Yosl Darembos zl
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Yosl Darembos was well-known in the Jewish workers circles in pre-war Paris, where he arrived in 1931, because of the persecutions in Poland during the struggles between the pro-communist movements and the right-wing. He was known as a quiet and friendly young man. However, his death was not a peaceful death; he died with his weapon in his hand, during the stormy days of the armed uprising against the Nazi hangmen.
His father was born in Lowicz to one of the oldest Jewish families in town. After his marriage he moved to the industrial center Zyrardow, where Yosl was born in 1905. However, Yosl was registered in the Lowicz municipality, where he would often come to his grandfather and family. The poverty in his family home forced him very early in life to learn a trade, and he learned boot making, which was considered a respected employment. He worked in Warsaw, where he became active in the workers movement. The young Yosl was often seen at the illegal workers exchange of shoe-workers, and soon he became very popular.
After he left Poland because of the persecution of the Polish police, he settled in Paris, and became known as Yosl Warshavski [from Warsaw], which became his secret underground name. In Paris he dedicated himself totally to the workers organization, investing in it all his energy. Very soon he became one of the most active members of the syndicate committee. His health as well as his financial condition was deteriorating, nevertheless he would participate in the evening, after a hard day's work, in the various factory-workers assemblies and meetings. Sometimes he had to leave work early in order to take care of various matters concerning the organization.
In 1935, Yosl was part of a delegation that visited Birobidzhan. Upon his return he participated in several meetings and related his impressions from the Soviet Union. This trip enriched the young man's experience and broadened his horizon. For a while, before the war, he was general secretary of the organization Friends of the Neue Presse[a newspaper].
When France was attacked at the beginning of the war, Yosl joined the army as a volunteer, to fight against Hitler's Germany. He was taken prisoner of war, but he was released from the prisoner camp because of his health condition. This happened at the end of 1940, when the Nazis would still sometimes release Jewish prisoners, citizens of the Vichy government.
Returning to Paris, Yosl became again active in the workers organization, despite his bad health and the impending danger, and soon he became one of the leaders of the underground syndicate.
In May 1941, when the Nazis began to arrest the Paris Jews and send them to labor camps, Yosl was one of the first to organize help for the families. After the terrible pogrom of July 1942, he established regional committees for the purpose of helping the families.
In February 1943 Yosl and his wife were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Even there he did not remain inactive: when he was transferred to Birkenau, he organized an uprising but he died a heroic death together with his comrades.
His wife perished in one of the death camps.
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Fernande was barely 20 years old, when a Vichy soldier saw her on the street and guessed that she was a Jewish girl. She was tall and beautiful, a typical Parisian young woman, but the Nazi soldier's sharp eye did not miss her.
Fernande, whose Jewish name was Freidale, was born in Paris. Her parents were originally from Lowicz. Her father's name was Chaim Meir Yechiel Bliemlich; her mother Chaia Sara, daughter of the known Lowicz antique dealer R'Zalman Yosef Katz, may he rest in peace.
Her 16-year-old brother Leon (Shlomo Leib) was deported to a concentration camp as soon as the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, and the parents were seized during the great Jew-hunt of July 1942 and sent to Auschwitz. From there, the daughter, as well as other Jews who had managed to hide, would receive fabricated letters, sent by the Gestapo, in which the deportees would assure their relatives that they were well and they were living in a working colony. Many victims fell into the hands of the murderers because they believed the letters.
Thanks to her Christian looks, she often risked going out without the yellow badge, or she would just pin it on to her dress or blouse, instead of sewing it on, as requested. Once, in the late summer of 1943, a young French soldier noticed that her badge was not sewed to the blouse and for this sin he arrested her and took her to the Central Police. On the way he threatened her that she would be deported to Drancy to be sent to her death, but if she agreed to go with him to his quarters to have a good time he would let her go.
The granddaughter of the Lovicz family categorically rejected that shameful proposition and instead chose a martyr's death.
After a few weeks in the Drancy hell, she was sent with all the others to Treblinka.
Shiye Leib Gemach (Paris)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Shiye Yakov Gemach, the younger son of Yehuda Leib Gemach, was born in Lowicz on June 20th 1908. In 1929 he left his home on his way to Eretz Israel. However, he remained in Paris, like thousands of others who had the same goal, but their plans were upset by the immigration conditions at the time. Until he left Lowicz he was head of the Betar team.
In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, we find him in the French army. Right before the fall of France he was taken prisoner by the Nazis in the region of Somme.
From there he was sent with the other prisoners of war to the Lamberg camp in Germany, and soon he was forced to wear on his military coat the special mark for Jewish war prisoners. Later he was transferred to a special camp for Jewish prisoners, which actually was a punishment battalion.
Shiye Yakov Gemach remained in this camp 28 months. He suffered terrible torture but he did not succumb to his fate; deep in his heart he felt that he will survive his enemies.
There were times when his brothers, French-born Jews, would receive from outside letters or photos of their children. What he felt was not jealousy; however, a strange feeling was building up in his heart when he would lie, lonely, on his cot. During those lonely nights, he would experience a strong feeling of resentment and anger: he had not left any descendant, any continuation of his own life, as had the others. This feeling would light in him a fire, a will to survive, a confidence that he would overcome all hardships. And the feeling ripened into a steady thought: he must find his young wife. He will escape from the prisoners' camp, even at the risk of losing his life. If he succeeded, he will join the Maquis and fight the enemy, weapon in hand.
That was not an easy task. However, from the moment he had made his decision, he began secretly making the necessary preparations for his escape, day and night. Finally he succeeded, crawling under the barbed wire that surrounded the camp. The moment he was out, he felt that he was again in control of his life and that nothing could stand in his way to the free zone of France, where his wife lived.
His journey lasted sixteen days and nights. Than meant 16 days and nights of danger and extraordinary experiences. His only guide was a compass he had acquired beforehand, that directed him to his goal, Southern France, where he hoped to find his wife and other members of his family, who had been in hiding in the area. During the day he would hide in the fields and at night he would march, avoiding towns and villages.
He had made his escape on 19 September 1942. At the beginning of October he touched French soil, where he felt a little safer. On 5 October he reached Lyon and found his wife.
We can only imagine the meeting of the two, after such a long separation. After only a few days of rest, both joined the French Resistance, in the region of the Alps near the Italian border. He took part in many attacks against German units in the area.
After the war, they had three children, one son and two daughters.
As told by Mendel Albek
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Mendel Albek, who looked typically Jewish, is a descendant of a well-known and respected family, followers of the Hasidic Rabbi of Gor [Gora]. He excelled in is work for the community, especially in organizing agricultural training [Hakhshara] of the young generation of the religious Hapoel Hamizrahi movement in Lowicz. He was the secretary of the organization.
Mendel was born in 1912 in Lowicz and was married shortly before the war. He lived in The Bronx, New York. He had two sons, the elder studies medicine at Columbia University.
After the annihilation of the Latvia ghetto, I was transferred, with my wife and my family, to the Warsaw ghetto. On the fourth day of the uprising, we were sent, together with hundreds of other ghetto residents, to Paniatew, near Lublin. A short time later, my wife Lania, who had Arian looks, made plans to leave the ghetto. With the help of the underground movement and Arian documents, she escaped to the Arian zone, where one of her sisters lived.
Our separation lasted six bitter months. There were times when I had given up hope that my wife would be able to help me and save me from the terrible life in camp. Finally she succeeded to obtain Arian papers for me, and in the fall of 1943 I escaped and went to Warsaw. Only a week later, the Nazis annihilated the camp and murdered the 7,000 Jews who worked there so I was the only survivor.
Thanks to financial help from the Jewish underground I managed, for some time, to go into hiding in Warsaw.
At the time of the Polish uprising in August 1944, under the command of General Bór-Komorowski, tens of Jews left their hiding places and voluntarily joined the rebels. The Poles accepted our help willingly. I worked for the Armia Krajowa digging trenches and carrying weapons, ammunition and food.
The Armia Krajowa in general did not tolerate Jews, they treated us brutally and many of us perished by their hands. It almost happened to me as well: a corporal led me to a grave and was about to shoot me, and only thanks to the intervention of another Pole I was saved the last minute.
My photo-albums, which contained the photographs of my family and my closest relatives, were hidden in the attic of the old house on Guszibowska Street 80. At the time of the uprising, incendiary bombs were used in the area and the houses began burning. When I realized that the flames were about to engulf the house where I had hidden the albums, I ran toward the place. My friends tried to stop me, since the danger was double the flames and the German bullets, but in those moments I could think only of the sole remembrance that was left from my entire family. I jumped in through the burning roof and I succeeded to save my family album, which is today the most beautiful adornment in my home.
After the uprising was crushed, we lived for weeks in the tunnels and canals of Warsaw, until the Russian army entered the capital.
Petahia Markowitz and Wife
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
In the 1920s Petahia was a member of the Betar organization in Lowicz and later became the head of the team. In 1937 he left for Paris. This was not his first voyage out of the country; in Leipzig he had a brother whom he had visited several times.
Before he succeeded to obtain the French citizenship, the Second World War broke out.
As a Polish citizen, he joined the Polish Legion, which was founded in France. His unit was sent to the first line of fire on the front, in Alsace. From his battalion, which numbered two thousand men, only 35 survived.
On 17 June 1940 the small group was surrounded by the Germans, and it was a miracle that they succeeded to escape and retreat. Thanks to a French soldier, who helped him in the last minute, he was saved from being taken prisoner by the Germans.
Their retreat to Marseille, through the entire territory of France, lasted eight days. After they reached Grenoble, they marched through the Alps, to the Spanish border.
All this happened during the Dunkirk evacuation, in the free zone of France. The unit was supposed to board ships to England, to continue the battle from there. However, when they reached Marseille they were demobilized, and Markowitz began looking for work and remained there until 1942. In the meantime he had the chance to contact the girl who was destined to become his wife, Chana Finkelstein, the youngest daughter of Alter Finkelstein, who, after finishing high school in Lowicz went to live with her older sister, a pharmacist in Liège, Belgium.
As the Gestapo began hunting down the Jews, she had to think of a means to escape. Her brother Aharon had found a hiding place, and Chana made a very risky decision: to flee to France. Fortunately the plan succeeded and in February 1942 she arrived safely to Marseille and found her fiancé. They were married, and as a wedding present they received from the Vichy police in Marseille a place where they were allowed to live, according to the law concerning all foreigners that arrived in the country after 1936.
In March of the same year, they arrived to the small town Cavagnan. In the Middle Ages a Jewish community existed there and a historic synagogue was preserved from that era. About 20 Jewish families still lived in the town, until the 26 August 1942, the day marked as the Black Thursday for the French Jewry.
Petahia Markowitz and his wife were saved through a remarkable occurrence:
The Vichy police in town had received orders to arrest all local Jews, but the local chief of police arrested only one Jewish woman and soon he set her free. This was the signal of imminent danger. All Jewish families left town in haste, each family looking for a safe hiding place.
The Markowitz family went back to Marseille and stayed in hiding with a French Jewish family there. At that time the Jews in the free zone of France were relatively safe. However, as the situation became dangerous more and more, the couple moved to the home of another acquaintance, a French family. They lived with them one month and then began preparations to cross the border to Switzerland. On the day they tried to cross the border, the Swiss police caught several thousand Jews who tried to do the same and deported them. Several dozens of those Jews committed suicide.
At this first attempt to cross the border, the Markowitz family was caught by the Swiss police and mercilessly sent back to France. On the French side, they were almost deported, but were saved by a kindhearted officer who freed them and allowed them to leave the border post.
Their second attempt to smuggle the border succeeded, however. One day after the crossing they reached Zurich. They registered with the police and remained free for two weeks. Later, however, they were interned in a military camp near Zurich, were they found some 400 Jews, most of them from Belgium and France. At the beginning the young couple was allowed to stay together in the camp, but after about 4 months Petachia was sent to a labor camp and his wife to a women's camp near Basel. In 1944 they met again in a family camp.
They remained there, together, almost a year, waiting for the happy hour when they would be liberated and could return to France.
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