THE COURIERS OF THE JEWISH
UNDERGROUND IN POLAND
DURING THE HOLOCAUST
Now with proof in our hands, we returned to Warsaw to warn the Jews of the oncoming catastrophe.
Havka Folman Raban
Havka Folman was raised in a family with strong Zionist roots. Havka, her mother, brother and sister became active in the resistance during the occupation. Havka helped organize Dror, a Zionist youth group, in the Warsaw ghetto with Antek Zuckerman. She also took part in He-Halutz, a center for Zionist activities. When she was fifteen the underground chose her to be a courier. With forged identification papers she was sent to the Aryan side of Warsaw where she smuggled young chalutzim (pioneers) to join the underground. Havka made regular trips to Krakow, delivering material necessary to falsify identification cards for the Jewish underground.
With the advantage of her Aryan looks and Polish accent, Havka joined the Polish underground, the Armia Ludowa, using the pseudonym Eva Marchiniak. Through the Armia, she obtained more authentic looking papers, which made her missions for the Jewish resistance less perilous.
Havka often traveled from Warsaw to Chrobieszow, a town with a strong youth resistance organization. In the spring of 1942, a few months after the Reich planned and initiated the Final Solution at the Wannsee Conference, Havka and her friend, courier Frumka Plotnicka were sent to Chrobieszow. When their train arrived at the station it was crowded with the town's Jews, in the process of being terrorized and brutally coerced into freight cars by the SS. Havka and Frumka went inside the station. Behind the facade of their gentile identities they witnessed horrors that would become common throughout Poland. SS officers on horseback whipped and forced their victims to dig their own graves, a prelude to their executions. Young mothers were selected, murdered and their infants trampled under.
After spending a precarious night in the town, Havka and Frumka returned to the station for a premature return to Warsaw. A long freight train was departing. In its wake were heaps of items: pillows, baby carriages, pots, books, and clothing left on the platform. The train's destination was Belzec. The two teenage couriers had witnessed the liquidation and deportation of Chrobieszow's entire Jewish community to a death camp.
"Now with proof in our hands," Chavka wrote, "we returned to Warsaw to warn the Jews of the oncoming catastrophe."51 Havka and Frumka were the first to bring reliable evidence of the Final Solution to the youth organizations in Warsaw. "The idea of mass extermination had not reached the surface of Jewish consciousness," Havka wrote, "and no one wanted to admit its possibility."52
Havka and Frumka encountered from their comrades in the underground what the youth movements would later experience when they passed on the evidence of the Final Solution to the elders in the Jewish communities: denial. " I felt like they did not want to believe us. That was the first and last time during the course of the war that I cried. I was so stressed I could no longer take the tension. I also told my parents what I had seen. I remember my father's eyes. He refused to believe it. 'It is impossible,' he insisted."53
Similar eyewitness accounts from other couriers followed, revealing the Nazi's intent to murder all the Jews in Poland and corroborating Havka and Frumka's experience. The couriers' reports of Nazi Aktions on Poland's Jewish communities were a catalyst for the youth organizations to shift from cultural and education-based activities to armed resistance. On July 28, 1942, a few months after the liquidation of Chrobiescow, representatives of three pioneering youth movements, Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir, Dror, He-Halutz, and Akiva met and established the ZOB. All of the youth organizations would merge into the ZOB. Havka wrote of the transition: "Although unaware of the change, I found myself less involved in studies and educational activities. More and more I found myself on active duty-I went on missions all over the Generalgouvernement."54
After Havka's return from Chrobieszow she was sent to Treblinka to verify the rumors that it was the site of a death camp. At this point in time, few if any knew where Jews were being deported to-only that they were going to be "resettled in the east," as the SS termed it. When Havka deboarded at the town of Treblinka and mixed with the Poles on the station's platform, she heard townspeople complaining of the persistent smell of burnt flesh and bone that had drifted from the ovens of Treblinka four miles away. With this terrible evidence, Havka returned to Warsaw.
As the youth organizations began to prepare for armed resistance, Havka began to smuggle weapons. Under her bed in Warsaw she kept a suitcase containing the first precious cache of weapons accumulated for the ZOB. Months later, while on a mission in Krakow, she was apprehended. Though imprisoned and tortured in Montalupych Prison, she held fast to her story that she was an innocent Polish girl who unwittingly fell in with a group of Jewish rebels. Though her life was spared, she was deported to Auschwitz where she was put to work as an Ephinger Kommando, sorting and classifying piles of documents such as passports, birth certificates, master's degrees, doctorates and pictures of victims. In Auschwitz, her resistance continued. When she found hidden valuables among the possessions, she threw them into the latrines, so the SS could not profit. "This was my way of doing sabotage,"55 she wrote.
Havka survived Auschwitz, then a death march to Germany. She was liberated by the Soviets at the Ravensbruck women's camp and was sent to Denmark with other survivors by the Red Cross. There, after living for five years as Eva Marchiniak, she felt safe enough to reclaim her birth name. Today, Havka Folman Raban lives at the Ghetto Fighter's Kibbutz, which she helped to establish, in the Galil region of Israel.