by Nina S., age 12
Luba Tryszynska shot up in her bunk. She could swear that she had heard the sound of children crying. It is probably memories of my son haunting me again, she thought, but the cries persisted. Surreptitiously, Luba slipped out of her bunk and snuck out to follow the sound. In a field behind her barracks, she was surprised to find fifty-four abandoned children – from babies to teens – shivering with fright. Luba knew she could be shot for helping the children and, thus, faced a life-changing decision. Should she decide to assist the children, giving them some hope of survival? Should she embrace the opportunity to give her own life purpose? Should she oppose the maltreatment inflicted upon her and the children by Nazi Germany? On that night in 1944, Luba Tryszynska chose to fight injustice against basic human rights by helping the orphan children and, in turn, herself.
Luba Tryszynska was a Jew during World War II, who was transported from Poland to the formidable Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in January 1943. While there, she was separated from her husband Herschel, who was later killed. Tragically, soldiers also tore Luba’s three-year-old son Isaac from her arms and sent him to the gas chambers. Empty and deprived of her reasons to continue fighting for survival, Luba found herself being transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in the summer of 1944. Everyone she had loved had been ripped away from her, and she was merely going to another concentration camp. Life held no value for Luba.
At Auschwitz, Luba Tryszynska had tasted the bitter despair that only a mother’s heart can know. By the time she had arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Luba later said, “I had no feeling for life and I had no purpose” (Chao). The Nazis had stolen Luba’s freedom and killed her husband and child. “I always wondered why God let me live,” Luba has recalled. Then Luba followed the unbearable cries of the dejected children, and upon discovering the waifs dumped in the field, she knew, “I was saved … to love these children” (Chao). Love them, she did.
At first, Luba could not verbally interact with fifty-four orphans because she spoke Polish, Russian, and German while they spoke Dutch. Nonetheless, she could console, love, and provide for them. From the first night that Luba protected the parentless children, she sang them old Polish lullabies to comfort and quiet them. The next morning she faced the formidable task of finding nourishment for them. Determined, she begged and scrounged for food, approaching camp doctors, cooks, and bakers to coax them into sparing a bit of flour, a loaf of bread, a packet of sugar, and, now and then, a morsel of horsemeat. Boldly, she even approached the “Beast of Belsen,” Commandant Joseph Kramer himself, in her efforts to obtain milk to keep the children alive (Eisenstadt and Gilbart). He roared at her but conceded. Day after desperate day Luba endured humiliation and maltreatment for the sake of the children as she persevered to provide for them.
At last on April 15, 1945, Luba’s fight came to an end when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. At that time British troops found fifty-two of the fifty-four orphans that Luba had so valiantly cared for alive. Such survival rates were unheard of in other parts of the horrific and inhumane concentration camp, and word of Luba’s heroic efforts spread. In fact, when the children were returned to their home country of Holland, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina decorated Luba Tryszynska on behalf of the nation and dubbed her “The Angel of Bergen-Belsen.” Luba later commented, “I never thought of myself as a particularly brave person … But I found that inside every human there is a hero waiting to emerge” (McCann). In 1943 when the Nazis ripped Luba’s beloved son Isaac away from her and ruthlessly snuffed out his young life, they stole Luba’s reason to live. Then in 1944 when Luba found the fifty-four motherless children that the Nazis had discarded in a field, purpose was reignited in her. For the next nine months, Luba willfully worked to stand against Nazi injustice through giving the children a chance to survive. As Luba’s story testifies, in the face of injustice incredible love and mercy can flourish.
Chao, Jenifer. “Angel Of Belsen Death Camp Survivors Honor The Woman Who Came To The Aid Of Children.” Spokesman.com, The Spokesman-Review, 13 July 2011, www.spokesman.com/stories/1995/apr/16/angel-of-belsen-death-c-survivors-honor-the/.
Eisenstadt, Shmuel, and Mordechai Gilbart, editors. “Spectres of War Haunt the ‘Angel of Belsen.’” JewishGen, www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Kamenets/kame091.html.
McCann, Michelle Roehm, and Ann E. Marshall. Luba: the Angel of Bergen-Belsen. Tricycle Press, 2003.