Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Wolbrom in 1918, and moved to Katowice with my family in 1926, at age eight. Our family was observant. The principal and teachers in my school were all orthodox Jews. The Jewish Cheider classes were given in the synagogue hall, and general classes were given in the afternoons at the Christian elementary school building, which was used by the non-Jewish children in the mornings. The cheider principal was Mr. Weiner, and the community school was run by Mr.Dligac.
As a child, I was a member of the Bnei Akiva youth group, and so were my brothers and sisters. At age 15 I learned the ideas of Zeev Zabotinsky, which inspired to join the Beitar movement instead, which was the subject of many heated arguments between me and my brothers. Zabotinsky's visit to our town is attached in my memory to a promise the USSR made at approximately the same time, to build a national home for the Jewish people. It was a period of severe antisemitism, and the Jews wanted to believe in anything that brought them hope, including Soviet propaganda. The Polish police, who secured Zabotinsky during his visit, presented him as the Jewish president of Israel. Zabotinsky preached about the importance of aliyah at all costs and by all means, including illegal ones. He said if you don't have arms or legs, you still need to crawl on your stomach to Israel. Leftists loudly disturbed his speech and threw eggs at him, but there were others who accepted his idea. including Mr. Ripel, a lawyer from Warsaw and a revisionist activist, who called on all Jews to leave Poland however they could.
After Zabotinsky's speech, a large group was organizing to try and cross the border, but the army caught and banished them back. this failure was a great discouragement, especially for those who were scared to participate in the first attempt and held back, waiting to see if it would succeed. In 1936 I organized a small team of Beitar members to try and enter Israel illegally. We were supposed to travel to Spain. The three of us left as tourists on a ski trip, planning to claim we got lost in the mountains in case we were caught. We crossed the border, but were stopped by the Czech secret service. We claimed we were communists and were trying to reach Spain in order to join the rebelling republicans who were fighting against Franco's army. When they discovered our cover story was false, we were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks. We were released and ordered to leave the Czech Republic immediately, but got caught again by Polish officers near the border and were returned once again to Katowice.
I wasn't willing to give up the aliyah idea. On January 21, 1939 I drove from Katowice to Lwow. From there I was able to travel to the Romanian port of Constanza, and board the ship Chappo, on which were approximately 600 other escaping Jews. The British were guarding the Israeli boats very tightly, and so our ship stayed at sea for a month and a half. Ultimately, starting to sink, we sent out SOS signals, and another refugee ship, loaded with 600 Hungarian and Romanian Jews came to our rescue. They let all of our men on board, but we all suffered from hunger, illness and lack of space. An epidemic started to spread shortly afterwards, and we had to throw all the dead into the sea. The landing was performed gradually, with small groups sent to the coast one at a time, and the ship returning to the open sea immediately afterwards. I got ashore only after 99 days on the ship.
In Israel, I became a part of the Beitar branch that was located in Tel Hashomer, where I worked and guarded the orchard. As war broke out I was recruited to the British army. I was a driver in Egypt and joined unit MT5. Later on I was recruited to unit 462, 140 of whose soldiers drowned on their way to Malta.
I would like to tell you about Mr. Babczynski, a gentile who owned the house in which our store was located, on 43 Niska street. Another apartment in this building was rented and used as a schul for a group of Krimilew Chassidic Jews. The landlord allowed them to pray there as they wished, loudly and undisturbed, and when a non-local gentile would throw a rock at one of the windows' Babczynski would sent his men to take care of him. He also used to participate in all of their holidays and celebrations.
Mina Pizak Szif
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was raised in a Zionist, welcoming home that was always open to guests and to those who appreciated the Hebrew language. My father, Ichak Szif was a member of the general board of Zionists in western Galicia and Silezia, an active member of the Bnei Akiva youth group PTA and a messenger in the Zionist Congress. He owned a bicycle retail business, and a Zinger sewing-machine store. When he returned from the last congress in 1939, he said: That's it. Now we're going to Israel. He never got to see his dream come true. My mother, Matilda Szif, was a Hebrew teacher and ran a Hebrew kindergarten that was located at the Bajtner family residence on Slowackiego street. The sisters Yocheved and Naomi went to this kindergarten.
I remember my brother Shlomo's Bar-Mitzvah celebrations in 1933. A remarkable guest was the famous writer Nathan Bistrizki. Before the holidays, especially Hanukah or Shavuot, my whole family would put together a play. I remember how my mom taught me to read some of Bialik's Hebrew poetry, and how we sang all the Israeli songs at home. My mother had a wonderful voice, and she learned the songs from the messengers who came from Erez-Israel. Her favorite song was Kinneret, Kinneret. I must stress my parents learned all they knew about Israel from books, stories and newspapers; my mother used to say that if we make it to Israel, the only place she's willing to live in is Haifa. To this day I don't know why; clearly she imagined Haifa as the most beautiful city in Israel. According to my cousins, this idea came from a passage in Herzl's book Altneuland, where he describes Haifa as a most fascinating city, located on the beach of a deepest-blue colored sea.
I was a young girl back then, and so I might not remember everything, but I do remember my mother arranged special bible classes for women. Father used to promise us every year again and again, that we'll be travelling to Israel the following year. He always believed he just had some work to accomplish in exile, before he can return to his fathers' land. Eventually, war broke out, and he was slaughtered in the holocaust. So were my mother and my brother Shlomo.
Among the visitors we used to have, I clearly remember Yehuda Orenstein and Menahem Wirt. Our house hosted Akiva meetings and Zionist activism groups. Among other groups, Katowice was a center of center of professional and agricultural training, many of the members of which worked at the Helium light-bulb factory. The owner was a good friend of my father's, and he willingly hired new group members when asked to.
In the summer we used to go to camps; my parents would come visit us, and even gave speeches and lectures. As my mother was a Hebrew teacher, our house was always filled with children who came to study. She taught them spoken Hebrew, and some of them were able to get along quite easily when they finally came to Israel, thanks to her lessons.
My Akiva youth group encouraged our friendship with kids from the Krakow branch, HaSharon group. The team leader was Szimszon Drenger, who fell in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and is a well known character in the Holocaust historiography. Our group was led by Mania Welner and Eli Eizenberg. Other mentors were Aharon Kaufman and Zigi Halbrajch. The first was a frequent visitor to our house, and I remember him talking with my mother in Hebrew. Other friends of mine were Bronek Kaszer, Marsel Hecht, Alek Hofszteter, Menachem Wirt and Mosze Kalechheim.
I remember another Akiva training point, at a farm in the countryside, a project into which my parents put a lot of energy. Many of Katowice's youth worked there before making aliyah. My father's friends, Dr. Torton and Herman Bajtner ran the general Zionists' Office in Katowice at the time. There were many others, but these are the names I can recall.
One difficult experience I remember is an incident from 1939, when stores owned by Jews were already marked with Jude araus signs. My father was attacked on the street outside Pluto's, somewhere near the bridge, around the train station; he was severely beaten and was taken to the hospital.
When he got back home, he said this is the end. We have to leave this country.
After the war, in August 1945, I returned to Katowice. When I passed nearby Pluto's, I almost fainted when I remembered how ruthlessly my father was hit. From there I went to our old house, on 43 Wanda street. On the 4th floor of the building lived my teacher from high school, Maria Majorowna, who was a good friend of ours. She accepted me very warmly, and we kept in touch until I left Poland.
in our apartment lived German Volksdeutche, who took all of our belongings. I decided to go there, despite of my teacher's warnings. I knocked on the door, and when they saw me through the slit they refused to open. I wasn't able to find any of my relatives and friends, and so realized I had nothing there and decided to leave Katowice.
Below - the two Bittner sisters - Zusza and Widza
When he got back home, he said this is the end. We have to leave this country.
After the war, in August 1945, I returned to Katowice. When I passed by Pluto's, I almost fainted when I remembered how ruthlessly my father had been beaten there. From there I went to our old house, on 43 Wanda Street. On the 4th floor of the building lived my teacher from high school, Maria Majorowna, who was a good friend of ours. She accepted me very warmly, and we kept in touch until I left Poland.
In our apartment there were German Volksdeutche living, who had taken all of our belongings. I decided to go there, despite my teacher's warnings. I knocked on the door, and when they saw me through the slit they refused to open up. I wasn't able to find any of my relatives and friends, and so realized I had nothing to look for there and I decided to leave Katowice.
My brother Shlomo, a graduate of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bendzin, was an Akiva member, and had always dreamed of going to Israel. During the war, he managed to receive fake Aryan documents, and was then sent by my father to work in a tire factory in Krakow. He and his Ukrainian supervisor built a hiding place, where 14 Jews were hidden until someone told the Gestapo about them. My brother used to ride his bicycle to the factory every day and bring these people food. When the Gestapo came for them, the Ukrainian jumped from the first floor window and managed to escape, but my brother, who jumped second, broke his leg. He was caught and shot immediately. The day it happened, February 22, 1944, my sister in law went to their usual meeting place after work, at the snack shop near the hospital, when the Polish owner said to her: You know, the guy who drives by here every day on his bicycle, with a backpack? He got shot today. Apparently he was a Jew, and was hiding some other Jews. After that she never came back to her home, and left Krakow right away. I didn't meet my brother during the war, and all I know of him in these years is what I heard from his wife.
After the war broke out, we left Katowice by car and tried to get to Sanok, where my grandparents lived. We stayed with them for a while. When the Germans drew near, we escaped to the Romanian border but weren't allowed to cross it. We returned north and reached Lwow, which had already been taken by the Russian army. My father managed to get a little shop on Kazimiezowska street, where he ran a bicycle repair business.
There were four of us in Lwow: Mom, dad, my brother and I. We were not considered refugees by the authorities since my father was born in Borislaw, formally a part of Russia. Therefore, we weren't sent to Siberia like many others. When the city was conquered by the Germans, my mother was taken on a transport and was murdered in one of the camps, Belziec or Treblinka. My father managed to prepare Aryan documents and ID's for my brother and sister-in-law and they left to Krakow. He then got some for me and a friend of mine, and we went to Warsaw. My father was left in Lwow on his own.
I survived the holocaust, with the right documents but not without all the strife and fears, until the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion. After that I was kept in a transition camp, and worked for a German farmer named Papendorf until March,1945.
It is important for me to stress that my late parents' lives were wholly devoted to the Hebrew language, to Zionism and to the land of Israel. I know that our home in Katowice was one of the few centers of Zionist activity and Hebrew culture. Mother helped many people make aliyah back then, among them Dr. Katz, who later became the university dean, the Braf and Rozenfeld families and many others.
Sara Sofer-Szrojer Majtlis
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
My family lived at 4 Monjuszki street in Katowice. My father Yechiel, at first managed a small private bank and later became the owner of a wool textile factory in Biala. He lived in Katowice from 1920 till the war broke out. He and my mother Frieda were both active members of the Zionist organization and of their community. After the war my father received the honorable Charles De Gaulle Medal in honor of his fundraising for the French war effort. We were a wealthy family, and we lived in a spacious apartment near the city center. The whole family, including our servants, spent the summer and winter vacations in resorts like Ustroni Bistra and Zakopane. My parents were religious and were very active in giving charity, like most of their community. Every Friday night two extra seats were reserved at our table for needy people or for travelers who had no place to stay. My father would find them at the synagogue and invite them in after the Sabbath service.
My sisters Fela and Rozia and I attended the Berek Joselewicz elementary school. When we grew older we went to the Firstenberg Gymnasium in Bendzin. We were all members of the local Zionist Youth branch from the age of ten, and were sent to its summer and winter educational camps. As toddlers we were sent to Mrs. Chameides's kindergarten. In the afternoons we had private lessons in Hebrew, English and piano. We also took gymnastics classes at the Maccabi club, and participated in other sports activities like ice-skating, swimming and bike riding.
My teachers in school were Rózka Londnerowna, and later Leon Nojman. Our elementary school classes were in the afternoons, because our school didn't have a building and we had to use the Polish school's classrooms after they had finished their day. The students of the two schools were not very friendly to one another: often we were often beaten up, or had our braids pulled by Polish students.
The community of Katowice consisted of Polish Jews, and formerly German Jews. The Polish Jews prayed at the Shtibel, while the German Jews used the fancy great synagogue downtown. On new years' eve, (Rosh Hashanah), all the children gathered in front of the synagogue. On Saturday afternoons there was a special service in the synagogue for the youth, when we were the ones to read, sing and give the lecture.
In 1938, Katowice was the first stop for many of the thousands of Jewish families from Germany who had been banished from Germany and forced over the Polish border. Our community decided right away to help these refugees in any way possible, and many families took refugees in. I remember whole families staying in our house for months.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Katowice, and spent good times there. We lived at 18 Szopana Street, where we had a lovely corner house. The German consulate building was across the street, and next to it was a small church. We used to go there to watch wedding ceremonies and soldiers. At seven I began first grade at the Joselewic elementary school. I remember it all as just one long summer.
The local Zionist Youth branch was not far from my home; it is thanks to this place and to the friends I made there that I now live here in Israel, and in fact, that I am alive at all, as I got my fake Christian ID and documents from them.
In the neighborhood there was our synagogue, and the temple, our gathering place on Saturday mornings. Here the community's Hebrew classes were held; I even have a picture of it that I managed to keep. In general, we were a very lively community. We had weekly sports classes at the Bar-Kochva building. I remember one Hanukah festival, in which we performed artistic gymnastics on stage for our parents. The party was held at the fancy Powstancow hall. I also remember Plac Wolnosci, a beautiful green square. One memorable store was Winer's Jewish book shop, which always had everything we needed in stock. Not far from there was the kosher butcher, owned by the Friszer family.
When I was a little girl, there weren't any Jewish kindergartens yet in the area; my parents had to send me to the monastery kindergarten, until the Jewish one was opened a year later. They also wanted to send me to Torah and religion classes, but that didn't work out so well.
My best memories are from my teenage years, as a member of the Zionist Youth group. We would gather at least twice a week, not including our Saturday meeting, to debate subjects like Aliyah, Zionism and the organization, ethics and scout principles. During the summer we had four-week educational camps, where we also learned to work and developed our sense of independence.
When I was in 2nd grade, we were finally kicked out of the Polish school and weren't allowed to use its building anymore. Instead, our school was given a building out of town, to which we had to take the tube, a rather uncomfortable arrangement.
By 1937 it was clear that Jews were no longer welcome in Poland, but we were still able to lead a normal life, go to school and enjoy ourselves. We spent the summer of 1939 on vacation in Skawa, where we had an exceptionally good time. When we returned to Katowice at the end of August, however, it was clear that the Germans were going to attack. Many women and children were sent east, as many Jews believed that the German army would not get that far. The community arranged to send all men aged 15 to 45 to the Russian border, and my father was among them. At this point we still didn't realize what was about to happen. And then the strife began.
I would like to mention the warm welcome we received from the organization's people in Sosnowiec. As refugees, we had no money nor any way to make a living; my mom worked at the Germans' offices as a cleaner. The community members helped us with everything, including supplies and food for the holidays, and finding jobs.
How I survived the war: that's a different story.
I have been in Israel since 1946. I'm a mother of three, and a grandmother of 12 children. I met my husband in Israel in 1950, pregnant with my second child. He remarried, and died after 21 years.
Chana Szwarz Prister
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Katowice and lived at number 10 Slowackiego Street. I had two brothers: Rudolph and Fritz. My mother Meni Prister (maiden name Rozenberger) owned a hat shop.
We children studied at the Kunarski high school, where we also had religion classes. Although we did go to classes on Saturdays, we weren't required to write. There were two other Jewish girls in my class.
As a student, I took classes at the Bar-Kochva Jewish sports club. Later on I learned weaving and crafts at the Zalenzie monastery, and then sewing at the Polish high school, from which I graduated in 1937. My older brother studied mechanics, and my younger brother had to attend the Polish school after ours was closed down.
My younger brother was attacked by Polish boys several times. In 1939 he passed the bar exams to the Polytechnic, but was not accepted because he was Jewish. So he took a job as a radio technician for a private company.
There were still many rays of light in our lives back then, including the fancy cinemas, the city's theatre and the luxurious café Oto (later renamed Cristallina), all decorated with velvet and mirrors everywhere. There were also hotels, Monopol and Astoria, where you could dance to a band at night. As children, we loved to play at the Southern park, which also had a horse-racing track and a sleigh track, as well as a zoo and a skating rink. The famous ice-skating performer Sonja Henie performed there, just before the war.
The swimming pool was definitely an attraction and we all learned to swim there. It was open year round, and we loved to play there. Despite the mines and the developed industry, Katowice had always been a neat and clean city. The fact that it was located near the German border worried everyone, as war became more and more probable. And indeed our fears came true.
|Tombstone of Wilhelm Prister who dies in 1936 and
his son Rudolph who was murdered by the Nazis
|Chana Swarc in Katowice near one the tunnel crossings|
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I lived in Katowice until 1939 with my parents, two sisters and brother; my father was a shoemaker. My childhood memories include the Joselewicz elementary school. I remember the principal, Dligacz, and teachers Berman and Ringelrowna. I also attended the cheider religious classes, at the synagogue. Our teachers were Mr. Winer, who taught chumash and Rashi commentary, and Mr. Zajdman, who was known as Brodziosz. Every day, I stayed in school until 2 pm, then had lunch with the other children (community-funded meals), and then I went to the cheider for classes there until the evening. Every year we were sent to summer camp.
At that time I was a member of the Zionist Youth, whose club house was located at 3 Opolska Street. Much of our time was dedicated to scout activities. The conditions weren't ideal, as by then we were already subject to antisemitic attacks, especially during our out-of-town meetings. The antisemitic actions in Katowice were led by a group called Bliskawic. I myself wasn't visibly different from the Polish kids, and I did speak their local dialect, a mixture of German and Polish.
Our Zionist youth groups showed our loyalty to the Polish state, and participated in national holidays and celebrations. All the members of Zionist Youth, Beitar and Hashomer Hatzair joined the 3rd of May march, carrying flags and wearing their uniforms, on their way to the synagogue to say prayers of thanks. I participated in this ceremony as a choir boy; there were about 40 of us, conducted by Mr. Szteiniz. The community was willing to invest resources in the choir, and we singers even received a small payment. Before we came up to sing, we would cross the room in a row, allowing the audience to see us. A mirror between the conductor and the cantor allowed him to keep time with the choir. Honored guests and government officials were always invited to come and hear us.
The community leaders' thought and concern for the young ones were remarkable. among these leaders were Mr. Sztigliz and Mr. Altman, as well as Nebel, Wasertajl, Burinski, Szolowic, Bedian and Tichauer. They made sure we were all treated equally, and kept us off the streets. They made sure every child had a Bar-Mitzvah party, regardless of whether his family had means or not. For those lacking means, the community funded the ceremony. Many times, two kids who both turned 13 on the same day were both invited to read from the Torah scroll and the supervisors never checked who had paid and who hadn't. The children's healthcare was taken care of by the A.Z.E foundation. I remember one of its members was a dentist named Buchner.
The Jewish area in Katowice was called Tylna Marjacka. Many Chassidic shulls, shtiblach, were located there, such as the Radomsk shtibl. There you could see Chassidic Jews with their special hats and outfits, and find a torah lecture at any hour of the day. Before the outburst of antisemitism, Jewish kids could even play soccer with the Gentile kids. We cheider students would play ball in the yard every break. When the teacher wanted to find us and return us to the classroom, he would usually come with a stick. We were really disciplined; our teachers wanted us to know everything, including Hebrew.
Kids from needy families had their lunch at school, and they were sponsored by the community. They received books and pencils, and even entrance tickets to the pool and the skating rink. The community also helped soldiers find hosts for the holidays, especially Passover, and sent them food. I remember one boy from the Majtlis family, who resided between Katowice and Walnowic; he sat in classes next to a poor boy, and would always share his meals with him.
When the war broke out, my father was drafted to the Polish army. He fought against the Nazis, and was killed in battle ten days later in Hamek, a small village near Katowice. Before he died, he gave his watch to a non-Jewish soldier, and sent him to find us. He didn't want to be buried with non-Jews. The soldier found our house a couple of days afterwards, and gave us an exact description of my father's burial place. We drove there and dug him out. The soldier built a wooden case for him, and we brought him home, where he was buried properly, according to the Jewish custom.
Not long after that, Eichmann dispatched two transports of Jews from Katowice, as well as sending trains of Jews from Morawska and Cieszyn. The head of our Judenrat was Mr. Szteiniz, but there was nothing he could say or do. I was on the second train, and we were told we were being sent to work. We had to wait in the station for four days with no food or water. The community sent us some, but we never got it. When we arrived at Nisko, we were left alone. We walked in the woods; the weak and handicapped stayed in the woods, but others made it all the way to Lwow. Those who remained worked in a shack, and most of them got sick and died, since the water wells were infected.
Some returned to Katowice, where they were arrested by the Germans and sent to death camps. I stayed in Lwow. One night, the Russians arrested thousands of Jewish refugees from Poland, and sent them all, including me, to Siberia. In Siberia I worked in the mines. Later on I was drafted to the army and sent to the front. After the war I returned to Poland.
When I came back to Katowice I found that a Zionist Youth kibbutz was already set up there, run by Magar Rostal. Fortunately, many of my relatives (my brother, mother and sisters) survived. During the war, my mother learned that I was in Lwow, and managed to go there with my sisters. They were sent to Russia too, but we could not reunite till after the war. It was in Israel that I was reunited with my brother, who survived the war by living in the forests. My mother died in Israel in 1981. My brother and sisters and I still live here in Israel.
I myself witnessed the burning of the temple by the Nazis. At the same time, a Jew named Pozmantir was forced out of his house and murdered. As far as I know, he was the only Jew murdered during this incident.
Chana Berg Friszer
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Our family was famous in Katowice for their Glatt-Kosher restaurant and meat products factory. My parents had four children: Elijahu-Adek, Paulina-Pola, Hanek and me, Chana; we resided in Katowice from 1926 till when the war broke out. As the Germans entered, our family, like many others, was forced to leave the city. My older brother managed to reach Israel through illegal aliyah, after a long journey. My sister Pola moved to Lwow where she obtained Christian ID, and survived the war in Vienna as a secretary in the office of the Governor, General Dietrich. (Her appearance was not Jewish.) My brother Hanek was taken by the Russians to do forced labor, and I, the youngest child, stayed with my parents until 1942, when we were transferred to the Szczakowa ghetto.
When the ghetto was closed down, my parents were sent to Auschwitz, and I was taken to a labor camp in Presznic. When the camp was liberated by the Russians, I returned to Katowice to look for survivors from my family, but didn't find anyone. My parents were murdered in Auschwitz.
My brother Adek was a soldier in the Hebrew Brigade, who fought the Germans with the Allied forces. He wrote me a letter, saying that our uncle had survived in Bergen-Belsen, and he intended to go there and meet him. I left Katowice and managed to reach Bergen-Belsen after many trials and tribulations. There, I met my brother and uncle, and we were taken to Belgium along with other refugees. I joined a kibbutz group organized by the Escape ['Bricha'], and in April, 1946 I entered Israel illegally on board the ship Tel Chai. In Israel I learned that my brother Hanek had returned from Russia to Katowice, and so had my sister. My brother immigrated to America, and my sister moved to Australia and lived there to her last day.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Katowice in 1925. I studied at the Berek Joselewicz school, a Jewish elementary school, where lessons were given in Polish. In the afternoons, students of this school also attended religion classes, the cheider for the boys, and Beth Yaakov for the girls.
The community's focal point was doubtlessly the great synagogue, a magnificent Gothic style building. It was taller than most of the other buildings, and could be seen from a distance. Many community members gathered in this synagogue on Saturdays.
The chief rabbis were: Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman, who managed to reach Israel in the early 1940's and was a chief Rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin until his death in 1984, and Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides. The cheider management organized many parties for various events. I remember the Hanukah party, with the ceremonial candle-lighting; participants included the two Rabbis, representatives of the community committee, teachers, students and their families. The Rabbis both appeared at the great synagogue services, one on Friday night and one on Saturday. When they were lecturing, they wore black robes and hats. Each one of them gave a weekly lecture every Saturday, prior to the musaf prayer, in both Hebrew and Polish.
The synagogue was located in a garden, surrounded by trees, where the children could play before the prayer times and on their school breaks. The city's youth gathered on Saturday afternoons to pray together, both boys and girls and students of all the schools. Students who excelled were invited to visit Rabbi Fogelman's house every Saturday, and were tested on the material they had learned the previous week, especially the weekly Parasha.
The great synagogue had a boys' choir, conducted by Mr. Szteiniz, with 30-40 singers. I was one of them, and even sang a solo during the High Holiday prayers. I remember we practiced for the High Holiday service just before the war broke out. The temple's lead cantor was Walter Dembicer, who died in 1935. His successor was Mr. Rozencwaig, who left for Israel with his family before the war. In Israel he was known to many as the singer on Radio Jerusalem, who sang the HaMavdil prayer on Saturday nights. The Jewish high school students gathered in the synagogue, fancily dressed, to celebrate every Polish national holiday.
Participants in these celebrations included both of the Rabbis, the community leaders and Katowice's mayor. The Polish officials were impressed by the Rabbis' speeches and the choir's singing, which was all in Polish. There were other smaller, synagogues, the most important of which was the one located at the new community hall, on Mickewicza street. Other shuls were Hamizrachi on Tylna Marjacka, Radomsk Chassidic shul and others. One remarkable minyan (prayer group of ten men) was the one in the house of Yosele Kohen. Their cantor was the teacher Szmuel Schtein.
Katowice's Jewish community was extremely well-organized; the leader of the community was Mr. Bruno Altman. A weekly gazette in Polish & German, The Katowice Jewish Community's Official Newspaper included an editorial column by this community leader or one of the board members each week, along with articles by the chief Rabbis, notices of bar-mitzvah and wedding dates, reports of community activities and news, and advertisements by Jewish stores.
The community funded the great synagogue as well as the community hall, a mikvah, a kosher butchery, a kindergarten and a soup kitchen. Many youth groups had active branches in Katowice: the Zionist Youth, Akiva, Hamizrachi, Beitar and Hashomer Hatzair. There was also a Jewish sports club, called the Z.K.S. [Zydowski Klub Sportowy]
The main Jewish occupations were commerce and handiwork. The most prestigious and fancy stores were all owned by Jews, and were located mainly on The 3rd of May and Pilsudski streets.
Most of the Jewish residents had not been born in Katowice. Many of them came to the city around the late 1920's in order to work and make a living. Polish antisemitism became apparent mainly from 1938. I experienced it more than once, coming from young Polish kids my age. It was more visible when bombs and stones were thrown at Jewish-owned stores or the synagogues, posters were hung, and there were calls to banish the Jews from Poland and deport them to Israel. But generally life went on as usual.
During the summer vacation of 1939 we could already sense that a war with Germany was coming, though we never guessed that it would become a world war, nor that six million of our people would be destroyed. In mid-August the community was asked to help build public shelters, mostly in the parks, as a defense against air-bombings. A day or two after the war broke out, we moved temporarily to my grandmother's, in the nearby city of Sosnowiec.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
In 1932, Hashomer Hatzair members started debating the idea of a Jewish settlement in Biro-Bedjzan, as advocated in the book by Otto Heller, and this caused a split in the Zionist leadership in Lwow. Many of us were willing to go (32 of us, as I recall), and then a man named Rozenberg came and told us that we'd better work to improve the Jews' situation inside Poland first. A hundred of us joined the Communist youth organization, most of them former Hashomer Hatzair members. This group was led by Maks Szternlicht and Chana Szrajber-Szternlicht, who convinced the rest.
Many young Jewish Communists were arrested, and after the trial the organization was taken apart; the only one left was Beno Krebs. Another remarkable young Communist activist was Benyamin Meler, a very intelligent young man who was arrested for spreading Communist propaganda materials, and sentenced to two years in prison. He stayed with me in Lwow on his way back from Russia, and told me he just couldn't stop himself when he had to stand, clap his hands and shout Stalin, Stalin!. The rumor is that the Germans hung him in Krakow.
Young people from Katowice were also imprisoned in Kartus Bereza , including Umek Pumeranz, who later managed to escape to Israel. I was there myself, for 12 months. Other Katowice Jews participated in the Spanish Civil War, among them Jozek Kantor who became a military attache in Rome after the war. His brother Beniek was murdered in Auschwitz. I found their stories in a book written by Mr.Serge Klarsfeld, a Paris lawyer.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
In the beginning of October, 1938, news of the escalating German-Polish crisis and the poor condition of the Jewish-Polish communities in Germany was published in the international press. At the time, about 50,000 Jewish Polish residents lived in Germany, and they quickly became a target. On October 9, 1938 the Polish government published an order stating that passports held by Polish citizens who had lived abroad for over five years would no longer be valid. The obvious result was that this large group of Jews lost their citizenship, though it seemed that legally, the German government wasn't allowed to banish them.
Hitler demanded that Poland's government cancel the decree, simply because he wanted as many of the Jews as possible to leave the country and relieve him of responsibility. In an official note on October 27, 1939 the Polish government stated its refusal to do so. That same day, the Gestapo ordered the arrest of all the Polish Jews in Germany, and transferred them to the Polish border on special trains. The newspapers announced that on October 28, 1938 Polish Jews, men, women and children, were evacuated from Germany's big cities, gathered on guarded trains and transported over the border to Poland. The Polish border guard tried to stop the trains, and eventually arrested an estimated 15,000 Jews out of a total of 50,000 who left Germany.
12,000 more were banished beyond the border, to the grey area between Neu-benchen in Germany and Zbonszyn in Poland. They wandered around the district, but weren't allowed to re-enter Germany. Eventually the Poles allowed the refugees to sit in a wood next to Zbonszyn for a couple of hours in pouring rain, until they finally let them enter the small town; later they were temporarily settled in garages, barns and tents.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
My father, Avraham Huterer, and my mother, Miriam Szajndel, lived on Teatralna street from 1921 or 1922. My father was one of the two orthodox community leaders, the second one being Rabbi Naftali Beser, father of Rabbi Yechezkel Beser, who now lives in the United States. I remember the day the Jewish school was founded, and I recall the school's Purim and Hanukah parties and plays. I was often chosen to light the candles for the Hanukah ceremony because I had a pleasant voice. In the Purim play I acted Axiras. By the age of ten I was already attending the Polish gymnasium, where I was permitted to miss classes on Saturdays as an exception, since I was singing in the school choir, I had to come to rehearsals on Saturday afternoons. Our choir won a prize in a national contest that was held in the city theater.
My father owned a bank, and later on he bought a textile retail business. Eventually he bought a bicycle and musical instrument store on 3rd of May Street. I remember how before Christmas we kept a barrel of fish in the store, and every non-Jewish customer received a free fish for the holidays with every purchase. It was all taken away from us in 1938, when we were officially defined as an unsafe element, and were banished from Katowice.
All the Rabbis visiting Katowice were regular guests in our house. When I was eight, we hosted the Rabbi of Kumarna, a famous miracle-worker. I remember police officers were guarding the entrance, and people were allowed in to see him one by one. Rabbi Jecheskel Lewin stayed with us for a long time, until he was appointed chief Rabbi, as did Rabbi Michael Hampel. My father was a caretaker at the study room that was located on the first floor of the community hall. I remember Rabbis Fogelman and Chameides well. When I grew older I was sent to my grandfather's in Auscwitz, and then to Lwow. My nickname was Szaul Katowicer
This is a story I heard from my grandfather, Rabbi Yakir Zinger. He came to visit us in Katowice during the Christian holiday season, and went to visit his nephew in the evening. On his way, he noticed a Gentile, possibly drunk, carefully following him. My grandfather was already on the doorstep of the house when he realized the man wasn't planning to go away. He was holding a walking stick with a sharp silver end, and so just when the man tried to leap into the house, my grandfather hit him on the head with the stick. The Gentile fell to the floor screaming, his face covered in blood, but he wasn't able to speak coherently. My father didn't even know whether he had survived. From this day on, my grandfather celebrated his survival every year at Christmas.
Only glatt-kosher meat was sold in Katowice, and it was in fact cheaper than non-kosher meat, so that not only Jews enjoyed it. The kosher meat was so subsidized, that my father told us that the Bobover Rabbi told him on one of his visits in Tszebin, that If I wasn't ashamed, I would buy meat in Katowice. The Rabbi didn't want to buy meat from another community when he was at home, but he did so when he stayed in a rest-home. Obtaining kosher meat in Poland was generally complicated, and especially so after the restrictions on kosher butchery.
I had a younger brother, Moshe, and three sisters. One of them, Ester Freilich, is a widow who lives in Bnei Brak. She also attended the gymnasium in Katowice, before the orthodox Beit Yaacov girls' schools were founded. My parents and the rest of my family were all murdered in the camps.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
We moved to Katowice in in 1927, and lived at 6 Paderewski Street, where all three of us were born: my sister Fela, my brother Koba and I. My father Abraham was a businessman, and my mother Esther was a housewife. My brother attended elementary school in Katowice, and then the gymnasium in Bedzin. My sister and I went to the Joselewic elementary school and then I continued to the Polish high school. From 1937 we both travelled daily to the Firstenberg School in Bedzin.
In mid-August 1939, our parents realized that life in Katowice might become dangerous soon; they decided that my father and brother would stay at home, but that we females would move to a safer place. We ordered a driver and loaded the few belongings onto the car. Our general direction was Krakow, or as far as we could get from the German border.
The place we reached was bombed a few days after our arrival, and a nearby bridge was ruined. So we came up with a new plan, to move to the east. Gas was nowhere to be had, and so we had to abandon the car 100 kilometers from Krakow. We took any form of transportation available, riding trains, wagons and even walking. The constant bombing slowed us down. We reached Lwow with only one suitcase. In December 1939 we were joined by my father and brother, who crossed the Russian border with Germany. There was no food available, and the streets were filled with refugees. We continued to a town named Halicz, where we were able to get food in exchange for valuables.
In June, 1940, all the refugees were transferred east by the Russians, and we found ourselves in the Ural mountains, in a prairie, hundreds of kilometers from the closest settlement. We were squeezed into shacks, one room per family. After being examined physically, we were sent to forced labor. My father, who spoke Russian fluently, worked in an office. My brother, sister and I worked in a wood workshop. My brother worked on day shifts, and we girls worked nights, taking piles of leftover wood outside. It was winter, but we didn't wear any shoes because the road was covered with wood waste, which stuck to our shoes and made walking difficult. The pile was steaming as a result of the high temperature and burning rubber thrown into it.
My father died of a heart attack in December, 1940. There was no cemetery in the camp. None of us except my brother was allowed to go to the funeral. We somehow managed to assemble a coffin and load it on a sleigh. The ground was frozen. The camp officer pointed at a distant spot, where we were supposed to bury him. Koba took a shovel and a piece of tin, on which he carved the date and my father's name. He nailed it to the coffin as a headstone. He came back in the middle of the night. It was definitely the saddest funeral in those circumstances.
In mid-1941 we were allowed to move to southern Russia, and arrived at Djambole, Khazakhstan. Shortly afterwards, my brother was drafted to the Polish army. In 1942 his troop was relocated to Persia, then to Italy and from there to Israel. We lost contact with him. In the meanwhile, my sister was still a student. I had an office job, where I worked hard, to ensure that my mother wouldn't be sent to work.
In December, 1944 I married Henryk Mitelman; the four of us lived together. My mother passed away in April,1945, and was buried in Djambole. Groups of Polish refugees were sent back to Poland in March, 1946, and we arrived there on May 1, 1946. Our son, Adam, was born that year. Fela went to the university in Wroclaw, and we lived in Katowice. She married Josef Taler, and gave birth to a baby girl. My brother married Wera Gorman in Tel Aviv, and they had two children. He spent his last years in Brazil, and died there in 1978. My sister and I lived in Israel with our families for two years, and then immigrated to Australia in 1952. She died there in 1986.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Our mother, Wita Pilcer, and our father, Abraham, a textile merchant, were a loving couple who built a warm, happy home and family in Katowice. They had five daughters (Gusta, Esta, Blima, Itka and Franja) and we all had happy childhoods. Saturdays and holidays were very special days, celebrated with lit candles, the scents of cleaning and cooking and a warm family atmosphere at home.
In the summer of 1939 four of us went on a Zionist Youth summer camp. Our mentor, Janek Cimerman, called me for a personal conversation. He asked what my name was, and then told me that from now on I'd be called Yehudit in the activities, instead of my Polish name that was used at home, Itka. I loved my new Hebrew name, and was really proud of it.
We arrived at the village of Skawa, our camp site, and were incredibly excited. We had a great time there that summer: Jewish Zionist teens from the entire district gathered in the village, the air was bubbling with singing, laughter and high spirits. We danced and got to breathe fresh air; the world seemed so beautiful, so promising. We stayed there for six weeks, and returned home refreshed and optimistic, by no means aware of the hard times to come.
The war came to us unexpectedly, like a storm, and abruptly eliminated all the good times we had had in that one last happy summer. Jews started to flee from Katowice. My father decided that we would leave for Krakow, where we had family. The Germans conquered Poland. When the Krakow ghetto went up, my father paid a smuggler to take us to the small town of Chrzanow, where he grew up. Our family divided up into small groups, and so we were able to get through this dangerous journey.
Life in Chrzanow was difficult. As illegal citizens, we lived in constant fear of being discovered. My parents tried to retain a warm, homey atmosphere, even there. At this point all of us were still together, until February 18,1943, the day of the general Juden-rein expulsion.
I worked in a factory with my sisters, and that morning we were told that we, along with the rest of the Jews, must gather in the city square. We went there, and met my mother and sisters, but my father was at work out of town. Mother suggested that I take my younger sister and hide until the aktion was over. We had a slight chance to make it, because we didn't look Jewish. It took a while to convince my sister, but eventually she agreed to go with me, and hand in hand we walked out of the square. I had a yellow badge sewn on my coat, and I covered it with a small piece of fur.
We crossed a road, and it seemed like we had managed to sneak out of the crowd, when a German officer noticed us. He removed the fur and discovered my yellow badge, and with a nasty push returned both of us to the square. The area was already encircled by SS officers, and there was no chance of our escaping again. The selection started, and my mother told us to separate from one another, so as not to appear to be such a big family. She understood that our only chance was to try and get by separately. She took little Franja with her.
The crowd was divided into two groups, one of mothers with young children, old and sick people, and the other of younger people who seemed capable of work. My sisters and I were in the second group, but my mother and younger sister were in the first one. Franja clung to my mother; she looked beautiful dressed in her pretty red winter coat with a white fur collar, a woolen hat, tights and matching shoes. We had no idea of where they were being taken. We never saw them again.
We were first sent to a labor camp, and from there to Peterswaldau. My father was sent there as well, with the mens' group.
On our way there, my older sister Gusta tried to escape. We were on the train, and when it approached the camp we helped her to jump out of the window. With her Aryan appearance, she was fearless. She was a fierce and wise woman, and these qualities helped her to survive the war. Our next meeting was in Katowice, after the war ended.
In the labor camp, we suffered hunger, cold and sickness. We clung to our good memories for hope, and also the fact that all three of us were together was somewhat comforting. We managed to see our father from time to time, and to give him some of the food we saved for him.
On May 8, 1945, the war was declared over, and we were released by the Russian army. Our first destination was, naturally, Katowice. We returned to our family's old house, only to find strangers living there. We returned changed people, as if we were decades older, after our bitter encounters with death and strife. Mother and Franja never came back. We were overwhelmed with grief and strife, and couldn't find comfort.
My father, Esta and her family all stayed in Katowice until 1957. My other sisters both immigrated to the United States, and I raised a family in Israel. We have remained close to one another all these years. Lately we were able, thanks to the aid of the Israeli Katowicers organization, to build a memorial monument in Katowice, in the place where the great synagogue once stood, where our community members used to pray and celebrate before the war.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Our family lived in Berlin until 1938. My parents had three daughters, Frida, Bronka and I, and a son, Moshe. I was the youngest. One day, we were ordered by decree, to leave Germany within several hours. We were utterly shocked by the things we saw with our own eyes: Nazis beating, chasing and murdering Jews with a ferocity that's beyond words. After we left Berlin, we found ourselves with just a couple of suitcases, in the Polish border town of Zbonszyn. From there, we travelled to Gdansk, but the community there wasn't capable of helping the Jewish refugees from Germany, and so we moved on to Katowice.
We just barely managed to get an apartment in Katowice. My parents worked hard just to obtain the minimal necessities; our time there as refugees was very difficult. It's been years since then, and it's become harder for me to describe the details of that hard time.
I was a member of the Zionist Youth movement from age ten, and like all of us had dreamed about making aliyah to Israel. There were two remarkable youth groups in Katowice at that time: the Zionist Youth and Hashomer Hatzair. Many of Katowice's Polish citizens were antisemitic, and were encouraged by the German example. Jews and their businesses were occasionally attacked as early as 1938, but those attacks grew worse with time. Despite that fact, it was not easy to foresee the dark future ahead. I am the only one of my family to eventually move to Israel.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Chana Zidner was born in 1912 to Zan and Zenni Boldes (maiden name Holz). The family lived at 12 Slowakaciego Street, and owned a kosher meat and sausage store, near the great synagogue. Prior to the war, her living family members were:
Her mother, Zenni (her father died before the war broke), her brother, Feliks, his wife Greta Lipman and their son Paul. He was a tailor, and was transferred to a forced labor camp near Krakow. His wife and son were murdered in Auschwitz.
Bartel Zak of the Boldes family, was an enthusiastic Zionist, who lived in Bojten and ran the local branch, but she was also active in Katowice. She and her husband Arthur had two daughters: the younger one, Hannah, was murdered with her parents in Auschwitz. Chava, who was older, came to Israel with the Youth aliyah (Aliyat Hanoar). Her married name is Metziel and today she lives in Kiryat Gat. a retired nurse, a mother of two and a grandmother of six.
Adit Kanin-Boldes, the older sister, and her husband Hans. Both their apartment and their business were on Swietego street. Their only son, Peter, was ten years old when they sent him to stay with friends in Warsaw, where they believed it was safer. His father was taken on a German transport, but managed to escape. He returned to Warsaw and found his son. After the war they returned to Katowice, but all their property was lost. In 1950 they both came to Israel. Peter built his house in Kiryat Anavim, and Hans found a job in Jerusalem. Adjusting to their new life was difficult for both of them. On a rainy January night, while on shift, Peter committed suicide; his father turned ill, and passed away a few years later. There were many other family members, but all except for Hanna Zidner and Chava were murdered in Auschwitz.
A short biography of Ernest Zidner:
He was born to Arnold and Eva Zidner in Katowice in 1905. His father died before the war, and his mother was murdered in Auschwitz with the Boldes family. His parents' house at 19 Pilsudsiego Street, across the road from the Evangelic church, was in use as a restaurant and a motel until 1925, when it was sold. The restaurant was renovated, and continued in business until his father died. His mother then joined the Boldes family.
Fridel Flajszhaker of the Zidner family, my sister, was born in 1909. She escaped from Germany to Switzerland, and from there to the United States, with her husband and two children. She lived with her children. Martin Zidner, my brother, was born in 1903. He arrived in Israel illegally with HaMaccabia in 1936. A hospitality expert, he worked as a manager for the Dan hotel chain; he died in Hertzliya in 1978.
I graduated from the high school in Bojten, and learned medicine in Keln. In 1933 the danger became apparent, and I had to escape before I was able to complete my exams. I tried to complete them in Paris and Bologna but never made it. Instead, I learned carpentry, and my wife learned the art of hat-making. We formally married in October 1934, and both my wife and I received our passes, allowing us to leave the country. On January 1, 1935 we were married by Rabbi Fogelman, in a Jewish ceremony, and we left for Israel that same evening.
I worked as a construction carpenter in Kiryat Bialik, and by the end of the year we moved to Jerusalem. My wife opened her own salon, and I worked in my profession, until I had an accident. I decided to learn business management, and started to work for the Ford Company in Jerusalem. I was soon promoted to manager, and retired after 40 years in the company. Even after that, I continued to volunteer at the Mt. Scopus Hadassah hospital, as a research helper in the surgery department.
We have two sons: the younger one, Reuven, (born in 1943), is a doctor. He is married and has two daughters. Our older son, Michael (born 1936), is married to Naomi, and runs a travel agency in Jerusalem; they live in Moza. Their sons are Oren and Alon; their eldest son Amir Zl, was killed at 19 in his tank during a 1988 military operation in Lebanon.
Helena Goren Zigrajch
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
Photographed before World War One
My family came from Zaglambie, and my grandfather moved to Katowice soon after the referendum, around 1923 or 1924. He was a very educated man who studied a lot and had an exhaustive knowledge of chemistry. A devoted Zionist, he took part in the Hovevei Zion (Friends of Zion) conference In Katowice in 1884, as its youngest member. He was also a remarkable community citizen, who took part in administering everyday life at the great synagogue and seeing to everyday community needs. He owned a paint factory in Wolnowic, a nearby town.
He liked to pay special attention to his appearance, and was always dressed neatly: an immaculate dark suit, a cylindrical top hat, gloves and a walking stick. He lived on Skulska Street with my grandmother (whose maiden name was Kutlicki), and his older daughter, who lost her husband shortly after their marriage; she and her only son lived with her parents.
My grandmother was a talented craftsmaker and her house was decorated with sewn napkins, embroidery, carpets and curtains of her own making. My grandfather used to paint on silk, mostly floral and geometric designs.
My parents were cousins, with the same last name, Zigrajch. The man I'm describing was my mother Eva's father. My father ran a wood shop on Mickewicza Street, and we lived at 16 Zabska Street until the war broke out. I lived in that apartment after the war, until 1950.
Pepi Winer (nee Szajnberg)
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
My family lived at 19 Mariacka Street, Katowice. Before the first World War, my grandmother, Bela Rozencwaig, ran the first kosher restaurant in Katowice, at 12 Poprzeczna Street. A few years later, she opened another kosher restaurant, and made my parents managers of the first one. Stories of their generosity spread quickly, and every needy passerby knew he could find a bowl of hot soup there. Even Polish police officers knew they could send Jewish paupers to get a meal there, and they called my father the Jewish consul.
The restaurant was closed down in 1930, and my parents opened another one, that included rooms for rent, on Mariacka Street. The new address became in its turn a known spot for help and charity. One day, my father saw a boy crying on the street, He found that the boy's parents had been killed in an accident. He brought him to our home and took care of him. After a while, they drove to Vienna, and my father found a place for him in a proper orphanage. He checked on him regularly, and brought him to our house during the summer vacations. The boy's name was Izak Leszczynski. He later moved to Argentina, and wrote to us frequently until the outbreak of the war in 1939.
Our Jewish cook had a friend who was about to give birth as a single mother. She was alone and desperate, and my parents agreed to take her in until the birth. A few days later, she abandoned the baby and disappeared without a trace. We took care of the baby, and my parents arranged for his Brith Mila and named him David. My father turned to the community and tried to find him a foster family. It was complicated, but eventually a family was found through an ad he posted in the community bulletin. A couple of refugees from Germany took the boy in gladly. The woman was a teacher, and the man a butcher. Because they had limited means, the community helped them and paid for all the baby's needs.
During the war, I worked in Krakow as a Joint kindergarten manager for refugee children. One day, a woman entered carrying a beautiful, bright haired boy of about three. She asked to sign him in, so she could work and provide for her family. When we registered him, we learned that his name was David, and that he was born in Katowice in 1939. I looked at the woman, and when she understood who I was, she immediately asked about my father. She became very excited, and said: I will remember your father to my last breath. He caused us tremendous joy and gave us this boy, who is all we have in this life. My husband is on the other side of Russia, and he asked us to join him. After a while, when the boy didn't return to the kindergarten, we learned that the mother and son did manage to leave. I never met them again, and I hope that thanks to the boy, the family managed to reunite and to survive.
My father helped non-Jews just as well; I learned that in Auschwitz, in the medical ward, a special ward designed to show off to visiting Red Cross personnel. A Polish prisoner was brought there one day, and when he heard that I was the daughter of Szajnberg from Katowice, he was thrilled. From that day on, he brought me an extra bowl of soup and bread daily, and sometimes a slice of sausage too. In the circumstances, this supplement saved me from certain death. I once asked him why he did that, and he answered that before the war he was unemployed, and his family was hungry, and my father helped him to get by. He wished that my father would be guarded by God.
The lesson came too late. In 1942, my parents were both transferred from Krakow ghetto, supposedly to another labor camp, Auschwitz. When I got there myself and saw the crematorium, I understood the bitter truth of their end.
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