Survivor: Guta Peck

Guta Peck nee Kasz was sitting on the sole latrine inside her Auschwitz barracks one evening in early September 1944, when a drunken SS soldier picked her up.
March 18, 2015

Guta Peck nee Kasz was sitting on the sole latrine inside her Auschwitz barracks one evening in early September 1944, when a drunken SS soldier picked her up. He carried her the length of the overcrowded building — “You become like a stone; there’s no way out,” she recalled — to the small quarters he shared with some soldiers at the opposite end. But Guta, almost 19, spied the barracks supervisor, a Czechoslovakian survivor. “Please save my life,” she begged. The supervisor began speaking with the drunken soldiers and motioned for her to leave. “Just get out of here,” he said. Guta ran to her mother, who had watched the abduction from an upper bunk. “She was scared to death,” Guta said. 

Guta was born Oct. 20, 1925, to Sara and Benjamin Kasz in Lodz, Poland. Older sister Fredda was born in 1923, younger sister Brenda in 1930.

Benjamin was a businessman who sold and installed radio antennas, and their middle-class family lived in a three-room apartment. They were “very Jewish,” according to Guta, celebrating Shabbat and attending synagogue on Jewish holidays. But on Saturdays, Guta usually met her friends in the park or at the movies. 

Anti-Semitism was always present. From an early age, Guta knew that, to avoid being beaten up by Polish boys, she should never walk alone on certain streets. 

The family spent summers in the village of Wisniowa Gora, where they rented a room from a farmer, with Benjamin joining them on weekends. “These were the best days of my life,” said Guta, who loved walking in the forest, picking berries and playing with friends. 

But life changed on Sept. 8, 1939, when the German army occupied Lodz. After that, Guta rarely ventured outside, and by early February 1940, the Jews were ordered to relocate to a ghetto.

Guta’s family, including her grandmother and a cousin, occupied a small house — two rooms and a kitchen — which had been vacated by a gentile friend of Benjamin. Food was scarce. “We were always hungry, always talking about food,” Guta said. 

Guta went to work in a factory, cutting rags and weaving them into large rugs while standing on scaffolding. 

Deportations were a constant threat. Guta remembers seeing people rounded up in the surrounding blocks. “You never knew when,” she said. 

Deportations were halted in October 1942, resuming in June 1944, as the ghetto was being liquidated. Guta and her family were deported on Aug. 29, 1944, in the last transport leaving Lodz. 

When the prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, they were ordered to form two lines — men in one, women in the other. There was no selection.

The women, after sitting in a field all day, were processed and, with little space available, assigned to a barracks in the men’s section, with 200 or more prisoners crowded together. The first few nights, some men –—Guta doesn’t know who they were — entered the barracks and raped some of the women. Guta heard screams as she and her sisters huddled in an upper bunk, their mother covering their heads. 

There was no work at Auschwitz, only standing at roll call for long hours twice a day. After two weeks, the entire transport was shipped by cattle car to Stutthoff, which, Guta said, “was worse than Auschwitz.” 

There the women were placed in a large barracks, where they slept on a bare floor. Their main occupation became picking lice and, again, standing in endless roll calls.

In late November 1944, the transport was shipped by cattle car to Dresden. They learned that the group, originally about 500 men and women, had been specially selected by Hans Biebow, the chief Nazi administrator of the Lodz ghetto, who had been responsible for setting up the ghetto factories. Biebow had profited handsomely from the factories and had relocated two of them. Guta’s group, primarily Jews who had worked in the ghetto’s metal factory, were being sent as slave laborers to a munitions plant.

The company, owned by Bernsdorf & Co., was housed in a beautiful building, with the women living in a huge room with bunk beds and cold running water. Plus, the kitchen staff brought them buckets of hot water for washing. “Maybe 10 of us used the same bucket,” Guta said. “We were so excited.” 

The women worked in the basement, where Guta remembers operating some kind of machine. For lunch, they were brought a kettle of soup. Guta always tried to grab the empty kettle to return it to the kitchen upstairs, where she could peek into the men’s quarters in hope of seeing her father. 

One day, she saw him lying on a cot in the sick room. She walked in and started to talk, but he remained motionless. She sensed he had just died, so she ran out to tell her mother and sisters. “We were all hysterical crying,” she said. 

On the night of Feb. 13, 1945, as the Allies began heavily bombing the city, the SS entered the women’s barracks and urged them to retreat to the basement, but they didn’t budge. “We didn’t care,” Guta said. The following night, however, windows started shattering, and the women hurried down the stairs. 

The next day, the SS walked the women through the city, where Guta saw parents fleeing with their children, two English pilots lying dead on the ground and rubble everywhere. They spent the day on a field. When they returned, they were crammed into a shed behind the destroyed factory.

Right away, Guta and some other prisoners were taken to work rebuilding the post office, moving bricks from one place to another. After a few weeks, however, with the Russians approaching, the women were transferred to various camps. 

Eventually they were loaded onto a train, which was forced to stop in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia, because of bombed-out tracks. They disembarked, but Fredda, who was sick, remained inside. Guta never saw her again.

The women were dispatched on a death march. There was no food, but once, when they were confined to a barn with no SS in sight, Guta and two young women sneaked out and went house to house, begging. They were given soup, bread and other foods. “The Czech people were wonderful,” Guta recalled.  

Then, on May 8, 1945, they awoke to discover that the Germans had fled. Russian soldiers soon rode up on bicycles. The women, despite their weakened condition, ran out to greet them. “It was just an unbelievable moment in our lives,” Guta said.  

The Russians provided food and medical care. And in a suitcase discarded by a female SS, Guta found clothes and shoes that fit her perfectly. “Right away, I looked normal,” she said. The Russians then put the women on a train headed to Poland. 

Stopping in Prague to change trains, they met some young men returning from Poland. “Don’t go back. They’re killing the Jews,” they warned. Guta, Brenda and Sara remained in Prague, where they were treated well and where Guta met Henry Peck. 

But as the communists took control, Guta, Henry, Brenda and Sara traveled to Germany’s American zone of occupation, settling in Plattling. Guta and Henry married on Dec. 16, 1947. 

Sara wrote letters to the Forverts, the Yiddish version of the Forward newspaper, searching for family that had earlier immigrated to the United States. Kasz relatives responded, sending letters and packages. 

They applied for visas and arrived in New York in June 1949. A few days later, they traveled to Los Angeles, settling in a small, furnished apartment in Boyle Heights. Guta and Henry’s daughter, Elyse, was born in June 1950, and their son, Jeff, in July 1954.

Henry worked at a cousin’s furniture store and later managed an upholstery factory. In 1959, he and a partner opened their own upholstery factory, Hart Manufacturing, in downtown Los Angeles. 

Brenda, who had come to the United States earlier and lived with a family in Atlanta, died of intestinal strangulation in 1950, at age 20. Henry died in 1986. 

Until her interview with the Journal, Guta, now 89 and the grandmother of one and great-grandmother of two, had never told her story in its entirety. “I couldn’t talk about it,” she said. But she agreed to talk at her granddaughter’s request.

“If my granddaughter is interested, then I have to do it,” Guta said. 

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