The two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah merely needed ten just people to save themselves from destruction. However during the Shoah that was unleashed by the German beast, thousands of just people would have been needed to save the millions of our doomed people. Unfortunately there were very few such just people; one can even say that they were a mere handful, thus it is very important to tell their story
Due to the exceptional heroism of these people during the darkest period of our history, it is our duty to retell in detail the shining story of these heroes against a backdrop of dark and uninviting skies that prevented the emission of a ray of hope. It is our commandment to describe the shining stories of the righteous of the world that not only helped and saved people but also exposed themselves to grave dangers in doing the noble rescue work.
One of these shining examples was the simple family that was small in stature but great in spirit that put their lives at stake in order to protect and save a small Jewish girl from the murderous German clutches. The following is her story as she relives the terrible past with tears in her eyes and great appreciation for what her noble saviors did for her.
Esther Kimchi tells her story:
When World War II started, I was a little girl and was not exactly aware of what was going on, but one thing I do remember; we were constantly on the move. We walked and traveled along roads that were not roads; it is so confusing. Sleepless nights, pressure, pushing and shoving, and hunger were our constant companions until we finally reached the capital of Poland, namely Warsaw. Here we found lodgings with relatives. The place was crowded and stuffy. For lack of choice, we suffered and waited for some sort of miracle. We waited and tried to hold our head high until the nightmare would pass.
The long road of suffering continued unabated and the end was nowhere in sight. Therefore, one had to start to look for ways and means to support us. Father was the main provider and he undertook all kinds of risky dealings that exposed him to all kinds of dangers. He smuggled people and/or merchandise to earn a few pennies to provide food and the essential necessities of daily life.
In the meantime, the ghetto of Warsaw was erected and we were forced to move into it. But we did not get the tranquility we hoped for in the ghetto. Again and again, we were forced to move and each move caused pain and suffering beyond description. Due to my young age, I do not remember entire sequences of events. I see unrelated pictures racing through my mind as though I was watching a horror story of the period of suffering. As in a dream, I remember sleeping on the stairway in one of the abandoned buildings in the ghetto, but I do not know how I got there and what happened afterwards, no beginning or ending. Then one day, we left the ghetto illegally to reach the so-called Aryan side of Warsaw. This was no social visit to our acquaintances. The act of crossing was illegal and very dangerous but had to be made in order to save lives.
People with some perception of events began to understand the German plan and saw the Shoah approaching rapidly. They began to look for hiding places for themselves or possibly for their children. Of course, this depended on how well-connected one was with the non-Jewish population of Warsaw. My parents also faced this decision and decided to use their connections. I was left outside the ghetto in a safe hidden place. To tell the truth, a hiding place was also found for my mother, but she preferred to stay in the ghetto in order to save me, for she feared that if she was discovered she might reveal my hideaway. Thus, she sacrificed herself for me.
My parents left and I remained with Polish acquaintances from before the war. They consented to keep and protect me in their house in order to avoid being captured by the German killers or their bloodthirsty helpers.
At first, I was not completely isolated from my family since my father took risky chances to see me. He would dress up as a sanitation worker and reach my hiding place or he would smuggle something to the Aryan side and use the opportunity to visit me. These activities were very dangerous. Once, I even heard his injured call when he encountered German guards that fired at him while crossing the ghetto passage.
Towards the end of 1941, the visits stopped and I stopped seeing him. Slowly, I began to realize what was happening there in the ghetto and what was happening to my protective family. I saw on the horizon the flames that were rising from the burning ghetto. This was a picture that I will never forget.
A new chapter began in my life. I erased my youth, so to speak, from my memory and all it stood for. I became an inseparable part of the adopted family, although I had certain reservations in my heart. I understood that I am not like everybody in the family for I had something to hide.
|Esther Kimchi with her saviors - second row (seated)
My adopted parents had families and when somebody asked the husband who I was, he pointed to his wife and said she belonged to them and vice-versa. My stay in the flat was also irregular since I had a hiding place in a box of straw near the fireplace. I did not attend school but received lessons from the oldest daughter of the family who had just turned 18. All the children in the family were warned to keep my presence a secret and to reveal nothing about me to friends or relatives.
My luck was that the children were older and could be trusted. But I was still a small girl and had to be drilled about the fact that I was no longer Jewish and not to say something that might reveal my identity or lead to insinuations
In order to provide me with an absolute hidden identity, the family decided to convert me to Christianity. Thus, when the family went to mass on Sunday I was part of the family and prayed with them. In retrospect, it appears that my conversion to Christianity was of great importance and would play an important role later on in my life. The days of the terrible rule seemed to prolong themselves. The Germans were victorious on the battlefields and seemed invincible, and there was not even a spark of hope for change. This situation depressed everybody, especially my savior family for they were in constant mortal danger. The lack of change and the constant fear of hiding a Jewish child in their home began to wear thin in the house. The husband especially began to show signs of despair, but the wife, who was a devout Catholic, went to consult the priest about the situation. He gave her spiritual strength to hold fast in her belief of saving a soul. From then on, not only was I protected by the lady of the house but also by the Catholic Church. Needless to say, the husband and wife squabbles on the subject ended with the husband's submission to the wife's decision to continue to hide the girl.
I was unable to play in the courtyard for fear of being noticed by someone and reported to the authorities. I had no friends and was unable to play with anyone. Furthermore, I could not sit forever locked up in the flat. So the lady of the house sent me on all kinds of errands in order to get some air.
One day, I was sent to the store pick up jam. I had a large jar for the jam and the storekeeper filled the jar and placed a paper cover on top to prevent the bees from getting at it. On my way home, I suddenly hear German voices behind me. I slowly turn my head and sure enough notice three German policemen heading in the same direction that I am going. I begin to take the matter seriously and am very worried. I increase my walking pace, but am afraid to walk too fast for fear of arousing suspicions. As I check to see whether they are still on my footsteps, the paper cover of the jar flies off and falls in the street. I did not pick up the paper but continued to walk in order not to loose ground. The policemen picked up the paper cover and called for me to halt. As they approached me, my heart was pumping at an alarming rate; I was certain that I would faint and betray myself. However, I managed to maintain my composure and accepted the paper cover from the policeman. The event ended as though nothing had happened.
The family treated me very well. They liked me and spoiled me by providing me with everything that I needed in spite of the hardships due to the war situation and the shortages. They sometimes even treated me better than their own children so that I did not feel underprivileged. Following the Polish uprising in Warsaw, the city lacked food and to a certain extent water, but I hardly felt it as I was provided by the savior family with the necessary needs.
Since I did not attend school for fear of being exposed, the daughters of the family taught me how to read and write. They also escorted me to church and instructed me how to pray. Sometimes I joined the church choir. I was always escorted by one of the girls when I visited the priest at the church and he always stressed the importance of religion and adherence to it. As for myself, I was still rather young to understand the importance of religion. The home atmosphere however was one of warmth and reception. I received and gave gifts, participated in family celebrations, and felt as though I belonged to the family.
Meanwhile, the war was nearing its end. The pressure on the Germans grew by the day and they prepared for the final battle in the city. They ordered the entire civilian population to abandon the city. There were no cars, so we started to walk in the direction of Lodz. We walked for about two weeks until we reached some abandoned camp that became our temporary abode.
Along the road, the Germans seized the oldest daughter of the family and sent her to an unknown destination. The brother was active in the resistance and therefore cut ties with the family. Thus, the family now consisted of the parents, their small daughter and me. We remained in the camp for about two weeks and then headed on to Lodz. When we reached the city, we were informed that the war had ended. The atmosphere suddenly took on a festive mood and in the general joy I too felt a bit happy.
I remember how we started to look for lodgings and finding a place that was occupied by Germans ordered them to leave the place instantly. They left the place as well as the piano. I was now free to play the piano whenever I felt like it. The flat was nice, but empty, it even lacked utensils. We had to start to look for furnishings as well as food for hunger made its appearance.
Spring was in the air, but it was bitter cold in the large apartment. There was no wood to be had, so we burned the notebooks and books from the large library in order to heat the place somewhat.
Slowly, life began to improve and changes occurred within me. I began to attend school. I entered third grade after a placement test. My religious affiliation also took on a more relaxed attitude since there was no longer the constant fear of being discovered. The family began to think of officially adopting me in order to become part of the family; they registered me as a Catholic child at the school and also prepared me to be ready to start catechism classes that will prepare me for my communion when I reached the proper age. The significance of the service is similar to the bar-mitzvah ceremony in Judaism. The candidate is dressed in white and escorted to the priest with other children of the same age. They all confess to the priest and promise to behave and to fulfill all the religious requirements that they were taught. In exchange, they receive a branch as a gift. Of course, the ceremony is a very joyous event for the youngsters and their families.
My family was amongst the millions of Jews that were killed by the Germans killers in Poland. There were some uncles that managed to survive the Shoah and tried to resume their lives. They also remembered that I was hidden with a Christian family and assumed that perhaps I had survived. They began to search for me, but all efforts failed. Then one day, it happened. At the beginning of the school year, I went with my adopted mother to buy used schoolbooks. The store was located in the Jewish neighborhood and the owners were Jewish. As soon as I entered the store, I was recognized by the owners as being Jewish. It was amazing that in all my years of the war no Gentile recognized me as a Jewess and upon entering a Jewish store I was instantly recognized .
The owners were not absolutely certain that I was Jewish so they approached the entire matter very carefully and asked my adopted mother very politely if this girl, pointing to me, was not per chance Jewish? The woman answered candidly that this was the case. Of course, there was no longer the threat of danger. Thus ended the first meeting with my people.
Before long, the meeting had strange results. The owners of the store did not keep the meeting a secret and it soon made the rounds amongst the survivors of the city of Lodz and vicinity. Particularly impressed with the story were the inhabitants of the apartment above the bookstore. The latter were my uncles who had been looking for me all over the place and had almost abandoned their hopes of finding me. They began to search my whereabouts and to track me down. At first, they began to visit me secretly and then in the open. They started to talk to me and pointed out that I belonged to the family and to the Jewish people. At first, I hesitated since I did not know them because I went into hiding as a little girl. They slowly tried to gain my confidence by buying me lots of gifts and bringing surprises. Slowly, I began to gain confidence and decided to return to my people. I joined my uncles and soon left Poland with the Youth Aliyah for Palestine.
|Bogdan by the Jasna Gora
Monastery in Czestechowa
These words are dedicated to the remnant of the Shoah who were condemned before even reaching their Bar Mitzvah but somehow remained alive by virtue of thousands of small miracles.
The Shoah, visited upon the Jews of Europe, quite apart from all its horrors, visions of violence and tribulations, shook the Jewish people violently and tossed them to unknown places in a most gruesome and frightening manner - enough to make the hair on our heads stand on end.
This was especially true for those of us who were mere children who were tossed into the maelstrom in our early formative years, before we could make our minds as to who we were and make sense of what was happening to us. Only our gut instincts whispered to us the direction we should go in for good or bad, for salvation or oblivion, for life or death.
But, as much as the deadly cruelty of the Shoah hurt the victims, it was multiplied many times when it touched the children and their chances to save themselves from the steamroller of horror was minimal. Only a pitiful few managed by thousands of miracles to survive by many twisted ways and by sheer luck. They succeeded in working their way through the cracks in the wall of death that barred their way to life.
One of those survivors, who, as a child, was tossed into these unusual circumstances tells his story here, the man himself a son of the town of Zloczew who was called Bogdan in those terrible days.
I was about 6 years old when war came and I can only vaguely remember what happened to me. It is like watching an object moving across the skies at the twilight hour. I do remember listening intently to the news, the unusual activity in our town and the frequent family gatherings. I remember friends and relatives coming to find out from my father, who was involved in public life, what was happening. Everyone was looking for advice - what shall we do? How do we conduct ourselves?
Waking up at 5 am on that fateful day when the war started, I could hear planes flying to the nearby town of Wielun to bomb it. I have never seen so many planes flying at once and I was completely overawed by these images. Later on, I found out that what they were doing signalled the beginning of the war. A few hours later, mass flight started from our town and I went with my mother to Lodz to get away from the fighting. It was agreed that the rest of the family should join us later or on the way and we should all make our way to the house of our relatives in Lodz.
The journey was extremely hazardous and difficult, having no means of transport, but we managed to find a wagon transporting casualties and we joined them as hitchhikers. For me, it was my first brush with the realities of war. The sight of wounded people and blood shocked me and I could not understand what was going on. Slowly, but surely, we managed to get to the nearby town of Sieradz where we stayed with my uncle. From there, we somehow managed to rent a taxi, which was taking other people to Lodz. However, on the way, we were strafed by a squadron of German airplanes flying low and raking the refugees escaping for their lives with their machine guns. At one time, we had to stop and rapidly left the car to shelter in a ditch at the side of the road. This stayed with me, as one of the passengers who was lying next to me was hit and killed on the spot.
After this attack, we resumed our journey, but it was not long before the planes appeared again and started to bomb the surrounding area. They were trying to destroy the bridge on the road but lucky for us we managed to get over it just moments before it was destroyed. We finally made it to Lodz late at night and our reception was an air raid warning.
The town of Lodz was in turmoil; people were running in all directions to hide themselves from the bombing and my mother and I were amongst them. We got into a gate of a house nearby and tried to gain access to the basement, but the gatekeeper chased us away with a string of anti-Semitic curses. And I suddenly realised a new term, called the hatred of Israel, but I could still not understand the meaning of that word.
Everybody, I thought, should be able to go to the basement and we were left outside? This just did not make any sense to me and in my childhood's innocence I asked why are they not letting us into the basement? but my mother could not bring herself to explain this to me and instead just stood there with tears running down her face. I think I could work out what was happening, but in my child-like way wanted my mother to explain it to me, as I was not sure that I was guessing correctly what was going on. In days to come, I remember the vision of my mother's tears to explain to myself, during the war years when we were together.
Shortly after arriving in Lodz, the town was occupied by the Germans. First came motorcyclists, then infantry marching along as if they were on parade. It all seemed surreal -first blood and bombing and injured people, then this ceremonial march past without a single shot being fired. This did not make any sense in my child's mind and it led me to wonder what was going on and especially as even before the Germans entered the town, so many bad things had happened.
When rumours of the German approach reached Lodz, the Jewish male population was seized by panic and that affected my own family as I remembered having to take leave of my father. In spite of all the preparations, he left with just his Tefilin.
As luck would have it, my father and most of the people who left came back after a short while telling us harrowing tales of how difficult it was for them and how all the towns, including Warsaw, were bombed. By that time, the whole of Poland was occupied and there was nowhere else to go. It was pointless to stay where we were as Zloczew was occupied too and we decided to return to our hometown. Renting some wagons we started our journey two months after the outbreak of the war. We had straw to cover us on the wagons and to hide the men from the Germans, as they were likely to be arrested. Arriving in our town, we were amazed to see how badly burnt it was and realised this was a deliberate act by the German troops who took the town. Before we had a chance to realise what had happened, we found out some shocking news that hit us like a thunderbolt.
The Jews who remained in Zloczew while it was being occupied were killed by shooting or were burnt alive in their houses by the Germans.
Having no choice but to adjust to the new reality, we concentrated on one thing to overcome the misery and shortages and somehow to try and survive this holocaust that was visited upon us. The daily routine became worse every day with pressure and persecutions occurring frequently and that carried on, followed by a spate of kidnapping for forced labour or deportation to places we knew nothing about.
I remember one episode from that period as a child who could not understand what was going on and by my naiveté I almost brought a calamity upon my entire family. One day, a uniformed German entered our apartment, followed by a local ethnic German who knew my father; they were coming to take him. The local German tried to warn us by asking when he entered is Mr ..not in? My family immediately understood the warning and answered negatively and somehow managed to tell my father who was in another room, not to leave it but, when I heard what the German was saying I wanted to tell him that yes my father was in but when I saw my mother staring at me I stopped myself from saying anything just in time and the calamity was prevented.
Sometime later an order from the occupation authorities came down telling all the Jews to leave our town. A great commotion rose as people tried to organise themselves. Some rented wagons and prepared their possessions and in the midst of that, something happened that made me very proud. One morning my father woke me up extremely early and showed me a place in the attic, which had been specially prepared to hide our holy books. This made me feel like an adult with an important role in the future. I hoped to return after the worst had passed and rescue those valuable books.
With the preparation complete we left Zloczew in our wagon and made our way to Warsaw. It was then that I first encountered the shame of wearing the yellow star because, as a child, I did not have to wear one but I asked my family to put one on my sleeve, as I wanted to be like them. We reached Warsaw just as the Ghetto was under construction and I remember the smuggling going on from both sides of the fence with all the dangers involved.
I could not make sense of what was happening around me and I could not understand why it was not possible for us to leave in some places but not others. I found out later why, when we had to move from street to street and from house to house.
Going to school was not possible for me due to the total lack of ordinary life but I learnt to read from the newspapers that were available from time to time - first I managed to decipher the main headlines which I knew about from what people were saying about them, I then managed to read the subheadings, and eventually I could read fluently.
Sometime later, our uncle Stephan, who assumed that name for his underground cover, came to see us. He prepared himself an Aryan cover beforehand and passed himself off as a Christian. He had very good connections with the Polish underground and did a lot of daring jobs for it. With all his efforts he managed to save quite a few people from the Nazi hangman. His relatives and family members were amongst the people he helped. He lived on the Aryan side of town and from time to time people would arrive at his house and could stay there until the danger had passed. I myself was brought to his apartment once, although I did not understand why.
With time, the Jewish condition worsened and it was not long before they had no way of making a living and surviving. We had to constantly move from place to place and, in the end, we managed to move to the resort town of Otwock, near Warsaw. When we got there our situation improved, but making a living was difficult and involved all kinds of illegal activities that placed us in danger every day. In spite of all that, it was far better than Warsaw. For the first time during the war I could actually have friends to play with. This did not last long and the Nazis persecutions reached the town. It started with kidnapping for forced labour followed by arrests, searches and petty daily torment of the people.
With all the bad things that were happening, something had happened as if from above. A typhus epidemic started and my parents fell ill. I remember my father putting himself in great danger to get a doctor and some medicine for my mother. This was followed by the news that the Ghetto was being closed and things became worse and worse; we felt we were being strangled. The closure of the Ghetto, in itself just a step in the final solution scheme, was remembered vividly by me. It was on a day which became infamous as it was the day when Germany went to war with the Soviet Union; the 22nd of June 1941. The early successes of the Germans against the Soviets darkened our horizons and caused us to lose hope. Before that date, some hoped that the Germans would be defeated by the Soviets but what actually happened broke those illusions and I was not surprised that as a result everyone was extremely pessimistic and depressed.
One day Stephan arrived, as he was able to move freely as a Pole and he told us about a new word aktzia. I did not understand what it meant but everybody was shaken when they heard it. The decision was then made to escape from that place. In the middle of the night, I was taken out of the house and asked to go with a stranger I had never seen before and to do what he said. I was told that we should meet again somewhere, somehow. Before I could understand what was going on, I just thought I was going on a very unusual trip as we passed through a hole in the fence and we heard shooting and I realised then that I was embarking on a dangerous trip and that I may never see my family again as they remained in the Ghetto.
My companion continued to lead me on a roundabout route, until we reached a railway station and entered a wagon. The train moved and I was immersed in sorrow and apprehension. I gradually realised in my immature brain that as we were in a very peculiar oppressive situation as Jews and our cruel destiny had commanded us to be ready for destruction at any moment and while I was thinking about it, German soldiers entered the wagon and headed for where I was sitting. I immediately suspected that they would reveal my identity and were meaning to apprehend me. And so, in a way typical of children of my age, I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the danger. I sat there for a while feeling shivers running down my spine and my hair on end and feeling as if I fell into a dark hole and all around me was darkness and death.
I woke up and I did not know where I was, but my companion told me that I had passed out and did not recover until we reached the place we were going to - the town of Sleznicza. I realised then that the Germans did not identify me as a Jew and did not bother me and I started to believe that I might escape the blind fate that awaited me. Perhaps I could find a way between the cracks and escape the clutches of the Nazi beast. In the town, we managed to place ourselves in the prearranged place and later on, my parents arrived too. We were all housed in an attic hidden between bales of straw and only once a night we were given food and had an opportunity to pass out the waste bucket. But our situation was still precarious -everywhere we looked there were Germans, actively searching for Jews, in the house and in other houses and every time a search was taking place we had to lie down without making a sound and make ourselves as insignificant as possible.
Unfortunately, I had a bad cold at the time and had to try very hard not to cough, but when I saw that I could no longer do that, I asked my mother to block my mouth so that I would not be able to cough. In a house nearby, my cousin was hiding and when I found that out, I wanted to see her badly as we grew up together and I longed to see her and so the owner made special arrangement for me to be able to see her. It was extremely dangerous and we had to move in a secret way so that nobody will know what was happening. In the middle of the night I came down from the Attic and approached a yard completely covered by boards. Between two of the board there was a crack and I had to try and see her from there. The arrangement was that I could see her but she could not see me - see and not be seen, but even that was daring and the moments that I could see my cousin gave me a lot of pleasure.
Unfortunately, this did not last long, as our hideaway was discovered, perhaps by an informant telling the Germans and my cousin was caught and killed. This made us realise that our place was getting dangerous and the person in charge decided that I had to be taken out and so, one night I was taken to the railway station where my parents were and I saw, for the first time my father without a beard. I was told that I must not approach my parents on the train. It is easy to understand how difficult it was for a small child who had not seen his parents for a while to restrain himself when in their presence and pretend that he did not know them. I realised how dangerous the situation was and went into the wagon without saying anything. I was completely immersed within myself as if I did not know anyone.
Several hours later we arrived at our destination, the town of Czestochowa. We went there as it had a Jewish population of more than 50,000 and its large Ghetto was more accessible than other Ghettos elsewhere. This Ghetto had a less harsh regime and it was not surprising therefore that the local Jews thought they might survive the war and only the pessimists and clever people amongst them realised that it would not be that way for any length of time, but the majority did not take them seriously. I, as a child, could not make sense of what was happening around me, it was all a wonder in my eyes. Here we got out of one Ghetto in Otwock and now we are going to another one in Czestochowa?
I thought we managed to escape from one Ghetto and here we were going to another one! It just did not add up. Why were we putting ourselves in harm's way? But, what happened later made me realise just how precarious our situation was very clearly, better than any verbal explanation I could have received. After we managed to shelter in a large house with two entrances, one to the Ghetto and one to the Aryan street, the rumours started circulating that the Germans were preparing an Aktzia. This made me extremely fearful, more so than when we were at Otwock, but I did not realise it at the time, as many people refused to believe that it was actually happening.
One evening, my Uncle Stephan reached the wall of the Ghetto and threw us a large note with detailed instructions as to how to extricate ourselves from what was happening. On the same day something extremely tragic happened in our apartment. Some Germans approached the apartment and all adults were taken out and I remained by myself. When I saw them coming up the steps I hid myself inside the toilet and I heard how they were entering the apartment and breaking the windows and shooting into the yard where the people evacuated from the apartment were standing. I was scared of being found in my hiding place and thought those were my last moments on earth when fate intervened and the Germans left and the danger was past.
At dawn the next day I was woken up and told that I must leave the Ghetto with my sister and meet up with my parents later as happened after Otwock. I was then taken to the yard of the house next door and from there I was told we were going to the other side of town. Before leaving, I hugged my mother who covered me with kisses as if she thought I may not see her again and suddenly she gave me to my father and left the room quickly. The expression on my mother's face in those dire circumstances, tinged with love and worry and willingness to make endless sacrifices is etched in my memory to this very day. This was, I realised later, the last I saw of her.
Later on I realised that my parents decided to send me away hoping that I might be saved and knowing their chances were slim. I felt so bad at that time that I refused to leave my parents and I fought my father when he tried to push me through a small hole in the wall into the basement of the next house and when I looked into that hole I saw how my sister was transported to the Aryan side of the street. I refused to go and I remembered how they tied my hands and feet so that they could push me through the crack lying down and so I passed this little bridge that connected my family to an uncertain future, with a little bit of hope that perhaps I might be saved. All that time I could not say goodbye to me father and his eyes accompanied me as he looked at me lying down and being take away sorrowfully. This was the first and last time I saw tears in his eyes.
When I pushed myself through the hole I found myself in a strange apartment belonging to Polish gentiles. My sister and I immediately received instructions as to how to proceed. According to these, we had to leave one after the other in ten minute intervals and without drawing attention to ourselves, turn right and advance to the corner of the house where someone will be waiting and grab my hand. This will be the signal and he will carry on marching with me. My sister went out first and my turn came to move, but at that moment hobnailed boots were heard in the corridor and in an instant the women in the apartment grabbed me and placed me on a bed and threw blankets and pillows over me. I could hardly breathe. I felt that if I carried on lying there I would have suffocated, but as soon as the Germans disappeared, there was a new danger as I found out later - someone was caught before us and might have revealed the hiding place under interrogation and everything will be lost as the Gestapo would have found us. So, I was told I had to leave straight away to the street and disappear. I immediately ran out and met my sister - we had a lucky escape.
We did not have any notes with us but we remembered the address we had to go to. It was a Polish house in Wilonska no. 26. This was a place that remained in my memory of the Holocaust period. With that, we were told quite clearly that we must not approach the house till dark for conspiratorial reasons. But, it was still early, so we had to move around the town and hide ourselves in places until dark when we could go to the prearranged address.
We arrived at the house and were immediately placed in a basement that acted as a coal store. The ceiling of this basement had a small iron grille through which we could see the yard but without being seen by passers-by. As long as there were no sounds coming out of this basement, we were OK.
We stayed there for a short period, and then were separated, and we found out later this was just a short-term transit point. My sister stayed there for a while and I was transported to another place in the suburbs where I was hidden in a wood shed. This was worse as it was very, very cold, damp and full of mice and rats that made me shiver.
My refuge was built of wooden boards, with wide cracks between them and I could see into the yard and so I could watch the children playing in that yard and, in time, I learnt to recognise those children by their names and nicknames and I was party to their games and in my mind's eye was playing with them silently. I was not supposed to make any sound, as nobody knew I existed behind the cracks in that shed. Only at night was it possible for me to leave the shed and come into the house of my benefactors, to have my meals. I remember when I went upstairs for the first time, I asked them to put out the light as it was blinding me.
After three weeks of staying in that shed, I was told I had to go to another place. By that stage, I did not ask why as it was obvious to me that it was because of my circumstances. That morning I had my hair shaved and was given new clothes and was told to go out into the street to another address. I was fearful in case I got caught before I got there and to this was added the feeling of being in a completely different situation. As I was walking in the street, I heard a deafening noise and the light was blinding me and I realised that was as a result of sitting in a dark confined space for so long and keeping quiet. This, however, was something I had to contend with as soon as I stepped outside.
I was very apprehensive about being in the street and fearful of getting caught and I tried to remember the directions I was given to my new destination, which was said hurriedly, and I was not sure I remembered correctly. It was my luck to get there without any further incident. One of the people I met at the new address was a man I met before and I realised these people were organising our escape and had been for some time now. I felt better when I saw him but it was not long before I found out it was not the last stop. In the meantime, I was asked to sit by a table to eat, something I had not done for a long time and I felt like a normal person again. During the meal, I was given details as to what was going to happen next. I was going to be under the supervision of a Polish woman who would look after me and from time to time Stephan would come and see how I was. Naturally, I asked about my parents, but they had no answers or were unclear. I was angry in my heart that I was not being answered correctly. I felt in my heart that I would never see them again.
I went out on my way again and reached the house in Wilonska street, the same house I escaped from only a short while ago. It was strange to see that, but perhaps it was blind fate or God's hands in my salvation. The fact that this house was a safe haven for me before made me feel better about my chances.
The chain of events that I went through and my continued good fortune reinforced my feeling of self-confidence and revived me somewhat. For the house owner, I was just the son of a Polish Officer who was a prisoner of war and my mother was half Jewish. That meant that I had to be taken care of and to reinforce that version of events, I received letters from my father who was in a prisoner of war camp. Our liaison people who came from time to time read the letters aloud to me. There were two rooms in the house and apart from me there were other refugees, a mother and her daughter, and two men. Each of us had a different hiding place and mine was a gap between a cupboard and the wall. It was a small place, but it was not long before I had a new identity and I could leave the small hiding place and move into the open.
The other refugees did not stay long and when they left, I was the only one in the place. The woman I was staying with was extremely poor and had to try and make a living in some way or other and I was happy I could help her with that. As far as my Polish officer's son identity was concerned where I had some Jewish blood in me, only the woman who looked after me knew and for all the others I was just a regular Polish child. This just highlighted to me the Jewish condition at that time. I had to pretend to be a Christian and at the same time to listen to all kinds of anti-Semitic remarks which hurt me very much.
I understood from those conversations what was happening in the Ghetto. It was being liquidated and the Jews were being transported by train to an unknown destination. I was extremely worried about my parents and I wanted to go to the railway station to look for them there, but it was full of German policemen and I had to be careful not to be caught.
Every day I used to go to the railway station and stand at a bridge to see what was happening and I saw a rail spur full of cattle trucks which were being filled by people brought over by German trucks. The people were Jews and were forced onto the trucks by blows and shots being fired. I tried to look for my parents every day and was determined to join them and if I could not see them I resolved to jump on one of the trucks to see where they were going, hoping to find my parents there. I moved to the other side of the bridge and was about to enter one of the trucks. I was chased away by a policeman and beaten severely. My spirit was broken and I did not go there again. It was only later that I found out the truth from conversations. The Jews were transported somewhere and killed and so I consoled myself that if I did not see my parents going into the truck while I was standing on the bridge, perhaps they were not taken there.
In time, the Czestochowa Ghetto was liquidated and from over 55,000 Jews who were living there only about 5,000 remained and the rest were taken to the death camps and killed. The remainder stayed on to work for the Germans. After the liquidations, the tension increased and it became more dangerous for me. The Germans and their vile collaborators were free to look for other, hidden Jews at every place they could find and the ground started burning under my feet. My guardians, aware of the dangers, decided to transfer me to another place as soon as possible. They also tried to combine this with another plot as part of the effort to release me from future danger, by converting me to Christianity.
My identity as a half Jewish child was now common knowledge and they tried to eliminate the problem by making me a proper Christian child. For this purpose, I was taught Catholic prayers and then transferred to a church near the monastery of Jasna Gora where all the priests and the monks were based. As part of the religious hierarchy of the Catholic Church, there was a position for a young child called Ministrant who was a helper to the priest. This was a desirable position and many parents wished their sons to have it. I was lucky in some way as my guardians managed to arrange it for me as it provided excellent cover and gave me a good chance of being saved from the Nazi clutches.
A ministrant had to help the priest especially during the main prayer known as Misa and I had to know all the complex ceremonial rituals of the Catholic Church. Every rank of priest had special dress and accessories and everything was prearranged and pre-rehearsed and there were all kinds of details of various things that I had to learn in order to perform all those ceremonies. I had to learn and learn again without let-up something that made me forget about all the horrible things that were going on around me and transported me into a different world and a way of life and I started to gradually get used to it and perhaps started to believe some of what I was learning and doing.
But, one thing never let go in my mind and never gave me any rest and that was the fate of my parents. As I was a child of the church, I learnt to realise the power of heavenly miracles and the power of God and so I put my faith in God showing mercy to my parents and I thought that if God wanted it, my parents would live. And so I prayed and begged God to help them but then I had another problem which God do I pray to as I remembered some Jewish prayers from home such as Schema Israel, Modeh Ani and so on. And now I have learnt other prayers for the Aryan God, the God of the gentiles. But, that was not the main problem because I could not decide which God was stronger, which God will be able to release my parents from their cruel fate. Which God in heaven has more influence, the one of the Jews or the one of the Gentiles? This was extremely hard for me and I just could not make up my mind for one side or the other although I thought about it all the time.
Eventually, I had to conclude that I had better pray to both of them so as to not make one of them angry so that they will hurt my parents and if any of them has power then why not work together. And so I prayed for that one and that one.
The monastery had 50 young men who acted as Ministrati and I got to know all of them although I made friends with one of them and we became quite close and he liked me too. After the war I met up with him and found out that he was Jewish as well.
We got our meals in the Monastery and one of monks, who knew I was Jewish, baptised me one night. I did not know how he knew I was Jewish but I can guess after what happened to me on one of the summer holidays. We were taken to a local lake for a swim with some of the priests and, as swimming costumes were unheard of, we were naked and then I remembered that something can trip me up and so I tried to pretend I did not want to bathe but this was not acceptable to the priest who was in charge as it was not good form. They started pressuring me to take my clothes off and as I was not willing to do so, they set some boys on me who forced me to take my clothes off. I fought but could not resist them and so I was naked and I tried very hard to hide the fact that I was circumcised but it looked like this particular priest actually noticed it.
On occasions, I used to go and stay the night in the house I was in before going to the Monastery and when I was walking in the street, I saw a large inflamed mob running after two Jewish girls who were being led naked after being caught.
When I got to the place I stayed before I had a special mission. One of the girls active in the Polish underground was engaged in distributing posters. This was done in a house and under the greatest secrecy and strict adherence to the rules of clandestine work. In spite of that, the Germans, from time to time, while conducting searches found the places where underground printing was done. When I got there I was immediately sent away from the house as a search was being conducted.
As an added bonus, that house had all kinds of pre-prepared dyes there for the posters and one of the girls told me to take it to another place where she used to work. Considering how tense the situation was I longed to get to the other place as soon as I could and to do so, I had to go through the town's municipal garden, which was in an area reserved for Germans only. I got in and walked across as fast as I could but I was, to my horror spotted by an 11-12 year old boy dressed as a Hitler Youth. He signalled me to stop and started tormenting me and beating me up. He did not know I was Jewish but saw me as a Polish child. This was enough for him as I was in a restricted area. I tried to restrain myself as I had something with me which I should not have and as a Jew I was horrified of being found out and being in real trouble. The boy stood on a bench and commanded me to carry out all kinds of manoeuvres and I was hoping he would get tired of that and leave me. Suddenly I noticed a group of uniformed Germans entering the gardens and I thought that if they got to me this would end in tragedy. I had to do something drastic immediately as in that tense situation every moment counted and my fate was hanging in the balance. I looked around and at that horrible Hitler youth and tried to decide what to do. Running away was dangerous and the chances of getting away limited.
I realised I had a holster with a Finnish knife in it and made my plan quickly. I tried to pretend that I was just holding something in my pocket to get him to approach me and he took the bait and got very close to me. I tried to grab his knees with one hand and pull him to the ground and take out the knife at the same time. We fell to the ground and a struggle ensued and I realised I was injured although I still had the knife in my hand. We rolled into the bushes and disappeared from view and then I suddenly felt he was letting me go and later on he fell down with blood pouring down from his eye. I stood there for a few minutes to make sure he was not moving and then I rushed away back into the editorial building.
Since that day I had other close runs from time to time and suffered from anti-Semitic comments and altercations and I had no way of knowing if that was done on purpose to hurt me or by those who thought I was Polish like them. Apart from a short period, I was constantly under stress during the time I was with the Christians and in the monastery. This tension took quite a while to dissipate even after the liberation of the city by the Red Army.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of joy when I saw the Red Army approaching and chasing the Germans away. In spite of the curfew, I stood in the street enchanted with the view of the Russian soldiers marching past. I saw myself joining them and fighting the Germans after revealing my true identity. Suddenly a Russian officer approached and looking into my eyes said are you a Jew? When he saw I was afraid, he said I am a Jew too, do not worry. In the eyes of every persecuted Jewish child aged 11, all the Russian soldiers looked like saviours, but when I knew that the officer standing in front of me was Jewish, it felt like a fairy tale.
Up to that day I did not think it was possible to have Jews who were not persecuted or afraid and here I had a man who fought the Germans and declared quite openly that he was Jewish. It was wonder in my eyes. But, he warned me saying that there were many cases of Jews who came out of hiding when the Russians came and were cruelly murdered by the Polish mob. He told me not to reveal my true identity until conditions were right. If I saw that other Jews were living openly in the town, than I could come out. He parted from me with a kiss on my forehead and warned me again not to rush into revealing myself.
The joy I felt earlier had gone and my anxiety returned. I wanted to find my Uncle Stephan who had protected me for so long and from whom I had not heard for a long time. I still did not know that my uncle had disappeared and was probably killed in the Warsaw uprising in August 1944. Every possible solution was predicated on money and I had to get some. In our local paper, I knew some people and I was able to borrow some papers for sale and so I managed to sell quite a few as people were hungry for news and the papers were snatched like fresh rolls. While selling the papers, I had to fight off gangs of boys who were doing the same and all the while be aware of my true identity. The hope that somebody from my family would come and collect me seemed remote and I could only rely on myself. I did not want to think about it and I was still under the illusion that I would see my parents again.
When I managed to get quite a large sum of money I hoped to take the initiative and find other Jews, but other boys attacked me and took all my money away from me. Returning home, beaten and despondent, I was saved by my Auntie who was waiting for me - Stephan's wife - who I had not seen since our days at Otwock. We fell into each other's arms kissing and the tears started flowing and after such a long time without tears, I felt myself as a child again.
It is with great sadness that I have to announce that my parents; Chaim and Gittel Shtchukowski and my brothers, Yossef aged 6 and Berele aged one were amongst the first victims in Zloczew.
On the 2nd of September 1939, the Germans approached the city when suddenly Polish soldiers opened fire from the windows of the houses. The Germans decided to use the air force to reduce the Polish resistance to their advance. Their planes strafed the area with their machine guns. A bullet pierced through the window and injured my small brother Berele who was playing in his bed. With great haste, my parents grabbed the injured child and the other two children and headed out of the house onto the Sieradzer road. As they reached the road, they were strafed by a hail of plane bullets that killed them instantly as well as 13 other Jews from Zloczew, amongst them: Yaakow Shlomo Melamed and his wife Blime, and Yossef Doritzki, and others whose names I do not remember. These thirteen victims were buried in the first mass grave of Zloczew. They did not even receive their own private burial.
My sister, Esther Feigele, barely four years old, witnessed the entire tragic scene. To get some comfort, she snuggled up to her parents. Of course, she did not realize that they were already dead. An elderly German soldier took pity on her and tried to comfort her. (I think that he deserves to be listed among the righteous of the world). Seeing that she was blond and could be taken as an Aryan, he took the child with him to the nearest hamlet and created a home for her with the Polish family Lipinski. The small Esther, however, was too small to realize that she must change her behaviors in view of the new situation. However, she refused to change and constantly cried that she wanted to go home to her parents, play with her little brothers and make the blessings prior to meals. The Lipinski family called in some Jewish friends to help explain to the girl the situation and to accept the fact that this was her new home. The news soon reached my grandparents, Pearl and Shabtai Shtchukowski. They appealed to the German soldier to return their orphaned grandchild to them. The German tried to convince my grandparents that she would be safer where she was presently. Obviously, he already had a foreknowledge of the events that will take place later on concerning the fate of the Polish Jews. But my 86 year-old grandfather could not understand what the German was saying to him in the first days of the German occupation prior to the great Jewish destruction.
The German returned the child to my grandparents and kept visiting the child and brought food for her. His assistance lasted as along as he was stationed in the area. It seems that the small girl was not destined to experience all the horrors that the Germans inflicted on the Jews during the war for she was killed several weeks later by a bomb explosion in Boleslawiec together with my aunt and children. May their death be avenged.
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