One Woman's Story (Name Withheld) - Poland
This Survivor was born in Stopnica, a small town in Poland, in 1923. She was
the youngest of three brothers and three sisters. Her father had a yard goods
business, and the family had a comfortable life. Her eldest brother was 19 years
older than she. When she was a girl, he moved to Lodz and opened a sweater
She was a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. When they took
over, the Nazis began remolding Poland in the image of their own country. They
instituted laws that discriminated against Jews, stripping them of their civil
rights. Soon, all Polish Jews had to wear the Yellow Star, there were curfews
and restrictions on movement to obey, and school attendance was forbidden.
In 1941, the Nazis began sending Jews from the
ghettos to labor camps. Families were routinely torn apart. In 1942, they
started requesting that young people "volunteer" to be sent away to insure the
safety of the older ones left behind. The Survivor and one of her sisters were
sent to the Skarzysko camp, where they were made to handle dangerous chemicals
used for the manufacture of munitions. Handling these chemicals caused their
hair to become red, their eyes to turn yellow, and made everything taste bitter.
Every day after roll call, and any selections that might take place to
separate out those deemed unfit to work, they were marched to work at the
factory. If anyone tried to escape, all were punished for it. You could be
severely beaten, tortured, or executed right on the spot for any defiance. When
someone was condemned, they had to dig their own grave. The guards would watch
and taunt the person as they dug out the hole, and when the person finished they
put a bullet in their head. If there was ever a question as to whom was
responsible for any infraction, oftentimes the whole group would be assembled,
and every tenth person shot. They were put to work for 12 to 14 hours a day.
They were given a ration of food (a little bit of very sour, dark bread, and a
little thin soup) to last the whole day. The Survivor's group was lucky to have
a humane supervisor who gave them some extra food from time to time. Still, life
in the camp was an unending series of atrocities. It's hard to believe, but
during all of her stay there, there were no suicides.
In 1944, the prisoners were loaded onto
cattlecars. They were shipped en masse to Leipzig, and were given no food or
water on the days of their journey. In Leipzig, they were given a shower and
some different clothes. Many had no shoes to wear. The Survivor's own shoes did
not even fit at all.
Around 20,000 women of all nationalities were housed in one large barrack.
Again they were used as forced labor, working with ammunition. The winter was
very cold and wet and the prisoners went to work in nothing but a dress and no
shoes every day. Everybody was fatigued and nearly frozen. There were selections
now every day. Many died from starvation and disease.
In 1945, the American army neared Leipzig, but before they could reach the
city, the Nazis withdrew and took their prisoners on a Death March. They were
driven at a pace of 15 to 25 miles a day without stopping for shelter or food.
Many died along the way, and many others were killed for dropping out of line to
grab a raw potato, rhubarb, or a raw beet plant from the farm fields they
passed. Incredible hunger overwhelmed the fear for some people; the Nazis shot
anyone who left the line. They were made to sleep outside in the cold and rain,
and so others perished from flu or tuberculosis. Anyone who could no longer walk
was shot immediately. They were marched like this for several weeks, until May
On May 7th they were in Bavaria. They came to a barn where the Nazis
seemingly left them. The War was lost for Germany and many of the Nazis were
only worried about escaping at this point. The women spent the night there and
found a little sugar to keep them going another day. The next day, they
cautiously checked to see if the Germans were gone. They spotted some soldiers
approaching in the distance. These turned out to be Russian troops, who told
them they were free.
The women were taken to nearby German houses where the Russians ordered the
residents to take care of them. They were allowed to wash, and given new clothes
and food to eat. Sadly, still more of the survivors of the camps and the Death
March died because they ate too much food to quickly and they expired from
The Russians provided a horse and cart for a
group of the women to travel to Lodz for the purpose of finding any friends or
relatives who also survived. The Survivor met her future husband there. They
were married not long after the end of the war. When they tried to emigrate to
Palestine, they were stopped in Cyprus and sent back to the Landsberg Displaced
Persons camp near Munich. They had a child while staying at the camp, and the
whole family lived in one small room. They were waiting at Landsberg for 4 years
for a visa to go to the United States. A cousin of her husband lived in Buffalo,
New York, and it was there they came to settle. The Survivor never went back to
Poland. Her husband went back once to search for his niece, but he never found
her. Nobody from either of their families had survived the war.
Although it is difficult for her to discuss her experiences during the
Holocaust, the Survivor feels it is her responsibility to keep the memory of it
alive, so that history can never turn away from the reasons that so many people
like her died.
Related Resources for this Speaker:
Sender, Ruth Minsky. Macmillan, 1986.
Behind the Secret Window: Memoir of a Lost Childhood
Toll, Nelly S. Dial Books, 1993.
Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood
Tec, Nechama. Oxford University Press, 1984.
Childhood Memories of the Holocaust