Dr. Michael Szenberg (Part IV)

Can you tell us about liberation?

The Mirowskis had newspapers and they informed us that the bombing had stopped and the war had come to an end. We were liberated on January 5, 1945, by the Russians. Once the war was over, the Poles continued killing Jews. In our town (Sosnowiec) there were a handful of individual Jews who returned home from the concentration camp. My father walked back ahead of us, to Sosnowiec. Two days later my mother, my sister and I took the tramway home. We reopened our department store for the general population that was in town. My father wanted to stay in the town in case more Jews arrived home.

Sosnowiec was not completely safe. My father warned us not to leave the apartment. My sister taught me to read and that was a lucky thing, for at least it kept me occupied, although I read the same book over and over again.

One day I saw an advertisement and I went across the street to read it. Suddenly I was surrounded by a group of six Polish officers. Immediately they began questioning me. What are you doing? Are you alone? Where are your parents? I realized at once that if I told them where my parents were they would kill my parents, too; so I directed them to follow me in the opposite direction and they did. I walked one block and a second block without a destination in mind, surrounded by these Poles. After a few blocks I fell to the ground and buried my head in my hands and I just said, “Kill me here.” At this time they said the code word among Jews in Europe: “Amcha.” They were actually Jewish officers in Polish military uniform. When I heard that I immediately took them to my parents. Jewish people are rachmanin bnei rachmanim, and they gave us food.

One of the tenants in the apartment was a Volksdeutscher. Volksdeutscher originated from Germany and therefore, during the war, the Germans gave them special privileges. They were given apartments, special food coupons, etc. Now the Poles wanted them expelled because they were considered Germans. My father convinced the Poles not to kill them. Following that incident, the Red Cross arrived to liquidate the furniture in our apartment. These Jewish Polish officers came to our rescue.

After the war I was the only Jewish child and I got beaten up in school by the gentile children; but my mother insisted that I continue going to school. She said in the beginning it will be hard to stand up for myself, but with time it will get easier and easier. This lesson was one of many lessons that my mother taught me and I have carried it with me through life: “Never give up.”

In 1950 the Joint organized our travel to Israel. We arrived to Israel without any money or belongings. The first thing my father bought was a Shas. Our family sefer Torah was hidden throughout the war; my family uncovered it after the war and my father paid a large sum of money in order to have it smuggled into Israel. Other than that, we arrived with the shirts on our backs.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

The main lesson I have tried to teach over and over again is, “If you push you will persevere.” I have found for myself that rejection energizes me; continue working and you will win. If you don’t know how to proceed — just ask!


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.`