Translation edited by Lisa Newman
|I drank my mother's milk
On no. 40 Tczego Maja street,
Running, my father carried me
My clothes fill with matches,
In Kiryat Motzkin,
I still insure
I still insure
14th December 1989
Cila Katriel Hoppen
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
On May the 8th 1945, when I was released from the concentration camp among hundreds of other starved woman-prisoners, after years of forced labor and despair, I was less than 20 years old. I was set free a lonely woman All my great hopes- of returning to my home, to my family, to the reality of 6 years ago- were in vain. No-one was left of my parents and two brothers, not a trace of my house and past: all was erased, destroyed
The memories are the only thing that exists now, deep in my heart. All the details, all the colors and sounds- they are my only companions now.
My childhood in Katowice
Is about holidays with my family,
A spoiled daughter in the middle
Between my brothers, Idus and Bernard
My childhood is about scents,
And distinct Jewish dishes,
A shiny house with white tablecloths,
Sabbath candles and a gleaming light.
My childhood years are about niggunim,
The seasons of my childhood
My childhood years are about fir trees,
The seasons of my childhood
The years of my childhood are about singing, climbing,
|Stories about the cold north or the desert,
And Eretz Israel- a promised land,
Where they eat oranges instead of potatoes,
And yearning for Jerusalem, for Moshiach ben David.
The seasons of my childhood are about autumn,
My childhood is about holidays.
A town before Channukah and Christmas,
I can remember the doll I got as a present
By the end of the war she will return to my memory,
I remember Tu Bishvat,
Then comes Passover.
|On another day,
when the clouds grew less,
we took out the books:
a collection of marvelous books,
expensive and ancient manuscripts,
cautiously taken care of by my brother and I.
a day before Leil Heseder, Passover night
Dishes are boiled and made kosher,
Others are stored and replaced.
In the evening, my father will check for Chometz.
The next day he will be sitting at the table,
Supported by pillows
And with awe he will set the Seder
As tradition bids.
Gleaming candle lights,
wine glasses are poured,
And a pure-silver made goblet
For Elijahu HaNavi.
Haroset, Matzo and bitter herbs, spiced with
Tales of old that has been told
For we have been slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,
And today we are free men.
As a family, we sing altogether,
Till the light of morning.
Lag BaOmer, with an arch and an arrow,
The High Holidays,
Mosze (Zigfrid) Tichauer
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
The historical information I have on the town of Katowice goes back to the year of 1850. Famous native names of this town, such as Meidzewinski, Baderian, Nebel or Tichauer are mentioned from the 19th century on.
The Meidzewinski family is rooted in Russia, Tichauer came from the counties of Mislowice and Felps. The families of Nebel and Baderian came from Noj-Bro, also located in the Felps area.
The Jews of this time were owners of grocery shops and public houses/ my ancestors, who resided in Fiasek, were religious Jews. Their children moved to Katowice' which was still a small village back then. With time, this village grew bigger, and the situation of its Jewish community improved. The few pauper members were discreetly supported by the others.
One of the first community leaders was Mr. Zweig. His sons owned a Horseman accessories store, selling saddles, whips and the like. A man named Laks was the head of the community back then, and he owned a wall-paper retail business. The community was not fully functioning as such at the time, but some commune public services were available. Before Passover, for example, special groceries were pre-ordered for all the families, and were stored together till the holiday. The community would also organized annual Hanukah and Purim Balls, where everyone would meet and celebrate. There weren't any Jewish Societies at the time, except for Hakoach (The Force) Jewish sports foundation, a very small group. Most of the Jews were members of various German societies.
Some known persons include Heinrich Meidzewinski, who was in charge of the Jewish cemetery between the years 1895-1915, was the cemetery gardener and lived in its premises. He was also the community's Bar-Mitzvah teacher. Another community member was Aba Wilner, who gave religion classes to children two afternoons a week. Mr. Wolkowski was the town's kosher butcher, as well as a circumciser and a Bar-Mitzvah teacher who taught at the great synagogue. The community doctors were Dr. Hortig, a general physician, and Dr. Rajchman- a dentist.
After World War I, many originally-German Jews left Poland back to Berlin and other locations. At the referendum, some of those left voted for Poland, and others for Germany. Two Official languages, German and Polish, were taught and spoken for the next 20 years. During the first years, situation was tougher for the Jews who came from Poland: they needed work and residence license, without which they were likely to be banished or imprisoned.
During the 1920's, the community achieved general wellbeing. Many of its members were in fact, in today's numbers, millionaires. Socio-political Jewish life developed gradually, Beitar was one dominant organization among many others.
Community life was in blossom until the break of the Second War. Even after the Germans entered Katowice in 1939, I could still visit it rather often (until 1941), as my father worked in an international company, and had an official pass which allowed us to enter the conquered area. On this period I was still able to find some of my old friends, but everything was different. The Polish residents, who till then couldn't speak German, suddenly couldn't speak Polish. Jewish property was confiscated, and Anti-Semitism grew harsher. Any Jewish contribution that was made to this city was forgotten.
Today, I believe Jews have nothing to seek there, no matter what we do. I see the Polish people standing on the same low level as the Germans, as war criminals.
My father's entire family immigrated to South America, and some of their children now live in Israel. My parents had 3 sons, all still alive. My parents were taken on a transfer from Bojten to Zbonszyn on 1941, and that's when we last heard of them. My oldest brother left to Belgium, and from there to conquered France. He manage to travel during the war, and to arrive to Israel through Spain. In 1939, my younger brother and I left to a training session near Berlin, where we worked for German peasants until we were sent to a concentration camp, in 1943.
From our arrest to the end of the war, we were kept in Jewozno, a sub-camp of Auschwitz, where we were forced to work in coal mines. Before the war ended we were sent to Buchenwald, and were released while in Terezinsztat. After the war, I returned to my Kibbutz founding group of Buchenwald, and lived there for several years.
Today I am a pensioner, and live in Givatayim with my family.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
At the end of the school year in Wilna, my brother in-law Bruno found a tender posted at a community bulletin calling for a new Rabbi ( academic education was required) to attend at the Katowice community. My husband decided to offer himself, as besides his academic degree he was also ordinated by some of Poland's senior Rabbis.
After a few days he was invited to come and give a lecture and a speech at the city's great synagogue. My brother Joseph accompanied him, and two days later we received a telegram with the news: He was chosen. Since our apartment wasn't ready yet, we stayed in a hotel for three weeks. Members of the community committee came to greet him, and held a reception at the community hall. The women, led by Mrs. Altman, welcomed me with a party in her house. I remember myself as the youngest- I was 25 years old then- among older women, all German in origin. Because Mrs. Altman, who knew I was originally Polish, figured I might not be able to understand their language, she had me to sit next to Mrs.Sztetler, who was Polish too. I liked this graceful, sympathetic woman at first sight, and so began our long friendship. She was a dear friend to me and to my family during our years in Katowice: a noble and sensitive soul, who along with her husband guided us with good advice through the years. Unfortunately, their destiny was bitter, they were murdered by the Nazis.
Several days after we came to Katowice, we chanced to meet another distinguished lady, an honored person and a leader of the community: Chawa Winer. Her personality was a combination of all of the western Jews' pleasant virtues, and the eastern Jewish way of life. A Berlin-born, daughter of the magnificent Rozenblit family, heads of the communities in Berlin and entire Germany, she absorbed from her parents the fondness of Torah and good deeds. She married Zigfrid Winer, a sharp and educated man both in Torah and science, son of S. Weiner- a scholar and a plentiful person, who led the community for decades. She was left a young widow with 3 children, but her spirit never fell, and she tried her best to support her family with vigor. She turned her husband's library into a book shop, and found spare time to help young Jews, who arrived from Poland, to settle down and find work in Katowice. Her house was always open to all in need- whether of money or a good advice. She became a welcomed, frequent guest in our house, always there with guidance about our new home. With her manners, soft speech and simplicity she always knew how to encourage to broken-hearted and heal the wounded.
My husband's duty as a Rabbi in an increasingly assimilating Jewish community was no simple one. He had to take care of both the Western Jews, the original residents in town, as well as the Eastern Jews who immigrated from other districts, and settled in Katowice after it was appended to Poland- a city of iron industry and coal mines. During the first years, he had to lecture in German when appearing in synagogue or in front of the youth groups, but on national holidays he had to make his speeches in Polish.
There was no Jewish kindergarten in Katowice before we arrived, so the first thing I did as the local Rabbi's wife was to open one. It took a lot of effort: the kindergarten was located at the community hall, and furniture and salaries were all donated by the committee. I also joined the Jewish women foundation, which was holding various charity activities: visiting the sick, running a soup kitchen for the needy and so on.
It was customary to eulogize respected community members after their death. My husband, the community Rabbi didn't change that custom, not even when one deaf-mute man died. He said this man deserved to be remembered and honored at his death, and he eulogized him with these words: we can only imagine how much this man suffered, not being able to express his joy, his pain and his sorrow, to others. He had no tongue, still he was a sensitive person.
A kind-hearted man, who used his eyes to percept this world in all its glory. He could feel people were trying to avoid his company. He felt lonely, because he had no means of communicating his inner world, his thoughts, to those around him. Still we could interpret, from his gestures and expression, the way he agreed with righteous deeds, the way he resented any human injustice, and his mercy for those in pain.
We were members of the Bnei-Brith order. Through my work there as chairman of the sisters' alliance I managed to spread many of the original Jewish life values. I often gave lectures dealing with literary subjects' and read pieces by Hebrew writers and poets. I did my best to spread the idea of love for Eretz Israel, along with its language- the newly-spoken Hebrew. Some of my listeners were doubtful, and commented that it was impossible to revive a language that has been dead for 2,000 years, but the majority absorbed my words with delight.
Before long we managed to open language courses for Hebrew, and some of our community's families even planned on making an Aliyah. Among them was the Szlezinger family, who were the first ones to leave their parents and their fortune in Poland, and move to Israel with their two children. They built themselves a modest house in Ramatayim, and Mr. Szlezinger previously a rich man- bought himself a donkey, and provided for his family by riding it to sell candy and chocolates to stores around the area.
The Aliyah to Israel progressed slowly, and we were dreaming on making that move ourselves. It was rather difficult, because my parents were growing older, and I didn't wish to leave them on their own at old age. My work was much assisted by Szoszana Altman, an offspring to the famous Rabbinical Brill family from Hungary. Her love to Zion was passionate. Years before, as a young woman in Berlin, she spoke fluent Hebrew and wrote Hebrew textbooks, a very rare thing in those days. She was very devoted to activism, and specifically to educating the younger, whose hearts she conquered with her simple talk. She came to Israel a few years before the war broke, and continued her Zionist work. Together we worked at the management of AMEN- The Mizrachi Women Association. She was in charge of the market days, benefits from which were dedicated to public and educational causes.
She worked enthusiastically to her last day, with great strength and a sharp mind!
Holocaust is drawing near
From the day Hitler came to power in Germany, Jews and Judaism became more and more oppressed- spiritually, socially and economically. The Nazi movement wasn't active exclusively on German ground, and it spread to all neighboring countries and border areas, including our land. The Nazi residents of Upper Szlezia- known as Volksdeutsche- were used to attack Jews on the street with beating and insults. An actual attempt to blow the Katowice great synagogue occurred in 1937.
My husband was once attacked on mid-day by a group of Volksdeutsche while walking on a main street. A crowd thickened, and the attackers were caught and imprisoned. They were sentenced at the district court after several months in custody. During the testimonies, when asked why he beat the man, one of the accused tried to claim he was drunk at the time, but eventually admitted it was simply because the victim was Jewish. He was sentenced 6 months in jail.
The Nazi spirit grew stronger every day, and it took full control of public life. The first step was removing the Jews from all public positions. At this time other European countries already refused to let Jews from Germany into their borders, a policy that caused much bitterness and resentment. This was the background to Herschel Grynszpan's assassination of a Nazi Diplomat at the German Embassy in Paris.
This event is believed to have caused a Nazi counter action on November 10th, 1938, the night known as Kristallnacht. On this night most of the synagogues throughout Germany were desecrated and burnt. All Polish citizens were chased and banished, even those who were born in Germany. The cruelty was horrible: wealthy men, doctors, lawyers, all were banished and became poor and homeless in just a few hours. Trains full of Men, children and babies were driven through the Posen district borderline. Poland's major communities- among them Lodz ,Warsaw, Krakow and Katowice- sent messengers to the border, to welcome the banished Jews and divide them between the communities.
Families who owned spacious apartments invited in several persons. We supported two families, and gave them two rooms. When Passover drew near, we decided to invite different guest than the ones we invited every year- and called for a large number of banished to Jews to celebrate the holiday with us. Among the guests were Dr. Nojman and his wife, who came from Prague. While reading the Haggada, Dr. Nojman rose and made a powerful speech, which he concluded with the these words: we should learn our lesson from them- from what Hitler did to them- and leave Poland as soon as possible. We took his advice, and as soon as the holiday was over we ordered a large wooden truck. This trunk was filled with valuables, and sent to my niece Nusia, who lived in Wolkobisek. It was done in a naive assumption that such town, which was located far from the German border, will not be invaded. Our carpets and silverware were all sent to our friends, the Carmel family. My niece, who stayed with us during the holiday, helped us to quietly prepare for leaving.
Nazis attacked my husband for the second time when he was on his way to a condolence visit. He was hit in the face and eyes till bleeding, and luckily he wasn't blinded. This attack was widely discussed and caused great commotion in our community, and throughout Poland. It was taken as another escalation of the Nazi violence, and made it to the radio news. My husband received many encouragement telegrams. The lawyer Dr. Szwarzberd, who came to visit us in person, stressed that the Nazi cruelty was no individual crime against my husband, but was aimed at the entire Polish Jewry.
In the winter of 1938 my father became sick, and it was a great sorrow for me to stand at his bedside and watch him suffer.
and his wife the Rabbinit Bella Fogelman
His health worsened drastically one week before the Shavuot holiday: he was fighting for his life. When I asked him to eat something and called him father, he replied in Yiddish- father no more. A few hours later he left this world. His funeral was held the day before holiday eve, and was attended by thousands of friends, scholars and colleagues: one of Lwow's most distinguished figures, a part of this city's Jewish and Chassidic landscape for years, had passed.
On the road, a life danger and the miracle of freedom
In the summer we spent several weeks in Truskawiec. Two weeks earlier, war was already in the air. The Nazis bombed Katowice's great synagogue. Many decided to leave the city, and in the general panic and mortal danger, we decided to leave on Shabbat and drove with a few suitcases to Krakow The day after, my husband met Krakow's community leader's deputy, Dr. Meir, who advised my husband to return to Katowice, rather than leaving his community members on their own. I took my daughter with me to Lwow, to my brother Yaakov's house, and my husband returned to Katowice.
When he arrived, official recruitment notices for the Polish army were already hanging everywhere. Our family name had been removed from the door, and the gatekeeper was taking our furniture and property out to the street. Our friends urged my husband to return to Krakow right away, as the enemy would be invading in a few hours. There weren't any trains, so he had to take the bus.
The first bombs were heard on Friday morning, September 1, 1939. The Second World War had broken out. All the stores were closed, dread and terror spread through the Jewish quarter. My husband left on the train to Lwow on Sunday night. The Nazis bombed the train, and the passengers were in great danger - for five days they had to get off and find shelter with every bombing, and some of them got off and picked carrots in the fields - the only food supply they had.
I was in Lwow during those horrible five days, and between the bombings I went to the train station twice a day to look for the suitcases I had sent on from Katowice. I also withdrew all our savings from the bank. Every few minutes there were sirens, and I had to stop what I was doing and find shelter.
I was extremely worried about my husband, whom I had left and from whom I had heard nothing. He arrived on Friday morning, at seven o'clock, helpless and exhausted. On Saturday night, when the enemy drew near, we left Lwow with my brother Yaakov, and with 20 others, on a bus; the driver charged us a lot of money, and after a whole night we arrived to Kolomje, where my brother Joseph served as the city's rabbi. He was surprised to see us, as his city was still far from the front line. My brother Yaakov stayed at Joseph's house with his family, and I was hosted, with my husband and daughter, by our friend Lunia. She took us into her house, and later on so did her mother, but after two days we could see that the situation was only getting worse, and there were already enemy airplanes above Kolomje. When we learned that prominent Polish politicians were making their way there in order to cross the border to Romania, we decided to go on that same day to Koti, a town near the Romanian border.
I asked my brother Joseph to take his family and join us, but he refused to leave his community at such a time. It was only due to my insistent pleading that he agreed to send with us his older daughter Chaya, with her husband, a great scholar, and her 3-year old daughter. We rented a wagon and left with Rabbi Lewin, Rabbi of Rzeszow, and his family. Yaakov left the day before for Kosow, a small town near Koti where his uncle lived.
Late at night, the door opened and two armed military officers, accompanied by a man in civilian clothes, entered and asked in German about Dr. Fogelman. We all thought that the Germans had already taken over the town. We quickly sent my husband to hide and answered that no such man was here, but they persisted, claiming they had been sent by the Rabbi of Wiznic to help us pass the border through the river. We didn't believe them, but then my husband came out (the Rabbi was my brother Moshe's brother-in-law) and was ready to go with them. The officer mentioned a sum of money in exchange for the transfer, and we agreed. We left in the rain, around midnight. Everyone was scared, as it was highly possible that those messengers would just rob us and throw us into the river. Our companions said Viduy (a last prayer, before death) for us and wished us a safe trip. My husband carried two bags, one containing his Tallith and Teffilin, and the other, valuable documents and his diploma; I took only one suitcase.
While we crossed water up to our knees, one of the soldiers took our daughter on his back. Every once in a while we tried to feel her legs in the dark, to make sure he was still carrying her. To that he replied Don't worry, I'm a father too. We walked in the dark for two hours, until the soldier announced we had reached the Romanian border, the town of Widznic. The Rabbi and his assistants came to greet us. The Rabbi, Eliezer Hager, kissed my husband and invited us to his house, where my nephew Yehoshua was educated and grew up to be a handsome, modest and God-fearing young man. Meeting him was very exciting.
Fearing the police might come for us, the Rabbi hid my husband in the attic, where they went to sleep in a small room. His wife made a bed for me and my daughter, and gave me a Romanian ID for one Miriam Hager. The police came to check my documents the following day, and I became dumb to avoid suspicion. My brother Yaakov called from the Polish border and asked us to help him cross, with the same people who helped us. The Rabbi urged him to do so, and I promised to pay them the same amount of money, but they refused to take that risk again, and my brother stayed in Poland with his family.
To this day I mourn their tragic death. After he returned to Lwow, he was caught by the Nazis, and nothing was ever heard of him since. When I left Koti and followed our guides, I turned around to look at the land of Poland one last time, and cried bitterly, knowing I would never see my brother Yaakov, or the rest of my family, ever again.
Early the next morning, we were strongly advised to leave the place, as the police didn't allow refugees to stay there without the right documentation. The Rabbi let us rest for another night, but could not take responsibility for us any longer. On the eve of Yom Kippur, we left to Czernowicz at dawn. There we met dozens of other refugees, and were welcomed warmly by my brother Yaakov's mother in-law. We stayed there for the day, but a governmental decree that was posted the day after ordered all refugees to leave the city immediately.
We were put on the train to Bakau. Some of the community's leaders accompanied us to the train station and supplied us with food and drink. Before we left, telegrams were sent to Bakau, to ensure that we would be taken care of, and we spent the first days of Sukkot there. On Hoshaana Raba we left to Bucharest, where we stayed with other Polish refugees at the famous Boulevard hotel. That evening, the night of Simchat Torah, my husband was asked to give a speech in front of a large audience at the Malbim synagogue. I got very sick with a gall-bladder infection, and the doctor said I could only eat toasts and drink tea, which the waiter brought me several times a day. When finally we checked out of the hotel and asked about the bill, the waiter cried The lord is our god! and left the room, refusing to accept any payment and thus showing us his Judaism. He was Mr. M. Wajsman, a remarkable community leader and member of the Romanian parliament, and his wife from the famous Rabbinical family Drima opened their house and hosted us for several weeks.
Aliyah to Eretz Israel
While we stayed in Bucharest, we got acquainted with some of the community's most influential members. We were focused on finding a way to reach Israel. Among the connections we were considering as possibly helpful was Hela Zweigl, with whom I had gone to college in Vienna. She had been living in Israel with her family since 1937 and was married to Dr. Sarig; I wrote and asked her to try and get aliyah certificates for us. She went to see Rabbi Herzog in Jerusalem immediately. The bureau of Erez Israel in Bucharest was aiding us, and our certificates were authorized in a few weeks' time.
A party was set for us before we left. Rabbis and other remarkable characters came, among them Rabbi Tzvi Guttman, who warmly encouraged us to make aliyah. The last to speak was a lawyer, Dr. Wajsman and his wife, who had been our generous hosts for the last few weeks. He mentioned his good impression of my husband, who despite all our hardships would sit studying in the library till late at night.
In the winter of 1940 we sailed, through a great storm, from the Konstanca port aboard the ship Serbia. After four days we reached the port of Haifa. A few friends from Katowice who lived in Tel Aviv were told about our arrival in advance, and were supposed to meet us in Tel Aviv, but due to the storm the ship had to dock in Haifa. After a few hours' rest, we took the bus to Tel Aviv. We knew no one there, but I asked a cashier who worked at the bus station, a man named Lapidot, to help us find a hotel. This dear man brought us to the Sandomirsky hotel on Lilienblum Street. He booked a room and never told us he paid for our stay in advance, claiming it was a former Katowice community member from Tel Aviv who did that. The first Katowicer to visit us was Szalom Slezinger, who had come to Israel a few years earlier and settled in Ramatayim. His family hosted us during our first days in Tel Aviv, and then we found a room at the Karnowski family residence. Mrs. Karnowski did her best to make settling down easier for us. Our daughter, Naomi-Leah, was sent to the kindergarten to learn the language and adjust to the new environment.
In the meanwhile, my husband was offered several rabbinical positions. He was visited by a group from Kiryat-Motzkin, a new town near Haifa established by middle-class families. Mr. Zeev Parosh, one of the founders, asked him to serve as the town's rabbi. My husband loved the place, specially its great synagogue which was built by Parosh, Israel Shapiro and Yossef Chassid. Despite the limited means, he agreed to fill the position and we moved to the new town.
During the first years of World War II we did our best to save family members from the Nazi hell in Europe and bring them to Israel. Among these family members was Yehoshua, my brother Moshe's older son. We worked hard to find people to help us bring him here, and we were eventually aided by Dr. Eliash from Jerusalem. We didn't rest until Yehoshua was able to come to Israel, in 1942. He stayed in our home during his first several weeks, but craved the quite, humble life in a kibbutz, and joined kibbutz Kfar-Etzion in Hebron Mountains, where he fulfilled his dream as a devoted, hardworking member of the group.
The Tehran Children
About three years after my arrival, a group of Jewish orphans known as the children of Tehran arrived from abroad. These children had been left alone in the world, without homes or families, during the war. They were gathered in Tehran by the famous Henrietta Szold, and were somehow brought to Israel in the heat of the war. The children landed in Atlit; in that camp they were divided among various schools and kibbutzim. For a few weeks I visited them every day with a group of devoted women, to give these poor, lonely children social, medical and spiritual aid. Many of them were sick due to the exhausting trip, and all of them needed a mother's touch. Some of them were just toddlers, who needed specially tender care. They arrived with old, worn-out clothes and shoes, if any, and so when they got new shoes from the Jewish agency they turned them upside-down, unable to believe the soles were actually new and whole. Some of those who were sent to Kibbutz Ben-Shemen were so scared of the war they continued to collect sugar and pieces of bread, and keep them in their bags. Among them were very talented, even gifted children and many grew up to join a generation of outstanding characters, teachers, professors and politicians. The story of the youth aliyah and specially that of the Tehran children was well told in Moshe Kol's book, Youth Aliyah- Past, Present and Future, which my daughter Naomi-Leah praised in her1958 article, sons returning to their homeland published while she studied at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem, and worked as a secretary at Yad Vashem museum.
93 girls sacrifice themselves for Kiddush Hashem
Among all the other stories of Nazi atrocities and horrors during the war, we heard terrifying rumors from Poland and other conquered European countries.
Perhaps the most shocking story of all was that of the Krakow teachers' seminary for girls, the first orthodox girls' school in Europe, founded by Sara Schnirer. The story of 93 students who sacrificed themselves for Kiddush Hashem (for the sake of God's Sanctity) is truly outstanding in the history of Jewish holy sacrifices. Nazi officers had one day entered the school, and demanded to meet the girls for a little fun. The girls were 15 years old, and guided by their principal they all decided to kill themselves together before the Nazis were able to touch them. They all committed suicide by swallowing poison pills.
From the day I heard about this courageous act of faith, I have added a special Sabbath candle to the ones I light every Friday afternoon, in memory of these holy 93 Jewish girls of the Krakow ghetto.
My nephews, two survivors
During the war we were extremely worried about my brother Moshe's other 3 sons: Naphtali, Samuel and Israel. Therefore, we were excited and happy when, in the summer of 1945, we were received a telegram that a 16-year old Naphtali and 7-year old Israel were saved, and were waiting in the refugee camps for a ship to Israel. They arrived shortly thereafter, and for days all they could do was sit and tell us about their years of torture in the concentration camps and the miracles that kept them alive. Israel could only speak Polish, so Naphtali described to us their escape from the Buchenwald camp. When they were brought from Piotrkow to Czentochowa, there were two trains full of men, women and children, all to be deported to the camps. My sister-in-law Chaya was on one train, with her baby son Israel. Naphtali was on the other one with many boys his age, both Jewish and Christian. Just before they left, as Naphtali went to the other train to say goodbye, his mother broke the window with a knife and handed him his baby brother through the hole. The two brothers stuck together ever since, through the camps and on the run. When they got to Germany, Naphtali taught Israel to call himself Yolek, and Israel kept the secret. For safety reasons, Naphtali never told anyone that Israel was his brother. When the American army, led by Rabbi Kahana, released the captured Jews, Israel stood up and declared in Polish- the only language he knew: I'm not Yolek! Srulik, Israel, is my name! We took Israel to our home and raised him as a son. He grew up to be Israel's head Rabbi, Rav Israel Lau.
I find great satisfaction and joy in visiting the orthodox kindergartens in Kiryat-Motzkin, especially before Shabbat and holidays. I can then see that we created a solid educational foundation for the children of our town. These three kindergartens have an important role in the local education system. The number of children attending them is increasing every year. Their parents feel that by running these kindergartens, and adding to them the religious elementary school and girls' high school, we have enriched the spiritual life in Kiryat Motzkin.
On Fridays I sometimes visit the children during the Kabalat Shabbat ( reception of Sabbath ) ceremony. An hour before the end of the day, the teachers gathers all the children in a circle. In the middle of the room stands a table, covered with a white cloth. On it are two candles, a bottle of grape wine with a goblet, and Challah breads the children have baked themselves. Those are covered with an embroiled napkin. One chair is specially kept for a chosen boy, and the other for a girl. She covers her head, lights the candles and while blessing on them she covers her eyes, as the ancient ritual commands. The boy prays like a Chazzan, and the ceremony ends with a song of Lecha Dodi, sung vigorously by everyone. In the kindergartens, we teach the children the full, whole Jewish life we have in Israel, the beauty of Sabbath and the holidays.
Every year, two days before Shavuot, the kids are gathered in the great synagogue, along with 1st and 2nd graders from the orthodox elementary school. The place is decorated with fresh flowers, and together with their teachers and parents they celebrate this holiday, the time the Torah was given to our people. They read chapters from the bible, pray and sing holiday songs. Torah scrolls are taken out to be read in and discussed by the Rabbi. The sight of children dancing in the synagogue, tiny versions of Torah scrolls in their hands, is beautiful. It's a joy of our people.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Sosnowiec on 1921, and at age eight my family moved to Katowice. I attended the Jewish elementary school for several years, and then the general high school. Afternoon hours were dedicated to Cheider studies from age ten to my bar-Mitzvah.
We were five brothers. My older brother was recruited, and I left for an agricultural training camp two years prior to the war. Our parents were rather wealthy, and my father owned a large retail business selling porcelain and crystal dishes. He was a regular donor to Zionist funds. In 1933 or 1934, right after Hitler came to govern, my father sued a German company who didn't provide him a certain amount of merchandise as they had agreed, and he won the case. I advised him to invest the money somewhere in Israel, but he put it all back in the family business, so when we eventually had to leave, we were relieved of all of our money and property.
I have special memories from the community Rabbi, Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman. He was a guest at my Bar-Mitzvah and after the celebration in the synagogue came to our house for the traditional feast. I had the merit of being a student of his. Our synagogue on Mickewicza street was magnificent, perhaps one of a kind in all of Poland. I used to sing in the boys choir there as a child. There were many other smaller synagogues in town, and another one in the community building, where the more observant members prayed.
The Germans entered Katowice on Friday, September 1, 1939. I was about to make aliyah to Israel, and was planning to leave for Romania on August 8, but 2 days before that date I received a telegram informing me that the entrance to Israel was for now forbidden, due to the upcoming war. Thanks to my non-Jewish appearance, I was able to go out on the streets right after the Germans entered, and was a witness to festival of violence. In October I watched the great synagogue burn.
I was a member of the Zionist Youth movement. One exciting Zionist experience I can recall is the competition we had in 1934, to be first to empty the Israel Fund blue donation boxes. We were a group of 14 year olds, and we were fighting about the streets in which we would collect donations. That same year, I won the first place in our branch, and the whole branch finished with the highest amounts collected among all the different youth groups in Katowice. The event was celebrated in the grand community hall, and we were awarded a visit by Nathan Bistrizky, a messenger from Israel. I received a personal certificate, announcing that a tree was planted in my name, at the fund's Hebrew Child wood. I still ask myself from time to time where these trees are.
As a young boy, I was truly impressed by Nathan Bistrizky, who taught us dancing and Hebrew singing, as he did in every Jewish community abroad. When I finally came to Israel, I tried to locate him more than once. A few years ago I finally managed to contact his son, who gave me his father's address in Jerusalem. After 50 years, we met again. He was about 80 years old. I reminded him of his visit to Katowice years before, and he remembered it all vividly.
In 1930, aged nine, I went to the cinema to watch a movie on my own. On the news screened before the movie they showed pictures of Jerusalem and Hebron, describing the violent incidents of 1929. As I silently watched the blood, murder and robbery of Jews, people around the room started to shout Yes! Hit the Jews! Jews to Palestine! I burst out crying and ran away from the cinema, consumed by pure hatred. It was my first personal experience of antisemitism.
Because I had decided to leave to Israel, I started to learn radio mechanics in addition to my regular studies in the gymnasium. From time to time, I had to carry heavy and fragile radio boxes, and more than once, non-Jews were waiting for me on the street. One time, I just left the radio on the sidewalk and hit them until they ran away. Over time, antisemitism on the streets grew harsher. Non-Jews made a habit out of covering my father's store's windows with dark paint. I never told my parents I had decided to quit school and go to the training. They didn't know I had to wake up at 3 am every morning, milk ten cows and fill bottles with the milk.
Then I had to load a wagon with the milk bottles, and at 5 am drive seven kilometers to the next town to distribute them. From that time I remember a 14-year old Jewish girl, Yehudit Kamliszer, who used to welcome me with a smile every morning. I met her five years later in Tehran. She passed away in Afikim.
After the war broke out, we packed a few belongings and escaped by foot. It was Saturday night, September 2. My parents, three brothers and I walked 50 kilometers before we were caught and forced to return to Katowice. We tried to cross the border to Romania and got caught, tried to escape to Lithuania three times but were captured again, and eventually got imprisoned. A year later we were sent to Siberia by the Russians, where we stayed for two years. Many around us died from the cold. I managed to escape by train, and ultimately reached Iran. My father and two brothers reached Lwow. my mother and other brother were sent to Auschwitz. When I came to Israel, I settled in Kibbutz Tel-Yitzhak and lived there for 10 years. I wrote a book on the story of the Tehran children, as well as a paper on Katowice.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Until Hitler came to power in 1933, the relations between Jews and Christians in Katowice were rather bearable. After that year, a wave of antisemitism exploded: notes and posters against Jews were hung around Katowice, and many were attacked on the streets. Anti-Semitism wasn't felt in my school. I went to the general gymnasium with three other Jewish girls, and we had many non-Jewish friends. I tasted antisemitism only once, when a friend asked me whether the rumor about Jews using Christian children's blood for the preparation of Matza in Passover was true. I said it was not, and that settled it. After Hitler's rise, when teachers expressed antisemitic opinions in class, my Jewish friends and I stood up and left the classroom.
I left Katowice a month before the German invasion, and came to Israel with my mother, disguised as tourists. We supposedly came for a family visit, and just stayed with them for a while. I started going to high school, and began my new life. My family was murdered in the holocaust. I never returned to Katowice, nor did I ever want to.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I'm Henri Kronberg from Katowice. My sister is Leahle (Esther) Kronberg, now named Powel. Our father was a watchmaker, and his store was at number 10 Kosciuszki street. Or mother was a hat maker, and her business, Paryzanka was located on Stanislawa street. The war drove us apart in 1939. I lived with my father for a long time in the Krakow ghetto, where he died. I was sent to a concentration camp, and was released in 1945 near Bergen-Belsen. My mother and sister tried to make it to Russia, but unfortunately my mother died on the way. My sister managed to get to Russia, and from there she travelled to Iran and stayed there till the end of the war.
I arrived in the United States with my wife in 1947, having heard nothing of my sister since the outbreak of the war. in 1960 I was at a Bar-Mitzvah celebration in Canada, where I accidentally met a friend who informed me that my sister now lives in America. After 20 years apart, we now live together, me and my wife, my sister and her husband, in Las-Vegas, USA.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in 1911 in Slawkow, a small town near Katowice. At 18, I moved to Katowice with my family, and that's where I met my husband-to-be. My father, Chaim Szlomo Szikman, had a work clothing factory in Katowice. After seven years I moved to France with my husband, and that's where we lived during the war. My family stayed in Katowice, but my parents were later on sent to Sosnowiec. My family was highly observant and orthodox. My mother was a rabbi's daughter. Of my eight brothers and sisters, two were saved. One was in Auschwitz, and the other disguised himself as a Pole and managed to stay alive. He now lives in the United States.
I gave birth to three children. My older daughter, Helusia, is a painter who lives in Haifa. My son lives in Jerusalem, and my younger daughter lives in Boston.
I lived in France until 1960, and then made aliyah to Israel.
Helusia Szikman-Roker, daughter of Fela Mischtein, is standing in the middle the center
The brother - Mordechai, and his sisters - Hanka, Esther and Janke
Above, third from the left - Esther Szikman-Frenkel
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Updated 26 Jun 2010 by LA