Memoir: The Wartime Experience


Poland Revisited






































Volume 11

Marian Finkielman

Out of the Ghetto: A Young Jewish Orphan Boy's Struggle for Survival

published by the
Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies

Copyright Marian Finkielman, 2001

"For these things do I weep:..."

                                                                                           Lamentations; 1:16

Key Words

Otwock (town in Poland, 28 km south of Warsaw), Judenrat, Karczew (town in Poland), Kolbiel (small Polish town), Kozaki (Polish village), Dubeczno (town by the river Bug), Sokoly (Polish village), Berczewo (Polish village), Persow (small Polish town), Sobibor (German death camp), Komarrowka (Polish town), Miedzyrzec (Polish town), Wohin (Polish town), Radzin-Podalski (Polish town), Lublin, Warsaw, Wroclaw (Polish city), Rychbach (Polish town), Piotrolesie (Polish town).


Narrative begins when author is eleven years old. Describes his town of Otwock, his home and early schooling. Parents both work in Warsaw, father owns a variety store, mother tutors children in academic subjects. In early September 1939, his father, a soldier in the Polish army, is killed in the German advances near Warsaw. Describes the German policies toward the Jews, including the closing of the Jewish schools, the wearing of an arm-band with the Star of David, and the establishment of the Jewish ghettos. Author includes many German documents (with English translation) acquired from the Archives of Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the State Archives in Otwock. These announce the variety of measures taken by the Germans in their war against the Jews. Documents also enumerate the stern measures aimed against the Polish population, warning them of the harsh penalties they would suffer if they helped Jews. Conditions in the ghetto compel the author--aged 12--to begin to trade household goods for food with the farmers in the surrounding region. Describes his tactics in escaping from the ghetto and wandering through the countryside, evading the German patrols and the Polish and Ukrainian bands on the look-out for Jews. Lack of food and sanitation leads to outbreaks of typhus. He travels from village to village passing as a Polish Catholic. In 1941, he marks his Bar Mitzvah and is called to the Torah. Describes his method of surviving in the countryside: he passes as Christian and learns something of Catholic rituals and customs, including a knowledge of the Catechism. He also learns how to get permission from the local town administrator to stay overnight in any particular town. Mother dies during typhus epidemic. Travels to his maternal uncle’s town of Dubeczno, but is received coldly and decides against staying. In spring of 1942 he begins his vocation as a herdsman-farm-labourer which becomes the main method of surviving in the hostile world. He recounts the many experiences he encountered as he moves from locale to locale, acting the part of a Polish boy, as he seeks conditions of relative safety. His situation depends on the reception he receives from the Polish farmers. Some are suspicious and he feels threatened; others are benevolent and provide decent conditions and nourishing food. He recollects a number of narrow escapes and is constantly on his guard, ever conscious of the dangers that threaten his existence. His circumstances change somewhat when, in February 1944, he manages to falsify his record and obtains a Polish birth certificate, giving him a new identity and reducing the danger of being identified as a Jew. At war’s end, he decides not to return to his native town. Travels to Warsaw and Lodz, then settles in the town of Rychbach where he attends school and takes courses in professional photography, which becomes his profession. Leaves Poland in 1969 due to the upsurge of government inspired anti-Semitism and settles in Denmark. In 1970, emigrates to Canada. Reports on a visit to Poland in 1993. In Appendix A recounts is experiences with post-war anti-Semitism in Poland.