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A Courtship in the Least Likely of Places
A Holocaust survivor recalls the girl who stole his heart at Auschwitz, and how she gave him hope for the future
When Holocaust survivor Ferdinand Tyroler remembered his time at Auschwitz, there was an unlikely twinkle in his eyes. Despite living through one of the most harrowing events in human history, where it seems hope would have been in short supply, he found a reason to believe in the future:
“I simply fell in love,” he explained. “We wanted to escape reality.”
Although men and women were kept separate at the concentration camp, Tyroler and Weiss, who he discovered was from near his hometown in Czechoslovakia, worked close to each other. “Her eyes, her hair, her looks, her movements gave me pleasure,” he recalled in his testimony with the Visual History Archive.
Tyroler became infatuated with the idea of just being able to hold Weiss’s hand. It let him forget, for a moment, where he was, that he had nothing to eat.
He knew about a covert system used by prisoners to exchange correspondence, so Tyroler took a risk and wrote Weiss a letter, telling her how he felt.
She promptly responded and confessed to feeling the same for him.
Through stolen glances and notes scribbled on scraps of paper, their courtship continued. “And slowly, we started to plan our life outside of Auschwitz,” Tyroler said. “I wrote her: if we survive, we will meet in such and such a town in such and such a place that was familiar to both of us in Slovakia.”
Yet, during all this planning, the lovers had never touched nor spoken a word to each other.
A secret meeting
Tyroler devised a plan and sent word to Weiss: When the SS officer overseeing the women workers left his station, she was to sneak to a meeting spot, and leave the door behind her cracked open. Tyroler would know the signal and rush to “hear her voice and embrace her.”
The eventual meeting went according to plan – almost. When Tyroler got word that Weiss was waiting for him, he ran upstairs to find her. Foolish, he realized in retrospect, because if anyone had been watching, his frenzy would have seemed suspicious. But there she was.
And without a word, Weiss turned to him, and they hugged and kissed.
“And she started to cry,” he recalled. “I could see from her eyes, drops like rain coming out, like a rainbow.”
Then he let go and left her before they would be caught. “I went back to my place of work and I realized I never heard her voice!” he recalled, putting his palm to his face.
After that, Tyroler said things cooled down a bit. The romance persisted but with a bit less urgency, as the lovers exchanged daily letters filled with promises of sweetness and affection in their future together after Auschwitz.
“I have seen the end of Auschwitz”
Later, that same year, in December 1944, Tyroler was able to piece together what was happening in the war. The Russians were getting closer. He heard that at other camps, the Germans either killed the remaining prisoners, or evacuated them through a “death march.”
Tyroler and a friend, Mike Herz, decided they weren’t going anywhere. They found a hiding spot in an attic and started stowing away provisions there in preparation.
In January 1945, the prisoners were ordered to line up at the gate. Tyroler knew “this was it.” The Germans were liquidating the camp.
Tyroler and his friend met in the secret location. The next morning, the camp was empty except for the sick prisoners who had been abandoned by the SS, and a small number of others who had also hidden away. “I climbed up to the watchtowers,” Tyroler recalled, “and I could see all around. Not a sign of Germans, but I could hear canons, I could hear shooting.”
“I can’t describe the feeling I had,” he continued. “I wasn’t free yet, but I was free…I have seen the end of Auschwitz.”
For eight days, the prisoners remained in hiding at the camp, wondering if, and when, the Russians would find them. Then, on the afternoon of January 27, they came. Tyroler described the liberators as “the nicest figures I’ve seen in my life.”
Reunion in Katowice
When Tyroler left Auschwitz, he went to the town of Katowice in Poland where there was a Czechoslovakian mission taking in refugees. He was given civilian clothes and a bit of money. Walking down the street one day, he spotted a group of girls coming toward him.
Suddenly, there was Weiss. But the spell was broken.
Liberation, it turned out, was taking them down different life paths.
“We met again,” Tyroler said, “but the love was gone.”
He acknowledges that part of their attraction was that it had been “forbidden fruit” in the camp. However, by the look on his face as he recounted the story, it can’t be denied that Tyroler and Weiss shared a special bond that helped them survive in the concentration camp.
Maybe what they shared didn’t turn out to be enduring love, but something just as powerful: they had given each other hope for the future.
Suggested for further research
Visual History Archive
Survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides have shared their stories and experiences in a collection of more than 55,000 two-hour audio-visual interviews with USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History. ProQuest is honored to be in partnership with USC Visual History Archive to offer this material in its entirety to a broader audience and to contribute archival-quality transcripts of all of the testimonies. Watch the videos and learn more.
Learn more about World War II veterans and liberators.
Human Rights Studies Online
Genocide and atrocity crimes show humanity at its worst. They lead us to question our very nature—what it means to be human. Despite their horrors, they must be documented, and they must be studied. In doing so, we hope to understand them. We memorialize their victims. We help prevent their re-occurrences. We discover the striking ordinariness of the perpetrators and ask what we would have done in similar circumstances. We see heroic actions that show that even in humanity’s darkest moments there is still cause for hope.
This database was recognized by Choice as one of the magazine’s 2017 Outstanding Academic Title award-winners for curating and contextualizing human rights atrocities from the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Baxter, I. (2016). Auschwitz and Birkenau: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives.
Chare, N., & Williams, D. (Eds.). (2013). Representing Auschwitz: at the Margins of Testimony.
Gilbert, M. (2001). Auschwitz and the Allies.
Levi, P., & De, B. L. (2017). Auschwitz Testimonies:1945-1986.
Webster, B. (2014). After Auschwitz: A Love Story.