Accessibility links

Woman Survives Nazi Death Camp by Mistake

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 years old when she arrived at the Auschwitz death camp in December 1943. Everyone in her family was with her. They were Jews from Czechoslovakia. All of them but Dagmar were to die at Auschwitz, some almost immediately. But she was able to leave the camp after several months because of a mistake. That mistake saved her life.

Dagmar Lieblova is now 85 years old. She has three children and six grandchildren. She says she has a feeling of victory.

The Auschwitz death camp was, and still is, a frightening place. It was built for mass murder. More than one million people died there. Among them were Dagmar Lieblova’s mother and sister.

“Well I was almost 15, and I couldn’t just imagine that everything would be over, that I would never see anything else than the blocks and then the wire, and I would never in my life see a tree or (a) piece of grass.”

Ms. Lieblova believed she would be murdered at Auschwitz. Shortly after she and her family arrived, three of her relatives were killed. They died in the camp’s gas chambers.

In the camp, Dagmar worked with her mother. They cleaned restrooms. They had little to eat.

“And the food was very was in the morning there was what they called coffee -- just a sort of warm liquid. And then during the day there was a portion of soup. And then a piece of bread in the evening.”

She would soon be saved by a simple mistake. German officials made a list of workers aged 16 to 40. They wanted these workers to help Germany and its allies win the war.

Dagmar Lieblova’s name was on the list, although it should not have been. Her name was listed because a clerk noted her year of birth as 1925 instead of 1929, her true year of birth. Because of this error, camp officials believed she was over 16 and that she could work for them in factories.

“But because (of) this mistake -- that somebody wrote a ‘5’ instead of a ‘9’ -- it saved my life. Well there was a train standing and, and when we stepped in, the train, and then the train moved, so we didn’t believe it that we are leaving. We couldn’t believe it that we are really leaving Auschwitz.”

Everyone in Dagmar Lieblova’s family died at Auschwitz. She spent the rest of the war working in the German city of Hamburg.

She has returned to Auschwitz just once -- 20 years ago. But she has no plans to return again.

“Auschwitz is a cemetery of all my, my parents, my sister, almost all my relatives. Everything comes back again. And, no, I wouldn’t go there anymore. It’s too hard.”

At home, with her books and her pictures of her family, she is not bitter. She believes she has won.

“Now when I see my children and grandchildren I always have the feeling it’s a victory…because I, I was not supposed to be here.”

Auschwitz is now a museum. It tells of the cruelty of Nazi Germany. But Dagmar Lieblova’s life tells an even more powerful story: the power of the human spirit.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Radio Farda reporters Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi. Christopher Cruise wrote the story in VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

grandchildren n. the children of your son or daughter

mass murder n. the murder of a large number of people at the same time or over a short period of time

blocks n. solid pieces of material that have flat sides and are usually square or rectangular in shape; usually made from cement

wire n. a thin, flexible thread of metal; may be barbed or electrified and used to imprison or control

gas chambers n. an airtight room that can be filled with poisonous gas as a means of execution

liquid n. a substance that is able to flow freely

portion n. the amount of food that is served to a person at one time

clerk n. a person whose job is to keep track of records and documents for a business or office

cemetery n. a place where dead people are buried

Did you learn the history of World War II and Nazi Germany in school? Did your teachers tell you what took place at Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz? We want to hear what you have been taught about these subjects. Write to us in the comments section.

Show comments