Ruth Goldschmiedova Sax greeted the crowd that filled the panel room with a smile. “If I look around the room, I see that my life has gone from Holocaust hell to, now, Comic-Con,” she said.
Sax, who is 90 and uses a wheelchair, was the first speaker at the “Art and the Holocaust” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, and she captivated the room with her first-hand account of spending time in three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and facing the notorious Dr. Mengele six times. Mengele decided who lived and who died, and the young and the ill were always marked for death, so Sax smeared her cheeks with the red dye from coffee wrappers to make herself look older and healthier.
The impact of art came early for Sax, who recalled seeing anti-Semitic cartoons in the German magazine Der Sturmer. “We were shocked and surprised by the propaganda and the way Jewish persons were portrayed,” she said. “I remember being scared, wondering how this could be. It was something we could not run away from.”
Born in 1928, Sax grew up in Moravia, a region of the Czech Republic, and she was 11 years old when the Nazis invaded in 1939.
“The Nazis felt free to take what they wanted, including the family car,” said Sax. “After the invasion, it was impossible to be sheltered by my parents, and being a Jew was a way of life that could not be escaped.”
The family had to wear gold stars identifying themselves as Jews, and their freedoms were gradually taken away. In 1941, they were arrested and transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. At the panel, Sax showed a photo of herself taken two days before she was arrested; she retrieved the camera after the war and had the film developed. The outfit in the photo is the one she was wearing when she entered the concentration camp.
Later, she was transferred to a camp in Oederan, Germany, where she was forced to work in a munitions factory making bullets. She put sand in the bullets to they would not be usable, an action that she said saved many lives. After Oederan, Sax and her mother were transferred to Auschwitz, and then back to Theresienstadt, where they remained till the end of the war. Sax and her daughter Sandra Scheller collaborated on a book, Try to Remember -- Never Forget, which recounts her experiences more fully.