Mrs. Perel (“Pola”) Schulkind (Part V)

As told to Zeesy Silberberg

Where did you go after leaving Auschwitz?

With the Russian army fast approaching, the Nazis evacuated the death camp. We were forced to march towards Germany in the infamous Death March. The Nazis shot anyone who couldn’t keep up. More than 15,000 Jews died on the march.

We ended up in Neustat-Gleve, near Frankfurt-on-Maine in Germany. I was burning with fever, so the woman in charge of my room, a kind Jewish woman named Dr. Monsey, told me to go to the nearby infirmary, because if I was registered at the infirmary, I would be exempt from work.

I slowly and cautiously made my way over. It took me two hours to walk the short distance; firstly, because my feet were swollen and painful, and secondly, because I did not want the Germans to see any sudden movement and shoot me, as they often did with no provocation.

I arrived at the infirmary and saw a scene that I can never forget.

I saw sick women lying on beds without blankets, completely undressed, totally dehumanized.

I was weak with fever, my feet hurt terribly and I was afraid of being shot. Still, I did not want to lose my dignity, so I decided to go back and get my nightgown which I had “bought” in Auschwitz in exchange for some bread. I had worn this nightgown during the Death March.

Returning to the bunk took me even longer, because my feet hurt more and I was more exhausted.

When I arrived at the bunk to get my nightgown, Dr. Monsey told me, “Don’t return to the hospital. It no longer exists.”

The Nazis had just emptied the hospital of all its patients by killing them.

At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of the German High Command at Rheims, effective May 9. The Nazis were defeated. We knew the war was almost over; we heard cannons and there was a strange mixture of dread, panic and excitement in the air. We were kept in our bunks on May 9 and we had no idea what the Nazis would do in their last few hours of power.

A few girls were afraid of being burned alive in the locked bunks and climbed out the windows. As the Nazis were running away from the American liberators, they passed the bunks where we waited for liberation and shot the girls who had jumped out.

When we were finally free, I went with Edja to her big house in Cracow. Edja remembered that her parents, now dead, had stashed jewelry in the wall of the dining room. When we got to her house a Polish maid answered the door and she understood that this had been Edja’s house.

Edja said, “I don’t want the house; I just need to see the dining room.”

The maid allowed us into the dining room. We uncovered the hiding place in the wall and found a pin, a watch and other valuables. We sold them and bought food and clothes. In this way, we came full circle — in the camps, I was able to share the little I had to keep Edja alive, and after the war, Edja helped me.

It was 1945, the war was supposed to be over, but there was a pogrom one Shabbos in Cracow and two Yidden were killed. I knew it was time to get out of Poland.

I first went to see what had become of my childhood home. Everything in the house had remained in its place, exactly as we had left it. A Polish family lived there, not too happy to see me. Other than the fact that my family had been murdered, nothing was changed; it was my home with every single piece of furniture, every dish and spoon, intact. The people were dead but the dishes were unbroken. I fainted on the floor.

I was revived and given something to drink. I stood up from the floor, left, and have never returned.

There was a long list posted in the Jewish Committee (central office) of all the Jews who had returned to Cracow.

The only names I recognized on the list were my uncle by marriage, Yaakov Kopel Schulkind, and my cousin Itche Schachter. (Years earlier, as a prank, I had snuck up behind him and cut off one of Itche’s lange peyos. Then, he was furious with me. Now, he was happy to see me! All was forgiven.)

I quickly located my uncle and cousin. Itche told me that my brother Shaul had been taken to the crematorium. I had hoped things would turn out differently because he was tall and blonde…

My mother was taken to the crematorium at the age of 46 together with my baby sister Leah. May Hashem avenge their blood. I knew already that Faigel had been taken into the forest and shot. My uncle and cousin were all the family I had left. (Much later, I also found Heshek Goldstoff, who had nursed me when I had typhus, and a few more cousins.)

We traveled together from Cracow to Prague, Czechoslovakia. There I looked for Dr. Monsey from Neustat-Gleve. She had told me to look her up if I was ever in Prague. I found three Dr. Monseys listed and the first one I called was the correct one. From there we went to a displaced persons camp in Ferenvald, Germany.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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