Dr. Michael Szenberg (Part III)

The German officer gave me over to another woman. Since I looked like a Jewish boy, she covered my face with a large bandage and took me by train to Dombrowa where my sister and mother (who both looked Jewish) were hiding. The German officer took my father, who looked more like a German with his blondish hair and blue eyes, and dressed him up as a Gestapo [officer]. He then took him onto the trains. The train had many cars; there was one set aside for Poles and one for Germans. The officer took my father into the German car; upon their entrance all the Germans stood up out of respect for the “Gestapo” officer. Although my father knew German, he didn’t want to speak for fear that it would give away his identity. This is how my father got to Dombrowa. I do not know the name of the officer, but every book that I publish I dedicate to him. Yes, there were Germans who saved Yiddishe neshamos — they were from the chassidei umos ha’olam.

As an interesting point, the German officer told my father that he didn’t want to know my father’s destination because sometimes he drinks, and under the influence of alcohol he might give out the information.

Can you describe your experience in Dombrowa?

The German officer turned over the Jews he saved to Polish families who agreed to hide Jews. Unfortunately, they did not keep to their word; instead, they poisoned the food they so kindly gave them and when the Jews died they stole their money and diamonds. From the 150 Jews that were taken out by this officer, we were the only survivors. The family we were placed with, by the name of Mirowski, consisted of a man, his mother-in-law and two children — a girl and a boy (although I must say that the children were anti-Semitic). The man was extremely good hearted and looked out for our health and safety. We paid them with dollars, diamonds and gold; they would have preferred that we give them all the money at once but we understood that if we did that they would have no further use for us and undoubtedly they would have poisoned our food too — just like the others. There was constant conflict between the mother-in-law and son-in-law, which was good for us; for when they were busy with their own problems they didn’t have time to make trouble for us; whenever there was peace between them they would conspire against us.

For several months before the war was over we didn’t have any money left. My father promised the Mirowskis that after the war he would take them back to Kielce and dig up his jewelry that was hidden and give it all to them. After the war, my father was able to locate the diamonds and jewelry and he gave it to the Mirowskis.

Can you describe the living conditions at the home of the Mirowskis?

Our place of hiding was in the attic of the house. It was impossible to stand up, for the ceiling was extremely low; we were able to sit, but only hunched over. We spent 18 months in cramped quarters. (After we were liberated, people predicted that I would remain a midget from the lack of nutrition and from sitting in this awkward position for such a long time.) There was a small window at the top with a tiny opening (large enough for doves to fly in and out.) We were given food, which consisted of one round piece of bread; the ends were cut off and we were left with the middle part to split amongst the five of us. (Today I enjoy eating the crust of the bread!)

At one point, Italy joined the Allies. The Germans were out searching for Italians who had escaped. Being that they were doing thorough searches, the Mirowskis were afraid they would come search their house, too. They informed us that if they were to come to our house we would have to leave. But of course we didn’t intend to leave, for we had nowhere to go.

We were situated in an area of coal mines. Mr. Mirowski put us into a sewer hole in the basement, to keep us hidden. We remained there for two or three days while they searched. When they left we were allowed back up to the attic.

In December of 1944 Mr. Mirowski had a party and invited all his friends. During the party he put the ladder used to climb up to the attic at the entrance and invited all his guests (about 40 people) up to see the Jewish “zoo”! We said our goodbyes to each other because it was understood that they would report us to the authorities. What a nes! Not one of them reported anything.

To be continued


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.