Chava Konkol-Kanarek (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Sara Mages
It was Friday, 1 September 1939, when the war broke out. On that Sabbath eve German planes passed over my hometown Serock. They flew low and cast heavy shadows and great terror. The first four days of the war passed in great fear, and on the fifth day we tasted its first taste. On the same day the city was bombed and in this bombing we lost our oldest brother, Shmuel zl. Our entire family quickly fled to the other side of the Narew River.
After the conquest of the city by the Germans all of us returned to Serock because the bombings ceased, the shots fell silent and silence prevailed. However, a few days later the Germans ordered all the Jewish men to gather in the Great Synagogue. Only the elderly returned to the families who waited for their loved ones. All the young men were taken from there and expelled to Germany. That day my older brother, Moshe Kanarek, didn't return to our home.
A short time later, all the Jews, including my five sisters, were expelled from Serock to Biała- Podlaska. My parents and I weren't among the deportees because at that time we were with my aunt in the village of Zatori across the Narew River. When the news of the expulsion reached us we headed to my aunt, my mother's sister, who lived in Wołomin.
My aunt received us well, but the concern for my sisters didn't leave us for a moment. My aunt, who felt sorry for us, traveled to Biała- Podlaska and brought all my sisters with her.
Again we were together at my aunt's house. It was good to be together, but we were forced to separate because my aunt couldn't support us all. Then we knew the hunger which began to plague us. Mother had another sister who lived in the village of Wieliszew near Zegrze. Therefore, my sister Chana and I traveled to this aunt. Her husband was a tailor and we helped him with his work. A short time later our mother came to Wieliszew, and then my sisters Masha and Leah. Since there wasn't enough room at my aunt's house, we rented a small narrow room in a Polish woman's hut and lived there. It wasn't long before the whole family joined us, and all of us huddled together in the small and narrow room - only to be together.
We lived in Wieliszew until 1940. In October of the same year we were expelled to Ludwisin Ghetto near Legionowa. In the ghetto we suffered from constant hunger and feared annihilation.
Every day my mother and sisters tried to sneak into the nearby village to try to exchange the remainder of our shabby clothes for bread, potatoes or other food items. When they were lucky, we had something to eat and the great hunger ceased for a short time.
At that time I left the ghetto and went to my Polish woman who lived in the village. The Polish woman was kind to me and I stayed with her for about ten months. The police learned about it, came to arrest me and sentenced me to death. They let me go after I cried and pleaded, but under the condition that I would return to the ghetto. I returned to the ghetto.
A bitter cold prevailed in the winter of 1941. We didn't have wood or other materials for heating. In addition to hunger and fear we also suffered from the intense cold that penetrated the bones. Father couldn't see us tormented by the cold, and under mortal danger went to the nearby forest to collect firewood. Once he got caught and was beaten all over his body. He returned wounded and bleeding, fell ill and never recovered. Without food, medical help and medicines - my father died on 19 March 1941.
In one of the cold autumn days, in one of the Sabbath of 1942, large buses arrived to the ghetto at five o'clock in the morning - to expel and liquidate the ghetto. My family managed to escape from the ghetto to the nearby forest. Two hundred Jews were shot and killed on the spot. Only a few escaped and the rest were deported. I, and ten other people, hid in a cellar. We were in the cellar for the entire Sabbath. As evening fell we sneaked from the cellar and each one of us turned in a different direction.
I walked three kilometers to my Polish woman's house. I knocked on her door and she opened it for me. When she saw me she wrung her hands, crossed herself and called out - how did you manage to survive this hell? She gave me food and drink, and when I recovered she told me that my mother and my little sister Leah are in this village and they're looking for me. The Polish woman's son immediately went, under the order of his mother, to find them and a short time later brought them to me.
We stayed with this Polish woman only three days. In the middle of the night we had to leave because rumors have already started to spread that Jews are hiding at Jaworoska's house.
We fled to the forest. In broad daylight lay in various hideouts and at night we went out to look for food. We were in the forest for three weeks, in hunger, cold and fear. Another blow plagued us in the forest - lice. The tiny varmints didn't leave us for a moment.
After three weeks of wanderings, filled with sufferings and hardship, we had no other choice but to try and return to the Polish woman. When she saw us again before her, she got scared and horrified. She immediately locked the door and took us to the attic.
She brought us food, water, clothes and a dense teeth comb.
We hid for three days and three nights in the attic. On the fourth day the Polish woman said that she's couldn't support us all, but she's willing to take one of the girls. Since I was in grave danger because of my prominent Jewish facial features and since I used to live with the Polish woman - I was chosen to stay.
My mother and my little sister Leah left and reached Warsaw. Mother's Polish friends, who lived in the suburb of Praga, hid them for several days but they couldn't stay there because they were afraid of the Germans and Polish informers. One day, as they wandered hungry in one of Praga's streets, they saw an elderly woman with a trustworthy appearance who held a package in her hand. My mother dared to ask her for a piece of bread for the girl. The woman didn't hesitate, opened the package, which contained her meal for work, gave it to my mother and said: if you want, give me the girl and I'll bring her up at my home. My mother was very happy, gave my little sister to the Polish woman and received her address in exchange for her daughter. With stinging tears in her eyes she watched her little daughter walking away with the Polish woman. She stood for a long time in place - stood and couldn't move. The girl also turned every few steps to mother, and their gaze met through a double screen of flowing tears. It was the last time that they saw each other. Later, mother came back to the village and told me what had happened to her and my little sister. She gave me the address of the girl's guardian and I corresponded with my sister through my Polish woman.
The winter of 1943 has come. Mother was with me all the time but we had no food and we suffered greatly from hunger. Also the good Polish woman and her 12 year old son endured famine. Every evening, at sunset, mother went out to look for food. When she was lucky she returned with something hidden under her clothes, but most of the time she returned with nothing. After the spring thaw mother moved to the home of an acquaintance in the same village.
Sometime later, my mother met aunt Tova from Wieliszew. My aunt lived for some time with her two little children in the surrounding hills and groves. After she met my mother they were together, but it didn't last long. In May a manhunt was carried out in the area, my aunt's two little children were abducted, and probably shared the fate of all the Jewish children in Poland.
My mother and my aunt managed to escape from the manhunt, but because of the circumstances they separated three weeks later - each to her own fate. My mother's fate was to fall victim to a Polish informer who handed her over to the Germans. She was arrested, and didn't return. My aunt, on the other hand, lives today in the United States.
I stayed with my Polish woman until the autumn of 1944. I didn't see sunlight since the end of the summer of 1942. I hid days and nights, without air and light, because all the villagers knew me. They weren't allowed to know that I was staying with the Polish woman for fear of denunciation.
When the Russian troops approached the environments of Warsaw the German authorities started to expel the Polish population from many locations. The Polish woman and her family were among the deportees, and I joined them. I covered my head and face with a scarf so, God forbid, no one will recognize me. The German policemen led us by foot, a distance of thirty kilometers, to the other side of Warsaw, to an industrial area.
It was already evening when we approached the destination of our difficult walk. A great fear fell upon me because of the danger that the Germans will find out that I was Jewish we get to the place. Also the Polish woman, who walked with me the whole way, contracted my fear. Therefore, three kilometers from the factories we escaped from the rows and hid.
The next day all the deportees were sent to work in Germany, and by miracle I was saved from this fate.
From there we walked to Pruszków because my Polish woman had acquaintances there. We were there only a short time and traveled to Częstochowa. From there we planned to travel back to Warsaw, but I never got there because a manhunt was carried out midway. All the young people were abducted to dig excavations. At that time I was already 21 - old enough to be abducted. All the pleas and tears of my Polish woman didn't help. I was among the many abductees. I was led under a heavy guard, together with other abductees, to the prison in Piotrków and from there to work in Sulejow.
I was abducted and led to work as a Christian Pole. When I was the village my Polish woman altered my appearance. My hair was bleached and also the color of my eyebrows and eyelashes was changed. I had a proper identification card. My name was Krisztina Leszczyński - I was born in Poznan and, according to the card, I was legally baptized as a Christian
at the holy church of the Virgin Mary. My last place of residence was 12 Stalowa Street, Praga. All of this was written and signed in my papers and well etched in my memory so, God forbid, I'll never forget or make a mistake in one of the details. I spoke fluent Polish and my Polish accent was flawless. This card stood for me at time of trouble and more than once saved me from extinction.
When I was brought to Sulejow the work supervisors asked me all sorts of questions: about my education, knowledge and profession. When I stayed with the Polish woman I learned to type on a typewriter. I told them that I was a typist. Therefore, I was assigned to work at the office. I typed the lists of those who were abducted for work.
I worked at the office for two months in constant fear, and in the immediate vicinity of my supervisors. I couldn't stand the burden of this fear, and asked to be transferred to work in the kitchen which was outside the camp. I worked in this kitchen, together with five Polish women, until we were librated by the Russian Army in 16 January 1945.
Even after the liberation I wasn't able to reveal my Judaism and origin. As a Pole I slept at the home of the Polish woman Piechotowa and I had to pretend that I was a devout Christian. I said a prayer every evening and went to church every Sunday. I stayed with this Polish woman a month after the liberation, and also when I left her she didn't know that I was Jewish.
A month after my release I arrived to Lodz and only there I met other Jews. From an acquaintance I learned that my two young sisters, Masha and Feiga, are alive and live in Biała- Podlaska.
Soon after, I began to correspond with Tova and Chana who were in Germany. With the help of the Jewish committee in Praga I learned that my little sister lives at the home of the Polish woman who received her from my mother. One day, I also received the news that my second brother was in the army and that a letter arrived from him to Serock.
With joy I also received the news that my townsman Konkol, my future husband, was among the survivors.
Shortly after, all the survivors of our family, apart from our parent and older brother who perished in the great destruction, were found and gathered. Now, when I'm in Israel with my husband and my two sons, I wonder about the road of tribulations and the hell of the years of terror.
by Itkah Miedownik (United States)
Translated by Ruth Kilner
Several years before the outbreak of the Second World War, I was living in Warsaw, the capital. With the increase in tension in 1939, I couldn't shake the feeling that war would break out soon, and I advised everyone to stockpile foodstuffs. I remember that then, I had a horrific nightmare about war and the atrocities suffered in wartime: the vision of this dream proved to be a cruel and freakish prophecy that would be fulfilled. I dreaded the upcoming horrors, but I hadn't estimated the extent of the terror.
War broke out. I worried and feared for my family, from whom I remained far.
Before travelling to Serock, Dr. Frieda Epstein told me that an explosion had hit Yaakov Rosenberg's house, and dozens of lives had been lost including Yaakov, Henya and Estusha Rosenberg (Avraham was at the front of the house), Chaya Schwartz and her husband and children, and many more.
I was relieved to see that all my family was alive and they still had something to eat. The Germans forced them to work, but at least they initially also fed them. No-one was sure what tomorrow would bring. I was very afraid for the fate of my relatives. As long as I controlled my worry, I knew that I would be able to adjust to any situation. I was very brave; I didn't fear the Gestapo or anyone else. I seemed to simply generate miracles: more than once I found myself in the lion's den.
The first time I traveled to Serock after the German occupation, there were widespread rumors that everyone will be deported. Fear gripped us all, but no-one had any advice. Rumor had it that some people had started to escape from Serock. I returned to Warsaw since I needed to support myself and my family. I was offered employment positions in several different German offices in Warsaw, including Brühl Palace, since I knew German. But I didn't want to work for the Germans, and I supported myself by selling personal clothing.
On December 5th, 1939, I prepared myself to travel once again to Serock to bring back several items. At that time, Serock had been annexed to East Prussia and acted as the border between the General Government and East Prussia. I travelled as far as Legionowo, and as I prepared to enter the train that went to Zegrze, I met Leibel Wellensky. He asked me, Where are you headed? I answered him, To Serock, to which he told me, There is no reason to go; no-one is left there. No-one. Everyone was deported at 4 o'clock this morning. Despite these bitter tidings, I wanted to go, but he held on tightly to me and used force to stop me from going. In the end, he convinced me, and didn't go. I started to run around frantically, asking if anyone
knew to where they had been deported. I received different answers: some people said that in Rembertów, they heard the deportees shouting, and that they were deported to Nasielsk. I immediately got onto the train that went to Nowy Dwór, and on the way, I kept asking about the deportees until we arrived at Nasielsk. At that station, a German officer approached me and started talking to me. In all likelihood, he wanted to gain my attentions as a brave man, and he immediately started off by telling me that his job is very interesting. Today, we got rid of the Jews, to which I responded, How could you do that to those poor people? He responded, Are Jews really considered people? What else could I have said to him? I diplomatically managed to extract from him the fact that the Jews of Nasielsk were rounded up together with Jews from other cities and deported beyond Ciechanow. At Nasielsk station, there were many signs of the tragedy strewn around: I saw pieces of clothing, prayer books, phylacteries, and the like. I immediately travelled to Ciechanow. There I asked, as though I had no personal agenda, about the deportees. I learned that they brought several people through Mlawa. Unfortunately, I had to sit for a full night at the Ciechanow train station since there were no connections. Several gendarmes, who were on night duty at the train station, took me to the hut where they sat and warmed themselves round a fire. Their faces were dreadful, and awoke fear deep within me, but they were kind to me, since I spoke to them in German. I knew how to mislead the biggest villains, and this helped me in the future through my life more than once in the years to come. From Ciechanow, I travelled to Mlawa, where they told me that the deported Jews had travelled through Mlawa and on to Działdowo. I travelled to Działdowo, but found no traces of them. I returned to Legionowo, where I learned from friends that information had arrived about the Jews of Serock; that they were in Lukow, Miedzyrzec, and Biala Podlaska. I immediately travelled to Lukow where I found my mother, my sister Leah Weitz and her children, my sister Gittel, and many friends. First and foremost, I gave them a few zloty before I travelled on to Biala Podlaska to search for the rest of my family. In Biala Podlaska, I found my father, my sister Pessel, and my brother with his wife and children everyone. I can't begin to describe how that meeting with everyone felt, because of my sheer and utter excitement. However, the moment I spotted my sick father, lying down on some hay on the ground, my pain and grief felt no bounds. There were 20 people living in the dingy and dirty house. Even before they had arrived, there were evacuees from Suwalki and other villages had been living there. The tragedy that I watched unfolding before my eyes cannot be described. It made a terrible impression on me, seeing these masses of people with the yellow star upon their clothes. I heard firsthand all that had befallen them: I heard how they had been taken for three days in sealed carriages, without any food, without any water; how the children licked the dew from the windows to satisfy their thirst but that was only the start of the tragedy. They also suffered from several beatings. Those who found themselves with a few zloty were beaten until they lost consciousness. Since the people of Serock
had expected the deportation, they all tried according to their means and abilities to gather and hide some money. My sister Gittel took silver 5-zloty coins and turned them into buttons, which she sewed onto her dress. The Germans discovered this, and she was beaten according to the number of buttons she had. My nephew Yaakov Weitz only hid a single zloty in his pocket; the Germans took his zloty and punished him with a dreadful beating.
I couldn't waste any time; I had to do something. The first thing I did was to unite my family in Biala Podlaska so it was easier for me to help them all. Their living conditions were shocking. My heart had splintered into shards, but there was nothing that I could do then and there to help. Many deportees from Serock started leaving the place to which they had been deported. Some people managed to escape to Warsaw or elsewhere, but the vast majority remained in Biala Podlaska.
Things had gotten a little better for the Rosenberg family since Rivkale started to work as book-keeper in the flour mill. The flour mill belonged to a Polish family friend, Jan Korlevski. Old Rosenberg and his son Feivel earned some money by working at the mill. Faige also worked and earned some money. They helped others, but couldn't feed everyone. In the beginning, they had a nice apartment, but then they lost it. I travelled to visit family in Łódź, and I asked them for some clothes and bedding for my parents. I filled a large sack with all the items I got in Łódź and I brought it all to Biala Podlaska. I was happy that my elderly parents would now be able to sleep; to rest their heads on a pillow, and cover themselves with a blanket. I dressed them, gave them plenty of clothing and bedding and then I returned back to Warsaw.
The Jews were persecuted at every step. There were laws that Jews were to wear white ribbons with a blue star. I didn't wear one; I knew that as a Jewess, I wouldn't be able to support myself or my family. I looked for, and found, a room to board with an Aryan family, and registered under a false name with Łódź as my place of residence. At that point, identification cards were not yet mandatory. As an Aryan, I was accepted into the apartment. By now, Poles were not renting rooms to Jews. This was at the start of 1940. People I knew were trying to sell their jewelry (gold, diamonds, and so on), and I acted as the broker for large transactions. I traded with Henech Hochman. I did not earn too badly, but I had many obligations. I was in constant contact with my family. I sent them money and parcels. When my sister later came to Warsaw with her children, she found a temporary refuge with her sister-in-law Chaimovitz, who lived at 46 Novolipki Street. In Biala Podlaska, the lice simply ate the children, and she could no longer cope with the situation.
The entire burden of supporting my family lay upon my shoulders; I had to support the family in Biala Podlaska,
and my sister and her children in Warsaw. I also had another two sisters in Warsaw. I went hungry more than once so the children could eat. The children appreciated it, and every time I visited, they said, You are our most beloved aunt. Were it not for you, we would have starved long ago. And they were right.
In the meantime, the remainder of my family moved from Łódź to Warsaw. The Germans would rob the Jews of their luggage along the way, so I took their possessions and expensive clothing on the train with me. Their furs, I wore.
One time, a pure-bred Polish woman travelled with me. They thought she was a Jewess, and made her strip, examined her, and took away all her possessions. All my Aryan friends suffered from the Germans' suspicion that there was a Jewess among them.
Once, a German gendarme suspected that I was a Jewess. It was in early 1940 and I was walking with my friend Dr. Malkovich along Marszałkowska Street. The gendarme's suspicions were arisen because Dr. Malkovich was wearing the white patch, but I wasn't. He stopped me with these words, You are a Jewess. Show me your photo identity card. I kept my head, and I took an old insurance card from before the war out of my wallet, as that was the only identification paper I had. When I showed him the identity card, I spoke to him in German, and said, Here are my papers; do you really think that I am a Jewess? Please think. Does my walking with a Jew really mean that I must be one too? The gendarme was confused, blessed me, and said, Forgive me, Fräulein, I made a mistake. He didn't even look at my papers, although I thrust it right under his nose.
I am certain that the Germans would have been unable to catch me if it were not for a Polish informer who brought me to the Gestapo.
Although I must admit that there were Poles that helped to save Jews, there were many, many Poles who informed on Jews to the Gestapo.
My cousin, who was the manager at the Jewish bank in Łódź, lived in Warsaw and had to manage his businesses to support his family and keep them alive. He was unable to travel personally, because Jews were forbidden to travel on buses or trains, so I acted as his emissary, and was obviously compensated with a handsome salary.
I always walked about around the German mail buses between Warsaw and Tomaszow Mazowiecki, laden with cash. I took on all sorts of work simply to support my family. My mother, father, and sisters Pessel and Gittel had moved to Łomazy, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Biala Podlaska. My sister Pessel managed to earn some pennies from sewing. During this period, people were still relatively happy and enjoying some freedom. Oh, alas for that freedom! It was pure heaven compared to the terrible days that came after.
In early 1941, the Germans established the ghetto in Warsaw. To begin with, the ghetto was open and people could come and go freely.
Then, business slowly dwindled and I had to take a job in a private German office. My whole life was split between my work, rushing to and from the ghetto, and maintaining contact with Biala Podlaska and Łomazy: I was there every holiday.
The train only ran as far as Biala Podlaska. From there to Łomazy 18 kilometers (11 miles) I had to walk on foot, often in the frost and the freezing cold wind. I recall one dreadful journey around Christmastime 1941. When I returned from Łomazy to the train station in Biala Podlaska, a strong, freezing cold wind tossed me about like a ball. I caught a chill, and suffered from a high fever, but I somehow came out of it safely. I was terrified to fall ill, because if I got sick it would mean the end of my family.
The day they closed the Warsaw Ghetto was the hardest point of my life. It happened on the 15th of November, 1941. I could not bear the thought that I would no longer be able to see my sister and her children. Their meagre food rations quickly dwindled, and I did my best to provide whatever was missing. I kept in constant contact with Dr. Sonja Pilkenfeld, daughter of Yeshayahu Rosenberg and cousin to Avraham Rosenberg, who lived at 1a Zielna Street. Although this house was within the ghetto, its rear windows, half of which were covered in bricks, faced the Aryan side. In the evenings, I stood below the window and Dr. Sonja lowered me down a basket on a long rope, I filled it with food items, and then it was pulled back up.
This went on for some time. I spoke to my family on the telephone, and we worked out a system of signs so we could arrange when to pass the food through the window that overlooked the Aryans. Using these signs, we worked out how and when it would be convenient to see one another.
To begin with, we arranged meetings by the ghetto wall at the junction of Smolna Street and the Mirovski Market. The fence there was made of wood, and there were holes between the boards. My sister's children always came there; they would thrust their hands through the slits, and I would fill them with whatever I could, and we would exchange a few hurried words. I had to be brave, and I could not cry, because my tears would arouse the attention of the Aryans.
All this happened right in front of the gendarmes. Sometimes, I would even manage to get their permission to go inside the ghetto. I concocted all sorts of excuses: for example, that I had taken a garment to be mended by one of the Jews, and I had to pick it up, otherwise I would lose it. I promised the gendarmes that I would return immediately, and I always kept my promise. I entered the ghetto, walked a few steps through, and went into one of the houses on Smolna Street, where I quickly passed my sister some bread and sugar, etc. We exchanged a few words, and I left again through the guard's gate.
At those times, if it was necessary I could display a German work permit. I didn't have any other papers. In contrast to all those around me, at no point during the occupation did I have Aryan Papers. I never had the sums of money needed to pay for a set of papers that would testify that I was at least four or five generations pure. I did have a forged birth certificate, although I never used it. I knew to show nothing in preference to a certificate like that. At any rate, I had never needed to show Aryan papers.
Any time I started a new job, I was never asked to show papers testifying to my Aryan roots, because I was always recommended by Aryan women, and no doubts were ever aroused as to my racial legitimacy. I should mention that those who recommended me never knew the truth of my real roots.
I met with my sisters and my cousin from Łódź in the court building on Leszno Street. The Jews entered the building from Leszno Street, and the Aryans entered from Biała Street. This was a very dangerous meeting place, and spies lurked at every step in the corridors. I didn't think about this, and brought parcels, bread, and money. In these corridors, in front of German eyes, I passed these gifts to my family. It was not easy to take things from the court into the ghetto, because when the Jews left the court building, they were examined thoroughly. They had to hide everything well under the bricks, and to take out new things each time. These corridors were our main meeting place once telephone contact with the ghetto had been cut off completely.
Bad news arrived from time to time from Biala Podlaska and Łomazy, and I felt like I was living in purgatory. Hundreds of people passed by my office each day, and I was certain that one day an undesirable client would come in and expose me until finally the dreaded day arrived. A German-Polish client by the name of Jan Michaelik from Serock appeared in my office, after which the blackmail immediately started. His wife started blackmailing me over the telephone. As a result, I fell sick, with a fever of 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit). My family knew nothing about this blackmail otherwise they would have feared for my life.
The situation in the ghetto worsened every day. People died by the thousands from hunger. I advised my sister, Leah, to return to Biala Podlaska or Łomazy with her children.
The court building on Leszno Street was turned into a German hospital, and ceased to be a meeting place. Most of the ways to gain access into the ghetto were blocked up: I had to find a new way. I started to go via the roofs of the nearby houses. I penetrated the ghetto in the middle of
the night via the roof of the house at 52 Złota Street. I came out on Sienna Street and I visited my whole family. I put on the special Jewish symbol, since it was dangerous for an Aryan to wander the streets of the Jewish ghetto. I had to smuggle my sister Leah's bedding and other belongings out of the ghetto, and take them to Łomazy. With a sack full of items, I walked back over the rooftops and was caught by some Polish informers. They let me go for a substantial sum of money.
I took the items to Leah in Łomazy personally. My heart broke when I looked upon the white faces of my family. I had done all I could for them; I helped them even when it put my own life in danger. They all remembered how I gave them loaves of bread through the ghetto fence, right in front of the gendarmes. At first there had been fences, then walls sprung up in their place, and walls of terror around them It was hard for me to live, my family's terror, the insecurity, hopeless lives all of this crushed me and I worried that I wouldn't be able to hold out.
At Christmastime, 1941, I travelled to Biala Podlaska and Łomazy. The degenerate poverty in which my brother, sister-in-law and their children lived (they lived in the synagogue) is indescribable. Their faces were filthy, bloated and infected. My heart broke with the sight of them, although it wasn't only my relatives that lived in these conditions: there were many, many more people in the same position.
When I arrived in Łomazy on foot, I found my sister Gittel critically sick with typhus and everyone walking around in shock. I knew that everyone could be infected with this accursed disease, because they all slept together. Gittelle was dying, but occasionally she recovered consciousness and I would comfort her, and she begged of me, Itke, get out of here. Otherwise you'll catch my sickness. You must stay alive!
I brought the local doctor, Dr. Kaszminski, to see her and to bring her medicine for free, as she had no money. Dr. Kashminski was a kind man who helped others.
There was no ghetto in Łomazy until very late on, and the Jews were able to move around relatively freely.
With a broken heart, I returned to Warsaw. After some time, I received notice that my sister's situation in Łomazy had improved a little, but my second sister, Pessel, had fallen ill. Everyone was infected with typhus. I made sure to keep my connection to them strong.
From Biala Podlaska and Łomazy, I received letters to the address of my friend, Zophia Prunchek, 42 Złota Street, who would from time to time go into the ghetto and take food to friends.
It was dangerous for me to receive letters from my parents to my own address. I sent
them money and parcels to the address of Kowalski, the Polish owner of the flour mill in Łomazy. He would sometimes give them a little flour or some groats.
The news that came from Biala Podlaska and Łomazy was frightening, each and every time. Reginka Rosenberg also wrote to me.
Shortly before Passover, 1942, my father died. Two weeks later, so did my mother. My sisters didn't mention this in their letters. Then I stopped receiving letters from Biala Podlaska and Łomazy. In early summer 1942, I received my sisters' last letters, in which they told me not to send them anything, because they didn't know what any day would bring. I could sense what was coming, and that was when the mass slaughter of the Jews started. It was impossible for me to travel there to see them, because I couldn't leave my work. In August 1942 or September 1942 Kowalski, the miller from Łomazy (a Polish man, who once worked in Moshe Rosenberg's mill in Serock) came to Warsaw, and I met with him. At first, he wouldn't speak, but eventually he told me everything: On July 7th, 1942, all the Jews had been expelled from Łomazy: 1900-2000 people were herded into the Łomazy forest, and all were murdered. They were all buried in a mass grave, including many who were buried alive.
That same summer, the Jews in Biala Podlaska were massacred. I don't know the exact date, but I believe it was the same month of the same year: July 1942.
Until today, I can't describe what happened to me that day. I remember that on the night of July 6th, 1942 I had a dreadful nightmare. I woke up after hearing the calls and cries of my sisters and their children. Irenka! Irenka! Save me! I am certain that my dearly beloved relatives died with my name upon their lips.
I couldn't accept the idea that I was now alone in the world, and I hoped that I would yet find survivors from my family.
At the end of December, around Christmastime 1942, I visited the killing fields of Biala Podlaska and Łomazy. In Łomazy, I did not find a single live soul. I arrived in front of the small home in which my parents had lived, and I fell into a dead faint. To this day, I don't know for how long I laid in the snow unconscious. I awoke, and arrived back to Biala Podlaska with great difficulty. When I arrived, I learned that the Jews were deported in haste, with the Germans shooting at them like ducks. The Poles also played a part in this murder. The Pole Marian Wolenski, who served in the criminal police force and was originally from Czestochowa particularly excelled at this. He also informed on me to the Gestapo; told them that I was a Jewess, but a good friend vouched for me and told them I was her cousin. Kowalski told me that even after liquidation of the ghetto in Biala Podlaska, he received a letter from Faige Rosenberg-Cohen (daughter of Moshe Rosenberg) from Miedzyrzecz. I read the note myself, in which she requested the small sum of money that the miller from Miedzyrzecz who now lived in Biala
Podlaska owed her. We had not yet managed to respond to her when all traces of her disappeared.
The last news of Old Rosenberg (Moshe) and Feivel, his son, came from Terespol. We surmised that they had managed to escape, but they since had disappeared.
Indeed, the end had come for Biala Podlaska and Łomazy. The tragedy had left its mark on me. I had to be courageous, and I could not cry in the light of day. However, I wept through the night without respite and without constraint, and thoughts of the inhumane suffering tortured me.
I remained in contact with the Warsaw ghetto until the last moment. The news came that came from the ghetto worsened every time. About my sister in the Warsaw ghetto, I heard nothing.
I heard that the Stashalkovsky family (a large Polish family from Serock), who lived in Warsaw during the war, had sent food parcels to Leah Horowitz in Majdanek for a period of time. It was from them that I heard how the Kipperbaum family had been lost. The way I heard it, Old Kipperbaum (who owned the wine store in Serock) called out in an insane voice, Let me take a bite to eat out of the cupboard. I met Sara (Sabina) and Regina (Rivka) Kipperbaum more than once on the Aryan side. They were selling candies. I think and assume that Sabina managed to survive. All my family in Warsaw and Łódź were killed.
I went through some tragic times in 1943; when the ghetto burned, who could have felt my pain?
I continued working. On March 2nd, 1944, a Polish detective by the name of Jak arrested me next to the tram stop and took me to the Gestapo on Szucha Boulevard. What I felt then can only be understood by people who were arrested then. In brief, none of the Gestapo agents could understand how Jak dared to arrest me on the street, because they were all convinced that I wasn't a Jewess. Sturmführer Brandt himself, head of the department called me to him and personally examined the build of my body, especially my head and nose; he spun me round to look from every side: was it straight, the correct angle, and a non-Semitic shape. I didn't appear to have a Semitic shape; it was a Mongolian type.
I also had to take a Roman Catholic test on religion. I didn't do very well on this test. Throughout the examination I remained quiet; brave; I smiled. The Gestapo agent asked me, How can you smile in a situation like this? Do you not know what awaits you? Throughout this ordeal, I heard compliments from the Gestapo agents, Smart lady, Intelligent woman.
The situation got worse, but at the last moment I was helped by a man who worked for the Gestapo: a Jewish man who went by the false name Lobo (I also knew his family name, although I forgot it). His name was Ignatz, Master of Law. He was asked by Brandt if my Polish accent was
good and pure. Lobo confirmed that my accent was excellent and correct. The Gestapo agents admitted themselves that my German accent was very good.
I spoke to them without an interpreter. Lobo advised me to admit to Brandt that I was of mixed race. Mixed race class A. I listened to him, and I told this to Brandt. On this basis, I was freed, but ordered to report to him again after one month. I was mentally broken and devastated, but I continued to work. Friends advised me to run away as soon as I could. Lobo pleaded with me to report and to explain that I still didn't have my father's papers. I explained that my father was an Aryan, but my mother was a Jewess. People of mixed race were treated as Aryans, but I had to prove the Aryan ancestry of one parent.
I listened to Lobo, and on April 10th, I reported to the Gestapo offices on Szucha Boulevard. I showed them my certification and the official letters from Łódź that included the request to send me my father's papers. All of this was very little.
My friends left me, as though forever, because they did not believe I would come out of there alive. I felt like I was walking straight into the lion's den. And indeed, they stood there ready to arrest me. Lobo ran to and fro between Brandt's room and that of his secretary; he was irritated, but tried to comfort me, and said to me, Don't worry, you'll get out of here. I am responsible, and you will get out of here. You have so much courage, you need to be free.
I waited in the room in terror. I expected death. At one point, the secretary returned from Brandt and walked into the room, and said to me, So, Fräulein, you're staying here? I replied to him, I am always happy to be around intelligent people. Then he asked me, Are you not frightened? You are technically free, but you must report here every two days.
I never once reported. Lobo told me over the telephone that I had to disappear. I disappeared, and that's when my hell began. Usually, friendships diminish in times of disaster. I left Warsaw for a while, but I returned after about a month. I had nowhere to live; I couldn't wander round the streets of Warsaw, because so many people recognized me. My life was indeed bitter. I was told that the Gestapo was searching for me, and they were very angry with me. One of my friends introduced me to someone, who under normal circumstances I wouldn't have even looked at, but at this point, I was desperate for help.
I could probably have taken steps within a certain class of society and had false papers made. I had to change my papers, and register somewhere, but this hooligan, Henrik Gorzinski, extorted close to 3,000 zloty from me, for which he made me nothing. Instead of papers,
he started to intimidate me. That was not his real name. He forged false papers for himself, each time under a different identity.
One month, I lived with Zophia Pranchek, 42 Złota, without being registered until she found herself being put under pressure and threatened for helping Jews.
Jackals disguised as human beings started to turn a profit from the tragedies of their fellow man, and I was one of their victims. At this time, I was offered significant help by Mark Fischer, a friend from my study bench, the son of one of the professors at the political gymnasium. He procured papers for me, together with 500 zloty each month from the Jewish Committee. There, I appeared as Sara Goldmecher. I had no idea if he was alive or not; all traces of him had disappeared. I also got a few hundred zloty from my friend Heinz Stanislav Jadobon. I also have no information about him he had simply disappeared.
My life had no value. In July, I left Warsaw and I stayed in one village with friends, but the ground burned beneath my feet and at the end of the month, I returned to Warsaw weak, nervous, and resigned to my fate.
On August 1st, 1944, rebellion broke out in Warsaw, which I encouraged with my whole being. I hoped that from this moment, I would no longer be hunted like an animal.
My hope was proved false. After suppressing the rebellion, the troubles increased. I wandered from place to place until January 1945, when Warsaw was conquered by the Polish army.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Serock, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 14 Jun 2014 by MGH