Chapter 25: Under the Nazi Occupation
On the fifth of September the German army, coming from the direction of Maluszyn and Kozlow, entered the city of Wloszczowa. The residents of the city locked themselves in their homes, as the troops with tanks and armored vehicles stopped in Rynek Square. The shops were all closed and shuttered and Wloszczowa looked like a ghost town. A German car with a loudspeaker drove through the streets and, in German, announced the occupation of the city and called upon all residents to continue with their normal daily lives.
A few curious residents took to the streets to watch as a commander, accompanied by some soldiers stationed in Rynek Square, entered the Town Hall. In the marketplace they saw soldiers laughing at some ultra-Orthodox Jews who passed by.
A young boy, dressed in the Christian youth movement Hercesk ikrzyz uniform, walked over to one of the soldiers who had called him. The soldier asked the boy a question in German which of course the boy did not understand. The soldier ripped the silver cross that was stitched onto the breast pocket the boy’s coat. When the boy insisted on having it back, the group of soldiers burst out laughing and made obscene gestures to him, whereupon the boy withdrew and went home.
After the soldiers left Rynek Square and relocated in the football field on the outskirts of the city, permission was granted to set up the weekly market in the Square again. The square was immediately renamed “Adolf Hitler Platz.”
Wolf dared to leave his home to buy some food in the market. He took his son Izio along with him. As they approached the marketplace, they noticed German soldiers, holding their weapons, wandering among the stalls. As they did not seem particularly friendly, Wolf kept his distance from them.
Wolf walked over to a Jewish vendor to buy some potatoes. As he was being served, he noticed a nearby soldier smirking at the bearded vendor with a hat on his head.
“Jude?” he asked as he approached the stand. The vendor nodded his head in confirmation. The soldier approached him and knocked the hat off his head. As he bent down to pick it up, the soldier kicked him into the muddy ground and began to laugh as he turned the whole stand upside down on top of the man.
Wolf grabbed Izio by his hand and turned to go, when he suddenly heard the soldier screaming,” Dirty Jew, pick everything up.”
Wolf and Izio were forced to gather all the potatoes and to re-erect the stand. They then helped the vendor on to his feet. When they were done, the soldier left.
A stunned Wolf, who had forgotten to buy potatoes, just grabbed his son’s hand and ran away from Rynek Square towards home.
“Izio and Lilly, you must leave the city immediately,” Wolf said. “These soldiers are readying themselves to cause us great distress and more troubles. I spoke to Herman in Lodz, and he told me of mass killings of the population that is taking place. In Czestochowa, soldiers shot indiscriminately at the citizens in the streets and it is estimated that there are over one thousand fatalities. Entire villages were burned together with the inhabitants. In a small village they pierced with their bayonets all one hundred and eighty residents including infants, women and the elderly and burned the corpses in the forest.”
Lilly told her father that she would not leave her parents alone. Izio decided that he would move to the big city and pose as a Christian. Since to implement that plan he needed papers, he was determined to obtain them at all costs.
The next day, Izio took his bicycle and rode to the home of his classmate Mietek Pozynowski. Mietek, who was Christian, was at home and glad to see him and invited Izio into his room to talk. While talking to Mietek, Izio noticed his ID card lying on the table, so he asked for a glass of water. As soon as Mietek went to the kitchen, Izio quietly slipped the card into his pocket.
After drinking the glass of water, Izio asked Mietek if he wanted to come with him to the forest to pick mushrooms. Mietek refused, saying that it was dangerous because the soldiers might shoot at them. Izio, who was anxious to leave, thanked Mietek for his hospitality and went home. On his way home he was forced to bypass a roadblock set up by the Germans. Luckily he managed to find his way back home.
When he got home, he cut out Mietek’s picture from his ID card and very carefully glued his picture in its place. Now all he had to do was to memorize his new identity number, the date and place of his birth, the names of his new parents and to get used to his new Christian Polish name, Mietek Pozynowski.
On the 17th of September the Russians attacked from the east. Poland now found itself being attacked simultaneously on two fronts. Within a few days the Russians took tens of thousands of Polish officers and soldiers captive, and hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens found themselves one clear morning on the Russian side. In addition, refugees began arriving in endless convoys, all wanting to cross the Bug River into Russia. Initially, the Germans did not stop them and even encouraged them to do so, however, the Russians tried every possible way to stop them, even shooting into the crowd.
David, who lived in Brest-Litovsk with Adam, suddenly found himself completely cut off from his homeland, his home, his workplace and his parents. He was worried about them and tried every which way to get in touch with them. He was able to pass through the checkpoint where the officers knew him, because he would often pass through on his frequent visits.
He stopped a vehicle traveling in the direction of Miedzyrzec Podlaski, where Dr. Buhaniek had his clinic. The driver agreed to take him along. When he arrived at the building, he found it in a shambles from the heavy shelling, the clinic in ruins and the family members all gone. Outside the building, lying on the ground, he saw a motorcycle with an empty gas tank.
Not far from the motorcycle he saw an overturned truck with a full tank of gas. He found a hose and a bucket and began siphoning the gas out of the truck into the bucket. When the bucket was full, he filled up the motorcycle tank with gas. With the help of a bit of luck, he was able to get the motorcycle to start, and he drove off. He travelled on the back roads for approximately seventy kilometers until he reached Brest Litovsk. When he reached the bridge entering the city, the guards confiscated the motorcycle and he was forced to stop cars along the way until he reached the hospital.
As he was climbing the stairs to the surgical ward, he met Adam just as he was coming out of the operating room to smoke a cigarette. Adam was under a lot of pressure and had no time to talk to David, but he figured out what was happening and immediately gave David the key to his apartment. Before leaving, he said, “We’ll meet again if the war ends.” It was with such sarcasm that his “red-headed” cousin Adam responded when he was under stress.
David saw the influx of refugees flooding the area. They related horror stories, such as Warsaw going up in flames, villages whose inhabitants had been exterminated; the unbridled cruelty to the weakest members of the population, the burning of humans and the firing of automatic machine guns on civilians that had just dug their graves with their own bare hands.
He tried calling his family, but there was no connection since all the telephone lines were down or cut.
David was unaware that among the refugees arriving in Brest-Litovsk was Stefania, her sister Mila and her husband Cezary. They had been arrested by the Bolshevik army and transferred to Kharkov where they were loaded into cattle cars with almost no food or water and sent on the long on journey to Siberia. They travelled the entire trip in complete darkness. Once there, they were interred in one of the gulags built by Stalin to punish criminals and dissenters.
When escapees noticed that the Red Army was treating them as the enemy, by capturing them and transferring them to unknown places, many decided to return to occupied Poland. Christians and Jews alike who had fled their villages, towns and big cities, began returning to Poland in the hope that the situation under the Nazi occupation would be better than what awaited them in the Soviet labor camps in the Urals.
At the end of September, the occupation of Poland was complete, with the Russians in the east and the Germans in the west. It seemed that life in Wloszczowa was returning to normal, albeit with dramatic changes. Schools and public institutions were closed; all vehicles were confiscated, including Wolf’s car. He had hidden his motorcycle in Isaac’s warehouse, which was empty. School buildings in the town were converted into hospitals for German soldiers.
Groups of Christian Poles began organizing partisan militias that hid in the forests. They included the White Eagles and the Armia krajowa (AK).
One of the most beautiful buildings was converted into a post office which received letters from Polish prisoners. Every day dozens of Poles arrived and waited until all the letters were sorted in the hope that there was a letter for them from their loved ones.
The weekly market continued to operate every Monday. Soldiers would walk around the stalls, posing with bearded Jews, laughing and trying to understand the language, and looking at them with great interest.
One day Izio went out to buy some food. He returned after an hour looking pale and frightened. When asked what had happened, he began to tell what he had seen.
“The Germans painted a Star of David on all stores owned by Jews. When Rosen, the haberdasher went out to argue with them, a soldier painted the astonished Rosen’s face with black paint, while his comrades stood by rolling with laughter. Elsewhere, I saw how they grabbed several bystanders and ordered them to sweep the streets.”
Pauline, who was sitting on the couch with Balbina in her arms, said, “How right my brother Juliusz was when he told you all that it was time to get out of this country. I also told you all to leave.”
“Now it is too late, they took my car. Besides where will we go? Who will help us?” Wolf said.
“Perhaps you can go to your friend Father Dabrowski or to Count Jan Sosnowski,” his mother replied.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Wolf promised.
“Let’s eat this delicious dish of apples and plums that I prepared. There is no meat in the market, as the Germans confiscated all cattle and pigs,” Ida apologized.
Lilly sat on the side in silence, regretting that she had not gone to Palestine with her beloved Adek. She had waited in vain for a letter from him. Isaac also had not heard from his sons since they had left.
Suddenly they heard a familiar knock at the door. They had set up a code of three rapid knocks whenever a neighbor was at the door. Izio was sent downstairs to open the door. When he opened the door, Eva, Zosia’s daughter, was standing there with a jug of milk. She handed the jug to Izio and said, “Quick, take this and I am running home.” Before he had a chance to say anything, she disappeared in the dark.
At night they could hear the clumping of boots as the soldiers marched through the streets on their patrols. Other times they could hear rifle fire in the distance.
Three hundred Jews, who had been expelled from the town of Sczcekociny by the German military governor, arrived in Wloszczowa, along with Jews who had left Poznan and Lodz. The movements of all residents of Wloszczowa were restricted as they were unable to leave town, but within the town they were permitted to move freely.
The Jews of Wloszczowa set up a council to represent them when dealing with the Germans, and appointed Mona Landau as its head. He had been the head of a similar council before the arrival of the Germans.
Towards the end of October, the Germans announced the establishment of the General gouvernement, General Government, which was the name the Nazis used to identify Polish territories not annexed to Germany.
It was from that day on that all the Jews were forced to wear a white band with a blue Star of David on their right arms.
Wolf went several times to the church in search of Father Dabrowsky, but the priest was never there and nobody could even tell him to where he had disappeared.
All of Wolf’s life savings were on deposit in the bank of the Yagoda family in the town of Szczekociny. When the Germans came to town, one thousand of the twenty eight hundred Jewish residents fled. Of those that remained, three hundred were transferred to Wloszczowa. The German soldiers plundered and looted the houses of those that left, taking items of silver, jewelry and even carpets. Three Jews who opposed them were shot on the spot. All businesses were confiscated and their owners expelled.
Wolf tried to call the bank, which was always trustworthy and honorable, but there was no response. Since he was forbidden to leave Wloszczowa, he could not go to the bank.
Wolf’s economic situation began to deteriorate rapidly. Izio suggested that he try to contact Count Sosnowski and ask for help, but Wolf did not do anything, since he had no way of getting to Maluszyn. That was when Izio decided to take the initiative and seek the help of the count.
One evening, at the end of October, dressed warmly with a wool cap on his head and the ID card from his friend Mietek in his pocket, he left home and headed for Maluszyn.
He walked through the forest, never moving too far from the main road. Occasionally a German car would pass and he would lie in the bushes and wait for it to pass. Once when he sat down to rest, he heard rustling sounds coming from the forest. Frightened, he began to run until he stumbled on a tree limb and fell to the ground. He lay still and did not move, as he saw figures walking around as if looking for someone. He was sure they had heard his footsteps. He knew that the partisans hid in the forest and was afraid that they would kill him lest he betray them.
Since the Armia krajowa partisans did not accept Jews into their ranks, Jews kept away from them and tried not to go near the areas where they operated.
As he got closer to Maluszyn, he saw a unit of soldiers stationed at the entrance to the town. He decided not to get too close to them, but to try and circumvent them in order to get into the town. Since it was already getting light, it was dangerous for him to be on the streets.
Walking through the forest and back roads, he finally managed to reach the count’s mansion with its high stone wall surrounding it. He climbed the wall and as he was about to jump into the yard, he heard a voice scream “halt,” and a weapon cocked. When he jumped back down, he heard a shot being fired and he began to run into the forest with all his might, not looking back. He thanked his lucky stars that the soldiers did not pursue him. Panting, he threw himself on the wet grass where he lay for a while until he was able to breathe normally again.
Izio thus decided to abandon his plan of going to Maluszyn to seek the help of the count, and instead decided to go to Warsaw in the hope of meeting with Moses, who would surely be more than glad to help him. He had to change direction and head north where he hoped to find a car that was going in his direction and take him along.
He was still quite a distance from the main road that went towards Warsaw. Trying not to be discovered, he walked on the back roads until he reached the main highway.
To his luck, the first vehicle that passed stopped for him.
“Where are you going?” the driver asked.
“To Warsaw, to visit my family,” he answered.
“Where do you come from?” the driver asked.
“From Maluszyn,” he lied.
“What’s your name?” the driver inquired.
“Mietek Pozynowski ,” he replied.
The driver agreed to take Izio along.
Later on in the conversation, Izio told the driver that life has gotten more difficult since the German occupation and the persecution of the Jews. He did not speak sympathetically about them but rather very factual.
“Do you feel sorry for them? They brought this war upon us,” the driver said angrily.
“Absolutely not. For my part Poland should get rid of them,” Izio replied.
“Bravo. Well spoken. We must get rid of them for good,” the driver said.
When they arrived at the Warsaw city limits, they were stopped by the military police who wanted to check their identification papers. They first checked the driver’s papers and the goods he had and then asked to see Izio’s papers. When he handed them his papers, he realized that his hand was trembling. The soldier looked at him suspiciously, but quickly returned the papers to him and told the driver to carry on.
When they got close to the city center, Izio got out of the car. He thanked the driver, who continued on his way.
He walked, while looking straight ahead and not from side to side, so as not to arouse suspicion. He walked rapidly with his head raised as if in a hurry to get someplace.
Warsaw was in ruins; streets were destroyed and many collapsed buildings were still smoldering. There was a horrible stench from the human and animal corpses buried under rubble. It was very difficult to take in the scene and realize how the urban landscape had completely changed.
When he reached Ogrodowa Street he immediately recognized the building. Although the facade was completely destroyed by the shelling, it was possible to enter the stairwell.
He knocked on the door and waited. There was silence on the other side; no one answered. He waited a long time and knocked again whispering, “It is me, Izio.” The door opened and he quickly entered the apartment. Moses and Cesia were standing in the living room, both looking very pale and thin. Izio approached them and hugged them tightly. The three stood there hugging each other for a while without saying a word.
“What are you doing here? What happened to the family?” Cesia asked.
“Don’t worry, everybody is all right. As of now the Germans are not necessarily pursuing Jews,” he answered.
Where is Jerzy?” he asked.
“He is sleeping now, but he cries the whole time. We are all very worried about what will happen,” Cesia said.
Moses looked broken. The person who was always so sure of himself, the shrewd, wealthy businessman, with servants, a chauffeur and a fleet of automobiles, was now at home, alone, in the dark, his hands shaking, unkempt with an unshaven red beard, wearing clothes that were wrinkled and dirty.
Cesia began to cry as she told Izio what had happened.
“Moses has been through great humiliation and pain. The Germans grabbed him, beat him and forced him to clean the streets. He returned home two days later with a broken rib, a broken nose and bleeding from his face. He was bedridden for ten days and did not want to eat anything.”
Izio approached her, embraced her and said, “Don’t worry, Auntie. We will get through this. Everything will be all right.”
“How did you get here? Were you not afraid of being caught and arrested?” Cesia asked.
“You must get used to calling me Mietek, as I have forged papers with the Christian name Mietek. You do not have to worry about me,” Izio said. “I must meet with Stanislaw and Eugenia. I know they live in Warsaw,” he continued.
“I had no idea that they live in Warsaw. Do you know where?” a surprised Cesia asked.
“I do not know, but I know that they live in a Christian neighborhood. They are pretending, just like me,” he said.
“What about your phone line? Do you have one?” Izio asked.
“Our telephone line has been disconnected,” Cesia answered.
“I wanted to visit Count Sosnowski to see if he could help us, and actually reached his estate. When I tried to climb over the stone wall surrounding it, I noticed that it had been turned into a SS headquarters. When the soldiers saw me, they began firing in my direction. I jumped down and ran; I barely escaped,” Izio related.
“We rarely go out of the house for fear that we will be kidnapped by the Germans. We are required to wear a white band with a blue Star of David on it, so that we are easily identifiable. Anybody caught not wearing the white band is shot on the spot,” Cesia responded.
“Have you heard anything from Adam lately,” Izio asked Cesia.
“No,” she answered.
“Do you by any chance have hydrogen peroxide in the house?” Izio asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “Do you want it?”
Cesia brought Izio the bottle of hydrogen peroxide which she used to bleach her hair. He diluted it with water and rubbed it into his brown hair. After an hour his hair was completely blonde. He looked into the mirror and was satisfied with his new look.
“May I take the bottle with me?” he asked.
Cesia nodded her head in agreement.
Izio sat down next to Moses, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Uncle, pull yourself together. You have money, and there is still the possibility for you to leave and save your family. Take advantage of the opportunity now.”
Izio, in spite of his youth, showed maturity and courage beyond his years. He had always been an introvert, barely spoke, and suddenly now was so mature, calculated and confident.
“I would like to, but do not know where to run. If I go to Russia, they will kill me. After all, I just ran away from there and I do not have false papers. I think I know what I will do. I will try to get to Turkey. Within the next few days we are escaping from Poland,” he said in a broken voice.
“Run away before it’s too late,” Izio replied in a confident and authoritative voice.
He promised to return. Moses gave him a wad of bills that he divided; he put some in his pocket and the rest he hid in his shoes.
“I am going to search for Stanislaw and then come back here to see how you are doing,” Izio promised.
Before leaving, he hugged his aunt and uncle and said, “Better days are still to come, when the entire family will sit around the table enjoying a hearty meal.”
With those final words, Izio left quietly, closing the door behind him.
He remembered that he had taken along with him the piece of paper where his father had written down Stanislaw’s address. He looked at the paper but wondered if it was the correct address.
He went down to the street and waited for the tram.
He got on the tram as soon as the doors opened. The first thing he noticed was that everybody was staring at him. At first did not understand why, but when he realized that all the passengers were wearing a white armband with a blue Star of David on it, he realized that he had taken the tram intended for Jews only. At the next stop he jumped off, before he was noticed by the Polish police patrolling the streets, and took the right one.
When the tram reached his intended stop, he got off and began the long walk to Stanislaw’s apartment. He decided to try to get a lift with one of the many “half bicycles” that were on the road. Since the Germans had confiscated all the cars, the “half bicycle” had become the new mode of transportation. It was a bicycle with a cart attached to it in the front where two people could sit. After a few minutes, one stopped which took him to the area where Stanislaw lived.
After walking around for several minutes he found the street, the building and a mailbox with the name Czajkowski written on it. He knocked on the door several times. There was no answer but he decided to wait.
He crossed the street and went into the church located opposite the house. He knelt, crossed himself, lit a candle and sat down on one of the benches and waited. When it got dark, he left the church and waited outside within eyesight of the building. The street was very quiet, with no human movement.
Izio suddenly noticed a tall figure advancing towards the building and immediately recognized it as being Stanislaw. He walked right by him, but Stanislaw just kept on walking without recognizing him.
He turned around to pass him again, but this time he whispered “Stasiek” as he passed him. Stanislaw turned around, looked at him and immediately recognized him, “Come, follow me,” he whispered. They both rushed and entered the house.
The apartment was totally dark. Eugenia was lying in bed, covered with a blanket over her head. “You can get up,” Stanislaw said to her. As soon as she noticed Izio, she got up and hugged him saying, “My dear Izio, how much I missed you. How is everybody? What is happening at home? Why do you look so yellow?”
Izio laughed. He sat down and told them at length about everything that was happening in Wloszczowa and about his visit to Moses and Cesia.
“Did you tell them where I live?” Stanislaw asked.”
“No, I just told them that I know you live in Warsaw with a Christian identity,” he answered.
He also told them about his fake documents, his new name and his desire to remain in Warsaw.
“I’ll find a job for you. Trust me, I have an idea, but you must limit your visits to me, so that nobody notices, especially the landlady who can become suspicious,” Stanislaw said.
Izio went back to live with Moses and Cesia, as he could not find anywhere to live. They were very glad for him to live with them especially that he knew how to cheer up Jerzy, who was slowly getting used to the new situation.
A week after he decided to go to visit Stanislaw once again. When nobody answered the door, he put a note in the mailbox.
I came by to visit you, but since nobody was at home I will come again next Sunday morning. I really wanted to know how Aunt Eugenia is doing.
The next day he went back and found the note still lying in the mailbox. He realized that Stanislaw had not noticed it, so he decided to wait outside. He once again entered the church, but this time there were a number of people present, listening to the priest giving a sermon. He sat in the back row and saw Stanislaw sitting in the front row.
When the sermon was over and the worshipers were standing up, getting ready to leave. Stanislaw noticed Izio. He walked over to him and greeted him with a hug.
Just then a distinguished looking older man wearing a hat and holding a cane came up to Stanislaw and greeted him, “Hello Mr. Czajkowski,” he said.
“Hello, Herr Doktor,” Stanislaw said, “May I introduce you to my nephew Mietek from Maluszyn who has come to visit us.” Mietek shook the doctor’s hand warmly.
“If you are in need of a dental assistant, Mietek would be happy to work for you. He learned the dental profession in Cracow,” Stanislaw lied to the doctor.
The dentist, who was a widower and approximately seventy years old and of German descent, lived alone in a large apartment.
“I would be more than happy for you to come to work for me. You can start whenever you are ready. Here is my address and my phone number.”
He took a card out of his pocket and handed it to Izio. On it appeared his name, Doctor Alexander Schumacher, Dentist.
Before taking leave of Izio, the doctor said to him, “Mietek, if you want, you can even live with me and make things easier for your uncle in these difficult times.”
When they got home, Izio was moved to tears, and said to Stanislaw, “Who is going to look for me in the office of a German doctor?”
Stanislaw and Eugenia both agreed with him that working in the dental clinic was the ideal solution.
A few days later Izio, who had stopped answering to that name, moved into the luxurious home of Dr. Alexander Schumacher. The surprise that was waiting for him when he entered the apartment was the doctor’s poodle, Piłka, who ran up to him, licking him. It was love at first sight.
Izio was sure that his parents were concerned about him, so he decided to call them, as he was pretty sure that their home phone still worked. Near the post office there were public phone booths. He entered a phone booth and dialed his parents’ number.
“Hello, who is speaking?” Wolf asked as he answered the phone.
“It said me, Papa,” Izio replied.
“Oh, my dear Izio, we are so concerned about you. Where are you?”
“I’m fine. I visited Moses and my aunt and uncle, everybody is fine.”
Izio spoke in riddles out of fear that somebody was listening in on his conversation. His father understood and did not ask too many questions.
“Are you coming to visit?” Wolf asked.
“I will let you know. Meantime, you know that I am fine. Don’t worry about me,” Izio answered and hung up.
He stood in the phone booth for a long while, as he was suddenly overcome with emotion and felt homesick for his parents, his sister, his grandmother and his brother David who he had not seen for a long time.
Little did he know that this would be the last conversation he would have with his father.
Life in the Shadow of Death
Due the poor sanitary conditions and extreme poverty that prevailed there was an outbreak of typhus in the town of Wloszczowa. The Germans ordered the Jewish committee chairman to erect a hospital in order to halt the spread of the disease before it turned into an epidemic. Within a few days, the committee had organized a number of craftsmen who renovated an abandoned building so that it could operate as a hospital. They built twenty-five wooden beds, with straw mats to serve as mattresses, found blankets, and organized a staff of nurses and cooks. They were now ready to accept patients.
The first patients to arrive, who came from outlying villages, had become infected when they came to the market in Wloszczowa. Unfortunately, Wolf was among the first patients. When he had started to show signs of abdominal pain and fever, he was immediately taken to the hospital for tests. When a red rash appeared on the palm of his hand and he developed terrible diarrhea and began to hallucinate as his fever went above forty degrees Celsius, it was confirmed that he had typhus. The doctor ordered him to bathe in warm water. Ida and Lilly sat at his bedside all night.
The next morning, his condition improved slightly. His fever dropped and he once again recognized those around him, although his headaches did not subside. He was still very weak and was unable to eat anything. He was unable to keep any liquids down; whatever he drank he threw up. His whole body trembled and shook from side to side. There were no antibiotics available, as the limited supply was sent to the battlefront for the soldiers. He received nothing but painkillers.
That night he once again began to hallucinate and lost consciousness several times. The next morning he returned his soul to his maker.
Ida collapsed. She felt that her entire world had been destroyed.
“Why did we stay here when all of us could have gone to Istanbul? What will happen now?”
Lilly, overwhelmed with pain, dragged her heartbroken mother home where they told Paulina that her beloved son was no longer.
The next day Wolf was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Wloszczowa. Hundreds of mourners came; mourners of all faiths, Jew and Gentile alike, as he had been loved by all. Noticeably missing from among the mourners were Father Dabrowski and Count Sosnowski.
From that day on, Zosia came every day to help Ida with her housework, brought food and even cooked it. She also helped Ida sell her jewelry in order to raise cash.
Ida wondered why she did not see Roza at the funeral and she was worried that something had happened to her. Lilly volunteered to go to her apartment and see how she was.
She made sure to leave during daylight hours and not at night. She walked across Rynek Square, which now was named “Adolf Hitler Platz,” passed the pharmacy of Bitoft and reached the street where Roza lived. She suddenly noticed a group of German soldiers advancing toward her. She tried to avoid them but they blocked her way. ”Gib mir eine kuss jude,” Give me a kiss, Jew, one of them said to her as they all burst out laughing. She began retracing her steps, but they surrounded her from all sides. With all her strength she began running toward the square while they followed behind her. As she crossed the square, she saw that the Bitoft pharmacy was open so she quickly ran in. The soldiers stopped and began whistling and cursing at her, but they did not enter the pharmacy. Eventually they moved on.
Lilly stood in shock, her whole body trembling. Bronislaw Bitoft brought her a glass of water and said, “Drink, my dear, you will feel better.”
She thanked him and was about to leave when he turned to her and said, “Allow me to express my grief and sorrow, and that of my wife too, on the death of your father, and for the difficult times that you are going through. If there is anything I can do to help, do not hesitate to ask.” Lilly thanked him for his kind words and ran home.
The next day when Zosia heard what had happened to Lilly, she volunteered to go to see what had happened to Roza. When she reached her house she noticed the windows and shutters were closed and everything was dark. She knocked on the door but there was no answer. She put her ear against the door and listened, but not a sound could be heard coming from the apartment.
She knocked on the door of the neighboring apartment. After several knocks, an elderly woman opened the door. “Sorry for bothering you, but I would like to ask you if you have seen the lady who lives in the next-door apartment lately?“The woman slammed the door in Zosia’s face. The neighbor on the floor above had not heard a thing nor did she know to where Roza disappeared.
Zosia returned to the home of Ida and Lilly without having found out what had happened to Roza.
Two weeks later Roza appeared suddenly at Ida’s home. She knocked on the door and when Ida opened the door, the two sisters fell on other’s necks and began to cry.
“Where have you been? We were so worried about you,” Ida said with anger in her voice.
“I ran away to Russia with several hundred Jewish and Christians refugees, not all from Wloszczowa. We crossed the border and reached the city of Lutsk from where we wanted to continue to Kharkov, because we had heard rumors that the Germans were not mistreating the Jews. However, as in the previous war, it turned out to be untrue, so we decided to return to Poland. The Russians were also taking people, loading them on to box cars and sending them to gulags and to camps in Novosibirsk, places from where you never come back. A group of about fifty of us decided to return to Poland. I have been home already, opened the windows to let fresh air in for ventilation and will soon go back to shut them. I don’t think anybody noticed my absence. On our way back, we experienced terrible ordeals. We did come across some good people who helped us in many ways, but there were those that who threw stones at us to make sure we did not come close to their villages,” Roza related with great emotion.
“My dear Roza,” Ida said, caressing her face, “You could at least have let us know that you were leaving.”
“Where is Wolf?” Roza suddenly asked, noticing his absence.
“Wolf died of typhus two weeks ago. His health was rapidly deteriorating and within two days of entering the hospital he passed away. Without medication his chances of recovery were nil,” Ida replied.
Roza burst into tears and said, “What will happen to us with all these wars, with all the hatred raging out there from the Germans and the Russians. We Jews are always in the middle.”
“Now is not the time to mourn. We can cry for Papa when it is all over and the Germans have left our country,” Lilly said.
“If you want, you can stay here with us. You can sleep with me in my bed,” Ida offered her sister.
“We’ll see, perhaps in a few days. Right now I am going home, “Roza answered.
Roza said goodbye to everyone and went home.
In early February 1940, the Germans began to build a wall around an area of Lodz and populate it with Jews. Thus the Lodz ghetto was established.
Herman found out about the plan from his Christian patients who warned him about what would happen. He knew that once he went into the ghetto, there was no getting out. He did not wait until the last minute but took Berta and his two children and paid a Polish driver with a small truck to smuggle them out of Lodz and transport them to Wloszczowa. He figured that in a small town things would be easier than in a large city like Lodz. The trip took four hours instead of two, as the driver went a roundabout way in order to bypass roadblocks. At times they had to get off the road and wait until a convoy of military vehicles passed.
When they got close to Wloszczowa, the driver refused to enter the city and dropped them off about two kilometers away. It was already evening and the city lights were visible.
The Germans had placed a nine o’clock curfew on the town. It was dangerous to be caught in the street after that time. Herman knew that he had to reach Ida’s house before the curfew went into effect.
They were forced to carry their heavy suitcases into town. Although his wife Berta and his daughter Irka helped with carrying, Herman would alternate the carrying of the heaviest suitcase, with his son Mietek, every few meters. As the curfew was getting closer and closer, they decided to leave the suitcase on the side of the road and cover it with twigs and a pile of dry leaves. They marked the place by inserting a large branch into the ground, and began to walk quickly toward the town. When they reached the main road, they ran into a military checkpoint, where they identified themselves as residents of Lodz who had come to visit their relatives in the town.
“Do you know that there is a war on?” the commander asked in German.
“Sure we know, but we are concerned for the welfare of our family,” Herman answered in perfect German.
“How do you know such good German?” the commander asked.
“From home. We spoke German and Polish at home,” Hermann answered.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes,” Herman answered, as he took off his jacket to show the white arm band he was wearing.
The commander was a bit surprised since the name Herman Mirabel was not a very Jewish sounding name. Moreover, the fancy clothes and Italian Borsalino hat that Herman wore and the fancy glasses that he had on stood in complete contrast to what he expected to see Jews wearing.
“You’d better hurry. The curfew goes into effect very soon,” the commander said as he handed them back their documents.
When they finally arrived at Ida’s apartment, they knocked lightly on the door. When Lilly opened the door, she nearly fainted from shock. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Herman approached her, hugged her and then the rest of the family hugged her.
After they had settled in and Ida told them about the death of Wolf, the great joy turned to great sadness. Hermann paced the length and width of the room muttering, “Another catastrophe that did not have to happen.”
Herman had taken along with him cash, jewelry and dental gold, thereby guaranteeing the economic stability of the household.
Herman now had to figure out a way of retrieving the heavy suitcases that he had hidden. He had an idea. Lilly borrowed a bike from her friend Eva, attached a basket to her bike and Eva’s and, together with her cousin Mietek made several trips to the hidden suitcases and eventually brought its contents home. When the suitcases were empty, they threw them deep into the woods.
In early February 1940, the Germans hung signs that warned of an “area infected with a contagious disease.” The signs surrounded the area in the west of Warsaw, where the majority of the residents were Jewish. Immediately after the signs were hung, the Christian residents began to move out.
In early March, the Germans gave instruction to the management of the Judenrat to build a high wall of at least three meters around the entire district. The Germans mandated a date of completion of three weeks hence. They had to work day and night to finish the task and, to make matters worse, the curfew was moved to seven o’clock. The area eventually became known as the Warsaw ghetto.
Those Jews who lived outside the ghetto walls were forced to abandon their homes and property and move inside the ghetto. They had to endure insults from their Christian neighbors who saw them as they were leaving the apartments they owned. “We are finally getting rid of you, lousy scum. Don’t ever dare to come back here again.” In most cases the neighbors stood outside with expressions of schadenfreude, malicious joy, on their faces. As soon as the Jews left, their apartments were broken into and emptied of their contents.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Germans announced the official establishment of the Warsaw ghetto, which was to be immediately populated by the Jews of Warsaw. Eventually the date of occupancy was extended to November. Christians and Jews exchanged apartments between themselves. There were Christians who were able to purchase luxury apartments from Jews who were forced to leave and flee to Russia. There were apartments that were just simply abandoned by Jews who fled in the dark of night and which the Christians took over.
Since Moses’ house was within the walls of the ghetto, it was not necessary for him to move.
Moses had planned to escape from Poland to Turkey via Romania. He paid a Christian truck driver fifteen thousand zloty in cash to transport him and his family to Chernivtsi and from there to Kishinev and finally through Romania to the Black Sea. He promised to pay him the same amount again upon their arrival at their final destination.
On the appointed day the driver arrived with his truck at Moses’ house. Moses ran up and down several times loading the truck with his suitcases with their clothing, as well as the suitcase containing Count Sosnowski’s jewelry that he was holding as collateral. He had on his possession some cash, but not much. All his money was deposited in various banks in either cash or in shares. Since the banks were closed, he had no access to his money.
Finally everything was loaded onto the truck. Moses sat alongside the driver, while Berta and Jerzy sat in the back.
The truck started moving; they were finally on their way. They drove through the center of the city toward the highway leading south-east. The skilled driver passed several checkpoints by traveling on side streets. He knew that by doing this he was endangering his life, but the huge sum of money he was going to receive at the end of the trip was constantly flashing in his mind.
Moses, who was afraid that the driver, who knew he was a rich man, might attack him, took along his loaded gun which he kept in his coat pocket. He hand was tucked in his pocket as a warning sign to the driver.
The trip out of the city went smoothly as the truck made its way onto the highway leading to Lublin. The traffic, in both directions, was mostly military vehicles. The driver followed the convoy of vehicles; any thought of overtaking or outmaneuvering them was out of the question. Moses tried to break the silence in order to relieve the tension that reigned between him and the driver.
“Are you from Warsaw,” Moses asked.
“No, from Prague,” he answered.
Their conversation was interrupted by a military vehicle that pulled up alongside them and signaled to them to pull over. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the truck as the military vehicle did the same. Two German soldiers came out of the car and approached the truck, ordering the driver to get out. Moses remained seated, tense and nervous, as he took his gun out of his pocket and hid it under the seat.
"Raus" Out, one of the soldiers shouted at Moses.
Moses got out of the truck and, approached the soldier. “Papers” shouted the soldier.
Moses took out a Russian passport from his pocket and handed it to the soldier.“Oh, you are Russian,” he said. Moses nodded his head in agreement and tried to smile. The soldier gave him back his passport.
The soldier looked into the back of the truck, but saw nothing, as Cesia and Jerzy were lying covered with a large thick canvas.
The soldiers instructed them to return to the truck and continue on their way. Moses’ heart was beating wildly.
As they began to drive, the driver said, “We were fortunate that they were just soldiers and not Gestapo. Had they been Gestapo, we would not have gotten out of the ordeal alive.”
Moses reached under his seat, retrieved his gun and put it back into his pocket. “Do you not trust me?” the driver asked.
“I do not trust anybody” Moses answered.
“You are right. In crazy days like these, you can’t trust anybody. However, you can calm down, I will not betray you,” said the driver.
When they arrived in Lublin, the driver turned and began traveling in an easterly direction.
“The border is closer this way. If we continue in a southerly direction to the border, we may run into problems. Not all soldiers are as easy going as the last ones,” the driver said. Having no choice, Moses agreed.
When they got closer to the countryside, the road became impassable as the ground was muddy and partially frozen. Driving was extremely difficult.
“I cannot continue driving. I will have to find a place to drop you off and you will have to continue on your own. The border is just a few kilometers from here,” the driver told Moses.
It was bone-chillingly cold outside. Although they saw a number of houses in the area, they were actually farmhouses whose inhabitants were hostile towards Jews. Moses realized that he was in a dangerous area.
Moses paid the driver the second installment of his payment. As he turned around to get back into his truck Moses stood in front of the truck and did not let him move.
“What happened?” the driver asked.
You must take us back with you. Either we will freeze to death or the villagers will kill us,” Moses answered.
“You will have to pay me additional money for the extra risk,” the driver said.
“Okay,” Moses responded. “When we get back, I will pay you another five thousand zlotys.”
“No, ten thousand,” the driver protested.
They finally settled on seven thousand zloty and everyone climbed into the truck. Moses did not utter a word the entire trip. He knew that the return trip was a trip to death, just that he had received a slight extension.
When they arrived in Warsaw, there was a great commotion throughout the city. Streets were closed and traffic was completely paralyzed. Thousands of armed soldiers were on the streets and shiny black cars with swastika flags beside the headlights were driving around at high speed.
“Those are the SS,” the driver said.
Moses, who was afraid of being arrested, asked the driver to find an alternate route, avoiding the main roads. Most of the time they were stuck in one place and when they were finally able to slowly proceed, the soldiers ordered them to immediately leave the area.
They eventually made their way to a crowded residential neighborhood where all the houses had been destroyed. The streets were nearly impassable and many times Moses had to get out of the truck and move large stones that were blocking the road. At one point, the driver yelled out of the window to someone on a bicycle, “What is the commotion all about?” The man answered, “Hitler is coming and there will be a victory parade tomorrow.”
When the truck arrived at their home, they were all beyond exhaustion. As soon as the driver left, they went to bed, covered themselves with blankets and fell asleep.
Moses’ residence on Ogrodowa Street was within the ghetto walls and bordered Biala Street which led to Mirowski Square where the old church stood. It was the last street in the ghetto and one wall of the ghetto was built up against his building. Since his apartment was on the second floor and the wall did not reach the height of one of his windows he was ordered to seal the window. The seal that he put on could easily be removed to allow him to lower a rope down to the Aryan side. He devised a plan of escape, but had to wait for the opportune moment to implement it. He knew that the longer he waited the more difficult it would be to carry out the plan.
The situation in Wloszczowa has not improved; on the contrary, things began to deteriorate. The Germans began treating the Jews with greater brutality and maliciousness and began rounding up people from all over town and re-settling them in the area they called the “ghetto.” In February five hundred Jews from Wloclawek were brought and re-settled in the ghetto. A soup kitchen was opened that provided one hot meal a day to the most destitute refugees, while those Jews who lived in town were able to remain in their homes. Meanwhile houses and huts were erected in the ghetto, to absorb hundreds of refugees who arrived every day from areas all over Poland.
Ida had recovered somewhat since her sister Berta, husband Herman and their children came to live with her. Grandma Pauline, who had just turned seventy-seven years old, never recovered from the heartbreak over the death of her son. She had lost weight, hardly ate anything and lay dozing most of the day on her chair with Lilly’s brown dachshund asleep on her knees, covered with a flowery wool blanket.
Herman, who was fluent in German, did all the shopping and did not hesitate to go out to the market and even chat with the German soldiers. Many already knew him and even asked his advice on health issues when they learned that he was a doctor. He would come home and jokingly say,” I did not volunteer and tell them that I was a dentist, and they did not ask to see my diploma.”
Roza came to visit nearly every day, and spent many hours cooking and cleaning. Their good neighbor, Zosia, would occasionally bring eggs or half a chicken that she got from her friends in the village.
Eva also would occasionally come to cheer up Lilly, who had lost all contact with her family in Warsaw, and her two brothers from whom she had not heard a thing.
Letters would still arrive, albeit not regularly. Lilly sent letters to all the addresses she knew, to her uncles in Warsaw, to David in the hospital in Brest, to Dr. Adam Wolowelski and to Izabella Grinevskaya in Istanbul.