Thea Aschkenase

Auschwitz survivor, Worcester State College graduate, Commonwealth Corps volunteer
After five days, the train stopped and it said Auschwitz. There was a sign in Auschwitz “Work makes Free,” “Arbeit Macht Frei,” by which one assumes it’s a working camp. But it wasn’t. When we were marched into Auschwitz, there was this infamous Dr. Mengele, maybe you have heard of him, he did the experiments on people and he selected the people that entered Auschwitz and who would live and who would die. So we entered, my father, my brother, my mother and I, with no idea what was going to happen. So he was there with his son--  he point to the left, to the right, and the middle; three groups. The young men, the young women and the old people. By old people I mean… my mother was 40 and my father maybe eight years older. They were put with old people and all children were put with old people in the circle. And he pointed me to the young people, my brother to the young men, and my mother and father to the old people. Now I had no idea, none of us had any idea, but I grabbed my mother and put her back to my side, while Mengele, the doctor, had turned his back for a minute, and she said, “Oh no, I want to stay with Papa,” my father, because they were a wonderful couple, each one was the sun and the moon to each other.

Born in Munich Germany in 1923, Thea Aschkenase lived during the Hitler regime. She talks in depth about facing discrimination because she was Jewish and fleeing Germany with her family. Thea and her family settled in Milan, Italy, where her father began his work as a tailor and her mother as a seamstress. At age 15 Thea was old enough to work as a maid. A year later, they were sent to an interment camp called Villanova D'asti. She speaks candidly about her family being captured and sent to the infamous Auschwitz. Sadly, this was the last place where she saw her brother and father. Thea and her mother survived Auschwitz together, after the war they returned to Italy where they attempted to travel to Israel, and participated in a 75- hour hunger strike. Thea met her husband Efraim in Israel, married and had a daughter named Lea. She depicts their move to Brooklyn and how hard it was to learn the language and adapt to a new environment. The Aschkenase family later relocated to Worcester, Mass in the 1960's. She was a stay at home mom until her son Steve went off to college. Thea is a 2007 graduate of Worcester State College, majoring in Urban Studies, and is a volunteer for Commonwealth Corps.

Interview Date: 
February 20, 2009