Dr. Michael Szenberg (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

I was born in the town of ­Sosnowiec, Poland. There were an estimated 60,000 Jews living there.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

I had one sister, four years older than me. My parents were the proprietors of a small department store on Modziejowska Street in Sosnowiec, across the street from our house. We lived with my maternal grandparents in a very large apartment.

My paternal grandparents lived in the twin city of Bedzin; my grandfather was the Rosh Hakehillah. My father was the youngest of 10 children, all living in Bedzin. They were Gerrer Chassidim. My father’s siblings all turned to him for his advice. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, we spent the winter months with my grandparents in the resort area of Zakopane, in southern Poland — bordering the Czech Republic. My paternal grandparents were eventually deported to Auschwitz.

I have very few memories of my childhood, for I really had no childhood. I have one vivid memory of my grandmother: The people in our town were very poor. One day my grandmother came to the cheder building where I was learning, with a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. All the children were staring at it with envy. My grandmother tried to conceal what was in the cup to prevent jealousy, for orange juice was considered a very special treat.

What kind of education did you receive?

We never attended public school. I went to cheder and my sister went to Bais Yaakov. Jews were not given the opportunity to move up in rank or work toward gaining a good Polish education. It was a rare finding that Jews became doctors and lawyers in Poland unless they bribed their way into the universities.

Prior to the war, did you feel anti-Semitism in the town?

I personally was too young. The area we lived in was comprised largely of Jews. Being that we didn’t attend public school, we didn’t interact too much with the Polish people.

With news of the impending war, did your family try to escape?

In 1938, when word began circulating regarding imminent war, my two uncles with their families, my grandparents, my parents, my sister and I moved from Sosnowiec to Kielce, Poland. My two uncles and their families ended up in Uzbekistan; they survived and eventually settled in Eretz Yisrael. My grandparents and my parents made the decision to return from Kielce to Sosnowiec.

When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war, and did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?

My parents as well as most of the people from other towns in Europe knew about Kristallnacht; however, they did not believe it. My parents told me that Ze’ev Jabotinsky came to Sosnowiec and my mother attended the meeting that he initiated. During that meeting he stood up and, with his hands outstretched, he pleaded with the people, “Yidden, antloif! — Please, run!” he begged; but few people believed him, for Jewish people are always optimistic.

With the start of the war in September 1939, all the chadarim and schools were shut down. Once there was no school, my mother hired private tutors for me. I was not too interested. I felt that we would be shipped to Auschwitz in any case, so what was the need for me to be educated?

Can you describe what transpired in town once the Germans made their entrance?

During the first week, the Germans arrived in town, they took two Jews who had committed some small infraction solely for the purpose of survival and hung them in the center of town as a punishment. It was mandatory for everyone to come out and watch; I can never eradicate from my mind the sound of the Shema Yisrael they cried out.

To be continued


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.