There was silence in the gas chamber. Young Halina Grynsztajn was holding the hands of her sister-in-law, looking into her eyes, trying to imagine what death would be like and how it would come.
Frozen in horror, with 200 other naked Jewish women and girls, they waited all night for the Zyklon B gas to start hissing through the sham shower heads."We knew it was the end," she recalled. "We knew nobody had ever left this place alive."
Thirteen-year-old Halina knew her mother had died two months earlier in the same gas chamber at the Nazi death camp at Majdanek.
At first, the women pounded on the heavy, iron doors that shut behind them. Then all was quiet. "When death is unavoidable, people accept it," said the woman, now Halina Birenbaum of Israel.
In the chamber, "suspended between hope and the unavoidable, we waited from one moment to another."
Hope won out that night in July 1943. The gas chamber doors suddenly swung open.
"There was no gas that night. They ran out of gas," she said simply, as if mentioning a temporary shortage of washing powder.
The women were immediately loaded into boxcars and sent to Auschwitz, the notorious death camp where from 1940 to 1945 German Nazis killed 1.5 million people, mostly Jews.
With prisoner number 48693 tattooed in blue ink on her left forearm, she was sent to work in the warehouses, to sort belongings of those killed in the gas chambers.
As she stood on heaps of "clothes old and new, letters, family photographs, food nicely wrapped or unfinished, it seemed . . . that the Nazis had stripped the entire world naked."
She temporarily lost her power of speech, she said. "What meaning can a word have when you are trampling on so much of human life."
Shot and badly wounded by a Nazi officer, she survived the evacuation of Auschwitz, the forced march in which tens of thousands of prisoners died on the Nazi retreat to Germany.
Sent to the Ravensbrueck camp in Germany, then to Neustadt-Glewe, she was freed by the Red Army on May 3, 1945, but felt no joy at first.
The next day she went into the fields, saw flowers in bloom and realized she was 15 years old and had her whole life to live.
She had survived the Holocaust: the miseries of Warsaw's Jewish Ghetto, its heroic 1943 uprising that was crushed by the Nazis, then transport to Majdanek, where Nazis killed 360,000 people. She had passed through a gas chamber, lived through Auschwitz, the Death March and two camps in Germany.