Chava Konkol-Kanarek (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Sara Mages
It was Friday, 1 September 1939, when the war broke out. On that Sabbath eve German planes passed over my hometown Serock. They flew low and cast heavy shadows and great terror. The first four days of the war passed in great fear, and on the fifth day we tasted its first taste. On the same day the city was bombed and in this bombing we lost our oldest brother, Shmuel zl. Our entire family quickly fled to the other side of the Narew River.
After the conquest of the city by the Germans all of us returned to Serock because the bombings ceased, the shots fell silent and silence prevailed. However, a few days later the Germans ordered all the Jewish men to gather in the Great Synagogue. Only the elderly returned to the families who waited for their loved ones. All the young men were taken from there and expelled to Germany. That day my older brother, Moshe Kanarek, didn't return to our home.
A short time later, all the Jews, including my five sisters, were expelled from Serock to Biała- Podlaska. My parents and I weren't among the deportees because at that time we were with my aunt in the village of Zatori across the Narew River. When the news of the expulsion reached us we headed to my aunt, my mother's sister, who lived in Wołomin.
My aunt received us well, but the concern for my sisters didn't leave us for a moment. My aunt, who felt sorry for us, traveled to Biała- Podlaska and brought all my sisters with her.
Again we were together at my aunt's house. It was good to be together, but we were forced to separate because my aunt couldn't support us all. Then we knew the hunger which began to plague us. Mother had another sister who lived in the village of Wieliszew near Zegrze. Therefore, my sister Chana and I traveled to this aunt. Her husband was a tailor and we helped him with his work. A short time later our mother came to Wieliszew, and then my sisters Masha and Leah. Since there wasn't enough room at my aunt's house, we rented a small narrow room in a Polish woman's hut and lived there. It wasn't long before the whole family joined us, and all of us huddled together in the small and narrow room - only to be together.
We lived in Wieliszew until 1940. In October of the same year we were expelled to Ludwisin Ghetto near Legionowa. In the ghetto we suffered from constant hunger and feared annihilation.
Every day my mother and sisters tried to sneak into the nearby village to try to exchange the remainder of our shabby clothes for bread, potatoes or other food items. When they were lucky, we had something to eat and the great hunger ceased for a short time.
At that time I left the ghetto and went to my Polish woman who lived in the village. The Polish woman was kind to me and I stayed with her for about ten months. The police learned about it, came to arrest me and sentenced me to death. They let me go after I cried and pleaded, but under the condition that I would return to the ghetto. I returned to the ghetto.
A bitter cold prevailed in the winter of 1941. We didn't have wood or other materials for heating. In addition to hunger and fear we also suffered from the intense cold that penetrated the bones. Father couldn't see us tormented by the cold, and under mortal danger went to the nearby forest to collect firewood. Once he got caught and was beaten all over his body. He returned wounded and bleeding, fell ill and never recovered. Without food, medical help and medicines - my father died on 19 March 1941.
In one of the cold autumn days, in one of the Sabbath of 1942, large buses arrived to the ghetto at five o'clock in the morning - to expel and liquidate the ghetto. My family managed to escape from the ghetto to the nearby forest. Two hundred Jews were shot and killed on the spot. Only a few escaped and the rest were deported. I, and ten other people, hid in a cellar. We were in the cellar for the entire Sabbath. As evening fell we sneaked from the cellar and each one of us turned in a different direction.
I walked three kilometers to my Polish woman's house. I knocked on her door and she opened it for me. When she saw me she wrung her hands, crossed herself and called out - how did you manage to survive this hell? She gave me food and drink, and when I recovered she told me that my mother and my little sister Leah are in this village and they're looking for me. The Polish woman's son immediately went, under the order of his mother, to find them and a short time later brought them to me.
We stayed with this Polish woman only three days. In the middle of the night we had to leave because rumors have already started to spread that Jews are hiding at Jaworoska's house.
We fled to the forest. In broad daylight lay in various hideouts and at night we went out to look for food. We were in the forest for three weeks, in hunger, cold and fear. Another blow plagued us in the forest - lice. The tiny varmints didn't leave us for a moment.
After three weeks of wanderings, filled with sufferings and hardship, we had no other choice but to try and return to the Polish woman. When she saw us again before her, she got scared and horrified. She immediately locked the door and took us to the attic.
She brought us food, water, clothes and a dense teeth comb.
We hid for three days and three nights in the attic. On the fourth day the Polish woman said that she's couldn't support us all, but she's willing to take one of the girls. Since I was in grave danger because of my prominent Jewish facial features and since I used to live with the Polish woman - I was chosen to stay.
My mother and my little sister Leah left and reached Warsaw. Mother's Polish friends, who lived in the suburb of Praga, hid them for several days but they couldn't stay there because they were afraid of the Germans and Polish informers. One day, as they wandered hungry in one of Praga's streets, they saw an elderly woman with a trustworthy appearance who held a package in her hand. My mother dared to ask her for a piece of bread for the girl. The woman didn't hesitate, opened the package, which contained her meal for work, gave it to my mother and said: if you want, give me the girl and I'll bring her up at my home. My mother was very happy, gave my little sister to the Polish woman and received her address in exchange for her daughter. With stinging tears in her eyes she watched her little daughter walking away with the Polish woman. She stood for a long time in place - stood and couldn't move. The girl also turned every few steps to mother, and their gaze met through a double screen of flowing tears. It was the last time that they saw each other. Later, mother came back to the village and told me what had happened to her and my little sister. She gave me the address of the girl's guardian and I corresponded with my sister through my Polish woman.
The winter of 1943 has come. Mother was with me all the time but we had no food and we suffered greatly from hunger. Also the good Polish woman and her 12 year old son endured famine. Every evening, at sunset, mother went out to look for food. When she was lucky she returned with something hidden under her clothes, but most of the time she returned with nothing. After the spring thaw mother moved to the home of an acquaintance in the same village.
Sometime later, my mother met aunt Tova from Wieliszew. My aunt lived for some time with her two little children in the surrounding hills and groves. After she met my mother they were together, but it didn't last long. In May a manhunt was carried out in the area, my aunt's two little children were abducted, and probably shared the fate of all the Jewish children in Poland.
My mother and my aunt managed to escape from the manhunt, but because of the circumstances they separated three weeks later - each to her own fate. My mother's fate was to fall victim to a Polish informer who handed her over to the Germans. She was arrested, and didn't return. My aunt, on the other hand, lives today in the United States.
I stayed with my Polish woman until the autumn of 1944. I didn't see sunlight since the end of the summer of 1942. I hid days and nights, without air and light, because all the villagers knew me. They weren't allowed to know that I was staying with the Polish woman for fear of denunciation.
When the Russian troops approached the environments of Warsaw the German authorities started to expel the Polish population from many locations. The Polish woman and her family were among the deportees, and I joined them. I covered my head and face with a scarf so, God forbid, no one will recognize me. The German policemen led us by foot, a distance of thirty kilometers, to the other side of Warsaw, to an industrial area.
It was already evening when we approached the destination of our difficult walk. A great fear fell upon me because of the danger that the Germans will find out that I was Jewish we get to the place. Also the Polish woman, who walked with me the whole way, contracted my fear. Therefore, three kilometers from the factories we escaped from the rows and hid.
The next day all the deportees were sent to work in Germany, and by miracle I was saved from this fate.
From there we walked to Pruszków because my Polish woman had acquaintances there. We were there only a short time and traveled to Częstochowa. From there we planned to travel back to Warsaw, but I never got there because a manhunt was carried out midway. All the young people were abducted to dig excavations. At that time I was already 21 - old enough to be abducted. All the pleas and tears of my Polish woman didn't help. I was among the many abductees. I was led under a heavy guard, together with other abductees, to the prison in Piotrków and from there to work in Sulejow.
I was abducted and led to work as a Christian Pole. When I was the village my Polish woman altered my appearance. My hair was bleached and also the color of my eyebrows and eyelashes was changed. I had a proper identification card. My name was Krisztina Leszczyński - I was born in Poznan and, according to the card, I was legally baptized as a Christian
at the holy church of the Virgin Mary. My last place of residence was 12 Stalowa Street, Praga. All of this was written and signed in my papers and well etched in my memory so, God forbid, I'll never forget or make a mistake in one of the details. I spoke fluent Polish and my Polish accent was flawless. This card stood for me at time of trouble and more than once saved me from extinction.
When I was brought to Sulejow the work supervisors asked me all sorts of questions: about my education, knowledge and profession. When I stayed with the Polish woman I learned to type on a typewriter. I told them that I was a typist. Therefore, I was assigned to work at the office. I typed the lists of those who were abducted for work.
I worked at the office for two months in constant fear, and in the immediate vicinity of my supervisors. I couldn't stand the burden of this fear, and asked to be transferred to work in the kitchen which was outside the camp. I worked in this kitchen, together with five Polish women, until we were librated by the Russian Army in 16 January 1945.
Even after the liberation I wasn't able to reveal my Judaism and origin. As a Pole I slept at the home of the Polish woman Piechotowa and I had to pretend that I was a devout Christian. I said a prayer every evening and went to church every Sunday. I stayed with this Polish woman a month after the liberation, and also when I left her she didn't know that I was Jewish.
A month after my release I arrived to Lodz and only there I met other Jews. From an acquaintance I learned that my two young sisters, Masha and Feiga, are alive and live in Biała- Podlaska.
Soon after, I began to correspond with Tova and Chana who were in Germany. With the help of the Jewish committee in Praga I learned that my little sister lives at the home of the Polish woman who received her from my mother. One day, I also received the news that my second brother was in the army and that a letter arrived from him to Serock.
With joy I also received the news that my townsman Konkol, my future husband, was among the survivors.
Shortly after, all the survivors of our family, apart from our parent and older brother who perished in the great destruction, were found and gathered. Now, when I'm in Israel with my husband and my two sons, I wonder about the road of tribulations and the hell of the years of terror.
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