Lili Susser (Cukier) from Lodz "Life in Ghetto and Deportations".
The picture of Lili's mother: Chaja Malka Rubinsztajn, born in Plock in1891. The photograph was taken about the year 1910 -1912. She is with her brother Theodor (Tevie). This is the onl;y picture Lili has of her family. All gone in Auschwitz...
Chapters from the he book "Lili's Story" and is self published. It can be purchased by writing to me: Lili Susser, 2117 Hollywood Dr. Pueblo, 81005 Co, U.S.A., and including the name,address and a check for $19.00 post paid.
Lili Susser (Cukier) - Holocaust Survivor.
LIFE IN GHETTO LODZ
While the first year in the Ghetto was marked by deprivation, it did not feel altogether different from my former life in that I did go to school. The Ghetto administration set up schools that year. Although many negative things have been said about Rumkowski, the self-appointed "president of the Ghetto," he had run an orphanage before the war and did believe in educating children. These schools were set up under his direction.
Having been expelled from my previous school, I had not completed the fifth grade. My mother thought I was too old to start the fifth over again, so she hired a tutor to prepare me for the sixth grade that fall of 1940. I was scared because I had missed most of the fifth grade, but the school secretary persuaded me to give the test for sixth grade a try. After all, if I failed, I had nothing to lose. So I did, and passed the test, completing the sixth grade in the spring of 1941. The following year, I passed another examination and was admitted to high school, or "gymnasium." The school was located in Marysin, on the outskirts of Lodz, but within the barbwired Ghetto.
Here, classes were held in single family houses like those in the suburbs. Considering the circumstances, these were pleasant surroundings because there were orchards and gardens. In addition, we received one meal each day - a bowl of soup. To many of the children, this bowl of soup was perhaps the only meal of the day. Often sick children came to class just for the soup. Our school was conducted in Polish, even though pupils and teachers came from different countries, since the population of the Ghetto was constantly being altered by "shipments" of people in and out. The teachers were Jewish and well qualified, some having taught at universities. There were no elective subjects. We studied Latin, German, Hebrew, Yiddish and Jewish history, among other standard courses. Boys' and girls' classes were held in separate buildings.
In spite of the cruel and unusual circumstances we lived in, our minds and behavior were typical of any 14-year-olds. We did not completely grasp the seriousness of our situation. We ridiculed the food and the way the things were run; we even played games and pulled pranks on our teachers. We loved and respected some teachers, but despised and tormented others. A favorite target of our torment was a young male teacher, named Rafal. He was average looking, but exceptionally tall. One day we wrote a poem on the blackboard that we'd composed in Polish and Latin about his being "long and overcome with love, complimenting the pretty girls. When his father saw this, he pulled his ear and told him to work and study, but not with the girls!"
Our Jewish history teacher was an older man, very strict and, we thought, unreasonable. He was impossible to please. According to him, an "A" could be achieved only by God, as he alone knew everything. A "B" he reserved for teachers, the only ones smart enough to know all the answers. This, then, did not leave much to us, no matter how hard we tried. Such severe grading did not make him very popular with the students. One day he warned us that on the following day an oral test would be given and we would be expected to remember all the dates we'd been studying. We knew this test would be very demanding. One of the more courageous girls stood on the teacher's desk after school and wrote the dates on the ceiling. The next day, a red-haired, freckle-faced girl was called on. Standing before the teacher's desk, she twisted her fingers nervously and looked searchingly at the ceiling for an answer to his question. "Why are you staring at the ceiling as if you could find the answer there?" he scolded. But she amazed him by coming up with the right answer!
The oldest church in Lodz - now in the Ghetto - was St. Mary's Church. Across the street was a large red-brick building which I recall with distaste. This was formerly the rectory , but had been taken over by the Gestapo, the German secret police. It looked large to me at the time, perhaps because of the fear it generated. When I visited Lodz after the war, I was amazed to find it quite small and unimpressive. Perhaps the fear was gone. Under the German occupation, "The Red House," as we called it, was the dread of the community. Even the words were spoken in a whisper. We shuddered to walk past it. People told of hearing the screams of men being tortured as the Gestapo interrogated them for information on the locations of valuables or about neighbors and friends. Often, men were so brutally beaten that they were carried out of the building on stretchers. Sometimes they were whipped and tortured until they died. Occasionally they were taken to the hospital nearly dead and expired there.
Anyone receiving a summons to that awful place wondered whether he or she would come out alive. Imagine my terror when, as a 12-year-old girl, I was summoned to report there one day. This occurred not long after my family moved to an apartment on Lotnicza Street and a fire had broken out in our apartment while no one was at home. Sabotage was always suspected after a fire and since I was the last one to leave the apartment that morning, I was called in for questioning. I was terrified, but my mother thought I would stand a better chance of being treated mildly if I went to the meeting alone. She also feared that if my father accompanied me, he would not be released. I can still remember the SS officer in his black uniform sitting at a desk across from me as he questioned me. He was civil but not exactly pleasant. I shook as I answered his questions. But to my immense relief, I was released once the SS officer determined the fire was an accident.
As it turned out, the apartment fire had been my fault. As I'd left the apartment one day, I took the remaining charcoal briquettes - which looked gray and cold to me - and put them back in their container for later use. Apparently, they were still live and set the apartment on fire.
In addition to all the other Ghetto ills, we had to be wary of informers. Some unscrupulous Jews, thinking they were protecting themselves and their families, gave evidence against their own people to the Germans. They lived well as long as their services were needed, as long as they had information to give, but after their usefulness was over, the Germans disposed of them without any consideration. There was even one German who posed as a Jew. He gave the impression of being one of us, a kind, gentle person. He spoke Yiddish fluently and could easily pass for a Jew. He mingled in the crowds and attended prayer meetings which were held in various apartments, acting the devout Jew. If anyone criticized the Germans, he joined in as heartily as anyone. But in reality he was listening in on conversations trying to learn what people knew of the War, if anyone had a radio or hidden sources of information or valuables and perhaps other information useful to the Germans. He also wanted to uncover what incriminating information he could about friends and neighbors. We soon learned he was an informer and conversations in his presence became guarded.
While life in the Ghetto was very difficult, we tried to make the best of it. In order to forget our misery and get away from reality, the Ghetto community established entertainment with a theater featuring plays and musical programs, concerts, comedy, and drama. Some productions were very good. We laughed at ourselves, our disfigurements, our government leaders, and our predicament. Neither humor nor talent was lacking.
The population of the Ghetto was now shifting constantly as those who were deported or killed were replaced by others from other countries, such as Germany, Luxemburg, Austria, or Czechoslovakia. They arrived with a few precious possessions with which they had to quickly part in order to live. They sold and bartered their valuables, treasures, and mementos for a place to stay or for food.
During the first year or two, we managed to move several times in hopes of improving our living conditions. However, like everything else, unless you knew someone in the administration the situation was hopeless. To accomplish our last move, my mother swallowed her pride and sought the influence of Helena Rumkowski, Chaim Rumkowski's sister-in-law, whom my mother knew since school days. Helena granted our wish and we moved to Franciszkanska Street where we lived until our deportation.
My father worked in the Office of Vital Statistics. His job was to keep the records of those who had died or been killed. We thought his job was important enough to offer my family some immunity from deportation. However, no one in the Ghetto was indispensable or immune from its harsh realities. My father's job was very stressful because of the many deaths he was recording from hunger, disease, shootings, and often suicides. Some just could not cope. My father often came home tired and depressed because of his caseload. He reported as many as 72 deaths in one day. Sometimes the deaths involved people we knew.
Deaths were not always reported. Starving people will go to any lengths, some unimaginable, to calm the nagging pangs and pain of a shrinking stomach. Some hid a dead relative under a bed for days, until the odor gave them away, so they could receive the dead person's rations. Whole families would die within a year or less. Sometimes there were just too many to be buried in a day, so the bodies would stack up. Particularly during winter months, burial was often impossible because the ground was frozen solid and the bodies had to wait for the ground to thaw.
I remember passing a man one day who was carrying a kettle of soup from the main kitchen. He suddenly fell. Two men helped him up, but a little farther on, he just lay down and died. Dying in the street was common. Most people simply ignored the dead and went on about their business. The problem of living was much more urgent, and everyone was preoccupied with their own problems.
Starvation and disease were not the only causes of death. The Germans murdered many Ghetto inmates, often openly and publicly. Hangings in full view of the Ghetto population took place as punishment but also as a warning to scare people into conformity. Walking along the barbwire fence, no matter how innocently, was often dangerous. To the soldiers posted along the fence, the passersby were fair game to be shot, no explanation required. To them it was target practice or entertainment. I dreaded and avoided going near the fence.
In 1942, potato peelings became available as a medical supplement issued by a doctor's prescription only. They were authorized by coupons for 20 pounds to be picked up at the various factory kitchens and redeemed 2 pounds at a time. To get this prescription, a person had to be very ill from hunger, and such distinction befell my father. He was suffering from severe malnutrition; he could barely walk on his swollen legs. He was given this one-time "prescription" for potato peelings to keep him alive. Of course, he shared it with my mother and me. After washing the peelings we added a couple tablespoons of flower and coffee grounds to make "absolutely delicious" cakes. They turned black from the coffee grinds, but this mattered little to us.
The starvation in the Ghetto transformed many people into skin-wrapped skeletons. They moved with effort, putting one foot in front of the other. Their eyes could hardly be seen deep in their sockets. Here, as in the camps, they were given the name "Muzulman" (meaning a walking corpse). They were, by some miracle, stretching the days of their existence on this earth by simply refusing to give up even though they lacked the energy to continue. My father was perhaps one step above that condition.
Essential issues of our survival - cold, hunger and deportations - became the focus of our lives. A typical weekly food ration consisted of a two-kilo loaf of bread, 50 grams of cooking oil or margarine made from coal, a quarter pound of flour, a few ounces of jelly, some dried eggs, and some vegetables like parsnips, beets, or cabbage. Once in awhile, there were some potatoes, usually rotten or frozen. The coffee substitute, called ersatz, was made from some roasted grain. On occasion there was some horse meat (a delicacy) and occasionally a few briquettes for cooking. We boiled the ersatz a number of times to extract all the flavor, after which we blended the grounds with some flour or potato peelings in cakes and pancakes. Sometimes we used the bread to make "bread soup," mixing a slice with boiled water. If we ate up our bread ration too fast, we had to do without, the rest of the week.
Provisions were to be picked up at specific points as they became available. The task fell to my mother and me, since my father could not leave his job. Besides, I doubt he would have had the strength. My mother and I had to make frequent stops because the loads were heavy and the provision points a long distance from our home. The lines were long, and sometimes we waited in the rain, wind, or snow for hours.
In the summer of 1942, the German raids became more frequent; there was no peace. Whenever we spoke with someone, we heard terrifying stories about loved ones being taken away, deported, never to be heard from again.
A raid was usually conducted unexpectedly, normally house to house or by neighborhoods. Typically, the first sign was the appearance of military trucks loaded with soldiers or wagons, and often accompanied by fierce dogs. The neighborhood was cordoned off, and no one was allowed in or out. The soldiers, firemen, and police ran into the yards shouting orders for everyone to leave their apartments, leave their doors open, come out, and line up.
The soldiers executing these detestable tasks gave the impression of being on a mission, or of beasts stalking their prey. They would look us over. "How old are you?" they might ask. There was nothing systematic about their choices. Anyone looking unproductive, too old, too sick, or too young, became their victim and was dragged to the trucks and never heard from again. They even seized newborns and infants and killed them by swinging them against a wall or a post. The brutality was unimaginable.
One of my most terrifying memories concerns a raid that summer on our apartment house. I remember a fireman who lived across the hall came running in shouting, "They are next door!" The word "they" needed no explanation. The fireman told my parents that he was going to hide his family in the attic, and asked if we wanted to join them. The attic was merely an air space about three feet high. My parents decided to take the risk. There were two or three other families with us. After we were all in the confined little space, the men pulled up the ladder. It was the only means of getting into the attic. They put the ladder across the lid of the opening to weigh it down. The fireman left to go help the Germans search the building.
We sat there in the cramped attic space, afraid and unable to stretch out or move. We listened to bloodcurdling screams for a long time. It must have been three or four hours later when we heard the sound of boots coming up the stairs. Of course, the soldiers noticed the attic opening and wanted to investigate. The fireman whose family was with us assured the Germans that the attic was not big enough to hold anyone. Besides, he said, it had been nailed down for years.
One soldier was going to make certain, and raised the butt of his rifle to push up the lid, warning the fireman, "You guarantee it with your head that no one is up there! If I find anyone, I'll shoot them all and you too!" He tried to push up the cover, but it did not budge because there were, by now, four men sitting on it, including my father. Just as the soldiers were leaving, a little girl of about 2 or 3 years began crying that she needed to go potty. Her mother offered her a crust of bread to quiet her, but it was of no use; the child cried louder. We all froze in terror. But it must have been our luck or the stomping of the soldiers' boots that drowned out her cries. We were safe for the moment.
We stayed up in the attic until it got dark and quiet, when we thought it would be safe to come down. Then, we found many of the neighbors were gone - deported - taken away. We also learned that some of the screams were from physical pain, as the Germans used their bayonets to pull people out from their hiding places, injuring and maiming them. They also used whips to drive people on.
That incident left me so drained and terrified that I vowed never to hide again. I decided that I would rather take my chances in a raid than risk being beaten or bayoneted if found hiding during a search.
School didn't reopen in the fall of 1942 because everyone had to work. Only "useful" people, those able to work and withstand the cruel conditions, "earned" the right to live in the Ghetto. Education was not considered essential for us. By then, a lot of the children, the aged, and the ill, had already been taken away, deported, or killed. We worked in order to eat and hopefully survive. The workplaces issued a bowl of soup each day to employees which provided some relief from starvation.
Much of the Ghetto was now converted to factories called "resorts." There were resorts for leather goods, clothes, paper products, lingerie, furniture, hats, shoes, and powder puffs, some created with the greatest imagination, produced for the civilian population of Germany, as well as items for the military like knapsacks and paper bags for the front. Other work consisted of the Ghetto's self-governing jobs: in housing, at the Post Office, and at the printing office, which printed Ghetto currency (which we called "Rumkis") as well as food coupons.
During these years, we were working directly under Jewish supervisors, so conditions were tolerable except for our ever-present hunger and the fear of unexpected raids and deportations. Rumkowski became an overlord to the workers. Perhaps he thought that by working the Ghetto beyond all expectations, he would make us indispensable and assure our survival, but we had the impression he was establishing an empire for his own benefit.
For the first year after the closing of the schools, I worked at a saddlery. The factory had a "youth department" and we young people were given preferential treatment. We worked on "horses" - a kind of work bench that we straddled - to make leather shoulder straps for military knapsacks. A wooden vise resembling a horse's head held the material to be worked on: thus the name "horse."
In August 1942 my mother became ill with typhoid fever and was admitted to the hospital. I went to the hospital every day to visit with her through a window of her second floor room and get her instructions. I was not allowed in because of her infectious disease but she would talk to me through the window. Like everyone else in the hospital, her head was shaven upon admittance to identify her as an infectious patient. By early September, her fever had ceased and she was recovering.
On Sept. 4, Rumkowski made a speech from atop a wooden bridge in the Ghetto, at first urging the people, then demanding, that they give up their children under the age of 10, the elderly, and the sick. He said the Germans demanded that 20,000 Jews be delivered for transport the next day. Claiming he had no choice but to try to save the healthy and the older children, Rumkowski said it was the administration's terrible job to "amputate the body parts in order to save the body. I must take away your children." He also said that many healthy people were being sickened by giving up their rations to the ill. In this heart-wrenching speech, he acknowledged the "terrible situation" but said the leadership had to save as many people as possible, and not think about those who were dying.
The following day, I went to work as usual, but noticed that the kids around me were avoiding me and whispering. Conversations would stop in my presence. I sensed something unusual was happening, but no one had the heart or courage to tell me. Upon my insistence, some kids said, "She ought to know what's going on," and then they told me that the Germans were emptying the hospitals. When I found out, I bolted out the door without asking permission and ran to the hospital to find out for myself what was happening, hoping to get a glimpse of my mother. By this time, the hospital was cordoned off so no one could get near it. A large crowd of people had already gathered, looking for their loved ones. All around me, people were crying and wailing. The hospital was a big building on an estate, converted into a medical unit. An orphanage shared grounds with the hospital, and the children there were the first victims of this raid. Some of the children were too young or too sick to walk, and were thrown from the window into the trucks. We could see nothing of the activity inside the hospital or its high fence, but we could hear shouts and screams coming from the area. The roar of the truck engines pulling away told us they were heavily loaded.
I remember keeping my eyes glued to the second story window where I knew my mother's room was, where I stood in the previous days to visit with her. But on this day, she never appeared. I stared at that window motionless, afraid to blink for fear I would miss a glimpse of her face or a hand signal that I fully expected.
A light rain began to fall during the day, but the crowd never moved. I was shivering but otherwise numb to what was going on around me. I don't remember when my father arrived, but I remember that at some point, he was next to me. I continued to stare at that window, hoping to catch sight of her, fully convinced that if anyone could escape this situation, it would be her. I thought of my mother as someone courageous and daring - even superhuman; someone who could conquer all odds.
I was astonished and disappointed, but also in total disbelief when she did not appear at that window. By late afternoon, the crowd of heartbroken and miserable people began to thin. I went home and cried myself to sleep. Then around 11 p.m., my father woke me from a sound sleep with the words, "Lili, Mother is here!" And sure enough, she was! Incredibly, she had escaped, and now she told us how it had happened.
The Germans, being very systematic, removed all the patients with the assistance of nurses according to room and bed number. The patients able to walk were taken away by bed number, the others on stretchers. When my mother realized what was happening, she eluded them by putting on two nurses' aprons, one tied in front, the other in back, and by hiding herself inside a bathroom stall that was used to store soiled and damaged bedding. She tore open a feather bed she found there and crawled inside, hoping the Germans would not want to get the loose feathers on their immaculate uniforms, and she was right. They passed the torn feather bed, but never looked inside it. My mother could hear the nurses looking for her, some saying, "I saw her going in here," but no one thought of looking for her among the feathers.
From her hiding place, she heard the screams of the people being dragged out of their hiding places with bayonets. She stayed inside the hiding place from around 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Finally, after it had been quiet and dark for some time, she dared to come out and look around. No one was in sight, so she raised a window and looked out. There was only a night watchman, so she called to him for help. He told her to be quiet, close the window, and come downstairs, where he would let her out. You can't imagine the courage it took to cross the dark streets after curfew with a shaven head, barefoot, and clad only in two nurses' aprons. Yet she made her way home, even crossing a bridge guarded by German soldiers.
Obviously her escape was not the only one because the next day the Germans, aided by the Ghetto police, conducted intensive searches for the escapees. But they also took anyone they caught on the street in order to meet the quota. My mother was expecting the searches so she went to my father's sisters who had been resettled to the Ghetto from a nearby town. She asked if they could hide her for a few days, until the "storm" passed, but they were too worried about the Germans' retaliation, and they turned her down. So my mother and I walked the streets or hid in the cemetery for the next four days, coming home only at nights, which were relatively free of raids. We returned to our apartment after a few days, when the word came that the quota had been met
After the raid on the hospitals and orphanage, life in the Ghetto seemed to return again to "normal," or so we thought. After every raid, those lucky enough to escape the deportation liked to fool themselves into believing that it was the last, that this time, the Germans got what they wanted: the quota, the sick, the elderly, the children. The only ones left were the healthiest and the fittest. We told ourselves that we were needed to do the necessary work. Work was to be our salvation.
Deportations, raids, resettlements, and atrocities were all part of the Ghetto routine. Surviving one raid was no guarantee of safety. We hardly had time to recover from the shock and exhaustion of one quota before another would begin.
I remember another raid about this time. I was standing outside the apartment when a fireman went up to a woman next to me who was holding a baby in her arms and said to her, "Give me your baby so I can save it." Not understanding his intention, she handed over the baby and another child, whose hand she was holding. Behind her, people pointed out her other three children to the fireman. But when she saw the fireman leading all five of her children away with the other victims, she fainted, realizing what had happened.
During these raids, my mother used a lot of lipstick and rouge to cover her pale complexion, and wore a hat to hide her shaven head. Still, she risked herself to protect my father, who visibly showed the effects of hunger much more, by standing in front of him to hide him from view and divert attention away from him.
A few days after this latest raid, I came down with typhus. It was during this illness, a neighbor came in the hallway shouting, "The Germans are in the yard! Another raid!" I could hear loud voices and screaming. Everyone was hurrying to obey the command to line up in the yard. No one wanted to be caught in their apartment by the commandos for fear of being hurt or mistreated. As I started to sit down on the bed to get dressed, my legs would not hold me any longer. In spite of my horror and fear, I could not get up! My parents were in a panic and were helpless to do anything for me. They needed to leave the apartment quickly to avoid the wrath of the soldiers, so they grabbed a blanket, rolled me in it rug-style, and stuffed me under the couch. In front of me, they placed a "potty," or toilet, that would discourage the immaculate Germans from looking further. Then they left, leaving the door wide open, as required.
From where I lay, I could hear the screams of those being carried off and the wails of those being left behind, separated from their loved ones. I could hear the cries of those being kicked, beaten with whips, and struck by rifle butts. From under the couch, I could see and hear the stomping of the dreadful black boots in the hallway as the soldiers passed by our open apartment door. I was trembling with fear and weak beyond belief. Miraculously, after the raid, my parents returned to the apartment. What would I have done had they not? The crying and wailing of our less fortunate neighbors could be heard for a hours as they mourned their losses.
In this raid, all children under the age of 10 were taken away, removed! The Ghetto was now "cleansed of children." To the Germans, leaving the children and sick in the Ghetto would have been counterproductive - they would have to be fed and cared for. Removing them solved the problem.
There was no medication of any kind, not even aspirin. My parents had to go to work "or else," so I was left at home alone, behind locked doors. At noon, my mother would come home and bring me her portion of soup. She did without. No one dared report sick now, because of the fear of deportation. During this illness, I was not expected to survive. I was burning up with fever and hallucinating. A doctor friend of my mother's came at her plea to see me, but was afraid to come near me. I remember drifting in and out of delirium and seeing them standing at the foot of my bed. The doctor was shaking her head from side to side. I took that to mean I was in a hopeless condition. My mother was crying. I remember vaguely, asking for my father and saying I was ready "to go up," which my mother took as a sign of my parting this world. But this must have been the crisis point in the sickness because I began to improve.
My illness lasted three weeks, the limit allowed for absence from work. The consequence of a longer absence was dismissal and often deportation. At the end of the three weeks, although I felt better, I was still very weak and could hardly stand on my feet for even a short period of time. Yet, I had to report for work, ready or not. My mother and I decided that requesting a transfer to another place of work would buy me more time to recover. But I had to go to my job to ask for a release in order to look for other work.
To walk a long distance, which I had to do, was impossible. My legs were stiff from the extended stay in bed. They cracked raw under the knees as I tried to straighten them after having them bent so long. Being resourceful, my mother took along a small folding chair. We left the house in plenty of time to permit me to sit and rest every few yards until we made it to my place of work. There, I asked for a transfer, which gave me a few more days at home to recuperate. I needed it too. I later was able to find work in a paper shop, making three-layered bags that were used to transport food to soldiers at the front.
There were a few young children working in the paper shop. Our Jewish bosses knew the situation. The little children were given jobs as runners between departments, delivering papers or messages. They were registered as older workers, since all children under 10, supposedly, were non-existent. But a few had been cleverly hidden. They grew up in The Ghetto and knew the fearful game of survival. One little girl, named Ruthie, was the daughter of a Ghetto fireman. She was hidden, suspended inside a chimney, during the raid. When asked her age at work, Ruthie would say, "Here I am 10, but at home, I'm only 6." Sometimes, a younger child remained in the Ghetto by impersonating an older sibling who might have died or been deported.
From the "paper resort," I moved to still another job, working in a shop that made "powder puffs" for the ladies of the Third Reich. It was a miserable job because the room was filled with loose goose down dyed in the prettiest pastels, which choked us and made us sneeze constantly. From there, I went to work making ladies hats. We used some felt, if available, but mostly the hats were made of cellophane. We used our artistry to make decorations for them - also out of cellophane - like candy wrappers in pretty colors, stuffed them with bits of cotton to form petals, then put them together into flowers. They looked quite nice.
In a department near mine at the hat factory, worked the mother of my very best friend, Rita. Before the war, Rita lived across the street from me and we used to go to school together, often playing at one another's home. In the Ghetto, we did not see much of one another. Due to the lack of time, our job schedules, or because of the constant raids, we simply lost touch. But I went to see her one day and learned that she was very ill. Her sister answered the door when I knocked and signaled not to say anything about Rita's terrible physical condition. I hardly recognized her when I saw her in bed. She resembled a skeleton and complained of severe pain. She could hardly move, and she showed me her tongue and throat which were black, having been swabbed with something to try to make her feel better; it didn't. We talked a little, but I didn't realize how ill she really was. She was glad to see me, as I was to see her, but talking made her very tired. This was the last time I ever saw Rita and this is the last memory I have of her. She died within days of my visit.
But I still worked with Rita's mother and that became very difficult. Occasionally, I had to pass the department where she worked, and she would shower me with hugs and kisses. While she was probably reliving old memories of her daughter, I was agonizing over how to react. It became too uncomfortable for me, and I began to avoid her at all costs, even crossing the street when I saw her approaching.
The hat shop also had a youth department. Here, we worked for four hours and studied for four hours a day. Among us was one of the brightest persons I have ever met, a young girl named Maryla, who was about 16 at the time, similar in age to the rest of us. During our lunch breaks, we would gather around her and listen to her stories about what the future would be like. Her ideas seemed so unrealistic at the time, but they were entertaining and many of her predictions came to pass. She talked about people going to the moon, pills that would take the place of food, and robots that would do the work of people, making people dispensable. We were intrigued and fascinated by her, and eager to listen, but I do not know what happened to her. I'm sure the world lost a genius.
My next job was at a weaving loom. Then I spent a short time at other workplaces of which I lost track.
Because of the uncertainty of life in the Ghetto, it was impossible for us to keep in touch with our friends. After each raid, we tried to take stock, but because of work, weather conditions, hunger, and the long waiting in lines just to secure necessities, there was no opportunity to visit. We might run into someone in a line for food rations or at a place of work by accident. This is how, after a long time, I ran into Halinka. She was the one who came to get my mother in the early days of the Ghetto when her father was dying. Both her parents were now gone. She had been adopted by a doctor and his wife, but they would not adopt her younger sister, Adela, who was ailing, so she was left in a sort of orphanage-hospital, which was an attempt by the Jewish leaders to assist the children.
There were few doctors in the Ghetto, and most of them worked in the hospitals. They belonged to an elite class and were not suffering from food shortages. Halinka was very unhappy with them. She was expected to do all the housework, but was getting little food and was starving all the time. She was not permitted to go out much, and only rarely to see her sick sister. Adela was suffering terribly from a stomach ailment and threw up everything she put into her mouth, so she refused whatever food might be available. We visited Adela as often as we could until she mercifully died, putting an end to her suffering.
In the summer of 1943, my good friend Lusia came to my family with the ever-present Ghetto problem: she had received a deportation notice in the Ghetto mail. It seems that was the sole purpose of the post office inside the Ghetto: to deliver the notices to the chosen, informing them when and where to report for "transport." Lusia was my age and was my good friend, as were our parents. But, she no longer had parents. They had already died or been deported, either result being the same. She lived with an older brother who was, by now, bedridden with a kidney disease and totally dependent on her. Lusia was terribly distressed by this horrible predicament, and did not see how she could leave him alone in his condition. But once a person had received a deportation notice, their food ration was cut off. My mother tried to help her, but how? We did not have enough food to go around as it was. I'm sure my mother was already dividing her meager rations between my father and me. It was a difficult decision but we took Lusia in for a few days. She eventually made the dreadful but only available decision: to turn herself in for deportation. Her brother mercifully died, but I don't remember whether this was before or after his sister's deportation.
The Germans made it a point to surprise us with raids during celebrations of holidays, ours or theirs, be it Hitler's birthday, Passover, the anniversary of the war's start, or Yom Kippur, the holiest of our holy days. They beat us in celebration of their victories, and tortured us in retaliation for their defeats.
Sometimes people, in desperation, committed suicide as a means of ending their misery. I remember during one raid, a woman in the adjoining building jumped to her death from her third floor balcony when she found out another raid was in progress. She was not going to be taken alive. I considered it to be a show of courage: something I lacked and envied. I wished, many times, I could have ended it all. Life was much too difficult.
Return to Holocaust Testimonies Page
Return to Ada Web Page