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How my mother survived Auschwitz

By CNN's Allan Chernoff

Rena Marguiles Chernoff: "I don't know how I survived. It's pure chance."
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CNN's Alan Chernoff speaks with a special Auschwitz survivor: His mother
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Among the few child surviors of Auschwitz was an 11-year-old girl, Rena Marguilies -- my mother.

She and her mother, Hinda, had endured half-a-year at the death factory, each day pushed deeper into the hell-on-earth that was Auschwitz.

Eleven years ago our family visited the camp in Poland. My mother described the last time she saw her 9-year-old brother Romek -- the day he was selected to be gassed.

"He took this piece of bread and threw it here over the fence to my mother and said, 'You take it. I won't need it any more.' And then he started crying and ran away into the barrack."

Shipped in a cattle car from the slave labor camp Blizyn, my mom was tatooed upon arrival: prisoner A-15647. Her bed was a wooden slat, shared with nine people.

Starvation was the daily diet: chicory-flavored water masquerading as coffee ... a sliver of bread ... and a bowl of watery soup.

Sometimes there was a chance to swipe -- or "organize" -- food, as the prisoners said. Sixty years later my mother remembers grabbing a cabbage near the kitchen.

"I looked left and I looked right and no one was around. I took that cabbage as a birthday gift to my Aunt Eva. And this was the best gift I could ever give her. It was worth more than any jewlery."

My mother got by as only a child could -- using her imagination.

"I always told my mother and my aunt what I am going to eat after the war. This was the big pleasure. So I always said I'm going to have for breakfast 20 loaves of bread, and five dozen eggs and 70 cans of sprats."

Yet every day, she was surrounded by death, the crematoria smokestacks towering over the camp.

"Fire was coming out all the time, day and night. ... The smell of the flesh was all over the camp"

I asked her, "Were you afraid of dying?"

"I didn't think of death," she said. "I always figured this is my last chance, I'm going to tell them let's put up an uprising and not go in there and let's resist and this was my plan."

By sheer luck her selection never came. She and her mother survived. Her father -- Avram Chaim -- was killed trying to escape a death march.

"I don't know how I survived. It's pure chance, not that I was in any way different from everybody."

My mother -- Rena Margulies Chernoff -- was a witness and a survivor. Survivor of some of the darkest days on this planet. Witness to man's inhumanity against man.

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