A child's dress - a family memento of a former prisoner born in the camp - donated to the Museum Collections
A unique personal memento related to the fates of Maria Podstawna (previously Romik) and her mother Stefania was donated to the Auschwitz Museum Collections by Maria who was born at the German Nazi Auschwitz camp on 22 July 1943. The memento is a child’s dress made by the mother for her one-year old daughter in 1944, just after their release from the camp.
The Germans arrested the pregnant Stefania Romik in the winter of 1942. “During the occupation, I was in Zakopane. In December 1942, I set out on a journey by train to Cracow. When the train arrived in Cracow, at the station in Borek Fałecki, it was encircled, and the passengers were instructed to get off, and taken to the Montelupich prison”, - she wrote in her account.
She was deported to Auschwitz in January 1943 in a transport of 515 women from the prisons in Tarnów and Cracow. She was registered as number 32354. “We were led out on foot from the prison to the freight station, and after loading us onto the freight wagons with boarded windows, we set out on the journey not knowing where they were taking us to work. We arrived at night. We were ordered to alight from the train, and amidst screams, crying and beating, we were led to the camp. Soon after, at night, we were referred to the delousing room, where upon undressing and shaving our hair, we were led to the steam bath, then to a cold shower and from there to the hall, where we were registered and tattooed with numbers on the left forearm” - she recalled. At the camp, Stefania Romik was subjected to back-breaking work, digging trenches in the village of Budy.
“At 1:00 am, on 22 July 1943, I gave birth to my daughter Maria. A German prisoner - a midwife delivered my baby. 10 days after delivery, a messenger arrived and ordered me to report to the doctor at the outpatient department. At the quarantine, a tall, stout and young SS doctor, seeing that I was debilitated asked if my baby was alive. Having heard my confirmation, he referred me to the quarantine for a month. After a month, on 28 August, they released my child and me along with another pregnant woman from Przemyśl. We were led to the station and ordered to go to the head office of the Gestapo in Cracow”, she wrote.
Stefania Romik returned to Zakopane. Due to exhaustion caused by the camp conditions, the mother and daughter were treated in the hospital for several months. It was while at the hospital that Stefania Romik made for her daughter a dress from two different pieces of material, a dark green and multicoloured material with irregular spots.
Maria Podstawna said she decided to donate the family memento during the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, in which she participated. “I did not attend previous anniversary meetings because I am prone to diseases. I preferred to watch it on television. However, this time around the weather was perfect. I have a fond memory of the anniversary and therefore, decided that I will attend it every year,” she said.
“I brought the dress with me to show it, but my friends, former prisoners persuaded me to leave it at the Museum as it is already in bad shape and the material is splitting apart in some areas. It is already 74 years old. I inherited it from my mother, but I think the Museum is now the right place for it.”, she added.
“We should teach and tell the history of this place. My mother often met with pupils in schools and talked about her experiences. I on the hand was only three months old - I only know my history from her stories”, emphasised Ms Podstawna.
The director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywińsk said, the Memorial is always the best place for various memorabilia and documents related to the camp history. “It is only here that they are legally protected, preserved and stored in the best possible conditions. But above all, they participate along with other collections and archival materials in the narrative history of the camp tragedy. Every object and document stored privately, unfortunately, remains in a sense, beyond this history. For this reason, we are delighted with the attitude of many survivors and their families who—regardless of the great emotional attachment to various objects or documents—decide to donate their family memorabilia to the Museum, such as this unusual dress which dates back over 70 years”.