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Volume 6

August 21, 1993

During the summer of 1942, I went through my first experience of being hospitalized. I was admitted to the hospital on Mickiewicza Street with a bout of pneumonia. I was there for about a fortnight. The hospital was very poorly equipped and had only a few doctors. The general feeling inside the hospital was one of complacency. With few drugs and minimal attention, the patients were a poor lot. Luckily for me, I got discharged after a short observation period. Apparently I got over the infection and was considered well enough to re-enter the factory where I worked at the time.

It didn't occur to me then that the very same hospital would play a most dramatic role in the near future. Although the atmosphere was charged with tension and foreboding, life was still going on in the by now customary ghetto way. Since most people's thoughts were directed towards survival, hardly anybody had a mind or inclination to think of life's other sides. Although there were marriages and love affairs in the ghetto, they were few and far between. Only the very top echelons of directors, commissars, high administration officials and other cronies of the elder, could and did carry on the immemorial game of inter-gender gamesmanship.

The new class of higher-ups were distinguished by their looks and dress. Almost all of them wore German style high boots and breeches. For the ordinary young people, life was in a limbo. These were supposed to have been our years of adolescence. My age group that went through the ghetto experience missed and lost its youth. When you are reduced to the daily struggle to see the day through, only the basic instinct of staying alive matters. Looking at other young people in the hospital, I vaguely realized this ugly truth. We all had in common similar longings. We all went after the most urgent calls of natural survival awareness.

Only books could tell us what life was all about. In a physical sense the struggle for staying alive pushed back the awakening desires of early adulthood. Having had time to reflect, deepened the sense of forlornness.

The elder of the ghetto let it be known that as per orders from the high German authorities, there was going to be the need to surrender the children. The terrible words were uttered by Rumkofsky to the assembled population in a courtyard in the ghetto. He swore to the maddened crowd, that he did all in his powers to change the edict. He pleaded with the parents to see the situation. By his attestation, only such a sacrifice could save the rest of the ghetto. No sooner was the announcement made than the Jewish police started rounding up the victims. The amount of pain that was inflicted on the parents was unimaginable. It surpassed human understanding. When one tries to call back from memory the scenes that took place then, one begins to doubt the sanity of the world and one's own part in that reality. It makes one wonder, and that repeats itself whenever those gehenna scenes come back to one's mind, whether it was really so. Whether it could really have been so, somehow, living a reasonable, normal life now, does not fit in with those images. As if there were two planes of existence.

Those days that preceded the others to follow, were days of indescribable magnitude. Those moments of inhuman or superhuman tension got so deep into our psyche, that no matter what time transpired since or whatever happened since, will always be an inseparable part of all who were present then in the ghetto of Lodz.


August 22, 1993

It is maybe coincidental, but as my recollection takes me back to those awful days, the time that I am putting down these lines are almost to a day, the forty-ninth anniversary of these events. At that time, all hell broke loose. Every day brought new calamities. I would assume that in the history of Lodz and its Jewish community, this period will be remembered as the bloodiest and most humanly devastating. Not having got all the victims that the bloodthirsty occupiers demanded, they called for a suspension of all normal activities in the ghetto. When all this was shaping up into the fatal outcome that it was aiming at, a thing close to my family and me in particular, brushed against me. My mother was at that time in the very same hospital on Mickiewicza Street, that I was laid up not long before. Without suspecting what exactly is coming, I got news one morning of German activity around the hospital. Sensing danger, I ran back home. There I heard of the forceful evacuation of all the patients from the ghetto hospitals. Almost at the same time, my sister and I received a message to the effect that our mother managed to jump from a first floor window and run away, just minutes before the German trucks arrived. She hid with a friend who lived nearby. We uttered a sigh of relief. But, as soon as it sunk in that our mother was safe, two policemen arrived and demanded to know where Sura Rywka Zylberberg was. We had enough presence of mind to deny any knowledge of her whereabouts. When the policemen were confronted with the answer, they took me as a hostage. They told us then that if mother did not surrender as the Germans demanded, then I would be put in her place.

I was taken to the building of the former Kasa Chorych (Social Security for the Sick). This building was alternatively a hospital and a tailoring factory. There we were herded into a big room. The place kept on filling up with all sorts of people. It was soon crowded with despairing people, young and old. Being near despair myself, I suddenly felt in my pockets. I touched a soft bit of fabric. It was my old arm band, which I used to wear when sent on messages across the ghetto. Without thinking too much, I pushed the window open and jumped from the third floor, straight down into an entrance to a basement. I put my arm band on immediately that I touched ground. I looked around. There weren't any people in the yard. I sensed that the yard was giving on to the gate of the building on 36 Lagewnicka Street. The other side of the yard was a high fence to a nearby courtyard.

As if driven by instinct, I didn't attempt to scale the high fence. It was a visible target. Instead, I started walking at a slow pace towards the gate.

The policeman that stood guard at the gate saw me and I stuck out my arm with the band on, so that he should notice it. I continued walking in a matter of fact way.

No sooner did I come into the street that I saw a huge crowd milling around. Bedazzled by this sight, I almost tried to run away from any possible contact with the people. And then a wondrous thing took place. My dear mother and sister were both standing near the entrance to the front door of the building that I had just left so clandestinely. When they noticed me, mother almost gave herself away. She had the short-cropped hair of a hospital patient. She was almost ready to surrender. With great strength of mind and will, she held back the emotional outburst that was coming out of her.

Instinctively, without speaking too much, we made our way to friends who lived a short distance from Lagiewnicka Street. Only when we were safely behind the quickly shut door of the residence of the Dajch family did we let go of the terrible tension that had built up within us. We were holed up with that family for several days. New events followed those in quick succession.


August 23, 1993

This day of the 23rd August is a designated day of commemoration. It was on this day, according to my sister's recounting of events, that our mother met her untimely fate. In truth, it took place considerably later in the war. It is hard though to continue narrating events and not mention this fact. I have just lit a candle in memory of all my family and relatives that perished in this most inhuman war. It seems to me, that given the lack of exact data, yet painfully aware of the reality, this date will serve as the common commemorative day for our family.

The tension within us subsided when we were allowed to take refuge in the home of the hospitable Dajch family. Of course, all the talk and pent-up emotions came out quickly. We shared our anxiety with my friends. This family had a daughter that was a close contemporary in age with me. We shared many events together in bygone days. We were both members of the same Skif circle. The short reprieve after those terrible hours of anxiety, lasted only a brief interval. News of what was going on in the ghetto and names of people kept on cropping up. It was a general clean-out of the sick from the hospitals. Only few did manage to get away from it. It looked like our family was spared this time. Next day a rumour spread abroad. For a while there was no confirmation of the rumour. Soon, however, it became official. There was going to be a total curfew for the ghetto inhabitants. All the forces that Rumkofsky could command were mobilized. There was no work to be done in any factory or office. We were told to stay in our own homes. Yesterday's events quickly became just a memory. We returned to our home. The curfew lasted 8 days. During those nightmarish days, we faced constant threat. Whole blocks used to be closed up. All the inhabitants were gathered in the courtyards. There were selections. The sick, the old and the very young were the target of those selections.

When the bloodthirsty Nazis came to our courtyard and summoned all the occupants of the building down, we all went there, save for some who did find a place to hide. My mother and sister went up to the attic. A trap door was shut behind them. They hid around the chimney stack. Fortunately there were no small children around. When a Jewish policeman that accompanied the murderers was told to check out the attic, he hoisted himself up and yelled down that he could not see anybody. He was a most courageous man. A nephew of one of our Bundist leaders who managed to make his way to the U.S. by the name of Milman and a neighbour of ours, he lived in our building and became almost a legendary figure then and still is such in our collective memory. His name was also Milman.

I, for reasons strange to me then and even now, displayed an air of self-assurance. Maybe I could not fathom the explicit danger hanging over us all. Maybe some kind of inner voice was telling me to remain calm.

When mother and sister went into hiding, I stayed behind and immersed myself in a book. I can't recall the name of the book. Only when the big noise came from the yard did I get up and went downstairs. I survived the selection. That was the only selection that I went through in my life. Some people were taken from our house. The rest went back to their abodes. Although the curfew lasted a few more days, we did not experience any more selections as other buildings did. We managed to get out of the clutches of the Nazi henchmen in one piece, during the infamous Geshpere (total curfew and deportations). When we heard through the media of a big excitement outside the house, accompanied by some animated cries and yells, that the curfew is over, we reacted with relief and forebodings. Nobody shook off as yet the deep trauma of the 8 days that had gone by.

Since there were no newspapers nor any other public communication system, the ghetto usage of casually dropped words by officials served as the source of information. Occasionally, there would appear an announcement on the ghetto walls. This gossipy way of spreading news was fraught with great difficulties. Since it was hard to get at the core of a rumour, it was common to get very jubilant or despondent. On top of all the anxieties and hardships that we endured, we had to evaluate constantly what we heard. There was at the beginning of the ghetto a period when a sudden rumour was making the rounds. For instance, it was rumoured that the ghetto will be opened up on Shevuot (an old Jewish holiday associated with agricultural usages). It raised the expectations to a pitch. It was sad to see the disappointment when it turned out to be just an empty rumour. There were many such stories as the ghetto years went on. Then, after the most traumatic events in our journey through hell, we were very sceptical as to what is being proclaimed on the streets. Finally, there appeared an announcement that everybody is to return to their places of work. In our own case it meant a clean sheet for both mother and me. We were both on some list or another. It was however, easy to just carry on as if nothing transpired out of the ordinary. The randomly picked up people were never registered. They were just taken away. I went back to work. So did mother and sister.

When life resumed at what was a ghetto existence, we found out all the gory details of how friends, acquaintances, neighbours and co-workers were snatched away. The outcry was heartrending. Although all was getting back to normalcy, we were terribly burdened by that most terrible tragedy.

The human capacity for endurance is great. Such a calamity as befell the ghetto in those hellish days of the Geshpere as that period became known and identifiable to us, would have by normal counts, knocked us off as functioning humans. The scenes witnessed, the personal tragedies endured, the realization that the previously held notions were just wishful thinking, the sense of helplessness and the three years of constant suffering, should have done away with our will to carry on in those terrible times. We were undernourished, disease-ridden, beseeched by constant fear of almost anything. People were not capable to think in normal terms. Abnormality became the normality of the times. But how does a person transform himself or herself? When normality goes hand in hand with madness. Where lies the strength to carry on in ostensibly normal pursuits? What is one aiming at?

These bitter thoughts and feelings played out within our beings, made us not only totally suspicious of everything around. It made us victims of the worst fears. It looked as if we had reached the depths of existence itself. Some people turned away in disgust from all that built by the fruit of the human mind. To those people, accustomed to follow teachings of moral and ethical values, it became anathema to continue thinking in such terms. To others the despondency created a desire for an outlet in some form of supernatural entity. The very premise on which our culture rests became unhinged. It was a battle of the deepest solitude.

We must have an amount of hidden spirit of life in us. At that moment when sanity itself was at stake, we slowly began lifting ourselves out of the deadly stupor. I would like to offer also another thought. As long as there was any hope at all, that this nightmare will finish, the little bit of hope would not let us fall down completely. The war news was both bad and encouraging. The Germans, not being able to conquer Moscow nor Leningrad, started a big campaign for the southern parts of Russia. Although they were at first successful, they did encounter hard resistance to their drive. Russia was at that time receiving help from the West. Their armies became more efficient. Stretched over a very big terrain, the Germans also suffered from partisan units. They were disrupting their lines of communication.

In Africa, a big battle was being waged. English forces were fighting the German onslaught in the North. They were being successful. The mighty machine of the German war effort was encountering strong forces, poised against them. Europe as such was starting to organize resistance forces. Hope, which is eternal, helped lift the ghetto out of despair. We started working as if nothing has happened. Food was again being distributed. We saw some huge amounts of vegetables in the distribution depots. The Bund, badly shaken by the deportations, resumed its spirit-lifting activities.

We did not, however, have any news from our closest kind. We just had to hope and wait.


August 25, 1993

After the terrible days of autumn 1942, more and more orders were being placed with ghetto production units. If a factory or other unit became redundant, new avenues for manufacture took their place. Instead of crude carpets, highly colourful and sophisticated Kilims and decorative rugs took over. Embroidery in its many forms became a production unit, employing hundreds of people. All sorts of tailoring, shoemaking, cabinet making, metal workings, leather products, straw shoes and many other industries were busy, producing for the German war and civil needs. There was talk afoot of the ghetto becoming a specially designated place of production, protected by the Todt cadres or an S.S. protected place of labour. The need to feel protected from deportations and constant fear created a trend to see things in a very rosy way. There was an easing of food availability. The spirits lifted up in the hard proven ghetto populace.

The allies inflicted losses on the Germans in the Middle East. There were attempts to subvert some of the oil-producing countries. They were the mainstay of the fuel supply for the war effort. Every attempt in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia failed miserably to upset the flow of this vital commodity. Huge battles raged in Russia. American production of armaments and training of the large number of soldiers proceeded at breakneck speed. There was harmony amongst all the allies. The French share of the war effort got going. The deep division within France over collaboration with the Germans was still going on. But a large French army was being built up in England.

There were still some deportations taking place. But they were small in comparison to the big bloodletting of the fall. As was the case in Warsaw and other Polish towns, where deportations were decimating the Jewish population, questions arose everywhere as to what happened to the deportees. Although no clear answer was then available, there were ominous signs of terrible things. The lack of any mail from those who were taken out of the ghetto kept on weighing heavily on everybody's mind. Some rumours were circulating about special places of doom. The clandestine radio kept on broadcasting hints and insinuations. I don't remember people who were convinced at that time as to the real state of affairs. From what I gathered later on, the same consciousness about the fate of deportees weighted equally heavily on all ghetto inhabitants all over Poland and elsewhere. There is a saying in Polish which goes: Hope is the mother of fools. There may be similar sayings the world over. The saying, though, applies to our state of mind then. We were hoping against hope. We couldn't or we wouldn't allow the thoughts of the worst to dominate our lives. Somehow, worse things than those that we saw ourselves, we couldn't contemplate. There was no historical precedent for such doings. And some people had still the half-hidden memories of the Germans as a civilized and cultured people. After all it was the same German people, who produced world renowned pillars of the arts, philosophy, scientific and technological advancement, and also known to have an established system of judiciary and law enforcement. How could all this jibe with this dark foreboding? Even in the face of quite an amount of intimidating signs, hoping was still the predominant spiritual value in the ghetto.

I too remember myself being optimistic. Amongst my family and friends, I kept up efforts to see the lighter side of our existence. I remember feeling instinctively that this approach is preferable in all ways to gloom and despair. Why I had that kind of approach would probably never be answered. It must have been and probably still is an integral part of my makeup. Of course, had I, or others around me, known the full story, we probably couldn't have been optimistic. But maybe not knowing the exact state of affairs created a state of hopeful expectation that helped in keeping the spirits up for the still unfolding events, that were in store for us.


August 26, 1993

The autumn of 1942 and early winter was on the whole not much different to previous ghetto periods. I mean the physical manifestations of life. The ever-present quest for food and fuel and of late, medicines, occupied the stubborn pursuits of most able-bodied people. Those that were smitten with sickness and debilitating weakness of the body and lack of energy, were by now mostly confined to their homes. Members of the family usually took care of their numbers. There were many instances of altruistic efforts by friends and acquaintances. To appear in the streets was for the famished and sick both an effort and a danger. Too much had already transpired.

The teachings and deeds of the Bund activists were visible and heart-warming. Altogether, the ghetto as a whole and the organized groups in particular, kept up their moral and ethical values. The ones to infringe on the standard were mostly the ghetto establishment. Probably the lower echelons were in as poor a state as the vast majority of ghetto inhabitants. Since I was amongst the majority and so were my family and friends, it might be in place to offer an opinion on this subject.

Since time immemorial has the fate of our people been bound up with the dilemma of a right way in life. We had to contend with superior forces, both physically and spiritually. The big fight was being waged by people's tribunes against establishment oppressors. Sometimes it was a ruler who was not very cruel. That used to be the exception. Those tribunes or prophets that braved all kinds of danger to themselves, but did not stop preaching, became the conscience of our people then and still are now. Throughout our long history, we encountered numerous situations. What prevailed in those encounters was the continuity of the theme of keeping one's conscience or, for religious people, their souls, in a state of ethical harmony. To succumb to superior odds or not was always an inner battle of the two basic trends in life. The prophets never tired of extolling the preference for virtue over greed and grab. That age-old battle was being waged in the confines of the ghetto. Prophecy in a historical context ceased with the fall of the Jewish kingdoms at the time of the destruction of the first temple. Their--the prophets--message never ceased. Throughout the ages it comes forth.

Not being exactly a scholar of thought, I am nevertheless forever harking back to those days of awe and dilemma. I saw cruelty. I saw devotion. I lived in close contact with immeasurable evil and I witnessed humanity from all quarters. It happened when I was very young and impressionable. Altruism was rampant, where greed was lord. When I sometimes do make a Heshban Hanefesh (an accounting with myself) I always tend to see not only myself in it. It was a hard period to be in. The lesson that I learned from all those fast moving events around me was one of the prevalence of decency over indecency. When having to draw conclusions I would say with a resounding voice: humanity triumphed over decadence. Those that were in the ghetto, camp, hidden or in partisan units, were indeed the glorious winners in spiritual heights. They were unfortunately decimated in the unparalleled days of destruction.

The ghetto persevered. Although it wasn't absolutely clear yet, it nevertheless was starting to get a bit lighter around us. The winter was not as severe as the last one. The family was still intact. We were considerably weakened, but kept on glancing outward with eyes and ears glued to detect signs of the better days to come.


August 27, 1993

Some changes had taken place in my life. After having worked several years in the carpet factory in various capacities, I lost that job. The reason given was one of rescheduling of production units. I was able to find a job with an acquaintance of my father. He was in charge of a paper bag factory. This was a job that lasted a short while. I was taken as an assistant to a man who was dour and stuck up with his self-importance. Being by nature volatile, I couldn't hit it off with him.

The acquaintance of father's, who ran the whole unit, was an unusual type of a person. Severely handicapped from an illness of the limbs, he managed nevertheless to run a factory and quite well too. He used to have a type of office before the war, that was writing letters and pleas to various official agencies. A very capable man, he managed to provide well for his family. He even managed to save all his family in an underground bunker at the end of the war. He was certainly a man of tremendous determination. His is a story of mind over matter. Mr. Beigelman was always an inspiration to all around him. Although I only worked briefly in his unit, I became very much imbued with the optimism and determination that emanated from his demeanour and bearing.

Towards the end of 1942 I started work in a factory producing wood products. It was a huge place. The employees were mainly young people with a group of older people who made up the experienced craftsmen. The production there ranged from wheels for heavy wagons to children's toys and other products: wooden shoes, boxes and wood shavings for fuel. I got there without any prior apprenticeship. The machines were huge. Any careless move and tragedy could loom large. Not having any other option, I settled for permanently in the production of wooden shoes.

My working there put me in contact with people of a different kind from the ones that I had known before. Some of the people were rough and tough. A lot were not from Lodz at all. They were people from the provincial towns around Lodz. At first I was impressed with their talk of toughness. They were interested only in sex and conquests of females. For me this was a new experience. I hadn't until then encountered this type of personality. I could compare them to the rough and tough types found in the Yiddish literature by writers like Shalom Asch, Zalman Shneour, Opatoshu and others, who wrote of the healthy people of the small towns and villages.

I managed to procure wood for our fuel needs. It was even possible to sell sometimes a few pieces. Since everybody was doing it, so did I. My inventiveness was growing with the adventure of being able to provide a rare commodity. I also acquired a proficiency for getting the not so legal merchandise out of the factory. Using an old truth about being safe when on the run, when you reside in the same place as the police, I used to throw over the low fence dividing the plant from the dreaded Sonder Kommando (Special Unit Police), sacks full of wood. Nonchalantly I used to get out through the main gates and go and pick up the sack from the police courtyard. My father used to tell me those stories, when he as a revolutionary used to cope with all kinds of extraordinary situations. It looks like I understood well the techniques of getting the best out of a difficult situation.

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