A broken wrist nearly ended the life of Judith Altmann.
Having survived Auschwitz, the Czechoslovakian teenager was doing hard labor at the Essen and Gelsenkirchen work camps during the waning days of World War II when an iron rod fell on her hand, sidelining her from the toil of building roads for the German army.
The broken bone, she knew, meant she could not work — surely a death sentence.
That night, an SS soldier woke her and drove her to the hospital. On the return trip, the two stopped at a factory to obtain a letter.
“At that time, I spoke six languages. Now, I speak seven,” Altmann told Middle Schoolers at a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion assembly on October 8.
“That brings me to you,” she said, telling the boys: “Learn all you can.
“In your case, you will use it for your career. In my case, it literally saved my life. The knowledge of languages saved my life.
“Had I not been able to translate, I would have been sent away, never to come back,” she said. “But learn all you can.”
Altmann spoke to Middle Schoolers via Zoom, detailing how her happy life in Czechoslovakia ended when the Nazis invaded the small country in 1939.
She told the boys how soldiers came to her home in April 1944, and gave the family 15 minutes to collect some belongings and leave.
From there, the family suffered a horrifying ordeal that began with a week at an outdoor camp, a move to a Hungarian Ghetto, and a four-day trip to Auschwitz in a packed cattle car with dozens of others.
Altmann was selected for hard labor, and survived a death march to Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Sick with Typhoid, lice, and hunger, she was near death when she and others were liberated by the British army in 1945.
Afterwards, she moved to Sweden, where she chose to go school.
“You are so young to hear such terrible things,” she told Brunswick boys. “But there will be no one to tell you who was part of it.
“We don’t want to scare you,” she said. “It isn’t pleasant to hear on a sunny morning.
“It’s important to see what humanity can do to one another.”