Personal Reflections - In Hiding
Esther Bem | Bronia Beker | Sally Eisner | Renata Eisen | Rosalind Goldenberg | Anita Ekstein | Bianca Schlesinger

Anita Ekstein

My name is Anita Ekstein and I live in Toronto, Canada. I was born on July 18, 1934 in Lwow, Poland, to Edzia and Fischel Helfgott.

I was their only child.

When the war broke out in September of 1939, we were living in Synowodzko Wyzne, near Stryj. My father was an accountant and my mother a secretary in a large firm that owned many lumber mills. The name of this firm was Godula and they had one such mill in Synowodzko Wyzne. Both my parents had previously- worked for the same company in Sambor, my mother's home town, and this is where they had met. In Synowodzko Wyzne life was good. As I said, I was an only child, spoiled and pampered and the apple of my father's eye. My father was a great sportsman. He enjoyed skiing and jogging and running and mountain climbing. He would take me with him just about everywhere he went.  
It is amazing what one can remember at the age of five. I remember the day the war broke out. There was sound of planes in the air and very soon after we saw Polish soldiers running with their shoes in their hands. We children were warned not to pick up anything off the ground because we were told that the planes might be dropping bombs or poisoned toys. I remember there was even talk of gas masks because perhaps there might be some threat of gas.

By late September of 1939, we were occupied by the Russians. During the occupation, life went on pretty well the same as before: The Russians took over the company and my father and mother continued to work there. We were free to come and go. I remember going to Stryj to visit my father's parents and spending some time with our relatives there.

Perhaps it was in 1940 or 1941,we travelled to Sambor for Pesach to spend the holiday with my mother's parents who were extremely religious. I even remember that they took me to watch where they were making matzos. At the Seder my grandfather wore a white coat. He was propped up by pillows and I even remember that particular Seder. That was the last one we were to spend together.

In June of 1941 the Russians began their retreat. I remember hearing discussions between my mother and my father about what they should do. The Russians had asked my father to take his family and come with them to Russia. I suppose he didn't believe what awaited them because they decided to stay and that was a fatal mistake.

Some time after the Russians pulled out and before the Germans came in, there was a period of time when the Ukrainians went on a rampage. The landlord, where we lived, apparently was a very good man because he hid our family in his barn, in the hay, for about ten days or two weeks. He brought us food. I remember being cautioned to be very quiet, not to make any noise, because even his wife didn't know we were in there and when she came in to collect the eggs or do some other chores in the barn, we had to be very careful. He used to come in and tell us what went on the outside. He told us that many people lost their lives, even some Poles. The Ukrainians were taking revenge for any ills they had suffered at the hands of the Poles and of course, the Jews were always a favourite target. It was a good excuse to kill a few of them. I suppose when things had quieted down we returned back to our apartment and started to live in fear. I don't exactly remember when the Germans came in. I can't recall the day or anything in particular.

My next recollection is of one night. My mother and my father were sitting completely dressed with their suitcases packed. I really don't know why, maybe there had been a rumor of some kind of an "akcion" (round-up) or something to that effect because we certainly were ready. Finally, there came the dreaded knock on the door and the Germans yelled "open up" in German. My mother opened the door and they told us to go with them. I remember my parents each picked up a suitcase and we were just starting to leave our apartment when another German came and asked my father his name. After a few minutes of talking and consulting with another German officer, we were told to go back to our apartment. My father who was not a religious person picked me up in his arms and made me kiss the mezuzzah. We had been spared for that particular time. The next morning we found out that our neighbours next door who had a little girl my age -- I used to play with her - they were gone. We never saw them again.

I remember standing in line with my parents and many other Jews as they turned in their fur coats and their jewelry. I remember my mother taking her wedding ring off her finger and having to give it to the Germans. My father had a fur coat, a coat with a fur lining I should say. They ripped out the fur lining and they gave him back the cloth. Those were terrible times.

I think it was the fall of 1941, we all had to move and were resettled in the ghetto in Skole. When the Russians were retreating they had blown up all the bridges and roads behind them. There was a bridge across the river Stryj that they had completely destroyed. The Jews were taken by trucks from the Skole ghetto and driven to Synowodzko Wyzrn every single day to work on the road and on the bridge.

My mother and father were gone every day and were brought back at night. I was left with a neigh-bour while they were at work. One day my mother took ill and she didn't go to work. She stayed at home. But during the day, she went out to do some shopping and on that particular day the SS staged an "akcion"(random round-up). She was picked up on the street and taken away.

My next recollection is about waking up and my father sitting beside my bed, crying and telling me that my mother was gone and that we won't know when we would see her again. Eventually, we learned that this particular transport was taken to Belzec (a death camp). I believe this is where the Nazis killed my mother. The date was October 18,1942.

Afterwards, my father seemed to have lost the will to live. He was working and taking care of me. He was an accountant, so he worked in the office, where they were taken for road and bridge repair. There he met a Pole by the name of Jozef Matusiewicz. Mr.Matusiewicz came from a town called Rozdol. He was brought there by the Germans to work as a stock keeper. He and my father became friends and one day my father asked him if he would save his little girl.

Mr. Matusiewic was a wonderful man. He was an officer of the Polish army. He was a very intelligent person with a very generous heart and at a great risk to himself he smuggled me out of the ghetto in Skole and took me to his home in Rozdol, to his wife and niece, whom he was bringing up at that time. I think this happened around Christmas because I have recollection of a Christmas tree decorated with candles and Carolers singing under the windows. I was terribly lonely for my father. This was the first time I had been separated from him since my mother had been taken away, and I cried an awful lot. But, I was a child and all the preparations for Christmas was very exciting to a little girl who had spent the last year in the ghetto. The sight of the different foods, or good food in general made my mouth water. I had been hungry very often in the ghetto.

Mr. Matusiewicz came home every few weeks and gave me reports and brought letters from my father. To the neighbours and friends I was supposed to be an orphan niece, whose parents had died in a flu epidemic. I was given a new name which I had to memorize and always remember.

I became Anna Jaworska.

This was a very religious family and they started to teach me how to be a good Catholic. This was necessary so I would be prepared to answer any questions, if asked, and this would also be safer for me and for the family. I was 8 & 1/2 years old, -- confused, lonely and scared. Everything and everyone around me was strange to me. I was kept in the house, and had to disappear when someone knocked, that is until I was ready to meet others. Of course I did not go to school. Lusia, the 18 year old daughter of the family, who was studying to be a teacher, taught me to read and write at home.

One day, I think it was either February or March (1943) we were sitting in the front room reading and we saw two soldiers with rifles walk by the window and knock at the front door. I suppose it was instant reflex, Lusia ran with me to the rear room in the back of the house and pushed me out of the window. It was winter and there was a lot of snow. I was not dressed for outdoors, but I ran and hid in an outhouse and locked the door. I stayed there until it was dark, and then I crept back to the house. I was let in and told that the soldiers had been looking for me. Someone, had informed the local police that there was a child in this house that should be checked out. They were told that I had gone to visit other members of the family. By some miracle, the soldiers believed it and the family didn't suffer as a result. As I sat outside for those long hours in the outhouse, I heard strange sounds going on but didn't know what it was. The following day we found out. A few Jews were discovered still hiding in Rozdol. They were lined up in the cemetery and were shot - one by one by one. That would have been my fate too -- had they found me that day.

After this incident, it was impossible for me to remain with the family -- their life was in danger. They contacted Mr. Matusiewicz who came quickly the next morning and in the dark of the night he took me back to my father.

By then, only three months later, the ghetto in Skole had been made "Judenrein". ( "Free of Jews".) Only 30 men, who were still able to work, were transported back to Synewodzo Wyzne (my original little town) and put into a compound which became a slave labour camp called: Hoch-Tief.

These men worked on the construction of a railway bridge during the day, and brought back at night. My father was one of the 30 men. I was taken back to my father in the middle of the night. It was pitch dark. I couldn't see where I was being taken. My father shared a tiny room with two other men. I suppose it was a miracle that Mr. Matusiewicz could smuggle me in without anyone noticing me. The reunion with my father, even in those terrible times, was wonderful. I still remember his tears and how he held and hugged me. I was just happy to be with him. Of course, today, I understand the torment he must have felt about me being back there with him.

My father had to go to work all day and leave me alone. He didn't know how he would feed me and of course, I could have been discovered any moment. I slept with him in a narrow bed and in the room there was a 'commode'. He made some holes in the back of that commode so I would have air and I would be locked in it whenever someone was in the room and most of the day when he was away. At night when he came back, he would bring me a piece of bread or some scrap of food that he probably didn't eat himself in order to feed me.

For six long weeks I was in that room petrified at every sound at every footstep. I was shaking in my boots every time someone walked by the door. The days were terribly long. I was just a little girl who had nothing to read, no one and nothing to play with, no one to talk to. I only waited for the day to end -- when my father would come home and spend the evening with me. I remember him telling me and begging me not to go, ever, near the window because I could be seen. But one day I did look outside because it was spring and the sun was shining.

That particular night when he came home he told me that one of the other Jewish men had seen me in the window and he begged me never, ever to do it again. How lucky I was that it was not a German who saw me!

One day one of the Jewish men was shot and his body was thrown into my room. I spent that whole day in the room with that corpse. To this day I don't know how I could have done it?

When my father came home that night I can still remember the horror on his face when he realized what had happened. They had opened the door and thrown the body in and I was in the cupboard and no one had seen me. Once again, I was lucky.

During that whole time, my father and Mr. Matusiewicz were planning of what to do with me and how to save me.

Mr. Matusiewicz had a nephew, a priest who lived Liczkowce, close to Husiatyn that was near the Russian border. He got in touch with him and asked him if he could bring me and would he look after me? One day, again in the middle of the night, I had to say good-bye to my father. As it turned out, it was for the last time -- for I would never see him again.

He explained to me that the war was on and that my life was in danger and that I had to go. He tried to assure me that he would be all right and that one day we would be together again. "Be a good girl", he said at the door. "Be a good girl so that I can be proud of you, always". I have never forgotten his words. All my life I thought of them. This was in the spring of 1943.

Mr. Matusiewicz and I, went to the railway station and we took a train to Husiatyn. I don't remember exactly how long the trip took. It seemed very long. All the way I was so scared that someone might ask questions, that someone might recognize me as a Jew. This was a tremendous risk this man took to save a Jewish child.

We came to Liczkowce to Mr. Matusiewicz's nephew. He was a Catholic priest. His name was Micha Sujata and he was the priest of a small church. Liczkowce was a relatively small town. The priest had a housekeeper, her name was Pani Karola . She didn't know I was a Jewish child. I was supposed to be the niece of the priest. His sister had died and he agreed to bring me up. This was the story.

Pani Karola was a terrible person. If she would have known that I was Jewish, my life wouldn't have been worth very much. Life, for me there was very hard, indeed. A priest is by no means rich and this was war time. Food was scarce. They had a small garden and they had a cow and I guess they existed on the produce from the garden and on the milk from the cow.

That cow proved to be my nemesis. My task was to watch her. In Europe it was not like here where you turn out the cows to pasture. There, if you had a cow, you, had to have someone to watch it all day long. Wherever the cow went you went. As I said before, this cow proved to be my nemesis. She got into all kinds of things. When I would stop and read a book and turn my head for a moment the cow would take off into a neighbour's patch and destroy their vegetables. Of course, I was punished for such things. One of the punishments was that I had to kneel on corn kernels for a half an hour at a time.

The priest had very little to do with me. It was his housekeeper who took care of me. She fed me and I suppose she dressed me from whatever clothes could be scrounged from the parishioners. I learned my catholic- prayers. I had to go to church every single day and religion was drummed into me from morning till night. I knew I was Jewish but I also knew that to survive I couldn't be Jewish, so therefore I had to do what I was told and not tell anyone that I was a Jewish child.

I remember I had a friend that lived nearby. I used to play with her and one day, in confidence, by sharing secrets, I told her that I was Jewish and of course, I lived in terror ever after. Maybe she didn't understand or thought I was lying. In any case, luckily, nothing came of it. I was terribly lonely. I really didn't have any friends except for the little girl that I mentioned because I was afraid to make other friends and I thought it was much safer to be by myself.

I read whatever I could put my hands on. There were a few books in the priest's library and I read them all. Mostly they were bible stories or stories about saints.

This was a very small town and fairly primitive. Here I had to learn how to churn butter; how to dress flax; how stuff geese; and how to feed chickens. There was also an orchard nearby. During the summer days I would sit in the cherry tree for hours and eat cherries until I had a stomach aches. I remember this as one of my few pleasures.

All this time I had no news of my father. There were no letters. Perhaps the priest had received letters from Mr. Matusiewicz who told him what had happened to my father but I was not told of it. I was living from day to day hoping and dreaming and fantasizing that one day there would be a knock on the door and my father would be standing there.

The Catholic religion at that particular time did not mean very much to me. I learned it because I had to but I really didn't believe in it. But slowly, as time went on, this became something to hang on to and I did start to believe and I started to pray to Jesus and asked him to send my father to me and for the war to be over and for us to be together again.

On the 24th of March,1944 the Russians troops arrived I remember they started to come early one morning and they came in trucks, on foot, in broken-down wagons, moving endlessly in a long convoy of cars and trucks. The village people stood and watched. I don't remember any rejoicing or any kind of a celebrations. They just stood there and watched them coming. Once again I was under Russian occupation.

It took quite a while for the Russians to reach Rozdol where the Matusiewicz family lived and all this time I didn't hear anything from them. It was not until April,1945, that a young woman came to the parsonage with a letter from the Matusiewicz family and told them that she came to take me away, back to Rozdol. She told me that she was Jewish, when no one was listening. Somehow, she met the Matusiewicz family and they asked her to travel back to Liczkowce to fetch me. It was safer for her to travel at that time. I don't remember exactly how long it took us to get to Rozdol. We stopped in Tarnopol , met some people this young girl knew and then we also stopped in Lwow. We kept on traveling until, finally, we reached Rozdol.

When we arrived we found Mrs. Matusiewicz and her niece Lucy. Mr. Matusiewicz was not there. He was taken away by the Russian soldiers as soon as they reached Rozdol and shipped him to Siberia, because he had worked for the Germans. They labelled him a collaborator and he was taken away.

The poverty at that time was unbelievable. There was no food. We had no clothes. Although we were, so called liberated, our troubles were certainly not over. The Ukrainians took the opportunity to cause some mischief of their own. There was a band of them. They were called Banderowtse. Hordes of them roamed the streets at night. They tortured and killed Poles and hung them from lamp posts on the street. Not a single night went by that someone was not killed. They would come during the night and knock on the window and tell you that you have twenty-four hours notice to get out of there because this was their country now.

One night, one such knock, came on our window too and we were told that we must be gone in twenty-four hours. We were three women. Mrs. Matusiewicz, Lucy and I and we had no choice but to pack up whatever we could carry and to take the cow, of course, and we went to the train station. We were loaded on one of those transport cars with several other families; children, belongings; people; animals; all in the same car. We were on the road for six weeks. Eventually, we reached Stryj. It was summertime thank goodness, and at least we didn't have to contend with the cold. Whenever the train would stop and we would be sitting on some siding, we children, would go out into orchards and steal apples or potatoes or whatever would be growing in the ground. This way we had something to eat.

When we reached Stryj I felt that I knew where my grandparents' house was and I took Lucy by the hand and we walked from the station until we came to my grandparents' house. I didn't know the address but I knew where they lived because often I had gone there with my parents from the railroad station and I remembered the way.

When we came to the building we knocked on the door and we asked if the family Helfgot was there. We were told by an old lady that there was no one there by such name that there were no Jews left at all. They had all been exterminated. All along I had hoped when we reached Stryj I would find some members of my family. Unknown to me, there was a cousin left in Stryj who had been in hiding there and who was there at the same time but of course we had no way of knowing of each other being there and it was only many years later when I met her that she told me the story.

I kept hoping that my father was still alive for no one told me otherwise. When we returned from my grandparents' house I was told, for the first time, that my father was no longer alive. I will never forget this day -- as long as I live.

I couldn't believe it, it couldn't be true. He had to be alive, he promised me he would be there when the war was over and we would be together. Mrs. Matusiewicz told me my father had been shot dead. She did not tell me any of the details. These I would learn only much later when Mr. Matuseiewicz returned from Siberia. He was there at the time and he witnessed it.

We continued travelling west until finally we reached Kluczbork. It was in Slask, Wojewodztwo, Opole. Tens of thousands of Poles had to leave the part of Poland which was now Russia and travel west to the newly acquired Polish territories. The people were resettled all over there and we settled in Kluczbork. We were given a small little house that had previously belonged to a German family. I don't know what had become of them.

We arrived in Kluczbork at the end of July, 1945 and for the first time in my life I began going to school. I loved school, I couldn't get enough of learning; enough -of books. I devoured them, whatever I could put my hands on. As I said before, the Matusiewicz family was extremely religious, especially Mrs. Matusiewicz. She prayed all day long and she went to church three times a day and I had to do the same. But by then, I believed in Jesus probably as much as she did. We worked very hard. We started a little garden and I suppose, again the cow, we had brought with us, saved our lives because there was food scarce.

As winter came on, there was no coal, there was no wood. When transport cars or trains with coal stopped on the siding, we children would jump on top, throw as many pieces of coal as we could and once the train left we all ran with our baskets, put the coal in them and brought them home. That is how we managed to keep warm that winter.

Water was a block away. I had to carry pails of water everyday. I worked very hard. It was expected of me. I had to because Mrs. Matusiewicz had some kind of a job. I don't remember exactly what she did. Lucy was a teacher and she was working all day and all this time no word from Mr. Matusiewicz. However, one day, I think sometimes in the fall, or early winter of 1945, he just walked in the door. I don't know how he found us but I suppose there were ways to find out where the family was taken. It was wonderful to see him. I loved him. He was the last link with my father and he could tell me all about him. He came back sick and tired and skinny and he could barely walk. He had been starved in Siberia. He had nothing to eat and he worked very hard and it took quite a while until he began to feel like himself again. At the first opportunity he sat down with me and told me the details of my father's death.

On July 15, 1943, while they were still working together, my father and Mr. Matusiewicz, a call came to the office giving an order to kill whatever Jews were left at the time. My father was in the office, he heard the call. "I do not know why he did not run. He knew the countryside around there like the palm of his hand" said Mr. Matusiewicz.

Perhaps he had lost the will to live, perhaps he thought it was useless, perhaps he was tired of running, perhaps he had had enough; When the day's work was done he went and hid under the bridge which was not a very safe place. He just sat there and waited. He was soon spotted. He then jumped into the river and started to swim. My father had a heart condition. I don't know how he managed but he swam for quite a while, according to Mr. Matusiewicz, with the Germans on one side of the river and the Ukrainians on the other. He didn't have a chance. He had to come out sooner or later. When he did, he was handed a shovel in order to dig his own grave, which he did. He was then shot and buried right beside the bridge in Synowodzko Wyzne.

I was told that no Jews had survived, that no one was left from my family. In order to stay with the Matusiewicz family and be part of them, I would have to be-come a Catholic. I really didn't mind it by then. I very much believed in Jesus and everything he stood for. I believed everything I was taught in the bible classes and I wanted to become a Catholic and be part of them and their family. Therefore, in June, 1945, I was baptized. I was given first communion and I be-came a full-fledged Catholic. I had accepted the fact that my entire family was dead and that I would live and grow up with the Matusiewicz family. I started to go to school and was a good student. I enjoyed learning very much.

On April 1, 1946, as I was coming home from school I was met outside the house by Lucy who told me that my aunt was inside the house. I didn't believe her I thought it was April Fool's Day. She was just pulling a joke. We went inside and there was a lady whom I recognized to be my aunt. My mother's sister, Sala Stern from Krakow. Before the war, our families had spent many happy times together. It is difficult to describe the reunion. She overwhelmed me. She was crying and hugging me and I was in shock. I couldn't react. I couldn't believe it. This wasn't happening. It took quite a while to calm me down. Slowly the story came out. Unknown to me, my father had left two letters before his death, with Mr. Matusiewicz. One was addressed to his brother in the Belgium Congo and the other to my mother's sister in New York City. He had promised my father that when the war was over and I had survived he would send these two letters to my family and he, being the wonderful man that he was, he did.

It took quite a while, and as a matter of fact, I was told it took two months for an ordinary postcard to reach New York. In it he wrote that I had survived and where I was. When the card reached New York, my aunt was already aware that her sister, Sala Stern, had also survived and lived in Katowice. A telegram was sent to her from New York with information about me and Sala came immediately.

For an entire year she lived in Katowice, a scant hundred kilometers away, not aware of my existence. She had also lost everyone -- her husband and two children. She had been through several concentration camps among them Auschwitz and at the moment she was living in Katowice with a nephew of hers, my cousin, who also survived.

She wanted to take me with her immediately but I wouldn't go. I was afraid to leave. I was afraid to leave the Matusiewicz family with whom I had been for such a long time. After much consultation it was decided that I would go back with her but so would Mr. Matusiewicz, with the understanding that I would only spend a short visit with her and then I would return again with Mr. Matusiewicz - back to Kluczbork

In Katowice there was another reunion and a great fuss was made over me. For a couple of days we sat and talked. My aunt took me shopping and after a little while they persuaded me to stay with them a little longer and allow Mr. Matusiewicz to return home but I thought it was just for a short time.

All along I wanted to go back to the Matusiewicz family. When my aunt found me I was twelve years old but I looked about eight. I was very small for my age, with a bloated stomach from malnutrition. I had a dreadful cough and lice in my hair. She pro-ceeded to clean me up. She cut my hair and spent hours combing it. She bought me a new dress and made home made remedies to get rid of my cough.

I really enjoyed all the attention after so many years of neglect. But there was a question of religion. She couldn't bear the thought that I was a Catholic and she wanted me to change immediately but of course, I couldn't. I needed time. I needed time to think and to realize what had happened to me and to take it all in.

Every time we went out and passed a church I'd run in, get down on my knees and pray. She would come and drag me out. I used to tell her that I would make a Catholic out of her before she would make a Jew out of me. I was afraid of Jews, I really was. I had been taught in the bible classes that Jews were not good that they had killed Jesus. That they were evil people and at that particular point I was afraid of them. My cousin's brother, Stefan Horsznwski had also survived and he was living in Lodz at the time, and he came to see me. In him I found a kindred spirit. He listened to me and he seemed to understand how I felt. Somehow, he must have persuaded my aunt to agree that, if I stayed with her, I would be allowed to go to church whenever I wanted.

So, I stayed on in Katowice for a while longer. My aunt took me back to Kluczbork for visits but by then I was getting used to her, to the affection and attention she lavished on me. I wasn't so sure any more that I wanted to remain with the Matusiewicz family. I went back with her to Katowice and one day I discovered libraries. I had never seen so many books in one place. I used to go in the morning and take out a book and read it and go back at noon and take out another one and read it. I read day and night.

At the time when my aunt found me she already had papers to go to Paris, France. After a while she convinced me to go with her. I thought it over and decided that it couldn't be such a bad idea after all. So we went to say good-bye to the Matusiewicz family, as it turned out, for the last time. I didn't realize how far Paris was. I really didn't know. I thought I could come back and forth any time to see them.

In July, 1946, we left Poland, for Paris. On the way we stopped in Prague and also in Munich for a few days and my aunt even entertained the idea of staying on in Germany, in one of the D.P. camps. But when I saw the German soldiers, prisoners, working on the streets in the rubble in Munich, I went absolutely hysterical. I was not going to stay there. I couldn't bear the sound of their voices. I had to get out of there and because of me, we continued on to Paris.

Actually Paris was just supposed to be a stopover, we were really going to America to my family in New York but we had to stop in Paris and wait for a visa. In Paris my aunt found work and I went to school. We were strangers in a strange country without a language. We used to go to the soup kitchen on Rue des Rosiers where all the refugees used to gather for one good meal of the day

My aunt tried very hard to turn me into a Jew. She took me to a Shomer Hatzair (Zionist) group but I wouldn't stay. I discovered churches in Paris too. I would disappear and go in and pray. She would come after me and haul me out. This went on for quite a while. Then she decided that it would be a good idea if she would send me to a Jewish camp. So again she made some inquiries and she tried to send me to a Shomer Hatzair camp in Switzerland. I went. We went to the station with a bunch of other kids ready to take the train and I cried and cried. I didn't want to go. They gave me the Jewish flag to hold and I didn't want to hold it but I had no choice. It was decided that I must go, so I went. Two days later I ran away. I took the train back to Paris and I came back to the hotel where we were living and wonders of wonders she was really glad to see me.

Little by little I began to regain my Jewish identity. I realized that all the people I met were Jewish and that they were very nice people. I heard their stories and what they had been through. Slowly, I began to realize that I had to be proud that I was Jewish and I had to remain Jewish for my parents' sake. In time, I stopped going to church and I stopped praying.

There was talk of a new Jewish state and I remember the celebrations in Paris when the State of Israel was declared and somehow I regained the pride in being Jewish. I still corresponded with the Matusiewicz family and in their letters they kept on asking me whether I was going to church and whether I was remaining a good Catholic. After a while I just stopped answering those particular questions.

We remained in Paris for two years. On August, 1948, my aunt and I left Paris and arrived in Toronto, since we couldn't get into the USA. In Toronto at the station we were met by my aunt from New York and my cousins and for the first time in a long while, I had a sense of what family means.

In June of 1955, I married Frank Ekstein. He and his entire family including aunts and uncles and a grandmother left Czechoslovakia in May of 1939. They saw the hand writing on the wall and they were fortunate to leave in time. They came to Canada as farmers because that was the only way Canada would admit anyone at the time.

We have three children two sons and a daughter. They have all had a Jewish education. They have known parts of my story since they were old enough to understand. I have tried to instill in them the meaning of being Jewish and the pride of being Jewish and I have told them about their grandparents and what they stood for.

Mr. and Mrs. Matusiewicz in Poland are long dead. For my wedding present they sent me a beautiful letter and they enclosed the fake birth certificate under which I was registered during the war. My name, then, was Anna Jaworska.

Today I still keep in touch with Lucy. We exchange letters several times a year and pictures of our families. She never asks me what religion I practice and I don't mention it either. However, when all the Matusiewiczs died, Lucy wrote me a letter and asked me to pay to have a mass said for their souls and I did. I feel I owed them that much.

I still have nightmares but not as often as I used to. Occasionally, I wake up in a cold sweat, thinking that I am being pursued by the Germans and those memories seem to get brighter as I get older.

They will never go away.

This, slightly abbreviated, story is printed here with the permission of Anita Ekstein.


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.