As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time and when did you begin feeling the pressures of the war in your town?
Early on, there was an influx of Germans who had a Polish background, coming into Poland. They would tell us how Hitler had confiscated their businesses. Many of them were looking for jobs. They wanted to work for my mother, and we tried to help them. Yet, we never believed that any of this would affect us.
Then it happened. In 1939, at the start of the war, we were forced to wear a white band with a blue Jewish star, which we had to purchase from the Germans. Jewish stores had to be marked with a Jewish star. Propaganda was posted all over the streets of Poland against the Jew. We couldn’t get supplies anymore and we had to buy and sell on the black market for prices way above the standard price. We had one neighbor who helped us obtain the staples that we needed.
The slaughterhouse was still in operation. The shochet would go in the middle of the night and shecht chickens in secrecy. For a little money the gentile in charge was willing to keep it quiet. When this, too, was discovered, the shochet found other private places to work.
After the war, I asked a gentile neighbor of ours who we were very friendly with, why she didn’t take my two sisters in and hide them? She stated, matter of factly, that she was scared to be discovered. Yet, when we were taken away to the ghetto, she would smuggle food and other necessities through the ghetto walls for us. When the war was over and I was already living in America, she wrote me a letter, telling me how poor they were and requesting help of any kind. I didn’t forget her acts of good deeds, and occasionally I would send her money.
Were you able to get any news?
There was a Jewish paper and a Polish paper. Once the Germans invaded, they forbade the Jewish paper from being printed. Officially radios were confiscated but we didn’t give ours in. It was hidden. Each night my parents took it out and listened to the news.
On September 1, 1939, our neighbor came running in to us, requesting that we allow her to move into our house with her children. Being that she lived in the center of town, she was afraid that she would be attacked first.
In the morning when we woke up, the streets were flooded with Germans on motorcycles. After parking themselves in town for a week the war officially started. On Rosh Hashanah, we were afraid to go to shul. Some people left all their belongings — their houses, their businesses and all, and escaped across the Russian border. My parents did not want to run to Russia. They stayed behind and were murdered together with the rest of the people.
Was there anti-Semitism in your town prior to the onset of war?
Although the majority of the population was Jewish, we lived among gentiles. They knew my grandparents and great-grandparents, so they tolerated us and gave us no trouble. They referred to us by our Jewish names. On the outside they were very pleasant, but I am sure that in their hearts there was plenty of hatred.
When the Germans invaded, their true colors shone through. The gentiles could have easily hidden many Jews, but they didn’t.
There was one German family by the name of Shrum. They were road builders. Mr. Shrum was extremely tough; he would beat his workers until they were bloody. However, he lived in one part of a house where a Jewish widow and her child resided. When the order came to hand over all the Jews, he took the widow, her child, and an uncle and gave them over to a gentile family living across the river. There was one other person that I knew of. He owned a slaughterhouse and his own residence was attached to the slaughterhouse. He hid three people there. After the war, I met one of the people who was in hiding, by the name of Guzik, and he told me about this.
I recall another incident of a Jewish family who was in hiding by a German family. They graciously took them in and then turned them over to a German policeman, who immediately took their lives.
My so-called “friends” at school would call us names, mocking us. While standing on line to get supplies, the Polish people who saw my yellow band would scream “Jude, Jude…”
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.