…we all have a right to live. Be tolerant to one another, perhaps the world will be a better place to live in
- Renee Salt when asked what her message is to younger generations.

Renee was born Rywka Ruchla Berkowitz in Zdunkska-Vola, Poland in 1929. She lived with her father who was an accountant, her mother who was a housewife, and her younger sister. Renee had a very large extended family and remembers her parents as cultured and respected people.

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Renee and her family were turned out of their home by soldiers, with only the clothes they were wearing. All of their possessions had been taken and sent away to Germany. The family had to spilt up and Renee went to live with her grandparents in Kalisz. However, Kalisz was soon subject to mass deportations of Jews, so Renee returned to Zdunkska-Vola.

By the end of 1939, the Nazis had established a ghetto in Zdunkska-Vola and Renee and her family were forced to move there, living in a small room. The conditions in the ghetto were awful, and many were dying of starvation and endemic diseases.

One day in the summer of 1942 they were all awoken and forced to gather a large open field and sit down. Fearing the rumours about children and the elderly being exterminated, the family hid Renee’s grandparents and four year old cousin in the attic. This effort was to no avail as Renee later learned that they had been discovered and shot.  In the field, parents were ordered to hand over their children up the age of 18 years. Renee’s mother tried to hide her two daughters, but Renee’s younger sister was found. Renee’s mother was beaten until her sister protested, telling the guard that the woman was not her mother. Renee’s sister was taken away with the other children and was never seen again.

After this they were taken to a nearby cemetery where another selection process took place over two days and two nights. Eventually Renee was spotted, and despite efforts to try and make her look older, the guard became suspicious of her age. Eventually, the guard moved on and Renee had survived this selection process. Renee and her parents were then deported to the Lodz ghetto by cattle truck.

Upon arrival in the Lodz ghetto, they were taken in by Renee’s paternal grandmother. But soon after arrival another selection process took place and while Renee survived again, her grandmother was taken away. Renee also contracted typhus; a disease that was rife in the ghetto due to the awful sanitary conditions. Renee almost died during the first night of her illness, but her parents were able to source her some medicine and she was able to go back to work.

In 1944 the SS began to offer the opportunity to travel to a work camp where they were promised conditions and food would be better. As life became harder in the ghetto may did not believe it could get any worse and volunteered to go. Renee and her parents were among them.

They boarded cattle trucks that took them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After arrival in Auschwitz, Renee and her mother were separated from her father, this was the last time she ever saw him. Renee and her mother were selected for hard labour.

After some time in Auschwitz, Renee and her mother were transferred to Hamburg for demolition work, and then on to a small camp called Poppenbittel. Renee can remember the ever-present threat of the cold and starvation that ravaged them at this time. One day, when working near a slaughterhouse, a bull escaped and seriously injured Renee’s mother, who thereafter could never work again.

In March 1945, they were put into cattle trucks and transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Renee was put into a separate cattle truck to her mother, who was transferred on a stretcher. She eventually found her mother after days of searching in Bergen-Belsen, but she was barely alive. The conditions inside the camp were appalling, over population and lack of sanitation had led to an outbreak of endemic diseases, in particular typhus, and the complete cut off of food and water in the camp was causing many internees to die from starvation.

Renee and her mother were liberated from Bergen-Belsen by British soldiers on the 15th of April 1945, both were barely alive. Renee fell unconscious for ten days after liberation, and when she awoke her mother died two days later on the 27th of April 1945. Renee received hospital treatment for several weeks after liberation. Her aunt Miriam, who had survived and been liberated at a nearby camp at Braunschweig, came to Bergen-Belsen and found Renee’s name on the list of survivors. They both eventually returned to Lodz, Poland where Renee managed to make contact with another aunt, Gitl, who took her in. When Gitl remarried at the end of 1945, they moved to Germany and then to Paris.

In 1949, in Paris, Renee met her husband Charles, a British soldier who was among one of the first Military Police to enter Bergen-Belsen. Renee returned to London with Charles, and they were married the same year.

Renee continues to maintain a long-standing friendship with the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. She still gives her testimony to this day, providing a crucial eye-witness account of the Holocaust. Her contributions to the centre have been greatly appreciated and will continue to educate others for years to come.