January 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Ignes Figini

By Alison Fottrell
Published: 2013-01-24

When I arrived in the camp I was young and healthy with an active imagination and would imagine my mother's minestrone to take my mind off the taste. After I had finished I would wipe my bowl on the grass to clean it.

I drank half of the dirty water I was given each day and used the other half to wash.


In 2012, Giovanna Caldara and Mauro Colombo published a book about Figini's ordeal and her determination to keep Holocaust memories alive, "Tanto Tu Torni Sempre, Ines Figini, La Vita Oltre il Lager" ("You Always Come Back, Ines Figini: Beyond Camp Life")

There was nobody who told you "go there to wash" and so I tried to imitate the other prisoners around me. If they went right I went right and slowly discovered where the sink was.

It was a long sink with taps but there were so many people who had to use it at the same time, we rarely managed to wash our faces. We were given a shower once a month but it was so crowded and [the shower] so quick that you had to choose between your face and your feet.

There was a rectangular platform with holes fixed on a wall about 50 to 60 centimeters off the ground — these I learned were the toilets. The walls were filthy with blood and excrement and the smell was nauseating.

I remember that I almost fainted at the sight of some women who were doubled over those holes crying in pain, while others vomited. There was no toilet paper, no tissues. We were no longer human beings. The Nazi intent was to make us lose all sense of humanity.

When did you first realize that camp prisoners were being exterminated?

In my block there were 150 women, mostly Russian, Polish and Slavs. One night I was woken by the noise of engines and women shouting. We all got up and went to the window. The camp was lit up in a strange white phosphorescent light. Girls were running through the barracks trying to escape while the SS caught them and put them on a truck. It was hellish.

I tried to understand from the other prisoners what was going on. Little by little, it became clear. They were Jews being taken to the gas chambers. Whatever other questions I had were answered by the stench which spread over the camp at a certain hour each day and in the grey smoke that rose up into the sky. For the Jewish it was the "Final Solution." For me it was what awaited me if I caved in.

What endure as the most vivid memories of Auschwitz?

The sight of children with toys in their hands and tied five in a row, singing as they were lead, oblivious, to the gas chambers. And the Sonderkommando [editor's note: camp workers, often Jews working under death threat] who had to then go into the chambers and take the teeth from the bodies and cut off their hair.

I remember the SS and their dogs: they would encircle the prisoners as they lined up. I remember the sound of the kicks, of the rifles as the hit the heads of the old Polish and Russian prisoners who seemed to not know what was happening.

The soldiers were impossible to please. You said hello and they spat on you. You didn't and they beat you. My only objective was to stay alive.

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