Vittnesmål 233; Maria Chodynska

Under hösten 2017 har Lunds Universitetsbibliotek gjort tillgängligt stora delar av Polska källinstitutets intervjusamling – kallad ”Röster från Ravensbruck”. Denna värdefulla resurs hittar du genom att klicka här!

Från hemsidan: ”Den polske lektorn vid Lunds universitet, Zygmunt Łakociński (d. 1987) tog tillsammans med historikern Sture Bolin initiativet till att bilda en arbetsgrupp som skulle dokumentera de f.d. lägerfångarnas upplevelser. Svenska staten finansierade verksamheten som fick namnet Utrikespolitiska institutets polska arbetsgrupp i Lund och pågick oktober 1945–november 1946. De f.d. fångarna berättade i intervjuer om sina upplevelser.”

Vittnesmål från de kvinnor som hamnade på Engelbrektsskolans beredskapssjukhus har tidigare bara funnits på polska. Maria Chodynska kom till Sverige den 1 maj med de Vita bussarna tillsammans med sina två döttrar. Den 25 maj anländer de till Örebro och beredskapssjukhuset på Engelbrektsskolan. Den 8 april 1946 återvände de till Polen.

Allt material ska så småningom göras tillgängligt på engelska och då kommer mina elever få i uppdrag att utifrån dessa och andra dokument få sammanställa nya livsberättelser. Här är ett smakprov på engelska:


Polska källinstitutet, Lund                                                                                                                           Frostavallen, 18 mars 1946

Vittnesmål 233 Maria Chodynska (född 18920723)


“I don’t know why exactly I was placed in the concentration camp. I was arrested along with my entire family – my husband and two daughters – in Bolechowo. The police came to my home on 29 August 1944 and began asking questions about my sons. I told them that one son I hadn’t heard from since he went to the war in 1939, whereas another was living in Poznań [note written above text] and the third was working as a policeman in the Cracow area [/note]. At this, the policemen retorted that he had ‘done too well for himself and become a bandit.’ At that point, I worked out that my son had probably had to flee and join the partisans. After our arrest, we were handed over to the Gestapo. I was imprisoned in Cracow and then Poznań. Nowhere were charges formally brought against me, nor was I even taken for questioning.

Then in late September 1944, my daughters and I were transported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. The transport I travelled on wasn’t very large; it might have numbered eighty people or so, but I don’t remember exactly how many. I arrived at the camp rather late in the evening, but it was light outside because the moon was shining. We disembarked from the wagons, and the SS men who had been travelling with us escorted us on foot. They didn’t know the area and asked for directions to the camp. I remember walking through woodland and then past some houses; it wasn’t a long way. We came to a large gate. On the right stood SS men who counted us before letting us inside camp. Then we spent an entire night and a day out in front of the bathhouse, not far from a canvas shelter. During this time, we were given soup once in the daytime. On the second night, we were admitted to the shelter, which was very fortunate for us because it was cold and rainy. At the same time, a transport from Auschwitz arrived at the camp. There were a great many people on that transport. They stood outdoors in the rain the entire time, unfed; they were hungry, screaming and shouting. Meanwhile, everyone on our transport had plenty of bread and marmalade the whole time, because we had been well supplied for our journey by Opieka nad Więźniami [lit. ‘Prisoner Care’, Pol.] in Cracow. We gave this bread to the Auschwitz transport. The following day, we were taken to the baths. Before bathing, we handed over all of our personal belongings. After bathing, we got a shirt and knickers, as well as a skirt with a blouse which had been marked with crosses. Both the underwear and over wearwas very shoddy and worn out. Stockings weren’t provided, and we kept the shoes we arrived in. Our hair was shaved off, yet we got nothing to cover our heads.

Then we were led over to Block 17. The block was relatively clean. The blankets had cloth covers with a navy blue chequered pattern. Two people slept in each bed. We had a washing room with water and a toilet inside the block. Washing was possible. The block was run by prisoner functionaries, but they weren’t Polish. One of them was said to be a Frenchwoman; she used to call us terrible things. By and large, the block functionaries were bad. When we were placed in the block, we began to attend Appells [roll call assemblies, Ger.] every day, but we didn’t go to work at all.

Very early in the morning, we would rise, get dressed, make the beds, and go outside for Appell with our tin mugs. This lasted quite a long time. After Appell, we would enter the block. At the entrance, we would get one-third of a litre of coffee, which we took into the dormitory and drank on our beds. Some two or three hours later, we would go outside and line up as if for Appell. One by one, we received half a litre of boiled vegetables; sometimes, we would also get two potatoes boiled in their skins. After lunch, we went back to the block, where we would sit until supper was distributed. We received our supper in the block. It was composed of half a litre of kasza [boiled grains, Pol.], sometimes two potatoes, and a portion of bread (roughly 200 grams). On Saturdays and Sundays, we would get coffee at supper, and with our bread a slice of sausage or blood pudding and a bit of margarine. Sometimes, instead of the cold meat we got cheese and a spoonful of marmalade.

After ten days’ internment, we were called outside for transport and we went to Watenstedt. This camp was smaller than the one in Ravensbrück; it might have had around ten blocks. Not far from us was a camp for men. The grounds of the camp were surrounded by an electric fence. Outside the camp were rather tall lamps spaced closely together which illuminated the camp grounds after nightfall. During air raids and alerts, the lamps would be put out. Encircling the camp were watchtowers. SS men would walk along the perimeter and guard the prisoners. The camp was set in a field in open terrain. No town could be seen in any direction, only the building of the railway station. The factory was twenty minutes away in a cluster of other factories – which were quite numerous there. They weren’t concealed in any way, but lay out in the open.

The barrack blocks in the camp were built of wood and brick. They had electricity and plumbing; there were washing rooms and toilets inside the blocks. Yet not all of the blocks were fitted out identically; some blocks had latrines outside in the yard. Each block comprised a single room and had two iron stoves, for which no fuel, however, was allocated on an official basis. In the room stood bunk beds stacked two high. They had mattresses, and in the wintertime, there were three blankets on each bed, two blankets from February on.

The block was administered by a Polish blokowa and a Russian sztubowa [chief prisoner of a block or block section, respectively; from Ger. Blockälteste and Stubenälteste]; both were good.  The head camp monitor was a Polish woman known as Lonia; I don’t know her surname. She was very good.  An SS-man commandant and an SS-woman oberinka [chief woman guard, from Ger. Oberaufseherin] were in charge of the camp. The authorities were relatively decent. The commandant was rarely to be seen. The oberinka played a more visible role, but I can’t complain about her – she didn’t oppress people. She was good.

There was a Revier in the camp. The head doctor was a Polish woman from Warsaw. She was very good: she helped the prisoners a great deal, providing proper medical care and looking after the sick. Admission to the Revier was possible with a fever of 38°C. I myself was in the Revier twice. Once I was laid up for six weeks, and the other time for three weeks. What exactly was wrong with me, I don’t know; on one occasion, I had a fever and lower back pain. In the Revier, I would get tablets [note written above text] and injections [/note] and supplementary food, i.e. a special diet, in addition to the the normal rations received by prisoners. The doctor was very good. She took good care of me and I noticed that she took care of all her patients with the exact same attentiveness.  When I arrived at the Revier, I got a bed to myself with clean covers. The beds were in stacks of two. When the number of patients was very high, they sometimes slept two to a bed, but when space was freed up the patients would be spread out again.

Diseases did not really spread through the camp; there were no epidemics.

I am not aware of any fatalities in the camp.  We were woken for work in the morning by the auzjerka [woman guard, from Ger. Aufseherin] with a whistle blast; this was perhaps at 3.30 a.m. Straightaway, prisoners would leave to fetch the coffee, which was carted up to the block by a special column [labour detail, from Ger. Kolonne]. After getting up, we would dress ourselves, wash, make the beds, and receive our coffee. We would go outside and arrange ourselves in ranks of five by the gate, where Appell would take place. This took about thirty minutes and afterwards we walked to work. At the factory, we worked twelve-hour shifts with a roughly one-hour break for lunch, which we received at the factory. For lunch, we would receive soup made from vegetables, greens, or barley groats: initially one litre, and later three-quarters of a litre. In the evening, after work, we would return to camp and to our blocks, where we would get our supper: bread and coffee; soup twice a week. After supper we went to bed.

Prayer was officially forbidden, and no priest was authorized to enter the camp grounds, but we used to pray in secret. We had no aid from the Red Cross. Throughout my entire time at that camp, on two occasions we were permitted to send a card written in German to our families. I didn’t have any unofficial contact with the civilian population, but I heard that it was possible to have civilian factory workers send letters to family in secret.

Within the prisoner population, distinct circles coalesced along national lines: the Polish women formed one group; the Russians stuck together in theirs; and the French kept to themselves as well. Cooperation within the individual national groups did exist. The Poles formed a very tight-knit circle. Camaraderie among us was very highly developed – we used to try to cheer one another up and raise our spirits. I didn’t observe any particular depression or nervous breakdown in the women belonging to our group. We all possessed a strong will to survive the evil that had befallen us.

The factory in Watenstedt made ammunition. We worked in one large production hall, which was warm and properly ventilated. All of us operated machines.

The work was hard; it required great strength. At the machines, one had to be careful not to get one’s fingers cut off by the blades. My job was to shovel up waste iron from around the machines and take it away to a bin. I had to rush while at work. I was responsible for several machines and I had to keep pace with all of them; otherwise, a machine might go down – and that, naturally, was severely punished. My job necessitated standing all day long, but sometimes I was so exhausted that I would hide behind a machine to squat down and rest for a few minutes. This was a rare occurrence; my preference was always to stand and stay out of danger.

The factory operated twenty-four hours a day, non-stop. We worked in two shifts: nights and days. One week I would work at night, and the next in the daytime. The job I had at night was the same as during the day. But working at night was always more tiring, because it was impossible to sleep properly in the daytime, unlike at night, and no one was ever fully rested. Both day and night, we worked under electric light at the factory; we didn’t see daylight. We would leave the camp early in the morning when it was still dark, and return when the sky had already gone completely grey in the evening. I didn’t see daylight until after the factory had been bombed.

Sundays were generally working days, but we had every fourth Sunday off.  During the time I was working at the factory, it was bombed twice. One time was in the evening; on that occasion it was only damaged. The second time the factory was bombed, it was a Sunday off work and there was no one inside. The factory was completely destroyed, but there was no loss of human life at all. In the first bombing raid a Czech foreman died who had been employed as a free worker.

After the bombing raid in mid-January, they began to have us do various jobs: clearing snow, filling in bomb craters, and later shoveling sand. The outdoor work wasn’t hard, but we froze because it was still cold at that time.

During the few days leading up to the evacuation, we didn’t work at all.  When the evacuation of the camp was ordered, I was laid up in the Revier. All of the healthy women went to the station on foot while the sick were driven away in lorries. We never made it into the railway wagons, however, for the camp commandant cancelled the evacuation order. Just before nightfall, the commandant renewed the evacuation order. The sick were to stay behind temporarily; the [female] doctor, not knowing what was to become of them, urged any woman capable [note written above text] of walking to [/note] leave along with the healthy. It was then that I decided to go with my daughters. I went to the station on foot, and there we were loaded into freight wagons. All that day, we got nothing to eat. For the journey, every woman was given a little margarine and liver sausage. We travelled for quite a long time until finally arriving at Ravensbrück. I was there for another ten days, all of which time I was ill. On 25 April 1945, I left for Sweden.  Notes added: on page 2, ‘and the third was working as a policeman in the Cracow area’; on page 4, ‘and injections’; and on page 7 ‘of walking to’.