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'When evil Mengele smiled you knew he was most sadistic'

Marta Wise (far right)was ill and emaciated when she heard the distant sound of soldiers marching toward Auschwitz.

The 10-year-old Slovakian Jew assumed it was German troops coming to get her, but once she saw the red stars on their uniforms she realized they were Russian. Her nightmare was over. She was liberated.

A famous black-and-white photo of about a dozen children in rags standing behind a row of barbed wire, taken by the Russian liberators, has become one of the most iconic images of the Holocaust.


Among the children featured is a rail-thin Wise, who weighed just 17 kilograms (37 pounds) when the Russians arrived, and her older sister Eva, whose sunken cheeks gave her a deathly gaze.

"That I survived and my sister survived is beyond me. I've never been able to work it out," said Wise, now 80 and living in Jerusalem. "To me, as far as I am concerned, the 27th of January is my second birthday ... because that's when we got another chance at life."

Wise and her sister arrived at the camp in November 1944, when it was already in its waning days. There, the sisters were put in the medical experiment block of the brutal Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and subjected to his torture alongside twins and dwarfs.

She said they received various injections that either made them pass out or left them writhing in pain.

Because Wise had green eyes, she was spared one of his more sinister tests - an attempt to transform the dark eyes of Jews and gypsies into a more blue, or Aryan, complexion. The lucky ones died immediately.

"He was a monster. When he smiled you knew he was the most sadistic ... and he was going to do something terrible."

With the Russians rapidly closing in, she said Auschwitz became a scene of absolute chaos in its final 10 days.

Before the last Nazis left, Wise said they gathered her and some of the other remaining prisoners, locked them inside an enclosure and set fire around them.

"It was a totally blue sky and out of the blue, suddenly just as the fire was approaching to burn us, it started to rain and the rain put out the fire," she recalled.