Dagmar’s name was written on it. Her birth year should have been 1929, but it was mistakenly put 1925. The simple error of putting a ‘5’ instead of a ‘9’ saved her life. “We hopped on a train that was waiting there, and it moved, and we couldn’t believe we were going. We couldn’t believe we were about to leave Auschwitz”, she mentioned. Following the incident, Dagmar spent the rest of the war working in Hamburg. Only once, 20 years ago, did she return.

Dagmar expressed that Auschwitz is a cemetery for her loved ones and the awful memories of the incident come gushing back which makes it too hard for her to visit the place again. On the other hand, sitting at home surrounded by books and images of the tragedy does not make her bitter. She believes that life has prevailed. Auschwitz is now a museum, a reminder of the Nazis’ inhumanity, but Dagmar’s story is a precedent to the endurance and force of the human spirit. (VOA/JC)