THE LAST EYEWITNESSES

Children of the Holocaust Speak VOLUME 2
By JAKUB GUTENBAUM AGNIESZKA LATALA

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2001 Stowarzyszenie "Dzieci Holocaustu" w Polsce
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2239-0


Chapter One

DASHA RITTENBERG, N��E WERDYGIER Born in 1929

Celebrating Shabbat: How I Remember It

Friday-Preparations for the Sabbath

Our sages teach us that the greatest gift that the Jewish people received from God is Shabbat. I was a child from a Hasidic family, the daughter of a great teacher from G��ra Kalwaria. At home, where Shabbat was a great event, we treated this gift with great solemnity, fulfilling all the laws, even the most minute ones, with the greatest precision, even meticulously.

In my family home, where I was brought up, preparations for Shabbat began the moment the previous Shabbat ended-that is, after Havdalah.

Friday was for us like Erev Yom Kippur. The day was filled with joy and anxiety about whether there would be enough time to complete the preparations before it arrived.

I had three brothers who came home from school a little earlier on Fridays to prepare for Shabbat, so as not to be late for anything. One of my many chores was to clean my brothers' shoes. According to them, I was the best shoeshine girl, because I polished their shoes according to their instructions-until they sparkled and I could see myself in their shiny tips as if in a mirror.

The kitchen was, of course, the center of preparations for Shabbat. The cooking and baking was done there, the floor was scrubbed, we washed our hair there, and the hot water was got-father managed to escape. All the other Jews, including my mother, were arrested, taken to the prison on Szucha Avenue, and later shot.

In order to remain in hiding, we had to immediately move to another place. For several days after Mother's arrest, we hid in Podkowa Lesna, and later in Milan��wek, at the home of Mrs. Dregiewicz. There our ways parted. I returned again to Mrs. Rutkowska's place on Sliska Street, and Father returned to Wsp��lna to stay with Mr. Karny. However, these were not safe hiding places. I finally found relative peace at the apartment of Olga Dudziec on Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street, where I stayed for a month.

Later, Father and I moved to the Wola district, where we stayed with a man named Feliks (I do not remember his last name). It was a miserable hovel, without light or running water. It was an unlucky place. After several weeks, we were discovered by szmalcownicy [blackmailers], who demanded a ransom. Father gave them thirteen hundred zlotys, but they searched us and found dollars that were sewn in my jacket. During a scuffle, my father grabbed a knife, and screaming, "Mr. Feliks, help us!" he threw himself at them. I managed to put out the oil lamp. The blackmailers ran away. Because of the police curfew, we had to spend the night in the "burned" apartment. In the morning, my father ripped the dollars out of my jacket. At six in the morning we went out on the street, but they were already waiting for us. While Father engaged them in conversation, I tried to escape. They caught me, and after checking that I did not have the money, they called a blue-uniformed [Polish] policeman. He declared that the matter should be taken to the Gestapo and walked away. My tormentors also gave up and left. Sneaking around and checking whether anyone was following me, I went back to the home of Mrs. Olga Dudziec. Father found shelter with Mr. Karny.

Mrs. Dudziec lived with her ten-year-old nephew, whose father was a Volksdeutcher. He attended a German school, and there was danger that he might tell someone there about the boy ten ready. It was an incredible commotion-ironing and cleaning. Grandma soaked her feet so she could put on her Saturday shoes more easily. The atmosphere resembled a festive reception for a bride.

As I remember it, we could eat some of the cakes already on Friday, but I would not dare touch the others, because they were meant for Shabbat.

The difference between Shabbat and a regular day was so huge, that from Friday noon on, my entire mentality, my whole way of thinking, would undergo a change.

The table was covered with a snow-white damask tablecloth, and upon it was set a silver platter with silver candlesticks, which must have already served my grandparents for lighting candles.

And slowly, the holiday spirit would settle in. As in most Jewish homes, Shabbat began the moment the candles were lit. Then my beloved father and brothers, dressed in their holiday best, would set out together for the evening prayers. Mama could finally rest after a full week of work and dashing about. And we-the youngest girls in the family-set the table, said our evening prayers, and waited for the king and the princes to come back home.

Thus would begin the day that is the greatest blessing of the Jewish people. The rest-that's our common tragic history, which, together with its greatness, is gone forever. I am glad that I have this memory. I remember much more, however, not just this-and I hope that I will never, ever forget.

HENRYK ARNOLD Born in 1930

With Weapon in Hand

I was born on July 18, 1930, at 3 Szkarpowa Street in Lw��w. My mother was Fryderyka, n��e Beigel (b. 1910), and my father was Leon Arnold (b. 1910). My maternal grandparents were owners of a restaurant in Lw��w. They died relatively young, leaving orphaned, in addition to my mother, her two brothers, Jakub and Jan. My father's parents, Wilhelm and Anna Arnold, owned a large restaurant in Lw��w that faced the courthouse building on Batory Street. It was a well-known restaurant; its clients were mostly lawyers and judges. Grandpa Wilhelm was a very strong man. He was known for having once won a fight with a professional wrestler, for which he received a prize of ten Austrian crowns. His wife, Anna, was a modest and pious person.

My parents owned an auto parts store. My father was an avid sportsman. He participated in wrestling, track-and-field sports, and soccer. He played on the Jewish soccer team Hasmonea.

His siblings, two brothers and four sisters, were:

Dawid-an attorney who fought in the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army and was killed near Lw��w in 1914.

Ksawery Albert-who worked at the post office in Pulawy. During the German occupation he took part in the underground resistance. He was arrested and murdered by the Gestapo in August 1942.

Cecylia-a physician in Brzuchowice near Lw��w.

Lidia-owner of a pharmacy in Magier��w near Lw��w.

Fryderyka-a dressmaker in Lw��w.

These three sisters died in 1943 during the liquidation of the Lw��w ghetto.

The fourth sister, Stefania, worked in an oil company in Lw��w; she was taken in 1942 to the death camp in Belzec.

My childhood was very happy. A governess took care of me. I often traveled with my father. We went to Warsaw, Krak��w, L��dz, and Gdynia. Our whole family spent our vacations together by the seaside, or in Krynica or Rabka. We were emotionally very close. I remember a prophetic dream that my mother told me about in 1938. She dreamed that someone had shot her in the head and that she fell into a dark cellar. This may well be what happened to her when the Germans executed her in Warsaw in 1942.

I began my education in 1937 at the Rutkowski Grammar School, taking an additional language course in Ukrainian. After Lw��w was occupied by the Russians, I studied in a Ukrainian school, taking an additional course in Russian-until the Germans entered in 1941. During the Soviet occupation, the Jews were not singled out for persecution. Soldiers often came to my father's store to buy auto parts. They warned him that his store would be confiscated. Because of this [warning], he was able to carry away many items and hide them in a safe place. After the store was liquidated, he was employed at the Krasnyi Transportnik shipping company. At the same time, he was secretly selling the auto parts he had hidden, thus earning additional money to support the family.

At that time, many Polish Jews were escaping from the German occupation zone to the Soviet zone. In the summer of 1940, the Soviet occupation authorities shipped many of them deep into the USSR. The militia would surround houses and search for refugees. As fate would have it, nearly all of these people survived the war and returned afterward to Poland. Later most of them emigrated to Israel.

When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the wives of the officers who lived nearby, hearing the artillery fire, thought it was the British bombing Lw��w.

The Germans entered Lw��w eight days later on June 30, 1941. The next day everyone had to hand over their radio sets. By chance, the Germans stopped Father while he was carrying a radio. He was put in prison on Kazimierzowska Street. Corpses of Ukrainian nationalists killed by the NKVD [Soviet secret police] were strewn about in the cells. In the prison courtyard were lying many bodies of Jews killed by Ukrainians. Jews were also being killed in the city; a pogrom was raging. Father managed to get out of jail by giving a bribe.

Later, Father got a job (and most important, papers) as a worker at a German military garage (Heereskraftpark-HKP for short), which protected him from arrest and being sent to a camp.

In November 1941 we had to leave our apartment and move to 18 Tkacka Street. This house was located in a section of the Jewish quarter that the Germans had not closed off. In addition to Jews, many Poles and Ukrainians lived there, and even a few Germans.

The Jewish quarter was located north of the railroad line. Near it was the only crossing point for Jews. Two others were for use only by Poles, Ukrainians, and Germans. German police patrolling these crossings often stopped older Jews. They were then sent in an unknown direction-as it turned out later, to the death camp in Belzec. It was rumored that in Warsaw and in Lublin, special groups were active, murdering Jews. There was talk of mass murders in Belzec, but Jews did not want to believe it. They could not comprehend that Germans were killing them only because they were Jews.

Although Jewish children ten years or older were required to wear armbands with the Star of David, I, to spite the Germans, tried to avoid wearing mine.

Various rumors circulated in the city. There was talk that in Warsaw and Lublin special units were active, the so-called Himmelkommando, murdering Jews or shipping them to death camps. Everybody had heard about Belzec, but not everybody wanted to believe these reports. The occupation authorities introduced precise record keeping for the Jewish population. Father, as a worker at a military garage, obtained a document with the stamp INDISPENSABLE TO THE GERMAN ARMY. Mother also had an appropriate document classifying her as WIFE OF A PERSON INDISPENSABLE TO THE GERMAN ARMY. I, as a child, was not eligible for any documents or stamps, which greatly worried my parents.

At six o'clock in the morning on August 10, 1942, we got word that the entire Jewish quarter was surrounded by the SS and German and Ukrainian police. A mass deportation of Jews from Lw��w had begun. Father was able to get out of the surrounded area in a Wehrmacht [regular German army] truck driven by a Pole. I was hidden in the back. We avoided being deported, but we could not stay in the Jewish quarter any longer. My parents decided to hide me with their friends, a Polish family who lived at 8 Koscielna Street, in the same building where we had once lived. From the windows of my hideout, I could see streetcars packed with Jews being taken to the camp on Janowska Street, where the selection took place. Young and healthy men were sent to work, while the rest-women, the elderly, the sick, and children-were taken to the death camp in Belzec.

There were searches for Jews on the Aryan side as well, where many Jewish families still lived. Apartments of Poles began to be checked for hidden Jews. Sheltering them was punishable by death. One day two SS men burst into the apartment where I was hiding. They started searching in the attic, where my host, Mrs. Adamczewska, raised chickens. Satisfied with the fresh eggs they found there, they gave up searching further. The frightened landlady demanded that I leave the apartment immediately. I had to return to my parents, to the ghetto. Meanwhile, the document that protected my mother expired. She managed to avoid deportation by hiding in the attic during moments of danger. My hideout was the cellar of the HKP garage. I used to hide on a shelf with old tires and other junk. Father, who was still working, brought food to me.

All the Jews who were still hiding in Lw��w disappeared into their hideouts during the day. At night they came out in search of water and food. The Germans organized searches and tried to uncover their hiding places. The deportation action ended in August 1942.

In anticipation of further deportations, we decided to move to Warsaw, where we had some friends and where nobody knew us. We left Lw��w on September 8, 1942, on a truck carrying furniture that belonged to a Polish acquaintance. When we passed by Belzec, we smelled the stench of decaying bodies. That smell has tormented me to this day.

As it turned out later, this was indeed the last chance to leave Lw��w, because on October 17, 1942, the Jewish quarter was surrounded by barbed wire and closed off. The Lw��w ghetto existed until June 1943.

In Warsaw we found shelter at 18 Wsp��lna Street, in an apartment owned by a Polish woman who was hiding more than a dozen Jews. An acquaintance, Mr. Drut, secured false documents for us under the name Rudzinski. I was changed into Ryszard, born in Kolomyja on December 18, 1930, son of J��zef. My mother's maiden name was turned into Zi��lkowska.

For security reasons, we were forced to split up. Father moved in with Mr. Alfons Karny, a well-known sculptor, at 67 Wsp��lna Street. Mother and I went to live on Sliska Street at the home of Mrs. Wanda Melfior-Rutkowska, a writer. Her husband was an officer in the Polish Armed Forces and was stationed in England. We lived peacefully for several weeks, but it was an illusory peace that ended in tragedy.

In order to support ourselves, we sold things we had brought with us from Lw��w. In October 1942 Mother went to 18 Wsp��lna Street, where she was supposed to meet Father and talk over the sale of a fur coat that she had put in storage. Several other Jews were there at the time. Suddenly, the Gestapo appeared. My who lived with them who did not attend school. In this situation, we decided that I should move in with Father. Our fears soon proved to be justified. One day the Gestapo came to the apartment of Mrs. Dudziec. By chance, Father just happened to be there, but he managed to hide in a cubby.

Mr. Karny rented a room for us from a friend of his, a painter. When our host was not there, we had to remain inside, locked up.

We constantly had to change our place of stay. We moved to Kolejowa Street, but we had to escape from there in January 1943. Later we found shelter at the home of a sister of Mr. Feliks, who himself had meanwhile died of tuberculosis. In the same apartment lived a certain Mietek who sent a blackmailer after us. Father had six hundred zlotys. The blackmailer showed mercy-he took only four hundred zlotys from him, leaving the rest.

We had to be on the run again. For two days we slept on chairs in the home of a Mrs. Filipska, from whom father used to buy auto parts before the war. Father returned to Mr. Karny, and I moved in with Mrs. Kwiatkowska, who was a neighbor of Mrs. Dudziec's on Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street.

April 1943 came. The uprising broke out in the ghetto. German patrols roamed through the city searching for hidden Jews.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE LAST EYEWITNESSESby JAKUB GUTENBAUM AGNIESZKA LATALA Copyright © 2001 by Stowarzyszenie "Dzieci Holocaustu" w Polsce. Excerpted by permission.
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