It is customary to introduce an author to the ready by enumerating all his or her previous literary and other achievements. In this foreword it cannot be done because Aurelia Pollak (1896 – 1985) was a bookkeeper since she was seventeen years old, between the two World Wars, didn’t write anything except short business letters. During the two and a half years of forced service in the offices of the “Political Department” at Auschwitz, she typed, among other things, investigation records.
Thanks to an astonishing combination of will power and sheer luck , she escaped the fate of her deported family members. She returned home in May 1945 and started writing an account of her experiences during the 38 months of her captivity.
She introduces the subject with a short description of the conditions prevailing in Slovakia in 1942; then comes Auschwitz and the special job that gives her an overall insight into the activities of the SS. Several chapters show the life of Jewish personnel in the Nazi offices. Three facts are established: Everything that happened in Auschwitz was recorded. Jewish office workers, so-called secret bearers, had access to the files. About sixty of these women have survived and can give evidence.
Still, the manuscript is pervaded by an intimate personal touch: love, sympathy, despair and hope are freely expressed.
The writer – called Aranka by family and friends – was mother’s sister. I knew her since my childhood and considered her a typical small-town housewife. This is the reason why her writings never cease to astonish me. Nothing less than a great shock could have reserved person, she never considered the publication of her manuscript. Besides, her wartime experiences had intimidated her so much that she refrained from mentioning her SS bosses name. Once was a person “whom we called Oki behind his back”. Another was “a fifty-year-old SS man from Hamburg”. Only much later, here in Israel, when she was asked to testify in the Eichmann trial and other inquiries concerning war criminals, the SS men’s name and ranks came out pouring. One of the writing testimonies is among the papers which she added, from time to time, to the manuscript file. Many notes were lost; much was told but not put down on paper.
After Aranka’s death, when I started translating her writings into English, I faced a problem: what should be done with important but unwritten information, with episodes which complement a picture? I didn’t want to tinker with the original, so I wrote notes to several chapters. (The hardest decision was to keep Aranka’s adventures after the liberation artificially separated from the last chapter.)
I could have extended her autobiographical notes, but I did not; instead of biography I present family scenes from various periods.
all this constitutes an appendix to the memoir that also affords a glimpse of the writer’s every-day life.