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A Real Life History Lesson ~ Holocaust Survivor Tells Story 2.22.2006

By Jack Fichter

Adele Jochelson
ERMA – Students at the Richard M. Teitelman School met a walking miracle when Adele Jochelson came to tell of her experiences in a concentration camp.
Over 100 students gave rapt attention to Jochelson’s life story Feb. 16, which contributed to Steve Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List.”
The filmmaker, as well as a crew from Yale University, has interviewed the 82-year-old holocaust survivor.
Jochelson told the students that she a happy life in Wilno, Poland until the age of 12. Then war broke out and German armies entered her town in 1939 and created “a lot of problems for Jewish people.”
At this very beginning of atrocities, Jewish people were not permitted to walk on sidewalks and were required to wear armbands emblazoned with a Star of David, said Jochelson.
Food became scarce and Germans entered homes taking Jewish men off to war.
“Some never came back,” said Jochelson. “We never knew what happened.”
Life for Jewish people worsened when they were ordered to surrender their money, jewelry, and furs. She said an entire family could be killed if any of those items were found on a person.
Next, Jews were moved to a ghetto where food was rationed.
In preparation for sending the Jewish people to a concentration camp, they were assembled in a large field and the young were separated from the old.
Jochelson maintained that she would never forget the site of babies being taken from the arms of their mothers and thrown in the back of a truck.
She was put in a cattle car on train along with her younger sister Tola, a cousin and approximately 100 other women. She described the scene as “bedlam” with everyone crying.
No one could lie down in the railroad car because it was so crowded, remembered Jochelson. She said she lost track of time, not knowing how many days and nights the train continued onward to an unknown destination.
The train trip ended at a concentration camp in Klooga, Estonia.
Men and women were placed in separate buildings. Jochelson said she and fellow prisoners were forced to do laborious work while being fed barely enough to sustain life.
Breakfast was watered down coffee and a small piece of bread. Jochelson described lunch as a soup of “dirty dishwater” with a few pieces of barley, which looked like worms.
At one point, all women had their heads shaved. Prisoners had only the clothes on their back which had lice embedded in the seams.
Jochelson said she considered herself fortunate to live in a room with only 25 other women. Many lived with three times that number, she said.
Jochelson spent two years in the camp where typhoid was rampant.
As Russians neared the camp, prisoners received more food and no longer worked.
On Sept. 19, 1944, the Germans began killing everyone in the camp. People were led away in groups of five, outside the camp into the woods.
“About five to 10 minutes later, we hear shots, like a machine gun,” said Jochelson. “You don’t want to realize they were killing people.”
She said the bodies were stacked with wood, doused with gasoline and burned. Many of the shooting victims were alive when burned, said Jochelson.
At this point, Jochelson decided she and her sister needed to save their own lives. She and her sister ran into a building that housed the soup kitchen. They told an Estonian soldier standing guard, who they knew, they wanted a drink of water.
From there, she carried her sister on her back, who was weakened by typhoid, through a window to another building. From there, they returned to their sleeping room and hid under the covers of bunk beds.
The sun set and the camp became quiet, she recalled. At daybreak, an Estonian solider in a German uniform entered the room. She said he came to rob anyone remaining in the building.
Two more Estonians entered and told Jochelson and her sister to help themselves to heavy winter clothes and get out of the camp. He warned the camp would soon be destroyed.
“Germans don’t like to leave live witnesses,” she said.
One of the men told Jochelson the Germans had run away because the Russians were coming. She and her sister ran into the countryside and took shelter in the house of an Estonia man.
“You hope against hope,” said Jochelson. “It was a miracle.”
She said she saw a large pile of dead bodies as she left the camp. Out of 3,000 prisoners, only 80 survived.
She lost her parents, aunt, and cousin.
After the war Jochelson, became a nurse in Germany in the American occupied, displaced persons zone.
 She came to the U.S. in 1947 and moved to Margate in 1951, later opening an antique store in Ventnor with her late husband, also a holocaust survivor.
Jochelson said while she has been asked to write a book of her life story, she finds the experience too painful to recall in great detail. Her sister is 77 and lives in Livingston.
Contact Fichter at: (609) 886-8600 ext. 30 or jfichter@cmcherald.com

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