A Jewish woman who survived the gas chambers of Auschwitz because of what she believes was an “act of god” is preparing to celebrate her 101st birthday.
When a person lives for over a century, it’s always a rare and remarkable feat. But when that same person survives three Holocaust concentration camps, including the waking nightmare of being sent to Auschwitz’s dreaded gas chambers, you could say it was an “act of god.” And as her 101st birthday draws near, Romanian woman Klara Markus would fully agree with you.
Hailing from Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures in northern Romania, Mrs. Markus was imprisoned in both Dachau and Ravensbruck during the second World War. She was finally sent to the notorious Nazi death camp Auschwitz, where she was destined to meet an untimely end at the hands of Hitler’s henchmen, until a simple twist of fate that some would call “the hand of god,” others would call “providence,” and what many would simply call “good luck” saved her from a certain death.
Born Klara Schongut on New Years Eve 1913, in Carei, Satu Mare County, Klara was transported to a Jewish ghetto in Budapest, Hungary, in August 1942 and began work in an umbrella factory.
“My mother and older sisters were taken directly to Auschwitz. I never saw them again,” Klara Markus told a Romanian newspaper in 2010.
“When I asked about them, SS members replied shortly: ‘Maybe, you should search for them in the smoke or ashes!’ and they laughed.”
In 1944, along with the other remaining Jews in Budapest, Klara was marched towards the concentration camps. After a harrowing march that lasted a month, Mrs. Markus arrived at Dachau on October 20, 1944. One week later,she was sent to the notorious women’s camp in Ravensbruck, before being transported to Auschwitz.
“I passed through all the camps on the German territory. The conditions were the same all over the places. I was falling asleep with tears in my eyes, missing my mother, my sisters. I got accustomed with the hunger, but not with the pain in my soul. Everyday we were humiliated, tortured, I was surrounded by death and lot of dirt, especially the one from our perpetrators’ souls.”
In the final days before the evacuation and subsequent liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, a 30-year-old Mrs. Markus, who weighed around 70 pounds (32kg), was sent to the gas chambers.
“I was chosen towards the end of the day with a large group of other women and we were made ready for the gas chamber. But when they put us inside and went to turn the gas on, they found they had run out. One of the guards joked that it was our lucky day because they had already killed so many they didn’t have any gas left for us. God was watching over me that day.”
Realizing she had nothing left to lose, Mrs. Markus managed to flee Auschwitz and return to Romania. Upon returning to her native country, she learned that her entire family had been killed during the war.
The Daily Mail reported that bit by bit, Mrs. Markus managed to rebuild her life with the help of new husband, Dr. Andrei Markus.
In honor of her forthcoming birthday, Mrs. Markus was visited by government representative Anton Rohian who said, “I brought you a bunch of flowers, a bottle of champagne and an excellency diploma to thank you because you’ve returned to Maramures after all you’ve been through. It’s important not to forget what happened in the past.”
Mrs Markus’s reply was a succinct but poignant one.
“I’ve had terrible experiences in my life, but this is a wonderful moment.”