Leaving the camps

In 1943, the Polish teenager Maria Jaworska was arrested with her family on political grounds. Her father was executed. The following year, Maria was deported to Ravensbrück and then, in early 1945, to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated with her mother. Interviewed in 2003, Maria Jaworska described the early days after her return to Poland in 1945–6, as well as the long-term legacy of the camps.

115 – Polish survivor Maria Jaworska on life after liberation

When we returned home from the camps, we had nothing, absolutely nothing. It’s hard to imagine not having even a spoon, but that’s how it was. […] I got a job, I was 17, 18 years old. I had to feed the whole family. Oh well, we still didn’t have enough to eat […]. We had a very hard time, very hard. When I think back to that time … Nobody offered to help former inmates. Nobody. Everyone had their own problems, their own trauma, their own experiences. The war was over and people wanted to live. They concentrated on living, they wanted to eat their fill and have somewhere to live. Who was interested […] in what I had been through? […]

​ We had nothing

Fifteen years after the war I still could not bear a man walking behind me in studded shoes. […] If a man was walking behind me in shoes like that I trembled so much that I had to stop by a shop window or a tree to steady myself.

This fear has stayed with me to this day. If anyone shouts at me … I am all right in normal circumstances, but if anyone shouts at me, even at my age, I just drop whatever I’m carrying. I forget my own name, the reaction is so strong. I can’t cope with it. All my life I have been struggling with this fear. I can’t get over it.

Source: Stiftung niedersächsische Gedenkstätten (ed.), Bergen–Belsen (Göttingen, 2009), pp. 322–3, 373

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes