From a Holocaust Survivor:
Sophie’s Story

Shell Shocked
From a Holocaust Survivor:
Sophie’s Story

It was a brisk autumn Sunday in Stasow, Poland. The year was 1942 and the Nazi forces had just begun deporting Jewish citizens and other soon-to-be Holocaust victims from the Warsaw region. A young Sophie Zolud and her mother were just leaving the St. Barbara Church after their routine Sunday morning mass. Sophie was calmly breathing in the crisp breeze while noticing the gentle fall foliage against the clear blue Sunday afternoon sky. Above her, she watched recently detached leaves that could no longer hang on to their branches descend and dance to the ground. Upon tracing the landing path of one of the leaves, Sophie noticed a small seashell faintly glistening in the overhead Sunday sun. Sophie picked up the shell and felt the smooth ridges with her fingertips. Sophie’s mother noticed her young daughter admiring the shell and smiled down at her.

“That’s a very pretty shell,” Sophie’s mother observed.

“It is,” Sophie replied. “I think it’s from the Baltic. Shells never make it this far.”

Sophie then looked up to see her mother’s face frozen in fright. Sophie followed her gaze to see a blackened mob of about fifty Nazi storm troopers swarming the streets of her village like wasps invading a new hive for their queen. It was merely moments before Sophie was grabbed and pulled away from her mother’s side. The Nazi soldiers gathered up and herded every young woman and teenage girl in the area that they could find and loaded them onto nearby cargo trains. The Nazis allowed each girl’s family one hour to retrieve some clothes, a few belongings, and a bit of food for their daughters. One hour, while the girls waited on the cramped cargo trains, completely helpless and detached, like the leaves falling from the trees around them. Sophie Zolud was only sixteen years old.

Sophie described what happened that day, almost eighty years ago. “They [the Nazis] put us on cargo trains… and we had to stand in one spot with our suitcases between our legs,” Sophie recalled. “They made us do it on the train from Stasow to Berlin… and again from Berlin to Hanover/Linden. That’s where the camp was.”

Sophie described these painfully long train rides as “…hours of travel, standing in one spot… I was crying very quietly to myself because I didn’t want to risk getting in trouble by crying too loud.”

Upon arriving at the labor camp, the Nazis immediately shaved the girls’ heads and applied a chemical solution that killed any possible disease carrying insects that might have landed on the girls during the transportation process. Sophie’s job at the camp consisted primarily of washing countless blood-saturated Nazi uniforms. She did this for several grueling and tireless hours every day of the week. Her only break came on Sundays when she was allowed to go to a Catholic mass service. Sophie also recalled that she and the rest of the girls were fed turnip soup and nothing else once every three days.

“It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever eaten,” Sophie reflected, “but when that’s the only thing offered to you for three days, you take what you can get.”

About three years later, all of this torture finally came to an end.

“The girls and I reported to our stations and noticed that there weren’t any [Nazi] officers. We haven’t been that confused since the day we were taken.”

A British soldier approached the girls and in a warmly reassuring voice, he told them it was all over. They could return home.

“It was such an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy,” Sophie added. “We didn’t know what to do. We cried and we hugged each other. We went outside and then we went to nearby vacant stores and took food and clothes.” Sophie began to smile and let out a faint little laugh. “Some of the girls even took pounds of meat from a butcher shop and ate until they got sick.”

Three years. Sophie Zolud was stuck in that camp for three years, doing some of the most monotonous and exhausting chores imaginable under horrific working conditions. She was finally liberated. She was finally a free woman again. Sophie had endured one of the most deadly and traumatic events to have ever happened to the human race.

Now, a woman of ninety-three years, Sophie Zolud is vibrant and energetic. Sophie is the kind of person to welcome you into her home and offer you a home-cooked meal of pierogi and kielbasa even before you are able to return the greeting. Her knowledge of the English language is just about as strong as her knowledge of the Polish language, and sometimes she even tosses in a few Polish words for emphasis amidst her English sentences.

“After finally seeing my family again, one of the first things I did when I got back home was to go to St. Barbara’s,” Sophie said with a soft smile. “I actually looked all over the place but I couldn’t find the little shell I dropped three years before… I didn’t think I would… But I didn’t even care. There were so many times when I thought I would never make it back there ever again. But I made it… I made it home.”

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Lead Technical Writer at GE, Master's from UMass Lowell, 8-instrument musician, Spartan, coffee fanatic, dog lover, and avid supporter of the Oxford comma.

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Zack Zolud

Zack Zolud

Lead Technical Writer at GE, Master's from UMass Lowell, 8-instrument musician, Spartan, coffee fanatic, dog lover, and avid supporter of the Oxford comma.

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