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Chapter XIV

Youngsters aboard the Children train

The children arrived in Prague where the atmosphere was relaxed. They toured the city, namely Jewish sites. The organizers were busy keeping the children busy and active. Some of the children even began to tell their live stories.

 

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David (Danielski) Danieli at the Zabrze Orphanage, 1946[1]

David Danieli

David Danielski (his surname was later changed to Danieli) was born in 1932 in the hamlet of Pszczyna. His father Max or Maximilian was a pastry baker. The family soon moved to the bigger township of Rybnik in Silesia. Here the father opened a bakery in the center of the city. He was rather successful, for the family had a maid and the apartment was well furnished, including a piano. His mother Hannah had liked antiques and collected them. The parents bestowed a great deal of attention on the boy, for his older brother Sasha had died in 1928. Still, the parents insisted that David should be independent and able to defend himself when the need arose.

David does not remember much about the family or their friends. He remembers attending services on a few occasions at the main synagogue that was very crowded. He particularly remembers that his mother gave him a flag with an apple on top of it before he went to the synagogue; apparently it was the holiday of Simhat Torah. Of course, he spent most of the time playing with the other children in the courtyard. The family was not religious although it belonged to the Jewish community center.

The new order in Germany expressed itself in Rybnik with the appointment of a German supervisor over the bakery. Max Danielski continued to work at the place but as a worker. The real owner of the place was the appointed supervisor but he permitted David's father to work there. Then the family was forced to move to a poorer section of the town. Other Jews were also forced to move to this section. The new flat consisted of one room into which everything possible was moved. David's mother started to sell items from the home to provide some food for the family since her husband's income became smaller with time. Searching to sell her household items, she met a German Silesian woman who was also involved in buying and selling goods. Of course, these transactions were highly illegal but necessity breaks the rules. Hannah Danielski sold household items to the woman and received food that the buyers brought from the villagers.

Max continued to work in the shop and was apparently informed by a friendly policeman that anti–Jewish actions were being prepared. He proceeded to make arrangements for his son's disappearance. He contacted a Polish farmer who lived in Babia Gora and was willing to take the boy for some time. The mother packed a small suitcase, gave him some pocket money and bought him a train ticket. He traveled by himself until he reached the station and then headed to the farm. He remained with the farmer and his family for some time and helped with the various farm chores. The farmers then took him to the station and sent him home to Rybnik. He arrived in the evening and headed home. He found the place dark and there were no lights in the window. Furthermore, there was a bandana on the door forbidding anyone from entering the premises by order of the Gestapo. He did not know what to do; he had no family in the city. Of course the big question on his mind was what happened to his parents.

He then decided to cross the street and speak to the neighbor who was friendly with his mother. It was a cold night in February, 1942. Her name was Martha Kapitza. He knocked at her door and she opened the door and asked him to enter. She then asked him if he had a place to stay or relatives. He answered in the negative. She then told him to stay with her for a while until things settled. She told him that all the Jews of Rybnik including his parents were rounded up and shipped to an unknown destination. Nobody knew what happened to them. He then went to his parents' flat and entered their place through the window. The main entrance door was sealed by the Gestapo. The police themselves had ransacked the place for it was in shambles. He assembled as many things as he could and made two trips to his new home. He never returned to his parents' place.

Anton Kapitza, the husband of Martha Kapitza, was a disabled coal miner of Polish Silesian origin who did not work. Martha Kapitza, a native of Zabrze or Hindenburg and of German origin, maintained the family. She provided for the family and was the boss in the house. She dealt with many activities including selling luxury goods to the surrounding population in exchange for food that she then resold. The market for these goods was excellent since there was a scarcity of finer goods in Germany during the war years. One of her providers of goods was Mrs. Danielski until she was deported, thus the friendship between the two women. Mrs. Kapitza's family consisted of a daughter Elizabeth who was a mute. Her son Ernest was a soldier. Her daughter Gertrude delivered papers and assisted the family financially. Her son Ludwig worked in the building trade and was a bit slow. Zigmund, born in 1933, was the youngest child. David ranked above Zigmund in age and got along pretty well. Gertrude was born in 1923 and assisted her mother in running the house. David slowly began to assume chores and perform errands. Martha or Gertrude Kapitza gave the orders.

David adjusted to the situation as best as he could. He knew that he was Jewish but that was all he knew about Judaism. Time went by and suddenly the Gestapo started searching and questioning people in the area. Apparently, someone reported him or they were looking for him since they had never apprehended David. Mrs. Kapitza packed a few items of clothing, gave him some money and an address in Striegau, Germany. The man worked in Germany as a farm supervisor; he was originally a Polish police official. David left the house and headed for the train station just before the Gestapo arrived and asked questions about his presence. Gertrude later told him that her mother stated that he had left the house and had stolen money. They even questioned Mrs. Kapitza at headquarters about the case but eventually dropped the matter since she insisted that she had no knowledge of his whereabouts. Gertrude also revealed to David that her mother told her that she promised Mrs. Danilewski to help protect her son. Meanwhile David remained with the farm supervisor and helped with the chores. He also started school and immediately proceeded to third grade and also joined the “Hitler Jugend” or Hitler Youth, as every child belonged to the organization. He collected all kinds of materials for the war effort. On the way to school, he saw for the first time people in striped pajamas who were inmates of the Gross Rosen concentration camp. This reminded him of his own Jewish situation and made him wonder about his parents. Gertrude Kapitza revealed to him that her mother sent some food items with a German worker who knew and worked with Max Danielski near Rybnik. He later discovered that his father died about June 16, 1942 and his mother was killed in Auschwitz in December, 1943, at the age of 43.

By June, 1942, David returned to the Kapitza household and resumed the house chores. He also assumed the newspaper route since Gertrude had married and left the house. Mrs. Kapitza managed to obtain a baptismal certificate for David and he began to attend school and was frequently late due to his newspaper deliveries that steadily declined as the war went against Germany. Conditions in Germany worsened by the day although they had enough food. The school building was soon converted into a military installation and classes ceased. The Russians terrified the Germans, and being sent to the Eastern front was considered a death sentence. The Russians advanced steadily and soon reached Rybnik. They expelled the entire German population in the winter of 1945. They started to meander from village to village until they reached Zabrze where Martha's sister lived. The hardships really began for them. Anton Kapitza and David decided to head back to Rybnik and found the place ransacked. The Russians cleaned the place out including the basement where some food was well hidden.

Conditions were very bad and they started to make cookies and sold them to buy food. While dealing in the market of Rybnik, David was approached by a Jew who asked him whether he was Jewish; He answered in the affirmative and also told him that he knew nothing about Judaism. He asked him whether he would like to be Jewish. David told him that he must first talk to Anton Kapitza. The latter told him that if he wanted to return to Judaism there was no problem as far as he was concerned. David met Mr. Gold who resided in Bytom and told him that he wanted to return to Judaism. He invited David to stay in his house with his family and informed him that he was preparing papers to head to America and asked David whether he wanted to join him. David agreed to the arrangement.

Gold then told David that there was an orphanage in Zabrze where he would get some Jewish education and become familiar with Judaism. David was sent there and slowly became a convinced Zionist and was no longer interested in traveling to the United States. The head teacher, David Hubel, persuaded him to be an ardent Zionist. David wanted to go to Palestine and became very active at the home, involved in the Zionist activities. The Jewish family was disappointed by the decision since they really wanted to take David to the United States. They parted and never met again. David enjoyed his stay at the home where he learned the basic tenets of Judaism and the Hebrew language as well as Jewish history. He also attended the regular Polish school in accordance with the Polish educational requirements. David really did not devote himself to the studies since he wanted to go to Palestine. Then rumors started in the orphanage that Rabbi Herzog, chief rabbi of Palestine, was coming from Palestine to take them all to their homeland. The children exchanged greetings and stories and waited impatiently Suddenly, the word spread throughout the orphanage that a sizable group of children and adults would join a big trainload of children, led by Rabbi Herzog, that would head to Palestine. None of them knew much about Palestine except that it was the home of the Jews. Preparations and meetings began throughout. Children packed their belongings and began to say farewell to those who were staying. The tension was beyond description. “We were dressed in our best clothes and issued extra food for the road. Each of us had one suitcase that contained everything we owned. We were marched to the nearest tram about 30 kilometers from Zabrze. We entered the freight terminal of the Katowice railway station where the Herzog train was standing. We saw many Jewish children.

Rabbi Itzhak Eisik Halevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine, received assurances from the British administration in Palestine that they would issue 500 certificates to Jewish orphans who had survived the war in Poland in monasteries, Christian homes, forests and caves. These assurances would soon evaporate in thin air. At the Zabrze Jewish orphanage on Karlowica Street number 10, Zabrze, Upper Silesia, Poland they were very excited by the news of their imminent departure for Palestine, their cherished dream and long–awaited hope. Rumors chased rumors but the fact was here; they were ordered to pack. Every child began to pack his few belongings; some had smaller, others bigger suitcases. They were all tense and ready to start their trip to the Promised Land. The Zabrze contingent consisted of complete orphans, partial orphans, children with one parent and children with one parent aboard the transport and children who had returned from Russia.”

David reconstructed the list of the Zabrze children as best as he could; in some instances the children were known merely by their nicknames and in other instances they only knew them by their first names.

The list as follows;

Shlomo Korn
Tzvi Shpigler
Shlomo Shpigler
Yehuda Tzvi Sobol
Riwka Brender
Tzvi Brender
Yeizik Peitznik
David Fridman
Hannah Hoffman
Rivka Motil
Fela Kozoch
Sonia Mayer
Heniek Mayer
Arieh
Charlotka. Brother and sister
Yehudit Wilczenski
Mrs. Wilczenski
Renka
Her sister
And mother
Naomi Agrabska
Esther Kastenberg
Emil nd mother
Big Eva
Ella
Roma
Dwora Ditman
Shmulek
Batia Sheinfeld
David Danieli
Raya, the group leader

There were a few more children but their names escape David.

Some children remained at the Zabrze home with a staff headed by principal Dr. Nehema Geler and head teacher David Hubel.

David left the Zabrze home on Thursday afternoon, the 22nd of August, 1946. The Zabrze group headed by tramway to the nearby town of Katowice where a train was standing on a sideline with hundreds of children, group leaders and teachers. They came from many orphanages in Poland: Lodz, Krakow, Warsaw and Katowice. The greetings, shouts and tears were beyond description. Order was soon established and the Zabrze group boarded its assigned car. Captain Yeshayahu Drucker, dressed in his military uniform, was there as was Rabbi Aaron Becker. Both military chaplains had their hands full with all the logistical problems.

The train remained standing in Katowice for hours awaiting the arrival of Rabbi Herzog and his entourage. They were still hammering out the agreement that would enable the transport to enter the refugee camp in Prague. At last the director of UNRRA, Fiorello LaGuardia, granted the permit. Late Thursday evening, Rabbi Herzog headed to the Warsaw airport where he took a plane to Katowice. Soon, the chief rabbi of mandatory Palestine, Rabbi Itzhak Eisik Halevy Herzog and his son Yaakov Herzog arrived and boarded the train. They came specially to escort the train out of Poland. Late that evening, the Herzog transport of children started to roll in a westerly direction, toward the Czech border. The trip was slow–moving and frequent stops occurred, especially on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Rabbi Drucker and Rabbi Becker said goodbye to the children and headed back to Warsaw to report to the chief military chaplain of the Polish Army, Rabbi David Kahana. Finally, they crossed the border and arrived at a big industrial Czech town, Moravska Ostrava, late in the afternoon on Friday the 23rd of August, 1946. Arrangements were made for the lodging and feeding of the children and the rabbi's entourage at a local hotel, “Moravska,” during Saturday. Indeed, they disembarked and remained at the hotel until Sunday when they resumed their trip to Prague.

The confusion reined supreme until some semblance of order was established at the hotel. Everybody was assigned a place and Shabbat set in. The transport consisted of religious youth from Hapoel Hamizrahi and Agudath Israel. The religious youths attended religious services headed by Rabbi Herzog. The hotel was nicely furnished. It had Venetian blinds that attracted many hands. The telephones were constantly busy and the elevator was the main attraction, since many of the youths had never seen similar gadgets. On Sunday, the transport resumed the train ride to Prague, the Czech capital. They disembarked from the train and were taken to a big refugee camp full of barracks, named Repatrianski Tabor Deblice, located in the northern part of the city of Prague.

The camp was huge and absorbed the transport with ease. Today David doesn't know why they landed in this camp; perhaps the British promises of certificates for Palestine had evaporated. They remained in this camp for about five weeks where he experienced two moving experiences: first, so many Jews in one place and such a great variety of people. The second experience was the city of Prague that David fell in love with. He has since visited this charming city four times. To keep the children busy, tours were organized and lectures given on the city. Most of them were exposed, for the first time, to the wonders of this cultural city. The effects remained with them for many years to come. These activities kept them busy and before they knew it the High Holidays were upon them. The first day of Rosh Hashanah, they walked from the camp to the Maharal synagogue in Prague that is better known as the “Alte Neu Shul.” At the synagogue, David heard for the first time the story of the “Golem.” He was very impressed with Prague, its streets, its bridges and squares, The Charles Bridge with the huge cross and the Hebrew words:

“Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh!” (Holy) written on it drew his attention. Here was a city that respected Jewish letters in Europe. He really enjoyed Prague. With the end of Rosh Hashanah, they were taken to the railway station and boarded a train that would head to France.

 

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Shlomo Koren

 

Shlomo Koren

Shlomo Korn is a friend of David Danieli. They started their friendship at Zabrze and maintain it to this day. Shlomo was kind enough to write his life story for us in Hebrew and we translated it to English. The above picture was provided by the museum of “Lochameu Hagetaot”.

I, Shlomo Korn[2] was born in Nowy Sacz, Galicia, Poland and survived World War II in Russia and returned to Poland following the war in 1946. My family settled in Katowice, Poland. I was registered in a city public school but did not attend classes. I barely spoke Polish. I met David Danieli (Danielski) in Katowice. He told me that he was attending a Jewish school in Zabrze and invited me to visit him. The town of Zabrze is about a half hour trip from the city of Katowice. I visited the Zabrze home on several occasions and was pleased by the ambience of the place. I liked the home, especially the individual attention that the place gave the children. I discussed the situation with my mother and sisters, I had no father, and they consented to my moving to the home, for the family had difficulty controlling me and I roamed the streets of Katowice. The orphanage readily accepted me, for the institution was specifically created for children like myself.

At Zabrze, I received a room with two other boys; one of them was named Morin Landau. Each of us had experienced horrible events that we tried to forget. Some of the girls at the home spoke only Polish and continued to pray and cross themselves, refusing to admit that they were Jewish. The teachers and supervisors had a difficult time to reach the children but, with time, managed to win their confidence and provide them with a basic education and a bit of self confidence. Jewish religious education was filtered very lightly and in moderation so as not to antagonize the children who were ill at ease if not hostile to anything Jewish. The boys were taught how to pray, put on phylacteries, the girls were taught about lighting candles and all children were exposed to Jewish holidays and a bit of a Jewish atmosphere. Hebrew, Jewish history, Zionism were subjects that stressed at the home.

Within the compound of the Jewish community at Zabrze near the orphanage, there was also a building where young pioneers were preparing themselves to move to Palestine and work the land. The group or kibbutz belonged to the “ Ichud” Zionist movement. The youngsters frequently danced “horas” and other folk dances in the yard of the compound that impressed us youngsters at the home. These scenes inspired us to become more fervent Zionists. After four months of ideal life at the home, word came down the grapevine that Rabbi Herzog was coming to take us children to Palestine. I began to beg my mother and sisters to permit me to leave Poland and head to Palestine. They were not opposed to Palestine but feared the distance and the unknown. Slowly and persistently I managed to convince them that I must go to Palestine. Mother bought me a new jacket, shoes and stitched some dollars in my pants in case of an emergency. Time flew and we left the home and headed to Katowice, Poland, where we boarded a train with other youngsters. The train waited for the arrival of Rabbi Herzog and his entourage. He arrived late in the evening and the train started to roll to the Czech border. The next day was Friday, the train stopped and we spent Shabbat at a hotel in Moravski–Ostrava. There was a bit of confusion at the hotel since the children extensively used the hotel telephones, elevators and borrowed items that were never returned.

On Sunday a train resumed the journey to Prague where we disembarked and were taken to a refugee camp named Repatrianski Tabor Deblice to await the entrance visas to France. We would remain in this camp for about six weeks. Our Zabrze group was included within the Hapoel Hamizrahi group. The group leaders were not well disposed to our Zabrze contingent since we spoke primarily Polish and were by and large less familiar with Jewish customs than the Mizrahi group. A certain distance existed between the groups. The Zabrze group was very sensitive and received a great deal of attention at the home due to their origins and experiences, while the regular Mizrahi youths were familiar with Jewish life. The Mizrahi youth leaders also lacked the necessary educational tools to handle the sensitive Zabrze contingent. Still, a routine was established at the refugee camp and we youngsters had to abide by it.

Shlomo Korn and some other boys, namely David Danieli, soon formed a group that would travel to Prague and spent time in the city. Shlomo sold his stamp collection in Prague in order to have spending money. They went to the cinemas and sought many city attractions in Prague. Shlomo was displeased with the group leaders and describes how he and a group of older boys raided the youth warehouse on the first night of Rosh Hashanah following dinner. Clothing and foods were removed and distributed to the children. The latter appeared the next day at the services in their brand new clothing. There was little that the group leaders could do but they realized that the children knew what had taken place.

The French visas arrived a day after Rosh Hashanah, and we headed to the railway station in Prague to begin our journey to France.

 

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Orna Kerrett

 

Orna Kerrett

Orna Kerrett was a Jewish youngster redeemed by Captain Drucker. She was born in Warsaw and was one of the survivors of the Warsaw ghetto. Her mother and brother had been rounded up and taken to a concentration camp and murdered. Her father had paid a Polish Christian family to care for her, providing her with legitimate identity papers of a Christian girl. She never saw her father again. Orna lived with the family for nearly two years. After the war the Christian family took her to a Christian orphanage. She became such a good Christian that when Captain Drucker came to retrieve her, having received her name from a list provided to Rabbi Kahane's association, she refused to go. “Jews,” she said. “They want to murder me and take my blood to make Matza.” Such was the anti–Semitic atmosphere in which she was raised. However, she went with Drucker to Zabrze.

She did not remain in Zabrze for long. The famous Herzog children's transport to leave Poland was in the final stages of preparation. She was on the Zabrze orphanage list of children scheduled to leave Poland. Now she stood waiting with the other children for the train to move. Orna took out a Polish language version of Upton Sinclair's Oil.[3] The train stood idle, waiting for the arrival of Rabbi Herzog and his entourage. And waiting. And waiting. As the minutes turned to hours, the teachers' anxieties grew. The anticipation and energy the children had when they arrived dissipated. Now many were spread out on their suitcases, using their coats as blankets, sleeping. Still the teachers asked themselves, “What if Rabbi Herzog never shows up? Then what? Back to the orphanages?” The children waited and some slept. Finally, late in the evening, Rabbi Herzog and his entourage arrived at the station and boarded the train, Then the locomotive gave several blasts and the train moved to the Czech border. Finally they arrived at Prague and were taken to a camp where we spend some weeks. Then we left the city for France.

 


Footnotes

  1. William Leibner interviewed David Danieli Return
  2. Larry Price interviewed Shlomo Korn Return
  3. William Leibner interview with Orna Keret Return

 

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