Czarna Ber

Czarna grew up with her family in Łódź, Poland. She was 16 years old when Nazi troops invaded her home town in September 1939.

In the thriving city of Łódź in central Poland over a third of the inhabitants were Jewish, like the Ber family. The city was known for its prominent textile industry and both Czarna's father Majer and her older brother Abram worked as tailors in the city. Czarna's mother Golda was a housewife while her younger brother Lejb was still at school. Czarna herself was completing her education when German troops marched into Łódź in September 1939.

After a few months the city's Jews were forced into a ghetto established in the poor and run-down Bałuty neighbourhood. Unfortunately, we do not know where in Łódź the Ber family lived before the ghetto was established, but they were probably one of thousands of Jewish families forced to move into the ghetto in January 1940. The Ber family moved into a small apartment on Krotka Street (Kurzgasse), close to the centre of the ghetto. In addition to Czarna, her parents and two siblings, the apartment also housed two boys, Szulem and Icek. They have the same surname as Czarna’s mother Golda had before she married (Frum) and it seems that the two boys were Czarna’s cousins, who were now being cared for by the Ber family.

Every part of the old and run-down neighbourhood was filled with up to tens of thousands of Jews. Hunger and cold prevailed, while disease spread in the crowded houses. Executions took place publicly in the streets and the ghetto continued to be filled with people from different parts of occupied Europe. Łódź's famous industries were the lifeline of the ghetto and most of its population was forced to work in them. Only those who worked or went to school, like Czarna's younger brother Lejb and his relative Icek, were allowed to receive food rations, which the Nazis constantly reduced. Icek died in the ghetto in June 1942, at the age of eight.

Urban life in Bałuty in Łódź around 1930
Photo: State Archive in Łódź/CC BY

Bałuty around 1930

Photograph of urban life in Bałuty in Łódź.

Archive material with the name Czarna Ber
Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/State Archive in Łódź

Resident registers from the Łódź Ghetto, 1942–1943

Czarna, her father Majer and brother Abram on apartment lists from the Łódź Ghetto. By this time, Czarna's mother and younger brother had already been deported and murdered.

Despite great misery and starvation, life in the ghetto continued at least until the afternoon of the September 5, 1942, when the Germans imposed a ghetto-wide curfew that lasted several days. The Germans went from house to house, apartment to apartment, with lists of the ghetto's inhabitants, selecting all those they no longer considered fit for work. On September 7, the soldiers reached the Ber family's apartment. They choose Czarna's mother Golda, her little brother Lejb and young relative Szulem. That was the last time Czarna saw them. 

The list of apartments shows that their names were crossed off. Along with thousands of others, Czarna’s mother, brother and young relative were taken to Radogoszcz (Radegast) railway station at the northern edge of the ghetto. There they were loaded onto freight wagons that took them to the Chełmno extermination camp where they were murdered in gas vans. Around 180,000 people were murdered in Chełmno. Golda was 46 years old when she was murdered. Czarna’s brother Lejb was only 14 and Szulem just 10 years old when the Nazis brutally murdered them.

Porträtt på Czarna Ber från arkivmaterial
Photo: Riksarkivet

Passport photo of Czarna Ber

Photo taken of Czarna on the June 30, 1945, for the Polish passport issued to her after the war, when she was at the refugee camp in Doverstorp.

Czarna remained in the ghetto with her father Majer and older brother Abram and had to continue working there to survive. In the summer of 1944, Abram died of tuberculosis. Czarna and her father were now among the remaining 70,000 people in the ghetto, which at its peak had a population of nearly 210,000. The Soviet success on the Eastern Front and the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto by its remaining Jews led the Nazis to empty the Łódź Ghetto and deport its inhabitants in August 1944.

Czarna, Mejer and other residents were deported in railway wagons, from the same station their families had been sent to die, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. Upon arrival, the majority was sent directly to the gas chambers, and while Czarna and Majer both seem to have survived selection they were separated. They never saw each other again. Majer was apparently sent on to Dachau concentration camp and it is unclear what happened to him. He may also have been sent back to Auschwitz but the trail stops and we don't know his fate.

 Czarna remained in Auschwitz for ten days before being sent to a labour camp to work in an ammunition factory. She later stated in an interview that the camp was called Neuken, but it remains unclear which camp it actually was. It could have possibly been a satellite camp of one of the larger concentration camps, such as Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald or Ravensbrück. Czarna later told us that she was sent back to Ravensbrück after nine months in the camp, perhaps indicating that the munitions factory was linked to Ravensbrück. 

Liberation an the time in Sweden

As the Allied forces approached, the Germans began evacuating the concentration camps in the east, forcing the prisoners westwards and further into Germany. Many prisoners who were forced on the so-called death marches in the harsh cold of January and February died. Those who survived were sent to new concentration camps, most notably Bergen-Belsen. The Ravensbrück camp began to be evacuated in April 1945, when rescue came in the form of white buses from the Swedish Red Cross.

Czarna was one of 7,000 women, the vast majority of them non-Jewish, rescued from Ravensbrück in white buses. She arrived in Malmö on the April 28, 1945, and was the only surviving member of her family. Czarna ended up in a refugee camp in Doverstorp, near Norrköping, and she began to rebuild her life. She applied for a work permit for a factory job in Motala at Engelfabrikerna, certifying that she was in good health. The labour office in Doverstorp helped her get some clothes.

However, we do not know whether Czarna started working in the factory before she became ill. As early as February 1946, she was admitted to Söderby Hospital, south of Stockholm. She seems to have remained in various hospitals and on reapplying for a residence permit in Sweden in 1950, she was listed as being admitted to Sundby Hospital in Strängnäs. Here it is noted by hospital staff that "the applicant is insane". We know no more details about Czarna's mental illness. It is most likely a consequence of the trauma she experienced during the war. However, she is the only survivor buried in the Northern Jewish Cemetery to be described this way.

Czarna died in Sundby Hospital on the February 20, 1950, aged 26. In the Jewish community's grave books, we see that she died from tuberculosis. Czarna appears to be the only member of her family to survive. Apart from traces in the archives, no relative has registered her as missing. Had it not been for the passport photo she submitted with her residence permit application we might never have known what she looked like.

Czarna's route

The map shows the places Czarna was forcibly transferred or travelled to, from Łódź where she was born to the Northern Jewish Cemetery. Click on the information symbol to see all the locations, listed in chronological order.

About Czarna Ber

Czarna Ber

First name: Czarna, also called Cesia
Last name: Ber
Born: September 9, 1923, also appears as born July 7, 1923 and November 6, 1922, in  Łódź, Poland
Died: February 20, 1950, 26 years old, at Sundby Hospital
Buried: At the Northern Jewish Cemetery, N J 09 45
Residence before the war: Łódź, Poland
Residence during the war: Kurze 15, and then Bach 12, both in Łódź ghetto
Arrived in Sweden: April 28, 1945, in Malmö, with the Red Cross' white buses
Occupation: Seamstress

Close-up of Czarna Ber's tombstone
Czarna Ber's tombstone at the Northern Jewish Cemetery in Stockholm. Photo: Miranda Solvang, Swedish Holocaust Museum/SHM.

About Czarna's father Majer Ber

Majer Ber

First name: Majer
Last name: Ber
Born: July 15, 1893, or July 7, 1898, in Łódź, Poland
Died: Moved on from Auschwitz to Dachau, probably murdered thereafter
Residence before the war:  Łódź, in Poland
Residence during the war: Kurze 15, and then Am Bach 12, both in Łódź ghetto
Occupation: Seamstress

About Czarna's mother Golda Ber

Golda Ber

First name: Golda
Last name: Ber, née Frum
Born: January 13, 1896, i Łódź, Poland
Died: Deported from Łódź ghetto on September 7, 1942, probably to Chełmno extermination camp, together with her son Lejb and other relatives, aged 46
Residence before the war: Łódź, in Poland
Residence during the war: Kurze 15, and then Am Bach 12, both in Łódź ghetto
Occupation: Housewife

About Czarna's brother Abram Ber

Abram Ber

First name: Abram
Last name: Ber
Born: Janyary 15, 1920, also appears as born 1921, in Łódź, Poland
Died: June 3, 1944, in pulmonary tuberculosis, in Łódź ghetto
Residence before the war: Łódź, Poland
Residence during the war: Kurze 15, and then Am Bach 12, both in Łódź ghetto
Occupation: Seamstress

About Czarna's brother Lajb Ber

Lajb Ber

First name: Lajb
Last name: Ber
Born: January 1, 1928, in Łódź, Poland
Died: Deported from Łódź ghetto on September 7, 1942, probably to the Chełmno extermination camp, together with his mother and other relatives, aged 14 
Residence before the war: Łódź, Poland
Residence during the war: Kurze 15, and then Am Bach 12, both in Łódź ghetto
Occupation: School pupil, then tailor

About Czarna's young relatives

Czarna's young relatives

Czarna Ber also had two young relatives, possibly cousins, who lived with the family, named Szulem (born October 1, 1932) and Icek (born September 16, 1934). Icek died in the Łódź ghetto on June 23, 1942, only 8 years old. Szulem was deported, along with Czarna's mother and brother, on September 7, 1942, probably to Chełmno extermination camp, where he was murdered at the age of 10.

Learn more about the fates of other

Here you will find links to the "Förlorade röster" [Lost Voices] collection page as well as links to all the personal texts, listed by surname.

Reference list

To reconstruct Czarna's life story, source material has been collected from various archives in Sweden, Germany, the USA and Israel.

The Swedish National Archives contain the archives of the Royal Medical Board, where the files on “1945 refugee healthcare” are preserved, containing information about her time in Sweden. The National Archives also houses the archives of the Aliens Commission, which often has a personal file for survivors who survive their first year in Sweden. 

The German Arolsen Archive preserves the Allied registration of survivors after the end of the war, known as the “Displaced Person Registration Record”. The Arolsen Archive also preserves documentation from many concentration camps, such as Dachau, Buchenwald and Ravensbrück. 

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has preserved and digitised the lists of all Holocaust survivors and, in particular, preserves the lists compiled at Bergen-Belsen and later by UNRRA. The USHMM has also digitised much of the material from the Lodz ghetto, including school records and, in particular, the ghetto's civil registration records. 

Finally, the Israeli Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem has “Pages of Testimony”, forms, where survivors could register their murdered relatives. In many cases, surviving relatives believed that those who came to Sweden in 1945 were murdered in the Holocaust, and many of the “1945 rescued” group are thus incorrectly registered. The testimonies of the relatives are the most important source for reconstructing the names of those who were murdered.

The historical facts about World War II and the Holocaust are taken from Yehuda Bauer's "A History of the Holocaust" (2001) and Saul Friedländer's work "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945" (2007).

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The Northern Jewish Cemetery

The survivors who died shortly after arriving in Stockholm were buried at the Northern Jewish Cemetery in Stockholm, side by side with the Swedish Jewish community.