Edith Klein and her mother lined up on the Auschwitz II-Birkenau roll-call field. It was September 1944, and they feared being transported to a different camp. “Let’s hide,” Edith’s mother suggested, and the two darted into an empty barracks. But soon, afraid they would be missed, they rejoined the roll-call lineup, only to be caught and dispatched to the crematorium, where they faced another selection. Edith’s mother was sent to die, and Edith was ordered back to the barracks. Instead, Edith ran after her mother. “Don’t go,” some girls in the line shouted. “You will die.” But Edith chased her mother into the crematorium, grabbing her long orange-paisley skirt. “Run with me,” Edith urged. They rushed out, joining a group of girls returning to camp. “I’m sure I was shaking,” Edith recalled. She was 16.
Edith was born on July 14, 1928, to Arnold and Mariska Klein in Acs, a village in northwest Hungary. Her father, a landowner and cattle dealer, provided his Modern Orthodox family — that also included Edith’s older brother, Laszlo, and younger sister, Zsuzsi — with a very comfortable and happy life.
By March 1938, however, anti-Jewish laws were enacted, and Jewish men, including Edith’s brother, Laszlo, later were called up for labor camp service. One night, startled by a knock on their window, the family found Laszlo standing outside, en route from one labor camp to another. “I just wanted to see if you were still here,” he said before hurriedly departing. That was the last time Edith heard his voice.
Edith graduated middle school in 1943 but was forbidden to attend high school. Instead she apprenticed to a private seamstress in Gyor, a larger town nearby. But after the Germans invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, Edith and her sister remained in Acs, where, as young Jews, they were forced to work in the fields.
One evening in late April, her father came home carrying a suitcase and crying uncontrollably. “We have to leave,” he said. The next day they reported to the Kisber ghetto, where they slept on the ground in a lumberyard. They were then moved to a house, where they lived with several families. Edith and the other young people worked in a brick factory.
On June 5, the family was taken to the Komarom ghetto, a military fort that housed more than 5,000 Jews. “We had to sleep like the herrings. It was awful,” Edith said. A week later they were put in cattle cars headed to Auschwitz.
After arriving at Auschwitz, while the men and women were being separated, Edith’s father ran up to her mother. “God should be with you. God bless, Mariska,” he said. Edith never saw him again. Edith’s mother was then ordered to the left side. Edith’s sister, Zsuzsi, ran after her. “At least you should stay with us,” she cried, bringing their mother back. All three went to the right.
They were processed and taken to a barracks in Birkenau. “We hardly could recognize each other,” Edith said. Zsuzsi was then taken to the children’s bloc.
After two weeks, Edith and her mother were transferred to Plaszow Concentration Camp, where they were assigned a job moving rocks. One day, Amon Goeth, the camp commander, rode up on his white horse. “If you are not working,” he said to the workers, “I will bring a bucket of petroleum, I will pour it over you and I will burn you.” Edith reacted with numbness. “We knew we could die any day,” she said.
After six weeks, Edith and her mother were shipped back to Birkenau, where they remained locked in the cattle car for several days. When they were finally released, Edith ran to a nearby pond, fell facedown and drank “like an animal.”
One day, walking by some electrical fans in Birkenau, they heard Zsuzsi calling them. After that, they came and talked with her every day.
It was at this time that Edith and her mother hid in the empty barracks to avoid a transport. Afterward, they resumed their regular routine. But on Oct. 5, 1944, when they visited Zsuzsi, they discovered she had been taken to the crematorium.
Soon after, Edith’s mother collapsed and was hospitalized. Edith stopped working and eating. Eventually she went to the hospital, where she was admitted but not reunited with her mother.
On the morning of Jan. 18, 1945, Edith heard people shouting that they had to leave. As she wrapped herself in a sheet, her makeshift clothing, her mother walked in. They managed to remain in the camp, despite the danger and despite there being no one in charge, spending the next 10 days in what Edith called “a no-man’s land.”
Then one morning — “I will never forget it,” Edith said — she spied a Russian soldier standing by the gate. It was Jan. 27, 1945, the day the Russian army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Because Edith’s mother was ill, they stayed at Auschwitz for another six months. Edith spent the time helping nurse others back to health.
They returned to Acs in July 1945, living with cousins. Edith didn’t even visit the family home. “I couldn’t go back there,” she said. Later, she studied bookkeeping in Budapest and began working in Gyor, where she met Ferenc Moskoczi, a mechanical engineer who later changed his name to Frank More. They married on June 22, 1950, and their daughter, Susie, was born on Jan. 7, 1953.
On Nov. 4, 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution, they escaped to Austria with one suitcase and $50. They made their way to Los Angeles, arriving on Dec. 6, 1956, and their son, Erwin, was born on March 26, 1958.
Edith’s mother remarried and remained in Hungary. She later joined Edith and her family in Los Angeles, living until 1995, when she died at age 96.
Today Edith, 83, enjoys spending time with her children and four grandchildren. She misses her husband, who died in 2009.
“It was all a miracle,” she says of her survival.