At their weekly sessions a list was presented of sick people who needed immediate attention. Very often a doctor was called in, and in case of extreme need, those volunteers worked in shifts around the clock at the bedside of the sick person, who was also provided with food which the volunteers prepared at their homes. Sometimes, if a consultation was needed, the patient was sent to a specialist in a bigger city like Tarnow or Krakow. When a death occurred in a poor family, especially on Friday, some of the volunteers would leave their own preparations for the Sabbath and rush to the mourning place and help with the cleaning of the body and the sewing of the shroud in order to speed up the burial, before the Sabbath. No amount of dissuasion could stop them from doing this.
Another problem which the volunteers confronted was the marrying off of poor girls already of age. The first objective was to find a match for the girl. Whether suitable for her or not didn't matter too much, since the main goal was to get her under- the Chupa.
Those weddings were quite an experience. The town musician was asked to play without pay. The volunteers forced all their unmarried daughters and their girl friends to participate in those affairs, and they made the ceremony lively with their singing and dancing. After a child was born to a couple thus married, the volunteers felt an obligation to help the family. The money came from donations, but those women volunteers, sensitive to anybody's sufferings, did their utmost to help and ease the plight of the poor and the sick.
Psachie Honig, Nechemia Brodt, Hendsia Friedman, Ruchicia Friedman, Miriam Schachter, R. Hertz, Brandla Schoor, and others were wonderful sources of financial help. Mrs. H Friedman's daughter, Balcia Brodt, is following her mother's example and devotes her life to the Jewish sick and poor in New York City, doing a tremendous Job. GOD BLESS THE SOULS OF THOSE THAT HAVE PASSED ON.
In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, the light of the
finally filtered through to Poland-years after it affected the rest of Europe.
The new emphasis on secular learning and nationalism enticed many people of our
generation away from the quiet atmosphere of the
Instead we went to college. We studied world history and the history of our people. In the process, we realized the high risk of disaster for any people living in a country not truly theirs.
In the late 1930's a new cloud-Nazism-appeared on the horizon, containing an all too familiar revival of the hatred to which Jews had been subjected at other periods of history. Nazism was distinguished by the intensity of its cruelty. Those who recognized this threat for what it was desperately warned their brothers and urged them to leave while they could. On their lips was the word, Zion.
But the Polish Jews, for the most part, did not heed this warning. Motivated by skepticism and complacency, they grossly underestimated the seriousness of the situation. Had there not always been trouble for Jews?-Chmelnitzky, the Czars, pogroms. Yet, despite it all the jew managed to survive, however precariously. The prevailing view of the situation among the Jews was, "This, too, shall pass". It was just this attitude which sealed their fate.
What had been a burning ember quickly developed into a roaring blaze that engulfed all of us. The Jews of Poland were the first and easiest victims. Too surprised to fight or run, many voluntarily walked into open graves and silently awaited the German bullet. They prayed in the gas chambers for the Messiah they had scorned a few short years before. No town was immune to the thoroughness of the Nazi murderers.
My town was no exception. Mielec was a district town in the province of Krakow. Most of the Jews in Mielec were poor, although there were a few rich landowners. There were a large number of tradesmen, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, plumbers, barbers, bakers, butchers, house painters, watch makers, bookbinders, and so forth. The craftsmen carried on their trades at home; their children and apprentices all worked together to prepare for the weekly market day which provided income for the entire week. The market square, where the Jewish merchants had their taverns and stores, was in the center of the city. On market day the whole square was crowded with stands selling various wares. But neither trade nor small commerce yielded a decent living. The neighboring farmers who attended the weekly fair were also extremely poor. They usually bought on credit or borrowed money from Jews. Often they came merely to have a drink at the Jewish taverns.
Many of the Jews engaged in various religious occupations: scribes, teachers or ritual slaughter, and the town was alive with Jewish merchants spread along the main streets, recently modernized and equipped with new fixtures. The town was also well provided with a Jewish intelligensia: lawyers, physicians, dentists, teachers, technicians, and so forth. Life, in our town, was progressing much as it idid (sic) in many similar cities around us.
The years immediately before the war, our town was included in an industrial triangle called C.O.P. As a result, we experienced an upsurge in every aspect of life, especially business. However, an influx of new people to our town, mostly nonJewish, brought the beginnings of open antisemitism. With the support of the Polish government, they opened modern stores and cooperatives in competition with Jewish merchants. They used such slogans as "swoj do swego", "Polski sklep" and "Polacy popierajcie Polski Sklep". The hysteria of blind nationalism hit our town. Naturally conditions such as these aggravated tensions among the population. The Jewish people were faced with a struggle for economic survival.
New winds of racial hatred from Hitler's propaganda machine made life more difficult. The political situation worsened with every day. Louder and louder became Hitler's demands for return of Danzig and other territories held by Poland. With each new demand, conditions grew more tense. Naturally, all of us were following events very closely, reading the papers and listening to the radio analysis of the political situation. The tension continued to mount, until, inevitably, Germany invaded Poland by land, and air in September, 1939.
As I recall it, I was in town a week before the outbreak of war. My brother and I had returned from Krakow because our parents, sensing uncertainty and tension wanted us at home rather than away in the big city. My mother's premonition, as always, proved correct.
It had been an unusually hot summer, especially September. Among our friends,
we discussed current events and our impressions of the big city. The small-town
philosophers were always on hand with their interpretations. Usually these
discussions were lively-eve n heated-but they were just part .of small town
existence. All our friends had different points of view, which could be
classified as leftist, rightist, centrist, religious, or even atheist. But
despite our differences we always parted friends. When we finally heard that
war had come, we were not so much surprised as nervous and uneasy about
what might happen next.
Within a few hours we noticed a plane flying low over our town, suggesting that the Germans were interested in the nearby industrial complex (C.O.P.). German agents, planted in these industries before the outbreak of the war, made possible a bloodless takeover by the Germans.
Business came to a standstill. Stores were closed, and the hoarding of food and necessities became the order of the day. People who had gone through World War I generally believed that it would take time for the Germans to capture the entire land. We were inclined to believe the government's boasts concerning the strength of the Polish army and air force, and their ability and determination to defend every inch of Polish soil. It did not take long to realize that our confidence in Polish resistance was groundless.
The townspeople were reacting feverishly to the increasingly grave situation. All around us the scenes of war were becoming part of the daily experience. Refugees by the thousands, carrying bundles of their precious belongings on bicycles, horses and wagons were moving east through town, trying to escape the advancing German army. These were pitiful-looking people-tired, exhausted, disappointed-who had left comfortable homes to undertake this miserable journey. My own friends, influenced by the sight of these war refugees, discussed what, if anything we could do. We knew that the outlook was grim-maybe hopeless. One thing upon which we agreed was that it would be pointless for us to take our entire families east, since most of us did not have the means for such an undertaking. We decided to hire a bus that normally commuted between Tarnobrzeg and Tarnow to carry about 20-25 of our friends as far east as possible. Our parents reluctantly agreed to our plan and prepared clothing and money for us to take along. Anyone who has ever gone through a similar experience knows the tension and heartache of leaving your loved ones to undertake a trip with no visible end, but we thought this was best under the circumstances.
Carrying our bundled possessions and accompanied by our families we all met at the bus, where unexpected obstacles suddenly developed. The bus, because it was considered a public transit vehicle, could obtain neither a permit for the trip nor gas, which was rationed. Our negotiations availed us nothing and our hopes-so high a little earlier- were cut short. Greatly disappointed, we all returned home.
For the next couple of days, despite conflicting rumors concerning where the fighting was taking place and the Germans advancing, there were no significant changes. People streaming through town began to reflect the feeling that their efforts to escape were useless. Worn out and disappointed, many decided to stop right where they were and some even turned back to their own towns. The weather was warm and dry, a blessing for these travelers-but also for the Nazis. Any open spot could be a resting place for these refugees. They slept and did their housekeeping under the open sky. Watching them and seeing the human misery to which many of them were exposed made us feel almost relieved that our own trip had not materialized. Back in our homes, we again met with our friends to plan the next steps. Everyone offered different suggestions. Events, however, were progressing so rapidly that all of our plans were impractical even before they were fully formulated.
Hitler's troops quickly mastered the situation. The entire Polish army, despite their boasts of readiness, fell like a house of cards. The air was full of rumors; one day we were looking for English or French planes in the skies, the next day we were awaiting a Western army sent to defend us. In reality, even the slightest attempt at organized resistance by the Poles was summarily crushed. Hitlers (sic) army took over town by town, region by region. Our town nervously awaited its turn. The Jewish population was especially jittery. We knew that very hard conditions lay in store for us. The little knowledge we had about the Nazis' attitude toward the Jews, and their treatment of the ones in Germany, left us with no illusions. Although the Jewish community anticipated terrible conditions, they wanted desperately to believe those who had gone through World War I and who claimed that eventaully (sic) we will weather the storm and manage to adapt ourselves to the new conditions and live with them. How naive they were! The younger generation did not share that view, and had tried to escape, but failed. Since we had no alternative, we remained in town, wondering along with everyone else what would happen next. It did not take long to find out.
Finally the day came when the spearhead of Hitler's army entered the town. First a group of German soldiers on motorcycles drove into the center of town. The rumble of their motors was accompanied by bursts from their automatic rifles and machine guns as they fired indiscriminately at bystanders. There were a few casualties and the rest ran for shelter. The Nazis' objective was to scare the people as well as to keep the road open for military traffic. The Jews for the most part, locked themselves in their houses, watching and listening. Tanks and armored trucks with soldiers soon filled the marketplace. Except for the troop movements, the town was quiet and tense. Very few people ventured out onto the streets. We knew that it was the beginning of a new order. Gone were the Polish officials in charge of governing the town. Into this vacuum flowed the opportunistic-hooligans, underworld, and the rest of the animal element. In no time, they were mingling with the Germans, showing them the better stores to loot. The Germans and their newfound allies broke windows and doors, pillaging merchandise right and left. Of course, the police made no effort to stop them, and in minutes they destroyed what had taken years to accumulate. This was our first taste of German presence.
We were in our homes, windows covered, and with the smallest possible light in an effort to appear as if nobody was there. We took turns at lookout through the rest of the day and night. By the next morning, things seemed to have quieted down. Slowly we emerged from our hiding places. There were no longer any German army units in the market. Instead, German soldiers armed with carbines patrolled the streets, in pairs. It appeared that Germans who had been living for years in different settlements in the countryside (Volksdeutsche) were now suddenly in position of authority, in charge of various functions in town. It did not take too long to adjust to this somewhat unclear existence. Naturally there were many moments of fear. The sudden knock at the door by the Germans to check the people in the house; the constant demands for "Schmuck" or other valuables; the requisitioning of various household items which happened to catch their fancy. Sometimes they took the male Jewish members of the family to perform various chores for them, such as cleaning the office, washing the cars, or sweeping the sidewalk, as well as many more humiliating types of activities. Some people were taken for the whole day and some just for a few hours, as we started to feel the real pinch of the Nazi occupation. At first they were "polite", taking just the Jewish men and exempting our women and children. This went on for the first few days. Later, Jews were randomly picked up in the streets or at home, wherever Germans caught them, and taken to different places where they were held without food for an entire day. Families often puzzled as to the whereabouts of a loved one, but during this period nothing truly terrible occurred and, given the circumstances we grudgingly accepted it.
After that first day of looting we were prepared for more drastic events, especially now that the Volksdeutsche were becoming more visible in their swastika armbands, issuing orders and confiscating property. In other words, they became the real "balabatim". All their previous cordiality, especially with some of the Jewish merchants, abruptly was replaced with nothing but hatred and mistreatment. We swallowed these new conditions, since we had no choice.
Just before Rosh Hashanah, the mood of the Jewish people of Mielec became one of depression. Preparations for this holy occasion were curtailed because, given the negative attitude of the German occupying army towards the Jews, the wisest action would be to avoid any overt religious activities and to keep things as quiet as possible. The very devout Jews, including our Mielecer rabbi, Mendele Horvitz, and his advisors, felt that the Germans would not interfere with our religious practices. They believed things were not so very terrible, that somehow the Jews would manage to maintain their day-to-day existence. On such an important holiday, they said, Jews should not neglect their laws and traditions. Rather, they should make all the customary preparations. The rabbi decided therefore to order the re-opening of the ritual slaughterhouse, and prepare the bath house (Mikva) to accommodate local residents and strangers stranded in town
Beginning early the following day, people rushed to these newly reopened places, and at first it seemed that no difficulties would arise. Suddenly, in the early afternoon, German soldiers armed with machine guns surrounded the slaughterhouse and bath house and ordered all the people present to step out into the yard and line up with their hands raised. Those inside the slaughterhouse were hopelessly trapped, but some of the ones in the bath house tried to hide or escape through the rear of the building. The armed ring of Nazis grew tighter, and more soldiers carrying machine guns appeared. Some of our supposedly good gentile friends began to congregate for the drama that was unfolding in all its gruesome details. They even helped the Germans by pointing out people trying to hide or escape.
The situation became grimmer by the hour. People unaware of what was happening in the area continued to arrive at the bath house. They were immediaely (sic) stopped by the Germans and brought to the yard of the Mikva to join the other captives A strange calmness embraced the town.
From my house, bordering the encircled section of town, I could see armed Germans harassing any Jew trying to leave his house. The Germans shouted "Jude-halt!" and sometimes accompanied this shouting with bursts of shooting, causing the terrified Jews to retreat to the relative safety of his home.
It was twilight, as I recall, when my family and I locked our house, sneaked through the back yard, and climbed up into the attic of our next door neighbor to await the unknown events to follow. The town was incredibly quiet; we could hear every footstep of the soldiers Suddenly we heard a barrage of spurting machine guns, and feared the worst. After a short interval, we smelled smoke and assumed that a fire was burning not far from us.
As the night went on the fire intensified, giving the night skies an eerie brightness and engulfing us in smoke. From our neighbors we learned that the bath house, slaughter house and a few surrounding building; all had been set on fire. Our large shul (synagogue) was also on fire.
Shortly afterwards we heard a knocking on the gate of our back yard. A muffled voice called up to us "Open up, open up, let me in-this is the rabbi, Mendel". We quickly lowered a ladder and let him in. The rabbi was accompanied by one of his assistants, disguised as a woman by a white shawl covering his bearded face: He told us of the tragedy that had occurred-that all the people caught in the little slaughter house and bath house had been gathered in the yard and, after a few hours, were made to return to the cramped slaughter house. The Germans then directed their machine guns on the helpless victims. Still unsatisified (sic), the Germans poured kerosine on what a few moments ago had been living people and set them on fire.
The fire burned until the morning hours and we remained in our hideout. It was estimated that 40 or more died that day. It is difficult to establish the exact number, since many were out-of-towners.
We tried to find an answer, some explanation for this senseless, barbarous, vicious, murderous act perpetrated on innocent decent people. The pride, dignity, and feelings of all of us who lived and witnessed this nightmare were shattered. Daytime arrived and we left our hiding places with one burining (sic) question on our minds: "What's next, WHAT'S NEXT???".
After this frightful tragedy, the town was quiet for a short time. People again started going out in the street, and a few even ventured to go to the synagogue. Alas, they paid for this with their lives. One morning the Germans entered the synagogue and chased the worshippers outside. They were then lined up along the walls of the Shul, and shot. Afterwards the Germans put fire to the three houses of worship and a whole street nearby, where the rabi's (sic) house was located.
After this new slaughter, we sat in deadly fear behind closed doors. Closing the doors didn't help us, however, because the Nazis would break in any time of day or night to abuse us and to plunder our homes.
After a time, we were commanded to set up a civil administration-a Judenrat. Orders were constantly being received by the Judenrat to deliver merchandise of all kinds. In order to meet these demands, the Judenrat had to impose heavy taxes on the Jews.
We were also subjected to forced labor. Every day, there would be an increased demand for laborers, both men and women. We accepted this readily enough, wishing only to be allowed to live. Soon, the businesses were reopened and the businessmen were given allotments of merchandise and permission to travel out of town to buy more merchandise. At the same time there were all kinds of regulations which every Jew had to obey, such as wearing the white-and-blue armband with the Star of David, and observing the prohibition against leaving the city.
Despite all this, we had the impression that the worst was over-that from then on we'd at least be able to exist, We did not yet know about their diabolical plans because we were cut off from the outside world. Thus, we had not yet heard of the transports and the extermination camps in different districts of Poland, as well as elsewhere in Europe. So, in our ignorance, we coped with the constant day to day regulations.
In the winter of 1941 the Germans ordered us to give them our furs. The Judenrat announced that any items of fur had to be brought to a certain place-even a child's coat, or a fur collar. Further, we were given only a few hours to comply-with the death penalty in store for anyone found in possession of even the smallest piece of fur.
And there was worse to come. Robberies, break-ins in the middle of the night, and beatings to death became quite frequent at this time. This situation lasted until the 9th of March, 1942.
On this gray, cold morning the Nazi goons surrounded the streets, broke into the Jewish houses and chased everyone outside. After they had searched thoroughly in every nook and cranny of the houses, they forced the people to walk a long way outside the town. There the detainees were locked in hangars for 24 hours, without food or water. Mothers begged the guards for some snow which they gave their children to drink. Many people were shot during the enforced March.
On the second day, the victims were transported in open wagons in the direction of Lublin, where many extermination camps were located.
How was I saved from this "Aussiedlung" as the Nazis called it?
There was a doctor in town who came to Galicia from Vienna many years before. He was a German, but a very fine man. The Nazis chose him for Mayor. He sympathized with our bitter lot but could not help much. Before the "Aussiedlung" he notified the Judenrat about it, and they, of course, told us cautiously that whoever had the courage should try to save himself or herself. By this time the town was already surrounded by murderers who would shoot on sight anyone they suspected of trying to get out.
When I learned about this new danger, I ran to a "Volksdeutsche", a fine man with whom I was acquainted for many years, and begged him to help me. He hesitated--his mother, who had Jewish forebears, told him: "You cannot endanger your life". He, however, had a Jewish heart, and when he accompanied me out of the house, he told me to wait for him in a certain place, and that he would meet me there in his automobile. I begged him to permit me to take some of my family with me, but he said that he would take only me and one of my daughters. Should the police interrogate him, he would say that I was his mother and the girl his sister.
I ran home quickly to get my daughter, and then, in unbelievable fear I walked slowly to the meeting place, so as not to awaken any suspicion. He soon arrived in his car and transported us to a township named Polaniec, which belonged to another district. My other daughter was then in a village and joined me too in Polaniec.
The Jews were still living in their homes in this tiny township, but one felt already the approaching doom because here we heard about the concentration camps from the Poles. People thought about little else but how to save themselves from this awful fate.
In our desperation we decided to obtain Polish papers. This was very risky, because it was easy to recognize us as Jews. And generally it was very hard for Jewish people to get along among Poles.
At this time, this threat of recognition was not so much from the Germans as from the Poles, who after recognizing a Jew would denounce him to the Gestapo.
By a miracle, I found a Pole who provided Polish identity cards for my two daughters, my sister's daughter, and myself. I paid him a large sum of money for this, but it was well worth it because it opened the way to escape from the Nazis' hands.
Having Polish papers, I now needed help from the Poles again. To just go and live among the Poles in a town or village was dangerous because the Poles recognized us easily, and for a pound of sugar they would bring a Jew to the Gestapo.
In this situation, a miracle happened again to me. In Polaniec my neighbor was the late Psachie Honig. He knew some Poles like the Dobrowolski brothers who, like himself, were mill owners. He asked them for help and they provided hideouts for us.
Afterwards he contacted a second brother, and proposed to him that he help me,
which the Pole agreed to do. For me the situation was difficult. I was now
'Polish' and he had to find a place for me to live as a Christian. He
found a place with a peasant in a village. He did not tell him that I was Jewish, but introduced me as a wife of a Polish officer from Posnan.
It was. the day before the "Aussiedlung" the Pole came to my house and took my daughters and me away. The peasant who took us in agreed to take in only 2 persons, that is only one of my children and me.
My older daughter remained in the house in Polaniec, and another Polish friend came and took her away. It is hard to describe the parting with her. I don't know how my heart endured the pain, This was indeed proven by those who were able to- withstand the spiritual and physical tortures of the Nazi beasts. The friends who found place for my older daughter and my sister's daughter were our neighbors in our estate. They showed great heroism in these acts, since the Nazis punished with death any friendly contact with Jews.
These friends brought the two girls to acquaintances in Cracow, who kept them only a short time because they were afraid of both the Germans and their own neighbors. Thus the unhappy children found themselves in the tragic situation of not knowing where to find a shelter.
The Nazis had been hiring young Polish people for work in German factories, because their own youth was in military service. My two unfortunate girls volunteered-as Poles, of course-and were sent with a transport of Polish workers to Germany.
Each of them was sent to a separate place. Again they were in danger from the Poles, who quickly recognized them as Jews, which was very easy because they looked emaciated. To make matters worse, the element of Polish youth was very low, mostly adventurers and the like. It was a real miracle that these Poles did not betray the two girls to the German administration. They spent two fearful years in the labor camps. They survived.
And how did I fare during these 2 years at the peasant's house? Since we came as Christians, they gave us a room where we were able to cook. We went out very little because we were afraid of being recognized, but despite these precautions, once the neighbors saw us, they started to suspect us as Jews.
One morning they indeed sent in a Polish policeman, an antisemite, to investigate the two so-called Poles. He quickly recognized us as Jews, despite my stubborn insistence that we were not. I presented our Polish identity cards and said that I was deeply insulted by him thinking of us as "Zydowkis". It is hard for me to describe this experience-it was the dread of death that gave me the courage to defend myself.
It was dreadful when he turned to my child to question her about her school certificate, and so on. She, alas, had no answers. This policeman was a loyal servant of the Gestapo. After the deportations, a few Jews had escaped to the fields, but he exterminated them. He had a firm conviction about us. As he left, he told us he would be back. But to the landlady he remarked: "I am sure they are 'zydowkis', but I won't bring you to the Germans because of them since it can be dangerous for you.
Why was he so good to these people? A short time before he had received from my landlady a present of a young pig, and this was a big thing during wartime. This is how we were saved, thanks to the gift the policeman had received.
After this visit our landlord asked me whether it was true that we were Jews. I denied this, I assured him that we were Catholics for generations. He calmed down, and even admitted that we did not look like 'zydowkis'.
Some time passed and then, by accident, our identity was uncovered. An acquaintance who had been hiding in the same village heard a rumor that Jews who said that they were gentiles were living at my landlord's house. He came late at night, and requested to see me. Then, thinking that the landlord knew that we were Jews, he told them my name with all the details. When my landlady knocked on my door and told me that a Jew wanted to see me, had said that my name was Mrs. K, I almost fainted. When he came in, I could only say: "You brought misfortune on us".
I waited fearfully until the morning, certain that the landlord would not want to keep us longer. He thought for a long time, looking at my face which expressed the terrible desperation of a mother preparing to defend her child's life.
Finally, he took pity on us and said: "I won't deliver you to the murderers, I will hide you". And the same night he moved us to the barn, where, he had a hiding place for Polish officers who had fled during the Army's retreat. This was a corner covered with straw and other things. We were lying there all day and night because it was dangerous even to go out at night. We had to beware of the neighbors and even of the children of our landlord, who were still too young to keep a secret.
How was it possible to exist in the hideout?
Our guardian angel, the owner, provided us with everything. In great fear that somebody might see him, when all the lights were out, long after midnight he would come to our hiding place. He brought food for us, and emptied the pot that served as a toilet. Not only did he endure the plysical (sic) drudgery, but more important the fear that somebody might become aware of our presence. He said that should the neighbors of the next house become suspicious, they would certainly denounce us to the Germans.
We remained in the hideout for the first few months, but it became increasingly dangerous. A practice of searching the homes of the peasants had begun, particularly those who did not deliver to the Germans the children who were registered in their homes. They forced their way in at night, and searched. In some houses they found Jews hiding. Our own landlord became more frightened and thought about finding a safer shelter for us.
In the darkness of night, he dug a deep hole in the same barn, lined it with straw, and covered the entrance with various tools. This time he made the entrance from the coach-house, which was attached to the barn with a wall of boards. He cut out a very small opening in two small boards, through which it was possible to crawl on all four. The small boards were like a door, with a wooden bolt inside. From outside he covered it with tools, carts, sleds, and so forth. It was no small thing for this man to come to this place in the pitch blackness of night, to bring us food for the next 24 hours. One can image how big was the physical exertion for him after a day's work as a peasant, and even more, the strain of the deadly fear in which he was living.
At about this time, he heard about a case near Dembica, where Jews were found at a farmer's house. The farmer, together with the Jews, were all shot.
In time, the village deduced that Jews were living with our farmer. Accusations to the police station started again, ushering in a horrible time for us all. One search followed another as they looked into every nook and cranny of the house and farm buildings. Four times during the last year of Nazi rule they looked for us, threatening the house-owner with death if they found the Jews. If, however, he would voluntarily give up the Jews, nothing would happen to him, they said. The man, however, stood fast like a hero, crossed himself and swore that he never had had Jews in his house.
It was a great miracle that the Nazis didn't find us, since they often stood just a few steps from the door to our hideout. Of the four searches I want to describe one. It was the last search and the most terrifying one. It was a short time before the liberation. The Nazis pried into every nook, as always, and when they finished, they said to the farmer: "You have to report this afternoon to the office of the criminal section". One can imagine the fear that must have seized him. Before leaving, although he never came to our bunker during the day, he came to us and spoke thus: "I have an order to go to the police and I don't know whether I'll come back alive, but I promise you that I won't give you away". To his wife he said: "Remember, you should not reveal anything, even if the devils come to you and tell you that I confessed-you should know that I won't do it even if they threaten me with death".
And again a miracle happened. The Pole who obtained the shelter for us at our farmer lived in the same village. When the search went on by us, the whole village knew about it and, of course, so did he. Since he was very anxious that nothing happened to our farmer nor to us, he stationed himself on the road where the Germans had to pass. It was his good luck that he was acquainted with them. He did not reveal that he knew anything about their mission and only asked them why they were there. So they told him that they had been looking for Jews. He told them that if Jews had been hidden there, he would have known about it. He invited them in for drinks and they were drunk when they left his house.
When our peasant came fearfully into the office of the chief of the criminal police, the. latter was very friendly to him, even treating him to a cigarette, and then ordered him to leave.
During this time, we had been experiencing moments of deadly terror. When night came and the farmer was still not back, I could hear through the cracks in the boards how his wife was wringing her hands and speaking to herself in desperation. I cannot understand how my heart could endure the fear that the murderers might come for us at any minute, and the pain over the fate of the people who had protected us so faithfully.
At last, late at night, our angel came into our bunker and told us that all was in order. This was the last search, in 1944.
At this time a ray of hope had already started to shine for us. The Red Army advanced closer, and at the end of July 1944 the front stabilized not far from our village.
Bullets flew over our heads and we could hear the clatter of the cannons, but despite the danger from grenades which fell on the houses, we were full of hope of impending freedom, because it was evident that the Germans were being defeated.
The front did not shift for a long time, until the Russians attacked the Nazis with Katyushas, and started to pursue the retreating murderers.
We were still lying in our bunker where we were joined by others Jews who had been hiding in the same village. They had escaped from the houses in which they were hiding, before the retreating enemy set them on fire.
At last came the great moment. Our guardian, after he looked around and determined that it was safe for us to leave the hiding place, came to us and told us: You can already come out, you are free people".
He stressed that for our safety from the peasants, and in order to be farther from the front, which was still not far from our village, it was important that we leave the place.
He led us out early in the morning when his neighbors were still sleeping, because it would have been dangerous for him if the peasants had found out that he had hidden Jews.
The farewell was so moving that I will never forget it. He handed me two thousand Zlotys, and told us, "I have no more; take it, so that you will have a piece of bread until you come back to your house". His wife gave us a basket of bread, cheese and other products. Both accompanied us some distance and told us "God bless you".
This man, Jozef Madry, suffered almost two years of living in constant fear of death, for our sakes.
After we came out from the bunker, my daughter and 1, plus the Jews who had been with us during the last days, headed away from the front. We walked, although we could hardly keep on our feet which were weak and stiff from lying so long in the bunker. Ther (sic) was no possibility of getting a horse and wagon, however, so we wandered, spending the nights in barns of peasants, until we arrived in in (sic) the town Rzeszow. Here we remained a few weeks until we were able to return to Mielec. The return was very, very heartbreaking. Living in all the Jewish houses were Poles, who received us with great hatred because they did not think that any Jews had remained alive. In some cases, the peasants killed the Jews who came back to their homes. In the town of Kielce, the Polish murderers started a pogrom that killed 42 people. These incidents frightened us, the few survivors and we left for Cracow. There the few who came out from the bunkers, fields, and woods soon gathered.
It took some time until we contacted the American "Joint", which assisted us.
In Cracow, too, it was impossible for us to remain for long. The atmosphere was full of hatred. When a dead child was found, the poles accused the Jews of having killed it. I lived through a frightful experience at this time. One time, I was in the street with my daughter when a mob of holligans appeared, yelling "Kill Jews!". We managed to escape with our lives in a streetcar. At this time, the Polish enemies killed a Jewish couple who had survived Hitler's hell.
After that we had to wander further. With a group of others, I went over to Silesia. After a time "Brichah" started smuggling people through the borders. We were among these. At last, they brought us to the very land of the Nazi murderers. But here in the American Zone, we felt protected by our American friends.
It was ironic for those of us who suffered so cruelly at the hands of these people, in a land literally soaked in Jewish blood, to come here. This, however, was the place where "Brichah" brought us, and told us to remain until there would be a possibility to emigrate to other countries. Here we had the assistance of the international refugee organization, and from our brothers, the "Joint". The latter, generously gave material and spiritual help. Their medical help and the fact that they sent us to spas, made it possible for us to slowly regain our health. We were very depressed because by this time the great tragedy involving the death of our brothers and sisters was already clear to us. The few who had survived the Hitler hell were all identified through the "Search Service," or through other means.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize the magnanimity of those Poles who acted so nobly, risking their own lives to help us.
I intended to reward them with land from our estate, but the Polish Government instituted an agrarian reform and divided the estate among the peasants without any indemnity for us.
My children and I are corresponding with them and sending them packages and money that we can afford. Of course, this is very little considering how much they really deserve.
These are the ones who helped us:
The Ruseks family, neighbors of our estate; they did a lot for us after the deportation ("Aussiedlung") when we were in Polaniec. It was their son-in-law, Jozef Stachara, who obtained the identity cards for us. The one who took us out from the fire a day before the Aussiedlung was Wladyslaw Dobrowolski; he also brought us to Jozef Madry, who kept us almost two years.
I also want to mention that what I have described here is only a small part of my experiences of these awful years. It was truly miraculous that I was able to survive so much suffering. Only the urge to save the lives of my children gave me the strength and courage to face such terrible dangers.
Before Dobrowolski found the place for us with Madry, I was travelling around, naturally with a handkerchief on my head like a gentile, without the armband and looking for a place among the gentiles but no one let me cross his door step. I was aware that I was endangering my life and I cannot understand where I got so much courage. Only a mother can marshal it when the lives of her children are at stake. I am among the very few mothers who can tell about it, since few of the older people survived. They were the first selected for the crematoria.
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