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Benisch spoke about her friends in the Zehnerschaft and some of the lessons she learned from her experiences in the Holocaust.
There was an electric fence and some of the girls went over to the fence. In the morning, Saturday, they marched us to the women’s camp. One day in Plashow we were sewing uniforms for the Germans. Erma was depressed and we were trying to cheer her up.The watchmen had orders to shoot anyone who was seen walking there. The Blockalteste assigned us to our bunks, and we were joyfully reunited with the other girls of our Zehnerschaft.We were terrified – not for ourselves anymore since we were doomed anyway, but for our rescuers. Thank God we made it across and stood in front of the barracks of the living. You write about the heroism of Tzila Orlean who was a teacher at Beth Yaakov before the war and who “constantly walked the tightrope between life and death” in order to help others. I don’t even know where to begin talking about Tzila.The Blockalteste opened it and in walked our friend Tillie Rinder, known by all as the White Angel of Auschwitz, and Toni Katz, another angel. We followed them, hugging the walls to avoid the floodlights.Then we had to cross the vast Appelplatz which was flooded with light from all the watchtowers.So late at night we would sneak down to bring them those biscuits and sometimes a few turnips, a piece of bread, or whatever we could get our hands on.
It was a dangerous trip because we had to sneak past the trigger-happy soldiers in the watchtower.
They said, “Why should we wait to go to the gas chambers? No matter what life will do to us, we have to choose life.” And that’s what we did – we chose life. In your book you describe many extraordinary incidents involving your friend Rivkah Horowitz who was with you through most of the war. There has never been a hero like Rivkah Horowitz-Pinkusewitz. Suddenly the door opened and in walked the dreaded Oberscharfuhrer John with two SS men.
Let’s end it all now.” So I said to them, “The Torah tells us, 'u’bacharta b’chaim' – choose life [Deut. We all stood at attention, but Erma just sat there; she wasn’t all there any more. Snap out of it Erma I prayed, but she didn’t get up. The rest of our Zehnerschaft passed safely, but the four of us were on the left.
There is an old Polish legend about a dragon named Smok who was in the habit of roaming the streets of Krakow in search of young maidens to eat, while spreading terror and destroying everything in its path.
In her stirring Holocaust memoir, To Vanquish the Dragon, Pearl Benisch describes the encounter of the Jewish community of Poland with the Nazi dragon of the 20 Century; and the victory of the maidens who dared to fight the beast. Benisch, who was born and raised in Krakow, describes the extraordinary faith and self-sacrifice shown by her family and other members of her Jewish community during the Holocaust.
If I had the strength left I would write a book about her.