Bobby never wanted to talk about her experiences during the Holocaust. But occasionally, when we asked, she would talk to her grandkids. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with her once, and some of my cousins did too. Aside from that, we had to rely on other relatives to piece her story together. One story I like to tell is from Joe’s perspective, Bobby’s little brother. Uncle Joe told this story to me and my cousin just after Bobby died and we were sitting shiva at his home. We asked our uncle if he ever saw Bobby in the camps. Yes, he said, in Auschwitz, but only once. It was the day they arrived.
They arrived in Auschwitz and were told to line up in a single column. At the head of the line was Dr. Mengele, waving his hand right or left, determining the fate of those who lived and those who died. Dr. Mengele was a Nazi officer notorious for his time in Auschwitz where he performed unthinkable experiments on prisoners and selected who would be killed in the gas chambers. We asked Uncle Joe if he saw Dr. Mengele, and he replied: “I saw him in front of me like I see you.” Joe was spared and sent to the barracks with the other men.
After a couple hours, Joe was standing with the other men in an open courtyard. By this time, they had showered, they were disinfected with some putrid smelling powder, their heads were shaved, and they were wearing the infamous striped uniforms. Another group came toward them and stopped nearby. At first, he didn’t think much about it. They too were in striped uniforms and all their hair was completely shaved off. To Joe, they looked like another group of boys. But as he got a closer look, he realized they were actually women. Then he saw Bobby. She was standing with two girls from their hometown. It was cold and they were shivering, their teeth visibly rattling. Joe knew he had to do something. He saw he was standing close to the barracks where they were told to undress and remembered the piles of clothes they left behind. Without hesitating, he snuck back to the barracks and came out with three sweaters stuffed under his uniform. He was able to secretly get Bobby’s attention – somehow – and gave her the sweaters, one for her and one for each of the Ackerman girls. The girls carefully hid the sweaters under each of their oversized uniforms and would share them with their other friends in the barracks using them as pillows or blankets as they slept on the wooden planks. That was the one and only time Bobby and Joe would see each other in the camp.