International Holocaust Remembrance: “My name was A15-049”

Rose Williams, at the age of 17. This passport photograph was taken shortly after her liberation.

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For this solemn occasion, here is a special post from the Operation Meatball archives. July. 08. 2014

“My name was A15-049”

Faith Phillips

Today I sat in a small room with a few of my siblings and listened to the story of a woman who had lived through the horrors of the Holocaust in the Nazi concentration camps.  Rose Williams was a 12 year old Polish girl when the World War II began in 1939. After the Nazis invaded Poland, the fingers of Naziism began to close around the throats of the Jews, beginning with subtleties and moving into unimaginable cruelties. This is where Rose found herself with her brother, sister, mother, father, and grandmother. 

Every week the phrase: "The Jews are our misfortune!" would appear at the bottom of the newspapers.

One evening, a German soldier came to their home and ordered them to be out of their house within the hour. Next door was a very kind Gentile family who offered to take the three children into their home and hide them. But from the oldest down to the youngest not one would choose to be separated from their family members. “What will happen to one, will happen to all.” Thus the whole family was transported to a ghetto where they stayed for some time working for and being beaten by the hands of the Germans. 

Once, they waited anxiously for her father to return from his work. When he finally came, he was quite bloody all over his face. “What has happened to you?” they cried. He explained that he had asked a German soldier for a rag to continue his work with; the soldier, wrenching his beard from his chin, replied, “Here is the best rag!” 

Rose was walking outside one afternoon with her grandmother when they saw German soldiers separating babies from their mothers and throwing them on the sidewalk. One woman who refused to release her child was shot and the baby was hurled to the ground beside many others. Rose’s grandmother ran toward the spot were the babies lay, but Rose, grabbing her grandmother by the hand, cried, “What are you doing?” Her grandmother replied, “I am going to go save some of those babies.” A German soldier seeing the commotion ran to them, asking what was going on.  “Oh nothing, Sir, nothing,” she said, trying to pull her grandmother back. Refusing, her grandmother ran forward to help some of the little lives. As she did, she was beaten down by the soldier and shot. “It has taken me years to black out the memory of my grandmother’s dead body lying there being trampled with no one to bury her.”

Eventually, the family was able to acquire two passes to get work outside the ghetto, which, even though holding many horrors of it’s own, was a better place to work. Rose and her sister found jobs in two different factories. The factory Rose worked in, being a munitions factory, contained a great deal of alcohol. Rose along with many other workers smuggled the alcohol which was very valuable to the starving families.

Various versions of the Star of David that was required to be worn by all Jews.

Then it happened. They were all piled into a train. Two buckets were thrown in to serve as toilets for the hundreds of people packed in the car. Anyone attempting to bend down and relieve themselves would not be able to stand up again. Because of the compactness of the car, they would be crushed or suffocated by the masses. Many died even before the train reached Auschwitz, their destination. 

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, they were forced into lines where the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death,” looked them over and decided whether they would go to the left or to the right, to immediate death in the gas chambers, or to temporary life in the work camps. The prisoners would be assembled and reevaluated from time to time.

An SS doctor decides who will live and who will die.

All Rose had when she had first stumbled off the train was a pair of winter boots and a couple of photographs of her family.  Even though she had so little, she had still been ordered to leave everything behind! Her warm boots were exchanged for some “dreadful” wooden hollander clogs. They froze when it was cold and got stuck when it was muddy. She decided that she could bear them no longer and threw them away. Her feet became ulcerated and unbearably painful.  All alone in a brutal concentration camp, she thought life was no longer worth living.  

Dr. Josef Mengele (middle) the "Angel of Death".

The next time Rose was in the line where life or death was being determined for so many, Dr. Mengele sent her to the right. She begged him to let her go to the death line instead. “He didn’t look at my sore legs or feet. He just looked at my face and said, ‘You are young yet,’ and pushed me to the other line.” In that unusual way, God used the famous “Angel Of Death”  to keep her life from death!

Not long after her life was spared, Rose found out that her little sister was one camp site away. She was able to find someone to switch places with, from her camp, to her sister’s. After being reunited, they both swore that they would never allow anything to separate them again.

In four years, she was kept in four different prison camps. Most of her time was spent carrying stones from one side of the camp to another, and then back for no purpose or reason except that she was ordered to by her captors. 

At last, that longed for, hoped for, awaited, day came in 1945:  “wolności,” freedom, liberty, liberation! The liberators arrived! They gave care packages and chocolate to the the starving people.  When Rose was released from the camp at 17 years of age, she weighed 87 pounds. She was sent to a hospital and had to stay there for two years until she weighed 100 pounds. To their delight, Rose and her sister found out that her brother had survived the camps, as well, and was still alive! 

In 1946, they all tried to get visas to be able to immigrate to the United States, but after finding out that her brother had tuberculosis, Customs would not allow him in. So Rose and her sister moved to what was viewed as the modern “Promised Land,” America. Her brother moved to the old Promised Land, Israel, and became a man of note there. Rose married, becoming Mrs. Rose Williams. She had children and grandchildren passing down to them an incredible legacy. Since 1945, she has traveled to Israel seven times. It’s amazing that God preserved her life through these tragic experiences! 

Mrs. Rose Sherman Williams

I have been told many times how my grandfather, as a little boy, would look out his window and see a little blonde haired Jewish girl whose parents had been killed in one of these death camps. He wondered what her name was and what her story was. Who knows, maybe this woman, Rose Williams, whom I met today, knew the little blonde haired girl’s parents. As a little boy, my dad saw that some of our relatives had numbers tattooed on their arms. When he asked about them, he was told that they got them in the concentration camps. These stories of the Jews during the Holocaust are very personal to me because this is part of my family history. In truth, this all happened in a land not very long ago, and not very far away.