On 18 December, I had the privilege to interview Racheli Kreisberg, the granddaughter of Simon Wiesenthal.
Anyone who has an interest in history, specifically Holocaust history, will know who Simon Wiesenthal is, but in case there are a few people who don’t know.
Simon Wiesenthal was born on the 31st of December 1908, in Buczacz (nowadays in Ukraine). He graduated from the gymnasium in 1928 and completed his architecture studies at the Czech Technical University in Prague in 1932.
He survived the Janowska concentration camp, the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, a death march to Chemnitz, Buchenwald, and the Mauthausen concentration camp.
In May 1945, Wiesenthal, just barely having survived the hardships, was liberated by a US Army unit. Severely malnourished, he weighed less than 45kg by this time. He recovered and was reunited with his wife Cyla by the end of 1945. 89 members of both their extended families were murdered during the Holocaust.
Immediately after the liberation, Simon Wiesenthal started to assist the War Crimes Section of the US Army and later worked for the Army’s Office of Strategic Services and Counter-Intelligence Corps. He headed the Jewish Central Committee of the US Zone of Austria and was also involved with the Bricha, the clandestine immigration of Holocaust survivors from Europe to Mandate Palestine.
Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to tracking down former Nazis and their collaborators. He established the Jewish Documentation Center in Linz (1947–1954), with the purpose to assemble evidence of Nazi war crimes.
Simon Wiesenthal started searching for Adolf Eichmann shortly after the war when it had become clear that he was the architect of the final solution, i.e. to annihilate the Jewish People. Simon Wiesenthal was several times very close to catching Adolf Eichmann; however, the latter managed to escape or avoid attending events at which he was expected. In the mid-1950s, Simon Wiesenthal donated his entire archive to Yad Vashem, except for the Eichmann file. He was instrumental in providing the Israeli Mossad with an early picture of Adolf Eichmann. In addition, Simon Wiesenthal provided evidence that Adolf Eichmann lived in Buenos Aires under the name of Ricardo Clement. Eichmann was captured by Mossad on the 11th of May 1960. He was sentenced to death and hung on the night of the 1st of June 1962; his body was incinerated and his ashes were scattered outside Israel’s territorial seawater.
In the interview with Racheli, we briefly discussed her grandfather but focused more on her work for The Simon Wiesenthal Genealogy Geolocation Initiative (SWIGGI). It links genealogy and geolocation data in a novel way. They currently have the country of the Netherlands, the cities Lodz and Vienna and the Shtetls Skala Podolska, Nadworna and Solotwina. SWIGGI shows all the residents of a given house and links residents to their family trees. Simon Wiesenthal’s Holocaust Memorial pages are developed for Holocaust victims.
There are links below, and I urge you to look at them. If possible, please consider givIng a donation to this very noble and well-worthy cause.
Anyone who has seen ‘Schindler’s List’ will know about Amon Göth, who was played by Ralph Fiennes in the movie.
Göth was the son of a prosperous publisher in Vienna. In 1931 he became a member of the Austrian Nazi Party at the age of 23.He was granted full party membership on 31 May 1931. His decision to join the party at this early stage meant that he was considered an Alter Kämpfer (Old Fighter), i.e., one who had joined the party before Adolf Hitler’s rise to the position of Chancellor of Germany.
Göth rose steadily through the SS ranks, earning a promotion to untersturmführer (equivalent to second lieutenant) in 1941 and joining Operation Reinhard, the Nazi campaign to kill the Jews of occupied Poland, in 1942. He was made commandant of Plaszow in February 1943 but remained active elsewhere, supervising the violent closings of the Kraków ghetto (March 1943), the Tarnów ghetto, and the Szebnie concentration camp (both in September 1943). His performance so pleased his superiors that he was promoted two ranks to hauptsturmführer (equivalent to army captain) in summer 1943.
In Plaszow, Göth had many prisoners killed as punishment for infractions, but he also killed randomly and capriciously. From the balcony of his villa, he took target practice with his rifle on prisoners as they moved about the camp.
Joseph Bau, a Polish-born Israeli artist, philosopher, inventor, animator, comedian, commercial creator, copy-writer, poet, and survivor of the Płaszów concentration camp, said about Göth.
“A hideous and terrible monster who reached the height of more than two meters. He set the fear of death in people, terrified masses, and accounted for much chattering of teeth.
He ran the camp through extremes of cruelty that are beyond the comprehension of a compassionate mind – employing tortures which dispatched his victims to hell.
For even the slightest infraction of the rules, he would rain blow after blow upon the face of the helpless offender and would observe with satisfaction born of sadism, how the cheek of his victim would swell and turn blue, how the teeth would fall out and the eyes would fill with tears.
Anyone who was being whipped by him was forced to count in a loud voice, each stroke of the whip and if he made a mistake was forced to start counting over again.
During interrogations, which were conducted in his office, he would set his dog on the accused, who was strung by his legs from a specially placed hook in the ceiling.
In the event of an escape from the camp, he would order the entire group from which the escapee had come, to form a row, would give the order to count ten, and would, personally kill every tenth person.
At one morning parade, in the presence of all the prisoners he shot a Jew, because, as he complained, the man was too tall. Then as the man lay dying he urinated on him.
Once he caught a boy who was sick with diarrhea and was unable to restrain himself. Goeth forced him to eat all the excrement and then shot him”.
He was even to evil for Nazi standards. On 13 September 1944, Göth was relieved of his position and charged by the SS with theft of Jewish property (which belonged to the state, according to Nazi regulations), failure to provide adequate food to the prisoners under his charge, violation of concentration camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners, and allowing unauthorised access to camp personnel records by prisoners and non-commissioned officers. Administration of the camp at Płaszów was turned over to SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Büscher. The camp was closed on 15 January 1945.Göth was scheduled for an appearance before SS Judge Georg Konrad Morgen, but due to the progress of World War II and Germany’s looming defeat, the charges against him were dropped in early 1945.
All those charges against him may appear that the Nazis actually cared for the wellbeing of prisoners, but that wasn’t the case. It only meant that Göth’s crimes were against the ‘greater good’ of the third reich. He enriched himself and used prisoners for his own benefit.
After being diagnosed with diabetes, he was sent to an SS sanitarium in Bad Tölz, Germany, where he was arrested by U.S. troops in early 1945. The Americans turned him over to the restored Polish government, which then tried him for war crimes, most notably the killing of more than 10,000 people in the Plaszow and Szebnie camps and in the Kraków and Tarnów ghettos. Göth’s defense was that he was only following orders. After the brief trial, he was convicted on September 5, 1946, and hanged eight days later. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on 13 September 1946 at the Montelupich Prison in Kraków, not far from the site of the Płaszów camp. His remains were cremated and the ashes thrown in the Vistula River. Allegedly his last words were ‘Heil Hitler’.
In addition to his two marriages, Göth had a two-year relationship with Ruth Irene Kalder, a beautician and aspiring actress originally from Breslau (or Gleiwitz; sources vary). Kalder first met Göth in 1942 or early 1943 when she worked as a secretary at Oskar Schindler’s enamelware factory in Kraków. She met Göth when Schindler brought her to dinner at the villa at Płaszów; she said it was love at first sight. She soon moved in with Göth and the two had an affair, but she stated that she never visited the camp itself. Göth’s second wife Anna, still living in Vienna with their two children, filed for divorce upon learning of Göth’s affair with Kalder. Kalder left for Bad Tölz to be with her mother for the birth of her daughter, Monika Hertwig , on 7 November 1945. She was Göth’s last child. Kalder was devastated by Göth’s execution in 1946, and she took Göth’s name shortly after his death.
In 2002, Hertwig published her memoirs under the title Ich muß doch meinen Vater lieben, oder? (“I do have to love my father, don’t I?”). Hertwig described her mother as unconditionally glorifying Göth until confronted with his role in the Holocaust. Kalder suffered from emphysema and committed suicide in 1983 shortly after giving an interview in Jon Blair’s documentary Schindler. Hertwig’s experiences in dealing with her father’s crimes are detailed in Inheritance, a 2006 documentary directed by James Moll. Appearing in the documentary is Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, one of Göth’s Jewish former housemaids. The documentary details the meeting of the two women at the Płaszów memorial site in Poland. Hertwig had requested the meeting, but Jonas-Rosenzweig was hesitant because her memories of Göth and the concentration camp were so traumatic. She eventually agreed after Hertwig wrote to her, “We have to do it for the murdered people.” Jonas felt touched by this sentiment and agreed to meet her.
Monika’s daughter Jennifer Teege is a German writer. Her grandfather was Amon Göth. Her 2015 book ‘My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past’ was a New York Times bestseller. I don’t agree with that because if it was up to her Grandfather she wouldn’t even have been born, because of her Father’s Nigerian background.
Eva was born on January 1, 1924, in Oleszyce, Poland, a small community where over half of the people were Jews. She had 7 siblings and she was the oldest.Her father, was a wealthy merchant and head of the Oleszyce Jewish community. He had an international business that distributed religious articles including Torahs and tefillin to France, Belgium, England, the US and other countries across the world. While being deported to the Belzec Extermination Camp, she escaped by jumping out the train window with her brother and sister. Her siblings were shot and killed as they fell out the train, but Eva managed to escape by landing in a deep hole.
Below are 2 of her testimonies so there will be a lot to read, but I believe her words are very important. They are not only a warning from the past, but also a warning for the present and the future.
“The last thing my father told me as he pushed me from the train was ‘You run. I know you will stay alive, you have the Belzer Rebbe’s blessing.’ He was very religious and he believed this. I was born in a little city in Poland named Oleszyce. Our community consisted of 7,000 families, half of them were Jews. My father, Israel Vogel, was the head of the Jewish community, the head of the Kehillah.
In our part of Poland there was a famous Rabbi, the Belzer Rebbe. When I was born there was a big fire in the Rebbe’s house. He had many invitations to stay with people while his house in Belz was being rebuilt. His personal secretary, his Gabbai, went to look at all these places and chose ours. Our house was big enough to accommodate the Rebbe’s household. This was a great honor. He lived with us for three years.
At this time I was an infant in the cradle. My mother had lost four children. We were supposed to go live in a house we owned next door. My mother refused to move me out of our main house until the Belzer Rabbi blessed me. It was said that he gave me a Special Blessing . The whole city knew about this.
My father had a business of distributing religious articles. The occupation of a majority of the older Jews in our community was to make these articles, like Torahs and tefillin. I was interested in how they were made. They would stretch animal skins on a frame to make the parchment. The parchment would be cut into sheets. Sofers or scribes would then write the letters on the parchment. It took a scribe an entire year to write a Torah. They sewed the parchment sheets together into the scrolls with threads made of animal sinews. My father could recognize the handwriting of all of his scribes. Every week they brought their work to my father to get paid. He would then distribute the religious articles to buyers in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania and later, after my brother emigrated, to the United States.
My mother, Ita Prince, was an orphan. The family she lived with was too poor to afford a dowry, and in those days it was hard to get married without one. My father was a widower with six children. My mother was 18 and my father was 34. They matched my mother up with my father because he was rich and because he promised to take in all her sisters and provide dowries for them. She did not want to marry him, but she had no choice. Her foster family said, “If you do not marry him you will have to provide for yourself and your three sisters.” It was a business proposition. My mother had eight children. I was the oldest child. I felt sorry for my mother because she was always pregnant.
At that time it was considered unimportant for a girl to have an education. The government gave you only a basic education, and after that you had to pay. My father educated the boys. After I completed seventh grade my father did not think I should go to high school. I went on a hunger strike. I did not eat and I locked myself in the room until my father agreed that I could go to high school. I had also gone to cheder to get a religious education.
In our city everybody was observant. Everyone went to synagogue and everyone ate kosher. On Shabbos the men wore streimels.
When it was time to go to synagogue on Friday night, the shammes would holler in the street or knock on the doors.
The Jews and the non-Jews in our town did not mix socially, only in business. The anti-Semitism was very strong; we felt it all over. The gentile children did not want to associate with us, and they called us names. The Jewish children were not permitted to take part in school plays. The Christians were told that the Jews killed Christ. On Easter they would throw stones at us. However, there were no pogroms at this time, before the Germans came into Poland.
We were aware of the Nazis and events in Germany from the newspapers. I remember the incident at Zbaszyn when the Polish citizens were expelled from Germany and were forced to return to Poland. This led up to Kristallnacht, which happened in Germany. I remember that one refugee family did not have a place to live, and my father gave them a room.
Somehow we did not believe Hitler would come to Poland. Until the last minute people did not believe that the Germans would invade us. The Polish soldiers used to sing patriotic songs. They would not give up an inch of our Polish soil to the last drop of their blood. They sang songs about fighting for the port of Danzig.
People did not believe that the Germans would come until they saw the airplanes. It was so sudden. In a couple of days the Germans occupied the whole of Poland. Then there was not anything one could do. It was too late. The Germans and the Russians had a treaty, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which divided Poland at the River San. Because our town was on the Russian side, the Germans occupied our part of Poland for just two weeks. Then, according to the Treaty, the Russians came in. Until 1941 the Russians were in charge.
I still had a year left to finish high school. But my father could not continue his business because the Russians did not permit the practice of religion. As the oldest child I had to take a job to support the family. Jobs were hard to get. The Russians gave the first jobs to poor people and to working people. Because my father was considered a rich businessman, he was called a capitalist. As the daughter of a “capitalist” I could not get a job. So I wrote a letter to Stalin. I wrote him that we were a large family and my father was too old to work. I received a reply from his office, and I was given a job. They wrote it up in the local newspaper. I started out as a secretary and advanced to assistant assessor in the local internal revenue office.
We did not expect anything to happen. One Saturday evening in June 1941 we went to sleep. About 6 o’clock Sunday morning we heard gunshots and went out to see what was happening. German motorcycles were going down the main street. Soldiers were shooting right and left. Whoever was on the street was killed right away. This is when our problems began.
The Jews were not permitted to keep a job. People started to trade their belongings with the farmers for food. Potatoes and flour were more important than money. If someone had savings in the bank, all the money was confiscated. If someone had cash at the house, it did not last too long. Best off were the people who had stores and who could hide the merchandise.
The first thing they did was to make a Judenrat. A few Jews became responsible for the entire Jewish community. To these people they gave orders which they had to pass on to us. Every day there was a different decree. We had to put on armbands so we would be recognized as Jews. Our armbands were white with blue Stars of David sewn on. Every day orders came for people to go to work at hard labor or to do work like cleaning toilets. The Judenrat had to deliver the number of people they required.
Already it was a fight for survival. We had to do what they wanted. If we did not, we would be killed immediately. We did not have a newspaper or a radio so we did not know what was going on in the outside world. We just hoped to stay alive and that the war would end before they would do something to us.
We were not allowed to walk down the sidewalks, but had to walk down the middle of the street. The street in our town was not paved. When it rained it became a street of mud. Once my mother forgot and walked on the sidewalk. A young walked by, a Ukrainian man who was a teacher. He had helped my brothers with their homework and had come to our house. He went and hit my mother when he saw her walking on the sidewalk. My mother came in and cried. She said, “If a German had done it, I would have said nothing. But this man should have been an intelligent person: he came into my house and I fed him.”
Even your friends could turn against you. It was as if anyone could pick on the underdog. I did not understand. I felt degraded. There were times when I envied a dog. A dog has his master who takes care of him and feeds him. We were outside the law. Anyone could do with us as they wanted.
I was luckier than most people under the Germans. I understood the tax books. For almost a year I was sitting in city hall with the armband working on the tax books. I worked for them until they could train somebody else. I did not receive any pay. I got bread, which was better than getting money. When I brought the bread home, I gave everyone a piece. My little brother looked for crumbs on the floor because he was hungry and wanted more, but nobody could have more. Now I feel so guilty. I hit him because he took the crumbs from the dirty floor.
In those days the way they delivered messages was by a city drummer. He beat his drum calling out “Ja wam tu oglaszam”” I have an announcement for you.” In our town the drummer’s name was Pan Czurlewicz. He wore a uniform like a policeman. He came to our street drumming and calling until everyone came out of their houses. “All the Jews must assemble in the city square,” he said, “If they find someone missing they will be shot.”
When we arrived at the city square, we saw a fire in the middle of it. The whole inventory from the synagogue was burning, the prayer books, the torah scrolls, everything was burning. The German soldiers pushed the young girls up to the old men and made them dance around the bonfire. When we looked up we saw that each of our town’s three synagogues was on fire.
All around us our neighbors and friends were watching and laughing at us like they were at a show. This hurt us more that what the Germans did. After the fire burned down they told us to line up and parade through the whole town so everyone could see us. This I will never forget.
We were living in conditions of hunger and fear, but we were still in our own homes. People made hiding places in their houses to hide from the Germans. Our hiding place was in the attic behind a double wall. Whenever we saw the Germans, we would run to the attic and hide. Even the little children understood that if they made noise it was a matter of life and death.
This continued until September 1942. One day the drummer came. He announced that all the Jews had to take what they could carry and walk the seven kilometers to the next town of Lubaczow. There was a ghetto there.
All the Jews of Oleszyce and the neighboring villages were moved to the ghetto in Lubaczow. The ghetto was the size of one city block for 7,000 people. We slept 28 people in a room that was about 12 by 15 feet. It was like a sardine box. People lived in attics, in basements, in the streets–all over. We were lucky to have a roof over our heads; not everyone did.
It was cold. In one corner there was a little iron stove but no fuel. We were not given enough to eat. The children looked through the garbage for food. There was not enough water to drink. There was one well in the backyard, but it would not produce enough water for everybody. To be sure to get water you had to get up in the middle of the night. Once I had a little water to wash myself, and my sister later washed herself in the same water. Some people started to eat grass. They would swell up and die. Because of the unsanitary conditions people got lice and typhus. My brother Pinchas got night blindness from lack of vitamins. Every day a lot of people died. It was a terrible situation. People were depressed. There was nothing to do. They waited and hoped and prayed.
Then, beginning on January 4, 1943, the Gestapo and the Polish and Ukranian police started to chase all the Jews out from their houses. The deportation took several days. People ran and hid. The Jewish police helped to find the people in hiding. They had been promised that they would stay alive if they cooperated.
We knew where we were going. A boy from our town had been deported to Belzec camp. He escaped and came back to our town. He told us that Belzec had a crematorium. Deportation trains from other cities had passed by our city and people had thrown out notes. These notes were picked up by the men forced to work there. The notes said, ‘Don’t take anything with you, just water.’
They took us to a cattle train. People started to run away from the train, but they were shot. Once on the train we had to stand because there was no room to sit down. A boy tore the barbed wires from the train window. The young people started to jump out of the window. Many jumped. The SS on the rooftop of the train shot at them with rifles. My father told us, the oldest three, “Run, run–maybe you will stay alive. We will stay here with the small children because even if they get out, they will not be able to survive.” To me he said, “You run, I know you will stay alive. You have the Belzer Rebbe’s blessing.” He was very religious and he believed this.
My brother Berele jumped out, then my sister Hannah, and then I jumped out. The SS men shot at us. I landed in a snowbank. The bullets did not hit me. When I did not hear anything anymore, I went back to find my brother and my sister. I found them dead. My brother Berele was 15. My sister Hannah was 16. I was 17.
I took off my star and I promised myself that never again would I ever wear a star. I ran back to the city where we lived. We had a Gentile friend there, a lady to whom we gave a lot of our belongings. She was scared to keep me. Gentile families who were found to be hiding Jews would be killed. She hid me behind a cedar-robe in the corner. I was standing there listening to people come in. They were discussing how they were killing the Jews, how the Jews were running away, who had been shot. It was a small city. They felt sorry for the Jews. It was a sensation, a thing to talk about. They felt sorry but they forgot right away.
In the evening when it became dark she gave me half a loaf of bread and 25 Polish zlotys. She told me to go. I went to another family’s house that I knew who lived close to the woods. He was a forester. When I worked with the taxes, I had helped them. They were afraid to let me in. It was already dark. I could not walk. It was freezing cold. There was snow. I was not well dressed. I went in the barn where they had a newborn calf, and I lay down with it to keep me warm. About twelve o’clock the wife came to look at the calf. She saw me and felt sorry for me. She let me come and sleep in the house, but in the morning she told me to go.
I wanted to go to the train station, but I was afraid to go in our city because everybody knew me. So I went to the woods and walked to the next station 32 kilometers away. At that time it was thought that there were partisans in the woods. People were afraid to go in the woods, but I was not afraid. I was walking in the deep snow, and in the evening I came to the station in Jaroslaw.
At the Jaroslaw station I bought a ticket for Cracow. I figured that Cracow was a big city with a big Jewish community. Maybe the ghetto would still be there. In the train station I saw the person who took over my job at the internal revenue. I was frightened that she might recognize me. I kept walking around the block until the train came. Then I got on the train. This was another situation. I did not have any documents. The lady that gave me the bread had given me some papers from her daughter, but they were not good enough. There were identification checks on the train. Every station I would move to another wagon.
In Cracow I spent two days and two nights living in the train station. There was a curfew at night because of the war. People who came into the city late had to stay in the train station until morning, so there were always a lot of people there. I moved around a lot so people would not recognize me, from one bench to another, from one room to another. It was a big station. But I did not have any money, and I did not have any bread. I had never been to Cracow before. I did not know where the ghetto was. I did not see anybody with an armband, and I was scared to ask someone where the ghetto was.
I walked and walked. I was hungry. I figured the only thing to do was to jump in the river. I came to a market place, a farmers’ market. I could hear running. They closed up the market place and took all the young people aside. I could hear the girls and boys talking. They were catching boys and girls and sending them to work in Germany. Nobody would go work freely in Germany; they had to use force. This was how they rounded up the people. I was very glad that I was caught with those people. I was caught as a Gentile and not as a Jew.
They took us to an old school at Number 4 Wolska street. First they sent us to take baths, and they disinfected our clothes. A lady inspected our hair; because I had been in the ghetto, I had lice. She cut my hair short and put something in it. Next they sent us to doctors. If you had certain kinds of sicknesses, you would be relieved.
I prayed to God that they should not find anything wrong with me–after such a long time in the ghetto, after the malnutrition. Thank God, I passed the physical. If I had been a boy, I could not have passed. None of the Polish boys were circumcised, but the Jewish boys were. A Jewish boy would have been recognized by the doctors right away. I assumed the identity of a Polish girl, Katarzyna Czuchowska, a name I made up. I took a different birthday, May 12th.
We were put on a train and taken from Cracow to Vienna. They sent us to a place where the German farmers came to pick up workers. It was something like a slave market. One family liked me and took me to their farm, which was on the border with Czechoslovakia in the Sudetenland. The farm was a bad place because the husband was at home and he was a very mean person. The neighbors said that he avoided the draft by bribing someone. He made anti-Semitic remarks, even though he did not know I was Jewish.
After a year I got sick. They transferred me to a smaller farm where there were nice people. There were no males there, and I had to carry sacks of grain. At Christmas, when the husband came home on leave, they made homemade wine from their vineyards. The husband got drunk and he began to curse Hitler, “Hitler, you so-and-so! If it were not for Hitler, I would be home with my family.” I was scared someone would hear him, so I closed the door so nobody would come into the house.
I was scared that they would find out I was Jewish. I was not afraid of the Germans because I was not different looking from anyone else. But I was afraid of my friends, the Poles. I was scared that one of them would recognize me. They were country girls, and I was afraid that they would figure out how much more educated I was.
I was the letter writer for everybody. If someone needed to write a love letter, they came to me. The Poles got letters from their families and packages of clothes. My letters were returned. I made up the excuse that my family was resettled and they did not know where I was. After a time when I saw that nobody recognized me, I felt secure.
Then a terrible thing happened. Before Easter, Marie, the farm lady I worked for, told me that I had to go to confession. I was a religious Jewish girl, and I did not know what Catholic girls did at confession. I lay awake nights worrying what I would do until I came up with a solution.
My Polish friends did not speak German, which I had picked up easily because I knew Yiddish. My friends were going to go to confession at the Slovakian church, where they spoke a language close to Polish. I asked Marie to let me take confession at her church in the German language. She showed me the prayer book where I had to confess my sins. I figured if I did not say the words exactly right, the German priest would not be suspicious because I was just a Polish girl. So I made up some sins and went to confession. My heart was pounding; I was so scared. I saw what other people were doing, and I imitated them. I went up to the German priest, and he put something on my tongue. Somehow I blacked out; it must have been the fear. When I came to, Marie asked me why I was so pale. I made up the excuse that I was weak from fasting. Later on everything went smoothly.
The worst part was when I tried to go to sleep. In the daytime I did not have time to think. I got up at five o’clock in the morning, milked ten cows, then went into the fields. But at night I was afraid to sleep. I dreamed about my family and my friends. I had horrible nightmares: I dreamed I saw my whole family with the Germans running after us. I hid but I could not escape from them. I wondered if my family were dead or alive. I dreamed I saw my dead sister and brother on the cattle train to Belzec. I woke up shaking in a cold sweat. At that time I prayed to God. I promised myself, “If I will survive, I will return to the religion of my parents. I will observe.” And that’s how I survived.
They brought sixty Jews to a big farm to work. There were guarded by the SS. One day I passed three of them, and I felt such an urge to talk to them. I saw that other boys and girls were talking to them, but I was scared that if I talked to them, I would get emotional or reveal something, and they would recognize me. I do not know what happened to those people.
In May 1945 the Germans started to draw back, and one day the Russians came in. I was still scared to tell anyone I was Jewish. I looked at the Russian soldiers to see if I could recognize anyone who was Jewish, but I didn’t.
Now came the time that I could help my people, the German farmers. The Russians started to rape the German women. When they came to our door, I spoke to them in Russian. They stationed a Russian captain in our house. He saw to it that nothing happened to our family.
I wanted to go back to Poland. I figured that maybe I would still find somebody alive. It was a long journey back to Poland. The mail started up. I had a brother and sister from my father’s first marriage who were alive. He had immigrated to the United States in 1933, and she had gone to Russia. He wired her and she came and got me and took me to Breslau (Wroclaw). We could not go back to our city because Russia had taken that part of Poland. I had written to a friend and not one Jew went back to our city. I learned later that from my whole city of about 3,000 Jewish families, just 12 people survived.
The Red Cross had lists of people who had survived, but we could not find anybody from our family. My half-brother attempted to get me a visa to the United States, but there were quotas. I got a transit visa to Sweden. Meanwhile, from the Red Cross lists I found a friend from Oleszyce who had been in Auschwitz. She was the only other person who jumped from the same train as I did and lived. Her fiancee had met my future husband at the train station in Cracow. My husband was in the Polish army. He and I were childhood friends from Oleszyce. Her fiancee invited my husband to come to their wedding, which was two weeks before I was supposed to go to Sweden, but they did not tell me anything about him.
At the wedding Henry walked in–He did not know that I had survived–I did not know that he had survived. I almost dropped from the chair. I thought I was seeing a ghost. Henry right away asked me to marry him. I said, “No, Henry, I have to wait; I am going to Sweden.” Henry went with me to Warsaw to catch the first airplane that was going from Warsaw to Stockholm after the war. Henry said, “I will come to Sweden.” Four weeks later Henry came illegally on a coal boat to Sweden. He paid a sailor who smuggled him onto the boat.
At that time most of the survivors were single. People married people that they did not know just to get somebody, just to have a family. When Henry and I were young children in school, he would come to our house under my window and talk to me. We were friends. Not boyfriend and girlfriend. I was too young. But we were attracted to one another.
When the Swedes let Henry out of quarantine, he asked for political asylum. He did not want to be in Poland, a communist country, in a communist army. A Rabbi married us three weeks later on Christmas Eve. I did not even have a coat. I had to borrow a coat from the girl next door to go to Synagogue. We took a furnished room and went to work in a restaurant. We were dishwashers. Henry washed the big pots and I washed the glasses. We lived on one salary and with the other we bought things that we would need for the house.
After three months I got a job in a factory making blouses, and Henry got a job in a tailoring factory. No one gave us anything; we started out from nothing. We worked our way up with our ten fingers. Henry learned tailoring in no time. They sent him to a school to learn to be a foreman. He got a high school degree; he took correspondence courses; he learned English. After three years my eldest daughter was born.
We came to the United States on May 2, 1954, when our quota came. After eight years in Sweden it was difficult to adjust to life in New York City. It was difficult for me not knowing the language. When I came to the United States I spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and Swedish, but not English. I was pregnant and stayed at home. My oldest daughter came home with her school books–”See Dick run.” I learned English by helping my daughter with her homework. I tested her on spelling, and she tested me. As soon as I learned the English language, I adjusted. After seven years in New York, we thought we would like it better in a smaller community. We came to New Orleans in 1962. Eventually, my husband started his own tailoring business. I had two other children, both girls.
There are times when I ask myself, “Where was God when my parents were taken away from me? When my youngest brother shouted, which I still hear him screaming, I want to live too!”’ When they took us away, he shouted, “I want to live, I want to live!” This picture will never, never in my life disappear from my eyes. A lot of times when I lie down, I still hear that voice. He was 3 years old. Even though they were that small, the little children knew what was happening to them. And I ask myself a lot of times, “Where was God? Where is God?” I don’t try to search any deeper because I think without religion it would be harder for me to live.
If you lose your parents at any age, it hurts. To lose your parents in that way, at that age, and to be alone in the world… If you cannot grieve right away, it stays with you for your whole life. You need compassion to be able to talk out your grief. Time is the best doctor. As the days and weeks and years go, it grows weaker and weaker. But you never forget. I tell my students that they should cherish their parents and obey them. A parent is always at your side.
In Poland, after the war I was sick emotionally and physically. I had to go to a doctor to get shots to gain weight. In Sweden I went to a psychiatrist because I could not get over those terrible nightmares. Today I see that when there is a disaster, they send people to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. We had to work out our own problems. As parents we were overprotective to our children. My eldest daughter was accepted at an Ivy League college, but I was afraid to let her go away from home to school. We were afraid to let our children know too much about our past.
I taught Hebrew and prepared children for their Bar Mitzvahs. A friend encouraged me to go to college. In 1985 I graduated from the University of New Orleans. It was my children that made me talk. In the beginning I did not talk to anybody. I did not tell anything. My daughter had to write a paper for school, and she got me to talk. Now, Henry and I go to schools to talk with students about the Holocaust. That is how life goes on.
The following interview was conducted by the Institute’s Holocaust Education Specialist, Plater Robinson.
“EG I was born in Poland in 1924. My name is Eva G.
PR And you were born in what town in Poland?
PR Your husband has showed me where on the map Oleszyce is, and when I go to Poland I will go there, and it’s very important for me to understand the way of life that existed before the war in Oleszyce, and so if I can begin by asking you simply to imagine if the two of us left your house early one morning, and walked down the street, what would our eyes see before us?
EG It is very difficult to talk about it because it left so many bad and good memories. Good that we lived together with the family, and bad because I have to leave under those circumstances. Well, the life wasn’t so exciting. It was a little town, and you could imagine when I left my city it was 1942, and at that time that little city didn’t even have running water, or electricity.
PR And the streets were not paved.
EG No paved streets. They were wooden sidewalks, and the water we had to carry from pumps. People had like wells in the backyard in pumps. Some people still had those draw wells that they draw with buckets the water from the wells. The light was lamps, they called, from kerosene lamps, that’s what we used. But the life was quiet. Nobody knew anything better so we were happy. We lived like in the country. But it was not a modern country like they have now. Probably in Poland it changed too. Because that was many years ago. We went out like every Polish city had a plan that every city small big where you came it was built with a square. It was in the middle a square and a big house and around the square was stores, and every week, by us it was a Wednesday. It was day of like market. So all farmers from around came with vegetables and fruits and they were standing in the markets with their carriages and sold and people went to go and they were vendors who came in with different articles. It was fun for us children, Wednesday, to go in the market and to look whatever the people they came. Magicians, and to show tricks. Everything happened on Wednesday. It was a nice day. But if it was raining it was bad. Because the whole city was mud.
PR But if it was not raining. It was a very colorful sight.
EG Yeah, it was colorful. We enjoyed that. Everybody looked forward to Wednesday. And that city, we had one public school that everyone went to that school. It was eight grades, because the whole city where we lived had about ten thousand people. It wasn’t big. So one school was enough, and that was a time compulsory to go eight years to the school. Now, if somebody wanted to continue to high school or gymnasium, like they taught by us, we had to go to a different, a larger city. Some people commuted, and some people lived with friends or relatives in a bigger city to continue the schooling.
PR And what was the percentage of Jewish people who lived in Oleszyce?
EG It was about thirty or forty percent Jewish people in that town.
PR And in your grammar school, obviously you attended school with Poles as well.
EG Poles and Ukrainian. We lived, many Ukrainians lived. It’s a big percentage of Ukrainians. It was probably about a third Jews, a third Ukrainians, and a third Poles, and we went all together but the discrimination was big. You knew right away who was Jewish and Jewish people weren’t too good accepted.
PR Did the Jews and the Ukrainians and the Poles mix at all or were there very obvious lines drawn?
EG They were separated. We weren’t separated by the line. But socially everybody stuck to their own. The Ukrainians stuck to their own, the Poles to their own, Jews to their own. Jews weren’t accepted. We were in the school, we were friends. But outside the school nobody associated.
PR How is that?
EG I don’t know why. It was always the anti-Semitism and the Jews felt inferior. We were always inferior and we were very lucky and happy that somebody wanted to associate in the school. It was like this. I don’t know, we accepted it. I had very good friends in the school, and in the school I used to help them or we used to…somehow, somehow, the Jewish students were always the brighter. I don’t know why. And we helped friends and everything and they were happy in school, but outside the school they didn’t mix with us.
PR And did the Poles dislike the Ukrainians as much as the Poles disliked the Jews?
EG They disliked Ukrainians but not as much as the Jews.
PR And the relationship between the Ukrainians and the Jews also was bad?
EG Bad. Bad. Ukrainians didn’t like us either.
PR In your family, what business were they in?
EG My father had a religious, the Jewish religious paraphernalia.
PR And Oleszyce was renown for its Jewish paraphernalia.
EG It was like the manufacturing. Everybody did it in that city. My father exported this in Poland to big cities where they didn’t have that, and to all Europe. And all the countries. Mainly he traded with Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. It was the biggest market for it because they had a lot of Jewish people.
PR And what precisely do we mean when we say “Jewish paraphernalia?”
EG Used for prayers. The Torah that is used for the services in the synagogues. The Jewish prayer shawls. The Jewish, what they called the mezuza. Everything they used in the prayer services.
PR And I assume that you spoke Polish as well as Yiddish.
EG Yes. We spoke Yiddish in the house, and we spoke Polish in the school and with our friends. And everything you have to use the Polish language. We spoke a little Ukrainian too because a big percentage of the Ukrainians like from the fourth grade on was like a second language.
PR And did Jewish people have a strong presence in the businesses in your town?
EG They had mainly businesses, but small businesses. They had small businesses and trades. Because the Jews weren’t permitted, I never knew a Jew that should be in some position like in city hall or some-place or even a teacher. I never had in the school a Jewish teacher because the Jews weren’t permitted to advance socially. That’s why they stuck mostly to trades and small business. Somehow it is a myth that the Jews were rich. I didn’t know any rich Jewish people. They made a living. That meant they were rich. They had, everybody had a small business, they were in trades like tailoring, shoe making, those kinds of trades, and they were very, very poor.
PR And those that did not have trades, there was a large percentage of Jews particularly in eastern Poland who were completely impoverished, and who traveled from town to town begging.
EG Yes. There were a lot of beggars. In carriages they came from town to town, to beg for money. They couldn’t find jobs mainly because you were small, you had small tradesmen, they didn’t, there weren’t factories, but small tradesmen, they employed two, three people and that was the limit. People couldn’t, and if they went in a small business they sold something, they hardly made a living. Especially, I don’t know how Poles, it was sad because my father traveled to the other countries. We never went abroad. We were so close to the other countries. But my father in his business he was taken to those other countries. And he said in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, in Germany, that the Jews lived much better than in Poland.
PR I assume that there was a synagogue in Oleszyce, perhaps there was more than one?
EG Three synagogues. We had three synagogues. In that time, everybody was Orthodox, and everybody attended the services. The synagogues were never empty. That was the only place to socialize. In such a small city we didn’t have a movie. We had a traveling movie that came once a week to the city, and showed the movie, and then they left. So everybody went to that movie once, but everything was around the synagogue. So everybody, all the news, everything that somebody wanted to hear they went to the synagogue.
PR So Friday night was a festive occasion in Olesyzce.
EG Yes, everybody observed the holiday and it was very much observed. The people were friendly. Everybody associated with everybody. It was a holiday, and the same thing Saturday after people came from the synagogue. They went Saturday morning to the synagogue. They had their lunch and they associated. Went to visit friends and relatives because everybody lived together. And all the young people got together and talked and were singing. I remember singing songs and we told stories and read books, then we went for a walk. There were many orchards, many woods around, which was nice. We went for a walk. We weren’t afraid, one thing like here, to go out. We occasionally we were, some Polish boy or some Ukrainian boy threw a stone at us, but besides that, they were not incidents of murder or rape or something else. So the young people were free. That was the only thing, the only enjoyment, to go out for a walk, to go swimming. We had a little river. It wasn’t any ocean, but we had a little river, swimming. We got together a youth organization, just to get together in one room, by one family, and we had a little library, their own, and people took books. People read a lot. I think people, young people even in those times were. It was maybe, we had the only radio in the city maybe, and no television, and nothing to know, just the newspaper. People were more educated and they knew more than the young people now. They had such a broad education, and they participated. They traveled. We read more. Everybody read a lot.
PR It was one of the few pleasures open to you.
EG Right. Right. Everybody read a lot. Even those people who didn’t continue the higher education just went those eight years, they knew a lot. Read, they were self-educated, and read very good books, not trash. We didn’t have trash at that time. We read classics, we read literature, when we met, people discussed those books like reviews. That was how we lived.
PR That was the Old World.
PR Was there a bathhouse in Oleszyce?
EG Yes. There was a bathhouse because people didn’t have running water. They washed themselves, you know you have to warm water at home in big pots and everybody had like a tin bathtub where you took the bath. But most people went to the bathhouse.
PR You mentioned earlier that sometimes you would be walking about and a Polish boy or a Ukrainian boy would throw a rock at you. You leave me with the impression that anti-Semitism didn’t express itself except for occasionally.
` EG It expressed itself but not in a violent way. It was, they could scream after us, “Jews to Palestine! Jews to Palestine!” In a different way. It wasn’t expressed yet in violence, and violence it started to express right before the war when the Germans, when Hitler was already in power.
PR After the death of Pilsudski?
EG That was the time when there started the Hitlerism in Germany. It started, they called Edekism in Poland.
PR National Democrats.
EG Right. It started in Poland, that’s when it really started.
PR You would view the Endeks as the Polish equivalent of the Nazis.
EG Right. Right. They opened Polish stores and boycotted the Jewish business. They didn’t come to buy. Occasionally they beat up the Jewish students in the university. You had the university had a percentage. They had only, I don’t remember exactly, one or two percent of Jews. Jews could, but if any Jew who was very, very smart, was accepted to the university, not one, he was beaten up very often. Jewish students. By the Polish students.
PR And of course there were the “ghetto benches” in the universities as well.
EG Well, we had in school as well Jewish students were sitting on one side and the non-Jews on the other side. We were sitting, we knew where was Jewish side to sit down right away in school.
PR Your grammar school?
PR So when you walked into the classroom…
EG Yes. I sat automatically on the side where the Jews were sitting. We couldn’t participate in any school plays. We never participated in a school play. We were so envious. We went to the plays, they had always on every holiday school plays. On every national holiday school plays. Not one Jewish student participated in those.
PR And do you remember in the latter part of the thirties when the Warsaw government attempted to decree that cows could not be slaughtered…
EG Yes, I remember. It was a time that they couldn’t kill according to Jewish religious law. They made believe that it is the cruelty of animals.
PR Did that ever become law?
EG I don’t remember. I was very young at that time. I don’t remember. I remember the decree how people were worried. Because everybody ate kosher, but I don’t think, I don’t remember that it should be a shortage in, if people were able to afford wasn’t a shortage in kosher meat.
PR As a little girl before the war, did you ever witness a parade by the Edeks in your town?
EG No. Not in my city. We had during the German occupation but not…
PR No, no. I’m talking about a parade of Endeks.
EG No, no.
PR Was there the presence of the Endek party in Oleszyce?
EG It was, but they weren’t…you see, they weren’t so much organized. In the bigger cities, they were organized. In the small cities, you didn’t feel it so much.
PR I don’t want to ask any uncomfortable questions, so stop me if I do. But do you remember the first of September, 1939?
EG Very, very, very much so. We remember. I remember it very good. First of all, before the first of September, we had an influx of Jewish people that Hitler expelled. Polish citizens that Hitler expelled from Germany, and we had a lot of those refugees who lived, you see, they came by trains and by wagons and dispersed through the whole Poland, and mainly they stopped in the small cities they had more place to come. But then September the first, started to fly the German airplanes and threw bombs. We were running out of the houses because the bombs were coming. It didn’t take a few days. The Germans came in. First came the motorcycles, and they were starting to shoot without discrimination. Poles, Jews, or not Jews, who was on the street. Right, left, right, left, to shot. And many people were killed right away, the first day when they came.
PR They came in shooting to establish the presence of terror.
EG I assume like this, otherwise why would they shot right away when they came in? (drinks water)
PR Back to the first of September, which was a Friday. Was it early in the morning that those planes came over?
EG The planes came over in the morning, and in the evening the whole day. They were a few days, because the whole war was a blitzkrieg. In a few days, it didn’t take three or four days they were there already. Somehow we believed, because the Poles claimed that they were prepared and they were singing songs: “We swear that we won’t give not one inch of our soil to the Germans.” Somehow, we trusted the Polish government. We didn’t believe that the Germans will be in right away. We were a little farther from the German border, so it took a few days, but they were in Poland already on the second day of the war. Somehow the Polish soldiers even they claimed they were prepared and it didn’t work out.
PR The Polish government was arrogant, and the German government was arrogant and powerful.
EG That’s probably what happened.
PR You know what I find extraordinary, Mrs. G., is that your town, which was a small town off the beaten track, was still bombed by the Germans as if it were of military importance.
EG They bombed every inch of Poland. They bombed every inch. Wherever. They had so many airplanes that they were able to go wherever. In front, before they came in, they bombed every inch.
PR In Warsaw, which was besieged for three weeks, Poles and Jews fought together at the barricades. There are some wonderful photographs of rabbis helping to build the line of defense. I wonder, was there any sense of common ground between Poles and Jews in September of 1939.
EG No, no, no. It worsened, because the Germans came in and the real anti-Semitism began. The Ukrainians collaborated with the Germans, the Poles didn’t stick too much up for us, they were I guess afraid for their own lives because right away there decrees in Poland who will help the Jews they will kill their families. I mean, the Gentile families, the Polish families. So they didn’t too much stick up for us and the gap even widened between the Poles and the Jews.
PR Your friends who you went to school with, there was a complete separation.
EG Complete separation. Complete separation. Even my, I had one brother who had a real good Ukrainian friend and we had a Ukrainian teacher who came in because older brothers they didn’t go away to school to another city so my father took a private tutor, and he lived in our street. He was an unemployed Ukrainian teacher, and he taught my brothers. And came into our house, and was like a friend. My mother fed him, and the other brother had Ukrainian friend because he learned the trait, he wanted to be a tailor, he learned tailoring. That Ukrainian boy worked together with him, and they became very good friends, but the minute the Germans came in, they turned to enemies. One even, that teacher, slapped my mother on the street. Because there was a decree that Jews couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. Only the mud. And my mother forgot, and went on the sidewalk. And that teacher passed by, and even though my mother was so much older than him, he struck my mother. And mother came in and cried so much. She said, she wouldn’t be so much insulted in a German would do to her, or a stranger, but a person whom she served food and fed and came in to our house, and he beat her.
PR The Germans quickly established a government. I can’t imagine the Germans could staff the administration of a small little town like yours with pure ethnic Germans.
EG No, they had Ukrainian collaborators. Ukrainian became the police. Ukrainians, they helped. Not the Poles.
PR And Volksdeutsche?
EG Those who proclaimed themselves Volksdeutsche, they had some German grandfather or something, those helped too.
PR And the decrees came flying down.
EG Day after day, so quickly, so quickly. The way how the decrees (slight laugh) were, that is interesting, how the decree were proclaimed in a small city. You didn’t have a radio. You didn’t have the loud speakers or something. It was one man who went with a drum, to every street. He came with drum, drum, drum, drum, the whole street, and everybody came out. Soon you heard the drum, people came out from the houses because they knew it has to be something told. Even in Polish times it was the same thing, about tax collection, or about painting, or about cleaning. All the decrees came through that drum, so people came out rushing from the houses to listen what they have to say. And that’s how we had to know everyday by the Germans the new laws with that drum.
PR And was there a strong German military presence in Oleszyce? Or was it German police?
EG It was German police, not military, but still they were enough to scare everybody off. Besides people, nobody was armed. From the civilians, nobody before the war owned a gun, or a rifle. You didn’t have that, like here.
PR I’ve seen the terrible photographs of religious Jews who had their beards cut by the Germans.
EG Yes. Yes. They come out, whoever they found on the street with a beard, they cut the beards. Yes.
PR The Polish population, which itself was threatened, remained impassive.
EG Right. They didn’t help. You see, they, the Polish population were under the occupation, but they weren’t persecuted. They had their political, like they were oppressed politically, let’s say. It wasn’t their country. They had to do as the Germans did. But they weren’t threatened with death unless they found somebody was involved in politics. They had many political prisoners, the Germans took political prisoners, but if somebody sat quiet they didn’t have what to fear. But the Jews no matter what, just because they were Jews they were persecuted.
PR Elie Wiesel has said, “Not every victim was a Jew, but every Jew was a victim.”
EG Right. That’s true.
PR When was the ghetto established?
EG By us it was established right away. In some places later. By us it was established in 1941. We belonged after the treaty Germany had with Russia, they divided our city, came under the Russians, and we were, first the Germans came in, we were a couple of months under the German occupation, then they withdrew back, and they gave a part of Poland, which we belonged to, to the Russians, so we were almost two years under the Russian occupation. And the Germans came back in 1941. The Russian wasn’t a really, it was a suffering like the Poles. We weren’t singled out. We were equal to everybody else under the Russians. You suffered economically, you suffered politically, but you didn’t suffer because you were a Jew. I wasn’t afraid if I will go out on the street, I should be caught and sent to the concentration camp or killed. That was the difference. So I would have rather stayed with the Russian than with the German. You see, it was bearable.
PR So when the Germans attacked Russia in June 1941, they established the ghetto.
EG We were on the border, exactly on the border, because our city was the last one that was on the Russian side. It was a little river, San. And San was the border, and we were near the San. So that’s why, we didn’t even know that the German will attack. We went to sleep Saturday night, the Russians were there on the street, and we woke up six o’clock in the morning, and we heard a noise, and we saw the Germans on the street.
PR And life changed once again.
EG Oh, immediately. Immediately. For the worse. Right away. They were so organized it didn’t take them a day, right the next day we knew that we are Jews.
PR I’m interested in Polish-Jewish relations, and I keep looking for a little bit of light there. Do you know of any examples when Poles did assist the Jews?
EG Maybe it was a small percentage, but not by us, not that I knew about that. Not by us. By us I don’t know why, even it was a small city, people knew one another. They knew everybody but somehow I don’t know, is it for fear? Or is it for greed? Because one instance I had got to know. We had one drugstore in the city. Because it wasn’t a drugstore like here. It was Apothecary. Only prescriptions. And they had a maid the whole life. They raised that maid. It was a Polish maid. They raised her as a child. They married her off, and she worked for them the whole life, so the Apothecary’s children were like sisters and brothers to her, so it was a young man, the Apothecary’s son, that she hid during the war, and people who lived in the city knew, three days before the war finished, she exposed him, told the Germans that he is here, and they killed him.
PR Three days before…
EG Before, because she was afraid if he will survive she will have to give back everything. All their belongings that she has hidden.
PR When the Jews in Oleszyce were put into the ghetto, what happened to your homes?
EG Who knows what happened? We went to another city. Gentiles moved in right away. Before we left, because we could take only what we were able to carry with us, the rest remained. Before even we left the house there were already neighbors who took out everything from the house.
PR You saw this with your own eyes?
EG Neighbors. Of course. And then somebody moved in. I don’t know up till now what happened. Somebody lives there if the house still survives.
PR Do you have bitter feelings towards the Poles in general?
EG I don’t have bitter feelings towards anybody because I know what a war is. A war demoralizes people, people get drawn in. I see what happens in Israel, people were moral, the highest moral standards, and now when they have to fight for their life, they’re changing. I don’t keep even a grudge against the Germans.
PR You know what I find interesting in a tragic way, is that many Polish Jews that I have spoken to dislike the Poles more than they do the Germans.
EG Well, the Germans followed the order. They followed. They were hypnotized by Hitler. Poles were able to be a little more, I don’t know, it was, they were anti-Semites. Many just, some anti-Semitism was instigated by the Polish clergy. The Polish clergy was different. Because I remember we lived across from the church, across. When Easter or Christmas, when Easter, they went out from the church, they were so, especially the young people, “Christ killer, Christ killer,” you just heard “Christ killer, Christ killer.” Because the sermons that the priests preached on those holidays were full of hate. The Jews killed Christ and what happened two thousand years ago we are responsible now, that one Jew killed another. Didn’t even kill. Pontius Pilate gave the decree. But that was fight between one Jew and another. It was inflated, it was terrible. That was the same thing in Russia. Mostly the anti-Semitism was on a religious basis. This was in one way. The other way somehow it was a jealousy that, I don’t know what kind of jealousy because Poland, you didn’t have such rich Jews to be jealous, but maybe they always, the Jewish family pushed for more education, that the Jew was always more educated. Even the Jew couldn’t be in a high position, but he was always more educated than the Pole.
PR And there was resentment.
EG Yes. That’s what I think.
PR Having interviewed many Polish Jews, and having been overwhelmed by their hatred of Poles today, and at the same time having interviewed many Righteous Gentiles in Warsaw last summer, I’m confused because the Righteous Gentiles leave me with the impression that there were many people who helped, and the Polish Jews that I have interviewed leave me with the impression that there was no one that helped. So I have a question about this.
EG They were some that helped, but percent wise it wasn’t enough. They were very, very few people who helped. But I didn’t encounter. Just what I heard and read about it. But I didn’t encounter anybody who helped me.
PR Did anyone look at you with sympathy?
EG No. No. I didn’t, and besides later I lived under an assumed name as a Pole and I heard the talking and I had to quench in me not to say anything. The remarks, and I didn’t encounter who would talk about the Jews. As a matter of fact, I have still many Polish friends.
EG I liked them very much. They are not the Poles from before the war, but they were Poles before the war, some were very nice too, I assume because there were some people who helped, but not between the specially poor Poles, the farmers who always blamed like Hitler did, the Jew was the scapegoat. If was a economic recession or depression, the Jew was the scapegoat because it is because of the Jew. And they believed it. Especially those people because you had many illiterate people, especially among the illiterate people who listened just to the sermons what the priest had to say. Although there were I heard monasteries that saved some Jewish children, but I didn’t encounter it. There are some probably.
PR There was that vicious rumor that was typical of pre-war and post-war eastern Europe that Christian children were taken at Passover.
EG This you have to be stupid to believe it, but still you read what was the book about…
PR The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
EG It is not just the Protocols but you had another book written about Russian Jew named what was his name I forgot who was also because of that rumor they were pogroms in Russia. But who could believe such things. Only people who were illiterate. How could you believe such a thing? And there were many rumors of those.
PR But back to the point I was making earlier about this gulf of difference between those who saved and those who did not, and the confusion I have, I placed this question to Leo Schrer when I interviewed him, if I was being deported somewhere and I jumped from the train and ran, always my thought would be, how will I make it? Who will help me? I asked him what would my chances be if I jumped from the train and ran…
EG That’s what I did, I jumped from the train and I ran, and nobody helped me. I run from I jumped from the train and my sister and brother jumped from the train and they were killed right away. I ran, and I went back to my city to some farmers who were friends of ours whom we entrusted some belongings, and I came in and they were afraid to give me shelter, they were afraid for their own life. I wouldn’t say that they were so mean. But they were afraid that they will kill their family. One family gave me shelter for a few hours, until it got evening, because I came, they put me behind a chiferobe you that they have in the corner, and I was standing there the whole day, crying, and heard when neighbors came in and told them, “Oh, they are taking the Jews away and they shot this person, they shot that person, because they knew everybody.” And I was standing and listening to it. Then in the evening she gave me a few zlotys (Polish money), and she gave me a half a bread, and told me to go. And I came in, and that was January the seventh, the coldest time in Poland, with the snows and the freezes. Came to another farmer inn, that we knew too. She didn’t even want to let me in. So I went to the stable and they had a stable, they had cows. I went to the stables and stables was open and there was a little cow, a little calf, the cow gave birth to the calf so I hold that little calf, I just squeezed it to keep myself warm, and then before that lady went to sleep, she went to check the calf and saw me in the stable, so she was, she felt sorry and let me into the house to sleep until it got light, twilight, in the morning, and she told me to go, nobody helped me.
PR How old were you?
EG I was seventeen. Nobody helped me. They were afraid for their own life. In a way I don’t blame them, and I don’t hate them for that, because they, I don’t know how I would have acted if I had been in their shoes. So I can’t blame them really.
PR Then you made your way to Krakow.
EG I made my way to Krakow and by chance, it was just luck, they caught that time Polish boys and girls for work for Germany because nobody wanted to go, and I was caught among those people. They didn’t have their papers, because they were on the street, went out, and they took us to work, to Germany, that’s how I ended up with a farmer the whole time during the war. And under assumed papers, I went with them to church, I went to confession, they were Catholics, so I was a Catholic too.
PR Where did you get the papers?
EG No, they later gave me when they caught us, they registered everybody, and we had to go to, you see, they had to check us, the doctors if we are healthy because they didn’t want sick people to bring there, so everybody was registered, and they gave me a paper, so when I came to Germany then in Germany they gave us German passports.
PR It’s such an irony to me that you would be safer in Germany of all places.
EG Even my Polish friends, I acquired them because they were every farmer depends on the size of the amount of the land, they got people to help them work, because their husbands or sons were in the war, so on Sunday we had half day off, so all the Poles and there were Russians and they were from Czechoslovakia people, we became friendly, all the maids, we were maids, so I associated with the Polish, so I don’t know if all my friends if they would have known I’m Jewish if they wouldn’t have exposed me. My own friends there.
PR What led you to suspect that they might expose you?
EG Because I heard the way how they spoke about Jews.
PR And how did they speak about Jews?
EG With hatred. With hatred, and I didn’t want to defend because I thought they will suspect me, so I didn’t answer, but I heard their expressions, and their jokes and their everything, they didn’t show any like pity. It was one big farmer and they had a little camp that was not really a concentration camp but a camp of Hungarian Jews and they led them everyday to work to the farm and they saw, people knew that they were Jews, because, “Oh they are leading the Jews.” We went to the fields and I saw my friends and they shout, Oh, look, the Jews are going already, they are taking them already to work. You know, never said, “Oh, poor people, look how they treat them”, or something. Never.
PR Did they show appreciation for what the Germans were doing?
EG No, they didn’t show appreciation.
PR The fact that the Germans were ridding Poland of the Jews.
EG Well, they, it didn’t come to it. I don’t think it was ever we ever spoke about it, but the Germans by themselves where I worked, they didn’t know what they are doing to Jews. They didn’t know that they are killing the Jews. They thought they take them out to work. You see, these Germans, actually, they weren’t Germans, they were Austrians because I was on the Austrian-Czechoslovakian border, they were Germans but they considered themselves as more Austrians because they lived in Austria. They never said that they are killing Jews. They didn’t know.
PR How did you know how to handle yourself as a Catholic? How did you know the prayers?
EG I didn’t know and I was very afraid. When I came to the church, I did what they are doing. They didn’t see, but the worst thing was the first time before Easter, the farmer lady, they had three daughters, said, “Well, you are going to confession and to the communion,” and then I thought, here could be something. I didn’t sleep at nights, but then it came to me. We were on the border, and my friends didn’t know how to speak German. I learned very quickly how to speak German because by us the languages go very, very easily, and so my friends, you see, even we were Poles working there, so we had to have, if somebody wanted to go from one village to another, you have to have a permit. So they wanted to go to Czechoslovakia to the church, because Czechoslovakian is close to Polish language, so they will go to confession and say it in Czechoslovakian. So I said to the girl, to the daughter, I don’t want to go to Snid for confession, give me your prayer book, and show me what to say, so I will go to the German here, here to the priest for confession. She opened the prayer book and showed me what to say. So I figured, if I will go to that German priest, he will think, That’s a Polish girl, she doesn’t know it as good. So I went to confession and it went good, and then I went to communion and did what everybody did. Put out my thumb, kneeled, and just when the first time it was hard, but later it wasn’t any problem.
PR You were lucky not only to be able to pick up German so quickly, but to have been able to speak Polish so well.
EG Well, Polish, I lived in Poland, it is just like living here in the United States. Well, I was, I came here, but I have accent, but children born here speak English. That’s the same way. It’s no big deal. I lived in Poland, so I spoke Polish.
PR But there were many Jews who lived in Poland who did not speak Polish.
EG They spoke Polish but they had a very bad accent.
PR And they gave themselves away.
EG Right. They could recognize it.
PR Was there ever a time when you were working for the Germans that you feared you might be exposed by the Poles?
EG Yes. I felt the first few months, but as time passed on, I became more secure.
PR After the war, you returned to Poland.
EG Well, you see, where we were, it belonged, Czechoslovakia took over, so they told all the Poles to leave. They didn’t want nobody to stay. So I went with my friends, and when we returned to Poland and I told already one of my friends that I’m Jewish, and I have written, and I remembered I have a half-brother in the United States. I went with her to her house because I didn’t go back, I was scared to go back to my own city. I knew nobody’s there. I have written a card, when the mail started functioning, to my brother and I got back a telegram and he sent me papers, but he sent me papers, couldn’t come to the United States, because it was the quota. He send me a transit visa to Sweden. So I went to Sweden. Henry came to Sweden.
PR But this Polish friend, when you told her that you were Jewish, her face must have shown quite a bit of surprise.
EG Yes, she was surprised by knowing me so long, so she was very fond of me, and we became good friends so at that time it didn’t matter.
PR But had she expressed anti-Semitic views before?
EG Well, she spoke about Jews, but you see, you don’t like other Jews but one is always good.
PR I find it an interesting case study here that she spoke about the Jews in an ugly way and at the same time she was friends with someone who in fact was Jewish and later she discovered that and realized that a Jew was just a regular person.
EG Well, you can’t, people, they are conditioned at home. With many people, you hear talk the whole life so bad, but always said, Between the Jews there is one good one. You have always like the kings. They expelled the Jews in the old times, but still they had one living with them who was good.
PR Is there something that I haven’t asked that you would like to tell me?
EG I think you approximately covered everything. And if one day you think about something and you will be here you could call me if you will think about something.
PR So, now I go to Oleszyce.
EG Well, it is a small town so maybe you will find it. It is not far from Jaroslaw, Lubachow. We have seven kilometres from Lubachow. In Lubachow we had the ghetto, our ghetto was in Lubachow.
PR When they were marching you to the ghetto down this road, were the Poles and Ukrainians watching?
EG Yes. One incident I will tell you and then I will finish because it’s too tiresome. When the Germans came in, that was the second, at 1941, after a few days, they told like the decree, the man came with the drum and said all the Jews have to assemble in the market place. All the Jews. If one wouldn’t come, he will be shot. Everyone has to come, from big to old. So they took us end, and they told to go in force, and they made like a parade. They let us go like in a parade, and all the Poles and all the Ukrainians were watching like you would watch here a Mardi Gras parade. All the Jews, and they were putting the old Jews with young girls, you see, old religious Jews, and walked through the whole city. Then they brought us back to the market place, and they had put everything from synagogues, took out all the books, all the prayer books, they made a bonfire, and they told everybody should dance around, and our neighbors stood and watched and laughed. That was a bigger hurt than the degrading that they did. At that time they took out everything, I mean the prayer books, everything took out from the synagogues, and put the synagogues on fire. They burned the synagogues, and we had to dance around the bonfire.
PR And you’re telling me that the Poles and Ukrainians stood there.
EG Yes. Yes. I have now like in front of my eyes I see them.
PR And they stood there and they did what?
EG Watched like you would watch a Mardi Gras parade.
PR Did you tell me that they laughed?
EG Yes. Many of them.
PR Well, Mrs. G., I know this is an uncomfortable thing for you.
I know this will be disputed by many Poles reading this blog, however, this did happen. It happened only a few months after World War II ended in Europe. In fact, it was only 95 days after the end of the Holocaust.
It all started on 27 June 1945, a Jewish woman was brought to a local police station falsely accused of attempting to abduct a child. Despite the fact that the investigation revealed that the mother had left her child in the care of the suspect, rumours started to spread that a Jewish woman abducted a child in order to kill it.
On 11 August 1945, a crowd of Polish citizens broke into the Kupa synagogue in Kraków’s Kazimierz district during Shabbat services, destroying the synagogue and setting it on fire, killing at least one person in the process and wounding an unknown number of Jews who had been at prayer. Jews were attacked and robbed in the neighbouring streets, and there were also attacks on Jewish apartments.
Earlier that day, an attempt to seize a 13-year-old boy who was throwing stones at the synagogue was made, but he escaped and rushed to the nearby marketplace screaming, “Help me, the Jews have tried to kill me.”
Instantly the crowd broke into the Kupa Synagogue and started beating Jews, who had been praying at the Saturday morning Shabbat service, and the Torah scrolls were burned. The Jewish hostel was also attacked. Jewish men, women, and children were beaten up on the streets; their homes were broken into and robbed. Some Jews wounded during the pogrom were hospitalized and later were beaten in the hospitals again. One of the pogrom victims witnessed:
“I was carried to the second precinct of the militia where they called for an ambulance. There were five more people over there, including a badly wounded Polish woman. In the ambulance I heard the comments of the escorting soldier and the nurse who spoke about us as Jewish crust whom they have to save, and that they shouldn’t be doing this because we murdered children, that all of us should be shot. We were taken to the hospital of St. Lazarus at Kopernika Street. I was first taken to the operating room. After the operation, a soldier appeared who said that he will take everybody to jail after the operation. He beat up one of the wounded Jews waiting for an operation. He held us under a cocked gun and did not allow us to take a drink of water. A moment later two railroad men appeared and one said, ‘It’s a scandal that a Pole does not have the civil courage to hit a defenceless person’, and he hit a wounded Jew. One of the hospital inmates hit me with a crutch. Women, including nurses, stood behind the doors threatening us that they were only waiting for the operation to be over in order to rip us apart.”
Although the pogrom of the Krakow Jews remains overshadowed by the more widely known bloody Kielce pogrom of 1946, both instances of anti-Jewish aggression are structurally similar. In both Kraków and Kielce, a spark was ignited by a rumour about ritual murders committed by Jews on Polish children. The belief in this superstition dating back to the Middle Ages was then completely real and widespread in Poland. The postwar, modernized version of a blood libel said that “exhausted Jews would infuse themselves with the blood of Christians.”
There is one record of a death relating to Kraków events in the archives of the Forensic Medicine Department in Kraków. The victim was a 56-year-old Auschwitz survivor Róża Berger, shot while standing behind closed doors.
She escaped Kraków during the war and was deported to Auschwitz in August of 1944 (prisoner identification number 89186) with her daughter and granddaughter. After the liberation of Auschwitz, she returned to Kraków where she was shot and killed while standing behind closed doors in her home during the Pogrom on 11 August 1945. She was buried in the New Kraków Jewish Cemetery at 55 Miodowa Street.
This is what makes it even sadder, she survived the most horrible place on earth, just to be murdered in the relative safety of her own home.
There were three groups of people in the Holocaust. The criminals who tortured and murdered. The victims who were murdered and those who survived were scarred for life, mentally and physically. The helpers, the people who helped the Jews and others to escape and survive. .
These are just examples of each group.
Hildegard Lachert was known to the prisoners as “Bloody Brigitte”; as she would always strike them repeatedly until blood was showing. She was a female guard, or Aufseherin, at several concentration camps.She became publicly known for her crimes at Ravensbrück, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war, she was sentenced to a total of 27 years in prison for her brutal treatment of inmates during her camp service, but she only served 10.
In November 1947, she appeared in a Kraków, Poland courtroom, along with 40 other SS guards in the Auschwitz trial. Because of her war crimes at Auschwitz and Płaszów, the former guard and mother of two surviving children was given a sentence of 15 years in prison. Lächert was released in 1956 from a prison in Kraków. In 1975, the German government decided to put her and other SS guards from the Majdanek concentration camp, on trial again.
The testimonies heard in relation to Lächert’s sadistic behaviour were extensive and detailed. One former prisoner, Henryka Ostrowska, testified, “We always said blutige about the fact that she struck until blood showed,” giving her the nickname “Bloody Brigitte” (Krwawa Brygida in Polish). Many other witnesses characterized her as the “worst” or “the most cruel” Aufseherin, as “Beast”, and as “Fright of the Prisoners.” For her part in selections to the gas chamber, releasing her dog onto inmates and her overall abuse, the court sentenced her to 12 years’ imprisonment. But due to time served in custody and her time in Krakow, she was released.
Frank Emanuel Polak was born on December 19.1941, in Amsterdam He would have been 80 today. But he was murdered age 2. In February 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz and murdered in a gas chamber after the selection. It looks like his parents and siblings survived.
His smiley face will haunt me for a long time.
Carlos Sampaio Garrido was a Portuguese diplomat credited with saving the lives of approximately 1,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary while serving as Portugal’s ambassador in Budapest between July and December 1944.
In 2010 he became the second Portuguese to be recognised as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
“Ambassador of Portugal in Budapest, from October 1939 to June 1944. When Hungary was conquered by Germany in March 1944, the neutral countries did not recognize the new government. Responding to the request of the Allies, the dictator of Portugal, António de Oliveira Salazar, reduced the level of diplomatic representation in Hungary, and Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido was called back to Portugal. Until his departure from the city in June, Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido dedicated his efforts to helping Jews. The presence of the SS in Budapest in those days accelerated the persecutions of all residents, without excepting diplomatic representations. Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido granted asylum in his home to a dozen persecuted, mostly Jews, without notifying his ministry. On April 28 at 5 in the morning, his residence was raided by agents of the political police of the Hungarian fascist regime and his protégés were taken to the central prison in Budapest. Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido resisted the arrest of his guests and presented an official protest to the government, demanding his release, the investigation of those guilty of the affront and an official apology for the violation of the extraterritoriality of the Portuguese embassy. With this attitude, he achieved the liberation of those people but was declared Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido resisted the arrest of his guests and presented an official protest to the government, demanding his release, the investigation of those guilty of the affront and an official apology for the violation of the extraterritoriality of the Portuguese embassy. With this attitude, he achieved the liberation of those people but was declared Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido resisted the arrest of his guests and presented an official protest to the government, demanding his release, the investigation of those guilty of the affront and an official apology for the violation of the extraterritoriality of the Portuguese embassy. With this attitude, he achieved the liberation of those people but was declared persona non grata in Hungary. Faced with this situation, he had to inform the Foreign Ministry about the diplomatic projections of his performance: the ministry had already warned him, on May 11, about the “irregularity” of it. Carlos de Almeida Afonseca de Sampaio Garrido moved to Switzerland on June 5, from where he continued to send instructions to his successor in charge of the embassy, Alberto Branquinho, to continue helping persecuted Jews.”
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Music is not just a few notes strung together to create a tune, often accompanied by lyrics. Music is much more then that. It is therapy. It gives hope where there is despair. It gives joy where there is grief. It can transport you back to the days of yore, when time was complicated. It gives you an outlet to voice an opinion in a creative way. It gives meaning to your soul.
Mordechai Gebirtig must have realized the power of music.
Mordechai Gebirtig , was an influential Yiddish poet and songwriter of the interwar period. He was shot by Germans in the Kraków Ghetto, Poland, during the Holocaust.
He had three daughters, for whom he wrote and performed his poems. The words were set to improvised melodies, and most of his songs resemble entries in a diary.
He was self-taught in music, played the shepherd’s pipe, and tapped out tunes on the piano with one finger. He earned his livelihood as a furniture maker. However music and theatre were his hobbies.
During the first years of the war, most Jews were expelled from the city of Kraków. In November 1940, along with his wife and daughters, Gebirtig settled in a nearby village, where – without a real income, adequate shelter, food or health services. Gebirtig gave many of his papers to his friend Hoffmann, who managed to preserve them throughout the war.
On October 2, 1940. Mordecai Gebirtig wrote the song ” Minutn Fun Bitokhn-Moments of certainty” to raise the spirits of the persecuted Jewish community in Krakow. The poet’s reference to “Haman” alludes to the ancient Persian enemy of the Jewish people.
But when daily deportations of Jews to the death camps began in January 1942, his songs became increasingly pessimistic and dark.
Es brent “It’s burning”, also known as undzer shtetl brent “our town is burning”, in Hebrew translation) is a Yiddish poem–song which was written in 1936 by Gebirtig. Although the poem is generally said to have been written in response to the Przytyk Pogrom of 1936, after the Holocaust the song was often used in Holocaust commemoration or in programmes of World War II Ghetto music, both in the original Yiddish and in Hebrew translation.This is probably Gebirtig’s best-known composition.
By 1939, with the changing political situation in Europe, he had changed the final line of the poem from “if the town is dear to you” to “if life is dear to you.” Rising antisemitic censorship in Poland also made it so that Gebirtig was occasionally forbidden to perform the song in public.
During the war, the song was adopted by Jewish Partisans against the Nazi regime, particularly in Krakow. According to some recollections, whistling its melody was used as a code by imprisoned resistance fighters in the Montelupich Prison.
On 4 June 1942, Nazis surrounded the ghetto and began marching Jews to waiting cattle cars. The screams of the soldiers were accompanied by gunshots; all those too slow to keep up, or too ill or weak to stay on their feet, were shot. Among the first Jews to die on the way to the cars was Gebirtig. Although both the poet and his wife were murdered, his daughters managed to survive in hiding.
The 11th of August marked the 76th anniversary of the August 11 Krakow pogrom. August 11,1945, is a date after Poland was liberated ,in fact it is nearly 4 months after the war in Europe had ended.
The text below comes directly from 2 sources, which I also shall link at the bottom of the blog. Both links will also mention other pogroms which happened in Poland shortly after the war in Europe. Despite the fact that the information comes from very reputable sources ,amongst them historian David Engel and eye witnesses, and despite one link is from a Polish site there will still be people who deny these ever happened. Since the war wasn’t officially over yet they were war crimes committed by Polish citizens. Some will say they were not Polish but communists, as if communist is a nationality.
The really disgusting thing here that the one fatality ,although there may have been more but could not be verified, was a lady who had survived Auschwitz.
“On August 11, 1945, during the Sabbath, there was a pogrom of the Jewish population in Krakow. The pretext for the incident was rumors that the bodies and blood of Christian children had been found in the synagogue.”
“The Jews who were praying on Saturday morning in the Kupa synagogue were attacked by the crowd gathered in the nearby square”
In Krakow, a Jewish woman was arrested in late June for allegedly attempting to kidnap and murder a Polish child. The arrest sparked dangerous rumors. Tension mounted throughout the summer, as the rumor circulated that the bodies of thirteen murdered Christian children had been discovered. By the beginning of August, the number of rumored corpses had grown to eighty. A mob gathered every Friday night and Saturday outside Kupa Synagogue in Kazimierz to throw stones at the building and at the Jews praying inside while screaming, laughing and taunting, behavior that did not stop even after guards were posted near the synagogue. Finally, the situation reached the boiling point.
On Saturday, August 11, 1945, a 13-year old Polish boy ran out of Kupa Synagogue screaming “Help! They want to murder me!” The crowd of about 60 Poles outside broke into the synagogue looking for the Christian children’s corpses. They destroyed and plundered the synagogue, tore Torah scrolls, and attacked not only the Jews who were there, but other Jews in the area. The synagogue was set on fire. Roza Berger, an Auschwitz survivor, was murdered; there may have been as many as four other casualties, but this remains unclear. The violence spread throughout the Kazimierz quarter of Krakow;robberies and beatings were recorded in a dozen different apartments. Five Jews were wounded, among them Hanna Zajdman. She gave an account of her experience to the Jewish Historical Commission on August 20, 1945. According to Zajdman’s account, even in the ambulance to the hospital the wounded were called “Jewish scum” by the soldier and the nurse who accompanied them. Once at the hospital they were beaten by other patients and by soldiers. They were threatened repeatedly, even by nurses, who said that, “they were only waiting for the surgery to be over in order to rip us apart.” The scourge of the pogroms had reached the big city.
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