Oral History

Henny Fletcher Aronsen describes the importance she attached to the role of cleanliness in surviving forced labor at Stutthof

Henny was born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania. She and her brother attended private schools. In June 1940 the Soviets occupied Lithuania, but little seemed to change until the German invasion in June 1941. The Germans sealed off a ghetto in Kovno in August 1941. Henny and her family were forced to move into the ghetto. Henny married in the ghetto in November 1943; her dowry was a pound of sugar. She survived several roundups during which some of her friends and family were deported. Henny was herself deported to the Stutthof concentration camp in 1944, when the Germans liquidated the Kovno ghetto. She was placed in a forced-labor group. The Germans forced Henny and other prisoners on a death march as Soviet troops advanced. After Soviet troops liberated Henny in 1945, she eventually reunited with her husband and moved to the United States.


So, uh, when we finally got into the woods, got up every morning and got our soup and went to work. And we dug those deep ditches, and then it was winter, it was cold. And I used to break up the ice when I, when we had, there was a break once in a while, get into the ice and wash myself because the biggest, uh, killer almost, and demoralizer, was the filth. The filth, the stench, and the lice, and the five of us decided we are going to try to eliminate it by hook or by crook, because the people around us were unbelievable. Especially older people, also many young ones who gave up. They just, they just didn't care. And that was the biggest destruction, the filth, and this is what we, two things we were promised ourselves, is we gonna to keep our feet covered, because winter was coming, and the snow and as soon as you get sick, I mean, this is, was the end of you. They did not tolerate anybody being sick. So they watched how to kind of decrease the population there. So when somebody would, got sick, if you went to the infirmary, chances are you'd never come back, so, uh--or if you were too filthy--we decided we are going to keep clean.


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