A Righteous Gentile in Auschwitz

Stand for Israel  |  January 25, 2022

Auschwitz women's labor camp, where Ella Lingens was imprisoned
(Photo: wikicommons)

After studying law and medicine, Dr. Ella Lingens married another Austrian physician active in the anti-fascist underground, and the two began their work against the Nazi regime. Before Hitler annexed Austria, Ella worked giving legal advice to the already threatened Jews, but when the Nazis invaded, the good doctor’s work became much more hands-on.

Saving Jews from Death Camps

During Kristallnacht in November 1938, Ella hid ten Jews in her room, protecting them from the horrific anti-Semitic riots and violence. From 1941-1942, Ella and her husband hid a young Jewish girl named Erika in their apartment, providing her with their food rations and even providing her with a false identity to receive medical treatment when the girl fell ill. All the while, other Jews used the Lingens’ apartment as a refuge while the couple helped them escape.

But in October 1942, Ella and Kurt Lingens found themselves targeted by the Nazis they fought. While bringing Jewish refugees to safety at the border, the couple was betrayed by a secret Gestapo informant. Kurt was sent to fight on the Eastern Front in Russia, a punishment meant as a death sentence. And Ella found herself sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp.

A Doctor Sent to the Death Camp

At Auschwitz, Ella immediately put her medical training to work, acting as camp doctor. There, she saved lives medically, but also by hiding those at-risk for “selection” – being sent to the death camp’s gas chambers.

After surviving typhus at Auschwitz, Ella was sent to the dreaded Dachau concentration camp. There, again acting as camp doctor, she was put on trial for inciting a strike among the camp’s women. Facing execution, Ella survived Dachau until its liberation.

Haunted by the Holocaust

After the war, Dr. Ella Lingens worked in clinics and hospitals, but her lifework proved to be educating the world about the Holocaust – a dark chapter in history that she experience, and survived.

Ella and Kurt Lingens were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, for the Jewish lives they saved. But until her at the age of 94, this lifesaving doctor and Righteous Gentile was haunted by what she had lived through, as her son remembered:

A few days before she died, my mother got out of bed again. She leaned on the walls of the room and the long corridor and suddenly stood in the living room door, obviously a bit confused. While each conversation fell silent, she repeated a single sentence, her eyes wide in fear: You won’t burn me? You won’t burn me, will you?

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