'It was as if fate was directing me from above'

Heroic tale of two sisters features in Yad Vashem exhibit.

holocaust 88 (photo credit: )
holocaust 88
(photo credit: )
The 15-year-old girl saw the German doctor with the rubber gloves injecting something into the veins of the women at the camp. The teen was at the bedside of her 19-year-old sister, who had been stricken with typhoid in the last days of the Holocaust. She soon understood that the shots contained poison as each of the women died within minutes. It was January 19, 1945 and the Red Army was fast closing in on the Nazi camp in Poland. Zsuzsana Braun was determined not to let her sister Agnes, her last remaining relative, out of her sight. Their parents, Arthur and Elisabeth Weisz, had already been murdered. The two sisters, who grew up in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, were saved from being gassed months earlier by a malfunction in one of Auschwitz's gas chambers. "I did not have anyone except my sister, and I was determined to be with her until the last minute," Braun recalls. Days earlier, a member of the underground had made his way to the camp to tell the inmates that liberation was almost at hand. The German physician continued across the room, injecting woman after woman with poison. Years later, Braun would learn that it was poison against mice that the doctor was using on the Jewish women. After killing most of the women in the camp, the doctor, eager to flee the approaching Russian army, handed the job over to an assistant, a young German man whom, Braun said, clearly lacked any medical experience, including knowing how to give an injection. The emaciated 15-year-old, who had had many doctors in her family, quickly turned over the hands of her sister, two other inmates, and her own so that the shot would not enter a main vein. The assistant injected the poison, but due to the location of the shot, it was slow to act. Braun felt the right side of her body freeze and knew she had to act quickly. Using her hands and a straw, she managed to remove most of the toxin from her body, and did the same for her sister and the two other women. Even today, seven decades later, Braun does not know how she did it. "I do not know how - it was not me - it was as if fate was directing me from above," she says. Racing outside in the 40-below-zero cold, with her ill sister on her back, Braun hiked for two days until she arrived at a Polish home, where she and her sister hid under straw in the barn until the Russian soldiers arrived. She fed her sister with milk she found in the barn. The Russians ordered the Polish family to take the girls into their house, but the sisters were thrown out as soon as the soldiers left, Braun recounts. She then walked 10 days - this time pulling her sister in a cart the family had given her - until she reached a Red Army hospital, where a physician amputated Agnes's legs, using neither anesthesia nor sound surgical procedures. Zsuzsana continued to nurse Agnes, and both settled in Israel in 1949, where they subsequently married. Zsuzsana Braun, 78, now a grandmother, continued to help her sister for years, and the two live on the same block in Tel Aviv. Years later, Agnes Kreisler - who received prosthetic legs - would herself volunteer in Israeli hospitals, helping patients cope with disabilities. Six decades later, the tops of their hands are still scarred where the poison was injected. The sisters' story will be portrayed as part of an exhibition opening Friday at Yad Vashem about women in the Holocaust. "Hitler brought us to Israel in order to get back our human freedom," Braun says.