Holocaust survivor hopes her story helps the world

April 08, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

Everything in Adele "Deli" Strummer's Baltimore County home illustrates its owner's love of life. Flowering plants spill blossoms from the planters and curtains drawn back from windows invite the sunlight to brighten every room.

Mrs. Strummer said she embraces life partly because it is simply in her nature.

But mainly she's enthusiastic about life because it was taken from her once -- when she was a prisoner in Adolf Hitler's concentration camps during World War II.

"I got my life back when I was liberated," said Mrs. Strummer, 71. "So many times I almost lost it in that hell, that time when that terrible contamination had spread through Europe."

Ms. Strummer, author of the book "A Personal Reflection of the Holocaust," will discuss her experience Monday night at a program for Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance, co-sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Uniontown resident Rachelle Hurwitz, another sponsor, has brought Holocaust survivors to her home to speak for Yom Hashoah for the past five years.

Mrs. Strummer recalled being a young Jewish nurse taken from the hospital where she worked, to become a prisoner for four years. Her voice was steady, but filled with emotion.

"People have asked me what was worst, in this hell I lived. I was burned. I was starved. I was tortured," said Mrs. Strummer, her words heavy with an Austrian accent. "But the worst part of it was that my human dignity was taken from me."

Mrs. Strummer was taken to Terezin, a ghetto in the former Czechoslovakia, when she was 18. There she met and married Ben, another prisoner.

She quietly describes how, three months later, Ben was taken away to Dachau. She never saw him again.

Mrs. Strummer, who hasn't remarried, said she endured many terrors during her imprisonment -- she entered the gas chamber four times, but was lucky enough to feel only cold water assaulting her skin.

Her worst memory is of children being used "for target practice" by SS soldiers, an incident she spied through a hole in a fence in Auschwitz.

"In my mind . . . I see those little children, those little hands trying to reach up to the grown-ups behind them. Then came the finish of their young lives," Mrs. Strummer said, looking down at her spotless tablecloth. "All because they were young Jewish children born at the wrong time."

Mrs. Strummer got her life back on May 5, 1945, when Allied planes bombed Mauthausen, an Austrian labor and death camp on the Danube River, the last of the five concentration and death camps to which she was sent.

She and her best friend were next in line for the gas chamber when the bombs began to fall, the SS guards began to run and chants of "we are free, we are free" filled the compound.

"The world didn't know," Mrs. Strummer said, rubbing her knuckles and shaking her head. "I will say maybe some like Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill may have known.

"But the soldier who came to liberate me, who saw my humiliated, naked, starved body, the man who threw his shirt over a fence to give me something to cover myself, he didn't know."

Mrs. Strummer found her immediate family alive, though her father was in a near-vegetative state from the beating and tortures he had endured. She spent the next five years finding homes for 160 displaced Jewish children before setting off for America.

In America, Mrs. Strummer continued in the medical field in New York, first working as a medical research associate at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital and Memorial Hospital, which was associated with Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital.

She moved Baltimore in 1962 to help start the obstetrics and gynecology department of Sinai Hospital.

Though retired from her lab for the past six years, Mrs. Strummer forged a second career with Sinai -- she is a grief recovery group facilitator for the hospital's Widowed Persons Service.

But still she finds time to talk about her experiences, which she feels will help people understand the pain and horror so it will not be repeated. She said her talks are "one step toward the goal of world peace."

And though her fortitude and strength have marked her as a "survivor" for those who know her story, Mrs. Strummer prefers to call herself a victor.

"I was victorious. I conquered Hitler," she said. "I just wish more would have been able to conquer him."

The program will be held 7:30 p.m. Monday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 3330 Uniontown Road. Light refreshments will be served. For information, please call Mrs. Hurwitz at 876-2484.

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