Ask Dr. Brinkman

Simone’s Story of Escape & Survival

Simone BrinkmanMy mother spent six months of her mid 20s in the Auschwitz concentration camp. As the Russian front advanced quickly, the German soldiers fled west to be captured by British or American forces. They were very afraid of the Russians. Auschwitz was evacuated and my mother was part of 1000 girls they took on a death march through the snow. They were the tail end of the German retreat and on a so-called rest break, they were to dig a ditches in the road. The idea was to slow the Russian tanks down.

It was January, bitter cold, they were hardly dressed and were starving. As they stopped to camp overnight my mother broke down and began to cry. A German soldier asked her what she was crying about and my mother said, “I can’t stand it anymore. I’m freezing, starving, and I’d rather you kill me.” He said, “Look at me.” She looked into his blue eyes, blue eyes she could see in her mind the rest of her life. He said, “The war will soon be over and it is us who will be dead and not you. You can make it just a little bit further a day at a time.” He then gave her a piece of his sandwich and ordered her to go guard one of the fires at the camp.

The next day my mother had renewed hope. She looked for an opportunity and noticed two things. When you went through deserted German towns and the road curved, there was a point when the guards couldn’t see you. There were about 1000 girls and only 100 guards. She also noticed when they stopped to camp for the night there were many moments when no guards were visible. At one of those moments she snuck away. Looking for a place to hide she went to a deserted house and scratched the frost off the window to reveal a wonderful scene inside. A Christmas tree with ornaments, but even better with fruit hanging from it. She broke into the house, devoured an apple, but before she could feel the joy of freedom she realized she had left her two sisters and friend back at the campsite. For sure they’ll think she’s dead and this could be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” for them. She also knew they couldn’t continue the march much longer either. But what should she do? She’d already escaped! It was only a few seconds of deliberation before she thought, “I could not live the rest of my life knowing maybe I could’ve done something. If I can do this once I can do this twice. I’ll sneak back and we’ll get away together.”

So she hid some fruit on her person and tried to sneak back to the camp. But a guard caught her! “Where were you!”, he barked. She explained she just wandered off and got lost. He beat her a few times with his rifle. But even during the beating my mother knew that this would be the last time and tomorrow she would escape.

The next day when the road curved and the guards couldn’t see, she, her sisters and friend all scattered. This time my mother found a barrel and waited for hours until nightfall before she came out. The first thing she noticed was silence and that’s when she realized, “I’m free.” Just like that. All things pass. She, her sisters and friend had escaped and survived.

For the rest of her life when times were tough, when problems or upsets would occur, my mother would let her thoughts drift back to those days and put the present circumstances into perspective. Then in her words she would, “Spring into action and do something about it!”

7 Responses to “Simone’s Story of Escape & Survival”

  1. Brenda Elmgren Says:

    Dear Dr. Brinkman, I found this article about your Mother to be fascinating and very poignant. I work at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum and often hear or read similar stories. However, they certainly take on a different meaning when they are personal or you know the person who has been through the experience. I applaud you and your Mother for the courageous way you have both turned tragedy into victory. Perspective is the core of our existence, whether we are happy or unhappy. Perspective is also a choice and your Mother made the choice to better her life, not let herself enter the slippery slope of negativity. I know you miss her, but she has so obviously left a part of herself with you.

  2. Walter Bird Says:

    Rick,
    I attended one of your seminars several years ago and found it very helpful. Your mother’s story is inspiring and she and she and your father are two of the people who have made this country great with there courage and convictions.
    PS- I enjoy your blog very much, as well as the books that you have written.
    Sincerely,
    Walter Bird

  3. Diana Jensen Says:

    Dear Dr. Brinkman: Thank you so much for sharing your mother’s inspirational story. It is difficult to fully comprehend what your parents endured. Their stories have made me really appreciate the freedoms we have in this country. Thank you again.

  4. Gordon Neill Says:

    Rick

    having been to Auschwitz a couple years back in the Winter I can really begin to try and appreciate how exceptional both your parents are / were . So much pain and heartache . Did you hint that your Mom’s story had some movie input ? Your Dad sounds like just an incredible guy and im interseted in how the therapies you talk about pan out for him . I love the quote when he says he is a survivor ………..that he truly is !

    Gordon (Edinburgh )

  5. Rick Kirschner Says:

    Rick

    I’ve heard you tell this story, and every time it moves me. Your mother was an amazing woman, a powerful role model and a lovely person. She gave you her best and you made her proud. Thanks for sharing this story in writing.

    So what’s this about a movie treatment?

    Rick

  6. Ayelet Says:

    Dr. Brinkman: I found your blog through a news post about your father. I’m so sorry for your loss and I thank you for sharing your various stories about him and your mother’s survival during the Holocaust.

    The German soldier who encouraged your mother to keep going reminds me of a story my grandmother, also an Auschwitz survivor, tells. She celebrated her 17th birthday in Auschwitz during that bitterly cold January of 1945 and she’ll never forget the German soldier who helped get a birthday cake for her to share with the other women in the barracks. To this day, it’s a constant reminder that there’s good in the world, even when it seems impossible to find.

    Warm regards,
    Ayelet

  7. Rick Says:

    Hi Ayelet,

    Thanks for sharing the story of your grandmother. My mother’s birthday was also in January!
    :-)

    Rick

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