All Of Us Are Already Gone

ALL OF US ARE ALREADY GONE is the title of a photographic series,
published monthly during the past year (2013) on the international online
magazine Les Chroniques Purple. The series was initiated by editor Elein
Fleiss and realised by photographer Amit Berlowitz and myself. It unfolds
twelve contemporary individual stories of women who lived through the
Holocaust. The title is taken from the interview with Orna Birnbach (Blauner),
first portrait of the series.

PORTRAIT OF JOLANA WILHEIM
Les Chroniques Purple, 06 March 2013

JolanaWilheim

I was born in Galanta, a small town in Czechoslovakia, nowadays Slovakia, that
used to be Hungary between 1938 and 1945. I was the seventh of eight children,
five boys and three girls and my parents had a textile shop in town.
Late in 1942 we were gathered with other Jews from the area, in a building that
used to serve as a brick factory. We had some food we brought with us from
home and we ate and slept on the floor. I was twenty years old at that time, and
we were my mother, my two sisters and my brother, who had escaped a
Hungarian labor camp to go back to his wife and three-year-old daughter; her
name was Judith. One day, a German officer came over to speak to us. He was
kind and considerate; he reassured us and said we were being sent to work. We
rode on a train incessantly for three days and nights. Very early in the morning I
woke up to the sounds of shouting ”Out.” I saw guys in striped prisoner uniforms
forcing people off the train while the Germans stood by. It was very loud and it
rained. I asked a guy if he was Jewish and told him he should be ashamed of
himself. It caused me pain for a long time afterwards that I said that to him. We
were all in a state of shock. We were told to stand up in lines of four. I stood by
my mother, my thirty-year-old sister, and my younger sister, then fifteen. It was
dark and we didn’t see my brother and his little girl. We were taken to the
showers where they shaved our hair, took our dresses and gave us something to
wear. I managed to keep my shoes. I had good boots. We walked to (what I now
know was) block 4 in Birkenau. A Jewish Polish capo girl came over. These girls
were queens. They hated the Hungarians, they told us we were still dancing
while they had already built the camp. They said whoever felt unwell should go
with them. My feet were swollen from the heat and from the water and I couldn’t
walk. They placed us on the grass, not far from the block. The grass was nice
-looking, they were fertilizing it with ashes from the crematorium. The German
woman who guarded us with a dog, whipped a woman who seemed to have lost
her mind. I saw naked girls being taken away in a black vehicle. A few girls with
some hair that had already grown back passed by and sang in Hungarian; they
sang “Don’t say that you are sick.” My sister had a strong character. She came
over to call me back to the block and joined me. She told me to say that I was
young and strong and that I wanted to work. She said to the German capo that
she was there just because of her sister. They let us go and we ran back to the
block. My sister and I survived. I’m here today thanks only to her.

In 1946 I got married and we came to Israel. We brought with us all the needed
equipment and opened the Wilheim pastry shop in Hod Hasharon, famous even
today for its superb delicacies. When my husband passed away in 1962 I married
his brother who himself lost his wife in Auschwitz.

I am 90 years old. I never thought I’d live that long. I have great-grandsons. I
still go to the shop every day. I arrive at 8 o’clock and until 1 p.m. serve at the
counter, wrapping up the cakes. We strive to make the pastries the same as we
did in the old days, just like my husband used to.

— Photo by Amit Berlowitz / Interview by Hadas Yossifon

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About hadasyossifon

I am a contemporary art curator and researcher based in Tel Aviv. I collaborate with artists of interdisciplinary media to develop artistic projects and exhibitions within the scope of politics and the world of art.

One comment

  1. Pingback: All Of Us Are Already Gone | TTWISI

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