Dr. Michael Szenberg (Part II)

What was life like in the ghetto?

The ghetto was formed on the outskirts of Sosnowiec in the area of Srodula. Srodula was very primitive; there was no running water in this ghetto. I was the water carrier for the German police. In return, I received an extra piece of bread.

We figured out the German mind: Whenever the light at the police headquarters was lit through the night, it was a sign that they were preparing an Aktion for the next day. The house next to the police station had a guard and they would pass this information on to the next house… this is how word spread quickly and we knew to expect an Aktion. We developed all kinds of plans to hide. I recall one instance when we were hiding for a few days in the basement of a grocery store which was controlled by the Germans. There were too many people and not enough air. Suddenly a distant cousin of mine who was in hiding with us decided that he could no longer take it and chose to go out of hiding with his whole family. Those who had no patience lost the battle.

A woman sitting next to me had a small baby with her. While the Germans were pacing up and down the streets in search of Jewish hiding places, the baby began to cry. Out of desperation the woman put her hand over the baby’s mouth. When the Germans left, the mother removed her hand from the baby’s mouth, but it was too late. The baby had suffocated and died. The cries of the mother continue to resonate in my mind; whenever I remind myself of it, which is almost daily, I start to cry uncontrollably.

Since there were no schools, I spent some time learning with my father but my mind was not actively concentrating. By the time we decided to leave, my grandfather had already died in the ghetto. In early 1943 the ghetto was liquidated and a small concentration camp named Braun was established. We managed to run, but when we tried to get my grandmother out of the camp, it was too late.

You mentioned that your mother gave birth to you twice. Can you explain what you meant?

After my sister was born, my mother was told that she would not be able to have any more children. I was considered a miracle baby. That was the first birth.

The second birth was surviving Auschwitz. With her wisdom and emunah my mother was able to keep me alive. Mengele sent all the children to the left. “Left” meant to the crematorium. At that point many parents either abandoned their children or the children were given sleeping pills. When the children awoke the parents were gone; they had been taken to Auschwitz.

When the ghetto that my family was staying in was liquidated, the plan of the Germans was to take us to the Braun concentration camp near the railroad tracks. My father’s reaction was, “We will go together with all the Rabbanim who are being taken to Auschwitz,” but my mother would not hear of this. She heard about a German officer who saved about 150 Jews from the ghetto. The German officer figured out a way to save one Jew every day. He was a gentle soul. Each day he was tasked with taking 10 people to clean the neighboring towns. Instead of taking 10 people he managed to take 11. Upon returning, he would bring back only 10, so that when the guards counted, he had the correct number.

Being that I was a child and all the children had already been killed, my mother kept me hidden in the ghetto between two doors. I did not move for fear of being spotted. At night my mother took me out and gave me food. On the last day before the ghetto was liquidated, the German officer took me out in a sack as if I were garbage. He never took any payment for this.

To be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.