He approached those of us living in New York City and organized a committee to memorialize life in the small town of Mielec, in southern Poland. He also asked Mielec survivors in Israel and Australia to write their recollections of our town's history. In accomplishing this, we have had to battle our reluctance to relive the painful past.)
I will try to do what I can to add, in small measure, to the Jewish history of our town.
Mielect was a town with between 10 and 15-thousand inhabitants during the period between World Wars I and Il. The town was located between Debice and Sandomierz, on the River Wisloka. Its population was about evenly divided between Jews and Poles.
In the beginning of the 20th Century, when this part of Poland belonged to Austria, the Jews of Mielec were concentrated around the square market place, and two streets branching from each corner. Their houses, at the time, were made of wood, with pillars in front of each home. According to a story, an insurance company from Vienna sent a representative to the town and persuaded a group of people there to buy fire insurance, a very new idea then . After a few weeks, one part of town caught fire and was destroyed, but the people who had taken out insurance rebuilt their homes as two-story brick dwellings, very modern at that time. The people on the opposite side of town became jealous, and they also took out fire insurance. One year later, that part of the community went up in flames and within a few months, it was also rebuilt with new houses.
My own family lived on the second floor of a building on a side street. In the adjoining house, on the ground floor, lived my paternal grandparents. As a little girl of four or five, during the long winter evenings, I would go to them for a story. I asked the usual children's questions: "Why is it day, and why is it night?" "Why are we Jewish and why are they Goyim)?"
My grandfather, a very religious man, would tell me stories from the Bible-how God created the world, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I remember asking where they were buried and he would tell me, "In the Machbela, in Hebron, in the land of Israel, where we will all live someday when the Messiah comes." Later, in 1968, when I actually stood in Hebron in the Machbela, or in Jericho, or in front of the Wailing Wall, I thought that I was chosen to represent my grandparents, for whom all this had been only a dream.
In Mielec, there were five Jewish places of worship, of which the most beautiful was the three-story Mielicer Schul, on the plaza, between two other places of worship called Bet Hamidrach' and the Mauer.
"The Schul," as it was called, was attended by the younger, more modern Jews. As a small girl, I trailed after my father on Saturday or High Holidays, to the synagogue. Since I couldn't pray yet, I sat quietly admiring the beautiful frescoes, which were different from anything I ever saw later in any of my travels. They were done by a local Jewish artist, Icchak Fenichel, who though very talented had no formal art education. (His son, aba, also a famous artist, lives in Israel ) I used to admire especially a picture on the ceiling of a big fish, "Leviathon," who was depicted holding his tail in. his mouth. The walls were covered with biblical scenes the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses striking the water with his stick, the burning bush, the tablets with the 10 Commandments-all this marked the beginning of my deep attachment to Jewish history.
The Jews of Mielec were, for the most part, small businessmen-shopkeepers, shoemakers, bakers, handworkers, tailors, and so forth. Most families barely made ends meet, but there were a few exceptions-landowners, like the Verstandigs, Blattbergs, Harmeles, and Ascheims; flour mill owners, like Honig, Zuckerbrodt, and Schacher, plus owners of cement factories, breweries, brick factories, wood cutting industries-the Friedmans, Salpeters, and Gottingers.
There were also about a dozen Jewish doctors and lawyers in Mielec. Most of them took part in the mainstream of Jewish life, belonged to Jewish organizations, and contributed financially to Jewish causes.
Except for the handful of rich, most of the town's Jews made a living selling things to the peasants, who exchanged food products for clothing and household goods. After the trading, the Poles went to the pub, often returning home drunk. Along the way, they would amuse themselves by throwing stones at the windows of Jewish homes, and cursing or beating up religious Jews. Most of the windows in town were covered for the night with shutters to protect them and to avoid injuries. A popular saying among the peasants was, "Jew, go back to Palestine ... leave our land and bread . . . this is not your country." There were no Jewish municipal or state employees, except for Professor Czortkower, who fought for Poland, and one Polish Jewish judge, Pohoryles, who distinguished himself during the War of Independence.
At the elementary school, teachers freely indulged in anti-semitic namecalling. We were rarely permitted to take part in an Independence Day school play, or in the parades through town on national holidays. On the other hand, we were required to sell raffles. for the Polish sports organization, Sokol.
There were very few jobs available. After high school, most of the boys studied law in Krakow, some distance away. The medical schools had a numerus clausus, that permitted only a small percentage of Jewish boys to be admitted, generally those who had influence or were rich enough to pay steep bribes. Some, determined to study, went to foreign countries.
In the 1930's, the Jewish youth began to look for solutions to these problems. A dozen organizations sprung up. Most were Zionist in orientation, each representing a different ideology. There was the religious Zionist Mizrachi, and Aguda. The middle-of-the-road Akiba (of which I was a member) numbered among its leaders David Kurz, Bruno Durst, Minda and Schmul Garfunkel, Sala Kartagener, Moshe Schmidt, and Rela Leiman. The Militant Zionist Revisionists were led by Marc Verstandig. And there were others: the Socialist Zionist-Hitachud, Gordonia, Poale Zion, Shomer, and Communists. Each organization had its own meeting place. The members studied Jewish history, Zionist history, and Hebrew. Some went on to train at Hachscharas to learn how to work the land. In the summer we went to Zionist camps. We felt that Zionism held the answer: a land of our own, where we would be free to go to school, speak our language, and live as we wished.
University students, coming home for the holidays or for vacations, brought new ideas. They staged Jewish plays, with the help of M. Messinger, an actor at the Jewish theatre in Krakow, who himself hailed originally from Mielec, and is now living and acting in Israel. Michel coached all the players, and the proceeds went to the fund for the Jewish student house in Krakow. Most of the Jews in town attended these plays. The Jewish students also organized balls and concerts.
In addition, we had a sports club in Mielec, "Maccabi," under the leadership of Psachia Honig, a city councilman representing the Jews. He used his influence in the town hall to secure a place for the club-admittedly, in the worst possible location, on the outskirts of town at the edge of the woods, in a spot that was full of holes. But the members filled it in with sand, built a fence around it and bleachers for spectators. Later, a tennis court was added, as was a calesthenics (sic) course for women. For the first time, the young Jews of Mielec could play almost any sport they liked.
On Theodore Hertzl Memorial Day, or other special holidays, parades were held at the stadium. The big excitement of the week was the soccer game between the Maccabi and Club Sokol. Most of the time, our Maccabi players won-and since the Poles didn't accept defeat at the hands of the Jews gracefully, such victories were usually followed by a fight and a few bloody noses.
In the town there was a Maccabi clubhouse, where Jews gathered to play cards, pingpong, read in the library, or take part in other -social events.
In the late 1930's, the winds of Hitler's ideas were blowing. Mielec became the center of the Polish airplane industry, called "COP" industries, where military installations were built. Most of the engineers and workers came from Poznan, near the German border. We heard the Nazi propaganda slogans: "Poles should buy only from Poles." Jews could no longer enter a cafe attended by Poles. There were signs reading, "Jews and dogs: entrance forbidden!"
A few young people, seeing no future there, managed to leave for Palestine. These included Mindla and Schmul Garfunkel, Sala Kartagener, Moshe Schmidt, Dola Fenster, and Balcia Cytryn. In our Akiba Club, the younger group took over the leadership-Ruchia Steuer, Rachel Strauss, Hela Kartagener, Giza Weg, Frieda Schternglanz, and myself. A few left for the U.S.A. but even that had become difficult. As for marriage, Jewish girls had to have dowries in order to be able to set up a husband in business or in a profession. In short, there was no bright future in sight for the Jews of Mielec.
On September 1, 1939, war came as the first bombers of the German Luftwaffe attacked the military installations. On the third day of the war, thousands of people from Western Poland crossed through Mielec, running eastward from the approaching German, armies. Panic struck the Jews in town. The young men, whether single or married, became frightened over the rumors of what the Germans did to Jewish men, and they packed and left on foot, by bicycles, or in whatever means of transportation was available.
The president of the Jewish Kehila, Chaim Freedman, notified the few Jewish families who he thought would be in danger that a van would be available to evacuate them from Mielec. He advised these people to take with them whatever they could. My own family was among this group, but my father was certain that the Polish army would be able to stop the Germans, so he sent my mother, grandfather, brother, and myself, while he remained behind. We took whatever we could carry-bedding, clothing, fur coats, money, and jewelry. At night we joined about 10 other large families- the Friedmans, Brodts, Salpeters, and Gottengers, and under the bombing of the German Stukas we followed the retreating Polish army out of town. I had started crying and could not get myself under control for days.
The van was heading east, though w - e didn't know where we were going. The next day, in the late afternoon, we arrived in a little town called Nemirow, part of which was a spa. Since it was September, and the summer guests had gone, the owner permitted the refugees-which we had become-to occupy the villa. Each family had one room
For us, this marked the start of a new and different life, for which I was totally unprepared. My brother and I were sent to buy food from the peasants, something that I could do, but for the rest I didn't know how to clean dishes, shoes, how to hold a broom or brush, or how to clean a floor, and I had to ask other girls for help because some of them were much better prepared for life than 1.
The next morning, my father arrived, with my uncle George, and my uncle Eli, plus his wife and three children. My father realized that it wouldn't be possible to stay here, so he brought his car, which he hid in the woods. The Jews in town, seeing frightened refugees arriving en masse, packed up and ran further east.
After a few days we felt that it might be safer in the town, and we moved into one of the abandoned houses. The German army caught up with us and entered Nemirow from the four corners of the town simultaneously. There was heavy shooting, and after a few hours the Germans were in command. Fearful, we all retreated behind locked doors and drawn shutters for a few days. Thousands of soldiers, lavishly equipped with hundreds of tanks, trucks, and other military gear, were marching east. One morning from behind the shutters we saw German soldiers assembling Jews in the marketplace, pulling the hair from their beards, beating them on their heads, and taking them to work washing cars or fixing the roads. At night, they made bonfires and sang German songs. After three days, it quieted down and we left the house to buy food. We decided that since we were already in occupied territory anyway, we would be better off going back to our homes and taking our chances there.
Meanwhile, the Germans had discovered my father's car in the woods, guided there by over-cooperative peasants, but we made a deal with a farmer who agreed to transport us in his wagon to Jaroslaw. From there, we would try to continue to Mielec, somehow. On the way, the German soldiers were taking the men to work on the road, and to show the Jews that the situation had changed.
Towards evening we approached Jaroslaw, on the east side of the river San, and there we saw hundreds of Jews being expelled from the town, with very few belongings. Jaroslaw was to be cleared of all Jews, as it became the border between Germany and Russia. We turned back, but since it was almost night and a curfew had been imposed, we found a Jewish family in a nearby village and they took us in. Next day was Yom Kippur, so the men .prayed in a separate room.
In the evening, even though food was scarce, our Jewish host gave us some oil and potatoes, and we made potatoe (sic) pancakes. The next day, we drove to the neighboring town of Oleszyce, where we again stopped at a Jewish house. A few hours later, the Russians marched in. Their tanks were decorated with big pictures of Lenin, Marx, Stalin, and Engels, They impressed us as modernday (sic) counterparts of the medieval crusaders., Almost immediately, a Russian political instructor appeared to harrangue (sic) the crowds about how great life was in Russia, and how happy we would be. There was no going back for us, but my father and uncle went to Lvov to see how conditions were there, while we were left behind.
Through some friends my father found an apartment-one big room and kitchen before returning for us.
Most of the people who fled to east Poland came to Lvov, hoping that the war would end soon. They had decided to wait it out here. Winter came, and the lines for food and clothing were long.
The streets of Lvov were packed with people. Everyone wore shabby clothes, was jobless, and living off the money he had brought or had gained by selling his clothes to the Russians. The local people, still living in their homes, looked down on us even though the people who had come here were the cream of Western Polish Jewry. There were quite a number of single people from Mielec and Lvov. Most had left their wives and parents behind, and life was difficult for them. Many visited our house daily to exchange news, meet one another, pick up mail, and discuss matters of common concern.
In the meantime, the war to the west was continuing. Hitler had been victorious in Norway, Belgium, and France. The news from home was even worse. On the first day, when the Germans marched into Mielec, they surrounded the shul and the mikva, and set them on fire with about 40 men and children trapped inside. Soon afterward, they set up a concentration camp near Mielec, in Pustkow, and took young people to work as slave laborers. From time to time, one of them was shot.
On the other hand, life with the Russians meant, for many, hunger and being away from their families. The Russians permitted the non-Jewish refugees to return to their homes, while for the Jews they promised, a special registration.
In the spring of 1940, the Russians started registering the names of people who wanted to go back west which turned out to be virtually everyone. Meanwhile, France fell to the Germans-a black day for refugees, like us, who could see no end to the war, no hope for the future. About the 25th of June, we heard that in a town near Lvov the Russians had assembled all single men and put them aboard a train that, rumor had it, was bound for Siberia. As a result, the two boys who were staying with us, as well as my uncle George, left our apartment and went to different hiding places. That night, the two boys were caught and sent to the trains, and the next night the Russians searched all apartments where single men were registered and took them by truck to the train station and then on to Siberia.
The following morning, my brother was running a high fever. We called an old friend, Dr. Henry Milgrom, who retired in Lvov after many years in Mielec as a physician and Health Commissioner, and he gave us a note stating that my brother had typhoid. The next night, there was a knock on our door. It was the KGB, but when we showed them the note they were afraid to come into the apartment or to put us on the transport for fear of infecting the others. That is how we happened to be left in Lvov when the others were shipped off to Siberia.
People left behind in Lvov, as we were, escaped being shipped with the others, but we were forbidden to go within 100 kilometers of the border. We were considered a 'dangerous element' and the Russians issued us passports with special restrictions. Again, we lived in fear that we would be sent to Siberia on the next transport.
My father had friends in a town named Kolomyja-the daughter of Mr. Salpeter, of Mielec, who was married to a lawyer, Dr. Knopf. He found out that for $100 we could get false passports from the Russian police stating that we were residents of Kolomyja, dating back to the pre-war period. Once we had these documents, my parents, grandfather, brother, and I left Kolomyja. My uncle rented a room and a kitchen, at the same time the Russian army marched into Rumainia, and took over Besarabia. As a resident of Kolomyja, my brother who was now 20 was ordered to report to the Russian army. Since the Rumanian border was close by, he and my uncle crossed it to Czerniowic, and we didn't see them again until after the war.
The mail from Siberia was horrifying. Many people died of hunger and from overwork, as we learned through letters from my uncle Eli and his family, as well as from others.
In Kolomyja, under the Russians, in order to rate an apartment or the right to buy food, one had to have a working person's identification card. To get around this, my father organized a group of refugees, like us-some were Jews from Czechoslovakia and they set up an 'artell,' where they scraped reeds in order to make baskets. The object was not so much the few rubles we earned, which hardly paid for the bread, but rather the permit which was important.
At the time, we owned a radio, and many of the people we knew used to gather at our house to listen to the news from England. We would get excited by the number of German planes shot down by the Royal Air Force. It raised our hopes. Each time I wrote to the people in Siberia, I reported to them on the news from the English radio in order to lift their morale and strengthen their hopes.
On June 21, 1941, the day the Germans attacked Russia, I got up in the morning and saw the Russians, through the window, running as if in distress.
Following the Russian withdrawal, the Germans and their Hungarian allies marched into Kolomyja. On the first day, they allowed (if not actively encouraged) the Ukranian peasants to amuse themselves with the Jews. The streets were full of bear-footed Ukranians, carrying rifles. Through the window, I saw a bearded rabbi running towards our house. I opened the door for him and ran out to lock the gate in front of the house. He told us that two Ukranians were chasing him. All the Jewish men in the house, including my grandfather, ran into a small room. My mother and I pushed a big cupboard in front of the door. A neighbor's wife and three little girls came into our apartment and a few minutes later two Ukranian militia men came in and asked if we had seen the rabbi. We said no, and I pleaded with them in a loud voice to leave us alone. They asked, "Why are you so nervous ... are you Jewish?" "Yes," I replied proudly. "In that case, you're coming with us," they said. My mother said, "I'm going too."
While we were walking with them on the street, a Hungarian army officer, taking pity on us, pleaded with the Ukranians to let us go, but they would not listen. They brought us to a park where a few hundred Jews were assembled, beaten up. I saw bleeding eyes, women's wounded breasts, broken limbs; Hell could not have been worse. One of my captors walked away from us about 50 feet, then-with his rifle pointed right at me-charged like a bull hitting me in the hip with all his might. It hurt, but I didn't make a sound, for I was still proud. Then he hit me in the face. I took it, chin up, without a sound, but I think that at that moment I lost my ability to laugh or cry.
Then they told us to line up, put heavy ropes on our shoulders, and forced us to pull down the busts of Stalin and Lenin that the Russians had erected. "Schma Israel Adonai elahenhnu,(sic) Adonai echad," intoned a rabbi, leading us in the prayer of Vyda,, the prayer before death.
They told us to march forward through swamps, and we marched while bullets whistled near our ears. We marched towards the center of town, where drawn shades covered the windows, doors were locked, and a mob of Christians, only, lined the sidewalks, laughing, cheering, and screaming-''Death to the Jews!" In my memory, I still see the face of a Catholic priest standing among them, and I could not understand how he could keep silent.
We thought that they would shoot us right in the marketplace, because that was the way we were heading. Or perhaps they would burn us alive. Suddenly, a few truckloads of Hungarian soldiers drove up. They jumped out of the trucks, shooting and yelling at the Ukranians to let us go. We started running in all directions, during the confusion. Bullets were flying over our
heads. My mother and I ran into a house whose gate was open, and up the attic, where we hid. All night long the shooting continued, while at home our family knew nothing of what was happening to us, and as we learned later, my grandfather cried all night long out of worry over us. Early in the morning, we left our hiding place and walked home through the side streets, arriving much to the surprise and relief of our relatives.
After a few days, I dared to go over to a friend's house, again. They hadn't known that I had been involved in the death march.
In every other respect, however, things were getting worse. Every day, the Germans would round up the Jews from an area of several streets-generally a few hundred people-and take them out into the woods and shoot them. As a rule, the Germans walked their captives through the streets, guarded by only four or five soldiers and a few police dogs.
One day of the week was designated for the Jews to buy their supply of vegetables at the market. I went there, but when I picked up a bunch of carrots, a German soldier appeared and hit me on the head with his fist. I dropped everything and ran, as did the other Jews, all of us wearing the required white arm-band. After that incident, we had to rely upon our Polish landlady to buy food for us.
Soon, the Jews were ordered to bring all of their gold, jewelry, and furs to the Judenrath, but we hid our Jewelry in a hole we dug in the barn at night-even the landlady didn't know about it-and gave our fur coats to her.
Our friend whom I was able to see far less frequently now, summoned a photographer to their house to take pictures of me. They confided to me that they believed I would survive, because of my looks, and asked me to send those pictures to their son in Israel, if I lived through the war. This I have done.
One day, my father reported to work, as the Judenrath directed him to do. On his way, he saw the German soldiers dragging a young Polish boy into the Jewish cemetery. The boy cried and begged them to let him go, but they wouldn't listen. After a few minutes, he heard shots and knew what had happened. It upset me terribly.
It was particularly bad in eastern Poland. Every town had its massacres, and thousands were shot in the woods. At about this time, we wrote a letter to our cousin, asking her to send for us. A few nights later, we heard a knock at the door. "Gestapo!,". My mother and I ran through the kitchen door and out into the garden. Then we heard the landlady calling us. "Those are chauffeurs from Debice-they came to take you there." The Poles thought it would be fun to scare the Jews, so they identified themselves as Gestapo. And these were to be our rescuers! My parents packed quickly, but they couldn't dig up the jewelry at night in the presence of strangers. In addition, since father preferred to risk his life rather than mine, he decided that the rest of the family would go first, while I remained behind, until they were convinced that it was safe for me to go and sent for me. I went to a neighboring house, where my friend's brother lived, and the following night I returned to the barn to dig up the jewelry. The next day, the same chauffeur who had taken the rest of my family arrived, with a Polish ID card for me. Travelling on a German train, I went to Debice.
There was enough food. Everyone was well dressed. Since they had been able to remain in their own home, The Jews that had somehow managed quite well. In part, this was a result of the fact that they owned a store that sold wool and handmade sweaters. The Germans loved these sweaters for winter sports, and they went considerably easier on our hosts as a result.
The Judenrath in Debice refused to register us, since anyone who came from a previously Russian-occupied zone was considered a communist and shot by the Gestapo. A friend from Radomyal, came to Dembice with a buggy and drove us through the woods to Redomy's, at the risk of his own life, since we had no permits to leave the town. Redomyal was a small village where my uncle's son also lived. He arranged with the Judenrath there not to register us, but instead to pretend that they were unaware of our presence. It was now January, 1942, and we rented one room from a Polish family on the outskirts of town. By this time I fully realized the utter seriousness of Hitler's plan for a 'final solution' to the Jewish problem.
Throughout it all, I had the firm conviction that I would survive, and this gave me inner strength. But I knew that survival depended upon getting Polish papers, and I approached everyone I knew, listened to rumors, and found out that an old client of my father's could arrange this through the men in charge of the town hall. I told my father, and, just as I'd heard, we all got papers with Polish names.
On March 19, 1942 we heard that Mielec, about 10 miles away, had been surrounded by the Gestapo, making it the first Polish town to bear the full brunt of the 'final solution'. As we found out later, Mielec's Jews were sent, first, to Dubenka and Wlodawa, and after a few weeks to Majdanek and Belzec. The Jews in Radomy's were frightened that the same thing would soon happen to them, but there was no place to go and nothing to be done to avoid it.
At about that time, Dolak Liebeskind, a leader of the resistance movement of the Krakow ghetto, and an Akiba leader before the war, appeared in Radomy's. He asked me to join with his group of partisans to help free Rachel Strauss and Hela Kartenger from Dubienka. I refused because I felt that my first obligation was towards my parents, but I sent a Polish messenger to Dubienka to help my close friends, Feiga and Sala. Borger, leave town. I asked them to drop their armbands, but they were afraid to do this, so two other sisters went with him, instead. Both now live in New York, but the Borger sisters perished.
There were constant rumors that any day the Jews of Radomy's would follow in the steps of those from Mielec. As a result, we decided to move to Polaniec, a small town on the other side of the Wisla River. In Polaniec, I met my dear friend.
September, 1942, town after town had been cleared of Jews, who were sent to the death camps. One night, the Germans surrounded the young Polish people in Polniec, in order to send them to the work camps in Germany. They came into our house. It was dark, and they were using their flashlights, but they asked for a lamp. They asked me whether I was Polish or Jewish. I didn't know what the right answer might be, under the circumstances, and started to answer, "We are ... we are-wait, I'll bring a lamp," and again my mother, father, and I ran out of the back door and into the fields. While we were running, I lost my parents, but I continued to run. It seems as if the bushes were moving everywhere I thought I saw people hiding in them. When I couldn't run any further, I decided to hide in a ditch and cover myself with leaves. No sooner had I done this when I heard steps-heaven, soldier-like steps, like the sound of marching troops. I tried not to breathe. It went on for a long time-the steps sounded neither closer nor father away. I listened carefully ... and then I understood: the sounds I heard were the beats of my heart!
At sun-break, cold and tired, I left the ditch and started towards the village, nearly drowning in the swamps along the way. People, most of them Jews, were emerging from the bushes on all sides. I met a Jew from Mielec and he said that someone told him that my father had been shot. I had become numb to pain, and I didn't react. After a while, we saw some Polish peasants who told us that it had been a Polish lineup, rather than A Jewish one. I walked into town, afraid to go home and face the news. I decided to go, first, to the Schillers' house and when I went inside, there was my father. It had been a false rumor.
After that, we tried to live as a Polish family, with our Polish papers, and went to a little spa, Solec. We rented a room, but after a day the Poles recognized us by the way my mother prepared the food. It had become clear that it was impossible to live disguised as Polish people, and the Poles ordered us to leave, so we went back to Polaniec. Meanwhile, more news arrived concerning the surrounding of Jewish towns: Debica was cleared of Jews, and my uncle his wife and son were sent to Belzec.Their four daughters and a three-year-old grandchild. The only solution for us seemed to go into hiding. I could have taken a chance and lived as a Polsih (sic) girl, which I could have managed easily because of my looks. But I didn't want to leave my parents.
We decided it would be better to look for separate hiding places. That way, if something happened to one of us, the others might still survive and perhaps get help from the outside. But where were we to go?
During this period, Polish business people would come to Polaniec on weekends to trade black market money for Jewish gold and jewelry at cheap prices. I learned that a Mr. Stanislaw Dobrowolski used to come on Sundays to exchange his money, and usually stayed in the house of the Rothmans, another Mielec family. I told my father about Dobrowolski, who had owned a small flour mill before the war in the next village to where my father had had a big one. They had been friends before the war; my father had lent him money and given him credit at a time when he could easily have eliminate him out of business. My father waited for him. one Sunday, and begged him to take me into his house, giving him a promisory (sic) note for 50-thousand zlotys. He also offered him a partnership if we survived. Dobrowski agreed, but said he would consult his wife and he would come to pick me up the next day, which he did. There were no children in his house-only two brothers and one sister, a polio victim.
Meanwhile, someone arranged a hiding place for my mother and his sister in a house owned by a Mr. Skibe, in a village near the Wisla River. He had built a double wall in his storage room with a big enough hole for someone to crawl through on his knees. Later, Mr. Dobrowolski placed my father and a friend in a similar hiding place in the village of Gawluszovice. My grandfather stayed with a Jewish family in Polaniec. We had planned to send for him but the Germans shot him before we got a chance. He was 86 years old and could not comprehend how God could permit such things to happen.
Through Dobrowolski, my father arranged a hiding place for Jewish woman and her daughter in the same village where I was. Dobrowolski now had ten people under his protective wing: my parents, his sister plus a child, in the house next to Dobrowolski, and I myself. He had a note and a promise of compensation after the war from us. In addition, my father borrowed $500 from Dobrowolski, promising to repay him twice that sum after the war ... which he did. All of us assumed that something would happen soon, and that the war would not last more than two months. This was at the end of 1942. There had been a landing by the Allied Armies in, France, in the town of Dieppe, which raised our hopes.
Meanwhile, no one kept money with him for fear that the farmers would kill him for it even though Dobrowolski was paying them 3,000 zlotys for each of us per month-at the time about $150.
1 was treated as a member of the family, as a cousin hiding from the Germans in order not to be sent to the Polish working camps. That was the story told the maid and some of their friends. My room was on the second floor, where I could hear Rothmans steps above me.
After two months, my parents' money ran out. One day, Dobrowolski came in for a friendly chat and told me he hoped that the war would not last longer than three months. He didn't care how much we cost him, so he said, but it did not seem so. At this time, my parents' jewelry-a considerable bit of gold, diamonds, and pearls-was in my possession, but there was no more cash. I kept the jewelry on my body during the day, in a belt with a zipper; at night, I stored it under the pillow. It squeezed me all the time. Since I realized that we could not expect Mr. Dobrowolski to support us indefinitely and at the same time to risk his life, I made a decision without consulting my father: I excused myself and went out of the room where I took off the belt. Then I returned and showed him the jewelry. I explained that we never considered the jewels as money-that they had a sentimental value to us-but that I felt sure my father would sell him whatever he wanted. As to the price, he would have to discuss that with my father. I only asked that he hide it with his own, so I could be more comfortable. I trusted him; he was a gentleman, and I admired him because it took guts to help us in the way he did, at that time.
Mr. Dobrowolski was very pleased by my offer. It was a risk, according to others, to give the jewelry away, but he did not disappoint us. Every month he went to pay the farmers for my mother and father and when money was needed, he established with my father the price for each item he wanted to buy. Sometimes his wife sent fish, white rolls, or jam to the people in the shelters. In this way, the jewelry lasted two years, by which time all that was left were my mother's diamond earrings, an engagement gift.
Two weeks after I arrived at the Dobrowolski house, I heard shots and a big commotion, near the river not far away. A few minutes later, they told me that a Polish policeman named Ortyl, from Mielec, was chasing Jews hiding in the bushes near the river. He had already shot Mr. Machel Lichtig, from Mielec-the father of my dear friend. The Dobrowolskis sympathyzed (sic) with the Jews and they told me everything they heard about what was happening to them while we were in hiding.
Other friends hiding with two daughters, were in the same village with a farmer named Korczak.
We also heard how Jews were poisoned by farmers, when they ran out of money and how the four Kornreich brothers, my highschool friends, were dismembered and thrown into farm machines. Komito, a cousin of mine, was poisoned in the next village.
Meanwhile, on the Russian front, there was a stalemate near Stalingrad-and still no landing on the western front.
During Christmas, the priest from the village, a colonel from the Polish army, and the village mayor were all invited to a party at the Dobrowolskis. I joined them for dinner. The priest voiced the opinion that the Poles would have to build a monument in Warsaw to Hitler, after the war, in gratitude, for what he did for them in exterminating the Jews. The others agreed. It embarrassed the Dobrowolskis that I heard this.
My father was not comfortable in this hiding place in Gawluszowice, so Dobrowolski arranged for two separate hiding places in the barns adjoining his garden and belonging to his two brothers-in-law. They built double walls in these barns, with a place to sleep a few feet below ground level, a small kerosene lamp, a wash basin, and a pail for toilet use. Twice a day the two fugitives were given food. They could lie down or sit, but it was very hard to stand up. Sometimes at night they would come to the house and wash up with warm water. The Rosens visited my father almost every night by jumping over the fence and announcing himself with a special signal at the wall. I also visited my father once in two months between 12 and 2 at night. Dobrowolski would notify them in advance when I was to arrive. We were very happy to meet and I was told the news. Our joy and desire to be free was expressed in speaking Jewish among ourselves and singing songs from the Hebrew prayers-Ein Kelohainu, Adon Olam, and others.
My mother and Mrs. Levins were still near Polaniec. In the spring of 1943, on Easter morning, I was invited down to the kitchen to join them for breakfast. 'Through the window we saw people coming back from church after mass. Dobrowolski said jokingly, "They are all so clean from their sins just try to give them a Jew!" A few hours later, they were looking in the village, house by house, for Jews. They found Mr. Leizar Berger and his daughter, Lea, and I saw through the window how they were driven by a farmer and a policeman toward Mielec, where they were shot.
One day, a Pole from Mielec named Flour, who used to deal with my father before the war, passed near the mill and saw me through the window. He told Dobrowolski that he knew who I was and if he wouldn't throw me out, he-Flour-would tell the police. That evening, Dobrowolski's brother-n-law drove me to my mother's hiding place. Roth had to leave, too, but since he had no place left to hide in, he walked to Mielec and sat hopelessly on a bench near Straznice Park, until a policeman came along and shot him. His sister and her child left for Przemysl, where she had lived before the war with her husband. She never came back.
My mother, Mrs. Levinsohn and I shared a small wooden bench as a bed. If one of us turned over, all three had to do it. We had to whisper in the dark. Once a week, we crawled out, and only one time did I go out into the yard to catch a breath of fresh air.
I was now in my twenties. I was depressed and thought it was better to die than to live like this. Flour did indeed send the police to look for me. They searched everywhere in the Dobrowolski's house, but a month later after it had quieted down again, Dobrowolski came to pay for my keep and to take me back. I was glad to be in a room with lights again. I was thinking of writing a diary, but I was afraid that if they found me, a diary would incriminate others and reveal my true identity.
One Sunday in August, while the Dobrowolskis were away visiting, two German soldiers knocked on the front door with their familiar, "Offenen!" The maid who had been in the kitchen with Mr. Dobrowolski's sister, came running breathlessly to my room crying "Hide in the mill!" I ran through a door to the mill and jumped into a deep silo, where I covered myself with wheat. After 20 minutes or so, the maid, called to me saying that it was all right to come out. The Germans wanted butter and eggs, and had asked if we knew about any Jews hiding around here, but now they had left. She lowered a long ladder for me to climb out with, but my legs were shaking so badly that it took a long time to do it.
I was very lonely. I passed my days by reading, studying English, mending the Dobrowolski's clothes or occasionally translating their mail into German. I also wrote letters to my parents. I wanted to live to tell the story and I believed in my dream from Lvov.
Late in the summer, the Polish underground got orders from the London Polish government in exile that no Jews should be left alive in Poland. In the neighborhood where my mother was hiding, the Poles conducted a house-to-house search at night. They suspected that Jews were hiding in Mr. Skiba's house. That very evening, my mother came out of hiding and into the Skiba's bedroom to wash up, when she heard Mrs. Skiba scream that she had no Jews. My mother jumped into the bed and covered herself with a high feather comforter, putting her hand out briefly to smooth the cover. The window was open, and the would-be murderers came into the room, saw the open window, and exclaimed, "Damm it, the Jews escaped!" and left.
Later she told me that, upon seeing a chicken walking back and forth in the sun, while she was in hiding, she wept because even a chicken had the right to be free while we Jews did not.
Soon after the incident of the search, my mother and her roommate were transferred to my father's first hiding place. There, they were discovered and severely manhandled. The Poles demanded gold and jewelry, but somehow my mother and Mrs. Levin managed to run away from them, hiding in an outhouse during the night. In the morning, they came to Dobrowolski, in Chrzastow, where I saw them. They were in a miserable state, and Dobrowolski contacted the young Borczak, where the Jews were staying and transferred them to a separate place in the barn.
Meanwhile, Dobrowolski was troubled. It was taking too long. His wife, too, was impatient and wondered aloud why they had to put up with all of this.
One day in September, 1943 Dobrowolski knocked at my door and told me that he had been in the attic, listening to the radio broadcast from England, and had heard Rabbi Cook calling on all Jews in hiding not to lose hope and that freedom was near. It was on Yom Kippur. Dobrowolski asked me if I wanted to fast, but I said that I did not-eating was my protest to God.
Dobrowolski was now changing, himself, as things on the Russian front progressed. The Poles were becoming worried-they had always believed that somehow the Polish Army, under General Skikorski, would free their country and that they could then take over all the Jewish properties and businesses. But instead, the Russians were pushing forward and it seemed as though they might take over Poland. To make matter worse, Russain (sic) Jews were communists, and they would take revenge for what had happened in Poland-or so people thought.
The food for me became poorer, and the Dobrowolskis stopped visiting me. I became worried-especially when I noticed that the letters from my parents were being censored. I had become friendly with the maid, and now she told me that the Dobrowolskis were talking about me, and also that Mr. Dobrowolski had bought himself a rifle. I feared for our survival.
At this time I was waiting anxiously for the Russians to save us. By December 1943, they were nearing the Polish border, and I decided to run for it. In this way, I hoped to be able to save my parents and the others Jews in the village. If I ran, so I reasoned, the Dobrowolskis would be obliged to watch over them for fear that after the war I would tell what had happened. What's more, I knew about the radio and the rifle and these acts were punishable by death.
I had about 500 zlotys. My father always wanted me to have some money for toiletries, or for stockings, if I needed them ... or for a tip to the maid.
On Christmas afternoon, the Dobrowolskis went visiting. When it was dark, I put
on my coat and tied a kerchief on my head. I took my Polish papers and the 500
zlotys, and I ran from the house to the River Wisloka, through about 10 inches
of snow, hoping to mislead any search party that came after me. I took off my
shoes and went into the river. The current was
so strong that for a moment I thought I might drown. I had entered the water on a slant; now I climbed out on the other shore barefoot, walking in the snow. I walked a couple of miles until I saw a light on in a nearby house. I put my shoes on, but I could not go in because I was soaking wet. It would have been easy to guess that only a Jewish girl would look like that. I hid behind the barn, behind a few bunches of straw. During the night, I heard a dog crawling on the straw, and I held my breath. The dog left and returned a few times ... then it walked away for good. That was the extent of the seach (sic) for me.
I must have had a high fever, for I had halucinations (sic) in which I heard Polish voices screaming and beating my father and calling, "Scream louder, so she will hear you and come out!" I believed that if the Poles found me, we would all be dead, so I covered my ears and tried to be strong. I lay there under the straw until the next evening. My coat seemed dry, so I walked to the house and asked the way to Mielec, and if they could drive me there. They said no, but a neighbor would be going there the following morning. I went over, and since there was a curfew, they let me sleep in their house. The next morning, I got a lift to Mielec with the farmer-neighbor. A few miles outside of town, I told him that this was as far as I wanted to go. I got out and thanked him then went into the woods. All that day I walked, eating snow. Toward evening, I came to a village not far from Radomyal. I knew that there was a Polish woman, Miss Droba, who worked as a teacher in that village, but I was certain that she was home in Mielec for the holidays. I needed only an excuse. I found the house where she lived, and asked the farmer's wife if she was there as I had an important letter for her. The woman, who was convinced that I was involved with the Polish underground (as all the intelligensia were at that time), said that Miss Droba was not there, but that I could stay overnight. She even gave me her bed-she would not permit such an important messenger to sleep on the floor!-while she made a bed for herself above the oven. The following day, I went toward Radomysl, where I knew our previous landlord, Mr. Waclowski, as a friendly person. At the same time, I hoped to contact Dr. Gawenda, our family doctor from Mielec, who was a convert to Catholicism. He could not stay in Mielec, for fear of the Germans, so he moved to Radomysl during the war. I came to Radomysl in the evening. I opened and shut Mr. Waclowski's door a few times, and then ducked out of sight, waiting to see who would come out. When Mr. Waclowski himself appeared, I walked over to him and identified myself.
He told me to go to the barn and up to the attic above the cows. Later, his daughter brought me something to eat, but told me that I could not stay because her husband might betray me to the Germans. The next morning, I walked across the street to Dr. Gawenda. I told him about what had happened to us and the other Jews hiding in Chrzestew. I expressed my feeling that we would be killed by the Poles because of the approaching Russian armies. He agreed with this view and asked me what I wanted to do. If I could do any housework or other work, maybe he could find me a job with a Polish landlord, but I wasn't sure if I could do it. On the other hand, I did not want to impose on him, and in the end he examined me-I was healthy-and gave me food. I had remembered that during my stay in Radomysl one of my father's former workers had visited once and told me that if I were even in any trouble, he would try to help me-a task made somewhat easier by my Polish appearance.
I told Dr. Gawendq that I would try to find the place by myself, but that if I wasn't successful I would return to him and perhaps he could find me a job. Dr. Gawenda arranged for a driver to take me to the village of Rzochow to find Mr. Rusinek. I left the driver in the center of the village and asked a man for Mr. Rusinek's address. He conducted me there personally, then asked Rusinek, "Do you know this spy?" His face pale, Rusinek replied that he did indeed know me, so the man left. Later, he told me that this particular man informed on Jews, and it frightened Rusinek when he saw him. I asked him if I could stay, but he told me to run away as quickly as I could because his wife, who had just gone out to the grocery, reported all Jews.
Two villages away, on the road to Pustkow, lived a woman who ran the Post Office where my father's mill had been . While I walked the 17 kilometers to Dabie, Gestapo cars from the Pustkow camp passed by continually. As I walked, I hoped to find a place to stay, but when I reached Zosia's house, she too, was scared to help me. She gave me soup, and offered me money but she refused to let me stay.
Once again I was on the road, this time walking towards Przeclaw. With night coming on, I asked in a nearby house if I could stay. When they asked me where I was going, I replied that I had something to deliver to the teacher in the next village. Again, they took me for an underground messenger, and gave me their nicest room to sleep in. The next morning, I hitched a ride back towards Radomysl and returned to the house where I had slept the first night, asking again if the teacher, Miss Droba, had returned, but she hadn't. I asked the woman if she could get me a messenger to take a letter to Dr. Gawenda. She called a nephew, and he went to the doctor. In the letter, I asked if he could find me a place, since I had not succeeded in arranging it myself.
(Curiously during that entire week, I had forgotten about my parents, so preoccupied was I with my own survival.)
The messenger returned with a letter from Dr. Gawenda, who wrote that Dobrowolski had come to his office, asking for me, but the doctor did not admit that he knew me.
After they discovered my disappearance, the Dobrowolskis ran to my father and told him. My father did not know why I did it, and I was afraid to write him about my plans before hand because the letters might be censored. If I died, life would have lost its meaning to him. He thought that if I was alive, the only person in all of Poland I would trust would be Dr. Gawenda. And since they found the tracks on the snow leading towards the river, they thought that if I was alive at all, I might be sick and would naturally turn to Dr. Gawenda for help. But although Gawenda denied seeing me, he wanted to send my father some sign that I was alive, so he told Dobrowolski that he had a patient by the name of Helena Zalotynska (that was my Polish name). That was enough to let father know that I was there.
Dr. Gawenda also wrote me in his letter that since Dobrowolski had admitted to him that he was hiding Jews, the best thing for me to do would be to return there, since they would not dare to do anything now.
After I'd finished reading the letter, I said goodbye to the woman where I was staying, and she said to me, "Take a drink of whiskey ... maybe God will help you and you will survive the war." I realized that she had recognized that I was Jewish.
I left again through the woods and walked the whole day, again eating snow. Towards evening, I came to the river on my way back to Chrzestew. A fisherman took me across on his barge. I walked to the barn where my father was hiding, and knocked at the wall. He asked who was there and was stunned to hear my voice. It took him a while to open the taped-up door. When I got inside, I told him why I had run, and about my belief that the Poles would want to kill us all. Only through my escape could I save him. The Rosen came in at night and they all realized how perilous the situation was. Together, we decided that I should go to Krakow and try to live there by myself until the end of the war. The Russians, by this time, were near Tarnopol. I left the barn but there was so much wind and snow that walking was impossible. Only a Jew trying to escape would walk in weather like this. I went back to find that in the meantime Mr. Rosen had had second thoughts about my going and had decided that Dr. Gawenda was right about the Dobrowolskis having to take me back and watch over us.
The next morning, they sent for their host, Dobrowolski. When he saw me, he was angry. Why had I run away, he demanded? I replied that I simply could not take the confinement and I had to be free, but he understood very well that I had done it to insure our safety. When I went back to his house, they were all very cold towards me, and I lived from day to day asking the maid for news when she brought me food. .
Mr. Rosen sent me a code: for every letter in the Jewish alphabet, I should write a number-Aleph was one, Bet was two, and so on. This was how we now wrote-in numbers-and it drove the censors crazy. Those smart Jews!
One day in April, 1944, Dobrowolski knocked on the door. They had found the bodies of four people in the woods, shot. The victims were the Ostros and the Blasbalgs. The same thing had probably happened to the Verst, but their bodies had not been found. The older Korchak and Wales had been arrested for hiding Jews. I was heartbroken and realized that not even my escape could have prevented their deaths, which I had foreseen three months earlier. I thought that Dobrowolski might have told Wales that I had run away, since they were friends.
What would Dr. Gawenda think, now?
It took until early August for the Russians to reach Chrzestow. There was heavy fighting near the Chrzestow airport, and a tank fight over the village, itself. On August 4th, the Russians entered the village and we were free. My father, Mr. Rosen, and I walked out and greeted the Russians happily. "Zdrastwuyte!" The part of the village where my mother, Mrs. Leven, and the other families were hiding was on fire, and we did not know if they had escaped. A few hours later, though, a messenger arrived from them to say that they are alive.
The younger Korczak left the house with his family and livestock when the Germans were planting mines around the building, but he did not tell the people who were hiding there. However, they saw through the cracks what the Germans were doing. All of them crawled through the fields under rifle fire. The Russians found the two German soldiers who had been left behind by their army to set the village on fire, and brought them over to the Dobrowolski's house, where they had set up their headquarters. The Russians wanted to shoot the two young German soldiers, who cried bitterly. My father went to the Russians and asked them not to shoot these two. He convinced the Russians to take them as war prisoners, instead. I could not understand my father-I wanted revenge. Only years later did I comprehend my father's true greatness.
The Dobrowolskis, who had grown thoroughly unhappy with the occupants of their home, were impatient to see us go. We left the village on foot, a group of eleven people. Walking slowly on feet grown swollen from sitting so long, and living on berries, we were going back, away from the village. The Russian soldiers threw us bread, american jam, and sardines.
My father and I were anxious to see Mielec and hoped that it would be possible to go back home. We left the group sitting near the road, and we went into town. As we entered Sandomierske Street, three smiling faces rushed out of a house towards us-friends who survived too. They had been the first to reach Mielec, following the Russians from Tarnopol. The embraces, the tears, the joy of seeing someone alive was indescribable. They were able to move back into their house, but ours was occupied by some strange people. There was still some shooting going on, since the front was right behind Mielec. After a few hours, we returned to our little group. The Russian soldiers took us by truck to the town of Kolbuszowa, and my father and I went to the Russian headquarters to arrange for housing.
They assigned us to an abandoned house which a Polish collaborator had vacated, running away with the Germans.
Our friends Mark and Fryda told us that one day in April, Polish bandits came into Korczak's house and demanded the Jews. They found them in their hiding place. There were six people. The Poles told them to walk towards the woods. Two of the bandits went in front, while one-a very tall man, with a rifle-remained in back. Mark and Fryda were +the last in the group. Mark told the man behind him, "I have my last $100 bill ... I'll give it to you if you let us go." The bandit seemed ready to take the money, and switched his rifle from one hand to the other., As he did so, Mark jumped into a nearby canal and swam away. The bandit wanted to shoot but Fryda defending her husband, threw herself on the rifle, fighting with the tall man, who shot her in the back during the melee. She fell to the ground while, meanwhile, the rest of the people who had been taken to the woods were killed.
Later, Mark returned to Korczak, and Fryda-who had recovered sufficiently, after being shot, met him there. The Korczaks, who were scared, let them stay in a second hiding place they had been using for a Polish officer. Meanwhile, they sent for Wallace, who had been their patron in the beginning, and he transferred them to his sister, Markowski. When the Russians entered the village, an officer helped them to go to Kolbuszowa. Fryda still had the bullet in her back when we met her in August. That day, I went, out to the fields and dug out a few potatoes and a head of cabbage-(the first time in my life that I ever stole something!)-and the entire group had a meal.
One day a young boy from Kolbuszowa, who had come out of the woods, appeared at the door. His name was Zaleszycki, and someone had told him that there were Jews in town, so he came to see us. He kept repeating, as if he were drunk, "Jewish girls ... Jewish girls . . . Jewish girls! (There were four of us.) I never thought I would see a Jewish girl again. I cannot believe it! Which one of you wants to marry me?," he asked. He was in rags, and in the situation we were in, we thought he was crazy. When he got no response, he assured us that when he had a new suit, we would change our minds!
We were still too near the front for safety as Jews. Next day, we asked some Russians passing through in a truck to take us to Rzeszow, where there was a curfew. We arrived at night, and a Polish family took us in, thinking we were also Poles running from the front. They made us tea, and gave us bread. Soon, though, they recognized us as Jews. Trembling, they asked us to leave early in the morning so their neighbors wouldn't see that they had Jews in their house. However, they gave us the address of two Jewish boys from Rzeszow who had already returned and had an apartment-two rooms and a kitchen. We had only bare floors to sleep on, but my father spent his last 80 zlotys with a Russian soldier for three blankets-one of which we sold to another Russian for 200.
From then on almost all the returning Jews who heard that we were living here came to see us. Henek, with his sense of humor, tried to make us laugh by singing funny songs and telling us jokes.
A week or so later, Henek S. went on a business trip to Romania and found out that my brother, David, and my Uncle George were living in Bucharest. He notified them that we had survived, and soon they came to visit, but they later returned to Romania.
The Russians were looking for anything that they could buy: sugar, flour, paper, and pencils. My father and I went by Russian truck to Mielec, where father bought a whole truck-load of merchandise from the local wholesale grocers. The commission on the deal turned out to be a sizeable sum of money.
But on the street, some familiar faces would not answer when we greeted them. When my school teacher, whose pet I had been, turned her head away, I had tears in my eyes. The mailman, whom I had known since I was a child, looked in a different direction. The baker where I wanted to buy bread said I should come at night, so the neighbors wouldn't see him selling bread to Jews.
The most painful feeling was looking at the windows which were silent reminders of dear friends and relatives. So, in the end, we went back to Rzeszow, where Fryda had the bullet removed from her back-without anesthetic-at the hospital. After dressing her wound, they sent her home, but she had to return a few times to have the dressings changed.
Soon our apartment became overcrowded. When Fryda felt stronger, she her husband and I went back to Mielec. They thought that they would be able to reorganize their lives there. Mark had been a lawyer; he would start anew. They moved into his parents' house, and found-and reclaimed-a little girl named Martha, who was the daughter of the slain Lea Ostrow. She was four years old. The woman who had kept her demanded a big sum of money, but was finally forced by court order to return her to Fryda and Mark. She was very cute and very smart, but it took her a while to adjust to the new people. She had no memory of her parents.
A few other Jewish people trickled back to Mielec-all that was left of a community of a few thousand who had lived there for. about 450 years.
I and a few others went to the town hall to ask for identification cards. The clerk, who had been Mark's schoolmate, said, "What right do you have to walk around without a white armband? There's been no decree releasing you from it, yet!" Mark and Fryda, knowing that the murderers were still at large, were afraid that they might come back and finish us, so they decided to move to Lublin. I went with them and we lived like a family, taking care of one another. They showed me alot (sic) of love, introduced me to young people, and tried to make my life in a big city most enjoyable. Little Marta was fun and a joy. Fryda did everything to build up Marta's strength and get her used to us. At the end of the war, her father came back and immigrated with her to Brazil.
After a few weeks in Lublin, I felt homesick for my parents and went back to Rzescow. By this time, many people had moved out of the apartment, having found their own. Meanwhile, people started returning from Russia. Among these was my good friend, Sam A week or so later, the Russians advanced and Krakow was free. Within a few days, we moved there, as did more and more Jews. In the bigger city, we finally began to feel safer.
Many Jews were still portraying themselves as Polish, and in order to ascertain if they were Jewish or not, we used a password, "Amchu." It became the password throughout Poland, known by all Jews.
In Krakow, we rented a four-room apartment. Once again, our house was full of people. They started coming back from Russia, and from concentration camps. Eventually, all the Jews left in Mielec came to see us, for there were no wives or families waiting for them.
One winter evening, I went to buy something at the drug store and met Henry my fiance on the street. He and his family, who were also among the lucky survivors, were back from Russia. A few weeks later, we were married. Mark came to the wedding, as did about 20 or 30 people from Mielec.
During the wedding two burglars broke into our apartment, taking my parents' clothes, jewelry, and passports which they had prepared in order to leave Poland after the wedding. Roth's brother-in-law, returning from camp, came to our door to ask where the wedding was taking place, and the burglars let him in-then shot him. When my parents came back from the wedding, he was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, he died of his wounds.
All through Poland at that time, returning Jews were being shot and there were two larger pogroms in the towns of Radom and Kielce. A few weeks later, my parents, my husband, his parents, and I left Poland for good.
We forgot the tensions of the last months in Chrzestow, and we were grateful to the Dobrowolskis for saving our lives. My father signed over a house to them.
We now live in the United States; my dear parents passed away a few years ago. We hope to settle in Israel soon. Dobrowolski once came to visit us here, and twice a year, for Christmas and their birthday, my brother and I sent money and gifts for them and for the three other farmers who helped us to survive.
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