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Chapter XIII

Forceful Redemption Cases

 

Pradnik District in Krakow

In the city of Krakow, there is a district named Pradnik. There is also a river by the same name that crosses Krakow. In this area of the suburb, there was a pub that was owned by a disabled woman who was born with deformed legs and moved about in a wheel chair pushed by a helper[1]. One day she was sitting near the Pradnik river and noticed that a woman had attached a stone to the neck of the child and lowered and raised the child above the water. The infant was a tiny toddler of about two or three months. Apparently, the woman was trying to drown the baby but could not go through with it. The disabled woman asked her helper to push the wheel chair in the direction of the woman. She immediately saw that the woman was Jewish. She asked the Jewish woman what she was doing with the baby, the latter replied that her situation was hopeless and she could not support the child. She also told the disabled woman that the baby was actually her sister's who was rounded up in an action. She managed to leave the baby with her sister. The latter kept the baby for a while but presently she reached the end of her rope and decided to end the baby's sufferings. The disabled woman asked the Jewish woman whether she can have the infant and she would care for her. The Jewish woman was startled. She had nothing to give the woman that was taking a great risk. If caught by the Germans she would not ever get out alive. The Jewish woman had no choice and handed the baby over to the helper who in turn placed the child in the arms of the disabled woman who looked at the angelic face of the small infant. She told the Jewish woman that she was the owner of the pub and invited her to her place of business.

The pub attracted local Polish residents and also German soldiers stationed in the area. One of the German soldiers took a liking to the child and devoted a great deal of time to the infant. He even took the child for walks and bought gifts for her. The owner told everybody that the child belonged to her family and was sent to her since her father was a Polish officer who was killed in the Polish–German war in 1939. The mother disappeared without leaving a trace. The child was sent to the disabled woman. The locals accepted the story but in 1942, the Gestapo issued an ordinance who everybody that took care of children must have baptismal certificates. She had no official papers for the baby. She went from church to church and tried to get a certificate and told all kind of stories but no one issued a certificate. Finally, one old priest told her that her stories are nonsense and that she had a Jewish child with her. When she admitted the fact, he issued a baptismal certificate for the child.

The Jewish woman survived the war and returned to Krakow. She went to the pub and asked the owner for the child. The disabled women refused to hand over the child. The woman came to Pan Kapitan for help. She also revealed a stunning story. Her sister was meeting and seeing a German soldier. The soldier helped her. She gave birth to their child. The soldier kept supporting her sister and the baby. Then the sister was sent to a concentration camp where the soldier could no longer help her. He did help in sending the child to the sister prior to the deportation. The German soldier recognized the baby in the pub and paid special attention to the child until his unit was moved.

The sister wanted her niece back but the owner of the pub refused to listen. She was not interested in money. She loved the child and treated her well. The child refused to leave the place. Pan Kapitan felt bad about the case since the disabled woman risked her life to save the infant and provided her with a good home. True, the aunt also had a claim. Pan Kapitan had to make a decision that he felt would be wrong either way.

Suddenly the case took a total unexpected turn. The Polish authorities accused the owner of the pub of co–operating with the Germans during the war. This was a very serious charge that could result in years of prison and loss of all possessions. The woman was desperate and sought help but few people wanted to involve themselves in such cases. She called on Pan Kapitan who spoke to Rabbi Kahana. The Jewish religious association of Krakow composed a letter to the effect that the owner of the pub was friendly with the Germans since she was hiding a Jewish child. Attached to the letter was the statement of the aunt attesting that she gave the child to the disabled woman who kept the child throughout the war. All these papers were prepared under one condition that the child would be returned to the aunt with the end of the proceedings. The papers were filed and the Jewish religious association pressured the legal instances to speed up the proceedings. The charges were dropped, the girl went with aunt. The disabled woman continued her business.

 

The Hungarian Jewish Boy

Hungarian Jewish transports began to arrive in Auschwitz in March, 1944. One of the passengers was a woman with a circumcised boy[2]. Yeshayahu does not know too much about the mother who shared a bunk with a Polish woman. The woman survived the camp and returned home with the Jewish boy. The father of the boy survived the war and searched everywhere for his son. He came to Drucker and presented all the necessary papers that showed the boy belonged to him. He even knew the name of the Polish woman and where she lived. He went to her place and asked for his son. The woman refused to talk to him and practically threw him out of her place. It later appeared that the boy contributed to her income.

The Central Committee office of Polish Jews in Krakow publicized a sheet that told Poles that they can return Jewish children to Jewish orphanages or they can keep them at home and receive a monthly payment for the maintenance of the Jewish child. We already mentioned earlier that the Central Committee of Polish Jews was not interested in removing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes unless there were special problems. The woman in this case received a monthly payment for the boy. All attempts to talk to her proved futile. Pan Kapitan decided to follow the woman and the boy in the morning and see where the boy goes to school. Pan Kapitan followed and recorded the name of the school. He then took the father who was a Hungarian citizen to the Hungarian embassy where he obtained all necessary papers attesting to the child being a Hungarian citizen. With these papers they proceeded to the Polish Ministry of Interior which ordered that the child be returned to the father. Hungary and Poland were on very friendly relations then and all legal problems were expedited. Pan Kapitan and the Hungarian father requested that a police officer escort them to the school where the boy was studying. The group entered the school and went to the principal's office. They presented all legal papers and asked for the boy to be brought to the office. The principal did not like what he saw but the papers, the police officer and Pan Kapitan dressed in his military uniform convinced him to settle the matter. The boy came to the office and was introduced to his father who took him by the hand. The group left the school. Father and son headed to Zabrze for a few days and then left for Hungary.

 

jor197.jpg
Seated from left to right: Dr. Nechema Geller (with purse at her feet) and David Hubel. One of the children at this celebration was Edzio Rosenblatt.

 

The Zabrze orphanage not only accepted youngsters but also had a toddler section as shown by this photograph. The photo was taken during one of the festivals that the home organized to acquaint the children with their Jewish heritage.

Pan Kapitan worked very hard to redeem the child and return him to his mother. Chaya Garn was born in Radomysl in 1921 to Chaim Leib Garn, the son of Benyamin Garn of Wielki Most in the Mielec district near Rzeszow. The Garn family were successful merchants. Chaya was one of six daughters. Two of her sisters left Poland for France prior to World War II. On September 8, 1939, following weak Polish military resistance, German soldiers entered Radomysl. They immediately began to harass Jews, especially Jewish men who were forced into work details or sent to the Pustkow labor camp near Debice, helping build a new S.S. military training base. Some Jews managed to escape Pustkow but most died there. The Germans also carried out house–to–house searches, ostensibly looking for weapons, but in reality using the searches as excuses to loot the Jewish apartments. The German authorities installed a “Judenrat” or a council of Jewish leaders, in Radomysl mainly to carry out the Gestapo's orders to provide cheap Jewish labor to Pustkow. In one action in November, 1940, 700 Jews of Radomysl were rounded up and sent to Pustkow. Before long, just breathing the word “Pustkow” terrified any Jew within earshot. Awraham Rosenblatt, originally from the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz), came to Radomysl where he heard life was relatively better than in other Polish towns. He met and married Chaya Garn. But in July, 1942, a few weeks after Awraham and Chaya were married, the Germans ordered the registration of the entire Jewish population of Radomysl. Special identity cards were issued to young skilled workers, among them the young

Rosenblatt couple. Supposedly these cards carried with them some measure of protection from being shipped off to Pustkow. Awraham and Chaya were smart enough not to trust the Germans. The young couple made arrangements for themselves and Chaya's parents to hide outside the city in the house of a Polish farmer.

One Saturday night they all quietly snuck out of Radomysl, reaching the house of Tomas Szczurek in the village of Dulca Wielki. It was a lucky move. The next day, while they hid out in Szczurek's farm, the Jews of Radomysl were all rounded up, faced the dreaded “selection” process and were deported to concentration camps.

The next day, Sunday, Szczurek's wife was in church where she heard rumors the Germans were searching for Jews. She rushed home terrified, knowing that hiding Jews carried the death penalty. She immediately ordered the Rosenblatts out of the house, but relented slightly when they begged for a few more hours. That night the Rosenblatts slipped off into the fields, heading for nearby Dombrowa. In exchange for the risks they took, the Szczureks kept most of the Rosenblatts' belongings.

Jews could not use the main road for fear of discovery and arrest, so Awraham and Chaya and her parents stumbled over difficult paths, uneven fields and undulating meadows. The fields were beautiful in the sunlight with the light refreshing breeze, but torture for these city folks plodding through mud and rocky cowpats.

The group finally reached Dombrowa where they sought shelter and a much needed rest. But the Nazi “actions,” shootings and searches forced them to keep moving. But where? Which direction? Danger lurked around every bend in the road.

Chaya turned to a Polish friend, a bureaucrat with the Polish government who worked in Mielec. In Dombrowa she used a telephone in a Polish stranger's home and called her friend. Again, luck seemed to be on her side. Her friend told her he'd send a truck to pick her up the next day. That's as far as her luck held. When she hung up the phone, her Polish benefactor, who had overheard the conversation, warned her that staying in Dombrowa was impossible. The Nazis were planning an anti–Jewish “action” in Dombrowa the next day, probably before the truck would arrive. The family hired a trusted guide and reluctantly left Dombrowa, looking over their shoulders. They snuck into the Jewish ghetto in Tarnow, where they found a place to stay and some work. Then they were forced to flee to the forest as the Nazis began their roundup of Jews in Tarnow.

Fugitives, they hid in the woods, living in caves, taking their lives in their hands when they snuck into a farmer's yard to buy some food.

Winter was fast approaching, the leaves had turned yellow and some of the trees were already barren. When the chill wind blew, it carried a hint of the harsh winter close behind. And Chaya discovered she was pregnant. It was one thing to be pregnant in a city or even village, where a hospital or midwife could help with the birth. But they were in hiding, dodging the Nazis who still roamed the area, constantly exposed to danger. Even if the baby were delivered successfully, and both mother and child were healthy, what then? Who would take care of the infant? Chaya, undernourished, weak and sick, was in no position to nurse a child or even care for one.

They found shelter with a family named Kokoszka. But when their hosts discovered Chaya was pregnant, they were evicted. A pregnant woman could not sprint away and hide from Nazis if they showed up to search the house. Again, the Rosenblatts were reduced to begging not only for their own lives but for that of the as yet unborn child.

The Kokoszkas were not bad people. They had already risked their lives allowing the Rosenblatts to stay in the drafty, cold attic. They then mercifully took an even bigger risk: they allowed the Rosenblatts to remain, temporarily. On the evening of January 4, 1944, Chaya was lowered from the attic and taken to the stable. There, on January 5, 1944, on a blanket covering a thin layer of straw, Chaya, perhaps because of her weakened condition, strained terribly but still gave birth to a healthy baby boy. But Chaya was anything but healthy. She lost consciousness and was carried delirious back to the attic. She did not recover consciousness

for several days. During that time both the Rosenblatts and the Kokoszkas knew only drastic measures could be taken. The infant was cleansed and swaddled. A note hung from the baby's wrist stating falsely that his name was Edzio and that he had been baptized. Then the infant was wrapped in a blanket and placed on the windowsill of a Polish farmer named Jozef Balczyniak.

That night in January was bitter cold. Balczyniak's wife thought she heard the house cats meowing at the door, begging to come in from the freezing outdoors. She told her husband to open the door and let the poor cats into the house. He spotted a bundle on one of the windowsills and realized immediately that it was a baby. Their ten–year old daughter thought the baby adorable, even if he was crying. Balczyniak's wife was suspicious. She pointed angrily at her husband, accusing him of being the father. At the time, farm girls were known to abandon a baby they could not or did not want to take care of. But Balczyniak denied any connection to the baby. Then they discovered the note with the child's name and that he'd been baptized. The Balcyzyniaks decided to wait until morning before making any decisions. The hungry infant wailed through the night. While the Balcyzyniaks had milk in the cupboard they had no bottle to feed the child. But maternal instincts run strong. Mrs. Balcyzyniak cuddled the infant, trying to sooth him to sleep. In the morning the Balcyzyniaks trekked down to the local police station and told the police they'd found a baby on their windowsill. “Keep him or get rid of him,” the policeman told them. “I don't care. This isn't a matter for the police.”

The Balcyzyniaks brought the baby home.

Mrs. Balcyzyniak took pity on the child. She'd found a bottle and fed the child properly and decided to keep him. Not sure of his baptism, they had him baptized formally and legally adopted the child, officially registering him as Stanislaw Dulecki, in honor of the town's mayor. But they continued to call him Edzio, the name that was on the note attached to his wrist when they found him, the name his birth parents knew him by.

As an example of how life can change minute by minute, from smiles to tears, Chaya Rosenblatt finally regained consciousness, weak, feverish, wanting to see her baby. How do you tell a woman that her baby was no longer there? “No longer there,” she asked, shocked.

Groggy. Was the baby dead?
No, not dead. Gone.
Gone? Gone?
Yes, gone. Safe. Well–fed. Cared for. But gone.

Minutes passed slowly as Chaya accepted the harsh reality: she no longer had a baby. A few days later, their host, Mr. Kokoszka, came back from town with more unpleasant surprises. Kokoszka's son had received an order from the Germans in charge of the area that he was to leave immediately for Germany where he was needed as a laborer. But Kokoszka's son decided to ignore the orders, dangerously defying the Germans. Kokoszka was wise enough to know that this defiance would incite the Germans to search for Kokoszka's son and punish him. Through his act of rebellion, Kokoszka's son had invited the wrath of the German authorities down on the village and all who lived there. Having few options, even though Chaya was running a high fever, the Rosenblatts had to leave. Knowing Jews were already hiding in the forest, Kokoszka volunteered to help. He backed his old mare into the carriage he used to carry supplies to town and laid Chaya tenderly on the cracked, thinly padded seat of the carriage, helping the Rosenblatts flee to the forest. Over the summer of 1944, the Red Army made significant advances, liberating the towns of Mielec, Radomysl and even half of Dulcze. But the Germans beat them back. With snow already on the ground, large contingents of German troops poured into the forest with orders to capture or shoot whoever they found, especially partisans who'd fought against them, and Jews. The Jews' forest hideout was quickly discovered by German soldiers. Awraham Rosenblatt tried to run but was cut down by German marksmen. The other forest Jews were captured and sent to the death camp of Plaszow near Krakow. In the Plaszow camp, with the exception of Chaya Rosenblatt and two other Jewish women, the forest Jews of Radomysl were all murdered.

As the Soviets advanced, prisoners of Plaszow were lined up and marched at gunpoint through the ice and snow in the direction of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. This death march went on for 14 days. Only 40% of those who began the march reached Bergen Belsen alive. Chaya Rosenblatt was shoved into a Bergen Belsen barrack with 800 other inmates in a space that was meant for 50. When the British army liberated Bergen Belsen in May, 1945, Chaya had a severe case of typhus and was struggling to stay alive. British doctors hospitalized her immediately. Her recovery was painfully slow. When she could finally be moved, the British sent Chaya on a ship to Sweden.

As Chaya recovered, she looked back on what she'd gone through, the memory of her baby foremost in her mind. Chaya knew the child was still in Poland, living with the Balczyniak family in the area of Radomysl. Among the different organizations and people she sought to help her retrieve the child was an influential Swedish Jew named Paul Olberg in Stockholm. He replied to Chaya's inquiries in Yiddish. Olberg directed Chaya Rosenblatt to contact the “Bund” office in Lodz, Poland. She did but nothing happened.

She then contacted the office of the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army, Rabbi Kahane, and told him the story. The case was handed over to Yeshayahu Drucker. Chaya Rosenblatt also learned to her chagrin that obtaining the release of Jewish children from Christian families or institutions, especially once the child had been baptized, was both a difficult and expensive procedure.

A distant relative of Chaya Rosenblatt wrote her that she had seen Edzio in Poland. Determined to retrieve her son, but still too weak to return to Poland, Chaya headed to France, to her sisters who had survived the war. From France she contacted the Jewish community office in Mielec, Poland. Chaya's letter was perused by most of the Mielec Jewish survivors. Coincidentally, one of the Mielec survivors owned a piece of land that he wanted to sell. He immediately realized that this was an opportunity to sell the land.

Mr. Balcyzyniak, the farmer who had taken in the Rosenblatt baby, wanted to buy the property from the Jew, but could not come up with the cash. So a plan was devised. Chaya would raise the money for Balcyzyniak in exchange for the baby, and Balcyzyniak would pay the Jewish landowner, who would use the money to get out of Poland.

Pan Kapitan visited the child and brought him candies and toys at the remote Balczyniak farm. Each time Balcyzyniak and his wife refused to give up the child. Pan Kapitan formulated an expensive plan and estimated that he would have to pay Balczyniak about $2,000 to free Chaya's son. Chaya, of course, did not have $2,000, or anywhere near it. But an American journalist named Reuven Island suggested he help her write her war experiences for the New York Yiddish daily newspaper Der Tog. Perhaps that would help. Chaya agreed. The articles ran from June 16, 1946, to July 5, 1946. The last article ended with a plea in Yiddish for contributions. Chaya received the fee from the newspaper articles as well as the money raised from the fundraising campaign.

The headline for the ad read: “A FUND IS BEING CREATED IN ORDER TO RANSOM THE CHILD OF CHAYA GARN– ROSENBLATT.” The story beneath the headline explained: “A committee has been established to help Chaya Garn–Rosenblatt ransom her child from non–Jewish hands. A drive is being started to create a fund to help this holy cause. Contributions can be sent to the ‘Fund.'

“All contributions must be sent to the Chaya Garn–Rosenblatt Fund, c/o The Day,183 East Broadway, New York 2, N.Y.”

The money was transferred to Pan Kapitan.

At the time, Rabbi Kahane's office used a rubber stamp for official documents. The top of the stamp read, “The Polish Army, general headquarters.” Beneath this heading, in smaller letters, “military rabbinate.” Drucker was in the habit of only applying the upper half of this rubber stamp when using it on official documents. He wrote a letter in formal Polish army terminology that the “Polish Army was interested in restoring the child located at the Balczyniak farm near

Radomysl to his biological mother.” Neither the child's mother nor her place of residence was mentioned. The letter was signed in the formal manner with the appropriate stamp, lacking the “military rabbinate” line. Without any prior notice, Captain Drucker presented himself at the police station in Radomysl dressed in his officer's uniform with a hat that had a rim similar to the one worn by the Polish U.B. (Urzad Bezpieczenstwa – Office of Public Security or Polish secret police). Pan Kapitan slammed the letter on the desk of the chief of police. When the Radomysl chief of police looked up and saw Pan Kapitan in his quasi Polish secret police hat, carrying an official letter with the Polish army stamp, he was terrified. He treated the affair as official Polish business of the highest level. The police chief glanced over the letter as Pan Kapitan told him, “We know that the farmer has incurred considerable expense raising the child. And he is to be repaid in full.” Drucker then laid a brown paper package on the table. “Here is a package containing more than one million zlotys (about $2,500, a huge amount of money in those days) that will be left with you so that the farmer can buy himself the farm a Jew is offering for sale if he releases the child.” The Jewish survivor who wanted to sell the farm to Balczyniak was conveniently present at the police station.

The local police chief was so distraught by the scene that he sent two policemen to bring the farmer and the boy to the station. Balczyniak arrived carrying the two–year old boy. When the police chief tried to explain the situation, Balczyniak refused to listen. The police chief then strongly hinted that he had the means to force Balczyniak to accept the deal. Balczyniak, frightened by the threat, finally realized he had no choice but to release the boy. He received the package of money in return. At this point the Jewish owner of the farmland entered the room and Balczyniak gave him the package of money. Balczyniak now owned a farm but no longer had a son, even if the boy was not really his.

Pan Kapitan scooped up the boy, left the police station, slid into his Polish army car, the motor already running, and drove away, heading toward Krakow. During the trip from Radomysl to Krakow, Pan Kapitan spoke with the boy, who already knew him from Drucker's previous visits. The youngster asked Drucker, “Uncle, do you have a rifle?” “No,” Pan Kapitan answered, “but I have a gun. Why do you ask? Why do I need a rifle?” “In order to kill Jews,” answered the boy. Other than that revealing conversation, the trip was uneventful. The car reached Krakow safely. Drucker headed straight for the home of his younger brother Aaron, who had married after the war and settled in Krakow. Pan Kapitan took the boy and bought him some clothing since the farmer had not packed clothing for the child. He then took a picture of the child and send it to Edzio's mother in Paris who has never seen the child.

 

jor198.jpg
Edzio (Stanislaw) Rosenblatt, Krakow, Poland 1946. The picture was dated December 17, 1946. An inscription was written on the back, reading “I do not know you, dear mother, who sacrificed herself so much for me, your son.” Signed, “Stanislaw.” The note was written in Polish.

 

The boy was free at last, but still in Poland. Chaya was still in Paris. Somehow Pan Kapitan had to close the gap.

 

jor199.jpg
Polish inscription on the back of the photo

 

Meanwhile Pan Kapitan took Edzio Rosenblatt to the Jewish orphanage at Zabrze where Edzio was the youngest child. He quickly became the favorite of not only the teachers but also the other children who treated him as a beloved mascot.

Like the other children at Zabrze, Edzio awaited a way to leave Poland for Palestine. Most of these children left Poland, some legally and others illegally. The “Brichah” or escape movement transported most of the older children to the displaced person camps in Germany or Austria. Some transports of children went directly to France. The children's transports that left Poland usually combined children from different Jewish orphanages:

 

jor200.jpg
Zabrze staff and children at a Lag B'Omer celebration

 

religious, secular, Zionist or non–Zionist, including the children of Zabrze.

As a rule, the children were assembled in the city of Lodz, which had the largest Jewish population in postwar Poland. No sooner had Edzio “Stanislaw” Rosenblatt arrived in Zabrze than preparations were begun for his departure. Being a very small child, he needed special care and attention. As the necessary preparations were made, Pan Kapitan sent a letter to Chaya Rosenblatt in Polish informing her that her son Edzio would be leaving Poland and hopefully would join her soon in Paris. Edzio left Poland with a transport of Jewish children for France. Pan Kapitan sent a cable to Chaya informing her that Edzio had left Poland. Mother and son would soon be united.

 

jor201.jpg
Pan Kapitan's cable to Edzio's mother in Paris

 


Footnotes

  1. Drucker, Testimony pp.44–49 Return
  2. Drucker, Testimony pp 29–50 Return

 

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