Mr. George Topas – Part III

After the chagim in 1939, your family was reunited in Warsaw, where your home became part of the ghetto. What happened to your family there?

Since I had gone to an agricultural school, when the Judenrat decided to grow vegetables on patches of land in the ghetto, I became an instructor. I taught the children how to plant vegetables.

In the summer of 1941, the Germans asked the organization that had hired me for men to help with the harvest. Naturally, my parents consented that I should go. It was a blessing from Shamayim. I was now in a place where there was abundant food. On one occasion, I even was able to send a package to my parents in the ghetto.

I contacted my father and told him to send my brother Shimon. Shimon did not look Jewish and he could get by unnoticed on a train. I found a farmer who was willing to take him on as a worker. However, after a month, Shimon was so homesick that he returned to the ghetto to be with my parents.

During my time on the farm I made several trips back to Warsaw. Once I received a permit to travel to Warsaw, I kept reusing it. I would walk to Lublin and take the train to Warsaw. One time, my father gave me a pair of women’s shoes to smuggle back with me. I gave them as a gift to the wife of the farmer for whom I was working, hoping it would put me in a good light. The farmer rewarded me with a large amount of sugar that I sold on the black market.

I remained on the farm until February 1942. When I arrived home then, I found out that my grandfather had died of typhus. My father had opened an illegal bakery. He used flour that was smuggled into the ghetto and hired workers from the shoe factory to do the baking, even though they were not skilled in baking at all.

There was a German air force base in a suburb of Warsaw called Bielany, where the German air force had a large warehouse that stored parts for its aircrafts. I was sent to work there. I took my brother Shimon with me. Each night, we returned to the ghetto to sleep. It was quite dangerous because the SS men were out on the streets at night, shooting randomly. When we returned each night after work, we had to dodge bullets. There were raids in the ghetto and people were being killed on the streets.

On July 22, 1942, Tisha B’Av, the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps in Treblinka began. The Germans took Jews from whole districts at a time, on a daily basis, and deportated them. They took two or three thousand people each day.

Then one day, the head officer of the German air force camp announced that we should bring our belongings along with us to work and we would be housed in their barracks for our own protection. I was told that my brother Shimon was too young to come along.

The next morning, my father, while wearing tefillin and still in the middle of davening, sent me off with a brachah to keep strong and to do what I could to survive. I kissed my mother and my two brothers. My youngest brother, Meir, was a very sweet boy. It broke my heart to leave them. I had such strong emunah that nothing would happen to my father, who was such a religious and righteous person.

One day at the camp I put on tefillin little bit later than usual. A German soldier passed by. He noticed the tefillin and yanked them off me, threw them onto the floor and trampled them. He warned me that if he ever caught me wearing tefillin again he would kill me.

On Yom Kippur, the last of the transports to Treblinka left the Warsaw ghetto. There was a small number of people who still remained in the ghetto. I was anxious to find out what had happened to my family, so one day I escaped from the camp and returned to the ghetto. I went to our apartment but all I found were some photographs strewn across the floor. I stayed in the reduced-size ghetto. I found an uncle of mine and my maternal grandmother, along with two of her daughters who had avoided deportation.

Sometime later I heard that the SS were cleaning out the plaza from where the Jews had been shipped to Treblinka. To save my life, I volunteered to join another air force camp. I remained with that group when we were transferred to Majdanek, when we were shipped to the Budzyn labor camp, and then to Plaszow and Flossenburg, and we were still together  when we were sent on the Death March.

 

To be continued.


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.