An Evening with Holocaust Survivor Fanny Starr

Photo of Fanny Starr
Fanny Starr

“The pain never goes away,” said Fanny Starr, a 95-year-old Holocaust Survivor who visited Colorado State on February 22nd.  Over 1,500 people were in attendance to hear Mrs. Starr’s story about surviving the horrors of the Holocaust.

Starr was born in 1921 in Lodz, Poland.  She lived with her mother and father and her four siblings.  In her family, there were two boys and three girls. She was the second oldest, with one older sister. While she doesn’t remember much before the war, she remembers being full of life and bravery.  “When I was young, I was a ball of fire. Dancing and singing,” said Starr, who said that was taken away in no time.  

She remembers a man named Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a well-known Zionist activist, warning people that “a black cloud was hanging over their head.” He told everyone that if they could go to a different country, it would save their life, but many people didn’t have the money to move, so they stayed in Poland.  

Starr was 13 years old when she and her family were forced into the Lodz Ghetto.  Nazi officers had raided their home and forced them out.  Starr said that they were forced to work in the ghetto, so she began working as a tailor for a few weeks, even though she said she didn’t know how to thread a needle.  After that, she was sent to cut apart clothes that had valuables sewn into them.  It wasn’t until later that she realized the clothes had belonged to Jews who had been murdered.

In the ghetto, Starr describes the conditions as terrible.  There was filth and starvation.  The people were only allowed one piece of bread a week and it would be shared between their family of seven.  The meat they ate was horse meat.  

Starr recalls that people were very quiet in the ghetto.  “We were like mice in the ghetto,” she said.  “We were afraid to open our mouths. We went to work and went home.”

They were in the ghetto from 1939-1944. It was then that they got deported to Auschwitz. Starr says that about 60 people were forced into a railroad car and they were on the train for days before they arrived at the concentration camp.  Once they were off of the train, there were officers guiding people to the right and left.  Starr couldn’t remember which direction she was sent, but she lived.  Had she been sent in the other direction, she would have been sent to the gas chambers.  This was the last time she saw a majority of her family.  Her oldest sister was sent to another camp, Treblinka death camp.

She went to a big barrack with thousands of other women where they were given striped clothes and had their hair shaved.  “They took away our dignity,” said Starr, who was in Auschwitz for three weeks. She explained that there was no food or drink for days.  

Starr tells a story of when she was laying outside.  “The sky was red and the smell was horrid,” she described.  The smell was that of burning bodies in the oven, their ashes falling to the ground “like snow.”  

Where Starr worked in Auschwitz was “miles away,” as she put it, and she had no shoes.  She once used newspapers on her feet because the shoes she was given had such high heels and she wasn’t able to walk in the snow in them.  When a Nazi officer noticed the newspapers on Starr’s feet, she was smacked.  When she got back to the barracks after work, she was beaten again by a female officer for wearing newspaper on her feet.  After the officer was finished, she walked away and tripped, which prompted Starr to start laughing and she said, “Karma took you!”

It was in Auschwitz that Starr says her sister saved her life. She was sitting in a corner rocking back and forth, thinking about why all of this was happening to her.  “I didn’t want to live because I had no family, no home,” said Starr.  Her sister, who was six years younger than her, grabbed her shirt to pull her up, slapped her in the face and said, “This is our life. You have to pull yourself together and we have to move forward.”

Fanny Starr with Rebecca Chapman (on her left) and Alex Ingber (on her right)
Fanny Starr speaking with Rebecca Chapman and Alex Ingber at An Evening with a Survivor

After Auschwitz, Starr went Mauthausen-Gusen, a camp between France and Germany.  She told the audience that about 1,500 people were sent to the camp and only a few survived. It was here that she worked to build missiles for the Germans to use against the United States.  At one point, Starr explained how she had to go to the bathroom and saw a newspaper.  No one had any idea of what the date was or what time it was, so she wanted to peak at the newspaper just to see what the date was.  She got caught and was beaten.  “I was beaten and kicked inhumanly just for looking at the newspaper,” said Starr. After the incident, she went back to work.  A German officer saw how beaten up she was and hid half of an apple to give to (for?) her. It was this act that made her realize that there were still some humans among the Germans.  

Later, Starr was in Bergen-Belsen, a camp where she met her husband, Zesa.  “If he were alive, he would be over 100-years-old,” said Starr.  They met at the camp in a group called Beitar, which was created by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.  They started talking and eventually fell in love.  They got married in Bergen-Belsen by a British Rabbi. Zesa passed away in 1998, and today they would have been married 72 years.

Fanny Starr with Jewish and Muslim students at CSU
Fanny Starr with Jewish and Muslim students at CSU

On April 15, 1945, they were liberated by the British. Starr was 22. Unfortunately, they were unable to leave without a sponsor, so Bergen-Belsen became a displaced persons camp.  They put them back in the barracks, but were still considered “free.”  Starr explained that the British didn’t take as good care of the Jews after the war as the Americans did. The Americans had doctors and hospitals, but the British just gave you bread. “It was a novelty to eat a piece of bread,” said Starr.

In 1946, Starr had her first daughter in Bergen-Belsen.  In the beginning, Zesa didn’t want any children.  “We saw so much death among children that he didn’t want any,” said Starr.  They ended up having two daughters and one son, whom they lost seven years ago.

Eventually, the two would move to the United States.  When they arrive on U.S. soil, they were so happy. “We fell to the ground, kissed the ground and said we were free,” explained Starr.  Although they were happy to be here, it was hard in the beginning.  They didn’t know the language and didn’t have housing.  They were assigned to go to Kentucky and got a place that had one room and one bed for three people.  “It was a tough life,” said Starr.  

After the war, Starr had been searching for any relatives that may have survived. She didn’t find any. She only knew that she and her younger sister had survived. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Red Cross had contacted her and let her know that her brother was still alive and he had become a diplomat in Poland. Both Starr’s sister and brother came to the U.S. for a little bit, but decided to move back to Germany.  

About seven years ago, Starr went to visit her brother in Germany.  That was the first time she had been back since she had left Bergen-Belsen. “I was so afraid,” she said. “Each person I saw, I thought it was an S.S. officer.”

It was six years of agony and lost family for Starr. She was constantly asking G-d why the Jews deserved to be punished.  “We were slaughtered,” she said. “We weren’t wanted on this Earth.  We as Jews are stronger and we will survive all obstacles in the world.”

Almost 71 years after their liberation, Starr continues to share her stories of pain and suffering during the Holocaust.  She and her husband dedicated their lives to sharing their story and making sure this will never happen again.

“I will never forgive them and I will never forget,” said Starr. “I hope in our lifetime it won’t happen again.”

Fanny Starr with the CSU's Jewish student leaders
Fanny Starr with the CSU’s Jewish student leaders