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 Anna / Poland



Anna Dula was born in the small village of Bronocice, Poland. She was the youngest of six siblings, three boys and three girls.The Dula family were millers. They ran the local flour mill. It happened that they were very religious. They also happened to be the only Jewish family living in the area. It was a strange position to be in. Anna's father always looked like a prophet to her, with his air of authority, and his long beard. On another side, he loved music, and liked to play the harmonica. Anna's mother was frail. She loved nature, and gloried in the gardens and fields that surrounded their country house.


In 1929, the Dula family moved to the small city of Dzialosyce, which had a strong Jewish contingent among its 6-7000 people. This was the main motive for the move from the isolation of the country, but it was also so that the children could further their education. Schooling didn't go beyond elementary school in the country. After some adjustment, by and large Anna had a happy childhood in the environs of the city. This began to change in 1939. The Germans had built up a large standing army, and were deporting non-Germans from their country. These developments made many neighboring Poles nervous. Tension was on the rise, and even a young girl in Gymnasium (equivalent to our high school) as Anna was had to take notice. On the first of September, 1939, the Germans made their move. They mobilized their forces into Poland and captured many cities. Anna's brother Wolf was in the Polish army. Although brave, the Polish army could not make a stand. Poland fell to the Nazi regime. This is the beginning of what would become World War II.


As the War went on, the Nazis established anti-Jewish laws inside all their captured dominions. By 1941, all Jews were required to register their identities with the government. They had to wear the armbands with the yellow Judenstern -- the six pointed star -- whenever they went out in public. Also, all Jewish businesses were being "Aryanized": Confiscated and turned over to non-Jewish owners. Anna's father spent ten weeks showing the operations of his business to a German manager, and then was kicked out without any compensation. Jewish families had also been relieved of their homes, and placed into small apartments in a designated area. These apartments had two rooms: A kitchen, and a living/sleeping area. In these small spaces dwelt as many as ten or fifteen people. And there was as little freedom outside. The Nazi curfew meant everyone had to be back inside their homes by 6 pm.


The Jews were slowly stripped of everything. The Nazis made "inspections" of their homes, always taking things of any remote value. Sometimes they took people away, too, and marched them out into the street and shot them. There were also the "contributions" required by the German government: A biweekly extortion paid by Jewish families to avoid deportation to the forced labor camps. With no means of making a living, many Jews found it more and more impossible to pay. Right before the war, one of Anna's brothers had bought a large stash of goods, clothes, linens, and non-perishable foods, and they hid them in a secret room behind a false wall. They used these things to help them survive and pay the Germans for a while. A day came when a German patrol discovered the stash. They took everything away, but they could find no one to blame for it, because no one would claim the items. Nevertheless, without these things to draw on, it became harder for the family to support themselves.


The Germans were also interested in breaking the Jewish spirit. Jewish services and the teaching of the Jewish faith were outlawed. There was to be no education of any sort for Jewish children. Many Polish Jews felt that the Nazi oppression couldn't last, and so continued to secretly prepare their children for resuming their studies once the War was over. Illegal "schools" were set up in basements and other clandestine places. Anna's sister taught dozens of children in one of these classrooms in their home.


As a further embarrassment, Jewish men were required by law to shave off their beards. Some, like Anna's father, viewed the beard as part of their faith and heritage, and refused. Eventually he was taken on the street by Nazis and forcibly shaved. Anna recalls that he was never the same man again after this humiliation.


Anna began making trips for the family, running out to a nearby city where she was not known and trading linens and other items for food. It was not permitted for Jews to do this, so Anna travelled incognito, without her armband. In September a man who had escaped the Warsaw Ghetto came to Dzylosice. He told people of the horrendous conditions and widespread starvation there. The Dula family had some cousins who lived in Warsaw. They resolved to try to help them any way they could. Anna took the train up to Warsaw, carrying a slab of lard to give to her relatives. She was able to enter the ghetto under the pretense of being a gentile woman who wished to sell the lard to the Jews. The ruse worked, and the food was delivered. Anna made several such trips to Warsaw over the next three months.


On returning from Warsaw for the final time around Hannukah, in December 1941, Anna was changing trains in Miechow, like usual, when an SS man pulled her aside. Her fear betrayed her, and Anna was discovered. She was taken to the Gestapo headquarters and told she would be summarily executed for the crime of impersonating a non-Jew. She was given a shovel and taken out back to dig her own grave; but Anna was small, and took too long digging; her execution had to be put off until morning.


When the morning came, the SS man came to Anna and told her her life was to be spared. He offered no explanation for this decision. She was put on the next train home. It was only later that Anna discovered what had happened. It seems the Miechow Jewish Council had gotten news of her plight, and had bribed the Germans to let her go. So it was in those days, that concern and aid could be extended even to a total stranger, and even during troubled times.


In 1942 there were massive deportations. Entire cities were cleaned out. The ones left, who were able-bodied enough to work, were sent from the city to the countryside on forced labor crews. Anna went out daily on one such work detail. One day, Anna was warned by some girls not to return to Dzylosice that evening with her work detail; that day, the remaining Jewish population of the city had been either killed or removed by the Nazis. Anna took their warning to heart and, near dark, she separated from her work detail and began walking down a dark, lonely road. After a while she encountered some young men, local farmhands, who offered to help her get away. The gave her some clean clothes and got her to the city of Wislica, where there was still a Jewish population left. She stayed with some former neighbors who had known her family from years past.


Anna acquired some false papers bearing a non-Jewish identity. The forged birth certificate and identity card bore the name of Salomea Czaplinska. They were excellent forgeries, but ink got spilled on the ID card while Anna was adding her fingerprint; the smudges made the ID questionable.


Later, Anna found two of her brothers were living in hiding in a bunker beneath the apartment of a sympathetic Polish widow. There was no more room in the bunker, so it was arranged for Anna to hide in the attic of a farmer who lived on the outskirts of town. Anna lived there for a few months, but there was nothing for her to do but hide. She tried to keep her mind occupied, but it was no use; if she remained there, she knew she would go crazy. She ended up leaving the relative safety of the farm.


Anna went to the city of Krakow and found a little work in shops and factories. She ate her meals in various soup kitchens. She knew no one in Krakow. She was totally alone. Anna knew that it was up to her to either survive on her own, or perish. One day the SS closed off the street and began checking IDs. Anna knew there was no escape, and she doubted that her false ID would pass inspection. She decided to destroy it and take her chances as an unknown person. She was arrested for failing to carry Identification.


Anna was sent to Auschwitz as a person of suspect identity - but she was never identified as Jewish. Instead of being routed directly to the crematorium, Anna was placed with the general camp population and assigned to forced labor. She remembers her arrival through the gates of Auschwitz well. She was lined up and marched into a huge hall where her clothes and possessions were taken from her. Then she was shaved of all body hair, sheared like a sheep. Then she got her tatoo. From then on she was known as number 32127. She was photographed and made to feel like a criminal. By taking away her name and identity, this was the way the Nazis broke people down to lose the will to fight back, even to live at all. Anna caught sight of herself shaved and in her camp uniform and with horror found she no longer recognized herself. Jews were not photographed as a matter of policy, to aid and abet the "Final Solution". Anna was photographed because she maintained the pretense of a non-Jewish identity.


In Auschwitz, they slept ten to a bunk, which was nothing more than a wooden platform, with no mattress or pillows. They had one thin blanket to spread between them, so no one slept very well. In the morning there was a roll call. There were thousands of prisoners to check, so it always took hours. When it was done, the prisoners recieved a meager breakfast of black coffee and a slice of bread. There were weekly "selections", to pick out those no longer healthy enough to work. If you looked bad, you were told to go into a line to the left. Those in that line were always taken to the crematorium to be killed. Anna, like many others, got sick with typhoid. She and some friends did their best to conceal her sickness during selections, even when she was running a high fever of 105 or 106 degrees.


All prisoners were considered inferior by the Germans, but the Jews were considered to be subhuman. Anna was never discovered to be Jewish, so she felt she had at least a chance to cling to life in the camp.


Once Anna was caught stealing a potato from the camp kitchen. She was sent to Barrack 25, the punishment barracks, for over a week. While there she was denied any food, and was beaten with a leather strap daily.


In 1944, the prisoners heard about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. A few Warsaw Jews decided to take up arms against their oppressors, using makeshift weapons and bombs. Finally, the Germans burned out the whole ghetto.


Near the end of the year, the Russians were closing in. The Red Army was just across the river Vistula from Warsaw. The Germans made plans to pull back with their remaining prisoners. On January 16, 1945, the prisoners were assembled, and they marched out of Auschwitz, moving West. They were taken on a Death March. Every few minutes, someone would collapse into the snow and they would be shot by the Germans. They marched from first to last light for six long days in the dead of winter. They came to a spot where they were loaded on a cattle train. The cars were open at the roof, and so some snow got in for the "cargo" to get water from. Snow was all they had to eat during the five day journey to their destination.


The prisoners were taken to the Ravensbruck camp. They were housed in tents that were open to the elements. Each tent was packed wall to wall with people. Another week passed. Then some of the prisoners were taken to the Neustdlat-Glebe camp in Northern Germany. They were put to work painting planes for the German Air Force. They were supplied with no food. All they could scavenge was some dead grass and tree bark. While chewing these, some people talked of baking cakes. All Anna could dream about was a loaf of bread for herself, and a clean, quiet room to eat it in. Everyone was nearly mad with hunger.


Winter became Spring. The Allies continued to advance. One day in May, there came a sudden quiet. There was no more shooting, no more screaming. The prisoners looked around. The Germans had gone. Then came the sound of jeeps approaching. The U.S. Army came, saying the Germans were on the run. The soldiers that came looked to them like angels and supermen. The former prisoners had to touch them to make sure they were real, and they embraced them and kissed their uniforms. Nearby was a grassy hill with trees and flowers, and they danced around the trees and kissed the grass. They felt the miracle of freedom, and the promise of a new beginning. The soldiers gave out food to everyone, including chocolate and sardines. Many survivors got sick from this because their bodies were so unused to digesting real food.


After some recovery time, Anna went back to Poland, to search for any relative who might also have survived. She came back to Dzylosice, where she had grown up. She went to her old apartment, and was told by the landlady that her parents had been taken away. Anna later found that her entire family had been murdered in the Nazi camps. Some Poles still carried a hatred of Jews, and searched the city by night for any returning refugees. Those they found they killed. It wasn't a safe place for Anna to be. In time Anna met other survivors but they were too grief-stricken to celebrate their freedom. No one knew where to go, what to do. Mostly they had no family, money or homes left. Nobody was there to welcome to take care of them. It was a struggle to re-enter normal life. In time they slowly formed friendships among the other survivors which gave them the moral support to go on. They had cheated death, and they weren't about to give Hitler a posthumous victory.


She came to live once more in Krakow, where she met a man who became her husband. Her husband was also a Survivor, a former prisoner of the Mauthausen camp. Anna went back to school to finish her diploma. She became interested in persuing a career in medicine. Anna had a child, a boy, in January of 1948, which helped Anna regain a love of life. In 1953 her daughter was born, and the joy of having a family was complete. These children were her only blood relatives now. Poland was under a Communist regime, which was very oppressive. In 1961 the family emigrated to the United States. Anna became an elementary school teacher in Buffalo, New York, and taught for over 30 years. Now retired, she wants to share her story of survival with as many people as will hear her.


Related Resources for this Speaker:



ABOVE: The head cloth that Anna wore at Auschwitz ABOVE: Anna's brother Wolf in his Polish army uniform - 1936
ABOVE: Two of Anna's brothers at a family picnic - 1937 ABOVE: The "class" that Anna's sister taught illegally - 1942
ABOVE: Anna's family today, including grandchildren Enlarged camp photograph


On Both Sides of the Wall

Meed, Vladka. Holocaust Publications, 1979.

The Cage

Sender, Ruth Minsky. Macmillan, 1986.

Dry Tears: The Story of A Lost Childhood

Tec, Nechama. Oxford University Press, 1984.

Behind the Secret Window: Memoir of A Hidden Childhood

Toll, Nelly S. Dial Books, 1993.

In The Mouth of the Wolf

Zar, Rose. Jewish Publication Society, 1983.



Childhood Memories of the Holocaust

20 minutes