Born: September 3, 1922;

Died: January 22, 2021.

FIVE days before the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Scotland’s last survivor of the camp, Judith Rosenberg, passed peacefully away, aged 98. Judith never let her experience of the camp define her: instead, she was known for her encyclopaedic knowledge, and her gift for the understanding and support of others.

Sadly Judith’s academic career was cut short when race laws and antisemitic violence in her native Hungary prevented her from pursuing her lifelong ambition to be an astrophysicist. She was simply born in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

She was raised in a comfortable family in Gyor, Hungary, the first daughter of Zsigmond and Irene Weinberger. She was later to have a little sister, Kati.Her father was a timber merchant, whose wisdom saved his little family from certain death in Auschwitz and later in a labour camp.

He hired a German orphan as a governess for his daughters and insisted that only German was spoken at home because of their proximity to Vienna and because it was the language of the intelligentsia. Judith also became fluent in German and English and her enormous appetite for learning secured her top marks in her Baccalaureate.

This enabled her to take up one of the few places, under the quota system for Jewish students, in Budapest University. She lived securely with her uncle in Budapest but was at risk in the street from antisemitic attacks. In her second year at university some of the Jewish students were so badly beaten by racist thugs that her father insisted that she return home. There he apprenticed her to a watchmaker, a skill that saved her life in the labour camp in Lippstadt.

Judith vividly recounted the years before deportation with the losses and hardships the family endured. The horses used to haul the wood from her father’s factory to the timber and coal merchants had to be given to the German war effort, as were two much-loved white ponies owned by Judith and Kati. The German governess who lived as a member of the family, who was adored and loved, was forced to return to Germany, as no pure Aryan was allowed to work for a Jewish family.

When orders for the Jews to gather for deportation were given in April 1944. Judith’s father was forced to hand over his house and factory to his foreman. To her last day Judith and no-one in her family received any restitution for these properties.

As in other situations the family was told to gather together one small case each and food for their journey. In later life Judith smiled as she talked to schoolchildren about the railway carriage, which had been used immediately before for horses and which was now crammed full of Jewish families from Gyor. She asked school children to imagine what it would be like in such a carriage with only one bucket to relieve themselves and no water.

She also told the children how her father managed, on occasions, to put his coat down in a small area which allowed his wife and occasionally his daughters to sit and rest. Judith couldn’t remember whether the journey was four or five days but they eked out their small provisions. Her father helped other men empty the foul-smelling bucket between the floor boards of the carriage and helped pile up, in a corner of the carriage, the bodies of those who had died on the journey.

On arrival at Auschwitz her father had only one message for his family before they were separated. He told them if the Germans ever offer you options always choose the hard option because there would be an alternative motive. Judith was never to see her father again.

On the journey Judith’s maternal grandmother disappeared but Judith, Kati and their mother survived the degradations that were to follow. The last words of their father saved their lives when German officers asked those who were unable to walk the three kilometres to Auschwitz to take the trucks that were ahead. Remembering Zsigmond’s words Judith, Kati and Irene walked the three kilometres; those who chose the trucks were never seen again.

Judith would recalled to the school pupils how they were shaved, not only on their heads but also under their arms and on their private parts. After the shaving process she could not recognise her mother and it took some time, shouting her mother’s name, before they were all reunited.

Judith did not like to talk about conditions in Auschwitz where she endured so much pain but was happy to tell young people about how she and her sister and mother survived long enough to be selected in September for a labour camp. Those selected were sent for a shower, the first she had since her arrival in Auschwitz in May 1944. To her dismay she was marched to a building with a notice “Gaskammer” but it turned out to be a shower room.

With the briefest of showers the three were each given a pair of pants, until then they had no underwear, and a different set of prison clothing. Happily the next journey was a little better than the first and their little group was put to work in a munitions factory in Lippstadt in Germany.

t was there that Judith’s knowledge of physics and watchmaking saved her life. When the machines broke down she could fix them. One day a German officer asked how she was able to fix machines and she told him of her study of physics and that latterly she was a watchmaker. From that moment on she fixed the watches of the German officers at night and was rewarded with extra soup, which she shared with her mother and sister.

In April 1945, as the allies advanced, the predominantly female prisoners were marched into the mountains and many prisoners died or were shot en route. The little family stuck together until one morning they woke up and there were no guards and in the distance they saw a unit of the American army.

Their liberation in a small village in Germany was, as Judith described, truly unbelievable. The American general ordered all the inhabitants into the streets and advised the villagers that in similar villages German soldiers ordered Jews from their homes with a 10-minute warning. He gave the villagers the same 10 minutes to remove what they required and then gave the remnants of humanity in front of him free reign in the village. Judith spoke to school children, with some embarrassment, about how she remembered that they behaved like animals, pulling out food and clothing without pausing to think of the villagers.

In a very short time Judith was selected to work as an interpreter for the British army. One day she and the other interpreters were invited to afternoon tea with the army officers. They were invited again the next day when she was told a young Jewish officer would be joining them and as they say, the rest was history.

The young army officer turned out to be Lieutenant Harold Rosenberg, who she said never left her side from that day on for the rest of their lives. This gallant young officer went to Field Marshal Montgomery himself to ask for permission to marry her; Montgomery ordered his batman to prepare the necessary approval.

Judith and Harold were married by Isaac Richards, Chaplain to the Forces, on April 14, 1946, in Warburg, Westphalia. Judith always kept by her side pictures of that day together with a copy of the wedding invitation and a copy of the wedding breakfast.

Judith and Harold settled in Glasgow where they had almost 60 years of a sublime and mutually adoring marriage. They were deeply in love until the sad day in 2005 when he died in her arms on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

With Harold, Judith enjoyed golf, music, opera, art and travel. Until two weeks before her death Judith could speak four languages, recite the majority of the periodic table, tell you about the planets and black holes and the plot of any opera or classic English novel.

Judith was a walking encyclopaedia and a true survivor. She is survived in Hungary by her only blood relative, Erika Marosi, her sister Kati’s daughter.

Ethne Woldman MBE