Holocaust survivor and Skokie resident Magda Brown, 83, spoke to students of District 96 Twin Groves social studies teacher Les Rimey Thursday, Dec. 16.
The Twin Groves eighth-graders sat motionless in the Learning Center of their Buffalo Grove school, engrossed and horrified by what they were hearing from Brown.
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On June 11, 1944, -- her 17th birthday -- Brown and her family were herded onto a crowded railcar for a three-day trip without food or water to an unknown destination. They were among the thousands of Hungarian Jews sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.
With chilling candor, Brown described arriving at the camp and being pulled away from her mother as she and the other prisoners were unloaded from the railcars and organized into lines. She later learned that her mother was in the line led immediately to the gas chamber.
"Before being imprisoned, I was like you at that age," she said to the Twin Groves eighth-grade girls. "I would spend a lot of time on my hairstyle."
But life in a concentration camp took away everything, including modesty and dignity, she said.
"They gave us ill-fitting clothes and shaved our heads. We spit out the awful food at first, until we realized that was all we'd have. Our bathroom was a latrine."
Imprisoned with hundreds of other women, Brown described sleeping without a pillow or blanket on a cold concrete floor, crowded "like sardines" with the other female prisoners and huddled together for warmth.
"To this day, I can't stand being cold," she said, smiling.
Brown described being transferred later to a work camp in Allendorf, Germany, where she was put to work in a munitions factory. While there, she and the other factory workers noticed that their hair and skin were becoming garishly discolored due to exposure to poisonous chemicals.
"We would have died there from that exposure if we hadn't been transferred," she said.
Liberation came in March 1945, as the prisoners were being marched to another work camp.
"We observed that there weren't as many guards watching us," Brown told the students. She and about a dozen other prisoners ran to hide in a barn they were passing, where they were found a day and a half later by American soldiers.
After telling her story, Brown gently invited students' questions.
"Don't be afraid to ask," she encouraged.
She described how she coped with camp conditions and also gave requested details about her liberation. The students were pleased to learn that Brown still is in contact with some of the women rescued with her, including an 85-year-old friend who is "still going strong."
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