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[Page 244]


Chapter XI

The Akselrads

by Batia Eisenstein nee Akselrad

Translated by William Leibner

 

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Bendet Akselrad

 

Translators note: The story you are about to read was written in Hebrew by a surviving daughter, Batia Akselrad, of Bendet Akselrad and Cila Freifeld–Akselrad of Krosno. The family was well established and had extensive roots and history in Korczyna and vicinity. They contributed heavily to the Jewish community and provided leaders for the Jewish community of Korczyna and Krosno for several generations until these communities and their Jewish inhabitants were destroyed by the Germans during WWII.

Bendet Akselrad was born on April 14th 1886 and killed on July 15th 1943 at the Szebnie concentration camp in Poland. He was the head of the Jewish community in Krosno for many years and also served as the head of the Korczyna Jewish community. Cila Akselrad nee Freifeld was the wife of Bendet Akselrad. She was born in 1888 and killed in Korczyna near Krosno, Galicia, in 1943.

Batia Akselrad states: “My father was Bendet Akselrad, head of the Jewish communities of Korczyna and Krosno, Galicia, Poland. He was married to Cila Freifeld and they had five sons and a daughter. My oldest brother was Shmuel, who was born in 1909 and married to Klara Rosenberg from Debice and they had a daughter named Irenka born in 1935. My second brother was Shalom, born in 1911. The third brother Avraham was born in 1922. The fourth brother was Yehuda, born in 1924; and the fifth brother was Levy, born in 1930. I Batia Akselrad, was born on the 24th of May 1932.

“I will presently try to describe the family as far as my memories permit since I was a small youngster at the time, as my birthday indicates. The family revolved about my father, who was devoted to the community. He was a gentle person who had a great deal of patience and listened to everybody who came to the house with a problem; and the Jews of Krosno and Korczyna had many problems, mainly survival problems in a sea of anti–Semitic environment.

“As a child I loved the Jewish holidays of Purim, Passover, and Friday nights. My father always brought home dinner guests from the synagogue who joined us at the table and shared our meals. Dinners were always interlaced with conversations and discussions. To this day, people who knew my father praise him for his patience, understanding, and assistance in solving problems. These people describe to me in great detail his deeds that were unknown to me. These comments make me feel proud of my parents and family.

“They also helped me to better understand my father since the people in question dealt with him personally, while I was a mere child on the sidelines. Many influential Polish gentiles visited our home and discussed ways and means to avoid or smooth sore spots within the Krosno community between Jews and Christians. The Polish population was very anti–Semitic and the slightest incident could turn into a major riot or a pogrom, as often happened in the country. The Jews wanted to

 

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Cila Freifeld–Akselrad

 

avoid confrontations at any costs and merely desired to continue with their life, which was very difficult for they were discriminated against every step of the way. Even gifted Jewish youth could only dream about positions or jobs in government or public offices. Anti–Semitism was deeply embedded amongst the Polish population and was even transferred from generation to generation with minor changes.

“Father devoted most of his time to the community and considered this task to be his “raison d'etre” or essence of life. He left his various businesses in Krosno to his older sons while he devoted himself to the needs of the Jewish population. The oldest sons Shmuel and Shlomo graduated the School of Commerce and Administration and managed various family businesses. Bendet Akselrad was also a graduate of this school. Schooling was very limited to Jews and some trades or professions were closed to Jewish students; in some instances a few Jewish students were admitted as a token of Jewish presence.

“Mother also helped my father since she received the people who came to the house while father was not at home. She spoke to the visitors and made notations that were relayed to father on his arrival home. My brother and I also had important jobs for we ran to open the door whenever the bell rang. Any of the family discussions revolved around the impending war and my parents and older brothers were very perturbed by the news events of the day. I was terrified and expected the worst, especially when I heard the screechings of Hitler on the radio. I had bad feelings but did not really understand what was happening.

“The Polish–German War started in September of 1939, and my brother Shalom was immediately drafted at night and I was unable to say good–bye to him. Time passed and we heard nothing from Shalom. Then a Pole came to our house and told the family that my brother was seriously injured in his legs and was being treated at a hospital in Stanislawow, Eastern Galicia. Of course, he received a nice reward for the information. Father took Awraham and Yehuda and they left the house in the direction of the city where Shalom was supposedly convalescing. Father left the community affairs in the hands of Shmuel, his oldest son.

“They soon arrived at Stanislawow (presently in Ukraine) and discovered the hoax. Shalom Akselrad was not in the city. But they did meet many Jews from Krosno who fled to this area prior to the arrival of the Germans. The Akselrads decided to return home but Russian forces now occupied Stanislawow as part of the partition of Poland by Germany and Russia. It took some doing and they managed to reach Krosno. Here a postal card awaited him from his son Shalom who was a prisoner of war in a German camp. Shalom continued to send postal cards and in one of them he informed us that he would soon be sent home. Our joy was boundless.

“Father was very busy with the community and was assisted by his elder sons. The city of Krosno had received many Jewish refugees from many places who needed help and temporary lodgings. The Jewish economic situation in the city was very bad, for many Jewish businesses were confiscated and Jews were not permitted to circulate freely in the city.

“The situation worsened with each day. A white armband with a Star of David had to be worn; anti–Jewish rules and regulations appeared daily. The situation assumed alarming proportions and my father and brothers barely coped. They tried to help with whatever they could and the Jews needed all the help that they could get. The fact that father and my brothers spoke fluent German, for the family lived for many years in Vienna and had Austrian citizenship, gave them the ability to use the language to help the Jews of Krosno.

“The Germans refused to deal with Jews, especially those who did not speak German. Every demand had to be written and submitted to the Germans in their language. The Akselrads were busy drafting and writing all kinds of requests for the Jews of Krosno. They also had to follow up these requests and I saw my father's face when he returned with a negative answer. Although I was small, I began to hear strange words I didn't understand like concentration camps, ghetto, searches, and Gestapo. I did not understand these words but feared them for they were uttered in fright. I began to mature rapidly as children do in such special circumstances.

I was about 8 years old when one evening father came home and I saw sadness in his eyes. Mother told me that they wanted to talk to me privately. Father told me that he found a special place for me with a fine Polish family that wanted to take me to their house. He told me that they would like me very much. I listened seriously but did not really understand what was taking place. Mother packed a bag with clothing. The next evening, my brother Shalom took me to the Krukierek family. During the walk he explained to me how to behave in the new home and to be a good and obedient girl. He instructed me to listen and fulfill all the commands of the new family. He also told me that I now had a new name, Berta, that I must use. Furthermore, I must not cry or ask to return home, he said. We shall visit you when we can. Parting was very sad, I saw the tears in my brother's eyes and I barely restrained myself from crying. Still we parted sadly and I entered the new home.

The family was very happy to receive me. I saw a grandfather and a grandmother where I would remain in hiding for the duration of the entire war. My parents and my brothers occasionally visited me, except for Awraham. The latter went one day to buy bread and disappeared, not to be seen again until the end of the war.

Awraham Akselrad was picked up on the streets of Krosno by the Gestapo to fulfill their quota of needed Jews for work. They immediately transported the arrested Jews to the workplace where they remained for a long time. Awraham could not communicate with Batia or any other member of the family who remained in Krosno. During Awraham's absence, Batia went into hiding, her brothers left Krosno and her parents went into hiding. The Germans returned Awraham to Krosno shortly before the big action had sent most Jews of Krosno to the death camp of Belzec. Awraham did not see his family when he returned to Krosno since they were all in hiding. With the final liquidation of the ghetto of Krosno in December 1942, Awraham was sent to the ghetto of Rzeszow with all the remaining Jews of the city. The Akselrads continued to visit Batia. Then suddenly they stopped. The brothers moved to Warsaw using “Aryan” or non–Jewish identifications while the parents went into hiding in the industrial section of Krosno. Of course, Batia was not aware of these developments until after the war. My brother Shmuel, his wife Clara, their daughter Irenka, and Shulim Akselrad were caught in Warsaw with faked Aryan papers and were killed. Yehuda was killed while fighting the Germans near Warsaw. Levy who was hiding with his parents was stopped by police and made a run for it. He was killed in Krosno. The Akselrad hiding place was discovered and Bendet was arrested and sent to the Szebnie harsh labor camp where he was murdered. Cila Akselrad managed to escape to Korczyna where she was caught and shot in 1943. When the war ended and I saw that nobody came to Krosno to look for me, I of course assumed that nobody of the family survived the war and I was the only Akselrad survivor.

 

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Batia Akselrad in 1946 in France

 

“I missed my parents and brothers and kept dreaming about them. I saw them almost every night in my dreams and was very happy, only to awaken to the bitter reality that I was alone. I was very sad since I wanted the dream to continue, but to no avail. I remained in the house with my adopted grandfather and adopted grandmother while their married son and wife went to work. I did everything I could since I tried to please everybody in the family. I was always afraid that I might be kicked out of the house. This fear lingered on and frequently prevented me from sleeping. Slowly and steadily I became attached to the Christian family and integrated myself within the family. Followed their customs and habits and became a practicing Polish Catholic youngster.

“This was also the year that I had to start school for the first time and I wanted to be like all the other children, namely Christian. I wanted to be accepted and not shunned. The family encouraged me in that direction. Presently I loved the family and was very attached to it. I went to the priest in Krosno and asked to be baptized. He was very surprised and told me that he knew my father. He asked whether there were any survivors in the family and I replied that I was the sole survivor. The priest baptized me on September 5th 1945, and that same month I started school for the first time. I was admitted to the seventh grade in the elementary school; I had to be prepared by a private teacher since I had to make up a great deal of schooling.

“I was a very diligent student and loved to go to school and to study. I made many friends and wanted to be accepted. I tried to make up for all the lost time that I was locked up. I finished elementary school and received a certificate. I was registered to continue schooling the next year. Meanwhile I enjoyed the summer recess during which time I met my friends and took trips with them.

One day, a Polish officer appeared at the house and talked to the Krukierek family but I did not pay any heed. It tuned out later that the officer was captain Yeshayahu Druckier who came to the house on behalf of my brother Awraham Akselrad. Awraham wanted to take me away from the non–Jewish home and place me in a Jewish orphanage where I would slowly return to the Jewish fold. Awraham survived the concentration camps but was in poor health. It took him a long time to recuperate. He finally managed to reach the Lubeck–Neustadt D.P. refugee camp in the British zone of occupation in Germany. He rested and regained some strength. He decided to visit Krosno and see whether there were any family survivors. The UNRRA ( United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) organization arranged his transportation back to Poland as it did for thousands of other refugees returning home after the war. He reached Krosno and was very disappointed. There were a few Jews in the city living in fear of their lives. He did not recognize the city or the people. His inquiries established that his sister, Batia Akselrad survived the war with the Krukierek family. He approached the family but they refused contact. They refused to let him meet his sister. Awraham was too weak to take on the Krukierek family. He himself was still weak, confused but determined to remove his sister from the Christian home. Awraham did not have a home nor did he want to remain in Poland. He saw one solution namely to place his sister in a Jewish orphanage where she could grew up as a Jew. Awraham started to make inquiries but soon had to leave Poland since the borders were being closed. He smuggled his way back to his D.P. camp in Germany. He kept writing letters to various Jewish Polish organizations where he explained the situation. One of his letters reached the office of the chaplain of the Polish Army, Rabbi Dawid Kahane who handed the letter to captain Yeshayahu Drucker who specialized in these matters.

 

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Yeshayahu Drucker

 

Yeshayahu Drucker began by first confirming the facts of each case and then developed a plan of action to redeem the child from the non–Jewish home. He also made it his business to travel to remote villages and hamlets to locate Jewish children. Drucker arrived in Krosno wearing his Polish army officer's uniform, riding in a Polish military car that was driven by a uniformed Polish soldier. The car and driver were supplied by Rabbi Kahane. No Pole who was confronted by Drucker could believe that he faced a Jew. He not only spoke Polish fluently but looked Polish. This was a very important attribute when Drucker talked about a Jewish child who lived with the family. Looking at Drucker in his army uniform, Krukierek assumed that the Polish government wanted the matter settled quickly. He of course answered all questions without hesitation. Yes, he said to Drucker that they have adopted Batia Akselrad during the war with her parents' permission. She is now part of the family and was even baptized into the Catholic faith. Drucker saw that the family would not surrender the child.

Drucker made several inquiries regarding the Krukierek family in the city of Krosno and was told that they were influential. Drucker decided to proceed legally against the Krukierek family. He asked Awraham Akselrad to sign a power of attorney that would enable him to begin legal proceedings. A law suit was initiated against the Krukierek family for holding a minor and refusing to return her to her biological family namely Awraham Akselrad. The court procrastinated and delayed action hoping that the matter would die with time but Drucker pursued the matter. Finally,a settlement was worked out between the parties. Batia Akselrad would stay with her brother for a period of two weeks where they would become acquainted. Since Awraham did not have a place, the decision was made that she would be placed in the Zabrze Jewish orphanage where her brother could visit her as often as he wanted. The court also decided that the entire estate of the Akselrads would be handed over to the Krukierek family except for the part that belonged to Batia Akselrad. Awraham Akselrad and Yeshayahu Drucker took possession of Batia and they all left for Zabrze.

I did not like the decision. I felt safe in my adopted environment. I went to school, to church on Sunday since I was baptized as a Catholic, and had friends. All this came to an end when Awraham and Drucker began to visit my new home and tried to talk to me. I refused to talk to them. With the court decision, I had to abide but I was angry at my brother for destroying my adopted life. At Zabrze I was watched and all my mail was censored. Many years later, I was informed by the Krukierek family that they wrote letters to me but never received a reply.

 

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Zabrze orphanage in Silesia, Poland

 

I did not get along with my brother. I resented him for destroying my new home. He, on the other hand, was not able to understand my needs as a teenager. Besides, Awraham had to leave since he was granted a temporary visit to appear in the Polish court regarding my case. Awraham returned to his D.P. camp. The Zabrze home soon sent me to France with a children's transport. I reached the city of Perigueux, in the south of France where I remained for two years and then went to Israel in 1948. I attended the agricultural school “Mikveh Israel” and in 1950 joined the army. In 1953 I married and raised a Jewish family. I have two sons and 4 grandchildren. I live in a private home at Kiriat Ono and tend to my garden and flowers. I spend my time attending lectures and reading books.

 

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Chateau Vouzon near Perigueux where Batia Akselrad–Eisentein spent her time in France until she left for Israel

 

My New Parents

by Batia Eisenstein (nee Akselrad)

Translated from Hebrew by William Leibner

I was born on May 5, 1932, in Krosno, Galicia, Poland. My parents were Bendet and Cila nee Freifeld Akselrad. I had five older brothers. I was the sheltered baby of the family and their worries about my well–being greatly increased with the German occupation of the town. The Jewish economic situation in Krosno went from bad to worse with each day. My parents decided to seek shelter for me with a non–Jewish family named Krukierek. Our family was well acquainted with this family whose sons worked at our sawmill in Krosno. The family responded positively to the inquiries.

My mother packed a suitcase of clothing and I packed a small suitcase of items that were dear to me. I took some notebooks, pencils, coloring pencils and some other knick–knacks that were precious to me. One evening, my brother Shulim took me to my new family. I cried all the way while my brother talked to me about behaving nicely to the family members and being obedient and respectful.

The separation was very difficult and painful. My brother tried his best at soothing my feelings by stating that the family would always be in touch and visit me at the new home. As to my question about why I had to leave the house, there was no immediate answer. Shulim merely said that the family selected a nice and safe place for me where I would be treated as a member of the family. His words gave me some confidence and I ceased crying. We then entered the new home and I was greeted warmly.

I saw a grandmother, a grandfather, and a young couple. Of course, I was very sad since I was left alone when my brother left. The new family named me Basia (a typical Polish Christian name). I cried the entire first night and was unable to fall asleep. I had a hard time adjusting to the idea that I was left alone with a new and strange family. No longer would I be able to rejoin my dear and beloved family. I rose early in the morning and went to the yard. I approached the gate and looked at the path that we used the previous night, but nobody was in sight.

I stood there and cried, hoping to see a familiar face, but no one appeared. I continued to stand or sit there for hours each day in the hope of seeing someone from the family, but in vain. I was depressed and entered the home only when grandfather called me to eat, but I had no appetite. Grandmother understood the situation and tried to alleviate my fears by saying that my old family would probably visit me during the day or tomorrow. This of course did not alleviate my depressed feelings but it showed me that someone cared.

Needless to say, I was very happy when a member of the family visited and brought a gift from the old home. They always promised to visit me as often as they could to cheer me up, for they saw my red and swollen eyes. They tried to visit often and indeed everybody visited me except my brother Avraham. We already mentioned what happened to Awraham. The family visits always ended in sadness, for I was left alone with my depressed feelings.

Suddenly my family stopped visiting me. It seemed like they vanished from the face of the earth. The year was 1943 and indeed some members of the family were caught by the Germans and killed, while others were no longer in the city. I had the feeling that I would never again see my dearly beloved family. At night I dreamed that my family visited me and I was very happy, but on awakening I realized that it was a mere dream.

I slowly became attached to the new family and became more familiar with them. They worried about me and were constantly fearful that an informer might reveal my existence to the Germans. The home of the new family was located in a rural area in the vicinity of the airport of Krosno. Still there was fear that someone might spot this young girl in the courtyard. The Krukierek family decided that the risks of being exposed were serious and took the necessary steps. They began to shift my hiding places. Sometimes I slept hidden in a straw bed in the attic. Others times I was hidden in dark places that affected my vision on seeing light.

On nice evenings, I would emerge and play a bit in the wheat field. Some evenings, grandmother would give me a basket and send me to pick potatoes. I dug the potatoes by hand in the dark so that no one would see me. I picked the big ones and left the small ones in the ground so that they would continue to grow, as grandmother Weronika instructed me to do. I would return with a basketful of potatoes and then clean them before entering the kitchen. Grandfather was pleased with the work and would always say that I earned my keep for the day and would give me an extra heavy slice of bread. I was very proud of my achievements and accepted wholeheartedly these compliments. Grandfather was rather economical with his compliments; thus I relished them when I received one.

Potatoes and cabbage was the standard food of the day for the family. Sunday was a special menu that consisted of potatoes, cabbage, and rabbit meat. The latter were raised on the farm next to the cows and roosters. At night I picked potatoes and during the day I tended to the daily household chores. I always volunteered to do extra chores in order to ingratiate myself with the family. The fear of being rejected was always on my mind. I spent a great deal of time peeling potatoes and when I did a good job, I received a slice of bread. I did all the chores with devotion for I craved attention. I wanted to be accepted. Thus, I was very busy in the house, for grandfather had a leg injury and limped, while grandmother was weak and tired easily.

In addition to the regular household chores, I also mended clothing, helped prepare the feed for the cows, and did many other kinds of work in the house. Of course, there was less work during the winter when the fields were covered with snow and then I spent my time hiding in the cowshed. The weather was freezing. I spent my time talking to the rabbits and roosters. It seemed to me that they answered but I was not sure if I heard them. I was very lonely and continued to talk to the small animals, for I had no friends.

This was a difficult period, for the Germans increased the intensity of their searches and my adopted family was seriously frightened by the new policy. They even considered throwing me out of their house. I was terrified and could not fall asleep for fear of winding up in the street. Grandmother cared a great deal for me and stated that she would assume full responsibility for my protection. Furthermore, she stated that she would leave the house if I were thrown out. Grandmother's threats worked and she saved me. She asked her son Kazek to hide me at the mill where he was a guard. The sawmill belonged to our family prior to the war but was now owned by a German named Schmidt, and Kazek watched the place. He built a hiding place and one night took me from the house in a bag of sawdust.

The hiding place was under a wooden floor amid sawdust. Kazek's brothers also worked at the mill. They all married and left the household. Only grandmother, grandfather, their married daughter Jozefa, and myself lived in the house that was near the sawmill. Kazek brought me to the hiding place and gave me instructions how to behave during the day when the Polish workers tended to their jobs. He also showed me how to position myself in the hiding place so as not to arouse suspicions. I could not sit, move, or turn in the dark hiding place. During the day it was still bearable but at night it was frightening. I kept dreaming about my killed parents and brothers; I had a premonition that they were all killed. I did not want to dream but could not help myself. The dreams continued and I always awakened to stark reality. Furthermore, rats occasionally promenaded on my body and I could not do a thing about it for there was no room for my hands to move. I was left with the terrible feeling of the creatures walking about me.

For several months I continued to sleep in sawdust under the wooden floor. Autumn was approaching and with it came the rains. Everything was wet and dreary. The cold weather became a reality. Still I had to stay in hiding during the day for fear of being spotted by a worker or by a customer who came to buy wood. Only at night could I slowly venture out. As a result of my hiding position, I could barely walk. I was depressed and the thought of ending my life frequently crossed my mind, but I was a coward. I did not divulge these thoughts to Kazek for fear of embarrassing him after all his efforts on my behalf.

Winter approached and the family decided to return me to the house. They still hid me here and there but within the house, for it was bitter cold outside.

I also became accustomed to my new Christian family and realized then that I would never return to Judaism. I no longer wanted to belong to the persecuted and humiliated Jewish people. Grandfather always told me that the Jewish people had always been persecuted throughout history. Even the Arabs were killing the Jews in Palestine. I heard and saw all these things. I saw how Jews were being persecuted while the Christian children played and had fun. I felt jealous and felt ashamed at having been born a Jew.

These thoughts persisted and became stronger as time passed. Suddenly, the roar of shells shook the entire area for we were near the Krosno airport. The Russians shelled the entire area prior to their advance and for several days the cannon fire could be heard and then there would be silence.

The area was liberated but nobody came to take me home. I started school for the first time in 1945 and was registered as a Christian student. I excelled in my studies since I devoted myself wholeheartedly to schoolwork. I was a very good student and easily made friends. I felt a certain compensation for all the years spent in terrible deprivation. I also decided to convert to Catholicism, a deed which pleased the family and gave me further security at the new home. Suddenly, my brother Awraham and his friend Yeshayahu upset all my plans. I was forced to leave the Krukierek home and was taken to the Zabrze home. The orphanage was aware of my refusal to part from the Krukierek home. Thus, I was observed closely. I never receved letters from the Krukierek family although they promised to write. Many years later I discovered hat they wrote letters that were never given to me. Of course my letters to the Krukierek family were never mailed. I felt homesick for my adopted family. The orphanage soon sent me with a transport of Jewish children to France and then to Israel where I arrived in 1948. I was sent to a school to study the Hebrew language and adopted the Hebrew name of Batia that was close to my original birth name of Berta. I stopped using the Polish name Basia. Following the army service, I married at the rabbinate. I have two married sons and four grandchildren.

I continued to write to the Krukierek family and even maintain correspondence with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the family. Jozefa died in 2002 at the age of 92. I assisted her with whatever I could. I continue to correspond with the younger members of the family who do not even know me. But it is important for me to maintain contact with my past.

Signed Batia Eisenstein
Dated June 8, 2008

William Leibner loosely translated the story written in Hebrew


Awraham Akselrad

by William Leibner

 

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Awraham Akselrad on a visit to Israel following the Shoah

 

Awraham Akselrad, the son of Bendet and Cila Akselrad, was born in Domaradz, near Krosno, Galicia, Poland, on July 12, 1922. He was the third child in a family of six children. They lived in Krosno, although the family originated in Korczyna near Krosno. The father, Bendet Akselrad, was very involved in the Jewish community and on several occasions was elected to be the head of the Jewish community of Krosno. The family was well–to–do; Awraham received a tutorial education, and then went to a private school in Germany where he studied until Hitler came to power. He then left for Belgium where he continued his education. His father went to Belgium in 1937 and brought Awraham back to Krosno. He received tutorial help with the Polish language. Awraham then presented himself for admission to the Tkacka National Institute for Weaving in Krosno. The school rarely admitted Jews but the right pressure was applied and he was admitted to the school. The Akselrad family was involved in the weaving and linen business, and Awraham hoped to enter the family business. His studies ended with the German occupation of Krosno.

 

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Record of Awraham Akselrad during the war years.

Abraham Akselrad's wartime employment record in Europe. ZAL stands for Zwangs Arbeit Lager, or forced labor camp. DPL stands for displaced people camp, or D.P., and was established after the war to provide a temporary shelter for the inmates of the liberated camps.The UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) organization maintained the D.P. camps

 

The Germans were constantly short of workers and frequently set up check posts and detained Jews for work details. One day in April of 1940 , Awraham went out to get bread for the family and was arrested by SS men who were seizing Jews for a work detail. Apparently, he was sent to a distant work place for he did not return daily to his home as did other Jewish workers. The German labor card above explains what happened to Awraham Akselrad during the war years. He was recorded as living in the Ghetto of Krosno in April of 1940 when he was detained by the Germans. (The entry is in error. There was no ghetto in Krosno in 1940). The ghetto was established in May of 1942. Most of the Jews lived in their places of residence except for the luxury apartments that were confiscated for the use of Germans. Then there is a blank of time that would indicate various work details outside the city for he was never at home in Krosno. As a matter of fact, he is not listed in the census of Jews in Krosno conducted by the “Judenrat” in June of 1941.

 

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The admission card of Awraham Akselrad to the Mittelbau–Dora concentration camp, a subsidiary of the Buchenwald concentration camp empire on January 21st 1945

 

Abraham Akselrad was eventually returned to Krosno, only to be sent by train with all the remaining Jews of Krosno to the Rzeszow Ghetto in December of 1942. The trip was a horror journey with people fainting and dying everywhere within the enclosed cattle cars. Finally, they arrived at the Rzeszow (Polish name) or Reishe (Yiddish name) or Reichshof (German name) railway station. Krosno was now officially “Judenrein” or clean of Jews, except for some hidden Jews.

With the liquidation of the Ghetto of Rzeszow, Awraham was sent to the terrible labor camp of Plaszow near Krakow. This camp was well portrayed in the movie “Shindler's List.” Awraham stayed in this hell–hole for six months and even managed to survive an execution scene. His work boss, or kapo, caught him slacking on the job and decided to set an example. He selected him for execution. All inmates in Plaszow who were selected for execution were taken to one of three killing sites. The most famous was of course the hill nicknamed “Chujowa Gorka.” Practically no one returned alive from this place. German military deserters were also executed on this hill. They were usually killed by a firing squad, following the reading of the verdict and the presence of a priest. Jews and later Hungarian Jews were usually killed by machine–gun fire and their bodies burned according to Dr White, formerly Alexander Bialywlos, a survivor of Plaszow. It is estimated that 8,000 people were killed in Plaszow. Awraham Akselrad went to the hill and returned alive. Apparently, the executioners had enough for the day or some mechanical mishap. Of course, Awraham died many deaths emotionally until he returned to the barrack.

In December 1943, Awraham was sent to the Skarzysko–Kamiene concentration camp in southern Poland where thousands of Jewish slave laborers worked in the munitions factories. The workers had no protective masks or special clothing and worked with various explosive materials. Most of the exposed parts of their bodies became yellow and all workers developed all kinds of breathing problems that ended with typhoid. Furthermore, the workers were undernourished and the death rate amongst them was extremely high.

Awraham remained at this camp for about 5 months and was then taken to the Czestochowa concentration camp in Poland, where he remained until January 1945. He was then shipped to the Buchenwald concentration camp but there was no room for him and he was transported to a subsidiary camp named Mittelbau Dora located in Nordhausen, Germany. This camp produced the V1 and V2 rockets. Most of the work was done in excavated tunnels to prevent Allied bombers from affecting production. Thousands of workers died digging the tunnels due to lack of food and medicine, as well as sheer exhaustion. Awraham was lucky since he only stayed a short time in this camp. He was then marched to the Sachsenhausen death camp where he was liberated at the end of April 1945 by the Russian army.

Awraham slowly recuperated from his war experiences and began to deal in goods. There was a shortage then in Germany of everything and the black market was thriving. He accumulated some money and asked the UNRRA Organisation to transport him to Poland as they did for other Polish refugees in Germany. He soon reached Krosno. There were a few Jews in the city who lived in fear for their lives. He did not feel at home in Krosno. He made several inquiries about his family and discovered that his sister Batia Akselrad survived the war hidden by the Krukierek family. Awraham knew the Krukierek family from before the war .He approached the family and asked for the return of his sister to his custody, since she was still a minor. The family did not say yes, nor did they say no. The Krukierek family adopted delay tactics –– we will discuss it, come later, the girl does not want to go.

Batia Akselrad did not want to leave her adopted family despite Awraham's pleas. He was devastated but could do very little. Besides, the Polish borders were being closed and he did not want to stay in Poland. He managed to cross the borders illegally and reached his D.P.camp in Germany. Awraham began to write letters to Jewish Polish organizations to help him regain his sister. One of the letters reached Captain Rabbi Yeshayahu Drucker. The latter investigated the situation and suggested to Awraham to take legal action to recover his sister who was a minor. Drucker filed suit against the Krukierek family and the case was settled out of court. The settlement was as follows:

Batia Akselrad would leave the Krukierek home and stay at the Zabrze Jewish orphanage for several weeks where her brother Awraham Akselrad would have free access to visit her whenever he wanted. The Krukierek family would be financially compensated by receiving all the property of the Akselrad family, except for the share of Batia Akselrad. In case Batia Akselrad returned to the Krukierek family in Krosno, the agreement would be null and void. The agreement was left in the courthouse that would enforce it.

Yeshayahu, Awraham, and his sister Batia left Krosno and headed to Zabrze. Awraham met his sister several times and talked to her about his experiences and their situations, but coolness and even a certain animosity prevailed between brother and sister. The sister wrote letters to the family but they were never posted by the home administration. Yeshayahu gave strict instructions to stop all letters from the family to Batia and to watch her from a distance. He was afraid that the family might come and return her to Krosno. Soon Batia left Poland with a transport of children to France and then to Israel. Awraham left Poland and settled at the Lubeck–Neustadt D.P., or Displaced Persons camp, in Lubeck, in the British occupied zone of Germany. But he was determined to remove his sister from the Christian home regardless of price or feelings. He wanted her placed in a Jewish home. He succeeded with the help of the Jewish religious community in Poland.

 

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Awraham Akselrad was officially naturalized in New York City

 

Yeshayahu Drucker promised Awraham that Batia would soon leave Poland and head to Palestine. Awraham also hoped to join her there. In reality, the British blockaded the shores of Palestine and did not permit Jews to enter the country. Some young Jews went illegally to Palestine like the “Exodus” ship passengers and were intercepted by the British. Awraham was in no condition to undertake such a trip. So he stayed in the camp with little hope to leave Germany. The JDC (American Joint Distribution Committee) and the HIAS( Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) organizations interceded on his behalf and he obtained a visa for the USA. He left for the USA while his sister was already in Israel.

Awraham left the Port of Bremen, Germany, aboard a troop ship named General McRae on October 17, 1949. He arrived in New York City on October 24, 1949, and was met by a representative of the “United Service for New Americans” (this organization was created in 1946 to help new immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants, to settle in the USA. The organization merged with the HIAS organization, or Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, in 1954). The representative told him that his papers for admission were conditional on his settling in Galveston, Texas, where he was expected and arrangements had been made for him.

Awraham was not anxious to go to Texas but had no choice in the matter since the organization had already purchased a train ticket to this destination. He therefore reluctantly left Grand Central Terminal in New York City and headed via Chicago to Galveston, Texas, where he arrived on October 26, 1949. Awraham was met by a representative who helped him settle in the city. There he started to work as a tailor and received his Social Security Number.

He later moved to New York City where he was naturalized on March 25, 1955 (Certificate Number 7421782). Awraham asked the judge to change his name to Abraham Axelrod and the judge consented. Abraham lived at 314 West 100th Street in New York City. He later moved to 212 West 91st Street. In New York City he resumed his old trade of weaving. According to a friend, he met a woman and lived with her for a while until they split. He went to Israel to see his sister and returned to New York City.

Abraham had no children and died of heart complications on January 22, 1991, in New York City. He is buried at Mount Moriah cemetery in New Jersey.


Epilogue to the Akselrad –Zajdel family
of Krosno, Galicia, Poland

The Akselrad family in Krosno owned a large sawmill near the river called “Tartak Parowy” or steam sawmill. The mill employed many workers, among them members of the Krukierek family. Ignac Krukierek and his wife Weronika had six sons and a daughter who died in infancy

Ignac Krukierek worked at the oil refinery but most of his sons worked at the Akselrad establishment in Krosno in various capacities. One of the sons, Andzej Krukierek, was a very capable and skillful maintenance man. Bendet Akselrad liked this worker and promoted him on various occasions. He also entrusted him with some delicate matters that were executed without a hitch. The relationship between the two grew with time and they had absolute confidence in each other. Andzej Krukierek moved up the ladder of management and assumed an important position at the plant.

When the Germans occupied Krosno they of course “Aryanised” or seized the sawmill and practically gave it for nothing to a “Volksdeutch” or Pole of German origin named Schmidt. The latter did not interfere with the running of the mill and left it in the hands of the old management.

Bendet Akselrad, as mentioned before, was very active on behalf of the Jewish community and due to his fluency in the German language came in contact with the Gestapo and SS people in Krosno. It soon became apparent to him that Jewish survival under German occupation would become very difficult if not impossible. Harassment of the Jewish population increased daily. The pauperization of the Jewish population was obviously a designated or planned policy of the German administration. Bendet was determined to avoid the plans that the Germans had for him and the Jews of Krosno. He even became a member of the J.S.S. or Jewish Self Help Committee in Krosno that assisted poor Jews with food and money. He decided to search means and ways to obtain “Aryan“ or non–Jewish papers. Easier said than done, especially for a well–known family like the Akselrads in Krosno. He entrusted the mission to his loyal and confident man Andzej Krukierek, who had an executive position at the mill and could absent himself from work whenever he needed to attend business matters on the outside.

Andzej Krukierek started to work on this matter and slowly established the necessary contacts to obtain illegal papers. This was very expensive since the danger of being caught was real and fatal if one fell in the hands of the Gestapo. Still, Krukierek continued with his work and obtained papers under the name of Zajdel, a Polish–sounding name. The family was, however, too well–known to pass even under a different name. So a hidden place was found on the outskirts of Krosno where individual members of the Akselrad family would arrive and stay until they were shipped out of Krosno.

The Akselrads began to disappear slowly from Krosno. Andzej Krukierek traveled to Warsaw, the capital of Poland, to make the necessary arrangements such as living quarters and employment. When he settled all matters he then returned to Krosno and took a member of the family from the hiding place to the village of Polanka near Krosno, where they boarded the train for Warsaw. He took every person and escorted him in the same manner. The expenses were huge but Bendet was ready to pay any price to save his family.

The Krosno Jewish census of June 1941 indicates that the following Akselrads were still in the Krosno Ghetto: Cila Akselrad nee Freifeld; her children Shulim, Leib or Levi, and Beile or Berta. Bendet Akselrad, his son Shmuel Akselrad, his wife Klara Akselrad nee Rosenberg, and their daughter Irene, and Yehuda Akselrad were no longer in the ghetto. They had all vanished under different names. Only Bendet Akselrad, or rather Zajdel, was still in Krosno in hiding.

The other Zajdels were already in Warsaw, where they lived and worked in different places. Irene, Bendet and Cila's granddaughter who was now called Marysia Zajdel, went to school. The Zajdels of course spoke fluent Polish; most Jews in Poland did not. It's a pity that Young's notes are so closely restricted to factual matters. I know from experience that Gissing's irony can bewilder young students, and it's unfortunate, at a couple of key points, that the notes don't spell out Gissing's precise implication. One might be to clarify the new occupation of Miss Eade, Monica's old rival at the shop, who Monica runs into at Victoria station. She is described as waiting for her ‘brother's’ train, and also in ‘casual colloquy’ with ‘men who also stood waiting – perchance for their sisters’: at this point a nudge to the naive reader might be useful. Another is the ironical observation by the narrator that Monica's shop, Messrs Scotcher, ‘had no objection whatever to their young friends taking a stroll after closing–time each evening…. The air of Walworth Road is pure and invigorating about midnight’. The implication that they implicitly permit this to allow their employees to supplement their meagre wages by prostitution is lost on most students – who naturally don't know where the shop is located (Gissing doesn't say at this point): it could be in the airy outer suburbs for all they know at this point.ost of them spoke Yiddish. The next member of the family to be removed from the ghetto was Batia Akselrad.

Bendet Akselrad tried to place his youngest son, Levy, with a Polish family but it was very difficult to find a place. There was great fear amongst the local population to take in a Jewish boy. Meanwhile Shulim received papers and he too left the ghetto and reached Warsaw where he began to work. Andzej continued his work and soon Luzer Ellowicz, a friend of Shulim Akselrad, also reached Warsaw, as did Doctor Awraham Rosenberg and his wife Sara nee Wander, from Krakow. Cila Akselrad and her son Levy soon joined Bendet Akselrad–Zajdel in his hiding place. The place was located in a sawmill in the industrial section of Krosno, at a distance from the Krukierek home where Batia was hidden. Andzej Krukierek had built it especially for the Akselrad–Zajdel family.

The entire family escaped from their usual place of residence and their Jewish identity. None of the Zajdels showed up for the big round–up of Jews in Krosno on August 10th 1942, or at the final round–up of Jews on December 4th 1942, except for Awraham Akselrad who was recently returned by the Gestapo to Krosno. .Andzej Krukierek continued to provide for and protect the family in Krosno and probably helped other Jews leave the city on illegal papers.

Suddenly the Polish police came at night to the home of Ignac Krukierek where Batia Akselrad was hiding. They used flashlights and awakened the house. Batia was certain that they came for her and slid under the covers trembling with fear. The police entered the house and spoke Polish. They asked the father where his son Andzej lived and asked him to escort them to the son's place. They arrested Andzej Krukierek but left his wife Janka and their infant son Marek at home. They also sent the father back to his house. The entire family was now terrified of the consequences. Apparently someone was out to get Andzej. He was soon transferred to the Gestapo and then sent to Gestapo headquarters in Krakow where he was interrogated at the Montelupich prison. The interrogations lasted for some time and resulted in the arrest of three Poles in Krosno who disappeared. All of them worked in various civil service offices. We can definitely surmise that the arrested Poles were tortured and must have revealed some information. The Gestapo interrogators at Montelupich were known for their brutality in obtaining information.

The Gestapo soon traced Shmuel Zajdel (Akselrad) and arrested him. His daughter Marysia Zajdel (formerly Irene Akselrad) was walking with her mother Klara when she saw her father being led away. She ran to her father and blew her mother's cover. Of course, they were all arrested and interrogated according to Sara Rosenberg, sister–in–law of Shmuel Akselrad. They all perished in the Shoah.

The Gestapo then traced Shalom Zajdel and arrested him. They also grabbed Doctor Awraham Rosenberg whose daughter Klara married Shmuel Akselrad. The wife of the doctor, Sara Rosenberg managed to escape and survived the war. The Gestapo also looked for Yehuda Zajdel–Akselrad but he joined the ranks of the Polish partisans and was killed in 1943 in the vicinity of Warsaw in a fight with the Germans. Luzer Ellowicz escaped the police dragnet by leaving Warsaw. He returned to Krosno where he found a hiding place with the Polish maid that the family had prior to the war. Yadwiga, or Wisza as she was called. She took him in and hid him until the end of the war.

Andzej Krukierek remained in prison for some time; his wife was even permitted to visit him with her son and then she received a letter that he died of a heart condition. It seems strange that the Gestapo never questioned the old couple Krukierek or their sons who worked in or about the sawmill. They all knew something about Andzej's business and certainly knew that their parents were hiding a Jewish child whom they saw at the house. True, the sons never brought their families or friends to their parents' home; still the sons knew of the Akselrad family. Of course, discussions took place at the Krukierek home about the girl and the possible consequences if they were caught hiding Batia.

Meanwhile Bendet Akselrad–Zajdel became aware of the fact that Andzej has not been in touch and was missing. He had set up the hiding place and established contacts with several Poles in Krosno to provide basic necessities for the family in hiding. Bendet could not go shopping even with false papers because he was well known in town and would be recognized. So he sent his son Levy Akselrad in the evenings to pick up the family food and supplies.

 

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Shalom Akselrad with his little brother Leib Akselrad and sister Batia Akselrad prior to WWII in Krosno, Galicia, Poland

 

Someone spotted the boy and denounced him. The police stopped him and asked for identification. Levy Akselrad was only aged 13 but he realized that he would not pass a personal check and that furthermore, he might be recognized as an Akselrad. He would then be arrested, questioned, and forced to reveal his parents' hiding place and then he would be shot, as was the custom when a Jew was caught in Krosno after the ghetto was liquidated.

Levy decided to take advantage of the evening and make a break for it. He ran, but the police were fast on the trigger. They fired their weapons and killed the boy. They soon discovered that he was Jewish and that someone might have also recognized the Akselrad boy. This wealthy Jewish family had vanished from Krosno without leaving a trace. Furthermore, where had he been hiding and who was with him? Obviously he was not hiding in a Christian home since they would never dare to send a Jewish boy on errands in the streets of Krosno. So the Akselrad family had to be in the vicinity.

The Gestapo and the Polish police conducted an intensive search and located the hiding place. They entered at night and arrested Bendet Akselrad. Cila Akselrad managed to escape in her night–robe through the window into the darkness. Bendet Akselrad was sent to the Szebnie concentration camp where thousands of Jews and Russian prisoners of war were murdered. He was killed on July 15th 1943. Cila Akselrad managed to reach the apartment of Yadwiga, or Wisza, the former maid of the Ellowicz family. She gave her a dress and let her rest for awhile. Of course, the maid did not tell Cila Akselrad that she was hiding a Jew. Instead, she helped her to look for a hiding place. But the police were in hot pursuit and arrested Cila in Korczyna near Krosno. She was taken to the Jewish cemetery in Korczyna and shot. The police ordered a Polish worker to bury her and supposedly even paid him a few zlotys.

The killings of the Akselrads set in motion the entire Krukierek family. Most of them saw an opportunity to get rid of the girl and finish the family ties to the Akselrads. After all, there were no more Akselrads to deal with. The Krukierek family, of course, had assumed that Awraham Akselrad was long dead while in reality he was at the Plaszow death camp. Similar events occurred throughout Poland where Poles agreed to hide children and when their parents were deported or payments stopped, they would chase the child from the hiding place.

Batia's cousin Marylka Freifeld, born in 1932 to Yehezkel and Rusia Freifeld, was chased out from her hiding place on the deportation of her parents. Her father was a brother of Cila Akselrad nee Freifeld. The girl was killed. In another instance, Leib Freifeld, the son of Yaakov and Hinda Freifeld, was hidden by a Christian family in the vicinity of Berta Akselrad's hiding place. When the parents were deported by the Germans in Korczyna, they threw the child onto the streets where he was killed.

Of course, Batia did not know then of these events. But she felt sudden tension and her insecurity grew by the day. She became frightened by every gesture or whisper and she tried her best to be helpful throughout the house. She had the feeling that her life and destiny was on the line.

Her adopted grandmother, Weronika Krukierek, stood by her and defended her against all antagonists. She stated that she would never leave the girl and that if she had to go she would leave the house with her, according to Batia Akselrad.

As the searches for Jews intensified in Krosno, one of the Krukiereks, Kazimierz or Kazek Krukierek who was a night watchman at the sawmill, decided to build a hiding place in the mill for the girl. The place was well hidden and in the shape of a toy box where she would spend days and have freedom of movement only at night when the workers were away. Kazek took her to the sawmill and explained to her what he wanted her to do and she obeyed. Kazek brought her food every evening when he came to work but she had to lay in that box every day regardless of the weather. The sun heated the place and the rain wetted the place, but she had to remain hidden while the workers were there. Of course Kazek was there at night, but he was busy with his girl friend in their room while Batia roamed about until the workers began to arrive. Frequently she had cramps and was unable to walk after a full day of hiding in the box. Then Kazek would help her restore her circulation. Weronika Krukierek told all her neighbors that she had chased away the girl. Months passed and things settled down a bit. The cold weather set in and the Krukiereks decided to bring the girl back to the house where they built a special hiding place for her.

The Germans began to retreat and the Russian armies took the initiative and started their long liberation drives. They liberated Russia and entered White Russia, the Ukraine. Russian planes were pounding the Krosno airfield, according to Batia Akselrad. The Germans were constantly regrouping or shortening their front lines while the Russians kept advancing. Eastern Poland was soon freed and the Russians were approaching Krosno. The Germans blew up the Krosno airport as they left the city.

Krosno was liberated but nobody came for Batia Akselrad. She became convinced that she was left alone in the world except for her adopted family. Slowly she accepted her fate and integrated herself into her new environment where she felt safe. The safety was dispelled with the arrival of Awraham Akselrad.

 

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