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[Page 235]

Saved under an Aryan identity

Sara Diler

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

I was born in 1911, in Jaslow, Galizia, which was then under Austrian control. I came to Katowice as a part of the Polish government's effort to emphasize the district's Polish culture, after 124 years of its “germanization”. The government invited teachers who hadn't been affected by this process, and I was one of them. I taught at the Jewish community elementary school between 1932 and 1939, until the war began.

I came to Israel in 1946, on “La Spetzia”, a ship named after an Italian port city that the British army's Jewish Brigade had rented, renovated and used to bring illegal immigrants to Israel; there were 1,014 people on board.

My parents had four children, three girls and a boy. My mother was a housewife, and my father a teacher of Religion who served as a military Rabbi during World War I. My brother was the eldest, and I came right after him. Our financial status was good, and my parents made sure we received a fine Jewish education. I became a teacher, and taught children from 1st to 6th grade, mostly crafts and art lessons.

The girls' school was located at first in a separate building from the boys'. There were seven classes, and the Jewish students got vacations on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. The principal and the teachers were all Jewish. In the last school year, 1938-9, the institution served 700 students. Since the German and Polish Jewish community a separate building for the Jewish school.

When Poland was conquered by the Germans, the Jews were forced to wear the “Jewish mark”, a white arm band with a Star of David in the middle. I wasn't sent to a concentration camp because I managed to hide in various cities. I even volunteered to work in Austria, using a fake ID of one Maria Sobecka. I lived in Austria for two years, near the border with Switzerland. I lived this lie for years, denying my past and my real identity, repeating to myself that I was now Maria Solzka. I worked as a helper and nurse for an old sick lady, who was allowed to hire a foreign citizen for help. Once a month, a special prayer ceremony was held for all the “foreigners”, and we got a day off.

In 1945 I made it to Switzerland with the help of Jewish friends, and stayed for a while in a “mixed” camp. The “escape” organization picked me to make Aliyah, and I got to Israel in 1946. My sister had been here since 1938. Another sister escaped to the parts of eastern Poland that were held by the Russians, and was saved.


[Page 236]

Through the Holocaust's nightmare

Ester Wajnsztat –Sztajnkeler

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

I was born in Katowice in 1930, survived all of the holocaust's tribulations and even made it to Israel. I was only eight and a half years old when the war broke out. My parents and sister lived in Katowice, which was invaded by the Germans first. I finished second grade just before the war broke out. The Germans began a massive expulsion of Jews, including my family, from Katowice right after the invasion. Our apartment and belongings were taken away, and we moved to Sosnowiec, which was outside the Reich's original zone. We lived there until the ghetto was cleared.

The ghetto was sealed and very crowded, with two or more families often sharing a room; the conditions were unbearable. The ghetto was cleared in1943; Jews gathered in the streets, wearing the yellow identification badges on their clothes. At first only people over 12 years of age were obliged to wear it, but later on even kids of six and up had to do so. The first victims were the children, and then the elderly. My father was one of the victims who was sent to a camp and never returned. The young and able people who were spared continued to work in German military industries.

We were left just my mother, my sister and I. They both went out to work, and I spent most of my days in hiding places, basements and in Christian neighborhoods. Just before the ghetto was cleared, some Jewish young people managed to escape and cross to the Christian side of the city. They used fake ID's to get jobs, and some of them survived.

When the war ended, I set out on an escape journey with my remaining friends. Mentally and physically hurt, we marched until we got stuck in a ditch. I was exhausted, and decided to stay there. The Russians found us in this state of despair, and released us. I hurt my arm, and had to stay in a Russian hospital until I recovered. Then I followed my friends' path back to Poland and Katowice, to look for survivors. I got to our house, and found only my uncle; I stayed with him for a while.

At the end of the war, a brutal pogrom was unleashed upon the Jews of Kielce, and it made me decide to leave Poland and make the trip to Israel. The remnants of the community started to organize for an illegal escape from Poland. I joined a family I knew and many other refugees, and together we started the long journey. We had to pass through many countries on our way, including Czechoslovakia and Austria. Then I stayed in a refugee camp for month. From there we started a long nightly march to the border with Italy. There we met guides from Israel and different activists who helped us. They were looking for refugees to volunteer for “Hagana” (“Defence”) military training. The guides and the Brigade men trained the refugees and taught them Hebrew. After six months, in March 1947, we boarded the ship “Shabtai Luzinsky”.

I can'tcrowding, and two hundred more refugees boarded the ship in the middle of the journey. In addition, we had to lie in hiding most of the time so that the British wouldn't see us and prevent the ship from docking. The trip took nine days, which seemed like an eternity to us. When we drew near the shore, a storm started, and it was decided that the younger passengers would jump into the water and swim to shore. I jumped in, and reached the shore with no belongings on me. The “Hagana” men in Kibbutz Nitzanim took me in. From there, I was taken to Kibbutz Negba. A total of 200 people made it to the coast; the others were arrested by British officers and sent to Cyprus.

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I enlisted in the Youth Aliyah program, and moved to the agricultural settlement Magdiel. I lived there for two years, and then moved to Kibbutz Afikim, where the impossible happened: I met my sister, who had come to Israel from Bergen-Belsen back in 1945. I joined Kibbutz Netzer-Sereni when it was established, and attended seminary. Today I live with my husband in Ramat Hasharon.

The first time I told my story was when four schoolgirls came to interview me for a school project. I didn't get a warm welcome when I arrived in Israel, and I had no one to tell my story to. We holocaust survivors lived our lives and kept to ourselves, because people weren't interested in our stories.


Eight Camps

Gershon Meller

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

We escaped from Katowice to Chrzanow two days before the war broke out, but returned after five days. We took a ride with a German military truck. Back in Katowice we heard that the Germans had shot 11 Jews to death on the streets. They were gathering Jews and sending them by train to the Russian border, where they were forced with guns at their heads to cross to the Russian side. The Russians shot at them too and forced them back. We were sent to Chrzanow in early 1940.

Before the war, I attended the Berek Joselewicz elementary school, and was a member of the “Zionist youth” group. I was born in 1927. We lived at 19 Mariacka street, and owned a fruit and vegetable store on the same street. I remember that I also took classes in the “cheider”, and my Hebrew teacher was Mr. Winer.

From Chrzanow I was sent with my father to a labor camp in Chelemek and from there to other camps, eight in all. My father was murdered in the Gross-Rosen camp; my mother stayed in the ghetto and was sent to Auschwitz when it was cleared on February 18, 1943. I was released from camp Langen-Belau by the Russians on May 8, 1945, at the very last minute; I was already a “musselman”, on the brink of death. I returned straight to Katowice, but unfortunately couldn't find anyone from my immediate family. I did locate my father's cousins, and three other families: Shea Kaufman, his wife Fajgel and their daughter Marila who now live in Ramat Gan, the family of Aaron Mahler, and Chaya Gross and her late husband.

I left Katowice with a fake passport in May 1946, but I managed to get to Israel illegally only in January 1948. I fought in the War of Independence and married my wife Roma, who died in 1986. We had two sons, and I'm now a grandfather of four. I partially rehabilitated myself, but was never fully healed, neither mentally nor physically. For the last 38 years I have worked as a facilities manager at the “Shekem” company.


[Page 238]

An Only Survivor

Josef Kaminski

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

My name is Yosef, and I'm the third son in the Kaminski family. My father Shlomo Tzvi came to Katowice during World War I from a small town. My mother Pepi died after her 9th childbirth in 1938, about a year prior to the war. I was 12 years old. I remember 1938 as a very sad year. One afternoon, I was in class at the synagogue, when my aunt, my mother's sister, came in crying. I ran to her, and saw she was praying and asking for mercy; I realized something was wrong. I knew that my mother was hospitalized and hadn't come back home yet. I ran to the hospital, and saw my father standing next to my mother's bed with another aunt. Suddenly my aunt passed out; at that moment my mother died. My father leaned over and said to me: “Yosef, this wound will never heal.” it was a difficult year. My father had to take care of nine children and my older sister, who was 15, ran the household.

On September 1, 1939, as the war begun, a mass flood of Jews escaped the area. We traded a bicycle with a non-Jewish neighbor for a wagon, which we loaded with our most necessary belongings. We then left to Sosnowiec, where a cousin of my father's lived and had prepared a shelter for us. After two days, the Germans got there too and we understood that there was no point in staying there and returned to Katowice. We lived in our house for another year.

At first, the Germans didn't hurt us, but after a year they decided to clear the city of Jews and make it “Judenrein”. We were banished, and went to Sosnowiec again. In early 1942 the Jews were being concentrated in ghettos. It was our last year living together as a family, and many were jealous of us for staying together. In 1943 the Germans got to us. My older sister Sala was the first one to be taken away, and I never found out what happened to her. Then came the order for all the men to gather in the city center. Father hid the eight of us in different houses around the ghetto.

He took me up to our attic, and then hid the ladder. After a few hours he came back and told me that most of the men were sent away. He was released because he seemed relatively young and strong, but he had to return to the checkpoint. I waited for him in the attic. He returned after an hour that seemed like an eternity to me. He was very excited, and whispered to me: “I've seen your brothers and sisters at the check point. The Germans found them and they are being transported somewhere. I can let them go alone, I'll go with them.” He hugged me, and I cried on his chest. Was my heart telling this would be the last time I would see him? I don't know. Finally, he said to me “Yosef, you'll be the last remnant of this family”. These were his last words to me. Years later I learned that my father and siblings were sent to Auschwitz, and never came back.

I was in the ghetto for another three months, and then was sent to Auschwitz myself. After a few weeks I managed to sneak into a group of Greek and French Jews who brought me to the ghetto in Warsaw. It was after the rebellion, in 1943. The ghetto was burned down, and there were burned ruins everywhere. Our work was to clear the debris.

[Page 239]

kat239.jpg
Handicraft sculpture of Josef Kaminski

 

Our camp was on Genscha Street, across the street from the Pawiak prison in which political prisoners were kept. When the Russians reached the gates of Warsaw, the prisoners rebelled. They wanted to set us all free, but it didn't work out.

The following day, we started the death march. We walked 130 kilometers to Zuchlin, and half of the people died on the way. Then we were taken to Dachau by train. After a while, we were moved to a branch in Landsberg, camp 7, a labor camp, located underground and concealed under a small roof. We were there until April 1945. During the day we worked in an ammunition factory, and at night we stayed underground.

In April, when the American army drew near, we were taken out of the camp and were supposed to be transported to the mountains of Tirol. I had a strong feeling that we were actually being returned to Dachau, in order to be exterminated. I managed to escape, and hid in a shack that was filled with packed hay. I hid near the inner wall. Right after I got in, German soldiers entered and settled into the shack for a night's sleep. I had a few potatoes in my pocket; I tried to bite on them but it was too noisy and I had to stop. I remained like this for four days and five nights, standing and unable to eat. Suddenly, I felt a gun butt touching my shoulder. My heart was racing: I thought that the Germans were looking for Jews. But I stood still and was saved.

After four days, which seemed to last forever, I heard the German officers saying that the American army was approaching.

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I was very glad, and hoped that my suffering would end soon. On April 24th, 1945, in the afternoon, I heard a blast of gunshots. Then everything became quiet again. I crept out of my hiding place, and found food left by the German soldiers. I was extremely hungry, and ate till I was full. This eating caused me to throw up. In the meanwhile, American soldiers arrived on tanks. I saw them approaching and wanted to escape, because I thought they were German. A Yugoslavian refugee came up to me and told me that they were Americans, and that I shouldn't be scared. The first tank noisily passed by me, and then stopped. A short soldier got off it, and asked me who I was. He spoke German, but I could tell he knew Yiddish as well. I asked him if he was Jewish, and he said he was. I said I was Jewish too; he kissed and hugged me, and eventually handed me a chocolate bar. He asked whether I wanted to take a little revenge, and when I replied that I did, he took me on his tank. We drove, and he shot at a few German buildings.

After we departed, I walked to the released Dachau camp. I was hoping to find people who were there with me; I wanted to know who had survived. I couldn't find anyone; it seemed that they didn't make it to the mountains but were all murdered on the way. The American army took over the camp; the soldiers cared for me and gave me food. After a while, I travelled to the city Firsten Feldbruk, where other Jews and I got apartments. I lived there for a year and a half.

Eleven months after I was released, I got to Katowice. The city wasn't harmed during the war, but all the Jews were gone. I came to our old house and knocked on the door. Strangers opened it, and asked me what I wanted. “Nothing,” I replied, “just to take a look”. I didn't even have the energy to enter my father's house. I looked at our empty house that used to be so vivid in the past, and I remembered my father's last words: “Yosef, you will be the last remnant of this family”.

After a time, a messenger came from Israel, from the “Hebrew Fighters” movement. I enlisted for Aliyah. After a long, rough journey, I came to Israel aboard the ship Latrun. Our entrance was illegal, of course. I got married and built my home in Israel. My story will not be complete unless I mention two miracles that happened to me within this terrible time, during the clearing of the burned down Warsaw ghetto.

The first miracle: I once had to go up to the third floor of a burned house, and fell all the way to the ground, but survived. The second miracle: I once tried to get into a house, which had a basement, as many of the houses did. and right before I entered, the basement sunk in and the house collapsed. If I had entered minutes earlier, I would doubtless have been buried alive.

I also remember an incident regarding one of the Greek Jews who worked with me, a handsome man named Shaul. He worked in the laundry, and had to drive the week's laundry out of the ghetto. One time, he met a Polish woman who fell in love with him and helped him run away, but their plan didn't work out well and he was caught. At first, the Germans treated him well in order to withdraw information about the attempted escape, but after he refused to speak they hung him in public.

Yosef Kaminski came to Israel, and worked at the Hadassah hospital's kitchen. In his leisure, he learned the art of carving in stone. All of his pieces are dedicated to the memory of the holocaust; his work was praised by the press and the critics.


[Page 241]

I lived as a Christian

Chana Engelhart-Goldfeld

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

Of our big family, only a few remained: we three sisters of the Kurland family. We all live in Israel, and it is thanks to us that our chain of generations continues. Frida Dikerman, with her husband Chaim and their daughter Naomi Bar-Am lived in Katowice prior to the war. During the war years they wandered from place to place, and luckily made it to Israel eventually.

Iza Yehudit Palman, a dentist, lived in our parents' house in Katowice before the war. In 1939, she took a trip to Israel with our father. He returned to Poland and she stayed in Israel. She was unable to travel back to Poland due to the war, and so was saved.

I, Chana Engelhart-Goldfeld, am the eldest sister. I lived in Zorau, Upper Silezia from 1929 to 1939. My husband, engineer Maurici Engelhart was a work manager at the “Huta Pawla” iron casting factory. He left the district when the war broke out, and after a long trip made it to Tarnow, my hometown, and from there to Lemberg. The Germans conquered this city in 1941, and the torturing started all over again. He was murdered at the horrible Janowska labor camp.

When I heard about this, I left Lemberg and moved to Warsaw, where I started a new life with a fake identity. It was a new sort of peculiar hell, in a time when many Jews lived simply for the sake of survival. I was miraculously saved myself. I spent the last year of the war in Austria, under the same Christian identity, until May 8, 1945. After the war, I had to live for a while in Austria and Italy, and in 1947 my good fortune brought me to Israel. Here I found my two sisters with their families, and my beloved true homeland. Finding them was one of the happiest days in my life.

A little about my parents: Ichak Meir Kurland and Chaya of the family of Warszawski. My father was born in Bendzin in 1884, and my mother was born on the same year in Miechow (the Kielce district). We were six children, five girls and a boy; we all finished high school, and some also got academic degrees. My father received a fine orthodox Jewish education. My parents were subtle, noble people. Their Jewish home life was one of ideal harmony and mutual love. They raised their children in an atmosphere of Zionism, Judaism and tradition.

My father owned a big iron material store, and my mother helped him in the business, in addition to taking care of the children, the household, and occasional guests. In his leisure, my father took up community activism. He was a member of “mizrachi” group and donated a lot to Israel and to other funds. He also volunteered to do work for the “Yavne” Jewish school, of whose board he was a member, and to which he also sent his only son, Shaul.

In the 1920's, after Poland became independent and Upper Silezia became a part of it, my father bought an iron factory in Zorau. It was quite famous in the area, and employed 300-400 workers. My parents left Bendzin and moved to Katowice. They lived there until September 1939. They were deeply involved with Zionism. My father dreamed of making aliyah. In those years, we had many visiting messengers from Israel, and my parents always participated in their receptions and in other Zionist events.

I remember the visit of Natan Bistricki, an Israeli poet, in 1933. He toured Katowice and other Jewish communities in the area. His lectures were very enthusiastic, and lifted the Zionist spirits in the hearts of many Jews, who were inspired to donate funds and to buy lands and orchards on paper, without even seeing them. I hosted Bistricki in our house in Zorau for a week. He needed some rest after his intensive tour.

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The father, Ichaak Meir Korland The mother, Chaja Korland

 

In 1935, I paid him a visit in Jerusalem, and both my husband and I received a warm welcome. My parents took a trip to Israel in 1934. Their purpose was to buy land for their future settlement. They made the purchase, and bought a small house on Sirkin Street in Tel-Aviv, as well as a number of fields. Their best experience was celebrating Passover in the house of Rabbi Kook z”l. They returned home inspired.

In 1938, the community in Katowice witnessed a terrible event. Jews who were German citizens of Polish origins were suddenly banished to Poland. They had to sell their houses and close down their businesses very quickly, and were forced to leave the country. The refugees were sent by train to the Polish border, to the city of Zbonszyn. The nearest stop, where these miserable people could get an initial shelter, was Katowice.

Hundreds of people flooded the city, and the community had to handle the complicated task of finding jobs, housing and food for all of them. The community assembled a committee that was in charge of aiding the refugees. The head of it was Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman, a kind and noble man, and with him worked his energetic wife, Rebbetzin Bela Fogelman. Both of them were deeply devoted to their community at all times, and especially at this tragic time. The Jewish citizens of Katowice and the surrounding area lent the refugees single rooms and even whole apartments, and gave them a warm welcome. There was hardly one Jewish household that didn't participate in the effort to welcome these unexpected guests. I myself hosted one couple in my house in Zorau.

At this time, the anti-Semitic atmosphere has already begun to spread, and Jews felt generally unwanted. We often got to see different news articles that were full of hate and hostility towards us Jews. Many stores put up signs that read “no entrance for Jews and dogs”. The Polish citizens organized demonstrations, and held signs that called for Polish housewives to shop only in Polish-owned stores.

We were depressed and humiliated. Still, it now seems that we still weren't yet capable of grasping the true meaning of those horrible words at that time.

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On the other hand, what could we do? Immigration to Israel was nearly impossible, and strictly forbidden by the British. It was very complicated to immigrate to other countries as well.

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, my father visited Israel again, and when he returned he was determined to wind up his business in Poland and bring us to Israel. Unfortunately, he never managed to do so. He did register my brother at the Technion high school academy in Haifa. He dreamed of his son coming to Israel and graduating here, but never lived to see this dream come true.

My parents lived in Katowice until the outbreak of the war. My father drove to his working place in Zorau every day, and my brother Shaul continued to go to school in Bendzin, in order to stay in touch with his Jewish school, “Yavne”. Just before the war broke out, they escaped to Miechow, my mother's hometown. They took my grandparents with them, and stayed there until my grandfather died. In 1941 they moved to Tarnow and lived there with my sister Sheva, who was married to Doctor Arthur Engelhart. They took grandma with them, but she was murdered in one of the “aktions”. My parents were taken to somewhere unknown, and like many other Jews, they disappeared forever. May their memory be kept with the saintly; I will mourn their death to my last day.

In August 1987, I visited Poland and Katowice. My main purpose was to visit the labor camps, or more accurately, the death camps. I wanted to walk my loved ones' last path. In unfathomed agony and in deep grief I followed them. In Katowice, I looked at my family's old houses, at the scary empty windows and cried. All I saw was shadows. I returned to Israel broken-hearted.

My sister Sheva (Sewula), her husband Arthur and their five-year old son Aleksander (Oles'):

This family had lived in Katowice for about four years, from 1936 to 1939. My brother-in-law was an excellent gynecologist. They left the city as the war broke out, and after much travelling got to Tarnow, my brother-in-law's native city. He continued to work there until 1943. In 1941 my parents, along with my brother and grandmother, joined them there. Their life was hard, as were all Jews' lives under the Nazi occupation. In addition to the general hardship, one fact made their life even harder, and eventually caused the entire family to be murdered. The upper floor in the house they lived in was rented by Gestapo men. My brother-in-law purchased an x-ray machine, which he needed for his work. It may have interrupted the Gestapo officers in receiving radio broadcasts, because they demanded that he stop using it. After repeating requests, they allowed him to use it one hour a day. With no other choice, he agreed, and was very careful to follow this mean demand, but it wasn't enough for the murderers. In one of the mass aktions they ordered him to show up at the selection and banishment point. He was, of course, joined by his wife and child, and they were all murdered on the spot. I heard of this shocking tragedy only after the war.

 

My brother, Shaul-Sevek (Sewek)

He was born in Bedzin in 1923. He was the first and only boy in our family, after five girls. He was educated like all of us, in the spirit of Zionism and Jewish tradition. He was a member of the Zionist youth group from a young age, and truly loved the land of Israel. In 1935 I visited Israel with my husband, Moses Engelhart, in order to settle down there. Unfortunately, we didn't get to it. After four months of searching for jobs, we returned to Poland. Shaul was very disappointed to see us, and instead of greeting us he said “I don't shake hands with people who return from Palestine”. He refused to hug us. The child, who was only 12, was right. He believed that Israel was our only homeland, our only place to live a full and free Jewish life in.

He attended the “Yavne” elementary school in Bendzin, where our father was a board member, and didn't leave it even after our parents moved to Katowice. When the war broke out, he finished the sixth grade of high school, and so left Katowice with my parents, moving to Miechow, and after two years, to Tarnow, where they lived with their daughter and son-in-law. Shaul never got the chance to finish his studies. He had to work, to financially support my parents.

In 1943, after my parents were sent away and Tarnow went through endless Aktions, Shaul left town with a friend, and they headed towards the border with Romania. They took weapons with them, and were prepared to defend themselves. In the last letter I received from him in November 1943 (when I was back in Lemberg), he mournfully wrote: “I am turning 19 today, will I make it to my 20th birthday?” He didn't... His young life was taken when he was only 19 years old. His friend who survived told me that Shaul managed to take one shot at the Germans who attacked them near the border, before he was killed.


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One saintly man in Sodom

Joana Lewkowicz

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

I was born in Katowice in the year 1927. I had two sisters, Erna and Dorka. My mother's name was Rywka, and her maiden name Zigman. My father's name was Shmuel. My parents owned an egg distribution business. I attended the Berek Joselewicz elementary school.

We lived in Katowice until 1940. My father was sent to the Russian border with most of Katowice's Jewish men, and we never heard from him again. My older sister Erna escaped to Russia in 1939. She was murdered in one of the riots in Ukraine. We gradually realized what was happening. There was a mass banishment of Polish Jews from Germany in 1938; there were rumors of the happenings in Vienna. Many refugees came to Katowice and received help; their children couldn't speak Polish. Our environment turned anti-Semitic, Jewish stores were suddenly banned. These things were well known to us.

I attended the Jewish elementary school, and we children there were victims of antisemitism too. One day, our school was relocated to a laborers' neighborhood. Our school building was divided: we used one half and Polish children the other half. Many of the Jewish children got beaten. When the war broke out, I was somewhat happy about not needing to go school, partly because I had had a fight with one of the teachers, but this “happiness” didn't last too long.

We escaped eastward, but the Germans got to us rather fast. Katowice was immediately annexed to the Third Reich. All Jewish schools and Jewish-owned businesses were closed down. My 18-year old sister told my mother that we couldn't stay where we were. We packed our things, and my sister said “we're together now, who knows if we'll ever be together again.” We wandered in different directions, including Romania. My mother told my sister that she didn't want to stand in her way; though the banks weren't active anymore, she gave her a little money and jewelry, and my sister left for Russia.

In April,1940 we moved to Sosnowiec, where we all lived in one room. My sister worked at Hoodle's sewing workshop, and I was sent to forced labor. My mother made a meager living in commerce. I was in Sosnowiec until 1942, by which time Jews were already being hijacked for transports, and we had to hide. One night, people from the Jewish militia came and took me to a camp, despite my young age. I was probably one of a quota of people the community had to provide. Whoever had money could pay to redeem themselves; since I didn't have any, I was sent away. I was put to work in a sewing shop; I believe it was Hoodle's. After two days, my name was taken off the list. My mother had to give away her sewing machine to get me into there, but then I was sent to a labor camp.

Nojsztat, 1942. I was kept in Du-Lag camp in Sosnowiec for two weeks, and was then sent with a group of 40 girls. We later became 180, and the number remained the same even though new girls kept joining us all the time... after two weeks, came the final banishment from Sosnowiec. In camp, we worked at the weaving shop. It took two weeks to teach us the job, and from then on we worked in three shifts. I was young, and wasn't used to the night shifts, and it made the work even harder for me. I was alone and away from my family. The food was terrible and I also suffered from hunger. Working nights was extremely difficult, and I would sometimes fall asleep on the weaving table or on the chair, even though it was strictly forbidden.

For every few lines there was a German work manager, who supervised our progress at work. I was very scared of being caught sleeping at work; our shifts sometimes lasted ten hours, during which we had to stand the whole time. We lived in halls that were previously in use by the factory. They were newly painted and clean. Our camp attendant was a retired factory worker, an unmarried German woman. She took care of the cleanliness, and made sure we were able to work. Her last name was Irmer.

There were some Germans working in the shop, and they knew there was a punishment for talking to us. In addition, the radio and newspapers taught them what a proper approach to foreigners should be. Our camp attendant treated us fairly, in comparison to other camps. For example, she made sure we received three meals a day, and that the food was as clean and nourishing as possible. I can compare it to another camp, in which I know there were many cases of food theft. She may have stolen some for herself, but the camp staff had no option of stealing. The may have had the option to eat a little more, but never to steal.

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My line's work manager was a man named Emil Vielman, who looked like Hitler to me. I was deeply scared of him. He sensed that, and tried to talk to me, but couldn't get me to speak a word to him, despite my good German. I was so scared I didn't know how to speak or what to say. He was interested in who we were and how we lived. The Germans weren't allowed to speak to us Jews, about anything besides work issues.

I didn't weave too well; it was too difficult to learn it within just two weeks. The Germans threatened to send us to Auschwitz if we spoiled good material. This was the situation when the work manager started to speak to me, even though he was scared that someone would notice. At first, I was afraid of him. He started to bring me bread, two slices a day, which he threw into a basket that was full of fabric waste. It was a huge support to me, not only because I was hungry, but also because there was someone who was interested in me, from whom I could hear kind words. He would encourage me to keep going and tell me about things in the news. I finally felt like more than just a number at the weaving machine. Often he was too busy, or didn't get a safe chance to come and talk to me, but he would then creep by, look at the work table and secretly throw the bread slices for me into the basket.

He told me that in the past, before Hitler came to power, he was a member of the Social-Democrat party. I don't know if other girls had contacts with other work manager. Many girls received help from Germans, some of them probably in exchange for money. My work manager asked me to tell him which of the girls didn't have money or jewelry to pay with. I told him of a girl named Frenkel, from Auschwitz, and he found a weaver who lived in the village and told her to bring this girl extra food. The girl didn't touch the food, because she was from an orthodox family and kept kosher. She died in the camp of tuberculosis.

I must mention that even Germans hardly had anything to eat at the time. Food was supplied through vouchers. On the first Christmas, the factory was closed for the day and we were cleaning the machine, when suddenly Emil Vielman showed up and gave me a piece of a cake baked by his wife. They lived near the shop. One day he brought his wife to the factory to see the people he was helping. She brought me food. When we were about to be sent away from camp, he was very concerned and tried to figure out a way to hide me in the factory's attic, but finally he gave up. He was scared too; after all, he had three children and the risk was too great. He continued to cheer us up, and told us good news from the front.

I remember how Vielman stole a sack of potatoes from the factory's kitchen one day. He baked them in the factory's oven and gave them to the workers. It was like a drop in a sea of hunger, but the fact that he risked himself so seriously was what mattered. The factory's manager once called him in. It seemed that someone had turned him in, or noticed him talking to me, and he got a warning. Later on, he was moved to a different shift. His 21 year old daughter, who worked in the factory as well, would bring me the bread instead; this was most unusual at a time when parents were scared of their children turning them in. When I saw her going to the bathroom, I knew that I had to go too: we weren't allowed to use the same cubicles, but the hallway was common, and that's where she stuck the bread slices into my apron pocket.

I still had a few items from home left, a few silk towels and a pen, and I wanted to give him a present for Christmas, but he refused it. Later on, anyone who had jewelry on them was ordered to give it away. I still had a few hundred marks on me, as well tiny jewelry. I threw the money into the bathroom because I didn't want the Germans to have it, and Vielman refused to take it. He did agree to keep a pair of not very expensive gold earrings for me, in case I survived.

I stayed in that camp for two years. Then there was talk about us being sent elsewhere, perhaps Auschwitz. The camp was being closed down, I'm not sure why, but maybe it was because they had to shut down the factory. It was 1944. My sister was in a similar camp, somewhere near the border; I knew she was there because a dentist who worked in our camp worked there too. Her entire camp was sent to Auschwitz and that's where she got murdered, maybe because the girls were already exhausted and weren't “productive” enough. Other girls got to her camp later, and some of them survived. I was taken away first, and my sister arrived after a year or so.

[Page 246]

My mother lasted until the Sosnowiec ghetto was cleared in 1943. She was then sent to Auschwitz in one of the transports. My group was sent to Grinberg. The conditions were much harder there, and there was terrible hunger. We worked at a weaving shop like before. This camp was huge, about 1,000 girls, 30% of whom had tuberculosis. We got one meal a day, just a little soup and a slice of bread. The camp workers would steal food, and there was hardly anything left for the prisoners. I was very hungry.

I stayed there for a year. On January 31, 1946 we were taken on a death march. Each one of us got a loaf of bread for the road. For the first time in a year, I didn't eat all of the bread I got at once, and saved some for the road. Two days before we left, we got a group of 2,000 girls from Auschwitz, most of them Hungarian. They slept with us for two nights. Together we were 3,000 girls, and were divided into two groups of 1,500 each. We walked 40 kilometers in deep snow during the first day, and at night we were all shoved into a barn and spent the night lying on one another. I wore high skating boots which were tightly laced, and I couldn't take them off. My legs were very sore, and I was sure it was going to be the last night of my life. The march proceeded all the way to Prague, and when the war ended, I returned to Katowice.

I returned to our house, which was in fact non-existent, and the Soviet guard wanted to arrest me. Luckily, I had a student card with my picture on it, and they let me go after I presented it. I had no place to go. The building that was previously used by the community was now occupied by the Russian army. I drove to Sosnowiec, where I lived during the war, but they didn't let me into the apartment. I went to the Katowice community's committee, who gave me a job in a public kitchen that fed the refugees. I adjusted very slowly. In Katowice I met my future husband, and we left Poland together in August 1945. His name is Bronislaw Lewkowicz.

The Americans sent us back to the Russian side, because we didn't have legal passports. After many tribulations, we made it to Austria, where we stayed in an UNRA camp for a while. From there, we got to Graz, and worked for the “Escape” organization. We left for Italy after a year, and continued to work for the organization for another two years. We came to Israel in 1948, and my husband was recruited to the IDF shortly afterwards.

I never forgot the German man, Emil Vielman. After the war, I packed some groceries, sugar, flour and a little clothing, and drove to Nojsztat at night. I knocked on the door, and heard a scared “who is it?” in German. They were very glad when they recognized my voice. It turned out that Emil was gone. He was recruited to the German army with his son, and his wife and two daughters were left on their own. In the meantime, his older daughter got married; her husband was at the front and she was pregnant. They knew that none of my family was left, and despite the fact that they hardly had any means themselves, they offered me to stay with them.

Obviously I couldn't stay there. When I returned to Katowice, I found some baby supplies in my apartment; I took them, and everything else I had, mainly cooking oil and sugar, and drove to Nojsztat again to give it to them. It was in May or June, 1945. The Vielman family lost contact with their father and husband. I then had my own trouble. I did send them a letter from Austria, but I don't know whether they ever got it. After I settled in Israel, I wanted to know what happened to them and sent another letter. It was returned marked “Left to Germany” and “Heil Hitler'. I tried to locate them with the aid of the Red Cross, and managed to find them in 1968. Emil wasn't alive, but they found his family.

We exchanged letters, and in 1970 I travelled to Germany with my daughter to see them. Their daughter lived in Bohom, and their son was in Hanover. He drove 300 kilometers to see me, and then drove again to take us to his house. His mother, Emil's wife, was also expecting to see me. The daughter returned me my earrings. There was one and a half, because one half was lost. She had wanted to give them back to me during my 1945 visit, but I had left them for her then as a souvenir. This time I took them.

A year later Emil's 22 year old grandson came to visit us in Israel, and my daughter, who was then in the army, took a special vacation to tour Israel with him. I was told that Emil Vielman was recruited just before the end of the war. He was captured and held prisoner about 300 kilometers from Novosibirsk, doing forced labor. He returned home in 1949, a sick and exhausted man, and died of cancer in 1958. His family told me that he was exausted and that he was mentally and physically burned out when he returned. He was depressed and for a while couldn't notice anything of his surroundings.

 

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