Well. It's not a
I cannot speak, but I can still understand Polish.
It's like riding a bike. One can be very rusty, but one still can.
So you can speak Polish, and I will answer in English.
You know. In my home,
we used to speak Yiddish.
In our apartment building, there were Polish children, so I had to learn to speak and understand Polish too.
My father was fluent in writing and speaking because of his business and many contacts with the Poles.
No. At that time, I had just started my education in cheder*, so I had never learned to write or read Polish.
My customs? To be
polite to the opposite sex?
That is what my father used to joke about.
That this was the only good thing I acquired during my childhood in Poland.
He used to say that politeness toward women was a feature of the Polish gentleman.
Not everywhere, but in the high society and intelligentsia.
You are right.
In the old days, it was something one just did, but today it is considered odd.
Today, if one makes a difference between man and woman, one risks being accused of sexism or worse!
But back to the
subject. Who told you about me?
OK. Never mind. It is true. I am originally from Poland.
And I am one of the Jewish survivors.
And yes. The Poles rescued us.
Why do we never talk
That is a good question and a bad one, too.
If I remember that
Good Lord! I still have nightmares!
Do you believe I have never talked about it with my father or mother?!
How could it happen
that we never mentioned these almost four years of our life?!
It's hard to explain, so let me tell you how it was.
It was impossible before, but it is a bit easier now after all those years have passed. As they say, time heals all wounds, but the scars are forever.
Honestly, I do not
know where to start.
I have never tried it before.
Even though it still sits deep inside my body, mind, and thoughts.
But let's try from
My father had one Polish acquaintance. One Antoni Zmyk or Smyk.
I don't remember because my father called him only Antek.
They first met when my father, as a child, was on vacation near Antek's village. Somehow, they became friends.
When my father started as an apprentice in his uncle's business, he helped Antek to get a job there, too.
Antek was the younger son of a peasant family. Since he could not count on any inheritance, he decided to make a living in the nearest county town.
So he was very grateful to my father for getting him a job opportunity, whatever it was.
But it happened that his older brother died, and Antek's father summoned him to go back to the village and take over the farming.
But he has never forgotten what my father did for him.
Meanwhile, they both married, and the contact became less frequent, but it still was there.
Antek's father died, and he took over the farm.
Each time Antek was in town, he used to visit my father.
Always with some fresh groceries from his farm.
Then the Germans
I do not remember that time too well.
But I remember that Jewish people were disoriented.
We were ordered to leave our houses and move to a separate area for the Jews.
We tried to adapt our lives to the ghetto conditions for a while.
Then, Father decided to escape.
He managed to contact Antek somehow, and they agreed that Antek would hide our family on his farm. They discussed this topic for a long time. Father said he wanted to ensure that all the problems and practical matters had to be fixed before escaping from the ghetto.
At the time, I could
not understand what it all was about.
I thought it was only a question of escaping from the ghetto.
Now I know that my father was wiser than that.
Getting from the ghetto to Antek's farm was the beginning of our problems.
What about the hiding place? What about the compensation for hiding us and the hardship related to it? What about the everyday food supply and payment for it?
What about the possible duration of the hiding? And plenty of other issues.
Of course, not
everything had been discussed and settled.
Maybe because my father, despite all his wisdom, had no idea what kind of problems such a stay in hiding could create.
Antek could not contribute much in that matter but was willing to do whatever had to be done.
Finally, the time had
Antek arrived at the ghetto entrance at night.
Father bribed the guard, and we got a chance to escape.
We arrived at Antek's farm the same night and got a place in the cellar below the kitchen.
Antek's house was not
It consisted of one big room, which they used as a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a sleeping room, and everything else.
Our hiding place was much smaller and placed under the kitchen area.
It was used before as a pantry. One could enter it by opening the wooden lid and using a ladder.
Luckily, they also had a newer storeroom, and the old space was empty and waiting for us.
Father and Antek
discussed some other hiding possibilities.
But according to Antek, the pigpen or the cowshed was too visible to the unwanted eyes.
We entered that shabby, dark room and lived inside it for almost three years.
I cannot tell. Even now. I do not know how to do it.
How can one describe sitting for hours in that gloomy dark cell of a room?
How can one describe the feeling of not being permitted to go to the outside toilet house because the danger of being seen by a stranger was too big?
And how can one describe getting accustomed to a stinking barrel where one had to piss and shit within the eyesight of the other family members?
How can one describe a total prohibition of going out of the hiding room, which happened after one year or so of our hiding?
How can one describe the mandatory silence in this hideout because one never knew if there was someone on the ground floor who could get an interest in what was going on underneath?
How can one describe listening to what the people on the ground floor were talking about?
How can one digest the crumbs of stories about some Jews the gendarmes caught and shot at once? Hearing stories about a peasant family also shot dead because the Germans found a Jew hidden in their barn and the following discussion between Antek and his wife about the danger of hiding us in their house?
How can one describe the quarrels between my father and Antek, who wanted us to leave, and my father then threatening him to tell the Germans who had hidden us?
How can one describe the period when Antek drastically cut the food supply, which, to start with, was never much anyway?
How can one describe our situation when Antek denied us food because we refused to leave?
How can one describe our feelings when we could hear Antek's wife telling Antek to kill us all as a solution to their problem?
And what about that evening Antek came drunk and fell in through the hatch with a knife in his hand?
How can one describe the time when we did not get permission to empty that stinking toilet barrel and had so little food and water that we were deader than alive?
How can one describe the liberation day when Antek told us to forget about everything and never tell anybody that he was hiding us?
Because he still had to live in this village.
How can one describe our feeling when we returned to the town and realized that our home was not our home and nothing we had was ours anymore?
How did we leave
We stayed there for a while.
One of my father's relatives, a Polish Army captain, told us that we might have a future on the land taken away from Germany, called "The Recovered Territories" (Ziemie Odzyskane).
He also told us that the new Poland would be a just country where all citizens would be equal, regardless of ethnicity, skin color, or worldview.
And then the Kielce pogrom happened and ended all hope of living in Poland.
Antek? No. Father has
never contacted him.
No. We have never given Antek's name to Yad Vashem.
My father has never talked about it. Neither did I.
Antek and his wife have probably died. And they did not have any children.
At least at that period, we were there.
So let bygones remain bygones...
* Cheder - a traditional Jewish elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.