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Chapter XIV

The Dismantlement of Jewish life in Eastern Europe

Parliamentary elections were held in Poland on January 19, 1947, the first since World War II. According to the official results, the Democratic Bloc (Blok Demokratyczny), dominated by the communist Polish Workers Party (PPR), gained 80.1% of the vote and 394 of the 444 seats in the legislative Sejm of Poland. The resulting government was a communist–dominated government that began to take matters in hand. The various government security and police forces were increased throughout the country. Their powers were vastly increased. The opposition was dismantled, harassed and decimated. The Communist Party was on the way to establishing itself as the only party in Poland.

The Polish borders were closed and the police began to check the various activities of Jewish organizations, especially the Zionist organizations. There was nothing specific, but the feeling of being watched was in evidence everywhere and made people ill at ease, especially Zionist officials. Drucker continued to redeem Jewish children from non–Jewish homes although he had to be more careful because the Polish administration began to tighten rules and follow procedures. The redemption prices of Jewish children also increased and put a strain on Jewish financial reserves. The Zionist homes continued to function but at a reduced level since their residents were sent abroad.

One day, Pan Kapitan, as Drucker became known, received a letter from the kibbutz Evron in Palestine stating that the son of the writer's sister was wandering through Poland. [1] The letter stated that the writer was already an elderly person and would like to rescue the child but knew little of his whereabouts in Poland. By pure chance, Pan Kapitan had picked a Jewish boy in the village of Garbolin in the area of Warsaw. It appeared that the boy had been handed over by his Jewish parents to a Polish family for safe keeping, but the family chased the boy away from their house. The child wandered about the streets of Warsaw and lived with a gang of children that dealt in cigarettes on the streets of Warsaw. During the Polish revolt in Warsaw, in 1944, the child escaped with Poles out of the city and they ran to the countryside. The child was tired and fell asleep at a farm in Garbolin. The farmer picked him up and gave him shelter until the end of the war. Pan Kapitan had received information about the child and visited the farmer several times but the Pole refused to surrender the child. Pan Kapitan continued to pressure the farmer who finally consented to release the child. He then asked the farmer for the name of the child. The farmer replied that the child was known as Bazem Barnowicz. Pan Kapitan asked the farmer to bring the child to the chaplaincy office in Warsaw where the farmer would be paid in exchange for the child. The farmer sent his wife with the child to the office in Warsaw. Pan Kapitan waited for them and asked the boy to step into a room next door and Pan Kapitan gave the woman the money. She started to count as the boy peeked in and saw the money being counted. He screamed: “You are selling me for money.” She threw the money on the floor and went to take the boy. Pan Kapitan assembled the money and put it into her bag and gently pushed her out of the room. He kept the boy, who was crying. Pan Kapitan told the boy that he was his “uncle.” He talked and talked and calmed the child who was taken to the orphanage in Zabrze. Pan Kapitan kept talking to the boy hoping to find some clue as to his identity.

Pan Kapitan decided to take the boy to Warsaw and walk with him in the area where the children who sold cigarettes used to hang about. The boy recognized the streets and even remembered the place from where he had been kicked out. He even told Drucker the apartment where he had lived. Pan Kapitan returned to the building dressed in his military uniform and knocked on the door. An elderly man opened the door. Pan Kapitan asked to see the Jewish boy who was living in the apartment. At first, the man denied having a Jewish child, But Pan Kapitan persisted and implied that he had information that a Jewish boy lived here. The man then decided to tell the story. He had been friendly with a couple who worked for the Joint Distribution Committee in Warsaw prior to the war. The couple, named Barnowicz, had a boy and they wanted to save him. So they made an agreement with the Pole that he was to hide the boy in his apartment. They paid him and promised in writing that if the boy survived the war, the Joint Distribution Committee in the United States would pay additional compensation for the rescue of the child. The Pole even gave Drucker all the papers pertaining to the boy. The boy was told by the man never to approach the apartment window since his appearance was typically Jewish. The child did not listen and looked out from the window. The children below in the courtyard saw him and began to yell, “There is Jew in that apartment!” The Pole said that he was afraid for his life and chased the boy out of his place and onto the streets of Warsaw. Pan Kapitan informed the boy's uncle in Israel that he had found his nephew. The boy reached the kibbutz in Israel where he would grow up. He has returned several times to the farmer in Garbolin, Poland. He was no exception; most of the children who Pan Kapitan removed from non–Jewish homes eventually returned to visit the places where they lived during the war.

Drucker continued to devote himself to removing the Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. The task was getting more difficult by the day because the Polish government steadily increased full control of the streets and began to check all movements, including Zionist movements. The Polish secret services began to take an active interest in Jewish activities, including Jewish orphanages. The Central Committee kept pressuring the Polish government to take steps to limit all Zionist organizations and to prevent Jews from leaving for Palestine. Jewish emissaries from Palestine were checked prior to receiving permission to come to Poland. The Zionist homes slowly emptied by sending their residents out of Poland; even the Zabrze home made great efforts to send, legally or illegally, its young residents out of the country. Some Zionist homes and kibbutzim began to close for lack of new members and the elimination of the source of supply, namely the dwindling Jewish population in Poland. The Zabrze home was an official Polish institution under the auspices of the Polish army and was controlled by the Association of Jewish religious communities in Poland. The Central Committee of Polish Jews pressured Rabbi Kahana to integrate Zabrze with their homes. He dragged his feet, meanwhile taking all necessary steps to remove from the home as many orphans as he could and sending them abroad.

In 1948, the Zabrze home officially received an invitation to participate in the memorial services for the ghetto uprising of the Jews in Warsaw. This was indeed a surprise, for most of the participants belonged to groups that were close to the political regime. The home began to make extensive preparations for the event. Rehearsals were held and a delegation of children was selected to participate in the ceremonies, as well as an official delegation of the Zabrze home, and the Jewish community of Zabrze.

 

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The Zabrze official delegation to the memorial services for the Jews who revolted against the Germans. Zabrze official delegation headed by Dr. Nechema Geller. Behind her stands Rudolf Wittenberg, gym teacher of the Zabrze home, and to his left is Captain Drucker dressed in military uniform

 

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Zabrze children waiting their turn to enter the parade in memory of the Jewish revolt in Warsaw

 

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Photographs showing the Zabrze contingent that took part in the memorial services for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Photos depict the Zabzre children marching near the remnants of the Warsaw ghetto. The second row middle picture shows the Zabrze orphanage leadership.

 

Rabbi Kahana, now promoted to the rank of colonel, continued to protect the Zabrze home and his Association of Jewish Religious Communities. The Central Committee of Polish Jews applied pressure to out the Zabrze home under the wings of the Central Committee's education division. The pressure was relentless but Rabbi Kahana continued his independent path although he knew that his battle was lost. He soon decided to retire from the Polish army. The number of Jewish personnel in the Polish army had steadily declined and he began to plan to leave for Palestine. He planned to transfer the reduced chaplaincy office to Pan Kapitan. Also, Rabbi Aaron Becker decided to leave the Polish army. The chaplaincy office was thus reduced to one person, Pan Kapitan.

 

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Chaplain Aaron Becker, dressed in uniform, attends meeting of Mizrahi Zionist movement in Poland following the war

 

As mentioned above, the Polish Communist government was slowly gaining control of the countryside. More and more police forces were created to cope with the lawlessness. The U.B. (Urzad Bezpieczenstwa or Polish secret police force) was greatly expanded and given large powers. The Polish Communist Party demanded action. Even the Central Jewish Committee of Polish Jews that was by now communist–dominated demanded immediate steps to prevent Jews from legally leaving Poland. It also demanded that the educational programs of the Jewish orphanages be realigned with the regular Polish school program. Rabbi Kahana used all his influence to delay the demands. The Polish government tightened control of Jewish legal emigration but permitted Jews to move to Palestine. The U.B. or Polish secret police began to follow Zionist activists. A significant change was taking place regarding Jews and Jewish organizations, especially those involved in Zionist activities. The Communist members of the Central Committee became vociferous in their demands that all Zionist activities throughout Poland cease. The Polish government took matters in hand.

The U.B. began to intimidate the Palestinian Zionist representatives in Poland. They were urged to leave the country. Leib Koriski, head of the Koordinacja office, or unified Zionist office for rescuing Jewish children, was placed under special surveillance. The Zionist homes tried to send all their children abroad. Zabrze was no exception. It expedited as many children as possible out of Poland. Below is a collective

 

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Collective passport for children of Zabrze. Group passport for Polish children traveling to Israel. All children listed were from the Zabrze home. They traveled via Czechoslovakia to Germany and France and then sailed to Israel.

 

passport issued to a group of Zabrze children heading to Israel. Notice the stamps and the countries that they had to cross.

 

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Rabbi Kahana, second from left, leaves Poland from the port of Gdansk

 

In 1949, Rabbi Kahane left Poland for Israel and managed to take with him some of the children. Upon his arrival in Israel he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force. Pan Kapitan replaced Kahana as Chief Chaplain of the Polish Army. He continued his activities in redeeming Jewish children but it became dangerous. Poland was becoming a communist dictatorship where movements were strictly controlled. Many checkpoints and road blocks were set up and traveling across the country became very difficult. The cold war atmosphere swept Poland. In 1948, Pan Kapitan was promoted to the rank of Major in the Polish Army. He met and married a Shoah survivor of Auschwitz, Miriam Wolfeiler, who worked at the Zabrze home. She gave birth to their daughter and named her Rachel, in honor of Pan Kapitan's mother.

Harsh police measures were soon enforced throughout Poland. Leib Koriski, Palestinian emissary and head of the Koordinacja office, was arrested and released on condition that he stop his activities in Poland. He continued his Koordinacja activities and was arrested again and interrogated. The police insisted that he provide evidence that all children who had left Poland had done so legally. While Koriski was in jail, Pinhas Kribus, another Palestinian emissary, was appointed to replace him. But the police hampered all activities of the Koordinacja office. Koriski was released and forced to leave Poland. All Palestinian officials in Poland were asked to leave the country. Rachel Sternbuch, who was a Swiss citizen, represented the Vaad Hatzala organization in Europe, especially in Poland. This organization was created by American Orthodox rabbis to help Orthodox rabbis and yeshiva students in Europe. She was also active on behalf of redeeming Jewish children from non–Jewish homes and institutions. She was arrested, kept in jail for a short period of time and then escorted to the border.

Active Jews were called to the police station and questioned. All were told that they were being watched. Even the members of the Bund or Jewish Socialist movement were being followed. The Bund was the best organized movement in postwar Poland. It had a wide variety of institutions and branch offices in many cities in Poland. The organization frequently cooperated with the Communist Party in Poland. The Polish government decided to attack the Bund on two fronts. One way was to order the police to check and control the party activities. The Polish government also urged the Bund members to join the Polish Communist Party. The simultaneous pressure was too difficult to fight and the Bund decided to close its doors in Poland. Most Bund members left Poland and headed to Australia, Europe, Argentina and even Israel, which they had so fervently opposed.

The Zabrze home was next in line. Pan Kapitan knew the days of independence were limited and there were still some children at the home. He managed to send some children with families that were leaving Poland. He also managed to place some other children with Jewish families in Poland. The staff was helped to leave Poland and the institution was closed. Pan Kapitan handed the keys of the home to the Association of Jewish Religious Communities.

 

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This document states that on “September 8, 1949, appeared before me Doctor Emilia Siliat Aleksandrowicz from the city of Gliwice. She officially adopted Sulamit Stefania Gottenberg from the nearby orphanage of Zabzre. The release from the orphanage was signed by Major in the Polish Army named Jezajasz Druckier Copy of adoption paper of Sulamit Gottenberg in Gliwice, Poland.”

 

Many Zionist officials began to leave Poland for Israel. Slowly but effectively, the Zionist political parties and their cultural institutions were forced to close their doors. The Jewish communities lost a good part of their Jewish population. Many Jewish activities stopped in Zabrze as the number of Jews steadily declined. Then on December 31, 1949, the Polish government informed the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland that it had to stop all activities on Polish soil. William Bein, head of the Polish office of the Joint Distribution Committee, tried to intervene but in vain. The decision shocked the entire Jewish community for the Joint Distribution Committee had extensively supported the Jewish communities and all Jewish institutions. Institution after institution closed. This organization was also closed by the Polish government.

Pan Kapitan retired from the Polish army as a major. The office of the army chaplaincy was closed in the Polish army. In 1950, Pan Kapitan, his wife and daughter left Poland and followed the children he had sent to Israel.


Footnotes

  1. Drucker, Testimony, p. 65. Return

 

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