Raizel Nechama Wolhandler (Part II)

As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman

What happened once the Germans invaded Poland?

When the Germans invaded Poland, we were all taken to a ghetto. They gave out identification papers to all, listing all their personal information. It was with this information that they decided who could remain in Cracow and who would be deported. My family had the privilege of remaining in Cracow, for we ran a factory that the Germans had a use for.

We saw that the Germans were making selections and gathering groups of children together and deporting them. My brother-in-law realized what was happening, and decided that he would smuggle out his daughter Chany. The job he was given involved bringing furniture in and out of the ghetto. He put Chany inside a drawer and thereby managed to take his daughter out of the ghetto.

He succeeded in finding a gentile willing to take Chany in, for payment. Chany, and other Jewish children as well, lived with this gentile for a few years, until Poland was liberated. My sister did not survive the war, but my brother-in-law did. After the war, he paid the gentile family again to return his daughter to him.

Can you describe the scene that took place when the Germans invaded Poland?

We were away in the country on vacation. Polish communists arrived at the end of August and informed us that we would have to vacate immediately, for they needed the area for the soldiers.

The Germans invaded Poland on Friday, September 1, 1939. They marched in, singing in the streets. Everyone ran to their windows and doors to see.

There was a takanah made by the Rabbanim in town that no chasunos could be held in Cracow on Fridays. Cracow had a bridge, and the bridge led to a town called Podgush. Those people from Cracow who wanted to get married on Friday would get married in Podgush. My good friend got married in Podgush on Friday September 1, 1939, but my father did not allow me to go, for it was a great danger.

On September 6, the Germans marched into Cracow — the soldiers with their tall boots, their rifles and army tanks. They came in, in full force; the ground was shaking underneath them. All the neighboring countries laughed at how quickly Poland fell, but it didn’t take long before they themselves were under German control as well.

My brothers, who had served in the army prior to the war, were told that if a war broke out they would have to come serve again, but, luckily, when they went before the doctor for clearance to be accepted into the army, they secretly gave the doctor some money and the doctor said, “Oh they wear glasses, they can’t serve in the army.”

Over Shabbos we had two soldiers staying with us in our house. On Sunday the war broke out. Poland was destroyed very quickly.

The Germans chose a Judenrat in each town. These were the go-betweens for the Germans and the Jews. When the Germans wanted to relay a message to the Jewish population, it was done through the Judenrat.

I got married in September of 1940 to Reb Chaim Shmiel Wolhandler. About a half year later the ghetto was formed. The first of the laws that was enforced was a curfew: Jews were allowed out from 8 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock at night. Then we were all instructed to wear a white band with a star on it, identifying us as Jews. In the ghetto, our quarters were not so small; my parents gave over their living space to the Belzer Rebbe, and they moved in with my brother and his family.

My father had a worker in his business who was an artist. He made us a false pass to be able to go in and out of the ghetto. We were able to get food, but only through rations. Anything more we had to smuggle in on the black market.

My brother-in-law, Moshe Zuckerman, was called upon to become a paid policeman at the start of the war. He approached my father for his opinion; he felt that in this way he would be able to save himself, his wife and his child. My father answered him with a strong no; by saving one person you will be murdering another one. The Germans didn’t care which Jew was killed; instead of taking a policeman’s daughter, they would take another child.

While in the ghetto we were taken to work in Plaszow. There we sewed uniforms for the soldiers. Each day we all went out to work, together.

to be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.