War on Their Minds
  Mena Anolik
Age in 1941: 19

Interview Team: Julia May, and Steve Lash
  2001




Q: Could you please state your name, just to start off

Mrs. Anolik: Mena. M-E-N-A Anolik, A-N-O-L-I-K


Q: Where were you born?

Mrs. Anolik: In Memel, Lithuania, Memel, M-E-M-E-L



Q: Could you tell us a little about where you were born? Childhood

Mrs. Anolik: Oh I had a lovely childhood, I, until Hitler came. It was in Lithuania. You know the line- Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, near the Baltic Sea where the lady kneels.


Q: Oh yeah, over on the edge.

Mrs. Anolik: That's right. There I was born. My father was a pharmacist. He was very young when he died, he was thirty-nine only. And my mother was a musician and lovely lady. And I had a brother and a sister. My sister was two years younger and my brother was six years younger than I am. So they were very young when they died.


Q: Yes [Short pause]your schooling was-

Mrs. Anolik: Schooling, yes. I had almost high school, and after the war I continued at the University of {Heidenberg}, that's Germany, and there I finished my nursing.

Q: So you are a nurse?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes, I started it before the war, but then the war came and then when it was over, I finished it.


Q: How old were you at the start of the war?

Mrs. Anolik: I was eighteen, I believe.


Q: What happened at the beginning of the war, towards you and your family?

Mrs. Anolik: Well my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, were killed immediately. They were shot to death so I found out after the war. I gathered that this would happen because they shot all the Jews and, [Short pause] so that I got during the war, and going through what I did, I got used to the idea that this is what I will find, and that was the that was the fact which which was sad.[short pause] To be all alone, and in a country that's surrounded by so many enemies and, so many deaths, and it was [Hard] But, I survived. I survived to be seventy-seven.


Q: And what happened to you?

Mrs. Anolik: To me, I was sent in one of the biggest, Concentration camps. In Bergen-Belsen, Have you heard? [short pause] That was, in Germany. And I was there until the liberation. The second British army liberated us in 1945. And I came to the United States in '47. I was sponsored by a gentleman and his family that knew my husband. And, and, by that time I had one child already. So, we all went to we came to Connecticut, here. A chicken farm, and I will be forever grateful to this man.


Q: So when you were where were you when you first heard of the conflict and of the killing. Did the Germans come for you immediately?

Mrs. Anolik: We knew, we were terribly afraid with of the Germans because we knew about all the camps and everything. Afraid or not afraid, when life goes on, you want to live very much. You've no idea, you cannot project such anger, brutality and injustice. That it can't be human beings, what I went through. I still have a scar, if you can see here.


Q: Yes.

Mrs. Anolik: I was in a barracks, that was already concentration camp, and a German looked at me, he said, "you look too good". And he took my hand. You know the pipes, the burning pipes how they go to chimney. And he held, and the smell, and then it was to the bone. It burned off my whole thing. And you could see the bone, that's how. And he was laughing. [Pause] and I bit my lip not not to not to cry out. It was the pain was terrible. You know, when your being burned. But, I think you can see it from far away.


Q: You can see it, you can definitely see it.

Mrs. Anolik: Yes children, what else would you like to know? It's not a pretty picture, it's not a happy picture. And I promised you, probably, that I would be interviewed. [pause] It's the first interview ever it's so painful because it brings back all the memories and pain and disillusion and brutality that, you like to put it on the side and not to think about it.

Mrs. Anolik: It's okay children, I have also young kids and they probably wanted to know too. I think their father used to talk to them , and then they read a lot, so access to all kinds of books.


Q: At this may be a little painful, but at the at the camp itself, what was the general life like, your barracks, were you with your family, did they split you up?

Mrs. Anolik: Well in the morning, we stood. The first thing we dressed, a whistle was whistling and we dressed and we had stood outside in winter in thirty-below degrees, and especially in Estonia which is known as a very cold country. And after we were counted, we got a little I used to say, some washed-out coffee, or whatever they called it, and a piece of bread. So that was our breakfast. And when sometimes somebody spoke, or looked at a German badly, we didn't even get this. They got angry and they hit us and that was it. And lunch was again a little washed out soup and a piece of bread, and and sometimes that wasn't even there everyday. And at night I don't know what we got. We were very hungry. I was 140 pounds, 150 pounds I went down, when I left, there was a scale in the front, I was down to 94 pounds. So that's almost half of my weight, it wasn't very pleasant. What else would you like to know?


Q: When you left, were you taken to the camp with your family, or were you separated beforehand?

Mrs. Anolik: I was separated unfortunately. I was separated because I studied as a nurse, a registered nurse. When I was studying I was removed for and then it was interrupted, of course I couldn't study. I finished my nursing after the war. And I was separated form my parents and my sister and brother, and have not seen them again. My brother was only twelve years old, and my sister was about, sixteen I think, she was so it it was very hard after the war. I was very scared, what I will find and but unfortunately I found from other people that I spoke, that they were killed a certain time. All little towns of the city had been wiped out. [pause] so that was that


Q: So, did you meet your husband after the war?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes. I met him right away after the war. There was a DP camp, you know


Q: Displaced persons?

Mrs. Anolik: Displaced persons, yes. And we all were there, and they used to give us rations, food. So much bread, so much this, whatever there was, so[short pause] They knew me, they new my friends, so I found out that there's nobody else so I. My mother was only forty, forty years old, and my father was thirty-nine, and my sister was sixteen and my brother was twelve. So that's the immediate family, I'm not talking about the relatives.


Q: Right. Where was your husband from?

Mrs. Anolik: My husband was from Vilna, Poland.


Q: So he's Jewish too?

Mrs. Anolik: He's Jewish, yes but he's not alive. He died.


Q: A long time ago?

Mrs. Anolik: He died after the war. I met him after the war and he died about, four or five years later.


Q: And did you have children?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes, we have three children, two boys and a girl. One boy works for the for the state, my other one is a physician, and my third one is an occupational therapist who is the only Jewish girl at the office that they kept. That's my daughter.


Q: Wow. [Pause]

Q: So, did you ever return to your hometown after the war?

Mrs. Anolik: I went, but I never went exactly because they were they wiped out every Jew. There wasn't a single person left.


Q: So are you-

Mrs. Anolik: And it's only the gentile are there, but there they wouldn't know me, I don't know them, if I would come I cannot just walk in on the house. But, then you met enough people who knew exactly what happened to their children, and you know bad news travels fast. So, I had nobody to ask, than to see it myself. I saw just the very big graves, I cannot describe how big the graves were, it was one big grave. It's like the whole house (she motions to the surrounding walls). And there they put all the people in and shot them, and buried them. [pause] So to go down there was terrible, I went and I saw just the top of the mound, I said "I just don't want to have it in my mind." And it was awful, just awful.


Q: Were you taken to Bergen-Belsen in

Mrs. Anolik: Bergen-Belsen, I it was, I came when it wasn't a concentration camp. I was taken to a concentration camp. And there in Hamburg, that is Germany, I worked in a Munitions factory. And from there I was taken to Bergen-Belsen, Bergen-Belsen was a big concentration camp in Germany. And it wasn't easy, it was very hard. But you when your young you have such a spirit. I'm looking at you kids because that's the way I looked. I was young and hopeful and I was tough, I was very tough. And I knew all the terrible things already, so I wasn't surprised anymore. And there, and there where I was [before] Bergen-Belsen, they put us in Hamburg that is East, that is West of Germany, and I worked the night shift twelve hours, in a munitions factory. We made guns and bullets and so on. And, There was a German man, I remember, he was also one of the supervisors, and he sneaked me a piece of his lunch. A piece of bread and butter, one time there was jelly, and that was a big thing. So that helped me a lot. And I spoke a very good German, that was, more intriguing for him.


Q: In the concentration camps, were you with people your own age, or was it just spread out?

Mrs. Anolik: No. It was all ages, but the elderly people. When you were over thirty, you were already an elderly person, it wasn't so easy. The younger you were, like, I was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, it was easier to fight it [Short pause] Then the older so I was I was lucky, and unfortunately I was the only survivor from my home, and.. so it's, it's hard, but you survive. [pause] You have to have a very strong will, no illusions, reality. And whenever I could, to escape, I did everything possible to, to live. Life is very precious, children. Very precious, and as long as you have it, make something of it.


Q: You speak of this German man who was in the factory. Were there other such friends who helped you out?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes, I was with two sisters. They were from California (N.B. They were from Europe, they now live in California). And for one, for the younger one, she must have been about sixteen/seventeen, her sister was my age, it's very difficult, very difficult. You know we ate together, we slept together, and we tried to help each other. It's very difficult. It seems to be, it was essentially, that so long that you think I never think back, we don't think about it, because if I would have to think, I could not, it's very difficult. And my husband never used to have anybody talk. He, he just couldn't force himself to talk about it.


Q: Was your husband also in a concentration camp?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes he, was. He was a doctor, and, he was in a concentration camp, and he particularly avoided it like poison to talk about. I appreciate you kids; you want to do an interview. It's something that should go back in history, but it's not easy to talk about [pause]so he never that was my husband's rule, and I found it after he died still not to talk about it because it's much too difficult. Too painful. [Pause] I wish I could know how to help you to, to relate all the happenings, while and not have so much pain, because it's not a pleasant thing to do, I see it on your faces. It's hard, you have to be out of stone. [pause] Would you like to hear any particulars?


Q: Well, is there a memory that kind of sticks out in your mind of those years?

Mrs. Anolik: Oh yes. There was one in particular there you know we did not have running water, so we had how would you call it, you dig a hole and they make is this a, a well?


Q: A Well.

Mrs. Anolik: A Well, yes. And they used to let down a, a pail, and get out water. And one fellow, he was so thirsty he couldn't wait, and he fell in, and I remember for he must have been at that time, fifteen/sixteen years old, and, but they got him out. But all these things come now in place. But, that was just one happening. Then there was also a lot of cries and asking for help and people were beaten, they were bleeding through the back, but some were very, very mad. So you had to be lucky to find a good German. At least, temporarily, or at least he showed, they, sometimes somebody showed compassion, which was very seldom. It was, they found the people who were the most killers, really. What did they care, they didn't have to have an educated man to kill a person. They would kill us themselves, it was very easy for them.


Q: So there were, I don't know what the term is for the Germans who oversaw how the concentration camps worked but

Mrs. Anolik: Oh Yes.


Q: There were several compassionate ones? No? None?

Mrs. Anolik: No, no, not at all. The compassionate were the people who stayed away, or did not, they didn't choose to do it, or they did do it and just mechanically, very quickly. Even shooting, if you shoot a person right away, he saves himself so much pain, and everything or beatings or something. So that's, that's some of them enjoyed it, unfortunately sick people.


Q: Terrible

Mrs. Anolik: Oh they shot them, there wasn't any escape. [Pause] But you know, until it happens, you hope, there is such a world to live. I hope you never have to face it.


Q: Thank you.

Mrs. Anolik: I am not wishing it on anybody. You want to live so much. When you live, you live. And once you're shot, your life is over.


Q: What do you remember about the feelings you had when you were liberated?

Mrs. Anolik: That was a very happy day, when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. Very happy, but then came fright. Where will we will we get some food? Will we be able to eat? Will somebody employ us? You know we were such so young, we were your age. How old are you?

Q: I'm seventeen.

Mrs. Anolik: That's exactly the age we were in the camps. And that's after camp and everything. So it was a lot of fright, anger, why me, why millions of people walk around. And had they did something to be arrested. We were just arrested because we were born Jewish. So you question yourself if you believe in God. You ask God why this happened. What have we done? [pause] So, we had a lot of questions and a lot of tears and a lot of joy when we were liberated. [pause]


Q: So. Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.

Mrs. Anolik: No no, please


Q: After you were liberated did you go back to the D.P. camps?

Mrs. Anolik: Well, the for example Bergen-Belsen was a very big camp. And there they had already set out for people, when they survived. How the they got a little piece of bread a day, and sometimes soup we got, and sometimes not, so we were on bread and water, water was available to us. So that was it, and , but I, as soon as I could, as soon as we were liberated I tried very hard to remove myself from there. And we were let out, we went to the, in the world between the Germans who still had they had anger in themselves to destroy us, and it was it was very hard. A few years, very hard. It was enough in the camps hard, we never knew if we will be alive when we wake up, or not. You know they accomplished what they wanted.


Q: How did you try to remove yourself from it?

Mrs. Anolik: Well, I was with two sisters, we always walked together, ten Jewish girls. But we saw that with ten is very difficult. When you find an empty house, for example in Germany that was after the war already '45, so, you just walk in, and you sleep they left the houses locked, unlocked, and they, they left. And we were ten girls, so we there were some we found Americans, or we found English, and they helped us out quite a bit, because we told them the story, Who we are, and the first question was, I thought they would know that: "What did you do?" We didn't do anything, because we were just born Jews, and that's why we were taken to the camps. So, you know they saw how little we had and they shared they, they shared their portions of this bread they gave us. And we had to organize, you know we were trained already to fight for food, to fight to eat. It wasn't easy, but then there was a setup in many cities, [Undra and Jose] was also an organization to help the refugees until you get in touch, until they interviewed you. It took a while. So I went we walked through Europe, and I wanted to find my parents. My father was forty-one and my mother was forty-two, and she was a little older than him, and my sister was only fifteen. So we walked through Europe, on our way we found what they did in the little towns. They went through the little towns of Germans, shot every Jew, doesn't matter who it was, and, it was a big grave, I cannot describe the size of the grave, it's like a city big, and threw the people in.


Q: Did you ever find out what happened to any of your extended family?

Mrs. Anolik: [pause] I knew then that nobody had survived, that I knew. I found out second hand, but not first hand. You know when this happens, it's such a defeat. You have done nothing in this world to...to hurt people or to do something, and something like this just from blue sky. Like you cannot help whatever you are. Catholic, or Evangelist or whatever, that is you cannot help it, what you are. So it's, it's difficult. [pause] I see you don't wear any crosses, nothing

Q: I'm Jewish.

Mrs. Anolik: You are Jewish? So I would listen if I were you. Like someone would walk in now and take you because you are Jewish. And you haven't done anything in this world, and I haven't done anything in this world.



Q: I am sitting here wondering if you must have been thinking, "why?"

Mrs. Anolik: Many times, but you don't get an answer, sweetheart. You can talk to God from today until doomsday, there is no answer. They did it, they were criminals, and mostly they were trained for it. [pause] I would like to know how my sister was killed and how my brother was killed, but I have nobody to I don't know anyone who survived from these little towns. And they didn't have to deal with it.


Q: So do you remember how, did you come to America on a ship?

Mrs. Anolik: We came, no, because my son was born, I got married in Germany, I met a physician which was very sweet, I and I got married and I came with my first son and my husband. Our journey took over twenty hours, it was a long journey. We went through England, Dublin, and finally I was here. And one lady, I remember, this was a German lady, she saw how I in a bottle I had so little milk for my son, he was three months old at that time. So she was very sweet and she said "would you like" we sterilized a bottle and she allowed me then to give him regular milk, and I was in one way afraid he was only three months old. And the other way I felt relieved that he will have something and he ate it, nothing bothered him. So that was a very happy occasion to come to the United States.


Q: And did you already speak English?

Mrs. Anolik: I spoke because my foreign language was English, and that during the war, I met so many American and British people in camps. They, they were the Germans liberated us, I mean, the British liberated Bergen-Belsen. And there was all kinds, from gypsies, to I met a priest in Bergen-Belsen. I mean there was such a big camp and such a variety of people that you cannot believe that there is...all nationalities. So I remember that. I thought one day maybe I will go down to Bergen-Belsen to see just the place, but then my husband, he was taken so "How dare you to think about such a thing! Such brutality, isn't it enough you went there, and I don't know what." And I wouldn't. [pause] It's much too painful. When you have done nothing, to innocent people, just because you were born Jewish. [pause] It's...it's difficult. But I'm able, I'm so glad that I am able to talk about that. That my husband would have been here, no way.


Q: Really?

Mrs. Anolik: You see he was a man, and men don't cry, or men don't I can let it out but he was a man. We were both very different and we got along beautifully.
[long pause]


Q: Getting back to the day of liberation just a little bit, could you describe for us the events what happened when the British you woke up?

Mrs. Anolik: Oh! It was such happiness mixed with tears. We didn't believe it ourselves, that we were finally, we were in these concentration camps I have lost my time. I don't know, was it months, or weeks? I have no idea now. And when we were liberated it was the most beautiful thing in this world. All of a sudden, you just, there was tears, and tears of joy, it was I was crying. It was the happiest day of my life. And, then, then the reality set in, and then "Where will we eat tonight? Where will we sleep tonight?" So there were a lot of refugees in Germany because they ran away from the SS, you know what the SS is so I'm, so they, of course they were scared too, so they ran away. But I spoke a very good German, perfect German. I wish I did have the to my English is not as good as I knew the German, because from childhood I knew the German. And, I tried very hard to communicate with them because they were, I must say, the ones we met were quite friendly. They organized for us to get a vegetable or something, another piece of bread or so on. So I am very very grateful to these people. [Pause] So anything else?


Q: At anytime during this interview, if you'd like to take a break...

Mrs. Anolik: Oh no, you can ask me anything you want to. If you're curious about something.


Q: Did you hear any military or civilian news from the front after you were liberated?

Mrs. Anolik: Not the military, no, but that was when I was in camp, of course we were treated like slaves, but, after the war, they still had us, they kept us because we didn't know where to go. This way we were provided soup and we were provided with bread, and we were able to function. But of course the real SS people, we didn't see. They were taken away right away, and they went all right, but I we left the camp there was three, two girls and myself, yeah we were three of us. And then, we met two others, so whenever we stopped [pause] its difficult to think what we went through, I mean we were your age probably. How old are you?

Q: Seventeen.

Mrs. Anolik: Seventeen. And you too?

Q: I am seventeen.

Mrs. Anolik: And you too?

Q: [nods]

Mrs. Anolik: My goodness.


Q: The girls whom you associated with after you were liberated, did you keep in touch with them after the war?

Mrs. Anolik: We are in touch, oh yes were in touch. They were in my wedding, I went to their weddings, and they are in California. They lost their husbands, but they are in California. They are two sisters. They're very dear to me.


Q: Currently today as well?

Mrs. Anolik: Oh yes, you know you slow down in writing so much, but you hear, and if something happens, you get phone calls, or I call Los Angeles, those things become very, very dear to you. All of them are in their seventies, high seventies, so, they lost their husbands. Both sisters lost their husbands, but that was after the war. From the heart and the soul. We're in touch, we're very much in touch.


Q: I'm curious, considering you didn't talk about your experiences in the camps with your husband, did you talk about them with your girlfriends or your children at all?

Mrs. Anolik: Oh yes! We let it out. There were weeks and weeks that we wandered through, we walked through Europe, and we hitchhiked trains, animal trains. That was very easy to hike. And until Poland. When it came to Poland, we heard such brutalities from the Poles to each other, and I said "I like to be out of here because all I see is blood and Aryan." And I never came back to Lithuania, we went to Poland, we slept through there, we found, and we hitchhiked a train, that was an animal train. There was no seats or anything, it was just where the animals used to be. That was a German city, {city name unknown} that's not too far from Munich, and there we found a one house, you see they were afraid of the Americans and afraid of the British, so they took their belongings, the Germans, and just walked out. And those places, we knew we could walk in, it wasn't even locked. And in a strange house, oh the guts we had, my God! And there we found some dishes that we could drink something, or nobody cooked. We tried to organize just bread, so it was difficult, but you were free. The difference is you were free and you were able to function. And I think today, the courage we had, at this age, maybe because the age was a factor, you know we were not even twenty years old. It makes a difference.


Q: As, children, modern children, we can't possibly even come close to know the pain that you went through, but do you feel that there were any positive effects of the whole war ordeal? Did it make you stronger?

Mrs. Anolik: Not the camps.

Q: Not the camps.

Mrs. Anolik: When just live in brutality I can't even give you an example because you're so far, you know, there's bad guys and good guys. Take the bad guys, which are so unjustified, they don't know what they are doing, they just misbehaving, or they don't know why they are doing what they are doing. You must have in your life, you know you fight with kids, and some are better and some are bad, it's...it's kids. But this was a brutality that was just extended to us, and you were wondering how many times I said I wish I had never been born Jewish. I would never had to go through what I went through. I wished I were now, but that was not up to us. Any questions? More?


Q: Just idle curiosity, I know that at a lot of these camps they assigned you a number, and I assume everyone was assigned a number?

Mrs. Anolik: Yes, yes. That was Auschwitz

Q: Auschwitz, yeah.

Mrs. Anolik: Yeah, and my camp, no, no, I don't have any. I have just here, you can see.

Q: The scar.

Mrs. Anolik: There was ovens, burned by wood, and that was the only heating we had from there. And one day I had short sleeves, it was hot, and he pushed me to the oven where the light is, and it smothered, and it smelled like I had 100 pounds of meat. And that is not going to go away. So that was the case and that we tried to survive, and it was very, very difficult. None of us were beggars and you just don't walk in to a house and ask for bread, so we, we tried very hard to get food, I must tell you, I was about 60 pounds less than I am now.

Q: How were you transported from Lithuania to Bergen-Belsen?

Mrs. Anolik: They took us by they take animals in. It was a train.

 


Mrs. Anolik's memory of her Bergen-Belson liberation. (Quicktime)


Mrs. Anolik and Lori Lerman


Mrs. Anolik, Julia May, and Steve Lash