Translation edited by Lisa Newman
The war broke out September 1, 1939, and on the same day the German forces entered Katowice and neighboring cities, including Sosnowiec. My family had to walk all the way back to Katowice the following day, as there was no available public transport. Upon our return, the streets were already decorated with hundreds of swastikas, as though it were a German city. The shop windows displayed pictures of the fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, and the street signs were replaced with German ones.
Most of the city's Jews had left a few days prior to these events, seeking shelter in central Poland or with relatives in the east. Everyone believed that the war would be over in a short time, in a few weeks at the worst, and then they would all be able to go home. In the early days of the German occupation, we Jews lived in fear, uncertain about our future. German soldiers were roaming the streets, and an emergency regime was declared: we received limited portions of food, given only in specific locations, after hours of waiting in long lines. In the meanwhile, all kosher butchery in the city was banned, and Jewish life in general was interrupted.
Several days after the invasion we were told by our non-Jewish neighbors that the great synagogue had been set on fire, which added to the grief of those Jews still in town. The German authorities took over the new and fancy Jewish community building at 9 Mickewicza Street, where they set up the German administration headquarters. They recruited distinguished Jews who spoke German fluently. Shteinitz, a Jewish man of German origins, the synagogue's former choir leader, was appointed by them to be the new head of the Jewish community.
In early October, the community sent messages to all Jews aged 16-50, informing them of their recruitment to a labor camp in Central Poland. That message contained a list, detailed in punctilious German, of the items of equipment the recruits were to bring along with them. The message was titled in German, and bore the date (October 19, 1939) when the recruits had to appear at the community building. That group of recruits included my father zl, and we accompanied him to the recruitment point on that day. There were many rumors, but no one knew for certain where these people were to be taken. Eventually, it turned out that the entire operation was simply part of the Germans' plan to clear the city of Jews.
The recruits were taken to the train station and put on luggage cars, their destination still unknown. Their recruitment increased the anxiety of those left behind, mostly women, children and elderly citizens: the Jews expected news from the recruits, but none came. Instead, a week later the community posted another message, announcing a further recruitment, of boys 14-16, and men 50-65.
I was among the younger members of this group. The rules were the same ones that had applied to the previous recruitment, and the call-up date was October 27. After a series of formalities at the community building, we marched to the train station.
I will never forget that awful day. The weather was rainy and stormy and I, a short little boy, stood in the first line of recruits, wearing my high school uniform and cap, surrounded by tall German soldiers with guns and lances. Both my older brother Isaac and I were in this group. We stood at the train station all night and were overwhelmed by fear when darkness fell, as the lights were out and the cars were locked up.
The following day, the train started making its way to an unknown destination. The trip took a few days and the cars were inhumanly crowded. Some of the passengers could tell, by the view from the windows, that we were approaching central Poland; and indeed, when the trip was finally over we were dropped off in the city of Nisko, by the San River. Disembarking was a punctilious procedure, conducted by military officers who counted the recruits, each of whom held a briefcase and had a bag on his back, with all of the equipment we had been ordered to bring. The officers who led us out of the station shouted and cursed us and were accompanied by dogs.
We were walked through many kilometers of swamps. Many of the older men passed out along the way, and were left to their fate. After a couple of days' walk, the Germans told us they had to leave. All of this time, we were unable to extract any information regarding where we were being taken, and the only answer we received was that we would be there soon enough. The Germans then told us that we were somewhere near the border, in a neutral territory, no man's land. We were warned never to return to Poland, that we would be shot should we try.
Another march began. When we reached the nearest village, we learned that the Russian border was some 150-200 kilometers away. We had an incredibly rough journey to make, through Polish villages where many were anti-Semitic. Our lives were in explicit danger. The convoy started to rearrange in groups, in order to start the journey to the Russian border to be saved. Money was collected from everyone, and horses were bought in the villages, to be used by the scouts that led each group. We walked at night, 20-30 kilometers at a time, and rested in the villages during the day, when we also collected what little food we could, for our survival. One day I spotted my brother Isaac, who wasn't in my group on the train. Due to his good German, the Germans had put him in charge of the car of Sosnowiec Jews.
When we finally reached the Russian border area, we found a group of smugglers who promised to take us across the border. Our first attempt wasn't successful, as the Russian guard nearly spotted us and we had to go back. We made it on our second attempt, but not before we experienced a nerve-wracking encounter: while walking with the smuggler, we suddenly saw flashlights, and heard the sound of horses galloping. Two German military officers appeared, and asked for our identity and intentions. They were old-fashioned Germans, who weren't Nazis, and so after we told them the story of our hardships, they wished us luck and let us go.
Eventually, we arrived at the city of Gorochov, and from there we made it to Lwow, the capital of western Ukraine. There, we chanced to meet our father and he told us of his own tough journey there. All that time, our mother and younger brother Jacob were left in Katowice and heard nothing of us; we were worried for them as well.
My brother and I entered school in Lwow, a Jewish high school in which classes were given in Yiddish. Our family was reunited in winter 1939. My mother and brother finally made it to Lwow, after encountering many obstacles, including being jailed, along their way. In 1941 a front was opened between Russia and Germany; my family was relocated to central Russia, where spent most of the war years.
We returned to Katowice on May 9, 1946. Restoring a community life in this city was highly difficult, since very few of the citizens planned to stay and actually live there; many thought of going to Israel. Despite my own aspirations, I lived in Katowice for four and a half more years, during which time I graduated from the city's high school and received my matriculation certificate. I was an active community member in the years between our return in 1946 and my aliyah to Israel in 1950: I was among the founders of the Zionist youth movement in Katowice, was the chairman of the students' association, a board member at the culture office etc.
I came to Israel on my own in 1950. My parents and younger brother remained in Katowice, since the Polish authorities wouldn't allow them to leave. They agreed to let me go only after they learned of my Zionist activism. Upon my arrival, I started to work in a housing company; two years later I decided to learn a profession and went to law school. I completed the bar exams and started to practice law. I got married in 1955, and raised my family in Israel.
Dr. Moses Salpeter
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Poland around 1904. I studied economics in Berlin. When the Germans came to power in 1933, I escaped to Katowice. There I filled a position in the local bank, and helped run Mrs. Weiner's bookshop, which was located across the street from the synagogue.
During the years I lived in Katowice, I dedicated myself to social work in a field that seemed important to me. There weren't many Hebrew speakers in the city, and school classes were given in Polish. I was one of the founders of a Jewish elementary school and intended to teach Hebrew, since in Berlin I had also attended the high academy of Jewish studies. There were two other teachers in this school. The dominant youth movements were Akiva and The Zionist Youth; also active in Katowice were the Jewish National Fund and the UIA.
On the very first day of the war, I escaped under fire with two more friends. A few months later we reached Wilna via Bialystok, among refugees from every corner in Poland. We lived in a refugee club. In Wilna I met a friend of mine from Krakow, who taught Latin at a private school, and he told me that they were searching for a Hebrew teacher. I taught there until the Russian army entered, and was then forced to leave.
The Russians gave the refugees two options to choose from: they could either accept a Soviet citizenship, including all of its implications, or leave the city, providing they had a visa to another country. A couple of hundred Jews had managed to receive visas from Curacao's honorary consul. With this visa I approached the NKWD, and presented to them an ID that was issued for me by the British authorities in Palestine when I visited my mother there before the war. I claimed that I was a Palestinian citizen, and thus received my exit visa.
I was also given a promise that should I reach a neutral country, I would be given a pass (certificate). Most of the visa holders had traveled to Japan and from there to the United States, but I wanted to go to Israel. I traveled to Odessa, and from there I sailed to Turkey, where I met a group of 200-300 other people who were waiting for certificates too. They stayed at Marcin's harbor in southern Turkey for a number of months, and at a hotel and were sponsored by the Joint. The Turks weren't in any way hostile to them, but they weren't very supportive either. Turkey's Jewish community wasn't particularly big or wealthy. The war in Europe was hardly felt there. The major negotiation was with the head of the police, who kept the passports; the British consul and the Joint's messenger in Istanbul who sent us the money.
When I finally came to Israel, I wasn't sent to the Atlit immigrant camp, since the Jewish agency knew I was coming and they were expecting me. I didn't have any particular difficulties in Israel after my arrival, since I spoke the language and had family here.
I came to Haifa, where my mother lived, in December 1940. With the kind help of Dr. Niger, principal of the Hebrew Reali school, I found a job as a bible teacher in Bosmat school, but I left after a month, because I wasn't comfortable with the close teacher-student relationships that were common there, and because I wasn't fully trained for teaching. I then found an accounting job. From 1948-1970 I was a director at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry office in Haifa.
Fela Birenbaum Majtlis
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Katowice in 1924. My family was supposed to move to Israel a week before the outbreak of the war, in late August 1939; my father was in fact in Israel at that time, and all the paperwork was ready, but fate had different plans for us. On September 1, 1939, the war started, and all our plans were in vain. My mother was left alone with three girls, myself the eldest at 15. We went through many tribulations in eastern Poland, in the forests of Russia and in the cotton fields of Kazakhstan for six hard years, until we finally came to Israel in the end of 1945.
I was brought up in a traditional, orthodox home, in a warm, respected wealthy family. My father Yechiel was a successful businessman, and a Zionist activist. He was considered a distinguished character in our community, and a bright person. We lacked nothing. We had private music and foreign language lessons, played tennis, went skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer.
I graduated from the Hebrew elementary school in Katowice, but for high school I was registered at the Hebrew high school in Bendzin. The Polish public school in Katowice was known to be highly anti-Semitic, and our parents wanted us to receive a conservative and national education. I was also a member of the Zionist youth group.
In October 1938 all of the Jews of Polish origin were banished from Germany. They were brought near the Polish border, but the authorities refused to allow them to enter, and the refugees had to stay in the neutral area between the countries. The community in Katowice instantly volunteered to help them. I remember a phone call we received one Saturday night, after which my parents got dressed at once and left the house. They returned several hours later, accompanied by a few miserable, frightened looking people who stayed in our house. My parents immediately left once again to find and take in more refugees. Many of them were wounded and beaten up. We children were also recruited to help those displaced people.
Early on in the war, mother and the three of us girls had escaped to the east of the country. We traveled to Lwow for five days by train, under heavy bombing. Lwow was being bombed as well. We were under siege for 21 days, and sat in shelters. What we saw was terrifying. Life in a foreign community was hard enough as it was, but luckily we had friends from the movement who helped us a great deal. The winter of 1939 was cruel. We had to switch school every once in a while so that the Soviet authorities wouldn't catch us. We never finished the school year, because one night Russian officers came and sent all of us to a labor camp far away, in central Russia.
One night, in June 1940, Soviet policemen came to pick us up. We showed them our Aliyah certificates and visas to Israel, and they promised us that we would go there. Instead, after traveling for 40 days in unbearable conditions, we ended up in a closed camp within the forests of central Russia, 200 kilometers away from the nearest city.
We lived in flea-ridden shacks, and worked chopping wood; my 13 year old sister Sara was the carter. In the winter, temperatures were as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, and in the summer we were bitten relentlessly by the mosquitoes., as the forest where we worked was located on top of a huge swamp.
After 15 months, as a result of the agreement signed between Russia and Poland in 1941, we were released from that camp and traveled south, hoping to proceed on our way to Israel. Instead, we had to stay in Russia for four and a half more years. It was a very rough time; we were starving, and sold everything we had in exchange for food. After we were released we made it to Kazakhstan, and were settled in a faraway Kolhoz. We lived in a small shack with 16 young single men. Everyone, apart from us, caught typhus. My mother sold a diamond ring for two bottles of vodka, which literally saved our lives.
After a while, we moved to a more inhabited area, where we also found jobs. We were paid 400 grams of muddy bread a day. Mom's precious jewelry was exchanged for bread or flour. I was 17 years old, and worked hard to provide for my family. Part of the time I worked picking and drying fruit for the Red Army. This work place was 27 kilometers away from where we lived, but the upside of it was the relatively plentiful food. Once a week I would march for 7-8 hours at night, carrying a fruit basket on my head to bring to my mother and sisters. I didn't dare come in late the following morning, for this was an offense over which I could have been put on trial.
This entire time we repeatedly attempted to receive exit permits from Russia. The paperwork was in Moscow, and we weren't allowed to travel there. One day, at the end of the war I paid my regular visit to the police station to ask for our travel permits. The commander was on vacation. I wore a hand knitted sweater that caught the eye of the clerk: she got the sweater and I finally got the wished-for visa. Our road out of Russia was finally open.
In November 1945 we traveled to Israel via Teheran and Baghdad, a trip that was as fascinating as an Arabian Nights tale. At last, we were at home, and we were happy. My father was waiting for us in Tel Aviv, and was thrilled to find us safe and healthy. We then started a new life in our country, as a reunited family.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born in Sosnowiec in 1918. I was a soldier in the Polish army during World War II, and participated in the battles over Berlin. When the war ended, I illegally traveled to Italy with the aid of the Escape organization and messengers from Kibbutz Tel-Itzhak. My brother was then in Italy on a mission of smuggling refugee Jews across the border. I came to Israel in 1947.
I had three brothers. My mother and older brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My younger brother made it to Tel-Itzhak in 1943. My father escaped to Russia, where he spent the war years, and came to Israel in 1948 via Cyprus.
When the war broke out and the Germans invaded Katowice, local German citizens used the situation to plunder Jews' houses, though they weren't sent by the Germans. One day they came to our house, supposedly looking for hidden weapons. Upon seeing all the goods we had, they ordered us to prepare two bags of food for the following day. My parents were alarmed, but I sensed that they were robbers and reported on them to the Gestapo, who promised to come and catch them.
The following day, two Gestapo officers came to our house. In the course of the conversation, one of them told me that if I wished to live, I had better not be there the next day. When the doorbell rang, the officer pointed his gun at the robbers. They stuttered and didn't know what to say. They were taken to the Gestapo headquarters, and were beaten severely. When I returned home, I told my friends of the officer's warning. Together we left Katowice, and we headed to the Russian border. And indeed, the following day the Jews were ordered to pack their belongings and were sent to a labor camp. My father and younger brother were there, but my older brother traveled to Wilna instead. In Russia I worked at all sorts of jobs until 1943, when I enrolled in the Polish Army brigades in Russia, and spent the rest of the war years in the service.
When I escaped, my parents didn't want to come with me, as they didn't know yet just how cruel and inhumane the Germans were. The next day, my mother was left all alone at home, and a couple of days later all Jewish women were banished from the city as well. My mother had a sister in Krakow, and she packed everything she could carry and got to the train station. A German officer helped her to get on the train, and even took her to her sister's house, where she met her older brother. After a while both she and her sister were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she was murdered.
I got married in Italy, came to Israel and instantly started to work, at first, in the Fromin factory, and then in the building trade, as a skilled ironworker.
Ariyeh and Moshe Druker
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
This story is told by two brothers, Aryeh (Arthur) and Moshe (Mercel), who escaped and found shelter in Israel in 1943. Our Mother, Klara Druker, born Szor, was born in Kluscz, Poland on January 15, 1901. She passed away in Israel from a disease on August 10, 1958 at the age of 57. Our father, Leon Druker (Horszowski from his mother's side) was born in Poland on October 9, 1892. He died in Katowice after the war, on March 20, 1946, at 54. Our brother, Herman Druker was born in Vienna, Austria on April 20, 1922. He was murdered by the Nazis in the Mislowice death camp in 1943, at the age of 21.
Our father worked in commerce from a young age, and bought his parents a house, in order to allow his father to dedicate himself to writing and studying Torah. His father, Mordechaj Druker, was a Rabbi and a sermonizer who wrote several books, among them the Tkelet Mordechaj book of commentary and interpretations of the holy scriptures. His mother, Brendel, was a midwife.
Our mother lost her father at young age, and grew up at her grandmother's house. After World War I, she stayed with her brother in Vienna, where she attended the academy of commerce. Our father was a businessman who lived in Vienna at that time, and that is where they met, married and continued to live after their marriage. They had two sons in Vienna- the older, Arthur zl, and the second son, Herman. Our parents left Vienna for Katowice in 1930, and settled down with their two children in a house at 14 Mariacka street. That is where their third son, Mercel, was born.
Our father was a man of innovation. He persistently followed the latest trends in industry, and regularly attended the annual international fair in Leipzig, Germany. Some of his initiatives included the Fibco factory, which manufactured a beer-like drink that was alcohol free; a hat factory named Orzel, and a commerce agency named Gloria, which manufactured and sold appliances, book accessories and other modern products for the house. Our mother was a housewife, and also gave a hand in our father's businesses. The oldest son Herman was a student at the Joselewic elementary school, and then went to high school and studied management.
Herman belonged to the Zionist youth group and was proud to be Jewish. One day, on vacation, he happened to see anti-Semitic Ukrainians tormenting an elderly bearded Jew. Not hesitating for a second, he instantly helped the Jewish man escape. The Ukrainians promised to take revenge, and from that day till the end of his vacation, Herman kept a pointed hiking stick nearby for self defense.
The second son, finished the 6 th grade in the Joselewic school, and the youngest son, Moses, was just about to start his first year in kindergarten when the war broke out. In the summer of 1939, our mother traveled with us younger boys to her family's guest house in the Carpathians for a vacation. The invasion tore the family apart, since Katowice was occupied by the Germans, while Mikoltzin was taken by the Russians.
Our mother, a young woman, was left on her own with two children, without any support, and she needed the aid of her family. She wished to reunite with her husband and son, who were left in Katowice. When the Russians started to list families who had relatives in the areas conquered by the Germans, it was only natural of her to enlist. And one night, Russian officers knocked on our door with good news: we were taken to the German occupation region to be reunited with our father and brother.
|Headstone of the father, Leon Druker,
in the Katowice cemetery
|Headstone of the mother, Klara Druker
Our mother and we, like many other Jews who were separated from their loved ones, were taken on cattle cars. It was only during the trip that we learned of our true destination, faraway Siberia. The trip to Siberia took several weeks, with a few stops, and in conditions of constant shortage and hunger. As difficult as this trip and the time we spent in Siberia after it were, they saved us from a certain death at the hand of the Germans.
In Siberia, our mother had to provide for us, and she worked at a telephone switchboard. The youngest son went to a kindergarten, and Aryeh,13, took care of the household chores, including going to the forest alone to bring wood, and drawing water from the frozen river in buckets, through a hole in the ice. Our mother and we survived these rough conditions for a while, until an agreement was achieved between Russia and Poland's government in exile, relocating all Polish citizens who were held in Siberia to Asia.
Since Russia was in the middle of a heavy war with Germany, the circumstances of our trip to Uzbekistan were inhumane, and we suffered hunger and illness. An outburst of typhus occurred in the train car on our way there, and all of the passengers (except for those who died on the way ) were removed to a hospital in Samarkand.
Every day, many were dying of hunger and disease on the streets of Samarkand. Our mother roamed the streets, with both of us children, but starvation was everywhere. Eventually, our mother managed to check us into a children's' institution, where at the very least she knew we would be fed. At the same time, Russia's and Poland's governments had agreed to distribute a certain number of exit visas to Polish citizens in Russia; the first ones to receive visas were children who lived in institutions, we among them.
We had planned to travel to England and from there to a temporary camp in Africa. Our mother was supposed to leave shortly after us, but she fell ill and her trip was delayed. Later on, the agreement was canceled and she couldn't leave Russia again until after the war. We made it to Persia and from there, with groups organized by the Joint and the Jewish Agency, we travelled to Israel.
The trip to Israel was meant to take a short time, via Iraq, but Iraq refused to allow Jews who were traveling to Israel pass through its borders. The Jewish Agency took care of the children and organized them into groups, with a counselor for each group. After eight months in Persia, the children made their way to Israel via India, from there in ships to Suez, Egypt, and from there by train to Atlit. This trip took some six weeks, and in early 1943 we set foot in Israel among the other children of Teheran. For some time we had no connection with our mother and she didn't know where we had ended up. She constantly wrote to the Red Cross, the Joint and Jewish Agency trying to learn anything about our whereabouts, until finally she located us and got back in touch with us through letters. This exchange of letters continued till our mother arrived in Israel in 1947.
Our mother, completely alone, was inspired by our letters to try and leave Russia by any means possible. She addressed the authorities, and even wrote to Stalin asking permission to leave Russia and go to Israel to join her children, but all of her requests were turned down. Her repeated letters concerning Israel made her suspicious in the authorities' eyes, and she was facing arrest as an alleged spy. When she realized she was in danger, our mother quickly left her house and moved to another region of Russia.
At that same, our father and older brother lived under the German occupation in Poland. Wisely enough, our father took care of hiding places for the both of them. They never enlisted and the authorities had no knowledge of them, and they held Aryan ID's as well. Every once in a while they had to move to a different hiding place. A young Christian neighbor who fell in love with Herman, was willing to hide him until the end of the war, but his Jewish pride didn't let him take that offer, and this cost him his life. Herman was caught by the Nazis on the street, and was sent to a death camp in Mislowice, where he was murdered.
After the war, our father moved back to our apartment in Katowice, where we had previously moved only a year prior to the war. He had some hope that Herman might still be alive, but many inquiries taught him that this was but a false hope. Our mother meanwhile had returned to Poland at the end of the war to try and found out what had become of her husband and son. Her final destination was Israel, but her first stop in Katowice was the family's old apartment.
Her husband opened the door to her, and their surprise and excitement were grand. My father was deeply relieved to hear that we were safe in Israel, but unfortunately couldn't say the same about Herman. After six years apart, my parents' time together wasn't long: the years of struggle and the news of Herman's ill fate took their toll, and a few months later he died of a heart attack. Our mother wouldn't tell us he died for a while afterwards.
Mother's trip to Israel wasn't easy either, and it was a complicated task to convince the British mandate government to grant her an entrance certificate. On her way, she spent some time at her brother's in Switzerland, and then in France while waiting for her visa. When she saw she wasn't going to get it the legal way, she bought documents signed by a Jewish congress consul, and this way finally received her visa and entered Israel in 1947.
Her life in Israel wasn't simple. Upon her arrival, she was housed in a small one room apartment in Holon, with a bathroom that was shared with another family. The three of us lived there. As we grew up and our financial situation was improved, and she finally could have lived calmly and without worries, she fell ill, an illness she never recovered from. We live in Israel and have raised our families here. Aryeh is self-employed and has a wife and three children: a daughter a psychologist, a son an engineer and another daughter who is in the army. Moses, the younger brother, is married and has his own law firm, in which his son is a partner.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I came to Katowice in 1931, after my two brothers who worked there brought me to live with them. They couldn't support me financially, and so I turned to Mrs. Weiner, who owned a bookshop at the time and was the chairman of the local branch of WIZO. She instantly sent me to Rabbi Fogelman's wife to take care me. I was 16 years old back then, and I suppose she liked me.
The Rabbi and his wife didn't have any children yet, and I was treated in their house as if I was family. Their daughter was born only some time later, and she brought great joy to their lives. All of the community's members were happy for them, since everyone liked Rabbi Doctor Fogelman a great deal. In addition to his spiritual qualities, the Rabbi was very handsome. This fact didn't save him from a number of personal attacks by non-Jews. One night, the doorbell rang, and at the door was a Polish man holding a knife who claimed he wanted the Rabbi to circumcize him. Luckily for us, the door had a safety lock; the man couldn't get inside. We instantly called the police, but he was already gone by the time they arrived.
Rabbi Mordechaj Fogelman's spacious, finely furnished apartment was filled with strangers at all times: some came to ask questions, some to ask for help or a Rabbinical precept. The house was crowded until late every night. At the end of each day young men also came to study Torah together.
While I lived in the Rabbi's house, a struggle took place with the Polish authorities regarding the city's Rabbis. The government wanted to reduce the rabbinic positions from two to one, and preferred Rabbi Fogelman, who was a Polish citizen. On the other hand, there were many Jews from Germany in the community, who wanted Rabbi Kalman Chameides, a German Jew, to keep his post. I don't know exactly how it ended, but I do know that both Rabbis were still in Katowice until the outbreak of the war in 1939.
Rabbi Dr. Fogelman came to Israel with his family after a long, tough journey in the war years. Despite his high skills, he agreed to fill a Rabbinical position in the then small town of Kiryat-Motzkin, and he remained the city's Rabbi till his last day.
After spending years with the Fogelmans, I got married and moved to Sosnowiec in 1938. I believed I could be happy, but fate had other things in store for me. Anti-Semitism had peaked in these years, until the war finally broke out on Friday, September 1, 1939.
Our family got together on the following Sunday, and all of us, my brothers, sisters, aunts and their children, had decided to leave town. Those who were willing to leave were offered transportation by train, in luggage cars. The train dragged slowly and was stopped from time to time by either German or Polish soldiers. Gunfire accidentally hit the train, and the first victims were killed this way. After a few days we reached Walbrom, a few hours' ride at best on an ordinary day, and that's where the Germans approached us.
We spent our first night at a friend's house, and intended to proceed by foot the following morning, but to our surprise in the middle of the night there was knocking at the door, followed by men breaking in who ordered us at gunpoint to raise our hands in the air. All of the men, my husband and his brother, my two brothers, two uncles and a friend, were led outside, while the women were ordered to stay.
I didn't hesitate for a second, and immediately started running after them. What I saw on the street was shocking: from every corner of the city, men between 16 and 65, even as old as 70, were being led by soldiers, their hands in the air. There were already notices hanging on the walls, warning that those who didn't show up willingly would be executed. They gathered thousands of men from their houses and directly from the train cars, among them many Poles and Silesians. The prisoners were all taken to the city square, and were surrounded by guards and machine guns.
I asked one of the Germans what they intended to do to these men, and he replied We'll send them all to Palestine. His friend said We'll exterminate this filth! One of the Germans, who was smoking, gave me a few cigarettes, which I gave to my relatives. In the meanwhile, the Polish men were released after their ID's were inspected.
It was after nightfall, and the Germans didn't complete their mission. They arranged the men in lines of eight, and started leading them to an unknown destination. The women and children who stood nearby started wailing so loudly, that it seemed as if the sky had fallen on our heads. The families wanted follow the prisoners, but the bullies turned their guns at us, and the dust that rose from the marchers' feet made it impossible for us to spot them in the distance.
I was dizzy and didn't know where to go; after all, I was in a strange city. My sister found me and we went home. After many inquiries I found out that the prisoners were taken to Zawiercie. A friend and I packed some bread and sausage, and a couple of fresh shirts and started on the 30 kilometers march. We got to Zawiercie and heard that everyone had been held in an open factory yard for the last eight days. The prisoners looked scary. An S.S. man stood nearby and took pictures of a group of bearded Jews. I asked what they planned to do with these Jews, and he, thinking I was a Christian, answered politely that they would be let out in the morning.
I went searching for my relatives in the crowd. After eight days of lying outside with no food or water, they looked terrible. The Jewish community sent them bread, but the Germans threw it at them, so the people had to try and snatch it like dogs. My brother told me that they planned to break through the wall and escape at night. Fortunately I was able to tell him that armed S.S. soldiers were patrolling around the wall, and that a high ranking officer told me that they were being released in the morning anyway.
Early the following morning I was standing by the gates with my friends, but surprisingly enough saw the men going out in groups, and a man holding a list in charge of every group. As they exited they were forced to raise their hands and shout Heil Hitler! It was a while before I saw my relatives leaving, hands in the air like the rest. It's hard to describe their mood at that point. They had a limited time to reach Sosnowiec.
near the steps of the Great Synagogue
My friend and I started by foot, and were driven some of the way, until we finally made it to Sosnowiec. Swastikas were already hanging from the windows in the gentiles' houses. We found our families in Sosnowiec, and stayed there for a couple of weeks. We made plans to leave as soon as we could. One day I contacted Mr. Moniek Merin, who opened an office that took care of the Jews' needs, and requested a permission to travel to the border with Russia. He advised me to wait, since the Germans were organizing transports to Russia anyhow, but I was suspicious. I decided that we would leave for the Russian border one way or another.
I was told that permits were being issued in Bendzin. I walked into the Bendzin office, and a German man started preparing a permit for me, being convinced I was Christian, but once I told him my name he grew very angry. An elderly officer who sat in the corner reached for his knife and jumped right at me when he heard that a Jew had dared to enter their office. I was quicker than he was, and I left the building running. He chased me, but I merged in with crowd and was saved from certain death.
What I know of Merin is that he was later appointed head of the Judenrat, and was in charge of all of the ghettos in the district. Auschwitz survivors have told me of his awful behaviour. The transports he promised were going to Russia all ended up in Auschwitz.
We still clung to the idea of leaving on our own; we wanted to go to Ukraine, which was controlled by the Soviets, where my parents lived. We wandered for three weeks, part by train and part in wagons. I cannot describe the distress we went through. Eventually we were in Dubienka, where villagers, in exchange for a generous payment, had taken us in boats across the river Bog.
We surrendered ourselves to a guard of the Red army, as we were certain they would welcome us. We were taken to a school building, where many refugees like ourselves were already being held. It was very cold, and we had no drinking water. We walked around the hall with no place to even sit down, but still hoped for a better tomorrow.
We were disappointed when the guards gathered all of us in boats, and took us back across to the German side. It was pouring rain, and we tried crossing again in a different location. We were caught again by the same bullies who caught us the other day, and they recognized us instantly. We were wet to our bones, so this time they distributed us to the villagers' houses. I went to the headquarters, and after much effort managed to extract a note to our villager, ordering him to release the three of us, my husband and I and his brother. Another villager just came in, and upon seeing the note he changed the number 3 to 8, and released the 5 people who were in his house as well. The others were all exiled to Siberia. We were recruited to work in the timber industry, but all we were given were blunt axes.
We reached the distant region of Gorky, to a village that was so cut off, its citizens had not heard of the Soviet revolution until1942. After much effort, including letters to Stalin, we were released and reached Gorky, a city with a population of 1 million. We did very well there, since my husband is an excellent tailor and could work. We stayed there until 1941, and that's where, on June 19th 1941, I gave birth to my older daughter. It was three days before a front was opened between Germany and the USSR.
There was a public panic attack in the hospital upon people hearing that Hitler had attacked the USSR. Many men were being recruited, and I was anxious about my husband being recruited, and me not having anyone to even pick me up from the hospital. I artificially lowered the temperature shown on my thermometer, so that I would be allowed to go home.
The way home was scattered with obstacles. We couldn't use the trolley because it was full of recruits, and we had to walk for long hours. From time to time, we stopped in someone's yard so that I could breastfeed my baby daughter.
Moscow, the capital, was very well defended, and so the enemy aircraft had emptied their loads of bombing on Gorky, which is on the road to Moscow. The bombings were heavy, and I used to stand outside the house with my baby for entire nights, because the whole building was shaking. Many people had left Gorky but we couldn't, since my husband wasn't allowed to leave his job. My husband and his brother were only released when Andreas' Polish brigades in Tashkent ware being put together, and they were released from work in order to enroll.
and Hajne Krebs, 1933
By then, the baby was already five months old, old enough for the train trip, and so we left in minus 45-50 degrees weather, and traveled for three weeks. Children were dying in large numbers on the train, and their bodies had to be thrown out of the windows. It was very crowded. I would wash the baby's diapers in the toilet at night, as it was impossible to get in there during the day, and then I laid them out to dry on my own body.
We arrived at Tashkent. The baby's temperature had risen to 40 degrees, and we sat outside. A mail woman pitied us and let us inside her house, although hosting refugees was forbidden by law. Her younger son put a lock on the gate, he had to jump over it in order to get inside the house himself.
One day, the boy had forgotten to put the lock up, and an NKWD soldier came by and ordered us leave the apartment immediately. He didn't care for me crying that the baby had a temperature, that it was snowing on the street, and that my husband had spent the last few days at the train station, waiting for tickets. He didn't care for our hostess either, who said that driving us to the street meant a certain death for the baby. He put a heavy fine on our savior and I told him that he was worse than Hitler. I was sure he was going to arrest me, but he simply took off.
I went to the NKWD building to appeal the fine. I told them everything, and they ordered me to go home. On my way, I met my husband who had finally received the tickets. We left for a smaller city named Namangan. When we just arrived, we settled in a kolkhoz, where we suffered from hunger and the cold, and I was certain that our end was near. We often had to secretly sneak into the field and steal something, an unripe cabbage or radish that we could cook. This was my hardest time, a time of hunger, distress and illness.
One of those days the Delegatory, a Polish representation office, was opened, and aid from abroad was also beginning to arrive, specially from the Joint in the United States. The supplies were meant to be equally distributed among the starving population, but those in charge did as they pleased.
I heard that the major distribution supervisor was originally from Katowice. My swollen, bare feet wrapped in rags, I hurried to his office with my hungry baby in my arms. I told him that my husband was in the hospital with typhus and that we were starving. He listened, and then sent me to the storeroom with a note for 100 grams of milk powder and 100 grams of powdered eggs. All the while, Mr. Kessner (that was his name) and his friends reveled in all the goods and surrounded themselves with servants. The NKVD knew of their actions, and put an undercover agent into their inner circle. Finally, they were caught with crates of stolen goods, and that Mr. Kessner was sent to Siberia for ten years. All of his belongings were confiscated. I know nothing of his end.
Spring came, and the knee-deep swamps had dried up. I was finally able to walk to town, where I met friends who helped us move to the city. The situation there was slightly better. Yet, sickness- fever, typhus and dysentery- didn't spare us. My child would warm her swollen hands over my typhus ridden husband, her father, who was lying down unconscious with a fever of 41 degrees.
From left to right standing: Borthers Akiva, Yoshua, Bella, Mendel, Lola and Avraham
Seated: Doba and her husband Szmuel, brother Cwi Krotman and Chajka
I sold my wedding ring in order to buy a pita bread and 50 grams of butter, a meal that had literally saved his life. All the time he was sick, induction orders continued to come in, and we fought them as hard as we could. When they were coming to search for men at night, my husband and his brother would lie on the roof. They came searching for him once, I had a swollen foot and the doctor diagnosed a severe infection and sent me to the hospital. I raised the temperature the thermometer showed up to 40 degrees and held my leg down all night to keep it swollen, so that they wouldn't interrupt us with questions.
We went through so much distress in those five years. At the end of the war we returned to Poland. Around that time I got pregnant with my second daughter. Our trip took four weeks. One image I remember is from one of the stops, when a few people got off the train to cook some soup. Suddenly, the engine whistled and all of the pots with the uncooked soup were left behind, the smoke drifting away.
When we returned to Poland, non-Jews had thrown rocks at us, and it was another period of Jew-hatred that was reached its peak at the Kielce pogrom in summer 1946. We were on the road again and joined a kibbutz. The very next day we had to leave. That night I was admitted to a hospital, and gave birth to my second daughter. I stayed there for eight days, and resumed traveling.
We reached the Czech Republic, and from there traveled to Saltzburg, Austria. During our stay in Rothschild house, the newborn baby's belly button appeared to have an infection, because the midwife was a nazi. I managed to cook a spoonful of water and kali over a burning a candle, and used it to disinfect the wound.
We ended up in Germany, where we stayed in a DP camp for three years. The Jewish state was established in 1948, and in 1949 we came to Israel.
Emilia Yarcin (Krebs)
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
My mother was born in Katowice in 1882, my father in Mislowice in 1877. My parents resided in Mislowice until 1928, when they moved to Katowice, where they resided until 1939. My father's name was Sallo, my mother's Henrietta, and her maiden name was Banger. My father was a community official in Katowice, and was in charge of the Jewish cemetery. I remember that the undertaker was Mr. Tichauer of Fabriczna Street.
Our house was on Kozielska street, and since there were three of us children, we had many friends visiting all the time, sometimes from other cities. My parents had helped everyone we brought home, and no-one was left hungry or homeless. My brother Heinrich and sister Amalia had also spent all of their childhood years in Katowice.
I have clear memories of the synagogue on Mickewicza Street, next to the shop of Boldes the butcher. Later on they built another building next to it, which was used for prayer during the weekdays. The community hall was on Mlyniskaka Street, and the office secretary was Mrs. Blumenfeld. Her daughter Henny married a man named Hans Szefer, and she now lives in West Berlin. I remember the Bruno Altman family, who owned an iron raw products' store at the rink; my uncle Adolf Miedzwinski and his wife Henrietta, their daughters Roza and Gretta; my other uncle Max, his wife Ernestina of the Banger family and their daughter Ruth. All of these people lived in Katowice before the war. My entire family was murdered in the camps.
The community had its own burial society. I can still remember a few names of people who worked there: Georg Grinpeter, Riezenfeld from Wodn Street, and Grinpeter who owned an iron shop on the 3 rd of May Street.
I remember the Bnei Brith hall on Stavowa Street, with its incredibly beautiful temple. I remember Bruno Altman and Louis. I must also mention Rabbi Kalman Chameides, a most delightful person, and Hans Khanin.
I was 22 years old when the war broke out, and had been married for five months. My husband Jacob Yarcin was originally from Sosnowiec. We lived under the German occupation. When the Sosnowiec Judenrat assembled the first transports of Jews to Lublin, we fled to Ukraine. There, we were arrested and imprisoned in the Brigitky facility in Lwow. I was pregnant at the time, and my daughter was born in jail on February 10, 1940.
In August 1940 I was transferred to the first of a long line of prisons, among them Kaminitz-Fodolsk, Vinitzce, Witebsk, Harkow, Odessa, Opa and Kraganda. In Kraganda I was imprisoned in a labor camp, and my daughter was taken away from me.
I was released from camp in December, 1941, and was exiled to the city of Biesk in the region of Altay. There was a terrible famine. Many of my friends' children had died of malnutrition, and I had to put my daughter in an institution, which of course wasn't easy. Many refugees from the areas that were conquered by the USSR ended up in Biesk around that time.
In 1943, when the Polish brigades were formed, I felt that I had to somehow take revenge on the Nazis. I ensured that my girl was in good hands, and enrolled. I joined the Women's independent Battalion of the first division; I have forgotten most of the names from back then, however I do remember our Lieutenant's name, Beter. After the battles over Smolensk were concluded, we were mainly used to guard the front headquarters.
I was released from service in December 1945. By then, I had no one left in Katowice I could stay with. I moved to Zelona-Gura in lower Silesia, where I found a job and rented a bedroom; I worked as a medical clinic manager in a factory.
My husband came back from Russia in April, 1946, and followed a message I had left in Sosnowiec with my current whereabouts. One of my brothers-in-law came back that year too, and we moved to his city, Dzerzonow (Reichenbach). I worked there as a school nurse, and that's also where I gave birth to my son Shmuel in 1948. Today he lives in Canada.
In April 1949 we returned to Upper Silesia. We couldn't find an apartment in Katowice, and so we lived in Bitom. There I worked at a coalmine daycare center as a manager. In 1953 my second son Heinrich was born, and today he lives in Toronto.
My husband had partially lost his sight in 1956. During the 1968 students' uprising, my son dropped out of school due to the severe anti-Semitism he had to deal with. I couldn't stand that atmosphere either, and was willing to leave Poland. I have not been in touch with my daughter for a long while. The first news I got from her came from Russia, and I learned that she had been sent back to Poland. None of the further inquiries I made yielded any information as to where she was. There was no trace of her, apart from an anonymous message that said that the girl Roza Yarcin had traveled to Israel in 1956. I believe she is still alive today, and has a different name.
This is one of the war's mysteries yet to be resolved. Roza's mother, Emmi Krebs, lived in Katowice with her husband Jacob Yarcin at 16 Kozielska Street. While trying to cross the border to the Russian zone, she was arrested and imprisoned in Lwow, where she also gave birth to her daughter Roza on February 10, 1940. Shortly after her daughter was born, Emmi was sent to central Russia, away from her husband, and they met again only after the war ended in 1946.
Emmi wandered from one prison to another with her baby, until she ended up in a labor camp in Kraganda. After being granted a pardon, she was transferred to Biesk in Altay, where she fell ill and had to put her child in an institution. Emmi, who is a medical nurse, was recruited by the Polish army brigades in Russia in1943. During her entire service time she kept in touch with the Polish patriot's association, and received regular news of her daughter. All traces of her vanished though near the end of the war. After many efforts to get information from different establishments, Emmi was told that she was in the institution, until in 1948 she was sent with the rest of the group to another institution in Sweider, in the Warsaw region.
Emmi traveled there, but couldn't find anything besides a picture in which she recognized her daughter. After years of public searches, an anonymous postcard that was sent to one of the newspapers read that her daughter had moved to Israel, but that she isn't likely to ever find her since she was adopted, and her name had been changed.
Emmi gave birth to two sons after the war, but the family never ceased to search for their oldest daughter, as they know they'll never find peace until they know what has become of her. To date this mystery has not been resolved.
Note from Cila Katriel: It appears that after the above article was published in this book published by the Katowice Emgires in 1997, a former Katowice person in Israeli television contacted Warsaw, Poland television studio and thus found Roza Yarcin in Israel in March 1997.
In a moving appearance on Israeli television, Roza met up with her two brothers and mother. The mother, Emilia Yarcin, passed away three months after succeeding in seeing her daughter again, Roza Yarcin.
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