SAMS Roots Interview – Kitty Hart-Moxon OBE

Kitty Hart-Moxon OBE

kittyKitty has been a member of SAMS since 2006 when she moved to Harpenden from Birmingham to be close to family: her son Peter, his wife Moira and their four sons. Auschwitz survivor and Trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Kitty has travelled throughout the UK, the US and Germany, speaking about her experiences and leading trips to former concentration camps. In 2003 Kitty was awarded the OBE for services related to Holocaust education. Here she talks about escaping a death sentence, and why she wanted her tattooed identification number removed and preserved:

I was brought into Auschwitz with my mother on the 22nd of April 1943, when I was sixteen. The very first thing that happens on arrival is initiation into the camp. Part of that process is having your camp number tattooed on your left forearm. My mother was tattooed first. Her number was 39933, and I was 39934. Under one of the nines is a small triangle. That meant you were Jewish: it was your Jewish mark.

All prisoners initiated into the camp were tattooed. Occasionally a prisoner was not tattooed, but only if they were in transit; in other words they were brought in and shipped straight out. The purpose of the tattoo was to document the numbers and categories of prisoners. Before being taken to Auschwitz, my mother and I were in prison for having false identification papers which did not show we were Jewish. I was actually sentenced to execution by firing squad, but because they never found out where the fake documents came from, they commuted our sentence to life imprisonment in Auschwitz.

The job of tattooing was given to prisoners. It was a very good job actually because you were working under cover, sitting down. The tattoos varied in size and neatness depending on who was doing it. I suppose they learnt to do it neatly as they went along.

Being tattooed felt like having your skin punctured with a pen. It was almost like a biro punching into your skin, penetrating your skin. When it was done I wiped my arm thinking it was just pen – I didn’t really know tattoos existed before that. But of course you soon realised it was permanent. We all got infected. It was horrible. The numbers meant the guards knew who and where you were at all times. They would call your number and you would have to appear before them.

Roll call was taken every morning at Auschwitz. One day my number was called out to take a punishment of twenty-five strokes for leaving my hut at night without permission. Each whip has twenty straps, some with metal pieces at the end, so with each lash came multiple wounds. I have several scars.

I arrived in Birmingham after the war to stay with relatives. My uncle made it clear that I wasn’t to speak about anything that had happened to me. He didn’t want to know, and he didn’t want his family upset. I started training as a nurse. The uniform had short sleeves so the tattoo was visible from across the room. People had no idea what it was – especially medical staff, people who should have known but were totally ignorant – and they would whisper behind my back. I got used to it. I tried explaining to them what it was, but I
quickly learned that people didn’t want to hear what I had to say.

The crunch came when a doctor suggested, in all seriousness, that I had written the numbers on my arm myself. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘couldn’t you remember your boyfriend’s telephone number, so you had to put it on your arm?’ I knew a plastic surgeon, and I asked him to take it out. I’d had enough of the silly questions and whispering, and of people not wanting to know the truth. I just wanted to get rid of it to stop all that: the numbers had become a burden.

kittytattoo

The removed and preserved tattoos of Kitty and her mother.

The piece of skin has shrunk because it’s been in formaldehyde for so long. The scar is about four or five inches, around twelve centimetres, long. My mother found hers quite difficult to live with but didn’t want it removed. When she died in 1974 I asked the coroner if he would cut it out. He arranged for the two numbers to be together in a specimen case and I keep it because I think it’s important to preserve them. I show them in my presentations.

When I’m gone, at least it’s there.

Interview and story by Caroline Pearce
Interview date 23 July 2015