Mrs. Obstfeld (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

My name is Anna Obstfeld née Spira. I was born into a well-to-do family, in Cracow, Poland.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

I was the younger of two children; I had one brother, five years older than I. My paternal grandfather was the Lantzunt Rav, and my maternal grandfather was a Rav in Cracow. My father was a diamond dealer and his business was in our house. My mother was a housewife; her primary concern was the upbringing of her two dear children. My mother had an older sister and brother living in Cracow. We lived in an apartment house. We had a maid who would often take me to visit my cousins. During a pogrom in Cracow, our maid’s husband was killed.

What kind of education did you receive?

I was not old enough to attend Sarah Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov. I attended public school, where I had just started the third grade [when war broke out].

Did you feel any anti-Semitism in your town prior to the onset of war?

I was young and I didn’t know much. However, the morning after the war began, when I arrived at school, the teacher ruthlessly informed me and the other seven Jewish children in the class that we could no longer attend school. We were told to leave immediately. I tried to find out what infraction I had done and I was told that because I was Jewish I could not come to school. My mother must have anticipated this, for she looked at me quietly and did not seek to reprimand me when I arrived home midday unexpectedly.

Can you describe what happened when the war broke out?

In 1939, at the start of the war, I was nine years old and my brother was just after his bar mitzvah. When the Germans arrived in town during the blitzkrieg, the wealthier people were sought first. They immediately came looking for my father. My mother suggested that my father escape to another town for the time being until the situation calmed down. We hired a horse and wagon so that my mother, my brother and I could leave town, too, but by then it was too late — we could not go anywhere.

My father ran to Lemberg and remained there for a week. He took along whatever diamonds he had. However, when the Russians occupied Lemberg he was sent to Siberia. We did not hear from him for six long years.

In the meantime, my mother, my brother and I remained at home in Cracow. At this point the Germans began enforcing new laws. Every Jew, young and old, had to wear a yellow star. As we could not go to school, my mother hired a private tutor for us.

Were you taken to a ghetto?

A few days before the people in our town were rounded up to be taken to the ghetto, my mother got sick and passed away. My brother and I were left without parents and we were separated. My brother was sent to live with my uncle — my mother’s brother — and I went to live with my aunt — my mother’s sister. Our families were banished first to another town and then we were all taken to the ghetto. The ghetto was a few blocks long, surrounded by tall barbed wire. In the ghetto, many families were forced to live together in one apartment. Privacy was non-existent and dirt, germs and filth were commonplace. Food in the ghetto was scarce, too. Although I was living with my aunt, in essence I was 10 years old and all alone. I worked in a paper factory and became extremely independent.

For how long did you remain in the ghetto?

We lived under horrible conditions for one year. One Shabbos they prepared to liquidate the ghetto. The ghetto was divided into two: Ghetto A and Ghetto B. Ghetto A consisted of strong people and Ghetto B consisted of the children and the elderly people. Somehow I was sent to Ghetto A. My aunt, who was 40 years old, insisted that she was too old for Ghetto A. She convinced me to go on ahead of her, persuading me that I would be fine. She gave me a pair of shoes with a tiny heel to make me look older.

That Shabbos the ghetto was chaotic. We were all gathered in one area and the children were being pulled from their parents and siblings and separated to another group. I stood there, not knowing what to do. Hashem put an idea into my head and suddenly I was hit with inspiration. We were lined up in rows of four; I got in line with three other short women, standing between them on my tippy toes, wearing a coat with a hood. In this way I passed through the German guard’s scrutiny. Behind me was a cousin of mine who begged me to take her daughter along, but I knew that if there were two children, the Germans would surely notice. Her daughter was killed. I went with Ghetto A, which consisted of a few thousand girls, to the Placzow concentration camp.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.