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Chapter XI

Life at Zabrze

According to Noah –Libes formerly Anna Druker mentioned earlier, Zabrze was a nice and comfortable home[1]. Most of the children were girls, for it was more difficult to protect Jewish boys who were circumcised. Most of the children were orphans or half orphans namely they had one parent. The atmosphere at the home was relaxed and easy going. The director and the staff created a pleasant environment that encouraged the orphans to feel at

 

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Staff and children at Zabrze celebrate the festival of Lag B'Omer

 

At ease in spite of their past experiences. The orphanage stressed living together within the compound and avoided contact with the outside Polish

 

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Zabrze staff and children celebrate Herzl's birthday
Notice Pan Kapitan in military uniform holding a child

 

population. Most of the children had little or no contact with Judaism that was slowly spoon fed to the children. Yeshayahu Drucker, nicknamed Pan Kapitan by the children, devoted much time and energy to tell Jewish stories to the children. The staff was encouraged to stage plays connected with Jewish events or holidays. Members of the staff related to the children with a great deal of patience and understanding. Nobody spoke to the children about their experiences, pains and traumatic experiences. Judaism was slowly introduced by the staff especially by Pan Kapitan following the Friday night meals when all the children were dressed in their best. At the sight of the Shabbat candles Pan Kapitan slowly told stories that dealt with Jewish figures. The children were fascinated by these stories

 

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Zabrze children perform group dances

 

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Memorializing the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto uprising

 

that glorified the Jews. He was adored by the children and Noah felt proud of being related to her so called uncle. He was very pleased that she stopped her Christian daily prayers with her arrival to Zabrze. She did not accept Judaism but neither practiced Christianity.

The food was excellent at the home. The children received very nice American clothes at the home. In short, life was good. Then, one day there was a celebration when the State of Israel was proclaimed. The children sang the songs that were taught at the home by a music teacher. The Zabrze home devoted a great deal of time to plays, ceremonies, and festive presentations that emphasized Jewish history and tradition, yet another way to inculcate Jewish values to the children who had been deprived of their heritage.

Many children were involved in these presentations or in the preparations of the shows. Children constantly arrived at Zabrze or left Zabrze. Priority was of course given to children who had relatives and wanted them. Some of the children remained at Zabrze for a short period of time until papers were obtained. The Polish government followed a liberal policy regarding surviving orphans joining their families. Small children presented a special problem since they needed a great deal attention and care that Zabrze could not provide. Rabbi Salomon Schonfeld, son in law of the chief rabbi of England rabbi Joseph Hertz, organized two transports of small children that were sent directly to England from Poland.

Rabbi Schonfeld was an experienced hand in rescuing Jewish children from Europe before World War II. He was very active in bringing children from Germany and Austria and placing them with religious Jewish families. Eventually the families adopted the children. With the end of the war he

 

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Rabbi Salomon Schonfeld dressed in military uniform

 

immersed himself in rescuing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. He worked very closely with Rabbi Kahana and mostly with Drucker. Rabbi Schonfeld helped the Jewish homes financially and materially. Rabbi Schonfeld made all the arrangements in England to bring small Jewish children and place them with Jewish families. Drucker and Rabbi Kahana helped to get the transports out of Poland. Esther Kastenbaum was one of the young escorts from Zabrze who took a group of small children to England. They left Poland by plane and flew to England where families awaited the transport. The children were assigned to the families in accordance with

 

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Rabbi Salomon Schonfeld on the left with a group of British couples that adopted Jewish children from Zabzre

 

prearranged plans. The children escorts remained in England where they helped the children get s established. Esther Kastenbaum, one of the escorts, remained with an adopted family for some time since the adopted child experienced difficulties in relating to the new family. After a while, she moved out but continued to visit the family. These visits soon stopped and the child became part of the family. Esther remained in England and continued her education with the help of Rabbi Schonfeld. She became a nurse. Eventually she moved to Israel.

Pan Kapitan was a one man team. He worked alone and obtained results. He had difficulty working with other organizations that were also interested in rescuing children, namely the Zionist organizations. The latter worked with offices and directives while Pan Kapitan was his own boss. His office was part of the Polish state and he wore the Polish uniform which opened many doors to him. Pan Kapitan had lists and addresses of Jewish children in non–Jewish homes. His job was to travel around Poland and locate the hidden Jewish children. Then the process of negotiations started. Sometimes he had names and addresses from letters supplied by Rabbi Kahana or Rabbi Herzog or other Jewish sources or testimonies in which surviving Jews provided information about the location of Jewish children in non–Jewish homes.[2]

The fact that Pan Kapitan approached the holders of the Jewish children with money incentives and praise for their action during the war placed the negotiations on a friendly basis and contributed to the high degree of Pan Kapitan's success. At first his approaches were usually rejected, but he would stubbornly persist. He would visit frequently, bringing candy and toys for the children and gifts for the family. Slowly he would begin to negotiate with the Polish families or Christian institutions and pay the families or institutions for their financial outlay during the war. Occasionally, if a family did not negotiate honestly or worse, took money and refused to abide by the agreement, he used guile and even force to bring the Jewish children from the Christian homes. Although he sometimes used forceful methods to get the child, he always managed to pay for the child's upkeep during the war. The redemption campaign of the Jewish religious association proved to be very popular with the surviving Jews in Poland who finally found someone who actively helped them in their struggle to recover surviving members of their family.

Pan Kapitan's successful activities gave him wide publicity throughout the Jewish world. Rabbis and organizations pleaded for help in locating Jewish children. The rabbinate's office in Jerusalem, Palestine received a great deal of mail regarding Jewish children living with non–Jewish families. We already mentioned that that the orphanages of the Central Committee of Polish Jews took no action to remove Jewish children from non–Jewish homes, on occasion they paid monthly allotments to the Polish families or institutions that kept Jewish children. Thus, the affected families turned to the Palestinian rabbinate for help. Rabbi Herzog was swamped with the mail and correspondence. He enlisted the aid of his son Yaacov Herzog with the mail.

 

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Yaakov David Herzog

 

Rabbi Yaacov David Herzog, was a graduate of the elite Hebron Yeshiva in Palestine, an ordained rabbi, and a member of the Haganah, the secret Jewish underground operating in Palestine for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Yaakov David Herzog was highly competent, personable, and skilled at handling most of the correspondence that crossed his father's desk. Yaacov quickly became indispensable to his father, not only as a bureau chief, but also as an important member of his father's staff. Below is a letter that Yaakov wrote directly to Pan Kapitan in Warsaw. The letter is in Hebrew and attached was a list of names that is illegible.

 

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A loose English translation of the letter dated January 27, 1946.

To our esteemed friend, Captain Drucker
Warsaw
R.M.N.

We attach to the note a list of names of Jewish children who find themselves in a non–Jewish environment in Poland. Their relatives in Palestine asked us to save them or at least place them in Jewish homes in Poland. We are thanking you for all the efforts. We would appreciate if you could check the status of these children and please keep us informed as to the results.

Please keep in touch.

Yours,
With blessings from the Torah and the Holy Land.
Yaakov Herzog

 

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Another plea to Rabbi Herzog to intervene on behalf of a Jewish child kept in a non–Jewish home
Notice the notation on the top of the letter in pen, on the left side, direct the letter to Drucker

 

Drucker received not only appeal letters from Palestine, the USA, England but also from within Poland. Searching, locating, and removing Jewish children from non–Jewish environment became his main and full time occupation. Weekends he frequently spent with the children at the Zabrze orphanage. Of course, he always tried to bring sweets or goodies to the children. He spent hours talking and listening to the children who nicknamed him Pan Kapitan. The name would remain with him for life.

Soon another threat and a more dangerous threat appeared.

The Zionist parties in Poland began to emerge and began to create Jewish institutions, orphanages and kibbutzim for older youngsters. Most of them were impressed by the activities of the Jewish religious associations in Poland. Soon there was tremendous competition among the various Zionist organizations in retrieving Jewish children from Christian places. The fight became intensive and acrimonious with the arrival of large numbers of repatriated Jewish orphans from Russia. The various Zionist homes began to entice youngsters to leave their current homes; central or Zionist homes and join other Zionist homes. The competition among the various Jewish organizations greatly increased the price of redemption of Jewish children. Some people even demanded cash in dollars for the release of Jewish children. The Zionist organizations decided to establish a united office to redeem Jewish children. The organizations appointed Arieh Sharid formerly Leibele Goldberg, a member of kibbutz Yagur and representative of the Palestinian Labor Movement. He was one of the first emissaries to be sent to Poland where he was born and later left for Palestine as a pioneer. He was instructed to form a united negotiating office to redeem Jewish children from Christian homes. He began negotiations between the various Zionist parties to establish a common front. Long negotiations ensued and finally he managed to establish “The Zionist Coordination Office” under the leadership of Leibel Koriski member of Ha–Shomer Ha–Ttzair. He would run the united office from 1946 to 1948 when he returned to Palestine. Koriski worked under the auspices of a central committee that included almost all political Zionist parties with the exception of the religious and revisionist parties. Even WIZO was included. WIZO stands for “ The Women's International Zionist Organization”, a volunteer organization dedicated to social welfare in all sectors of Israeli society, the advancement of the status of women, and Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora. The board coordinated the activities of redeeming Jewish children. The office established four homes where youngsters remained for some time until they left Poland. The office also began to establish and coordinate various Zionist orphanages for Jewish orphans who returned from Russia.

Most of the Zionist organizations that belonged to this office were non–religious and their orphanage homes followed a secular Zionist base of instruction. Rabbi Kahane and Rabbi Becker helped to establish religious Zionist homes under the auspices of the Mizrahi and Hapoel Hamizrahi, political movements orphanages that had been established in Krakow at Miodowa Street and in Sosnowiec. Similar homes were established by the non–Zionist Orthodox Agudat Israel party at Dzierszew. The religious parties were not part of the “Koordinacja” central committee. The aim of the office and the Zionist homes was to prepare the children to head for Palestine. Indeed, transports of children constantly left Poland, some legally as was the case of the large Herzog children's transport or Schonfeld's transports and some children headed illegally to the DP camps in Germany and Austria under the guide of the Brichah organization. Some children were officially adopted by Jewish families abroad. The Polish government was aware of the situation but refused to stop these illegal activities for fear of tarnishing further its bad reputation regarding Jews in Poland.

The situation for Polish Jews went from bad to worse and reached its high point with the Kielce pogrom. The Jews in Kielce were accused

 

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The burial of the Jewish pogrom victims in Kielce Poland

 

of killing a Christian child for the blood needed to bake matzot, the unleavened bread Jews use during the Passover holiday. This “blood–libel” was readily accepted by the Polish masses who rampaged through the streets, killing any Jews they found in the city. The mob was joined by members of the Polish police and other Polish security forces, even though these forces all had to be members of the Communist Party in order to get and keep their jobs. Exacerbating this situation were the nationalist forces that tried to bring down the government. They pointed to the Jews holding cabinet posts like Yaacov Berman, something unheard of in Poland before World War II, as proof that the Jews control Poland. These Jews were of course members of the Communist party therefore all Jews, especially those that returned from the Soviet Union were all Communists. The Polish masses bought these stories that led to minor anti–Jewish incidents throughout Poland and culminated in the Kielce pogrom where 42 Jewish survivors of the Shoah were killed and about 40 were injured on July 4, 1946[3]. Polish soldiers, and police officers, joined the mob. The government had to rush special forces to restore order. The alarm was sounded to the surviving Jews that there was no safety for Jews in Poland. Jews packed their bags and began to leave en masse.

The Jewish orphanages also began to expedite the process of removing Jewish youngsters from their homes in Poland. Rabbi Herzog was meeting many influential political figures mainly in Prague, Czechoslovakia to get permission for a transport of Jewish children to enter the country, and remain for a while, until accommodations could be found in France and Belgium. He finally received all permits and headed to Poland where he stayed at the Warszawa Hotel, as the guest of Rabbi Kahana. The two rabbis exchanged ideas and plans. Rabbi Herzog learned more about the Jewish orphanages that had been set up by Rabbi Kahane to house the Jewish children redeemed from Christian homes and institutions.

During the conversation Rabbi Herzog reached the conclusion that the French and Belgian entry permits he'd obtained could now be used. Rabbi Kahana suggested that perhaps the children could join the hoards of Jews already illegally crossing into Czechoslovakia on the way to DP camps in Germany and Italy. Rabbi Herzog felt that the children had suffered enough and were entitled to travel to Paris like human beings. Rabbi Kahana ordered Drucker to meet with all the homes that would be sending children with the transport and instruct them to prepare all the necessary papers so that the departure could be immediate. Drucker asked for lists of would–be travelers so that all travel arrangements could be made. The time had finally come to bring these children out of their tenuous situation to a chance of a decent future.

Rabbi Kahana also arranged for Rabbi Herzog to meet important Polish Jewish leaders, Polish government officials and members of the Polish parliament in order to further his plans for the children's departure. One meeting was between Rabbi Herzog and Poland's Prime Minister Eduard Osobka–Morawski. The meeting was cordial. Rabbi Herzog asked the Polish leader to introduce legislation that all Jewish children residing in Poland be recognized as Jews even if these children no longer lived with Jewish families or in a Jewish environment. Rabbi Herzog also requested the Polish prime minister to allow 750 Jewish orphans and 500 yeshiva students to leave Poland for Palestine. Prime Minister Osobka–Morawski consented to Rabbi Herzog's request. Osobka–Morawski ordered the Polish Red Cross to arrange a train to carry the Jewish children to Paris and bring back to Poland injured and disabled Polish citizens from France. The Polish Red Cross was to prepare all the details with the UNRRA organization. Secrecy was to be maintained so as not to alarm Britain.

Soon, Rabbi Herzog was approached by a committee headed by Mr. R. Berger, chief welfare and repatriation officer of UNRRA , the Polish Red Cross, Polish officials, and Jewish officials, excluding the JDC, but including the American Vaad Hatzala. At the meeting Rabbi Herzog was pleased to learn that UNRRA would absorb the costs of the children's transportation, food and housing. He did try to meet with the Catholic hierarchy in Warsaw, but was not granted an interview. Accompanied by Polish security, that somewhat inhibited his movements, the rabbi also had only minimal contact with the Central Jewish Committee of Polish Jews, the group that was overwhelmingly opposed to Palestine, Zionism, religious Judaism and to Jews leaving Poland. Rabbi Herzog was relieved when Rabbi Kahana informed him that the Polish government had provided all the necessary papers for the children's departure. He also learned that the UNRRA transport committee was preparing a document detailing every aspect of the train, Rabbi Herzog organized a press conference in Warsaw and addressed the English and American correspondents in Warsaw, speaking mostly about his observations of the Jewish situation in Poland. But his appearance created more of a fuss than the Polish government expected. Shortly after the conference, Polish security officials urged him to leave Poland immediately. He left on August 13, 1946, for his own safety. The rabbi was whisked to the railroad station where he caught the Prague–bound train. Guards supplied by Rabbi Kahana accompanied the rabbi until the train reached the Polish–Czech border.

By August 19, 1946, UNRRA's plan for the children was ready.

Rabbi Herzog had pulled every string he could to organize a train, and have it ready to take the children out of Poland. The main agency organizing the train was UNRRA, in conjunction with the Polish Railway. UNRRA was responsible for repatriating citizens back to their native countries. A number of wounded Polish soldiers were recuperating in French hospitals. These soldiers were to be repatriated from Paris back to Warsaw. UNRRA's plan was to use the empty Polish rail train being sent empty to Paris to transport the children Rabbi Herzog wanted brought out of Poland. The train was to stop in Prague, where the children would get off and be brought to a refugee camp called Deblice. The children were to wait in Deblice until their accommodations were ready in France.

On August 19, UNRRA Prague sent a telegram to UNRRA Warsaw that the train would be available in Lodz on August 22, 1046. And it was. Drucker and Becker were there to help the children get aboard. 1 The train was to proceed to Katowice, near the Czech/Polish border, where the remainder of the children would board the train that would leave for Prague where the train was scheduled to arrive on Friday, August 23, 1946. On Wednesday, August 21,1946 at about 10 P.M. the train started to roll in the direction of Katowice where it arrived Thursday morning, August 22, 1946. In Katowice the children waited to board the train from orphanages of Bytom, Krakow and Zabrze. Drucker and the other adult escorts had their hands full watching the children waiting for the train to move. The train was waiting for the arrival of Rabbi Herzog who finally arrived late Thursday evening and the train started to roll to the Czech border. Pan Kapitan escorted the train to the Polish border where he said good bye to the children[4].

The train had several mishaps and finally reached Prague on Sunday, August 25, 1946 where the children left the train and were driven to the Deblice camp where they would remain for some time and then leave for France.


Footnotes

  1. Noah Libes. Testimony at Yad Vashem p.66 Return
  2. Drucker testimony at Yad Vashem Return
  3. Bauer, flight p.87 Return
  4. Drucker, Testimony p.69 Return

 

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