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Chapter VIII

Yeshayahu Drucker devotes
himself to the Zabrze home

The chaplaincy office received many letters from Poland, the USA, Palestine and England inquiring about the whereabouts of their families in Poland. The next question that followed was were there any survivors. The office replied if it had information. Many letters informed the chaplaincy office that some of their family survivors lived with non–Jews and asked for help and advice. The chaplaincy office was also frequently visited by local Polish Jews who asked for help in redeeming their relatives from non–Jewish homes. Chaplain Drucker saw this Jewish couple several times in the offices waiting to talk to Rabbi Kahana. Finally, the rabbi asked Drucker to see what he can do. Of course, Drucker had no experience in dealing with redeeming of children. Still he asked the couple to his office and they told him that a nephew of theirs is living with a non–Jewish baker. The couple talked to the baker but he did not want to let the boy go and the boy was attached to the baker. Drucker did not know where to start. He once had an experience with children in the city of Otwock near Warsaw. His unit received the order to search the entire town for German soldiers. They went from building to building, from cellar to cellar and searched for Germans. In one of cellars, they met an elderly Jewish woman with two grandchildren. The elderly woman was crying and stating that another grandchild was lost. Drucker went out of the cellar and began to look in the nearby streets for a small child. He noticed a small infant sitting on a stoop and crying. He asked the child why he was crying and he replied that he did not know where his grandmother was hiding. Drucker took the child and brought him to the grandmother. The reunification joy remained with Drucker for a long time[1].

Drucker asked the Jewish couple to join him and they went to meet the baker at the village of Wesola near Warsaw. The baker refused to give up the child who also refused to leave the baker. They returned empty handed to the capital. Drucker pondered various approaches to solve the problem. He started to visit the baker and appealed to his religious conscience as a man who had done a great deed in saving the child but now was acting in a selfish manner. He also stressed that the law was on the side of the relatives. After several meetings, the baker mellowed his stand.[2] Drucker then mentioned that the baker was entitled to some monetary compensation for his expenses in maintaining the child during the difficult years. These were difficult times in Poland where everything was very expensive and everybody could use some money. Finally, the baker consented to release the child. But the couple had no place for the child since they rented a corner of a room from another people. Drucker could not take the child since he was constantly traveling. There was one option, namely to take the child and place him in a home of the Central Committee of Polish Jews. Both Rabbi Kahana and chaplain Drucker did not like the idea of placing a Jewish child in these homes. Most of the Central Committee members were dedicated to the idea that Jewish life should be restored in Poland. Most of them were opposed to emigration of Jews to other countries. The committee began to restore Jewish life in the restored and liberated areas of Poland. It established a child welfare department headed by Dr. Shlomo Hershhorn, a member of the Bund, who developed guidelines for the Jewish orphanages that were under the control of the committee. These guidelines stressed the Yiddish language, and some aspects of Yiddish culture. No Jewish history, religion or Hebrew. Of course the official Polish school curriculum was followed at the homes. The committee guidelines were sent to the Jewish orphanages in Yiddish but they reflected the new regime. The stress of these guidelines was Socialist brotherly love and love of Poland under the new leadership. Rabbi Kahana and chaplain Drucker did not work so hard to place the Jewish boy in such a home.

The child had to remain with the baker until the relatives received a certificate to Palestine and took the boy with them. The boy was called Tulush, he maintained contact with Drucker. Years later, Drucker met the boy in Israel. He was now an adult and this is what he had to say: “My adopted father confessed to me on his death bed that my family name was Weinstein from Warsaw. He admitted that he was not related to me at all but he knew my family before the war. The couple wanted a child and invented the whole story of relatives.” Weinstein maintained contact with the baker and his Polish family in Poland.

Rabbi Kahana and the chaplains realized that they must have a home to which the rescued children would be sent. A home was soon located in Zabrze or Hindenburg near Katowice. The building was originally an old age Jewish home for the aged of the community of Hindenburg. The building survived the war and was given to the Association of the Jewish religious communities in Poland. To maintain its original charter, the upstairs was reopened

 

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The Zabrze Jewish orphanage

 

as a Jewish old age home and the bottom floors were reserved for the children. The building was part of a compound of the Jewish community that had several buildings, most of which survived the war. Unfortunately the synagogue of Zabrze was torched during the pogrom of the “Broken Glass” November 9–10, 1938. The building was totally destroyed as was the Jewish community a few years later.

 

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The Jewish school of Zabrze on the left and the towers of the synagogue on the right form the Jewish compound of Zabrze

 

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A plaque was later erected in memory of the synagogue and the community of Zabrze

 

IN MEMORY
of the Jewish Community of Zabrze (Hindenburg) that was
destroyed by the German Nazis during the Shoah.
On this plot stood the Jewish synagogue that was built in 1872
and destroyed in the “Kristalnacht” pogrom of November 9–10. 1938.
“ Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt”
This memorial was erected due to the efforts of
Ernasta Shmuela Schindler and the community of Zabrze in 1998

Rabbi Kahana requested the empty compound on behalf of the Jewish religious associations in liberated Poland. The request was granted in view of the military connections of the rabbi. The Polish army actually had a tradition of caring for orphanages. Even General Anders removed several orphanages when he moved his troops from the Soviet Union. So Kahana used all his connections within the Polish Army and obtained all the necessary permits. His moves infuriated the Central Committee that tried to control Jewish life in Poland. It had the support of the Polish government and the Communist party but it was facing stiff competition from the Association that was providing a host of religious services to the Jewish survivors without the need to be a member of the party

 

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Director of the Zabrze Jewish orphanage was Dr.Nehema Geller

 

Drucker received the order to get the building in shape to receive children. The Polish government and the Polish JDC were asked for money as were Jewish communities that were in contact with Rabbi Kahana. Drucker worked feverishly to provide the facility with all its needs. This was not easy, for the war had just ended and everything was in short supply in Poland. Dr. Nehema Geller, was hired as the director of the home. She was a Shoah survivor and native of Lemberg. Her husband Abraham was active in the in the Jewish community of Katowice. They had no children and decided to devote themselves to the needs of the Jewish survivors in Poland.

 

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David Hubel was hired as headmaster of the school

 

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Rudolf Wattenberg, gym teacher and security official at Zabrze orphanage

 

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Mira Katz took care of small infants at the Zabrze Orphanage

 

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Lucia was a teacher at the Zabzre orphanage

 

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Masha was a teacher at the Zabzre orphanage

 

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Seated from left to right: Dawid Hubel, headmaster; Dr. Nechema Geller, director of the Zabrze orphanage; Captain and later Major Yeshayahu Drucker dressed in his military officer uniform
Standing left to right: 1 Unknown; 2 Masha; 3 Rudolf Wittenberg, gym teacher and security officer; Mrs. Olnicka; Mrs, Englard, a teacher

 

Drucker and Geller worked very hard to assemble a staff that would understand the needs of children who were raised as non–Jews and then would slowly return them to the fold. The children needed a great deal of attention and affection that they had not received for a long time. Extreme patience was required to handle the children. Some of them had lived in many homes and with different families. They were deeply scarred. These children knew that they were Jewish but most of them disliked Jews and Judaism since their environment had taught them that Jews were bad. The Zabrze home slowly built up their confidence by providing them with security, guidance and sense of direction. Most of the children did not stay too long at the orphanage for they were being prepared to go to Palestine. The Hebrew language was emphasized as was the history of the Jewish people. Arts and crafts were stressed since the children could express themselves and release some of their tensions and pressures. Everything had to be done slowly. Some children continued to attend Catholic mass and wear the cross while sitting at the Friday night table with lit candles. Slowly, the children began to learn Jewish practices and customs. The children were exposed to the city and other places.

 

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Zabrze children touring the city

 

The Association of Jewish religious communities in Poland began to popularize the Zabrze home. Some Polish families could not afford to support the children and brought them to the home. Others established contact and inquired as to whether they can expect some reward for caring for a Jewish child during the war. The Zabrze home recorded these inquiries and forwarded them to Drucker.


Footnotes

  1. Drucker Tapes Return
  2. Drucker, Testimony, p.38 Return

 

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