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Volume 3

July 21, 1993

The last school year was not like the other preceding ones. We, the oldest class, were being closely watched. As the semi-fascist state applied its restricting screws, every type of social activity was suspect. We were asked to declare all our activities outside of the school. Although ostensibly a democratic state, Poland's constitution was designed to block most political parties from effectively participating in elections. Consequently, it was a one-party system. Some small ethnically based parties lent their support to the government. It was for all intents and purposes a semi-fascist state. People were being detained without proper judicial procedures. Newspapers appeared with whole pages blanked out. At the same time, militant student and nationalist groups got the go-ahead. Bigotry and anti-Semitism flourished. Designs on neighbouring countries were being half officially sanctioned. To the north, the Lithuanian port of Memel-Klajpeda was being coveted. Rumblings were heard about some parts of Czechoslovakia's border areas. As this was going on our internal system got more constricted. The first hints as to the Polish corridor were heard from the then well established German government of Hitler's ilk. So, it was this new development that was causing all kinds of shock waves to spread among the various component parts of Polish society. Democracy as is understood in the west, existed only in the imagination. Pogroms and economic boycott was being openly bandied about. Our neighbourhood was subjected to one such pogrom. I know now that it was a localized affair. It was confined to a part of Baluty. But it happened just outside our windows. For three days we didn't dare go out into the street. From a corner of the window, we watched what was going on. To expose oneself at the window could mean exposure to hurt or even death.

One of the neighbours in our house got killed. He was working in his tiny shop when hoodlums simply beat him to death. Strange as it may seem, the police was nowhere to be seen. Only on the third day did they suddenly appear and within a short time, the crowd of pogromchiks was dispersed. The school administration ordered me not to belong anymore to our sports club. It was taboo. We were still free to move around. But the climate was getting heavier.

Poland was being pressured by German policy pronouncements. She was at the same time trying to keep good contacts with the western powers. However, the climate of internal relations between the majority Poles and the various ethnic and religious minorities was very strained. Jews were particularly singled out for discrimination.


July 22, 1993

The last school year was already marred by the deteriorating climate of social relations. Although the body of teachers and administration was a mix of Jews and Poles, we, the pupils, felt a heaviness in the air. It became clear to me and my parents that there will be no more schooling for me. We were far from wealthy. Mother had to get a job to supplement the family income. My brother was not engaged in anything that was money-making. He had a hard time to have any occupation at all. My sister was very young. Her schooling required some fees. So the prospects were not very conducive for my future studies. I became reconciled to the fact that I would be entering the work force soon enough. For the summer following the school year I was lucky to be scheduled for a two-month stay at a children’s camp in Wisnowa Gora run by the Jewish health association T.O.Z. That was a locality not far from Lodz. It had some woods and was easily reachable from Lodz. Although it was a different social atmosphere from home or "SKIF", I still managed to have a good time of it. We had lots of outdoor activities. There was an atmosphere of traditional Jewishness, which was not at the "SKIF". Although it was new to me, it was however palatable. It was dished out in very small packages. Sun-tanned and vigorous, I did indeed enter the work force soon upon arrival back in the city. I became an apprentice to the designer at the textile factory where father worked as a weaver. There was no remuneration whatsoever for my hours of work. I absolutely received no reward. Even the distance, which was considerable, between factory and home, I had to make by foot. So it was work, acidity in the air, deafening noises of weaving looms and long distances to brave rain or shine. It didn't seem so bad at the time. There was promise in the bright future that was in store for me. All I had to do is be patient, diligent, industrious and hopeful. There were quite a few people there that I knew. They were friends and acquaintances of father's. I was picturing myself as a member of the proletariat. At the same time I became an ardent reader. As we had a very well established library that was run by the closely related to the Bund cultural association Kultur-Lyga, there was almost always a chance to get a good book. My choice of reading varied between travel stories, socially inspired writings, Bundist literature and adventures. I was proud to be a bilingual reader. Although I didn't go to the Yiddish school, I still managed to acquire a sound knowledge of the language. Polish being the language of the school and the country was a natural thing. Those few years prior to the outbreak of the war, were very productive years as far as gaining insights and general knowledge were concerned. Between the SKIF and library, a university of sorts took shape.


July 23, 1993

In order to have a few groszy to buy an ice cream or go to a movie, I managed to hold on to a very peculiar source of income. My uncle, who was the administrator of the Lodz-page of the Bundist central newspaper, printed in Warsaw, had as one of his tasks to make sure that the hand written material for everyday's issue of the paper, was in good time in Warsaw. That was easier said than done. Being keen to be up to date on news items, the journalists writing for the FOLKS-ZAYTUNG gathered all they could until dispatch time. Sometimes it was almost until the last second. It was my task, through uncle, to deliver the bulging envelope to the train station. There was a platform porter specially assigned to handle last minute mail. So I rushed with this precious package to the tramway that was close to the office. After delivering the envelope and getting a receipt for it, I was freed of my duty. My remuneration was the price of the return ticket on the tramway. The train station was several miles away from the office of the newspaper. The office of the newspaper was quite a distance from home. All these doings were done in the afternoons. The mornings were spent at the factory learning my trade. My average day was spent in walking long distances, as the factory was very far from home. The newspaper office was a good distance from the factory. The typical working day was divided between going to work in the early morning and going to the newspaper soon after lunch. By the time all this walking and working was over it was already the late afternoon. On the way home from the rail station, I used to stop over in the library. There I could read some books. The not finished book I would take home to be finished in the evening. It was a hectic time. Between all those things going on, I used to be also an active member of the SKIF and the sports club MORGEN-SZTERN. Although hectic and harried, these days were full of youthful zest and vigour. I was gaining an insight into real life. The books and socializing with friends at the SKIF opened wide vistas for me. Life was also providing lots of heart-breaking news in full measure. Spain was engulfed in a bitter civil war. The fascist forces aided by Nazi Germany and Italian fascists with the tacit help of other semi-fascist and reactionary forces, were attacking the poorly equipped republican government forces. All the sympathies of our friends and socialist forces all over the world were on the side of the republican government. But, given the lack of preparedness of the government militia and the not too strong international brigade that was formed to help stem back the fascist march on Europe, the scales were tipping in favour of brute force and fascism. The Spanish army was almost totally on the side of the insurgents. Nazi Germany was getting more aggressive by the day. having wiped out its internal opposition, they proceeded to prosecute its Jewish population. Racial purity laws were promulgated. Concentration camps were established to isolate all dissenters. Externally Germany initiated a policy of coercion on its neighbours, both on the west, south and east. Fascist Italy had subdued Ethiopia in Africa. It was now doing the same to European Albania. The western democracies were undecided and partly in sympathy with the doings of fascism. They saw this as an antidote to Soviet communism. We in Poland were being treated to threats and dark hints.

At that time, we started seeing refugees from Nazi Germany. Jews who lived there for years were dumped across the border with Poland. Stories of atrocities perpetrated in the concentration camps were filtered out of Germany. Generally it was a time of anxiety. As far as I can see it now, it was a time of forlornness. Amongst Jews, the idea of a national home in Palestine was being trumpeted louder than ever. Even those that wished to go there, were hampered by restrictions imposed by Britain. There were not too many countries willing to accept the ever larger mass of people clamouring for a safe-haven. In spite of all going on around me, I still had lots of hope. Our movement was in a fighting mood. We were psyching ourselves up to battle the avalanche of darkness.


July 24, 1993

Factory experience at the age of 14 is a very important factor in one’s life. It was a noisy, smelly layer of air that always hung above one’s head. Yarns, when processed into fabrics and woven into all kinds of designed patterns of colours and figures, produce odours, dangers, deafening noises and slimy puddles of dyes and other chemical solutions. It's true that one gets used to it. But the process of getting into it is arduous and sometimes even bewildering. It might be true that many other areas of manufacture are worse than all of those mentioned instances. My first experience was wonderment and astonishment. The work or better still, the apprenticeship, was not too hard physically. As a minor in years I could only spend half days in the factory. A technical school was suggested, to provide a sounder knowledge of the trade and methods used to bring out a decent product. The only school open to my needs was the city college of the textile trades. It was not only overcrowded, it was also ridden with discriminatory rules and policies. If I had wealthy parents, who could afford a private college, it would have been possible to go through a course of several years of gaining technical and theoretical expertise.

It was not meant to be. I was advised to try again. It was the slick way of turning me away. I actually learned precious little in that year of apprenticeship. I just used to do all kinds of menial tasks. My immediate superior was a dour, old man. Many times I wondered whether he was just that way or just with me in the work place. He was an ethnic German with very few intentions to say more than was absolutely necessary. I carried on being present in the factory all through the fall, winter and spring 1938-1939.

The factory served though as an entrance to the world outside the home and SKIF. I didn't learn much in that year. When the summer of 1939 came along, I was given permission to go on vacation.

In subsequent years, when I had to find a vocation to follow, that year in the factory was only a mixed memory. I certainly didn't have much to show for it.

The youthful dream of being able to help out my brother in his quest for education, wasn't anywhere near realization.


July 25, 1993

As I look back on the fateful year of 1938, many images come to my mind. The end of my schooling years, the uncertainty at home over the future, wars and land grabbing by the German government, increases in Polish anti-Semitism, violence of the extreme right, economic boycott of the Jewish merchants and an increase in the level of fear for Jews to walk the streets. It also brought a sense of achievement. The municipal elections were won by the socialist forces for the total population of Lodz as well as in many other large cities across Poland.

The school that I finished was a regular grade school. As was common in pre-war Poland, schools were run by the school authorities on a religious basis. Where it wasn't feasible because of numbers in small places, some sort of compromise over the type of education was usually worked out. Besides those schools, all manners of institutions abounded. One of such schools was the Yiddish school with a secular programme. I started off in such a school. But because of circumstances, I finished my formal education in a regular school. Our knowledge at the end of those years was a reasonable one. We weren't allowed to go into the raging social and political dilemmas. The regime in such schools was strict. Many times, pupils were beaten for infractions. Not doing one’s homework was usually the main reason. Although an amount of sporting activities was encouraged, it was generally not very extensive. There was a lack of any equipment or space for physical exercises. Only the schoolyard served the limited purpose of some soccer games and general running around.

I finished those years with a feeling of having been through the mill. We were being led to become both observant Jews and Polish patriots. It wasn't a very challenging period. However, it provided me with a basic knowledge of language, sciences and literature.

The events that shaped the image of that year were chasing one another. Germany broke the terms of the Versailles treaty. They annexed the Ruhr and Rhine areas, denied them under the treaty. They occupied Austria. They started openly threatening Czechoslovakia. Hints of designs on Poland were being uttered. Rearmament was proceeding at a fast trot. All opposition to Nazism was forbidden. Concentration camps were established in many places in Germany. Italy was expressing designs on Greece and carrying on its conquests of Ethiopia and Albania. Spain was in the terrible position of being strangled by fascist powers. The western powers were unwilling to help stem the ominous tide. Soviet Russia was being shaken up by years of witch-hunting trials. They were both weakened by the liquidation of a good part of its leaders and ranking officers. They were also playing a game of giving little help for big remuneration. All sorts of semi-fascist regimes sprang up in Europe and elsewhere. The Socialist International was braving against all the fascist and reactionary forces around them. The myth prevailed of trying to contain Soviet communist expansionism. It served as a battle cry for all the reactionaries. It also encouraged the extreme religious and nationalistic forces. Wherever possible the socialists fought back. But the powerful alignment of all the opposing elements was getting the upper hand. They had to endure assaults from the right and from the left.

Amongst Jews, the divisions were also pronounced. Zionists of all hues were intensifying their efforts towards their goal of Jewish statehood, the object of their dream; Palestine was being administered by the British. There were many Jews who desired to go there. But the policy towards immigration was one of allowing very few new immigrants. But the clamour persisted. Hardly any other country opened its doors to the desperate Jewish people of Germany, Austria and other European countries. Stateless Jews, living in Germany, were pushed around.

The economic boycott on Jews was gaining momentum in Poland. Restrictions were imposed on Jewish students in the schools of higher learning. Frequent beatings of students in the universities took place.

Our life at home was overshadowed by all those events. We still managed to carry on a normal family life. The rest of the relatives were also carrying on their normal pursuits. The Bund to which our whole family adhered stood rock firm in the fight for equality and social justice. We took inspiration from that stand. We admired those who opposed fascism and communism. We had still great hopes of a democratic, free and just world.


July 26, 1993

The summer of 1938 was actually a very exciting time for us. The whole family participated in the efforts to have a successful election campaign. For the lack of democracy in pre-war Poland, the municipalities had somehow a privileged position. It was felt by all parties functioning in Poland, that not being able to express their concerns in parliamentary elections, the local council was the only way to show strength. Our party, the Bund, was gearing up for a big campaign. At the age of 14, I was assigned a spot on a canvassing crusade. As the election list of the Bund also listed two other parties, the POALE-ZION LEFT and the trade union, there were three of us going from house to house to solicit support. Although it was a new thing for me, I thought of the effort as a sort of sacred devotion. We tried to persuade the population of the trust that they could have in both platform and personalities of the united campaign. The actual election took place late in the fall. However the excitement and activities around it preceded the election day by an arduous, all-encompassing campaign. Our efforts were crowned with success. We got into the city council in an imposing way. Out of 18 elected councillors on the Jewish lists, 12 were from the united Bund Poale-Zion Left and trade unions. All in all, the socialist won the day both amongst the gentiles and Jews.

It boosted our morale no end. In spite of all the terrible things going on all around us, we were jubilant at the outcome of this last contest for popular support. The party that the family supported with all their strength became the leading voice of Polish Jewry. In most other cities and towns, the same trend was showing.

I had the initiation into active political activism. Those days of exultation were a very poignant thing for me in the days and years that followed. The family was really buoyed by this event.

One thing marred the brief cheerfulness. Uncle Chaim, mother's brother who lived in Dobrzyn, came to Lodz. He was stricken with heavy T. B. He was admitted to the Jewish hospital. However, he was too ill to respond to treatment. He died several weeks after admittance. That was quite a blow to us. I loved that uncle. He was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky sort. Always fond of a joke. We missed him a lot.


July 27, 1993

The situation in our family circle and that of relatives, started to be a matter of concern for us. The oldest brother of my mother was living for years in Berlin, Germany. He escaped there, when Poland was in the throes of the Bolshevik-Polish war. He would not participate in fighting the Bolsheviks. His status became as one of the so-called stateless people. They were very much a target for the Nazis. Uncle and auntie and their two small children were desperately looking for a safe haven. We were anxiously awaiting any news of their endeavours. German policies made many Jews and non-Jews seek safety in many lands. When things were looking very bad, they somehow procured a transit visa to Britain. It was supposed to have been in force for several months. Their departure to London was a great relief for all of us. It was just in the nick of time. Somehow, the brother of my father who lived in Belgium didn't seem so concerned about finding a safe haven. Shortly before the war, he came to Lodz. He met then a woman who was to his liking. They married soon after the introductions. In spite of the gathering war clouds, their betrothal was a happy family event. They left for Belgium. My memory takes me back to the start of hostilities. There was a wish on my parents side to get me to Belgium. Somehow, we still had ideas of First World War times. Belgium was neutral then. So it seemed a safe place to be. Subsequent events contradicted that assumption. But the efforts on my behalf got stuck, well before Belgium was overrun by the Germans. We heard occasionally from them. The war that came to them in 1940 put an end to any contact. When 1939 rolled around, we were still anxiously watching developments in Russia's witch trials and the Spanish Civil War. Palestine was also a trouble spot. Terror reigned there. Arab fascists, incited by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, were waging a campaign against the Jewish settlers there. The mandated power, Great Britain, was trying, but not too effectively, to stamp out the terror.

In that atmosphere, we left for the last summer camp of the SKIF. It was nice and calming to be amongst devoted friends and comrades of the same idealistic persuasion. These were the last days of youthful zest. Since I can recall anything at all, I have never been behind bars of any sort. As life has progressed, there were all kinds of heavy situations. To have been a young Jew in pre-war Poland wasn't always easy nor very benign. There were heights of idealistic and meaningful days. There were also heavy days of near despair for the whole family. But to find yourself a prisoner in your own town was so new and such a degrading experience that it left us all gasping for air. For no reason, save the fact that we were Jews, we had to wear special identification badges and walk only on streets designated for us. Even that was at times hard. The German sentries all around the ghetto were in some cases shooting at people walking legitimately close to the wiring around the ghetto. Many people died that way. I remember everybody around me saying that whenever the "redhead" is on duty, there will be victims. So, fear for one's life kept up, even inside the ghetto compound. There were no newspapers, nor was listening to the radio permitted. News of the war and what's going on in other places was very scanty. Sometimes, Germans who were working in the administration of the ghetto, would say something that was repeated. Sometimes, by fluke, an old newspaper would be salvaged. Of course in those days it all was a novelty. We were wondering all over the ghetto, former rich and poor alike, as to what all this was about. A whole large city was divided into separate districts. In all this wonderment, with so many whys and ifs the only relief was a feeling of being at least among Jews only. This feeling came from having endured such nerve wracking months of deportations, random beatings and shootings and continuously being picked off the street under all kinds of pretexts. We still thought then, that we are dealing with a cultured and civilized society. War and subsequent restrictions were all put down to a temporary deviation from known and established practices. We still harboured the ideas that my mother brought up, upon watching the German entry into Lodz. A harsh people, but very much taken with upholding law and order. There was still a functioning mail service. We were kept in touch with David and father. But only barely so.


July 29, 1993

The ghetto was going through continuous changes. Some streets kept on being taken out of the compound. Other changes, like the opening of a passage to the cemetery and the railway siding in Marysin. People left behind in the city were being brought into the ghetto. Some Christians with Jewish ancestry were picked up and also sent into the ghetto. While all this changing was going on the ghetto got used to having a Jewish police force, fire-fighting brigade, jails, a large administration and distribution network and almost everything else that makes up a living social organism. The only thing didn't appear in the new Jewish-only place was opportunity to make a living. We all lived in a kind of limbo. Without the ability to work and yet the distribution places still had available various sorts of food, it couldn't take long before an eruption occurred. Hunger and sickness showed their ugly faces. Overcrowding and the hot summer of 1940 helped to depress very many people.

Political parties that existed before the war became active in a clandestine way. People grouped themselves in trades councils, professional councils and all kinds of other general, religious and charitable associations. The boiling pot of discontent and desperation was beginning to lift the lid. In the streets of the ghetto, gatherings of neighbours and passers-by became a frequent occurrence.

Our movement was again active. We had a youth section and an adult section. We were the most active group in the creation of a trades association of all the separate crafts. We were the activists that spoke to people in the streets, courtyards and homes. It was therefore no sudden thing when news spread like wildfire through the ghetto. Riots broke out in the centre of the ghetto. The Jewish police tried to contain the outburst. It only intensified the situation. Policemen got beaten up. They left the streets in panic. Some of them shed their uniforms. I have seen such dishevelled ones. They were wearing only the trousers of the uniforms. They were frightened. The demand of the rioters was food. Looting was spreading.

The ghetto chief Rumkofski, when news spread to him of the riots, called without hesitation the German security force. It didn't take long and truckloads of armed policemen arrived in the ghetto. Immediately there were victims. Shots rang out for a long time. When the Germans finally left the ghetto, the calm that descended was one of despair and hopelessness.

The only positive thing to emerge was the creation of soup kitchens. Rumkofski called a meeting of party leaders. He pleaded for internal peace. He promised to start efforts to get people to work. The internal life of the ghetto resumed its course. Some of the promises were implemented. As part of the promised deal, two soup kitchens were opened by the Bund.

The Bund also organized a so-called "tea-hall". Bread and tea could be had there. Our activists were put in charge of all this. We even got permission to open a food distribution centre. Although it looked imposing, it was only a cosmetic operation. Hunger and hopelessness still persisted. I took advantage of both kitchen and tea-hall centre. It was also a meeting place for Bundists. I think other parties too got similar concessions.

My mother got a job in the kitchen on Lutomierska street. For a while those improvements meant more available food for the three of us. My sister was getting together with some of her classmates. They organized for themselves a mutual instruction circle. The summer was hot. At least the nagging hunger was alleviated for a while.

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