Peska Friedman (Part V)

Did you leave the ghetto?

My brother Baruch, who was now the Munkatcher Rebbe, had already written to my mother several times urging her to leave the ghetto and come to Hungary. When he saw how firmly resolved she was to remain at home, he insisted that she at least send me. He went ahead and made all the necessary arrangements. He contacted a family named Kalb in Nowy Targ on the Polish side of the Slovakian border. My mother knew them and they agreed to receive me.

“Mama,” I told her, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”

She replied, “If Hashem Yisborach left me with so many sefarim, who am I to run away? I am nothing next to the sefarim. Whatever happens to them will happen to me. I have lived a life already — short or long, good or bad; but you still have a life ahead of you, and I can’t let you remain here because of me.”

There was a man from Switzerland named Domb who had once stayed with us. He had a Swiss passport that enabled him to move about freely, both outside and within the ghetto. Mr. Domb was extremely grateful for my mother’s hospitality and wanted to find some way to repay her. When he heard that she was looking for a way to send me out of the ghetto, he declared that he would take me out of the ghetto on his passport, having me pose as his wife. He said he would deliver me to the Kalbs’ house in Nowy Targ with one stipulation: “If anyone asks me something, I won’t know you.

“I will take you on the rail line to Cracow,” he assured me. “If a connecting train to Nowy Targ comes through in reasonable time, I will also go the second leg of the journey and take you personally to the Kalbs, so that I can tell your mother I saw you to the doorstep.” But he remarked again that he would not guarantee my safety if anything went wrong.

I took along two important items, the first being a winter coat with fur lining that I cherished very much because my mother had made it for me out of my father’s old peltz. The other was the double pledge I made to my mother. In addition, Rabbi Friedenson, who gave shiurim to the girls in the ghetto, requested that I take a letter to a family in Nowy Targ.

On the day I left our house, I packed a small overnight bag with a change of clothing, a tube of toothpaste, a siddur and a sefer Tehillim. My mother did not accompany me to the ghetto gate. She knew that if she did, I would not go. She waited at the top of the wide spiral staircase in our building, watching me as I descended the steps. When I got to the bottom, I looked back up for a moment and saw her way above me. She was leaning over the banister, crying bitterly. In that split second before I turned my head away, my mother called down to me. “Kind meins,” she said through her tears, “tzvei zachen vill ich fun dir. Tell me that you will wear a sheitel when you get married and that you will write a book.”

At that time I did not see the keen judgment in my mother’s requests; I did not understand why she chose these two particular items out of the many things she could have asked for. But she was my mother and I gave her my word. “Mama’she,” I called up to her, “I’ll do both … and I hope I’ll see you!”

That’s the last thing I said to her and last glimpse I had of her. By the time we arrived at the station, panic was beginning to settle in. In all my life I had never felt more alone.

What happened upon your arrival in Nowy Targ?

The train ride turned out to be uneventful and we reached the Kalbs’ house in the small town of Nowy Targ without incident. Upon arrival, Mr. Domb turned around and went back to Warsaw.

The Kalbs were a very lovely, elderly couple, but I wasn’t at ease in their house. They had several grown sons who were involved in the smuggling of currency on the black market. I remember helping the Kalbs with their Pesach cleaning, scrubbing out cupboards and scouring floors. I was glad to be able to repay them in some way for their hospitality.

When I delivered Rabbi Friedenson’s letter, I found myself in much more comfortable surroundings. The head of the household had been deported and they had not heard from him since. In spite of their distress, they received me with great warmth and invited me to stay with them for Pesach. I gratefully accepted. Not wanting to offend the Kalbs, I fabricated an excuse. I sent a message to the Kalbs, saying that I had fallen and sprained my ankle; that I was laid up in bed and would stay where I was for Pesach. I will never forget what this family did for me. The girls went out to the neighboring villages and brought back butter and eggs, chickens and a goose. The shochet came to shecht the chickens and we spent several days putting together packages — all of which were sent to the ghetto.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.