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Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14

My Mother's Journey
Through the Fire


The camp outside Klobuck was called Podgorz. It was relatively easy to get in and out of the camp since it was lightly guarded, and the guards themselves were Jewish. We just walked up to the gate. The young man who Dr. Frankel sent along as our guide spoke to the guard, and we were let in.

While getting in was easy, staying there was not. The head of the work camp was a Jew from the city of Sosnowiec named Reuven Finer. He wanted us to go and register ourselves with the Gestapo. It was dangerous for the camp for unregistered Jews to be found there.

At that time a lot of Jews were running away from the ghetto in Czestochowa. Conditions in the ghetto were getting worse, and the Germans were starting to send them away from there. Some came to hide in Podgorz. The Jewish authorities in the camp arranged for a large group of them to be registered with the Germans.

The camp was made up of a few buildings. There were a few hundred adults in the camp, but no children. Children were not allowed to remain in the work camp. Even Reuven Finer could not keep his children in the camp. He had to leave them with his wife in the ghetto at Sosnowiec. Since I would not be parted with Nunyala, I refused to be registered. I made arrangements to leave the camp since the Jewish authorities there would not allow Nunyala to remain there in hiding. We decided that my sister Fay should stay there since we felt she would be safe. So Fay went with the others to be registered with the Gestapo.

We met an elderly Jew there named Zife. His daughter was the camp doctor and his son one of the camp administrators. He was such a fine man; may he rest in peace; he promised me he would look after Fay once I had left. He also helped get forged passports for me and my daughter.

A young man in the camp named Cholpack, who was from Wielun, forged for us two Polish passports. I didn't have much money to pay him so I gave him a good overcoat I had for him to sell. Instead of Goldrat, on the passport I was called Guntash, which was a Polish Christian name. With this passport I figured to get to Germany and find some work there.

At that time I thought that Germany would be the safest place to be. The war was going on in Russia and we heard that the fighting there was frightful. The rest of the continent was under strict German control. With so many people in the army there was a shortage of workers in Germany. Since I could speak German and had Polish papers I figured that hiding there might be easier than hiding in Poland.

It was now October 1942.

People in the camp advised me not to go to Germany. Winter was coming, they said, and it would be hard to move around to find work, especially since I did not know my way around there. Food was being rationed in Germany, and without ration cards we would have trouble getting anything to eat. I was told that the best thing to do was to try to find someplace to hide till spring and then try to get to Germany. After the winter there would be a need for field workers because of the spring planting. Then a woman and a child would not attract as much attention.

My sister and I said our good-byes, and I left the camp with my daughter. We started walking in the direction of our hometown. I thought it would be easier to hide there. Maybe even at Pannek's house again.

After the war I found out that the day we left the camp the Germans caught a Jewish woman and a child hiding nearby. They were shot and killed. When the news reached the camp Fay and everybody else thought it was us. There was a lot of recrimination over forcing a woman and child to leave. While Fay mourned us people argued over how we should have been helped rather than sent away. It was two years later that Fay learned that I was still alive.

Fay met Mrs. Guren in Podgorz. She was the lady who came to Pannek's house looking for a place to hide. She paid Fay back the 100 marks I gave her. Mrs. Guren did not survive long in that labor camp. A short while later she died of a heart attack.

Fay remained in Podgorz for about a year. Then she was transferred, with the rest of the camp, to a place called Longinbillo, which was near Breslau in Germany. Fay remained in Longinbillo working in a factory for the rest of the war.

We started walking home. Along the way we walked past a clothing factory. Both Nunyala and I were very hungry. We walked into the factory and approached the manager. I told him that I had a lot of experience sewing, and he gave me a job. But we only stayed there for a day. Too many Germans came into the factory. The town that was on my forged passport was nearby, and I was afraid I would be discovered. So we left.

It was early the next morning when we got to Pannek's. As soon as I got there I ran out of luck. As we were walking into Pannek's house out walked Leon Schoch. He was very happy to see me. After he left Pannek said, "Girl, you can't stay here because Leon will want you to go with him, and if you won't he will surely threaten to tell the Germans."

I knew he was right and that I would have to leave the area.

Before I left I asked Pannek if he would keep my daughter there over the winter. I offered to pay him. If Nunyala stayed with him I wouldn't have to fear for her so much. I could go back to the work camp where I left my sister and stay there for the winter. In the spring I would come back for Nunyala, and together we would go to Germany.

Pannek said, "Go up to the attic and hide from your daughter, and we'll see if she would get used to it here."

But she carried on for such a long time that Pannek finally said, "Even if you give me a room full of gold I could not keep your child."

After that Nunlaya was so afraid I would leave her that she had to go with me everywhere I went. She would often put her arms around my neck and say, "Mommy, you would never give me away, would you?"

We went to stay with other Christians I knew, but it was like before. They were too afraid to keep us very long and would soon send us away.

Not far from Pannek lived Urbonek's sister. Her name was Marisha. She lived with her father-in-law. Her husband was in a labor camp in Germany. We went to her house.

The father-in-law was afraid to let us stay there and told Marisha to get rid of us, but she said, "No, it's Saturday, and they should at least stay the Sabbath."

I showed them my passport thinking that would change her father-in-law's mind, but Marisha said it would do me no good in Boleslawiec. I was too well known. She was, of course, right. I told her I did not know what else to do or where else to go. She suggested I go to the Protectorat. There the passport would do us some good. Maybe there we could find somewhere to stay and wait till spring.

The Germans split off the eastern part of Poland, the part I lived in, and administered it from Germany. The western part of the country was given to Russia as part of a treaty with Germany at the beginning of the war. The middle part of the country was under a Polish government set up by the Germans. This area was called the Protectorat or the General Gouvernement. The Germans set up a border between the eastern and the middle parts of Poland. The border was guarded as if they were two separate countries.

To get to the Protectorat we had to be smuggled across the border. Marisha knew of some people who had arranged to have themselves smuggled across the border. She went to find how they did it.

When she returned she said that Nunyala and I should go to the city of Gnashin. We would be able to get there by train. In Gnashin, which was near the General Gouvernement border, I could find a smuggler to get us across.

I knew that it was no easy thing to get across the border, but I had no choice. I had to try.

On Sunday morning Nunyala and I set out for the train station. On the way I spotted two policemen walking toward us at a distance. I froze in my tracks. I recognized the two of them and knew that if they looked at me they would recognize me too. I didn't know what to do. If I ran or suddenly turned around it would surely attract their attention. If I stayed they would see me as well.

Suddenly, before I had a chance to do anything, a woman who I never saw before in my life, rode up next to us in her wagon. She said to me, "Quickly, get in."

We got in, and she rode us past the policemen. As we passed them she blocked their view of me. But they did not notice anything, and we got to the station safely. As I got off the wagon I asked her how she knew I was in danger. She smiled and said that she just knew. Then she road away. Standing there looking at her go I had a strange feeling. Could I have been looking at an angel? I don't know, but to this day I think it might have been.

At the station I met a couple who lived in my apartment building. They came over and told me how sad they were at what was happening to me. They knew I was running and hiding, and they wished me luck.

As I waited for the train I overheard a Polish girl talking to a well dressed German woman. Pointing to me she said that I was Jewish and that she knew me from the town. I heard the German woman say to her, "Let her go. She has a child with her."

We were unmolested as we boarded the train.

When we got to Gnashin, which was just a kilometer from the border, it was raining and cold. My daughter was shivering, and I had no place to go. I saw some Germans in the street outside the train station so we just walked into a house nearby.

The people in the house asked me who I was and what I wanted. I asked them if we might stay the night. I showed them my Polish passport and made up a story about my husband being wanted by the Germans for killing a pig. It was against the ration laws to kill a pig without approval. The penalty was death. So my husband ran away, and I also had to run away. I told them I was trying to get across the border.

They didn't believe me at all and told me to get out of their house. They said if I wasn't a Jew, certainly my child was, and drove us out of the house.

I walked across the street and walked into another house. The man there was very nice. He saw my daughter was wet and cold, and he told us to come in and sit down. He gave us something warm to drink. His wife was sick and in bed, and he had a 20 year old daughter living there. Again I showed my passport and told the same story about my husband killing a pig. They said we could stay the night.

The man's daughter asked me what I would do when I got across the border. I told her I would look for a job as a seamstress since I could sew. She said that she needed a seamstress and that she had a sewing machine. She asked me to stay awhile and sew for her. The place was warm, and there was food, so I happily said I would stay. I, of course, was in no rush to go anywhere so I thought myself very lucky. For the next two days I did some sewing for the family.

On the second day, as I was sitting out in the yard, I saw a neighbor looking at me out of his window. He stared at me for a long while. That evening as I sat at the sewing machine the young girl came and sat down next to me. I noticed that she was shaking. I feared that someone had said something to her, so I got an idea.

She had a brother who worked in the coal mines in a nearby town. Every few nights he came home. I asked her if he was coming home that night. She said he was, and I asked if she thought he would send a letter for me from the next town. I said that I wanted to let my parents know that I was all right, but I didn't think it safe to post it from Gnashin.

She brought me a post card and a pen. She sat near me as I wrote out the card. I started the card with a greeting that the Christians used when they wrote. When I finished the card I gave it to her to give to her brother.

As I knew she would she read the card because a short while later she came back into the room smiling. She told me that the neighbor who had spied on me from his window was a policeman and had said to her that I was a Jew. She told him that I was not, and now the card proved it. We both laughed about it, but on the inside I was quite scared. I knew that I would have to leave as soon as I could.

I really did not know where to go. During the time I was there, I had not inquired on how to get across the border. I was now 14 kilometers from Klobuck where I had left my sister. I decided to try the camp at Klobuck again. Maybe Fay would be able to hide us or get us into a ghetto somewhere.

The next morning I got up early and watched as the policeman left his house. I told the family I was staying in Klobuck where I had friends who I wanted to see before I went across the border. I told them I would return and asked for directions to Klobuck.

They told me to take a road that circled half way around the town. We were to stay on that road until we got to a large gate. From there the road straightened out and went straight to Klobuck. We said good-bye, and left. Along the way it started raining. We walked until we came to a large gate, and there the road forked.

I stood there for awhile not knowing which road to take. Then a wagon rode up and stopped. I greeted the man on the wagon with a Christians greeting, the kind they when they said hello to each other. He gave me a very mean look. He must have spotted me for a Jew. I pointed down one of the roads and asked if that was the way to Klobuck. He very angrily answered me, "Yes," and quickly rode off.

We started walking down that road. We walked for a long time till we got to a village. Outside the village were big warning signs, but since it was raining and my daughter was cold, we just hurried past them. Later, I remembered it said that we were entering the General Gouvernement area. But since I thought we were going to Klobuck, I didn't stop to look at the signs.

I didn't know where I was. So I walked up to a house along the road and asked some people standing outside. The people at the house asked what did I mean where was I. They said that I had just crossed the border into Czestochowa. In trying to go to Klobuck I accidentally crossed into the Protectorat.

The people asked why nobody stopped me at the border. I said I saw no one there. Just as we were talking, a police car went by and took up a position along the border. The people said that not for one minute since 1939 was the border left unguarded until today.

At first I was going to go to the ghetto in Czestochowa. I thought I might find someone I knew. Maybe someone from my town. I wanted desperately to see a familiar face. On the way there I saw a column of Jews being led by some German soldiers. I found out that this was happening every day. The Germans were removing the ghetto's inhabitants. So I changed my mind.

I decided to go to Ostrow Lubelski near Lublin. Lublin was on the eastern side of the General Gouvernement. There I hoped to find my oldest brother, Gavriel, and his family. I had not heard from them in a long time, but since the Germans had resettled them there I thought they might still be there.

We went to the train station in Czestochowa and bought a ticket to Lublin. The ticket seller asked me which way I wanted to go since there was no direct train to Lublin. He asked if I wanted to go through Kielce or Warsaw. I asked which way was better. He said to go through Warsaw. That train was due to arrive in Warsaw at 9:00 P.M., and the train to Lublin left from there two hours later at 11:00. So we took the train to Warsaw.


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.