Chapter 32: Is the End Near?
The lack of trust between the Polish Catholic community and the Jews deepened. As time passed and the Catholics witnessed the results of the mass deportations of Jews, and gained huge profits from smuggling operations and the looting of homes, assets and businesses of displaced Jews, their appetite for even more plunder increased, along with their bestial hatred for Jews.
“To think that we Jews were for centuries living among people who were literally wolves waiting to tear us to pieces,” Miceslaw Pokorny wrote many years after the war.
Moses had hoped that not all Poles were like those who exploited the misery of the Jews; he believed that there were also good Poles. However, the fear of being handed over to the Gestapo by a Pole was too much for him to bear. He realized that he had no choice; it was time to make a move.
He was notified that his forged documents were ready and that the forger wanted to meet him at the same small restaurant where they had previously met. The forger brought the documents, three identification cards bearing classic Polish Christian names, and presented them to Moses.
Satisfied with the documents, Moses gave him one of the pieces of jewelry that Count Sosnowski had given him as a guarantee. It was a heavy gold necklace with a pear-shaped pendant with a precious gemstone set in the center. It was impossible to evaluate its sentimental value in terms of money, but on the open market an appraiser would value it at no less than twenty thousand zlotys.
The Pole took the piece into his hand and asked, “What is its true value?”
“About twenty thousand zlotys, perhaps more,” Moses replied.
“I hope you are not telling me a lie. I know where you live and I will come after you if I find out it is not worth what you tell me,” the forger told him.
“I am telling you the truth. I even have a written certified appraisal at home,” Moses said.
While they were talking, they heard people shouting and running in all directions and the sound of shots being fired. An SS commando unit had entered the ghetto in order to round up men for forced labor. Whoever did not listen to the commands and tried to escape was shot on the spot.
When they reached the vicinity of the restaurant where Moses and the Pole were sitting, two soldiers came in, “You”, they shouted and pointed to Moses, “Come with us.”
Moses walked out with his hands raised above his head, when one of the soldiers came up to him and asked, “Who are you?”
Moses, who had not had time to familiarize himself with his new name, date of birth and other family members, blurted out, “Moses Wolowelski.”
“Show me you identification card,” he shouted at him.
Moses began emptying his pockets, when he noticed the Polish forger trying to distance himself and get away. Suddenly the second soldier screamed, “Stop.” The Pole continued running into the ghetto and the soldier aimed his submachine gun and shot him in a hail of bullets.
The two soldiers grabbed Moses, put him into their car and took him to the Gestapo headquarters at 25 Szucha Street for questioning.
Cesia and Jerzy waited for their father, but he did not return. Cesia knew that he had gone to meet the Polish forger in the little restaurant across the street from where they lived. She went across the street to find out what had happened. After she had talked to the owner of the restaurant and learned what had happened, she went home crying and exhausted. She knew that she would never see her husband again.
In October 1941, posters were hung around the ghetto announcing that all the residents of the ghetto living on Leszno Street and south, had to move north, because the ghetto was being downsized. The new area of the ghetto would begin at Nowolipki Street.
Cesia had to leave her apartment and move to the terribly crowded part of the ghetto. She and Jerzy packed some clothes and other personal items. She hid in her clothes as much jewelry and cash as she possibly could, while the rest, that she could not take, she hid inside the doors. She dismantled and removed the locks and in the hollow part of the door dumped her gemstones, diamonds and various other items of jewelry.
When they left the house, Cesia did not even bother to lock the door. She was too distraught to look at all the expensive heirlooms she was leaving behind; the expensive oil paintings worth a fortune, the porcelain vessels imported from the Far East, the soft leather seats made by the finest upholsterer in Warsaw or the silver picture frames with the family pictures in them that sat on the fireplace in the center of the apartment. Cesia was now fighting for her life and the life of her son and was prepared for all eventualities.
As they stepped outside, a young man passed in front of her. She asked him to help her carry her two heavy suitcases. She paid him in advance for his service, but the poor boy could hardly walk. Luckily a man riding in a wagon passed and offered to take her luggage in the car.
When she reached the offices of the Judenrat, Cesia asked to meet with someone who could help her in finding a place to live. She had to wait for hours in line in a crowded, stuffy waiting room. Finally it was her turn. The man in charge understood from her words that it would be “worth his while” if he found her a nice apartment.
He took her to a large building where a number of apartments were reserved for the privileged. Cesia walked into the apartment and looked around. It was clean and tidy, but very small; one bedroom with a bathroom next to it, a small table and a gas stove. Not having much of a choice, she agreed to take it. She then pressed five hundred zloty into the man’s hand.
Jerzy sat down on the bed meant for both of them to sleep on. Cesia took a clean sheet and a white duvet out of one of the suitcases. “At least now we will feel at home,” she said. At the mention of the word “home,” she burst into tears. How she missed Moses now.“Who knows what happened to him, if he is alive or dead.” Many thoughts went through her mind as she fell asleep in her clothes. Jerzy covered her and sat next to her crying softly.
Refugees began arriving from all over Germany and from as far away as Czechoslovakia. They came penniless and all they received was a ration of 180 grams of bread per day. Four hundred people lived in one building with no running water, no toilets or heating. They had to sleep on boards that were placed on the freezing floor. They were swollen from hunger and dysentery, and every day many of them died, especially the elderly and children.
Cesia went out to get some food. She had to struggle to clear a path between the crowds of hungry people walking aimlessly up and down the street just to be mobile and to be among people.
Suddenly, before her eyes a scene was unfolding. There stood a young boy in front of an overturned crate with rotting apples heaped on top. An SS soldier came toward him, kicked the crate and trampled the apples. The boy burst into tears, as the soldier slapped him in the face.
Just then a black car approached and an SS officer got out and approached the soldier to find out what had happened. After hearing the incident, the officer took out a ten zloty note from his pocket and handed it to the boy. Just as the boy was about to take it, the officer dropped the note on the ground. As the boy bent down to pick it up, the officer mumbled, “Enjoy, because your troubles will shortly be coming to an end.” The boy smiled to the officer, not understanding what the officer was referring to.
Cesia bought some food. She did not want to buy too much, lest it becomes known that she had money and would become the target of thieves. She knew that the on the planet on which she now lived, there were no rules and no code of ethics, and only a survival instinct and ‘dog eat dog’.
Every night she would hear the Gestapo conducting raids on several houses and forcing the occupants out into the street to take them to the Umschlagplatz. From there they were herded onto freight trains in terribly crowded conditions and taken to one of the many labor or extermination camps, never to return.
Cesia went to the offices of the Red Cross, and dropped off a letter addressed to her sister Ida and her husband Wolf in Wloszczowa.
A terrible disaster has befallen us. Moses was taken in for questioning and did not return home. We were driven from our home which was subsequently plundered. Jerzy and I are presently living in the sealed ghetto in very cramped quarters. Any day now we will be sent from here.
Please do not forget us, my dears. We had it much too good; perhaps too much extravagance; we are now being punished. My only consolation is that at least Adam is alive. If anything is to happen to us, do not seek revenge. It seems that it is our fate; we were born to be hated and as such we die. Nobody will cry at our graves. At this time we must raise our heads to heaven and seek God, who does not exist and therefore will not help.