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Magda Hellinger survived Auschwitz while saving her fellow prisoners

Maya Lee (L), and her mother Magda Hellinger (R)
Maya Lee (L), and her mother Magda Hellinger (R)

It’s been 77 years since the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, the largest extermination camp run by Nazis during World War II. 

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz. Some 1.1 million died there. 

That number might have been even higher if not forMagda Hellinger, a Slovakian woman who was one of the first Jewish people to arrive at the camp. 

Nazi guards appointed Magda block leader at Auschwitz — a role she used to save lives while risking execution. 

Her story is captured in a new memoir called “The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz.”

Magda’s daughter,Maya Lee,helped complete her unfinished story after her death in 2006.

From “The Nazis Knew My Name”:

Very few can understand what it was like to be a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau — really only those who were there. Fewer still can understand what it was like to be forced into the role of “prisoner functionary” within the concentration camp. To find yourself in a position in which, if you were brave and clever, you might be able to save a few lives … while being powerless to prevent the ongoing slaughter of most of those around you. To live with the constant awareness that, at any moment, you could lose your own life to a bored or disgruntled guard who perceived that you were being too kind to a fellow prisoner, when all you were doing was trying to be humane.

We talk with Maya about her mother’s story.

Copyright 2022 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink