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[Page 90]

Chapter IV

More Children

Michal Heffer, formerly Hinda Zurkowska, was another child redeemed by Captain Yeshayahu Drucker.

 

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Michal Heffer (Hinda Zurkowska) as an infant

 

Michal was the only member of her family who survived the Nazis. She was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and made her way to a church nearly 200 kilometers from Warsaw. She was taken in by the local priest, given chores and for a year became a farmhand, tending to the cows and helping out around the church, even singing in the church choir. One day, returning from the fields with the cows, she saw a crowd gathered in front of the church. A big official Polish military car was there, and everyone was staring at it. The priest rushed her into the church where she was confronted by a tall, blond Polish military officer and an American in a U.S. Army uniform. She remembers that “The American smiled at me and spoke to me in Polish, reaching into his pocket and showing me photographs of my family, my grandfather, whose picture I imagined I'd seen on the church wall, my mother and others of the family. He said he was my cousin Yehuda Elberg. Then I remembered him; I used to sit on his knee in Warsaw. He

 

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Michal Heffer with her father and brother prior to World War Two

 

had moved to the U.S. a few years before the war started.”

At the time Elberg, a journalist, was attached to the U.S. Army's press corps. “The Polish officer produced papers from the court saying that cousin Elberg was my legal guardian. The priest was a little afraid of the Polish officer

 

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Michal Heffer's mother

 

and the official paper and didn't argue. I gathered up my few things, and got in the big army car.” The Polish officer was Yeshayahu Drucker. As was his custom, Drucker left money with the priest for caring for me and risking his life in the process. “We left the house. The village people stared after us. The drive was pleasant but tense in the military car. I was sad on leaving the place where I had spent so much time and become so attached. I wondered where I was heading and what the future held in store for me. Then, suddenly, the car stopped at a roadblock outside Pilczyka, not far from Kielce. We were all forced at gunpoint to step out of the car. ”

The men with weapons were part of the anti–Communist “Army Krajowa” (home army), the largest para–military underground organization in Poland during the war. The group was extremely nationalistic and anti–Semitic. Jews who joined with them during the war hid their Jewish identity. When the war ended, the Army Krajowa did not stop its para–military activities but continued to harass both the Polish government and any Jewish survivors it came across. This militia considered the communists the enemy of Poland, and the Jews part of the communist plan to take over the country. Anti–Semitism was rampant in the region around Kielce, and Jews were not safe on the roads. Yeshayahu Drucker, in a Polish Army uniform, was in double jeopardy. First, he was part of the Polish army that was an arm

 

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Batia Akselrod Eisenstein (left) Michal Heffer (right) at Zabrze

 

of the communist–run government. Second, he was a Jew.

A militia soldier approached Drucker, and in a friendly tone asked who he was and why he had a little girl in a Polish military vehicle. Michal Heffer said Drucker then made a nearly fatal mistake. “She's a Jewish girl, we're taking her back to Warsaw.” The militia soldier went back to the commander, who was still at the roadblock, and conferred with him. The soldier came back, pushed Drucker to the side, pulled back the breach of his rifle and was ready to take aim. Drucker realized he was in serious trouble and started talking fast. “You see that guy over there? He's an American officer. A journalist. You shoot me, he'll have it in every newspaper in America. So you'll have to shoot him, too. You ready to do that?” Confused, the soldier went back to the commander. Another conference ensued. Then the soldier returned, jerked his rifle in the direction of the car. Michal said she and Drucker and Elberg got in, and drove away, fast.

“I thought I was going home with Elberg, but he explained he couldn't take care of me. Rather I was going to Zabrze, to the Jewish orphanage. And that's where I went with Uncle Elberg and Pan Capitan.”

Drucker visited her at Zabzre, stopping by to say hello when he'd drop off another child, or just come out on a Sunday. According to Michal many of the children at the Zabrze home considered themselves Christians and even attended church services on Sundays.

 

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Michal Heffer

 

In nearly every case, removing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes was a very tedious, delicate, and dangerous situation.

 

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President Ezer Weitzman awards prize to Michal Heffer

 

Michal went with the second children's transport from Zabrze, Poland to France where she remained for about two years at Perigueux, France and then arrived in Israel. She served in the army, married and raised a family. She lives at her Kfar Vitkin home. Michal is a published author and recognized artist in Israel. She received an award from the state.

 

Edzio Rosenblatt

 

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Seated from left to right; Dr. Nechema Geller with pocketbook at her feet, and David Hubel.
One of the children at this celebration was Edzio Rosenblatt

 

The toddler section of the Zabrze home is shown in this picture, taken during one of the festivals organized to acquaint the children with their Jewish heritage.

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.

 

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Edzio Rosenblatt
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.”
It was signed, “Stanislaw and written in Polish.”

 

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Polish inscription on the back of the photo

 

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 an excuse to loot 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 snuck quietly out of Radomysl, reaching the house of Tomas Szczurek in the village of Dulcza Wielka. 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 was a Sunday and 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 Rosenblatt's out of the house, but relented slightly when they begged for a few more hours. That night the Rosenblatt's slipped off into the fields, heading for nearby Dombrowa. In exchange for the risks they took, the Szczurek's kept most of the Rosenblatt's 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 phone in a Polish stranger's home and called her friend who said he would send a truck to pick her up the next day. 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 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. But the Nazis began rounding up Jews in Tarnow and the Rosenblatt's were forced to flee to the forest. Fugitives, they hid in the woods, living in caves, risking their lives when they snuck into a farmer's yard to buy 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 Rosenblatt's were reduced to begging for their own lives and for that of the unborn child.

The Kokoszka's were not bad people. They had already risked their lives allowing the Rosenblatt's to stay in the drafty, cold attic. They then mercifully took an even bigger risk: they allowed the Rosenblatt's to remain at their farm temporarily. On the evening of January 4, 1944, Chaya was lowered from the attic and taken to the stable. The next day, 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. After the birth she lost consciousness and was carried delirious back to the attic. She did not waken for several days.

During that time both the Rosenblatt's and the Kokoszka's knew that only drastic measures would save the child. The infant was cleansed, swaddled, and wrapped in a blanket. They hung a note from the baby's wrist stating falsely that his name was Edzio and that he had been baptized. Then they placed the infant 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 cat into the house. He spotted a bundle on one of the windowsills, and realized immediately 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 couldn't care for. 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 Balcyzyniak's decided to wait until morning before making any decisions. The hungry infant wailed through the night. While the Balcyzyniak's had milk in the cupboard they had no bottle to feed the child. But maternal instincts run strong. Mrs. Balcyzyniak cuddled theinfant, trying to sooth him to sleep. In the morning the Balcyzyniak's went to the local police station and told the police they had 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 Balcyzyniak's 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. They officially registered 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 and 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 bad news. 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 his 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.

Even though Chaya was running a high fever and there were few options, the Rosenblatt's decided they 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 Rosenblatt's 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 had fought against them, and Jews. The family's 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 Russians advanced, prisoners of Plaszow were lined up and marched at gunpoint through the ice and snow toward 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 barracks with 800 other inmates in a space 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 out to help her retrieve the child was an influential Swedish Jew named Paul Olberg in Stockholm. He replied to Chaya's inquiries in Yiddish directing her 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 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 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 read by most of the Mielec Jewish survivors. Coincidentally, one of the Mielec survivors owned a piece of land that he wanted to sell and he realized 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.

Yeshayahu Drucker 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. Drucker 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.” 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 ad read:

A FUND IS BEING CREATED IN ORDER TO RANSOM THE CHILD OF CHAYA GARN–ROSENBLATT

“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”

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). Drucker slammed the letter on the desk of the chief of police. The police chief looked up and was terrified when he saw Drucker in his quasi Polish secret police hat, carrying an official letter with the Polish army stamp. He treated the affair as official Polish business of the highest level. The police chief glanced over the letter as Drucker 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 money. Balczyniak now owned a farm, but no longer had a son, even if the boy was not really his.

Drucker 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, Drucker spoke with the boy, who already knew him from Drucker's previous visits. The youngster asked Drucker, “Uncle, do you have a rifle?” “No,” Drucker 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. Yeshayahu Drucker 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 had never seen her boy.

Meanwhile Drucker took Edzio Rosenblatt out of Aaron's house and drove him to the Jewish orphanage at Zabrze. Edzio was the youngest child at the orphanage and quickly became the favorite of not only the teachers but also the other children, who treated him as a beloved mascot.

 

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Zabrze orphanage

 

Like the other children at Zabrze, Edzio waited for a way to leave Poland. 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 persons 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: religious, secular, Zionist or non–Zionist, including the children of Zabrze.

 

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Zabrze staff and children at a Lag B'Omer celebration

 

As a rule, the children were assembled in the city of Lodz, which had the largest Jewish population in postwar Poland. Almost as soon as he arrived in Zabrze, preparations were begun for Edzio “Stanislaw” Rosenblatt to be reunited with his family. Being a very small child, he, of course, needed special care and attention. As the necessary preparations were made, Drucker wrote to Chaya Rosenblatt in Polish informing her that her son Edzio would be leaving Poland and hopefully would join her soon in Paris. On January 19, 1947, Edzio left Poland with a transport of Jewish children for France. Drucker sent a cable to Chaya saying that Edzio had left Poland. Mother and son would soon be united.

 

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Drucker's cable to Edzio's mother

 

Orna Keret

 

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Orna Keret was another 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 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 was in the final stages of preparation to leave Poland. Orna waited with the other children for the train to move. To pass time, she took out a Polish language version of Upton Sinclair's “Oil.” The train stood idle, waiting for the arrival of Rabbi Herzog and his entourage. They waited. . And waited. According to one account, there was a problem because Rabbi Herzog had all the documents. The Polish conductor was not going to let anyone on the train until he saw the documents that allowed the children to travel. No matter what arguments were made, the train stood empty, the children forced to wait on the platform in Katowice.

According to this account, 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. The teachers were wondering “What if Rabbi Herzog never shows up? Then what? Back to the orphanages? But how, it was already midnight. How could 500 children and their minders be transported back to the different orphanages in the middle of the night?” Panic was not far behind these thoughts. Then there was the danger of gangs of thugs, and the larger danger, being stuck in Poland. The sounds of the city had quieted. Now every trash can that was knocked over, or cat that howled, sent the teachers scurrying to protect their charges.

Another account had the children waiting on the train, not on the platform.

Major Sobol, the Polish security officer in charge of the train, had ordered all children and escorts to board the train and stay within until the train moved. Meanwhile, the train stood and waited, and waited for the arrival of Rabbi Herzog. Finally, late in the evening, Rabbi Herzog and his entourage arrived at the station and boarded the train that immediately began to move to the Czech border.

 :

Esther (Goldblum) Kastenbaum

Esther was not a youngster but needed a home, a job and a sense of security in post war Poland. Zabrze needed help and lots of help with all the children, especially the youngest ones. Ester devoted herself to them.

Esther Goldblum was born on January 14, 1924, in Skarzysko Kamienna near Radom, Poland. Her father was Yehiel Yossef Goldblum and her mother was Tzikla (Rafalowicz) Goldblum. Esther had two sisters: Dora, who later altered the name to Dorotea, born in 1921, and Reuvna born in 1936. Their father was a watchmaker and had his own store. He made a nice living and provided for the family who lived upstairs while the store was downstairs. Their mother devoted herself to the family. The Goldblum's did not live in a Jewish district although the family maintained a traditional Jewish home and the father prayed daily. Holidays were observed in the traditional religious sense of a Polish Jewish family.

The children attended regular school and suffered greatly as a result of anti–Semitic behavior on the part of the Polish students and teachers in the schools. The number of Jewish children was always small in the classes, thus an easy target for the anti–Semitic bullies who received encouragement from some teachers for their behavior. Esther had one Jewish school friend but managed to have a non–Jewish school acquaintance who lived in her building and frequently provided her with the homework when she was absent from school for religious observances. As an obedient child she attended school and assisted her mother with various home chores.

The German attack on Poland had immediate consequences for the Goldblum family. A local “volksdeutch,” that is, a Pole of German origin, appeared at the home of the family and demanded that the Goldblum family hand over the apartment to him. All pleas were in vain and the family finally had to move to a small one–room flat. One of the grandmothers joined them in this apartment.

Esther, like all Jewish children, was now forbidden to attend school. She assisted her father in the store and helped him bury a great deal of jewelry and precious items that would later save her life and that of her sister. The Germans vandalized the remains of the store and sent Yehiel Goldblum and his older daughter Dora to work in an armament plant. Esther remained at home with her mother, sister and grandmother. She spent her time chatting or playing with some other Jewish friends inside her home or those of her playmates. Going out in the street was dangerous, since Germans constantly appeared and grabbed people for work details.

The Germans soon created a Judenrat (Jewish council) in Skarzysko Kamienna and selected Yehiel Goldblum to be a member of it. This office executed all the wishes of the Gestapo, including providing slave labor for German needs. Still, the Judenrat also tried their best to serve the local Jewish community by providing free or subsidized meals or medications for the poor Jews in town. They helped to organize the painful transfer of the Jewish population in Skarzysko Kamienna to the ghetto of the city. The Goldblum family did not have to move since their one room flat was in the ghetto area. Conditions were crowded and hunger was prevalent in the closed ghetto. Yehiel managed to provide his family with food, according to Esther. She did not go hungry but suffered from boredom and fear. The Germans constantly raided the ghetto for one thing or another and it was unsafe to be on the street. One never knew whether one would be dragged to a work detail or sent to a labor camp, never to appear again. Yehiel Goldblum was picked up by the Germans despite his official position on the Judenrat and sent to work in Radom.

The Skarzysko Kamienna ghetto was ordered to be closed in December 1942 and the Jewish population was told to move to the ghetto of Szydlowiec, a predominantly Jewish town. The family hired a horse–drawn cart and moved their few belongings to the new ghetto that received not only the Jews of Skarzysko Kamienna but of the entire area. The town of Skarzysko Kamienna became “Judenrein” or free of Jews with the closure of the ghetto.

The Szydlowiec ghetto was bursting at the seams. Hopelessness was pervasive in the ghetto. While Esther and her family were in this ghetto, their father repaired clocks for the Germans in Radom and was busy looking for someone who could help his family. He talked to several Jewish co–workers and one of them told him that he knew of a Pole in the city of Rozwadow who could help him but it would cost a great deal of money. Goldblum paid the man for the information––a name and address––Rudolf Siec in Rozwadow. He contacted Siec and said he would pay all the expenses if Siec could save his family. Goldblum then let his family know to expect the arrival of a helper.

Rudolf Siec came to Szydlowiec and took Dora to Rozwadow where he rented a one–room flat for her. He then returned to the ghetto, provided Esther with Aryan papers and took her to live with a Christian family. She waited for the arrival of Reuvna and mother who were supposed to join her. But Siec kept making excuses, the ghetto gates were closed or the Germans were detaining Poles and sending them to work in Germany. In reality the ghetto of Szydlowiec had already been liquidated. Finally, he told Esther the truth, there were no more Jews in Szydlowiec. Siec then moved her to the apartment to live with Dora. The sisters did not know if they could believe Siec, but had no way of checking events outside.

Meanwhile a relationship developed between Dora and Rudolf Siec. Esther never found out if the relationship was spontaneous or imposed. The sisters never talked about it. Esther would have to stay in the closet when Siec visited Dora.. The situation was getting very irritating and Siec decided to look for a place in a nearby village. But such a place would cost money and they were running low on it.

Siec and Esther decided to return to Skarzysko Kamienna where the Goldblum treasure was still hidden in a cellar. The risks were great that she might be spotted or denounced but there was no choice, for without money they had no chance of survival. Esther knew the hiding place and managed to extract most of the small hidden jewels and stones and put them in a bag. The big items like candelabras were left hidden since they would attract attention. She returned to the meeting place with Siec and they left safely for Rozwadow. She gave everything to him and he paid for all their expenses by selling the treasure bit by bit. The bulk of it he buried in the village where his mother lived.

Siec refused to work for the Germans and was always involved in petty small deals of one kind or another. He decided to rent a room for Esther in the village of Malczet near Rozwadow with a Polish family. He told them that she was the child of a Christian–Jewish couple and paid them 1,500 zlotys a month. Esther remained there for about a year and a half. The only contact she had with Dora was through Siec when he came once a month to pay the couple their rent. He was also her only contact with the world. She had to hide whenever guests or neighbors arrived. Sometimes the appearances were sudden and she could not make it to the safe hideaway so had to improvise a hiding place. Life was lonely and boring but she always hoped for better things.

Then one day, Siec came and took Esther to Rozwadow where she was reunited with Dora. He had decided to move them all to Czestochowa as the front line approached Poland. Czestochowa was a very religious Catholic city in Poland. The trip went smoothly. Even though they were carrying false papers, Esther was terrified that she might be recognized when they passed Skarzysko Kamienna.

In Czestochowa there was tension in the household. Dora's family was growing and Esther felt uncomfortable, especially because of some of the things Siec said to her. She found a room where she could live on her own. Soon after she developed a rash on her legs that evolved into an infection and required medical treatment. A Polish doctor treated her and cured the infection.

The city was liberated by the Russians and Esther decided to return to Skarzysko Kamienna alone since Dora refused to leave the city. There was no organized system of transportation but she managed to reach the town and found their flat occupied by a Polish family. Somehow Esther managed to find a place with a Jewish family and began to await the arrival of her other family members. She was in the city several weeks but no one arrived. Rumors and warnings began to circulate to the effect that all Jews had to leave town if they wanted to stay alive. She saw no reason to stay and decided to return to Czestochowa.

The three of them left Czestochowa for the port city of Gdynia where Siec began to work and to drink. He became very abusive to the sisters. Esther decided to leave by herself for Lodz where there was a large Jewish community. She reached the city and met an old acquaintance of the family who invited her to stay with them.

Esther quickly discovered that no one in her family had survived the war. Her father died on one of the death marches toward the end of the war. Mrs. Goldblum had become sick with typhus in the Szydlowiec ghetto and was probably killed by the Germans who eliminated people with infectious diseases. Esther's younger sister was sent to a concentration death camp. The entire family was wiped out with the exception of Dora, Esther and a cousin named Chana Wohlhandler, the daughter of her mother's sister, Lea (Rafalowicz) Wohlhandler.

Chana was hidden by a Christian family who refused to let her go after the war despite Esther's pleas. The Polish family refused to even discuss the matter. But Esther refused to give up hope and decided to travel to Warsaw to seek help from Rabbi David Kahane, chief Jewish military chaplain of the Polish Army. She had heard of the many positive deeds that he performed on behalf of Jewish people.

Esther reached Warsaw in 1946 and managed to speak to Rabbi Kahane, who introduced her to Captain Yeshayahu Drucker, who also worked in the Chaplain's office. Drucker asked her the details of the case and took notes. He also took a great interest in Esther's life story and asked if she would help with the work of rescuing Jewish children from Christian homes. Drucker told Esther that he needed a young Jewish person who could act as a model for the Jewish children raised in Christian homes, many of whom were presently imbued with anti–Jewish feelings. He explained that a young female would have an easier time establishing a relationship with other youngsters.

Esther agreed to assist Rabbi Drucker in his work rescuing Jewish children from Christian homes and taking them to the Zabrze orphanage. At the orphanage they received the warm and individual attention necessary to overcome their traumatic experiences during and following the war. Because the children were in such need and there were so many arrangements to make, Esther ended up helping in a variety of ways. Capitan Drucker devoted a great deal of time to the youngsters at the orphanage and spent almost every weekend with the children. He even went on hikes with them when he had free time.

On occasion Esther would travel with Drucker on his missions. He even managed to rescue her cousin Chana. Chana was very upset and traumatized by the change of homes and it took some time for her to relinquish her attachments to the Christian home. Although Esther devoted a great deal of time comforting Chana and trying to restore her confidence, she continued to present special problems.

Children kept arriving and departing to various destinations, notably to Palestine and England. The very young children were often adopted by English Jewish families as soon as they arrived at the British airport. Rabbi Shonfeld of London prepared all the necessary arrangements and flew to Poland to escort the children to England. The military chaplain's office handled the Polish side for the necessary exit papers. Esther was assigned to accompany the third transport that was heading to England. She decided to visit her sister, who by now had children with Siec, to say goodbye because she would be leaving Poland. The sisters would not see each other again. Dora and Rudolph were later killed by Poles and to this day nobody knows the cause.

The transport consisted of 100 small children. Esther was assigned five children to tend to, including Chana Wohlhandler. The transport and the preparations were excellent and the trip was smooth. All small children were immediately taken by their adopted parents at the airport in accordance with the adoption papers. Esther was taken to Rabbi Shonfeld's home where she stayed for some time until further arrangements were made. She remained in England for two years and studied nursing as well as English. At first Esther visited the homes of the adopted children but as time went by she stopped the visits. She then decided to leave for Israel and arrived in 1948. She was immediately drafted and sent to the army camp of Beit Lid and then to an army hospital as a nurse.

Chana Wohlhandler did not take to her adopted English Jewish family and was placed in a youth hostel. She left for Israel the following year where she married and raised a family. Esther continued as a nurse following the war and married Zigmunt Kastenbaum in 1951, with whom she had a son and daughter.

By chance Esther met Batia (Akselrad) Eisenstein, whom she had known in Zabrze, and learned that Yeshayahu Drucker was in Israel. Esther and Drucker had not spoken or written to each other since she left Zabrze. They reestablished contact and Esther continued to maintain close relations with the Drucker family until he passed away.

 

Benyamin Nussbaum

 

zab104.jpg
Benyamin Nussbaum on the left and Adolf Muntz on the right.
Picture taken after the boy was redeemed by Drucker.

 

Benyamin Nussbaum was the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family in Krosno, Galicia, Poland. With the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Krosno, the Nussbaum family managed to find a hiding place for Benyamin. This was very difficult since most non–Jews were afraid to hide Jewish children especially boys that were circumcised. Apparently, the Nussbaum's made some sort of deal with a family to take the child. The Nussbaum's were killed in the Shoah as were most of their family.

 

zab105.jpg
Children and staff at Zabrze . Seated in the first row on the right is Benyamin Nussbaum.

 

Benyamin was hidden during the war. Once the war was over, he was baptized and sent to a Jesuit school to become a priest. Batia Akselrod had actually seen Benyamin acting as an altar boy at the church of the Capuchin Order in Krosno. Apparently, when the transports of repatriated Poles returned from the Soviet Union to Poland some Jews returned to Krosno. Among them was Adolf Muntz who had been friendly with the Nussbaum family and knew Benyamin. He started to make inquiries regarding the boy but encountered only closed doors. Muntz was not related to the family and could not take legal action so he decided to contact Rabbi Kahane. The matter soon reached the desk of Drucker who visited Krosno to make the necessary inquiries. Drucker hired a lawyer who petitioned the court and the religious institution settled the case without a legal fight. Drucker paid and took the boy to Zabrze where he remained a short period of time. Benyamin was sent to France with a transport of Jewish children and later reached Israel.

 

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