Judith Becker, one of five siblings, was born on September 11th, 1928, in Stettin, Germany, of Jewish parents. Her father was a textile merchant. Her mother Pepi came from a large family. Judith’s childhood was centered on family as they all lived close to each other. Birthdays were cause for the entire family to gather together. Another tradition that Judith recalls was baking a potato cake every Thursday.
In 1938, Judith’s father traveled to the American Embassy in Berlin many times to request visas for his family to leave Germany. He was unable to attain them because of the quota system in the United States. Judith recalls picking up her last potato cake from her aunt’s house on October 28, 1938, right before she was deported. When she returned home, the Gestapo were there, waiting, though the babysitter had tried to stop them from entering. Judith’s parents were not home. When Judith’s mother arrived home later, the children were sleeping. The Gestapo instructed her to wake up the children; they were all brought to the police station. When Judith’s father realized that the Gestapo were at his house, he had gone into hiding in the hopes of helping his family. Judith never saw her father again. Judith and her extended family were taken to the train station where they were then deposited in the “no man’s land” between the German and Polish border. The family was able to contact the nearest Jewish community in Poland which provided them shelter.
Education was an important theme throughout Judith’s life; her mother was her biggest advocate, despite constantly moving and seeking refuge for herself and her children. In 1938, her mother moved the family to the Warsaw Ghetto. At this point, Judith’s mother was taking care of twelve children, as her siblings had gone back to Germany in the hopes of retrieving their money and belongings. In Warsaw, her mother found a Jewish private school for the children and even managed to arrange summer camp for everyone in 1939.
In 1939, after learning that the Nazis had arrested and imprisoned her husband, Judith’s mother made her way back to Germany, removed her yellow star, marched into Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, and demanded they release her husband. Her attempt failed, but Judith says her mother was always a fearless fighter for her family.
In 1939, Felix, Judith’s brother, obtained a visa and emigrated to the United States. The rest of the family was rounded up in Warsaw and separated. However, in seven years of living in concentration camps, Judith was never separated from her mother and younger sister, Marlit. In total, they were in seven different concentration camps and one death camp, Auschwitz II (Birkenau). It is nothing short of miraculous that Judith and her mother and sister survived Auschwitz in 1944. In fact, they were taken to the gas chamber and would have died had the gas chamber not failed on that specific day.
During the spring of 1945, the Nazis began to send the prisoners on death marches. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot. Judith, her mother and sister escaped and returned to the barracks to hide. They felt that either way they were doomed to die. They had no food and were starving. When it appeared that the soldiers had abandoned the search, they ran through bitter cold and snow looking for help, when they literally fell into a foxhole in which an American soldier was on duty. The solider radioed for help and Judith and her mother and sister were sent to a nearby village to stay with a German farmer. Judith’s mother insisted that they remain locked in a room for the entirety of their stay which lasted until most of the concentration camps were liberated, later in the spring of 1945.
Judith, her mother, and her sister survived the Holocaust. Judith says that her mother’s strength is the only reason she managed to survive. With her mother’s insistence, Judith continued her education after World War II and studied world religion. She reconnected with her Jewish religion. At the time of the interview (1997), she was living in Israel with her husband, who is also a Holocaust survivor. They had four children together.
Biography written by Susannah Berry, Hobart and William Smith Colleges