Yidele was four months old when, on October 13, 1942, the suspense in the Ghetto of Piotrkow reached its climax. The next morning, at about 2 a.m., Ukrainian squads, the Einsatz Kommando, and the Polish Blue Police took up positions around the ghetto. His father, with the other men of his family, was already in the barracks of the Bugaj factory. They were among the so-called legal Jews who worked with the Germans. His mother, along with other women and children, went into hiding. As the people were driven out of their houses toward their last journey to Treblinka, a group of about 50 souls lay in wait in a bunker an attic in a house located on Rynek Trybunalski 10. The baby Yidele, resting securely in his mother's arms, was among them.
The dreadful days went by. Outside, men, women and children were hunted down. Cellars and attics were searched; shots came from everywhere. The people in the bunker could only wait and pray. Sarah Henechowicz, Yidele's mother, had a little primus warmer and was able to prepare food for her infant. The action lasted eight days. On the ninth day, the shooting outside subsided. Now, another ear-piercing sound was heard; it was the cry of the baby. Yidele was hungry. There was no more milk. Sarah cradled him in her arms but to no avail. The child cried on and on.
The elders of the hiding place had a hushed discussion. They decided to silence the baby by strangulation in order to save the other souls. Sarah, alerted by her cousin Szeina, wouldn't let the child out of her arms. The fierce crying became a whimper; the baby was totally exhausted.
Arrow indicates the house where Yidele and his family were hidden
Outside, the meticulous bunker search was raging on. The Germans were able to uncover one bunker after another by a perfidious method. Yoyne, of the Judische Ordnungsdienst, would approach the cellars and attics and shout in Yiddish that the coast was clear, that he had come to help with food and water. Many Jews foolishly responded. Once a bunker was located, the horrible fate of the hidden was sealed.
At the end of the second week the bunker on Rynek was uncovered. The people were taken away to the basement on Garncarska, later to be sent to the synagogue, Tomaszow and Treblinka. As the captives were passing Starowarszawska, Sarah spotted Symche Dovid, her husband, standing inside the little ghetto behind the barbed wire. With one swift movement, she threw the baby into his father's arms. Symche Dovid, clutching the boy quickly, vanished from sight and into the entrance of the Chaml Orners building. The SS escort didn't notice the incident but the Jewish Police inside did. They ran after Dovid in hot pursuit.
|Yidele in Finland
shortly after the war
The father reached the attic. There he pushed Yidele deep into some heaps of loose straw. Then he quickly ran downstairs just in time to avoid his oppressors. The police looked everywhere. With their long clubs they sifted through the straw. The child didn't utter a cry. Somehow, they didn't find him. Late that night, the father secretly brought Yidele down from the attic to his living quarters. The baby was safe, so far.
There was also a nine-year-old girl in the bunker. She was Yidele's relative and her name was Gutka. She and her mother Szeina were taken away with all the others to the temporary jail in the cellar of Flattau's house. She was in a less fortunate position than Yidele. She already understood what was going on. She saw a little stray dog running and said to a Polish Blue Policeman, How I envy this little dog, he at least has his freedom. Then she asked the man, Do you have children? Why do you take me? I didn't do anything bad. And then she asked her mother, Does it hurt when you are shot? If it does not hurt too much then let them shoot us so that we can get out of this agony.
Mother and daughter were taken to the synagogue the next day. A few hours before the deportation to Treblinka, they escaped. It was a one-in-a-thousand chance. For a huge sum of money, a policeman let them out through a narrow back window. From there they were on their own. They ran from house to house; all were empty now. Their biggest obstacle was crossing the cruelly lit, heavily patrolled streets. Painfully they crossed Jerozolimska, sneaked through Zamkowa, Pereca and, gasping, made it to the barbed-wire fence of the little ghetto. With the guards at the other end, they somehow crawled under the barbed wire. Shots followed but they were lucky. In the next few minutes, breathless and full of scratches, they knocked on the door of their husband and father's room the room where Yidele was.
Hearing the knock, Symche Dovid said, This could only be my cousin Szeina, she is a born survivor. Gutka tearfully fell into her father's arms. One of the first things that Szeina did was to give Yidele a bath. But their troubles were not yet over. They were still considered illegal and had to stay in hiding.
After the deportation, only 2,000 legal Jews remained in the little Ghetto. They worked for the Germans. The Judenrat, the Jewish Police and their families also remained. Some of the people who were spared worked at the Befehlstelle, cleaning out the houses. Hundreds were still illegal and in hiding.
Yidele was kept hidden most of the time. He was tended to by his father, grandfather, and uncles, who worked alternate shifts. Szeina and her daughter spent hours in a cellar full of rats or in a closet. Once, during an Action, a searching policeman actually felt Gutka's shoe as she was standing in the closet.
During November and December 1942, a new wave of Actions swept the ghetto. All the illegals were rounded up, among them Szeina and Gutka. More than 500 were amassed in the synagogue, where they were subjected to atrocious treatment. They were deprived of food, water and sanitary facilities. Barbarous scenes occurred inside and outside, where the oppressors took children and burned them alive; soon after the illegals were taken to nearby Rakow woods and shot. In the last moments, Szeina and Gutka were saved by their relatives and returned to the little Ghetto.
Yidele was spared this time. His father literally put him in his huge breast pocket and went to work with the baby. From then on, during the dangerous actions, he used this method of protection. How he managed to persevere and keep the child is inexplicable.
After the Rakow action, Szeina and Gutka became legal and started to work at the Befehlstelle. As the only woman in the decimated family, Szeina took a large part in taking care of Yidele.
In July 1943 Piotrkow was officially declared Judenrein. With the liquidation of the small Ghetto, the remaining people were divided into three groups. One group was sent to Blizin, the second was sent to Kara and Hortensia glass factory, and the third group, among them Yidele and his family, were taken to the Bugaj wood factory, now called Di-Fi.
During the time spent at Bugaj, Yidele began to walk, but with difficulty. He was the baby in the camp and everybody loved him. Luckily, being the only two-year-old among the workers, he was somehow accepted by Dietrich and Fisher, the camp fuhrers. Yidele was growing fast. He was constantly roaming around the barracks and searching for food. He loved meat.
When, on rare occasions, the camp kitchen rationed a meager portion of this precious nourishment, Yidele was delirious and greeted Szeina and the others coming from work in his strange baby talk, shouting, Mama taish Mama taish, which in his language meant meat.
Symche Dovid, his father, and two brothers worked the afternoon shift and tended to the boy in the morning. Szeina worked the first shift and, as the woman, did her best to feed and wash the child upon returning from work. Understandably, the harsh life of Bugaj deprived the child of decent, constant care and he was on his own for many hours. A little angelic, sometimes dirty, face with lively brown eyes shrewdly appraised the cruel outside world. Many times he had to make a judgement as an adult would.
In November of 1944, as the Russian Army advanced into Poland, the last Jews of Piotrkow were deported. Some were sent to Czestochowa and the rest, including Yidele, were sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. In Buchenwald the child was taken away from his father. Symche Dovid was frantic and feared the worst. One day he was in such a low state of mind that he disobeyed the guard's orders and was killed on the spot. Meanwhile, Yidele was taken to Barrack no. 63, where the red-headed Gustav, a Jewish Communist from France, was the Blokalteste. This barrack contained only children, who were treated better by the mostly political camp inmates.
Yidele, being the youngest, became the pet of all the Kapos and other leading camp figures who were longing for their own children. He quickly learned the German language and became the youngest inmate in Buchenwald's history.
In the early spring of 1945, Yidele and some other youngsters were sent to the death camps in Bergen-Belsen. There the women caretakers were also taken with Yidele's childish charms and took him under their care. The conditions at Bergen-Belsen were horrible. The typhoid epidemic was rampant and Yidele became acutely ill. Only by sheer luck did he survive.
In April 1945 the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen. Yidele, the Holocaust survivor, was not even three years old.
|The birth certificate of Yidele obtained just recently.
Amazingly, four months before deportations
the Polish municipality still recorded the only birth in the ghetto
Szeina and her daughter were also deported to Bergen-Belsen from Ravensbruck. After all the struggles and immense suffering, liberation finally came. They found Yidele in the Kinderheim, tended by English nurses. The boy greeted them happily; he called Szeina Mama and asked them to stay with him. This was impossible. Szeina tried to carry the boy away but was caught and sternly reprimanded by the authorities. The child's father's cousin was not a close enough relation. Yidele was sent to Sweden for adoption. A few weeks later, his real Uncles Morris and Wolf Henechowicz arrived at Bergen-Belsen, but the boy was already in Scandinavia.
Years passed. Szeina, her husband Jacob, and Gutka settled in Israel in a Moshav called Gan Hashomron. In 1951 there was an addition to their family I married Gutka. In 1952 our daughter Iris was born.
In Gan Hashomron there was an Olim group from Finland. We heard from them about Yidele. He had been adopted by a Jewish attorney who lived in Finland. We were told that Mr. and Mrs. Maslovat, his present parents, simply adored the child. We wrote to the Maslovat family and their response was prompt, with a picture of Yidele enclosed. A few weeks later Mr. Maslovat, a refined, elegant gentleman, paid us a visit. He spoke of the boy with great love and compassion. He promised to bring Yidele with him on his next visit. But this never came to pass. Szeina constantly spoke about the boy and her wish was to meet him again.
His uncles, Morris and Wolf, settled in Toronto,. Morris became a wealthy manufacturer and traveled extensively. He established contact with the Finnish family and visited Yidele in the sixties at a college in London. Yidele, we heard, has become an engineer, married and is now a father. He is 38 years old. To the best of our knowledge, he now resides with his family somewhere in North Canada. We have tried to obtain his address but to no avail. Szeina is now 81 years old. She still talks about Yidele with great compassion. Her greatest wish is to see him.
The subject is indeed touching. Time is short and I am compelled to do something, anything in order to fulfill the wish of an elder, gracious lady.
I do hope that one day Yidele will pay us a visit. I imagine this encounter will be fascinating and rewarding. He probably doesn't remember his father, Auntie Szeina or the others in his family. His roots are somewhere in Finland. He probably doesn't remember a time and place, not too long ago, when there was nothing around but misery, death and destruction. He probably has heard of, but doesn't recall, the brutal and senseless murders of little children who used to laugh and sing and could have been his playmates.
Yidele, a child of the Holocaust, lives with memories inherited from others who do remember the most horrible time of man's bestiality to man. The inherited memories could not be anything other than real to him; he had to grow up with them. What stigma have they left? That's a burning question.
I do know that I cannot forget the past and that he must not forget it and that our children shall be reminded.
Yidele, wherever you are: Please bear in mind that somewhere there are people that remember you, love you and would like to meet you.
Not until a while ago did I receive Yidele's address from his uncle, Morris Henechowicz of Toronto. The address was a secluded place somewhere in British Columbia. I forwarded the Bulletin with an explanatory letter to that address and waited.
It started the way almost everything starts these days with a phone call. It was Yidele at the other end; the moment was rather touching. His diction was British, refined and distinctive. Our conversation was brief and filled with emotion. Guta told him that Szeina was seriously ill and asked him to visit us soon. His response was positive and humane: I will see what I can do, he said. First I will write you about my life, my family and myself. A few days later the letter came. The following are some excerpts:
I thank you greatly for your letter and the enclosed bulletin. In reading, so many different emotions went through me, anything from shock to amazement to horror, to puzzlement; but more than anything, I was moved by the help I received from total strangers and relatives who enabled me to survive those first horrible years. Thank you. I will be able to thank you in person, as I will be arriving at JFK airport on May 31, 1982.
In the meantime, I will tell you some of the things that have happened to me since 1945. I remember very little of my early childhood. I was adopted in 1946 by a couple who lived in Helsinki, Finland. Sam was a lawyer and Minna a housewife. I believe I had TB in those days and was under excellent medical care. I started at the Jewish school in 1948. I thought of myself as an average child who broke the usual number of windows and got into the usual mischief. I knew that I was adopted and it bothered m; although I never really discussed it. I was never told of my past. In 1956, we all agreed that I would go to England for the summer to learn English. I was good in science and mathematics and decided to continue studies in engineering. I was graduated from London University in 1964.
After studies, I had returned to Finland for about a year to do my compulsory army service. I moved to Canada in 1966 and for the first eight months, I stayed in Toronto and got to know Willie, Morris, and their families. They certainly made my change to a new country and culture a lot easier. My company transferred me to Edmonton, I met Maria and we married in 1967. Our daughter Carrina was born in 1969 and our son Dana in 1971.
Up till 1976, I worked as an engineer in computers. We wanted a different lifestyle and therefore left Edmonton looking for such a thing. A life where we could grow our own food, do our own building, and all in all, be more responsible for our lives. We were extremely lucky and found what we both considered to be close to paradise. The next town to us (4,000 population) is 5 miles from us. Our community has perhaps 300 people spread over 5-6 square miles. We have a good garden, fruit trees, and some livestock. I make pottery, Maria is a weaver. In addition, both of us have commitments in the various clubs and organizations where we live. Our day usually starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 11:00 p.m. without a break for coffee. But we enjoy it and do not lock our doors and we know our neighbors.
As you see, I have a relatively full life but one that I am by and large very happy with. I will go into more details when I see you. Looking forward to meeting you,
We waited for Yidele at the airport. Our daughter Iris was with us, sharing the anticipation and excitement. When he emerged from the plane, we greeted each other warmly. From the first moment, the spark of understanding was apparent.
At our home, the meeting with Szeina was indeed touching. Yidele understood a little Yiddish but could not speak. Somehow, they both communicated very nicely. The first evening was devoted to memories and photographs. We told him about his parents and his turbulent childhood; he told us about his young years in Finland, his family and his present life.
Yidele came to us from a small, secluded place but his knowledge of the world was universal. Any subject discussed art, history, science, music, ecology, etc. was tackled impressively by his systematic mind.
In the daytime he explored New York; he knew more about the Big Apple than a native New Yorker. To join him on a tour of the city was a pleasure. In the Metropolitan Museum one could enjoy his guidance on how to look at a painting by a great master. When we visited the galleries or even Macy's pottery department, one could see what a fine artist he really was. His sensitive hands could feel every irregularity or unnecessary thickness in the pottery displayed. He explained the secrets of pottery making. We could now compare some pieces on display with the artcraft he gave us as a gift. The objects he created were thin, beautifully shaped and of high quality.
One day we went to a Broadway matinee. The show we saw was Amadeus. It was an excellent show, enjoyable in anyone's company. With Yidele, however, it was an experience. He understood and felt the story better than an average theater-goer would. His knowledge of Mozart was amazing. He actually predicted which musical motif would be used, whether it was The Magic Flute, Requiem or a famous concerto.
In our backyard Yidele introduced me to the wonders of nature. He showed me how to trim a bush, how to prune a tree, and how to tend the grass properly. Every plant in the garden was familiar to him. The greenery shown to me through his eyes now had a certain new dimension.
Evenings were mostly devoted to the past. Our conversation revolved around what happened in the ghetto and the chronology of events. His determination to learn as much as possible was intense.
There were also precious moments when our grandsons, Jason and Evan, aged ten and seven, listened to the stories of another child's (Yidele's) heartbreaking experiences, while clinging to Yidele and putting their heads on his lap with the utmost confidence and admiration.
On Sunday, we took our guest to the Association's meeting. There he met many Piotrkower who knew his parents. The image of the cherished past emerged untarnished by the years.
On the last evening, we all sat watching the Tony Awards on TV. Yidele was relaxed and hummed practically every Broadway hit song that came along. Then he suddenly said, Thank you for this truly magnificent experience. I came to New York looking for family, but I feel that I leave having also found friends. Friends that are caring, warm and affectionate and have their historical roots in the same place as mine. Thank you again.
For us these words were an expression of extreme value and they gave us a feeling of immense gratification.
When the time came to say good-bye, we too felt we were parting with a very good friend and not with a person that we had met only a few days before. Seconds later, when Yidele was on his way to the plane, the world already seemed duller. Our last wave and glance came straight from the heart.
|Yidele at the age of 13 in Finland||Julius Maslovat (Yidele) and Szaina Flato
in New York during his first visit in 1982
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