Susanna Sermer, who managed to escape from the first convoy to Auschwitz

Susanna Sermer (1924-2021) grew up in Slovakia in Homini, along Her friend Edith is the heroine of the first episode. But, unlike the latter, Susanna miraculously managed to escape arrest on March 25, 1942, never taking the DA 66 train, the first Jewish convoy to Auschwitz. An incredible story that will keep her for exactly seventy years.

“Lucky? But luck wasn’t enough in these situations. She needed a miracle. Luck when she gets to a store and that day they will announce a 50% discount!”She joked a few years before her death, and was questioned by high school students. This was actually a mistake in the accounts of the Hlinka Guard, a militia of the Slovak People’s Party, which oversaw the deportation of the Jewish population to death camps.

“We wanted to believe the rumours: we were only a two-hour drive from Homini to work in a shoe factory. But I knew I shouldn’t leave: I was an only child and I guessed my father wouldn’t make it.

She’s called in like all the city’s single women over the age of 15, and she complies. “However, unlike others, I did not pack anything. I was willing to do anything to survive and continue to care for my sick mother.” In the large courtyard of the police station, about 350 women are waiting, bags in hand. Her friend Edith is heavy as she is: she does not know what awaits her and prefers not to leave anything behind.


Susanna, with all her energy in her twenties, is trying everything. “I spent the day crying and begging and explaining over and over the condition of my family. I appealed to their hearts and consciences. Another woman did the same, begging the guards to show her some mercy. Disturbed by the outpouring of his pleas, the police pushed him away. “I didn’t stop. Says , From morning till night.

At the end of the day, the police add: Their quota has been filled. “For them, we were just numbers.” The sentence echoes the words of Rina Kornreich. The militia has already registered the names of 999 women spread over several cities in Slovakia. Any woman could have been released, but Zuzana got it “worn out”. “Because they didn’t need us, And she adds, They let me and the other young woman go again.”

Heather Dion Macadam studied in detail the list in which the names, ages, and places of origin of the first deportees are recorded. A confusing log with a bug escaping from Hlinka’s guards: “The errors became more frequent as the list grew and fatigue emerged. Numbers 377 and 595 are completely missing, which means there were only 997 young women on the train, not 999.

“I’ve had hard times, but I have never had the worst of times. Because the worst thing is to see your life fly away through the chimneys of Auschwitz.

Susanna Sermer

Heinrich Himmler, who relied on numerology to order the report, would not have appreciated the error. She saved Susanna’s life and that other woman (possibly Deborah Gross, Edith’s friend and neighbor, who is already engaged).

Zosanna, who was saved for the time being, found her parents. Relief mingled with deep anxiety, and she felt the uncertainty watching her friends leave. “After three months, it was mostly dust.”

After the war, Susanna will become an accountant. It would be hard not to read the code there.

alone in the world

In July 1942, four months after she escaped the convoy, Zuzana learned that her father had been the victim of a raid. 300 hominid Jewish men wait to be sent to an extermination camp. The Slovak authorities pay Germany 500 German marks for every Jew deported. In total, the Nazis would receive more than 30 million German marks from them.

Susanna repeats the impossible miracle: she talks, negotiates, cries, screams, pleads, and ends up winning her case. And she goes home on her father’s arm. This soon deals with the Nationalists, but they will eventually be arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. He died in 1944 during the Slovak National Uprising. “I hope we shoot him, you will say. During this revolution, many of them were burned alive in lime kilns.”

“I’ve had hard times, but I have never had the worst of times. Because the worst thing is to see your life fly away through the chimneys of Auschwitz. The following year, his mother died of heart failure. Susanna is devastated but once the funeral is over she finds herself suffering from scarlet fever and hepatitis. In the hospital, she was about to die.

Armed with a fake ID, Susanna pretends to be Polish.

“Do I still believe in God? The only thing I cared about was to hide myself. Religion didn’t matter anymore, although that was why they tried to kill us.” Susanna lost everything.

It was then that she met her future husband, Arthur Surmer. He is 30 years old and has also survived the worst. The Slovak forests provided him, his family and some neighbors with temporary shelter. Refugees in a makeshift tent “Unfortunately, this only prolonged their lives by six weeks.”They were found by the Hlinka ranger and deported.

Only Arthur and his younger brother Victor managed to escape, pursued by the Gestapo to help the partisans on the Polish border. They will survive another year in the woods. Together with their cousin, Leah, they plan to flee to Hungary. Susanna joins them. In Budapest, you will find her aunt, two uncles, and a few cousins. The reunion will be short-lived; No one will survive the war.

“Physically alive, that’s it”

Armed with a fake ID, Susanna pretends to be Polish. “The Hungarians couldn’t tell the difference. We were surrounded by Polish Jews: because they were the first to be targeted [6 millions de Polonais furent tués sous l’occupation allemande, dont 3 millions de juifs]And the They have become experts in camouflage.”

The deception was discovered. Susanna is sent to a labor camp on an island. The required industrial complex was founded by Jewish businessman Manfred Weiss. By handing over thirty-two factories and his art collection to the Nazis, he was allowed to settle with his family in Portugal.

“I was cleaning there. But soon I was transferred to another camp. In this brick factory, there were 30,000 people waiting to be deported. There was nothing more to do but wait.” His fake papers get him in trouble. “I was questioned again. I refused to admit that I was a Jew, knowing that it would be certain death. How could I die now, that I was able to transcend so much?”

Salvation comes from Arthur. Passes physical examination with flying colors and is classified as “ARY”. After his release, he refuses to leave without his fiancée. A new miracle we respond to his request. Another intervenes again: young Victor, who has been deported, jumps off the moving train.

Editing is near. It’s not safe for them yet, but Arthur and Zuzanna survive. With the exception of Victor, their family members were completely exterminated. “We were alive, but with every deportation, a part of us died with them, with our family, friends, neighbors…we were physically alive, that’s it.”


On January 18, 1945, the Russian army liberated Budapest. Hiding, Susanna and Arthur wait a few more days before heading out. They want to take advantage of this freedom, but find themselves hanging in their arms by the sights beyond: Russian soldiers plunder the shops of the city. One day when they couldn’t take their eyes off such a scene, the soldiers threw themselves at them. They are terrified, because there is already a rumor that those who dare to participate are sent to Siberia. “And that was true. They never came back, or after ten years.”

“We are Slovaks!”they plead. “Why don’t you fight the Germans?” They answer honestly: “We wanted to see the heroic Russian forces, we came on purpose!”

One day, to escape the advance of a drunk soldier, she claims she has typhoid.

In fact, We found it difficult to fully enjoy this freedomSusanna explains. We were in the camps. How long will they suffer? Who will we find? “

The Russian soldiers let them go without advising them: “Don’t take to the streets for at least three weeks.” They are carrying, Susanna remembers, “Wrist-to-elbow watches! They loved the watches. The Soviets plunder, kill and rape (millions of women were victims of them). “We witnessed horrific scenes.” One day, to escape the advance of a drunk soldier, she claims she has typhoid. “I didn’t know about the symptoms but I started coughing with all my might!” The trick works.

The couple finally married in Homini before settling in Bratislava, the capital of Czechoslovakia. They have four children. Then, in 1968, the Prague Spring came to a halt during the Warsaw Pact invasion. Russian tanks descend and the Sermer family flees to Vienna. “From there, we didn’t know where to go.”

Canada the promised land

The following sheds light on the reasons why the famous Auschwitz warehouse, where reserved goods were stacked, had the nickname “Canada”. Exiles such as Helena Citronova and Linda Breeder dreamed of working there, where the conditions were more pleasant and the chances of survival were higher.

“Canada is a wonderful country. Why? It is democratic, multicultural, semi-European…and to those of us who have never known a capitalist country, Canada seemed less impressive than the United States.”

Susanna and Arthur will spend the rest of their lives there.

He died there in 2003. Then Zuzana decided: she was going to devote her time to recording her extraordinary story in a book, survival kit (survival kit in the original version). She appeared in 2012, and until her death in 2021, she never stopped sharing her memories.

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“Those of us who survived will never be forgotten. But time is passing and our existence is waning. Narrating the events of my youth, I relive this painful past. Many of us have tried to put these terrible memories in the corner of our minds, but it is important to convey them.

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