They’re now the last generation to bear witness to one of the greatest horrors of all time, a resilient community of friends and neighbors sharing what once seemed impossible: long lives. When they’re gone, their stories will be preserved in history. But for now, their voices still echo in these halls.
Seventy-five years ago, Margie Oppenheimer awoke with a Nazi pointing a rifle in her 14-year-old face.
It was Nov. 9, 1938, Kristallnacht — the night of broken glass — when the Nazis coordinated a wave of attacks in Germany and Austria, smashing windows, burning synagogues, ransacking homes and looting Jewish-owned stores. They trashed the family’s apartment and small department store in Oelde, Germany.
So began seven years of terror that took Oppenheimer from the Riga ghetto — escaping mass killings by German squads — to a series of labor and concentration camps. She broke concrete, shoveled sawdust, laid bricks and glued U-boats. She fought hunger and fear, lice and typhus, repeating to herself: “I will be strong. I want to live.”
One day at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland, Nazis marched Oppenheimer and others naked into an open field for inspection. Those strong enough to work were directed to the right. Oppenheimer, who was emaciated, was ordered to the left with hundreds of older women. She was placed into new barracks and had the Roman numeral II scrawled on her left forearm. .
“I’m thinking this is the last time I will see the sun,” she recalls.
That night at the camp two friends did the unimaginable: Without saying anything, they pulled Oppenheimer under an electrified fence to another side of the camp. She scrubbed off one number on her arm so she was no longer marked for death. She stayed in those quarters and at the next day’s 6 a.m. roll call, she tried to hide her skeletal, barely 5-foot frame behind a tall woman.