For more than 70 years, Marsha Kreuzman has believed that she would be better off dead.
Death first promised salvation during her years of physical and psychological torture at the Mauthausen concentration camp as the Second World War devastated Europe.
When the Nazi encampment was liberated in May 1945, an American soldier tried to help her to her feet. Kreuzman recalls: “He said, ‘You have to walk.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to walk, I want to die.’”
Kreuzman, who now lives in Livingston, New Jersey, is sorry that she was not more joyful when the moment of liberation arrived; she is painfully aware that so many of her friends, her compatriots, her family were unable to escape the horror of one of history’s darkest chapters.
Yet her torment continues into a second century in the suburbs of America’s East Coast.
“Who was better off: The ones who die first, early in the war; or the ones who suffer so much for so many years?” she asked. “If you think I don’t suffer now, you’re wrong.”
In the remarkable documentary Destination Unknown, Kreuzman explains that her nights are still filled with terror, visions of her lost mother and nightmarish flashbacks to her years in captivity.
“Marsha Kreuzman didn't want to live. She feels quite ashamed of that and yet she does want to share how she felt at the time when she was liberated,” said Claire Ferguson, the film’s director. “They survived, but could they be free? The answer is: they're not free.”
Unlike many accounts of the Holocaust, this film does not end with the moments that Adolf Hitler’s armies were vanquished, the camps liberated and the survivors reunited.
“I wanted to talk about the trauma and the lasting effects of the Holocaust,” Ferguson told The Daily Beast. “We showed this film to survivors in New York and one man in his 90s came up and said thank you, this is the only film I've seen that talks about survivors’ guilt.”
The enduring question: why me? Continues to hound those who escaped the Nazi death machine.
Helen Sternlicht was one of over 1,000 names on Schindler’s list.
She had come to know Oskar Schindler while she was forced to work as a maid in the house for the notorious SS commander of the Płaszów concentration camp.
After months of hints and quiet words of encouragement, Schindler arrived one day to tell Sternlicht that she was being moved to work in one of his factories. “I looked up at him and all of a sudden everything he’d been saying came back to me: ‘I’ll save you, you going to be ok, you survive, I help you.’ And then I realized he was for real: he came for me,” she said.
Sternlicht met Joseph Jonas on the day of liberation. They would marry and move to the U.S. together.
“He was a wonderful father, wonderful husband but he was very depressed at times,” she said. “He always used to write his father’s name on the newspaper that he read every morning.
“He just kept repeating the story to me about how cruel his parents died and his brother—and the depression became very severe. Unfortunately, he felt that he cannot go on. In his last letter, he explained that he is being haunted every day and he cannot go on. I contribute his suicide to the Nazi persecution.”
Sternlicht, who now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, said: “We miss him.”
These stirring testimonies were recorded by Llion Roberts, an amateur filmmaker who was drawn into the history of the Holocaust during a visit to the Auschwitz memorial in 2001. In the subsequent years, he began to record the memories of survivors.
Destination Unknown, which was released in the U.K. on Friday, was mostly hewn from Roberts’ hundreds of hours of sit-down interviews. He also accompanied some of the survivors on trips back to the Central European camps for the first time.
On the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen, Ed Mosberg attended a memorial event dressed in the uniform of a prisoner. Holding aloft a 4ft weapon, he yelled to the crowd, “You see this whip? I was beaten by four men with this whip. I wished at that time I would be dead, because once you get killed you don’t feel it. I felt this. I feel this today. This is already 70 years, I never forgot this.”
Mosberg, who lives in Morris Plains, New Jersey, looks at the photographs of his family members who did not survive every night before he goes to bed and first thing each morning when he wakes. “When I came to the United States I did not start a fresh life, because I couldn’t forget what I had before,” he said.
His sisters died in the concentration camp.
Until making this film, Mosberg had never publicly addressed his unfounded guilt for their death. In one of the most emotional moments of the documentary he breaks down in tears: “This bothers me, that I did something wrong—I don’t know. The terrible thinking that I did something that killed them,” he said, as his voice cracked. “I never want to talk about it.”
Expressing his innermost thoughts outloud left Mosberg reeling. “I didn't see him then for a couple of days because it upset him so much,” said Roberts. “He had a migraine, he was in pain with it.
“I think he's glad he's done it—it's out.”
Ferguson, who has transitioned to documentary filmmaking after a career in fiction, praised Roberts for capturing these searing personal stories before they are lost. Six of the survivors in the film have passed away since giving their interviews.
“Ten years ago, most of these people would never have opened up. What came across was the power of living memory,” she said. “Real life beats fiction every time. This is the last opportunity to hear these voices before they become words in books.”