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This Baby Was Born in Auschwitz — and Survived


Barbara Puc is a survivor of Auschwitz, yet she has no memory of ever having been there.

Sitting in her home, Puc, a sturdy woman with short gray hair and a warm face, warned me before we even sat down, “All I know is what my mother told me.”

Now 72 years old, Puc, whose family was Catholic, was born in 1944 on a brick tunnel furnace that ran through the middle of a barracks in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the labor and extermination camp built next to Auschwitz after the flood of prisoners flowing in from across Europe and the Soviet Union overwhelmed the original camp.

Germans treated pregnant women and newborns living in this section of the camp less harshly than in the other ones. They were given a little bit more food, sometimes even milk. Infants were registered in a registry book, which has survived until this day and holds records of 378 babies having been born. These privileges, however, were very short-term; the vast majority of these mothers, and those of their children who were not murdered soon after birth, perished not long after in the gas chambers.

In fact, thousands of babies were born in Auschwitz, the vast majority of whom the Nazis killed virtually upon their emergence from the womb. In Poland, at least, Puc (pronounced Putz) is today the only known survivor able to represent and tell her own story of birth and survival as she heard it from her own mother.

I came to listen to Puc’s story in her modest but elegantly decorated home in Tychy, a cozy middle-size Polish town just a 30-minute drive from the very charnel house where her life began.

“She first told me I was born in the camp when I was 9 or 10,” Puc recalled, referring to her mother. “We went to Auschwitz for the first time after the war. There were still piles of shoes and clothes lying around, even though it was 10 years after the war. I still can’t comprehend what happened there,” Puc said with a shaking voice.

Nobody knows how many children were born in Auschwitz overall. The Nazis did not bother to record their existence before murdering them. The only remaining camp registry for all of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is a notation from January 10, 1945 that mentions a total of 247 pregnant women and midwives, and 156 living children ages 0 to 3 on that day. Yet on January 27 — just 17 days later — when the Soviets liberated the camp, there were only 60 children there.

One of the main reasons these children survived was the fact that their mothers weren’t forced to join the Death March. Nine days before liberation, the Germans forced 60,000 prisoners to walk 35 miles to a town of Wodzisław Śląski; 1,500 of them died on the way.

Puc’s parents, Stefania and Stanislaw Peronczyk, were sent to Auschwitz on a pretext in November 1943. Puc’s father worked in a locomotive factory that had been sabotaged. Though innocent of this act, he was one of the main suspects. German police raided the young couple’s home in search of stolen machinery parts, but found only a small stockpile of baby clothing, meant for the expectant couple’s newborn when she arrived. Nevertheless, the couple was sentenced to jail in Auschwitz. Stefania Peronczyk was three months pregnant at the time.

At first they were sent to Block No. 11, “The Block of Death.” This building served as a detention center for Gestapo prisoners, those sentenced to death by starvation and “crime suspects.” But after six months, 21-year-old Stefania Peronczyk was sentenced to prison in Birkenau, and her husband was sent to Mauthausen. The walk to Birkenau from Auschwitz was the last time they ever saw each other.

The young mother-to-be was put in barracks that had been recently cleared after the extermination of Roma families. And Puc was born shortly after.

Another Auschwitz baby who is still living today, Stefania Wernick, was born a couple of months later. Wernick is now ill, and I was not able to interview her. But her story has been published numerous times in Polish news media. It is not unlike Puc’s in crucial ways; in particular, the way her mother, Anna, who was also Catholic, ended up in Auschwitz almost arbitrarily.

Anna Wernick lived with her husband in Czubrowice, a small village near Kracow. In May 1944, Anna, then two months pregnant, went to bring food to her mother in Osiek, another village a couple of miles away. Osiek was at the time in what the Nazis had decreed was part of Germany proper while Czubrowice remained outside its borders.

According to the account Wernick has given to the media, there were a dozen or so women trying to enter the Reich that day to smuggle food. But after they crossed the Reich border, German soldiers rounded up the group, detained them and eventually sent them to Auschwitz.

On their arrival, the prisoners were taken to the shower room, where their heads were shaved and they were given black-and-white uniforms and wooden shoes.

But because of her pregnancy, Anna was sent to a different barrack than the rest of the women. She eventually went into labor in November 1944 and gave birth to Stefania. The new mother was so exhausted that for the next two weeks she couldn’t move. An old Russian woman cared for her child, bringing the baby girl to her mother for breastfeeding once a day.


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