First Transport to Auschwitz – The Story of 999 Girls

March 26, 2014 by
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Heather Dune Macadam, a Holocaust biographer and author of Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, traveled to Poprad, Slovakia on March 26, 2012, the 70th anniversary of the first registered mass transit of Jews to Auschwitz. When she arrived at the memorial site what she came to learn took her on an entirely new journey.

rena_promiseWhat many people don’t know is that all of the 999 prisoners in the first transport were young women ages 16-22. Rena Kornreich Gelissen, the survivor Heather wrote about in her first book, was one of these 999 prisoners and the 716th woman to enter Auschwitz.

When Heather was in Poprad, she met family members of another prisoner, Adela Gross, who had disappeared when she was 16 years old and never heard from again. Heather discovered that Rena witnessed Adela being selected and taken to the gas chamber. Seventy years later, because of Heather’s trip to Slovakia, the Gross family finally learned what had happened to Adela.

Heather wondered, “How many more stories like this are out there? How many of those original girls actually survived over three years in the camps?”

Unfortunately, Adela’s family is not the only one who doesn’t know much about these first victims of the Holocaust. Many survivors have avoided talking about their experiences and the topic has not been widely researched.

1941_massacresThrough her new documentary First Transport to Auschwitz – The Story of 999 Girls, Heather has begun to find their stories and unveil the truth behind the first transport, chronicling an important part of women’s history.

“These stories are so powerful,” Heather said. “This is about genocide, and genocide always begins with young women. If you want to destroy a race of people, you attack the young women.”

WYSK connected with Heather to learn more about her journey and what drove her to explore and expose this dark period of history.

“Basically, I met Rena and that was it. I knew that I had to show up for her and write her story and if I didn’t I would miss something very important to my life. I come from Quakers and we had the first stop on the Underground Railroad North of the Mason Dixon line. I grew up knowing that my ancestors hid slaves.

When I met Rena all the intellectual reasons became unimportant–it was my heart, my karma, my calling to share her story and that is how this documentary also feels. It is time for the world to know the story of the first mass registered transport to Auschwitz and write these women back into history.”

Heather is currently hosting a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to continue to get these women’s stories recorded before it is too late. You can learn more about the campaign here.


More about Heather

heather-web-photo-chip-photoHeather began her career as a performance artist and dancer with the Martha Graham Contemporary Dance Company. She moved into film and worked as an Assistant Director on such films as “Mr. Destiny” and “Last of the Mohicans”.

She has been a commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, has a Masters in Creative Writing, and is the director and president of the Rena’s Promise Foundation.

Heather is active in fighting against Holocaust denial on social networks and works to raise awareness about the first transport and the first women in Auschwitz through curriculum development, as well as YouTube, Twitter and the Rena’s Promise fan club on Facebook.

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