As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman
Did you go to school in New Zealand?
Yes, I went with my cousin to public school, where I learned grammar and math. My cousin would help me with my English because I wasn’t so fluent. Everyone would tease him about my looks, which didn’t keep him so happy, but he had no choice. My father taught me how to daven.
When we came home from school we helped out a lot at home, being that my mother was working. We cooked for the boarders who stayed at our house.
When did you realized the magnitude of the war?
Soon after we left the convent, we began realizing what happened. The number of murdered Jews was unfathomable. When we came to New Zealand and my mother began retelling what had taken place, people did not believe us. They refused to believe that people survived eight concentration camps. They were furious with us for making up lies.
What became of Tanta Maria?
We stayed in touch with “Tanta Maria” (the kind non-Jewish woman who helped us hide in a convent), yet we never revealed our true identity to her. We corresponded with her by mail. Although at this point we were using our Jewish names, she always addressed the letters to Pluczenik c/o Wrobloski. In 1952 my parents heard that she had passed away.
At what point did you leave New Zealand?
My sister left first. She was of marriageable age, and at that point there was no one in New Zealand other than my mother’s brother, who was six years older than my sister. By then it was 1953 and the Pluczenik family was already living in Williamsburg. One uncle had already moved to Crown Heights.
Our cousin, Shabsi Frankel, was able to get her papers to come to New York to join the Bais Yaakov Seminary on a student visa. My sister traveled by ship to the Fiji Islands and entered the [U.S.] through Hawaii. Upon arriving, they checked over her papers and found that something was not in order. My parents found out through a telegram about this and were beside themselves. Luckily Shabsi Frankel intervened and was able to straighten everything out, and they only kept her for two days. She finally arrived in the U.S.
In 1953, my grandfather, Shmuel Yosef Pluczenik, suddenly passed away from a heart attack. At that same time my father was in the hospital recovering from a gallbladder operation. My mother asked the doctor if she should tell my father, and he felt that she should. My father was told, and he sat shivah right there in the hospital.
My sister, at the time, was living with my uncle in Crown Heights. My uncle had a business in his basement in which they wove men’s clothing for a factory. Eventually my sister began selling the clothing on her own.
One day my uncle didn’t feel well. He went to lay down and didn’t wake up. He was only 42 years old. My aunt, who was just 36 at the time, was left with two children. My aunt did not take this too well and became mentally unstable. My sister took care of the children until she married in 1957.
At that time, I left New Zealand and arrived in Canada, and then traveled to N.Y. My cousin arranged a job for me as a kindergarten teacher. I moved in with my aunt and continued helping her with her two young children until I met my husband in 1958.
Where was your husband during the war?
My husband, Benjamin Wolf Spiro, was born in Warsaw, Poland. He came from an upper-class family. They too dealt in textiles. As a child of three, his parents moved to Gesh, which was close to Warsaw on the Galician side.
My husband had two older brothers. One brother died before the war. His second brother, Yosef, who was three years older than him, went through all the camps with him. My husband never would have survived without his brother. Whatever food Yosef got, he gave half of it to my husband. Two weeks before the war ended, Yosef died from malnutrition.
My husband was only 17 years old when he was left all by himself. After the war, he was like a skeleton, weighing just 50 pounds. After liberation, he went to a DP camp, where he contracted hepatitis type B and was sent to a hospital.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.