So what do you want to know? Niusia told me that you are interested in the stories of those who survived the occupation in Poland. Especially these well-embroiled stories.
Does my history belong to this type? I do not know. Judge for yourself.
Much of this story is told in my older sister Lilka's book. This book was published in Poland ("A jednak są dobrzy ludzie"), and in Canada under the title, "My nine lives".
But let's get back to
I was three years old when the Germans invaded Poland, and I hardly remember anything from that period. When the Warsaw ghetto was established, our apartment was within it. However, a year later, the area of the ghetto was reduced, and we had to move. My parents rented one small room on Nalewki Street, and we lived there. Dad, mom, my sister Lilka, Grandpa Miron, and me.
In 1942, the Germans
began selections and deportations. My parents started working in the
"shed", sewing uniforms for the German army. They took us with them
There was a small room adjoining the room where they worked. The door to it was hidden by a wardrobe. We were supposed to hide there if the Germans came.
I remember that once German soldiers came, maybe 15 people hid in this room. One woman had a little baby in her arm, and we were scared that the child would start crying. Luckily, it was asleep.
One day we came back home, but Grandpa Miron was no more there. A German reportedly shot the second grandfather, Podbor, because he did not want to go to the Umschlagplatz.
Parents said that it
was time to run away. Parents decided to send the children first.
They got in touch with Aunt Ada, my mother's sister. Ada had a Polish husband, and no one knew she was Jewish.
Father found a Pole who was in charge of moving people to the Aryan side for an appropriate fee. However, a different man came to the agreed place and demanded an additional fee to bribe the gendarme. My father had no money, so he gave him his golden watch.
We were pushed between the Jewish workers who went to work on the Aryan side.
I don't know if the gendarme saw it or not, but he didn't react.
The Pole who led went with us to the side street and took us to a small shop where he bought us rolls with butter and ham. It was like being in paradise. I remember the heavenly taste of a fresh bun and slice of ham until today.
My father told Lilka that she should lose this Pole as soon as possible because he was afraid he might denounce us. Lilka was 11 years old then, and she was intelligent and resourceful. When we went to the square, she said that this was the place and thanked him. We entered a multi-story house, and Lilka looked through the staircase window to see if the man had gone.
Then we went to the tram stop, where Janina, who worked for Aunt Ada, was waiting for us.
A misfortune happened to Aunt Ada. A few weeks after the Germans took her husband and son, she got an official notification that they had both "become sick" and died.
We stayed with Aunt
Ada only for two weeks.
Aunt Ada had a friend, Ewa Migdalek. Ewa had a brother (or maybe it was her husband's brother), Tadeusz Migdalek, who lived with his wife and son in a village near Rozwadow. This is where Uncle Emil took us.
Uncle Emil was married to my mother's second sister, Genia. Uncle Emil was a Pole of German descent and had troubles because he didn't want to sign a Volksliste. Nevertheless, because of his origin, he could help us a lot.
I stayed with the
Migdaleks for only 3 months because people started saying that someone in the
village was hiding Jewish children.
It seemed not to be about us at all. The Lewinkopf-Kosiński family and their son Jerzy were hiding in the same place.
Yes! The same one who wrote "The Painted Bird"! He supposedly told children in the village that he was a Jew.
No! None of the
things he wrote about happened in this village!
Migdalek was scared and asked to take us away from him. I was taken out earlier because a Jewish boy is easy to check. Lilka stayed with the Migdałek family for three more months before a place in the orphanage of the Charity Sisters in Warsaw was found for her.
Lilka told me that after my departure, the entire village fled to the forest for a few days because the villagers were frightened that the Germans would come.
At the end of 1942, I
found myself back in Warsaw.
I don't remember if it was at Aunt Ada's or Aunt Gienia's place in Legionowo.
Quite quickly, a
place for me was found in the Wrobel family, with whom I stayed until the end
of the war.
The family consisted of the father, Stanisław Wrobel, wife Anna, son Zygmunt and daughter Jasia. Stanisław was an old PPS man and was very well-read.
There were over 200 books in the house, and I read them all fiercely. Among other things, the historical novels of Kraszewski, from which I learned Polish history.
Mrs. Anna, whom I called Aunt Andzia, very quickly, fell in love with me and treated me as if I was her own son. Her son, Zygmunt, who was in the Home Army, was like an older brother to me.
In the 1920s, the
Wrobels built a house in Włochy near Warsaw. Unfortunately, the house had no
heating and was only suitable for living in the summer.
That was why the Wrobels had a flat on Puławska Street.
It was there that a hiding place was prepared for me.
It had to be under the window sill in the kitchen. But after the first rehearsal with me, Aunt Andzia said it was crazy because I could be choked there, and the idea was rejected.
It was decided that I would hide in the large oak wardrobe that stood in the bedroom.
I was also hidden there when the neighbors came to visit Mrs. Wrobel.
I had never closed quite the wardrobe door. In this way, I could get the sunbeams from the window into the wardrobe and read the books.
When Wrobel's cousin visited them, I sat in that closet for two days, peeing into a bottle.
In May 1943, we moved to Wlochy for the summer. The Wrobel's house had a large vegetable garden and some fruit trees. The rabbits were kept in a little shed, so we could have meat from time to time. I roamed in the garden and played carelessly, although there were no other children.
My parents also got out of the ghetto. My mother was at aunt Gienia's place in Legionowo, and my father rented a room in Warsaw.
My father visited me
once in Wlochy. It was in June 1943.
He spent the night with us and was detained by the Germans.
Apparently, a Jewish family was hiding in one of the houses on the same street.
Someone reported it, and Germans came. The family was warned in time and fled before the Germans had come.
The Germans searched the neighboring houses, and they came to Wrobels.
They found my father.
He showed them his false ID papers, and they asked what he was doing here.
He said he was buying flowers, but his explanation had not convinced the Germans, and they decided to take him to the police station.
They have put him on a pickup truck to drive him there.
He probably knew they would check him out, and he jumped out.
I was in the backyard
and heard some shots, but I didn't know what it was.
I asked the Wrobels about my father, and they told me that he had escaped to the "Bolsheviks". Only half a year later, when we returned to Puławska Street, I overheard the conversation, which revealed that my father was killed then.
After the Germans left, the people wanted to get rid of the dead body as soon as possible and buried him in an unmarked grave in the cemetery in Wlochy.
The same year in
December, we saw from the window how the Germans came to our street with trucks
full of people. They placed every one of them blindfolded against the wall and
Aunt Andzia quickly closed the curtains. She was afraid they would start shooting at the windows.
Many years after the war, I realized those people were former prisoners from Pawiak.
The Germans also came
Someone reported that some weapon was hidden in this house. There was no weapon, but it was a radio hidden in the tiled stove, and Zygmunt, who was in the Home Army, had many underground leaflets. All this was punishable by death.
As it was in the evening, the Wrobels put me on a cot in the kitchen, hoping that I would be taken for their child. In addition, they put all the leaflets under my pillow, and I pretended to be asleep.
Two soldiers came. Jasia was 16 at the time. A pretty blonde with blue eyes.
In addition, she studied German in an underground school and knew some basic phrases. These two young Germans liked it. They started gibbering with her and did only a superficial search.
One noticed me, patted my head, said, "Sheine kind" (nice boy), and that was it.
Remembering this, Aunt Andzia said when this German touched me, she prayed to God and asked Him to prevent her sonny be hurt.
In May 1944, we were
back in Wlochy.
Jasia continued to attend the underground school in Warsaw.
One day she didn't come home, and we didn't know what was happened to her.
She returned home a year later, in May 1945. She told us that she was caught in the street and taken to work in Germany.
She worked in an underground factory where parts for V1 and V2 rockets were made. The factory had 7 levels. Workers were moved from a higher level to a lower level. After the 7th level, they were shot or taken to an extermination camp.
Luckily, the US military liberated them before Jasia descended to that last level.
We also kept a pig in the garden, white with black patches. We called it "Flea". She went under the knife during the Warsaw Uprising time. She weighed a hundred kilos, but it is said that well-mannered pigs could weigh twice as much.
The garden bordered
Mrs. Bednarkowa's garden, where the Germans from the SS Headquarters were
Nevertheless, Bednarkowa, who was told I was another neighbor's child, never told Germans that a Jewish child was hiding in the neighboring house.
On August 1, 1944, I
was in Wlochy with aunt Andzia.
Jasia was in Germany, and Zygmunt and his father were in Warsaw.
In September, we saw a glow over the city and English or American planes attempting to drop weapons for the insurgents.
Zygmunt survived the Uprising in the city. When the Uprising was suppressed, and the Germans led the prisoners to a camp in Pruszków, Zygmunt escaped and returned to Wlochy.
In December 1944,
aunt Andzia and Zygmunt decided to flee to the countryside.
Anna had a family south of Warsaw. We spent Christmas there and returned to Wlochy using some horse-drawn carriage.
The Germans searched everyone, looking for the inhabitants escaping Warsaw, but they let us in. Again, the German gendarme stroked my head when they searched us.
On January 15, the
There was a two-day interregnum in Wlochy. On January 17, the Russian army marched in. We were free.
returned first after liberation. He already had open tuberculosis.
He spat blood and died three days later.
He didn't even have time to tell us what he had been through.
My mother and Lilka found me in Wlochy, where I was with aunt Andzia and Zygmunt.
In April, I went to
school. According to my age, I qualified for the second grade, but when they
made an exam and found my knowledge of mathematics and Polish made me suitable
for the fourth grade.
Therefore, when I finished with my high school in 1952, I was 16 years old.
We stayed in Włochy
until November 1945.
Then we got one room in the Praga district.
examined for tuberculosis at school. It seemed that I was infected from
Stanisław because the examination showed that I had tuberculosis germs.
That is why I was sent, along with 400 other children, to Switzerland, which offered help to children affected by the war. We even had a Polish teacher there.
There I made my first
Because I forgot to tell you that Aunt Andzia was a Catholic believer. She was afraid that if the Germans killed us, her beloved Jureczek would not go straight to heaven.
In the Catholic religion, a priest must perform the baptism. If a priest is unavailable, any Catholic can baptize, provided the priest, when possible, repeats the baptism.
So I was baptized first by her in 1943, then after the liberation in April 1945.
And I was a Catholic
from the age of seven to the age of fourteen.
Thereafter, influenced by the science of evolution, I decided it was a waste of time.
When I returned from
Switzerland, I found in our apartment aunt Pola and her two daughters. Aunt
Pola was the wife of uncle Józek, my father's brother.
She and Jozek fled to Russia in 1939. In Moscow, uncle Józek got a job at the embassy of the Polish government in London.
The Russians seized all embassy employees in 1941 as spies and imprisoned them. Uncle Józek was in the Gulag until 1956 when he was released.
Aunt Pola survived the war in the USSR and returned to Poland with her children in 1946. She had heard nothing about her husband, and we thought he was dead.
And he suddenly called Marylka (sister of my father) from Moscow, who was the only one having a telephone number.
Marylka escaped from
the Umschlagsplatz at the last moment.
She escaped with her then-three-year-old daughter Jola.
First, she threw the child over the fence, and then she climbed over herself, throwing some valuables to the gendarme so that he would not react.
Then she hid behind the altar in the church.
Neither she nor Jola ever wanted to tell the rest of the story.
I haven't told you
anything about Mom and Lilka.
My mother escaped from the ghetto a month after us.
It cost her a wedding ring because some young blackmailer followed her.
My mother painted her hair red and hid at Aunt Gienia's place.
Lilka stayed with the
Charity Sisters for eight months.
Someone informed one of the girls, and the Germans took her away.
According to Lilka, there were perhaps a dozen Jewish children there.
The Sisters of Charity informed the families that the situation was dangerous.
But they also said that if the family did not find another place, they could keep the children.
Mom (father was gone) decided to take Lilka and put her with uncle Emil's sister, Wanda.
Until we departed
from Poland, we were very close to the Wrobels.
To this day, we are in touch with Jurek Wrobel, son of Zygmunt and his wife Ewa, as well as with Zygmunt's wife Jadzia.
The Wrobels - Stanisław, Anna, Zygmunt, and Jasia have their names engraved on the Wall of the Righteous in Israel at Yad-Vashem.
Are you asking about
the balance of this terrible turmoil?
On the loss side, we have my grandparents, Miron and Podbor, my father, one mother's sister with the child, one of her brothers who died in the ghetto, and my father's three brothers. One died in Lithuania, one in Belarus, and the third died of typhus in general Anders' Polish army in the Caucasus.
I would also add Stanisław Wrobel because he was almost a family to me.
Who survived the
occupation in Poland?
My mother, my sister Lilka, I, my father's sister Marylka with her daughter Jola and uncle Janek. I don't know how to count Aunt Ada and Aunt Gienia because they had nothing in common with Jewry before the war. Except, of course, family ties. One can add to this uncle Józek, who survived in the Soviet Gulag, his wife, and their two daughters.
You have to add my mother's two sisters who were in France before the war and one sister who fled to Palestine in 1925.
So the balance in my
family, compared to other Jewish families, was not so tragic.
If the loss of the father and other family members can be converted into statistical data.
You could say my
family was "lucky" because we were assimilated and had a close family
connection with the Polish side.
In addition, we were "lucky" to find, as Lilka put it in her book, "good people" for whom we were simply people in need. The people for whom the Christian "love your neighbor as yourself" meant more than the threat of the German death penalty.
Perhaps we were
atypical compared to "normal" Jewish families.
But such is mine and my family history.