Can you tell me where you were born?
I was born in Rawa-Ruska, Poland, in 1927. The town had many Belzer Chassidim living there. I recall my mother going to the Belzer Rebbe with a kvittel.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My father was a soldier during World War I. In the early years before World War II my father traveled to the United States to earn a living. He sent my mother money to live on. However, life was difficult in America. He was a very religious man, and found it difficult to keep Shabbos and kashrus in America. In addition, he was not a skilled worker and barely knew the English language. He missed the family and therefore he returned to Poland. Back in Poland my father owned a grocery store. We lived at the edge of the town where there were empty fields. My father enjoyed growing vegetables there.
We were six children. I had three brothers and two sisters and I was the youngest; one brother and one sister were married before the war. My sister lived not far from our house with her husband and three children. My brother lived in Zulkiew.
What can you recall about Yom Tov in your hometown?
Pesach definitely sticks out in my mind the most. My mother cooked and baked everything from scratch. We had a special oven to bake matzos; neighbors came to our house to partake in the matzah–baking. My parents would remove all the furniture from the house to make room for the men and women who were going to help bake matzos. For Pesach my mother would make her own lokshen and homemade borscht, and squeeze grapes for juice. Weeks before Pesach, my father was already preparing. We made matzah farfel and they took the fat from the geese to make schmaltz, which was used for cooking and the grieven we smeared onto the matzah. I’ll say that it was delicious. (In those years, no one concerned themselves with the issue of cholesterol!)
What kind of education did you receive?
There were no Jewish schools for girls. We attended a public (Catholic) school. The priest came twice a week to the school but … they were tolerant of the Jewish children and they did not force us to take part in the Christian prayers or wear a cross. I remember one incident when the priest gave a lecture and then he asked the children in the class to repeat it. I was the only one in the whole class who was able to repeat the lecture. On my report card I got an excellent mark in religion and it also stated that my real religion was “Moses.” Even the Jewish boys attended public school and wore caps instead of yarmulkes. They also learned privately with a rebbi.
Did you feel anti-Semitism in town prior to the onset of the war?
There was always anti-Semitism. The hooligans threw stones at our windows, especially when it was a holiday. As war grew imminent, some of them would increase their hostilities by insulting and attacking Jews. I recall almost an entire family that was killed.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?
We were not well informed. There were those in the surrounding towns who knew and they escaped to Russia. My father may have known a little information but no one could have fathomed that it would be so bad. We imagined that the information we were hearing was probably much of the same treatment that we were already receiving. Nobody expected that our enemies were going to exterminate the Jews and in the manner that they did it.
When did the Germans invade your town?
The Polish leader Pilsudski was good to the Jews. I was in the first grade when he passed away and I clearly remember Jews crying in the streets. Even at home the atmosphere was very sad. It was understood that once Pilsudski was gone there was going to be trouble.
In 1939 the Germans attacked Poland. I remember playing outside when suddenly we saw airplanes flying overhead. Suddenly they mobilized on the ground and that is when my brother Shea was told to report immediately to the Polish army. He really wasn’t prepared for this. He was in the army only a couple of days when he saw in the distance the Germans. My brother Shea took off the Polish uniform and came running home. He figured that there is no use fighting. (My brother served in the Polish army before the war. However, he was not given kosher food so my father pleaded with Polish officials to let him out.)