LTRP Note: The following is an excerpt from Anita Dittman’s story, Trapped in Hitler’s Hell. Anita, who lives today, was a young Jewish teen in Germany during WWII. She had become a Christian believer as a young girl. In this portion of her book, she describes the scene where she has finally been separated from her mother and she is heading to a work camp on a train. In the midst of this frightening time, Anita was comforted by Whom she had come to see as Messiah. Today, Anita (85) still tells her story to students and church groups. She is an inspiration and a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
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(from Trapped in Hitler’s Hell):
As the train inched out of Breslau, I peeked into my knapsack to see if my little Bible was still there. Should we be denied physical food, I wanted to be sure we had spiritual food. “We have a great big God, Steffi,” I said softly. Steffi stared ahead, expressionless. She appeared to be on the brink of losing touch with reality, and I quickly prayed for her. In an instant her glazed eyes flashed again, and she looked at me. I pointed to the Bible that was wrapped in brown paper in my knapsack, and we both smiled.
We rolled along the German countryside for two hours. I was amazed to see so little destruction, even though I knew the Allies had been concentrating their assault on the major cities. Few of the big cities had escaped the terrible nightly air raids; Dresden was the lone city that stood intact. How long that would last we had no idea. But the rolling, green hills and fields were almost tranquil. I wondered if the farmers knew that horrible suffering existed just miles away, that most of the cities were becoming smoldering skeletons, that victims lay in huge numbers under the rubble, and that many of the living wandered homeless. I wondered if the farmers knew as they peered out of their farmhouse windows at the passing train that the Nazis considered its cargo to be of less value than the cattle that grazed peacefully on the hillsides….
We rode silently, most of us too fearful to talk. I watched as the faces in my car–stared blankly, frozen with uncertainty. How thankful I was for the inner peace that gripped me, giving me an indefinable assurance that God was in total control, not just of our lives, but of Germany, the Allied countries, and all the war-weary world.
When the train stopped at the village of Schmiegrode, we poured out, many being prodded along with gun butts. The men were sent off in one direction and the women in another. Three armed guards escorted about 150 of us women over cobblestone streets for several blocks, and then we entered a wooded area. We walked for some distance–a mile perhaps–to a weather-beaten work camp that was nothing more than a huge cow barn, a horse stable, and a main building for the Nazi staff. The cow barn would be the women’s dormitory, and the horse stable the men’s quarters. Remaining silent, we walked swiftly, entering the gate and then standing in formation as directed.
After a head count, the women were herded into the barn and ordered to stand at quiet attention while an SS guard gave us instructions. He scowled at us and marched up and down authoritatively in front of our formation.
“This is your new home,” he said, a twisted smile on his face. I hope you like it. You have little choice.” He sneered as he laughed at us. “You will sleep on the straw on the floor,” he continued. “Each of you will be issued two horse blankets. You can put one on the ground over the straw, and you may sleep anywhere in the barn. Outside is a cold-water faucet. You may bathe by putting water from the faucet into a bucket we will provide, or you may bathe in the creek if you like. The toilet is out back. It is just an open ditch, but it is good enough for you.” He stopped talking but continued to march up and down.
“Starting tomorrow morning you will be put to work. The Fuhrer looks very favorably on hard workers. Since the German working day has been extended to ten hours, yours will be, too. It will be hard labor for some. We will awaken you at 4:00 A.M., and you will stand in formation out in the yard in the center of camp, where you will be counted and given a slice of bread. Then you will march a few kilometers to the work area. It is about an hour away by foot. Most of you will dig ditches that will stop the Russian tanks that head our way. Your evenings will be free for you to do as you wish. We will appoint one group leader for every ten women, and your leader will get a bucket for you to use to wash your dishes, your clothes, and yourselves. We have a small ration of soap we will give you, but it must last many weeks. We can give you no luxuries, and you must give us an honest dayâ€™s labor. For your labor, we will pay you twenty marks* a month. I hope you appreciate our generosity, for nowhere else in Germany do prisoners receive any compensation for their labor. You should admire our Fuhrer for his kindness to you.” No one moved a muscle or showed an ounce of emotion.
“Wear shorts and lightweight tops because the work will be hot. You will get one midday break for soup and water. Any attempt to escape will result in terrible punishment that could make death a welcome relief. Understand?”
We nodded and said, “Yes, sir!”
“Oh, by the way,” he said, turning toward us at the barn entrance, you will not have a day off unless it rains. But, you see, even your God has abandoned you, for it has not rained all summer!” He roared with laughter at the irony of the situation. “You will be issued some rations at 5:00 P.M. Welcome to Camp Barthold, ladies!” With that he gave us the usual Heil Hitler salute and left.
Each of us scrambled to claim a six-foot plot. After Steffi and I grabbed a little area where we could be together, we sprawled out on the prickly straw. “At least it’s not Auschwitz,” I told her, “and our heads aren’t being shaved.” That practice was common at many camps. “Let’s praise the Lord for that and pray it rains for forty days and nights.God did that once before….
That night we women began to get acquainted with one another. Everyone spoke of the abiding fear they had for loved ones who had been taken away months or years earlier. In many cases they had never heard from those loved ones again. How thankful I was that God had allowed Mother and me to communicate during the last several months. At least I hadn’t had to endure a horrible time of waiting and wondering if she was alive (I knew it was just another sign of God’s goodness). As I roamed the barn getting acquainted with the women, I met some of the believers who had come to Christ through Pastor Hornig’s ministry. “I have a Bible,” I told them enthusiastically. “We can read it together at night if you like.” Many returned a broad smile. Others had become weak in their faith because of life’s hardships. Still others would fall away from God at the camp, unable to believe He would allow such an existence. But some would draw even closer to Him because of Camp Barthold. (from Chapter 9 and 10, Trapped in Hitler’s Hell)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38,39)