Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia. The Grunberger family is sent to Auschwitz, where the two sisters’ father, mother and six siblings are murdered in the gas chambers. The girls, Manci and Ruth, survive seven months there, and another five months marching through the Sudeten Mountains at the mercy of brutal SS guards, before being rescued near the Danish border. The sisters are found by family in Philadelphia—and become some of the first Jewish refugees brought to the United States.

From these traumatic beginnings, what emerges are two fulfilling life stories. The sisters have different beliefs, interests and coping methods, and yet, their personal bond—the selfless, unconditional love between them—only grows stronger throughout the years.

Captured in two first-person memoirs/diaries and presented along with extensive historical references, From Auschwitz With Love is a remarkable story of resilience and survival that describes a resounding triumph of the human spirit spanning nine decades.

Palm Springs resident Daniel Seymour is Manci Beran’s son-in-law and is a tenured professor, administrator and consultant to many colleges and universities. He has written 18 books in business and higher education. From Auschwitz With Love is his passion project that includes a comprehensive website available as an educational resource.

Here is an excerpt from Part 4, “On the Run,” from the book From Auschwitz With Love: The Inspiring Memoir of Two Sisters’ Survival, Devotion and Triumph.

The Decision

December 15, 1944—Manci

I knew that things were changing. The number of transports had slowed down in the last few weeks and months. It was in the air. There were rumors about the war, and we knew that the Russians were coming. We could hear artillery and bombs in the far distance in the east.

Early December at Zeilappell, the guards asked for volunteers. If they did not come forward, they were going to pick. For what? They never really told you anything—you just didn’t know, from one moment to the next, what was going to happen. They called it a “private transport,” and the person in charge was a civilian.

Magda and I were co-partners with both of us feeling like parents. I remember saying, “We are never going to get out of here. There is no chance if we stay. We aren’t really taking a chance if we decide to go.” Magda and I made the decision. We told the younger ones, and we all volunteered. We just felt sure that the SS wouldn’t leave anyone at Auschwitz alive.

The problem was that Edith was sick. They didn’t accept her at first, but we kept insisting that she was with us. We just kept insisting that we were all together.

Daniel Seymour

Nothing happened for several weeks. Staying could mean that we would be liquidated when the Red Army arrived; leaving on a “private transport” could be another plan to kill us. At some point, it was almost that you didn’t care. You just had to choose. Was it a ruse to take us out in small groups to be killed or whether we were actually going somewhere to work where it might be safer for us than Auschwitz?

The rumors continued, and the bombs seemed to get closer every few days.

On Dec. 15, the five of us were loaded into cattle cars along with some 300 other girls. It was freezing. We were given an extra loaf of bread and margarine. We also had some extra clothing and we had put more paper in our shoes because it was so cold. We didn’t know where we were going. They didn’t tell us anything. They never did.

We stayed on the train for maybe 10 days. Starting in Poland, we went all through Czechoslovakia into the mountains to Germany. We stopped a lot along the way, and we ultimately lost track of time. Meanwhile, planes were flying overhead. Every time the bombs would come, the SS would hide; sometimes they went under the train. We didn’t care because we figured out that they were aiming at the Germans, not us.

We kept together, though. They gave us some food, but we just seemed to be forever on the transport without knowing where we were going or what they would be doing with us.

Again, it was an unbearably cold winter. The train just kept moving forward as we moved first closer and then finally into Germany. In addition to the extreme cold, there were heavy snowstorms. We were always so cold.


December 1944-February 1945—Ruthie

I wasn’t sure where we were going until we actually got there, a place called Reichenbach. In the dead of winter, we had traveled from Poland, through Czechoslovakia into Germany.

The Germans had a factory for making lamps and assorted aircraft parts. We stayed in a cold concrete building about four miles outside the city of Reichenbach, where the factory was located. The building was no more than an empty room with a concrete floor.

After a few days, we got some straw and thin blankets to share. Every, morning we would be woken up at 4:00 for roll call. And then we would be marched to the factory. We struggled in the darkness with the icy-cold weather and deep snow drifts. I sometimes found myself waist-deep in the snow.

In our futile efforts to keep warm, we took paper from the factory and wrapped it around our hands and our frozen feet as we marched. It was never enough; we were always terribly cold.

Compared to what we had seen and experienced at Auschwitz, our outward existence at Reichenbach was almost “normal.” We worked in the factory with civilians. We worked side by side with them but were kept under strict supervision and strict orders. We couldn’t talk to them or mingle at all. Still, after spending eight months in Auschwitz, we were walking among people, children, and working along civilians.

We had real soup at lunchtime: thick soup. There was a bakery downstairs. When we passed by, we would smell the delicious bread, such a wonderful aroma and what a change from the horrible smells at Auschwitz.

Every evening after work, we had to make the same four-mile trek in the snow back to our ice-cold barracks. We would pass by civilians on the roadway. Some stared at us in amazement while others scowled in hatred, screaming obscenities and shouting that we deserved to die.

If the sun ever shone in Reichenbach, I never saw it.

We were there for maybe six weeks or two months, working every day at the factory and marching back and forth in the wind, ice and snow. Toward the end, there weren’t enough materials for us to work with and so we stayed more time at the barracks.

It was a great joy when the girls came home to the Lager with the news that some factories in Reichenbach had been bombed. We kept thinking that we were just staying ahead of advancing Russian soldiers, and that perhaps they would free us. But then we were told that our group would be moving. Everyone got one kilogram of bread, a little sugar and a little piece of margarine. It was supposed to be our supply for four days.

This time, there was no train, though, and so we were sent from Reichenbach on foot. But to where? We didn’t know. We weren’t told.

Each morning, we were ordered to march into the mountains through the snow. Some of the women just couldn’t continue. They would sit down or fall, be shot and pushed off the road.

Trautenau to Hamburg

February-April 1945—Manci

I don’t know how many of us made it. I do know that they took all of us from Reichenbach. But this time there was no transport. We were forced to walk 25 to 30 kilometers a day through the mountains. They just gathered us up and started to march. I don’t know if they thought they wouldn’t be bombed, or maybe they didn’t have any fuel. But we were on foot, closely guarded as usual.

Besides our group from Auschwitz, there were other women slave laborers, too, maybe a few hundred in all. We were in the Sudeten Mountains of southern and eastern Germany. The snow was deep, and the cold would have been difficult even if we were dressed well. But we weren’t.

We would stay wherever we could. One night we’d be in a barn, the next night in a church and then in a granary. It didn’t matter as long as we could get a roof over our heads. In the morning we would be ordered to begin marching again.

One time we went to sleep in barracks where Russian soldiers were held as prisoners. But in general, wherever you were, you just laid down and slept. That was it because you were so tired. Some of the women would march as far as they could and then they would quit. They could go no farther. A shot would ring out and the march would continue.

On Feb. 16, we arrived in Trautenau where we were put into open coal cars. After another 10 days on the move, we arrived in the rundown Camp Porta. I think we were making radios or telephones; it was always something for the war.

Conditions at Porta were horrible. Within hours of our arrival, we were infested with lice. Manci, Edith and I would spend time picking the lice off one another, but we couldn’t stop them. It seemed that every second of our day would be focused on the bites, the itchiness, and then the ultimate bleeding and infection from the sores. There was little or no food except for rotten potato peels. But there was a German guard who snuck food to me that I could share with Ipi and others. He was decent, and he even gave me a little pocketknife with my name on it. I still have it today.

We left Porta after a month and traveled in closed cars to Bensdorf, and after that to a place called Ludwigslust. It seemed as though we were just steps ahead of the Red Army. At some point, we were at a plane factory that appeared to be carved out of a mountain. The space was massive—it was filled with fighter jets, airplane parts, and different tools. We were led to worktables and ordered to assemble parts for different sections of the airplanes.

Then we were on the move again. This time we ended up going even farther north in Germany, to Hamburg and Altona. We were on a chain gang, digging ditches and fixing roads with shovels and wheelbarrows. That lasted for only two weeks or so. Then there was another SS-escorted transport for us. But the size of the transport was smaller by then, because there were a lot fewer of us.

A Strange Silence

April 30, 1945—Ruthie

I still had hope. You had to think you would survive. We still seemed to be just ahead of the Red Army. There was the bombing and the artillery. Each day was the same. From dawn to dusk, we were on our feet marching, marching, marching. Our numbers dwindled as the deaths of women increased. I would watch them drop to the ground. Shots would be heard, and the bodies would be kicked aside into the ditch.

We, too, were probably close to death. Our bodies had been reduced to skin and bones, and we were filthy and covered with lice. We had countless scars, reminders of where we had been beaten by the Nazis and the kapos. My knee hurt badly, and I had an open wound on my leg. I realized I needed medical attention. We feared each day was the end. The SS troops wouldn’t surrender, and we knew they would kill us first.

Some of the women would march as far as they could and then they would quit. They could go no farther. A shot would ring out and the march would continue.

I remember I had my birthday during this time, but it didn’t matter. It continued to be raining and freezing as we were moved from one place to another. The blankets at some point had actually become molded around our bodies.

One day in late April, the train stopped after we had left from Hamburg when we had been digging ditches. It had been rolling along the tracks, and just as before, we were crowded inside, standing in the dark. We expected the sliding door to open. But they didn’t.

We waited. More moments passed, perhaps even an hour went by, and still nothing happened. A strange silence surrounded us all—an eerie silence which, to this day, I find difficult to describe.

One of the girls nervously peeked through the cracks in the boxcar and let out a scream: “Nobody is out there!” But we didn’t know what it could possibly mean. Was it a trick? We always were thinking the SS would be waiting to finish us off. Or had the Russians finally caught us and our guards have just fled?

We weren’t at a railway station. We were at or near the Danish border, but we really didn’t know where. It was the middle of nowhere. More time passed as we continued to wait.

Finally, one of the girls slowly slid open the door. There were people running toward us. They weren’t the SS guards, and they weren’t in uniforms or Russian soldiers. And then we realized who they were: Danes. It was people from a nearby town who were coming to help us. We bombarded them with endless questions: Was this really happening? Were we really liberated? We needed to be reassured again and again because it was so hard to believe.

It was over. We were free. It was April 30, 1945. Almost a year since we had arrived at Auschwitz. More than three months since we had begun our long march through the mountains from Poland, through Czechoslovakia, and into Germany. Our captors had simply vanished on the day that, we later learned, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

We hugged and kissed, cried and screamed, sobbed tears of joy, anguish and sorrow. It was all so hard to imagine, like the first moments you awake from a nightmare, feverish and sweating and uncertain about what is happening.

The five of us had survived.

Excerpted from the book From Auschwitz With Love: The Inspiring Memoir of Two Sisters’ Survival, Devotion and Triumph, with permission. Copyright 2022, Daniel Seymour.