Mrs. Henchie Stark (Part I)

As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman

 

Where you were born?

I was born in Satmar, Hungary. It was a chassidic town where the Satmar Rebbe lived. I was 18 years old when the Nazis came.

Tell us a bit about your family.

My maiden name is Weiss. I was the third child in a family of 10 siblings. Only two of us survived the war.

My father was a Belzer chassid. His family was from Chust. My mother was from Satmar. My grandparents and my aunt — my mother’s sister — also lived there.

My father had a tallis factory with 200 workers. We spent our summers in the country. We weren’t rich, but we lived nicely. We had Jewish maids who took care of the house. They cooked and bathed the children, the youngest of whom was three years old at the start of the war.

My mother had a beautiful voice. On Friday nights, she would sing Yiddish songs with us. The maids would join in too.

Where did you study before the war?

We attended a Jewish public school. The teacher was shomer Shabbos but not as frum as we were. We only davened a bit and learned some Jewish history. My brothers went to a chassidic Talmud Torah.

My parents also gave us private lessons in German. My mother felt it was important to know another language. Later on, it stood me in good stead.

How did life change after the Nazis invaded?

The tzaaros began right before Pesach, when the Nazis arrived. My family had already prepared a bunker. Motzoei Yom Tov, we went into it and stayed there for four weeks. We had everything we needed.

When we constructed the bunker, we built a storage place on top. We figured that when the Germans searched for us, they would remove the bricks that seemed loose. There, we put all our silver and jewelry, in the hope that, when they opened up the storage compartment and found the silver, they would assume they had found everything and leave, and not continue looking.

There was a woman next door who had an adjoining bunker. We were separated by a thin wall of removable bricks. The woman had no family. She decided to leave the bunker to see what was happening. We begged her not to; we knew that if she left she would be caught. They would find out where she had been hiding and then they would find us as well.

She did not listen to our pleas and went out. In no time at all, we were captured. We were told to line up against the wall. The Nazis warned us that if anyone spoke, they would shoot us all.

When were you taken to the ghetto?

When the Germans caught us, they took us to jail, then to the ghetto.

The ghetto consisted of three or four streets. The situation was very bad. Many families crowded together in each house. We slept on the floors and ate whatever we had. Somehow, we managed.

At the time, did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe?

The Belzer Rebbe had a gabbai in Poland. The gabbai fled Poland before being caught and came to Satmar. He stayed at our house. He told us what was happening in Poland and was the one who suggested we build a bunker.

We also saw firsthand what was happening. Trains passed through Satmar on their way to Auschwitz. The Polish Jews on the cattle cars would beg us, “Please, give us some water to drink, something for the children … the babies.” But there wasn’t much we could do; our own lives were in danger, too. So when it was our turn, we knew exactly what was going to happen.

From the ghetto, where were you sent?

Right before Shavuos, we were rounded up onto transports. When they saw what was happening, many people chose to jump from top-floor windows instead of boarding the trains. They said they would rather die instantly than be tortured before being killed.

We weren’t given anything to eat or drink. The Germans warned us not to take anything with us. We left everything behind.

to be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.