by Sarah (Milewski) Szmekura
Translated by Jewish Community Services, JewishCare, Melbourne, Australia
Donated by Bernard Szmekura
At the outbreak of the Holocaust and the Nazi Invasion of Lowicz Poland I was still attending school when the Nazi's entered our city on ‘Pietrekowska Street’. I was involved in a motor vehicle accident near my house at involving the Nazi war vehicles. Perhaps it is because the Nazis may have mistaken as an Aryan girl that they took me to hospital where I spent a day.
The same day the Nazis assembled all the Jewish males into the Synagogue. I was with a group of other children standing opposite the Synagogue, we were all afraid at what we were seeing.
We observed the Nazis beating people and there were many cries of pain and weeping. The Nazi soldiers pointed their automatic rifles at windows and doors not permitting anyone to leave. I pleaded with one of the Nazi soldiers to free my father Fajwel Milewski (who lost a hand during service in the Polish military 1st World War) but he ignored me.
It was spring 1940 (around March) they organised a ghetto in Lowicz. They relocated all the Jewish dwellers of ‘Nowarnrynka Street’ and ‘New Market Street’ to the deserted shops in ‘Zdunska Street’. Our family was ordered into a leather shop, the owner of which lived upstairsh however we were placed in the shop. In the first day days the hunger and famine was not so great but as time passed it became very hard. My father had gentile friends in the ‘Kostkes’ and decided that he had to do something to ease the growing hunger in our family. The owner of the shop, Mr Joseph Kadish, gave us pieces of soft leather to wrap around ourselves. We were able to get permission to leave the ghetto where we sold the leather. We gave half of the proceeds to Mr Kadish and with the remaining money, we bought food.
Therefore, we survived day by day until we were one day the bad order to leave for the Warsaw Ghetto. Those Jews who no longer had money to pay rent were sent to a big place at ‘64 Zelasna Street Warsaw’. At the start everyone was content with a little heavily diluted soup that was given from the general kitchen but after they dint even have this and the hunger was terrible and many became very ill. We were three sisters, a younger brother, and our parents. When the hunger came every day and soon people commenced to die of starvation, even as they slept. Consequently, I spoke to my sister about escaping one night and planned to return to Lowicz and attempt to bring a sack of potatoes for our family. We were very young and innocent and were not aware of the very dangerous nature of our plan, all we could think of was bringing some food for our family.
My sister Yitila made secret plans to escape Warsaw Ghetto. So during the middle of a very cold winter's night when it was snowing and a very strong wind we decided to go ahead with our plan. When we went to bed we kept our cloths on and went to the gate at Zelasna Street of the Warsaw Ghetto. We sneaked out to that gate at about 2.00 am and observed that the Polish Ghetto Police were not on duty but the Nazi guards were at the outside of the gate. We then sneaked out of the gate and pretend that we had arrived at the gate as the Nazi Guards noticed us. We then told them that we were attempting to get food into the ghetto for our families. They then looked at us two little girls, laughed at us shivering in the cold, said yes go ahead, and be very quick. We both then ran without turning our heads as we thought they were going to shoot us but they did not. We thought that may have actually believed that we were not inside or that maybe some else would shoot us or maybe that we would freeze to death. In any case our plan to capitalise on our Aryan and well-groomed appearance miraculously succeeded.
On fully realising was that we were free and outside the Warsaw Ghetto walls we were very afraid and immediately decided to escape Warsaw. We then had to think of how to get back to Lowicz in order to get food for our very ill parents and the members of our family. The streets were so dark, it was snowing, there were no other people to be seen, and we had no idea which direction to go so we just walked until we reached the outskirts of Warsaw. We found a very wide road, which appeared to go to Lowicz, so we decided on this route. We didn't walk we ran all the time as we were only very small and the wind was blowing behind us and virtually drove us along with speed although we were not even sure where we were going.
At about seven am or perhaps much earlier in the morning we eventually came to a junction not far from a bridge in Sochachew. Therefore, it was clear that my sister and I had run many kilometres during the night and now it was daytime as we reached this Junction. Near this junction, we observed a shop where people could buy a cup of tea and food. The owner of the shop was a German woman by the name of Maria Ofcharek. At this time we did not know all these details but my sister and I had head scarves and we looked very much Aryan in appearance unlike most other Jewish girls so we risked going into the shop in order to ask for some food. We also needed to get warm so we coordinated our stories so if asked questions we would give the same answers.
When we entered the shop there was no one there so we told the owner that our parents killed at the time our city was bombed during the Nazi invasion and that we were going to look for work ourselves to survive. Mrs Ofcharek listened to us and as she had three very young daughters of her own she was sympathetic and told us that we were welcome to stay with her. We immediately were given a place to rest and we fell asleep at that point.
After the sleep and rest we were much more relaxed after the long hard trip from the Warsaw escape and felt that if we could get this far our desire to live and survive was possible and this gave us strength. We were more inspired to do our utmost to help our family still in the Warsaw Ghetto. My Sister, Yittila advised me to stay with Mrs Ofcharek whilst she would look elsewhere for work. I was at the time so little and young I could not make any decisions and felt very ineffective. I could not even clean up the house but I tried in order to gain favourable impression with Mrs Ofcharek. Despite helping with house chores, I had another difficult duty and that was to say prayers with the three little daughters and accompany them to church. My older sister was fortunate that on that the same day she found work with a teacher with a few children not far from me. We therefore had the opportunity to see each other occasionally. I also stole some extra food to give to my sister as she did not get much food but she packed this extra food in a parcel and sent it to our parents in the Warsaw Ghetto. My sisters name was Yittila Milewski and but I called myself Sabina (actually it was Sura or Sarah a very dangerous name to have as all Jewish females under Nazi occupation where apparently given this name)
We there fore did not have to change our names, as they were very Polish names. My mistress, Mrs Ofcharek, told me she had a husband Paul Ofcharek and that he was an Alcoholic and that he would often beat her. She told me everything and got this off her chest to me and then I understood her situation. She told me that she liked me and that she understood and believed my situation. I do not know if she knew if I was really Jewish because very often Nazi soldiers would visit her and they spoke and laughed about Jews and once said if they found a Jewish child right now they would kill her immediately. On hearing this I had too take much courage to ignore it and not react although I was trembling with fear but I did understand that I had to be extremely careful for everybody in this shop. Quite often, I would see the Nazi Soldiers shooting Jews that attempted to traverse the bridge and then they would push them into the river below.
After about two months with Mrs Ofcharek, she told me that I must have some identity document. I did not hesitate I put on my clothes and combed my hair and put a scarf on my head and proceeded to the City Hall of Sochachew. I think I was somewhat fortunate in that if any one was even slightly suspicious they would not give them any Identity document and on the contrary, they would be transferred to the council and meet a tragic fate. On arriving at the city Hall, I noticed an elderly person, a Pole. I told him I had come from Posen and although to this day I cannot recall exactly how it happened, I do recall that a person behind me was advising me how to answer questions and in fact not to answer all questions. However at the end of my replies to the questions and my discretion I was able satisfactorily obtain an identity document with my name being Sabina Milewska and that I was Roman Catholic and born in Posen of parents with my father's name being Paul and my mother's name being Maria and all others particulars appeared to be satisfactory.
Mrs Ofcharek was satisfied with the identity documents. I also notified my sister, Yitila Milewski, and I gave her all the particulars so that she may also be able to use the same process to get a same identity document. I was mystified as to how other Lowicz Jews escaped the Warsaw and were forced to use the dame route which led to the road which was near the Shop was residing in. However, these Lowicz Jews would recognise me and they transmitted very bad reports regarding my Parents. They appeared to have gathered information through either direct contact with my parents or through my sister who also could get information. My sister Yitila Milewska would send our Family in the Warsaw Ghetto parcels of food and letters.
Yitila stayed with a Polish Teacher earned her keep and enough spare change to purchase food. When people who came passed to give me reports they would make very brief statements in Yiddish for example on one occasion your sister has died then a second occasion your Father died and the a third occasion your Mother died. During the summer these messages were transmitted by the those persons passing by me I would not raise my head to acknowledge the messages as Mrs Ofchareks daughters may realise I was Jewish and that would be fatal. This applied to everyone around me in the Shop who were all either Jew hating poles or Nazi soldiers.
In this case when they gave me regards in Yiddish Jewish then quickly I left the place and I went into the bathroom. There I cried there for a very long time, afterwards I washed my face in order that my tears nobody shall notice my tears. I went out again to play with the little girls as if nothing had happened. Later when my sister came to see me we went in a corner on this large house and together we cried very much knowing that we were left alone and our future is now in our own hands if we will remain alive. Opposite the shop, there was a mill that had been demolished. Most of the workers came to the shop to eat and drink something once, this was summer, and I walked barefoot and my mistress sent me to call the workers to eat and I did not notice that I stepped on a board on which there was a long rusty nail and sustained and injury. My foot had become swollen and I was in a terrible state of shock and pain from the multiple rape. Mrs Ofcharek did not give me any medical help. And I became very sick and I couldn't even work then she asked me to leave the house and to go and live in an empty broken house which was in the middle of the field. I couldn't even walk, but still bit by bit I came there and I stayed there a few hours and I would definitely die over there because I was swollen all over my body and Had a temperature but still my desire to live prevailed and I understood. At this point I was raped all night by two Nazi soldiers and Mr Paul Ofcharek. I realised I had to escape this place go somewhere else as I hardly could walk but still I did my best and I virtually crawled to the main road I collapsed. Eventually a wagon passed by in which there was a non-Jewish woman and she took me and put me on the wagon and she brought me to her farm, it was not far from Sochachew.
Later I was told that this was the wife of Captain (presumably military title in Polish Army) Telinsky of Lowicz. When she took me to her farm, she washed me clean and put a bandage on my foot. A few days later after she had given me some kind of medicine so the temperature disappeared and I was recovering. Mrs Telinsky gave me some work, at the beginning very light work in the house, but after I became better she gave me a job to feed the cows in the field; and though this woman Telinsky I notified my sister where I was located. She came to see me immediately and both of us thought about the situation and searched for a way out to save ourselves. Many people went to the Telinsky farm, farmers and other people. On such a visit, that one farmer told two days ago, the Nazi's caught his daughter and wanted to send her for forced labour, to Germany, and he was very worried and he didn't know how to save his daughter.
I do not know how it happened and exactly why I did this but when I heard this story I I volunteered to go instead of her out of my sense of compassion as a child. This man was very happy about my suggestion, he immediately spoke to the woman Telinsky and he promised to give me some money, buy me shoes and clothes but eventually when the time came he breached his promise and bought for me a pair of shoes and a sweater and a dress instead.
I had not given much thought about the decision I had just made. My only thoughts were to leave Sochachew as I felt I was in real and serious danger ass I witnessed on a daily basis how the Nazi's were shooting even the Jewish Children not far from the bridge and they pushed them into the river or buried them in the field.
I then went to the city council and there was a Polish official - I gave him my documents and told him that I am willing to go to the labour Camp in Germany instead of the other Jewish girl. However, I must point out I was very young and I was very influenced by the distress exhibited by this family.
The Polish official accepted my proposal and he only asked me some questions; once again, he asked me about my parents in Posen? In addition, he made a note of everything; later he took me along with a small group of other girls - kept us for 2 days and finally in a cattle wagon he sent us to Germany. During the journey, we stopped in different camps where the Nazi's were very brutal to us and they beat us. They didn't feed us and finally very tired and hungry, as we arrived at Stuttfurst Neiderschlessien that is 12km from the city Glokow and here they let us out from the cattle wagons and took us to a very big building which was turned into a camp for the first labour from Poland. The supervisor was a woman by the name of Maluche and she cooked for us and overall she was relatively kind to us. The group contained four girls and eleven men. This was summer 1943 and the Nazi Company was called Ekhartz. Our work leader was a Mr Larger and our work was in collecting the resin from the trees from the near forest, apparently for munitions factories. The forest was divided in different parts and numbered and each of us had a special number where to work. We had to put underneath special bowls in which the resin from the trees should come into the bowl and we had to be very careful that the resin was not spilt.
The first day when I was designated this work. I did not understand what I had to do, I sat down close to the railway line, which was close to the forest, and I cried. Suddenly I heard a noise of motorcycle that came close to the railway line and soon the motorbike stopped near me and this was the work supervisor Mr Langner and without saying anything he hit me in my face and he shouted at me and I didn't answer anything because I knew that would make it worse. I only asked him in Polish not to hit me anymore. Luckily one of the railway officials Mr Kutzner passed by and noticed that he was hitting me then he started to shout at him that he got no right to hit a little girl but better to tell her what she's got to do and not to hit her. Mr Langner said something nobody understood, and he took me to the trees and showed me with his hand what I had to do.
Our work supervisor was another elderly man, a Pole from Warsaw, his name was Mr Demsky. He later showed the work process and I made to understand that I must work very hard. The females were forbidden to make close contact with the men from the same camp we could only talk to them from far away. Over there it happened once that there was an elderly woman non-Jewish, who had some business with the French prisoners who were also in the same place. So the Nazi's they hit her terrible in our presence to demonstrate if we were to be close to any man what could happen to us if we wont stick to the camp discipline. Mr Demsky spoke to us four girls and warned us that we would be in danger if we had any connection with the men on the other side of the camp. He also looked after our religion and we had to go twice a day to church and pray. Despite all this I was already used to the work in the forest and I was not in danger but I was longing very much and I thought about my parents and the family who were left in the Warsaw Ghetto.
I dreamed and thought of my family all the time. Once in Sochachew during the night I had a terrible dream that my father was shouting and throwing stones at me asking why I was praying in a church with non-Jews. Apparently in my dream I shouted out of fear oi vei which is a Jewish word and the girl Irena Dankoska from ‘Piasecsne’ who was lying near me and suspected I must be Jewish and in the morning whin I was with her in the corner of the house, she cane t me and with a very angry expression on her face punched me shouted out ..Teesta Juden! .. or You are Jewish!!! I heard you speak Jewish in the middle of the night a Jewish expression, Yes you are a dirty Jew . At first I was stunned and I was flushed but immediately I orientated myself and I said to her, .Irena why are you saying such foolish things . but she repeated again: .yes you are Jewish . I then told her If you say this to me once again then I will tell on you what's going on between you and Janek, you think I don't know . I knew she had some connection with the boy Janek and this was the only threat i could make in defence of myself. When she heard this name she was flushed with embarrassment and started to hit me again because she was afraid. However she didn't say anything or threaten me so I would not inform on her she would be in serious trouble but anyhow it so happened that a few days later she was killed when the Russian Army came from a bomb drop. It was a miracle as it was only a matter of time before this girl would have reported her suspicions of my real Jewish identity.
During my stay in the labour camp I had documents and photos to prove that I was a Christian girl from Posen. In the forest by working and collecting the resin of trees we worked and received a weekly survival ration every Friday and I sent a blanket to my sister after she wrote and told me that she didn't have one to cover her during the night. My sister Yitila, in turn, sent me a suitcase in which I could keep my things.
At the end of summer 1944, one of the girls by the name of Anna Muschalek ran away from the camp because she made arrangements with another girl Irena Darkefska who had a brother in Piasecsne and she wanted to marry him. After Anna ran away from the camp the Gestapo arrived with the labour camp leader Langner for a very strict investigation where Anna Muschalek ran away to and who had helped her. No one admitted to knowing anything, which we'd arranged before, and we said nothing to Mr Demsky the gentiles brought in long wooden benches. We were given lashes until we fainted. Later a row of mail-workers arrived and after giving of us this punishment they left us with blood on our bodies unable to move until some people helped us up and despite of the injuries on our bodies after the lashes. A few days after this happened they sent us to another labour camp and to other places from there. During that time I received a message from Sochachew written by somebody other than my sister, to inform me of my sisters death. A couple came to the house of the Polish teacher where my sister worked; there they found a secret radio, the Nazi's removed all the people from the house, amongst them was my sister, they all were shot to death!
All this bad news had a devastating affect on me. During the nights I constantly cried, and even then I had to be careful that nobody noticed. I was crying I looked into the darkness, thinking about my lot, and how I was left alone, one Jewish daughter from Lowicz, who is living as a Christian girl from Posen. Also knowing that I was the sole survivor from my big family and that I would have to do everything to survive. Later they sent us back to the first labour camp in Stuttforst, Neiderschlession. It was commencement of Spring in 1945 and the information reached us that the Russian Red Army were already close. We heard very strong machine guns, the bombardments getting louder and louder. On one day there was a very heavy bombardment and we were told to go into a bunker that was under the big building and immediately we heard some tanks coming - Soviet tanks. There were also a few horsemen arrived announcing that all Polish citizens may come out from their hiding places because they are free! During the liberation, there were scenes of horrible retribution inflicted by the Russian soldiers such as the raping to death of an innocent young German girl. Our entire group came out from the shelters and we could not believe that we were really free and in the confusion my parcel contained some money and my documents went missing.
I just ran out to the road where there was a Soviet tank, a few horsemen who asked us to run with them because the Nazi's were attacking; we were all running in great confusion and shrapnel was exploding all around us and people fell on the road. Some of them getting killed and the Russian Soldiers were shouting at us to run quicker and quicker in front of their tanks. Nazi warplanes were flying very low and bombing the running people, at one moment a Russian Red Army officer grabbed my hand pulled me into a shelter that was by the road. He covered me with something just as one bomb fell down on the other side of the road. If the Russian Red Army officer had not pulled me off the road, I would have been killed on the spot. We were fortunate to keep clear from the battlefront and we were organised, fed, and given a chance to rest in a city close to the Polish boarder from where I later came to the outskirts city of Warsaw. At the railway station near the city of Warsaw I entered a coal wagon which travelled in the direction of Lowicz.
It was now in April 1945, it was already dark when the train arrived at the station of Lowicz and I could hardly read the writing on the station. I was very excited and it was hard to believe that I had really returned to my place of birth. I didn't know what to expect there and even why I had returned as my whole family was killed, all my friends were dead and I was left alone six years older since I left this city when the Nazi's first began to bomb Lowicz; very carefully I got off the coal-wagon. I was unable to understand or comprehend what situation I was in and how I looked seeing my clothes and face were covered with grime and a train official came to check the wagon with a light. When he saw me he asked who I was and when I told him that I'd been in a labour camp in Germany and that I was originally from Lowicz. I naturally omitted telling him I was a Jew and therefore, he helped me, and escorted me into the station. At the station there were many people on the floor and on the benches with their entire luggage, sleeping. The railway workers gave me a little mirror so I could look at myself and I saw how dirty I was; they gave me some water so I could wash my face and hands and I sat down by a table, very tired, and had a rest, after they fed me and I laid down on a bench to sleep.
In the morning, I arose very confused with a great desire to run to the city, not quite remembering in which direction to run. The railway worker showed me the direction to the city; I took my parcel upon my shoulders and began my return to the streets of Lowicz; from this place my parents and other thousands of Jews were driven out and killed.
I then commenced walking along the quiet streets a fear overcome me. I did not see a living soul until I reached the Middle of the city. It was daytime when I finally reached the ‘New Market Street’ where four years ago there was a brick wall that separated the small ghetto from the other people. I quickly headed in this direction from Pietrekowska Street this place is where we used to live and I hoped that perhaps I would come across some of our neighbours or some people I knew. Eventually at the corner of the street I met up with the butcher who used to be our neighbour and now owned a Jewish shop. I approached him and greeted him but he looked at me like he recognises me at all. Six years ago I was nine years old and played with hid little girls and now I was already fifteen years old and had already been through so many difficulties. I told him who I was, however he pretended not to know me and was very unfriendly and abrupt to me. He did however invite me into his house where his two daughters lived and he told them who I was, upon which they totally avoided me. I felt very upset and felt the urge to cry but I did not want to cry in their presence. I asked them about this Mr Leschnefsky, and where he lived prior to the war. My parents used to receive some money from London and from other relatives, Mr Leschnefsky, a blacksmith used to exchange currency for Polish zlotys and we had been very friendly. I thought that I'd look him up and perhaps he'd be more hospitable to me than others, particularly as he could write to my brother in London for assistance. But before I went to this blacksmith, Mr Leschnefsky I decided to first go to the house where we lived to see what had happened to it. However when I arrived there I hardly recognised the place because only the front wall existed and all the houses were demolished and ruined and it looked like a deserted place, not lived in, but more like a cemetery.
I cried a lot when I witnessed the destruction that did not leave a bit of the house where I was born and raised. Once I was more relaxed I went to see Mr Leschnefsky and I met him in this smutty place, he did not recognise me at first. When I enquired after the well-being of his wife and family and that I'd like to talk to his wife he told me that she was still in bed. I went to her and when I asked her if she recognised me she replied ‘no’. When I told her who I was she said ‘Oh, you are the daughter of Farvel Milewski’. Then I asked her if I could remain with her until my brother could bring me to London- she only answered . there are only a few Jewish people living in Lowicz but she did not know their names. She got up and brought me some water with which to wash my hands and face and she allowed me to lay down and have a little sleep. I got up and helped her with some housework.
Later again I was designated to herd the pigs in the field and I felt that the atmosphere was getting worse, it was very painful for me. One day I went with a neighbour's daughter to a cinema in the place they called the Automat. Then we met a police officer by the name of Mr Bieleski on the way a Lowicz and when I told him who I was, he delivered the news to Joseph Szmekura. Joseph Szmekura had a little shop in the same street where he shared with two other Jews. This Joseph Szmekura immediately arrived and delivered me to the Jewish families where I felt very much safe and secure. They gave me everything and looked after my health and they taught me again how to read and speak Yiddish, the language of my parents who were killed - tragically in the holocaust. Despite our age difference of some 15 years I was eventually married to Mr Josef Hersz Szmekura on the 21st March 1946
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