Lotte Weiss

Title: My Two Lives
Author: Lotte Weiss
Publisher: Sydney Jewish Museum
Place of publication: Sydney
Year of Publication: 2003
Location of Book: TBA
Cities/town/camps: Czechoslovakia: Bratislava, Theresianstadt, Poland: Auschwitz, Birkenau
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

My Two Lives is the life story of Lotte Weiss, a Czech Auschwitz survivor. The first 24 pages describe Lotte’s life in Bratislava up until her deportation, while pages 25-63 portray her experiences in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Pages 62-96 depict the chaos in the period preceding liberation and Lotte’s attempts to rebuild her life upon returning to Bratislava. The remainder of the book, pages 97-141, tell of Lotte’s new life in Wellington and then Sydney. Lotte felt compelled to tell her story to younger generations in the hope that the tragedies she endured will never be repeated. Her book was published privately in 2003.

Lotte Weiss (nee Frankl) was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in 1923. Following Germany’s entry into Czechoslovakia in 1939, Jews had limited access to employment, money and food. In 1941 all Jews were forced to wear a yellow star and relocate to a ghetto. In March 1942 Lotte and two of her sisters were deported to Auschwitz. Lotte never saw her parents again. In June 1942 she narrowly escaped death when, after being sentenced to go to ‘punishment camp’ and certain death, the transport to which she was allocated was already full. Lotte constantly witnessed her workmates dying or, having failed ‘selection’, being taken away to the gas chambers. Lotte herself was lucky to survive a bout of meningitis. In August 1942 Lotte was transferred from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In September she was devastated to discover uniforms bearing her sisters’ numbers at the clothing collection point for the gas chambers. After giving up all hope, Lotte was transferred from road construction work to the ‘Canada’ block, which dealt with sorting prisoners’ confiscated belongings. While working in ‘Canada’ Lotte was chosen in a group of girls to be sterilised, but fortunately managed to narrowly escape. Later, as she was on the verge of being killed for lying about her secretarial abilities, Lotte was chosen to work in the office of a German mining company. Conditions at the company were much better than in rest of the camp. Nonetheless, Lotte suffered frequently from boils and throat infections.

By chatting to the civilian workers, Lotte was able to learn of events in the outside world. By January 1945 prisoners could hear the Russians advancing. The prisoners of Auschwitz were evacuated, including Lotte, but she was fortunate to remain for some time under the custodianship of the company, even while in different camps. After moving from camp to camp, she arrived in Theresianstadt in April 1945 where, after a few days, she was liberated by Russian troops.

Upon her return to Bratislava, Lotte felt guilty that she was the sole survivor of her immediate family. She rejected a marriage proposal from her pre-war boyfriend, knowing that she could not share her life with someone who had not shared the same experiences as her. Lotte eventually married in 1947 and in 1949 immigrated to New Zealand, before moving to Sydney in 1986.

Lotte claims that the first of her two lives ended the day she entered Auschwitz. When relating her experiences in the camps, Lotte assails the reader with the sights, sounds and smells of the horror and inhumanity of daily life. Nonetheless, Lotte’s spirit remains undaunted as she expresses her optimism and zest for life.