In the heart of 87-year-old Catalina Rosner are the startling memories of a young girl who held on to her frail and ailing sister in the concentration camps to keep her warm, only to discover the next morning that she was gone.
Rosner, who buried her horrific personal history as a Holocaust survivor deep within her to spare those she loved of the pain she endured, is proud to keep the history of the Holocaust’s unspeakable atrocities at the forefront of minds young and old.
Born in 1927 in Romania, Rosner, who has resided at Wilentz Senior Residence in Somerset for the past seven years, was in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany and Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
Liberated by British armed forces while in Bergen-Belsen, Rosner first went to Cuba where she lived for 14 years and then came to the United States at the age of 37 in 1961.
“I was the only survivor in my family,” she recalled. “I knew that nobody else was left because my mother went to the gas chamber and my two sisters were also dead. My grandfather had passed away about 10 months before I was taken to the concentration camp in Auschwitz.”
Rosner, whose experiences in the concentration camps began at the start of 1944, said, “I was 17 years old. If I really think back about it, it was something that I was too young to realize or because I didn’t think any human person could realize what was happening.”
“It was very fast,” she remembered. “I was in Auschwitz for a few months and then I was sent into forced labor where I worked in a factory that made parts for the rockets. I told myself that at least I had my two sisters.”
“In February 1945, we were evacuated to Bergen-Belsen because the allies were too close. There, it was very bad because we were locked in barracks and given very little to eat,” she said.
“My one sister was too weak and sick. We were sleeping on floors without wood, just the earth, and I remember I put my sister on top of me for her to stay warm and so she could sleep because she was just skin and bones,” recalled Rosner, who was the youngest of three girls.
“In the morning, I woke up and she was dead,” she said, adding that the bodies of the deceased could not be buried, but were added to “mountains of other bodies between two barracks.”
Rosner’s other sister, who had already been coughing and very ill, was taken to a hospital with tuberculosis (there was no cure at the time.) After two weeks there, she passed away.
After being liberated, Rosner came in contact with one of her father’s brothers, who had survived the Holocaust. He took Rosner and other survivors with him to Cuba, where they were able to start their lives over.
Soon, she was part of a warm and embracing family (her father’s brothers and relatives) she had only read about in letters and photographs that had been sent to her mother.
“I had given up believing that a family like that even existed,” said Rosner.
For approximately 50 years, she hid these experiences from her children.
“I never told a story, never talked about it. I lived with it, but that was it,” she said. “My kids knew I was a concentration camp survivor.”
Since filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie, “Schindler’s List,” Rosner was sought after by his camera crew which eagerly chronicled her experiences during the Holocaust. She has also received several “thank-you” letters from high school students who have witnessed her account and been touched by all she endured.
A member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Rosner has always been keenly aware of how her experiences might impact her children.
“I know that eventually I would have told them, but they lost their father so young and I didn’t want to make their lives any more miserable. I had to give them time to grow up and learn a little of the history and then it might be easier for them to accept,” she said.
Rosner’s husband, Jose, died at 40 years old. At the time of his death, their children were 12 and 8 years old.
When asked about how the impact of the history of the Holocaust and how some dispel its legacy on the Jewish people and society as a whole, she responded, “All history can be distorted but there will always be people who don’t believe it happened.”
“If we don’t learn anything from history, then we will repeat it,” she added.
“Everyone has some reason to hate somebody, but I do not feel any hatred toward the Germans. After I was liberated, I spent months in Germany looking for my father and lived among them and talked to them. You cannot throw people into one group. That kind of thinking is still going on,” opined Rosner.
“I paid for whatever a crazy man (Adolf Hitler) did, but should I punish anyone else for that?” she asked.
“This is my story and it ends with me,” noted Rosner. “But, the horrors now are worse than what I endured because your next door neighbor could be someone who just came here to do harm. We live in a very dangerous world now. We don’t have battlefields. Every place can be a battlefield.”
Rosner came to the Wilentz Senior Residence after living in Miami. Her children live in Atlanta and Hillsborough.
An active member of the Wilentz community, she walks every day, participates in exercise classes, attends book club meetings and discussion groups with Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner as well as special guest speaker presentations.
The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living Residence, Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, Wilf At Home, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.