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Brutal Treatment of Women

Sara Hannah Matuson Rigler, Holocaust survivor

I mean, they used to line up a woman in a barn, and they used to rape her till she was dead, and then they would leave. We once—I mean, it took me—I was liberated in January; January, February, March, April, May. It took me three months to get from Danzig—near Danzig, actually—to Bialystok, which is probably today three hours by train, or four hours. I saw—I mean, they used to line up women in a barn and just rape them until they were dead. It was animals, absolutely animals. And Willy writes about it, and it’s so difficult for him because he was a communist, and he’s adoring the Russians and he sees all this. But I was very—it wasn’t difficult for me to write about it, because thank God nothing happened to me. So I suppose if it had happened to me, you know, I couldn’t write about it. But I saw it happening, but I was really fortunate. I really feel that my father was watching over me, or somebody was watching over me, because the incidents that we had—we hid in trains and they dragged us out.

I mean, I’ll just describe: once we were—you know, they used to come and ask us for documents. How did we have documents? We didn’t have documents. So Sonia and I and Anne—her name was Anna—we were all three we didn’t have documents. They took us into a place; I can see the place. It was a big hall; must have been an assembly hall or a church because there were pews all around. Sonia went in first, and she came out and she said, “Sara, don’t ask.” I go in and he said to me, “Do you want to go to Lithuania or to Siberia?”

Now, there’s a saying in Russian, Siberia tak’zhe russkoĭ zemle, which means “Siberia is also Russian ground,” you know. So I tell it to him, and he said, “If you’re not good, you’re gonna go to Siberia.” I said okay, and he starts checking me. I said, “What are you checking me?” He said, “For guns.” So I pushed him and I ran out, and then Anna went in. And Sonia and I were sitting—it was a big school hall, I mean, many pews, and we were sitting near the wall—I still remember it—leaning on the wall. Maybe it was half an hour, an hour. And Anna came out: he raped her on the table when she came out, and she became pregnant. Because we travelled with her from there—it took us three months, I told you, so when we got to Bialystok, she said, “I’m pregnant.”

And we came to one town—I write about it—where the town was completely empty, except for cats. And the cats, you know, when they meow they sound like babies. And all the buildings were completely bombed out: there wasn’t a window standing. Each time we heard the cats, we thought somebody was walking, so we kept going from one building to another one—through the windows, not through doors. There were two seventy year old spinsters in town, and they were constantly raped—seventy year old spinsters. And here we are, the three of us, three girls.

We slept on one mattress, and it was Sonia and I and Anna, and a Russian came and he started up with this Polish girl. And I didn’t know anything about sex, I really didn’t. I was stupid, you know. And Sonia was already married, I told you. I became hysterical—I mean, not laughing—so he took out his gun and he said, “I’m gonna kill you.” And Sonia said, “Shut up.” I couldn’t stop. It was like—it was like a nervous thing, something. Right next to me he had intercourse with her. I didn’t even know. I never knew about it. That’s when we got food; otherwise, we didn’t get food. As I said, the town was completely empty, except for cats and those two ladies, seventy year old spinsters.