January 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Ignes Figini

By Alison Fottrell
Published: 2013-01-24

After the number call each morning outside our blocks an armed soldier with a dog work us to work in the fields. There was a Jewish orchestra that played a march so we would keep the pace so that way we were easier to count.

Every day a little part of me die: My personality, my emotions, and my feelings. My mind became so tired it felt empty. I risked becoming indifferent to the horrors that I saw. What saved me was my faith in God and the conviction that I would one day go home. I decided that such a place could kill my body, but not my mind, not my soul, not my prayer. Praying to God was my biggest consolation, my hope, and my refuge.

I would close my eyes and see Lake Como, blue and peaceful, with waves rippling across it in the breeze and the boats bobbing on the shore. I told myself that one day I would walk the grounds of the camp as a free woman.

When did you first return to Auschwitz after the war?

In 1968. When I walked into the camp I instinctively found myself in front of what was once my Block 15, and felt myself go back to the girl she was then. I smelled the soup; I heard the soldiers cursing, the cries and the desperation. But I couldn't see the faces.

You spent a week in Mauthausen, almost nine months in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and then you were moved on again. Where?

In November 1944 I was moved from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Ravensbruck, where women and children were jailed. Here I was given a new number to sew onto my uniform. I was now 11154. As in Auschwitz, I was told to sign a letter written in German, which was then sent on to my family in Como saying I was well and working.

How did Ravensbruck differ from Auschwitz?

It was better organized. We were sent out to work in the Siemens factory by day and returned exhausted to the camp by night. It was different to digging the fields in the freezing cold as I had done in Auschwitz.

But the day came when I knew something had changed. The soldiers didn't seem to be so triumphant as before. Rumors spread that the Russians were getting closer.

Were you in Ravensbruck when the Russians liberated the camp in April 1945?

No. I had been moved out and taken on the death march [editor's note: some 20,000 prisoners were forced to march north]. We had no idea where we were going and we ended up walking for miles in the open countryside. Whoever stopped, or couldn't go on was killed on the spot. Even the SS had nothing to eat and they took potatoes from the farmers we met on the way.

One evening we took refuge in a farm. I fell asleep and when I woke up the Germans had gone. In the distance I could see some soldiers approaching and as they got nearer I was overjoyed to discover they were Italians. I could see the look of commiseration in their eyes as they offered us Vodka to toast our freedom. Shortly after a Russian soldier arrived and I ran into his arms and cried. It was May 5, 1945.

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