Bearing Witness through the Voices of our Survivors

 

A Selection of Speeches from our Survivors and Heroes Event, May 5, 2011

 

Walter Saltzberg

Dr. Christie - thanks for the introduction. While I could tell you about my parents and brother whom I last saw when I was 10 years old - While I could tell you how my leg wound was treated with urine to prevent gangrene - While I could tell you that the only food I had for many months were rotten onions - While I could tell you about many years in hiding and many lost years of my life - I am here today to pay homage and say thanks to one of two men who at the peril of their own life's saved mine.  

Dr. Weckowski a Polish gentile physician was a friend of the family before the Second World War. He would come to the Ghetto through the Warsaw post office and would emerge on the ghetto side wearing a Jewish armband. He tried to talk my parents into leaving Ghetto, but they felt safe since both my brother and I were working for a German factory assembling adding machines and typewriters. I was the only one they worried about so it was arranged that I would go to live in his apartment where I hid for approximately two years with nothing to do. On one occasion when I hid under a bathtub, the apartment was searched by the Gestapo who somehow did not find me. I had to leave his apartment during the Polish uprising sometime in late August of 1944 without his knowledge since he did not return home due to the street fighting. Dr. Weckowski visited me in the Jewish orphanage outside of Warsaw and I saw him once more on my way to Canada when we met for a few hours in London England and had a picture taken with a bunch of pigeons on Trafalgar Square. He died in England,  but is now buried in Geneva, Switzerland and I visited his burial site a few years ago when in Geneva visiting his granddaughter.

Stefan Carter

In October, 1942, I was in the Warsaw Ghetto the population of which by then was reduced from close to half a million to some 60 thousand, because of starvation, disease but mainly by the transports to the death camp of Treblinka. I lost my parents and other family members.

Then miraculously, I received a phone call. I heard the voice of my cousin from Krakow. Last I knew he with his brother and parents was in Lwów. It was arranged that I leave the ghetto and meet him on the Aryan side. That took place. He took me to the apartment of Hanna Herfurt and her mother Zofia – the Righteous, where he and his brother were staying. These ladies took them in on recommendations of their friends, whom my cousins knew from before the war. Without them my cousins and I would not have survived.

My cousins arranged hiding places for me over the next couple of years. Among them I stayed the longest with Miss Zofia Różycka, another kind, Righteous lady. She took care of me unselfishly fostering my life in various ways, including bringing me books to read from a library.

During the Polish Uprising iDescription: Macintosh HD:Users:bellemillo:Pictures:iPhoto Library:Originals:2009:2009-06-15:WIth sons (Andrew left, Joel right) 2003.JPGn Warsaw in 1944 my younger cousin, who was a medical student, served as a medic in a hospital that took care of the casualties with his girlfriend Danuta Krzeszewska. She was another Righteous Pole. She was a student in philosophy and was wounded in the 1939 campaign while saving valuable materials from burning building of the University of Warsaw. My cousin and she were killed during the Uprising by a German bomb, while carrying a wounded patient, who happened to be a sister of Hanna Herfurt. Danuta’s mother, Florentyna Krzeszewska was also crucially involved in the survival of my cousins’ parents by arranging for them to hide in a monastery.

Without these and other righteous Gentiles my relatives and I would not have survived.

Erika (Katy) Simons (Speech by Dr. Daniel Stone)

Let me read part of the letter than Eva Weissman wrote to Yad Vashem nominating Katy as a Righteous Gentile, an award that she received jointly with her mother, Johanna, in 2001.  After that, I’ll add some observations of my own.                  

Through her humanitarian efforts, Miss Erika G.L. Simons (called Eka by her friends and relatives), saved my life and that of many other Jews and Dutch citizens at risk.  Numerous friends and Jewish colleagues at a University of Amsterdam laboratory depended on her for bringing food to hiding places, storing their belongings, and engaging the participation of her younger brother and sister. 

Born in Vienna, I came to Holland in January of 1939 to escape Nazi persecution in Austria.  I met Eka shortly thereafter and became the beneficiary of her compassionate initiatives during the Nazi occupation.  Specifically, after I was miraculously released from a Nazi jail in August 1942, Eka and her equally compassionate mother allowed me to find shelter in their home [despite the] risk to the entire family. [The Simons family] provided not only shelter – under very trying circumstances – but also food, since as a refugee I had no money at all and no other access to food.

During the war, [this] home became a haven not only for me but also for three, four, and at one time even six, other [people] hiding [from the Nazis.]  Eka managed to obtain a false identity card for me as well as illegally-obtained food coupons.

Eka Simons herself spent many weeks in jail after having been arrested when found trying to rescue Jews. [After her release,] she [continued to do] courier work for the Dutch underground, especially during the harsh winter of 1944-45

 While no official recognition could be sufficient as recompense for all that the whole Simons family did to save my life, I recommend that Eka Simons be singled out and honored now for her especially courageous behavior in dangerous days.

Some of you knew Katy in Winnipeg as a lively, modest woman who held strong opinions.  She left Holland after the war, trained as a nurse in England, and settled in Canada where  she worked in the tuberculosis sanatorium in Ninette MB, where her child-centred ways there made her a guardian angel for the children, especially the aboriginal children from the Far North.  She told them Dutch stories and occasionally snuck a cat in for them to play with.  In retirement, she moved to Winnipeg and took a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Winnipeg, including a course in children’s literature taught by my wife, Kay Stone, who is in rehearsal for a play this weekend and unfortunately cannot attend tonight. Katy continued telling her stories in the newly formed group, Stone Soup Stories, which she attended regularly for many years.                  

Katy found her spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church which has co-sponsored today’s plaque. She shared the Unitarians’ firm but quiet sense of ethics, social action, and fellowship, and she contributed greatly to the religious education program and Sunday services. Katy was also active with the Veterans against Nuclear War and the Humanist Association.

Those of you who live or work downtown probably saw Katy walking energetically down Portage from Lion’s Place to the University of Winnipeg and beyond, scarcely slowed by her two aluminum crutches and the big cloth bag slung across her back. Snow, sleet, and ice failed to stop her and I don’t remember ever seeing her wear a hat. 

I think Katy had a straightforward approach to life’s difficulties  – do the right thing.  As she told one interviewer: “It is simple. If you can save a life, you do it”.  It wasn’t a matter of courage for her.  She said:  “I don’t remember if I was ever afraid.  It didn’t matter. You just did what you needed to do.”

It is a privilege to bring this remarkable woman to your attention and to sponsor a commemorative plaque in her honour.

 

Anje Van Tongeren (Speech by Pastor Rudy Fidel)

Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured guests,

It is a great honour to be in the presence of survivors and heroes of the Holocaust. Today, we have the privilege of acknowledging these great people and what they have done in diverse circumstances, putting their own life at risk continually to save others.

I have been asked to speak on behalf of B’nai Brith Canada and the B’nai Brith Jewish Christian Roundtable to honour our friend Anje (mines) Van Tongeren, born in Gronigen, Holland on October 7, 1928.

In honouring Anje, it would only be right to also mention her mother, Hillechiena Minnes, who was involved with the Dutch underground right form the beginning of the Second World War. Anje got involved with the underground in 1942 as a young teenager and learned how to apply her creative mind to saving lives. She remembers how she would dye the hair of young Jewish babies and children blonde so that they would look Dutch. She would carry babies to different designated hiding places where milk would be provided for them

She also smuggled ration cards. On one occasion she had 360 ration cards hidden in a cake box. Another way she helped was by forging documents for Jewish people and Allied soldiers who were hidden by the underground.

At the beginning, Anje would wait for her mother – who could be gone for days – on the steps of her house. Her mother told her never to tell her father about their underground activity.

In may of 1944, they experienced the first raid on their home. At that time, all the men were taken away In July, 1944, there was another raid. This time, both Anje and her mother were imprisoned. Anje was just 15 years old but that didn’t matter to the cruel SSS who interrogated her with all the others at the Bewering Prison. It was hard for them to sleep, for there was always crying and screaming, as torture and interrogations were going on continually. You never knew when you would be next

For three weeks, Anje was in the same cell as her mother; then her mother was moved to Vught Concentration Camp.

Anje was released to go home. The last words that Anje’s mother spoke to her were, “The war won’t last too much longer.” Unfortunately, Hillechiena Minnes was transported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp on September 6, 1944, where she would die on January 11, 1945.

In November 2006, my wife Gina and I visited the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Here, we were able to get a photocopy of Hillechiena Minnes’ death certificate.

A Dutch survivor by the name of Saantje De Groot was in Ravensbrück with Hillechiena. She paid a visit to Anje after the war, for she had moved to Sweden after the war, married a Swede and started a family. By the time she arrived in Holland, she had a two-year-old son. This is what she shared with Anje:  Hillechiena would share her food with other prisoners including Saantje. She wanted Anje to know of her mother’s kindness.

When Anje was released from prison she had a great dilemma – where would she go?She couldn’t go home to her father because he was the one who had betrqyed her and her mother. She stayed with neighbours. Anje’s uncle had been shot at the Vught camp by a firing squad, along with 22 other prisoners.

Anje had little to live fore with both her mother and uncle gone and the closest family member being the one who had betrayed her! In a moment of despair, she tried to commit suicide by turning on the gas stove She heard a voice say, “ I am the Righteous Judge.” From that moment on, she had peace.

From Pril 13 to Arpil 16, 1945, for 77 hours, the Canadian soldiers fought from house to house. Eventually, Holland was liberated.

Later on, after the war, Ajne married Dirk Van Tongeren. When the opportunity arose to start a new life in a new country, they thought, “what better place than Canada?” So it is here in Winnipeg, Canada, on May 5, 2011, that we honour you, Anje.

Joe Riesen

As I stand in front of this plaque, honouring Julia and Joseph Bar, I am eternally grateful to these two brave and courageous people and their daughter, Janina, who, if not for them, I would not be alive today.

In 1943, almost four years after the Nazis occupied our little village of Markowa, in Poland, a decree was issued by the German occupiers that all Jews were to be rounded up. The police chief, with whom my father was on good terms, came to our home to warn us to leave immediately.  With only the clothes on our backs and our precious Torah, which was part of our household, we ran into the fields and hid in the tall stalks of corn By day, we lay on the ground, afraid to be seen We ate raw potatoes, beets, and whatever edible vegetation that was available At night, my mother ventured out to the surrounding farm homes, knocked on doors, and begged the owners to take us in. We were five people- mother, father, myself, and two younger sisters. After having doors shut in her face time after time, my mother finally found a home where they were willing to take in the younger two girls. She left them there, but in her heart feared for their safety.

After a few more nights of attempting to locate someone willing to take the three of us in, she finally came to the small cottage with a thatched roof that belonged to the Bar family. My mother was well known in the village, because she and my grandmother ran a small store in our house, where she sold imported food items, s well as fabric for sewing. Many of the neighbours bought from her, and Mrs. Bar recognized her.

Julia Bar was a small petite woman, very religious, who believed that we were sent by God, and it was her duty as a true Christian to offer us shelter. Mr. Bar was reluctant. He belonged to the Polish Anderson underground army and feared for the safety of his family. His wife convinced him and he relented. No one expected the war to last so long.

We stayed in their hayloft on top of the hay they used for animal feed, with only a thin blanket to cover ourselves. It was still summer, so the nights were not cold yet. After several nights, my mother dreamed that the girls were in danger. The next day, under cover of darkness, she made her way to the house where she had left my sisters. AS she discovered, the people were ready to turn them over to the Germans. She quickly took them of of the house and brought them to the Bars. My mother fell on her knees and begged them to take in her daughters. She promised them all her worldly goods when the war ended. Finally, they consented and allowed my sisters to remain with us. For two years and five days, we lived in that attic, through blistering heat and freezing cold, never being able to bathe or change our clothes – and yet – none of us ever got sick.

The Bars had little food for themselves, as the Germans took all the produce from the farmers. Once a day, we were given some watery soup with a hard piece of bread. They worked in the fields from dusk to dawn and Janina, the daughter, was the one who had to climb the ladder to the loft, to bring us the little food they could spare. She is the one who took down our waste. She herself was a young woman of eighteen, who had a boyfriend, who came almost every night to court her. He wanted to come into the house to be with her, but she stalled him, telling him that her parents were religious and forbade her to bring a man into the house before she was engaged. We could hear the conversation both from outside and inside the house, as the roof and floor had wide-open spaces and sound travelled easily.

There were several close calls during the time we were in hiding, but thanks to God and good luck, we were not discovered. When the Russians liberated us in 1945, I could hardly walk, due to the inability to exercise my legs for such a long time. Thanks to a Russian doctor who told me what to do to cure them, I was able to walk again. After hugs, kisses and thanks to our saviours, we made our way back to our hoe. We couldn’t stay long, due to threats form some of the locals, so we made our way out of Poland and eventually ended up in a displaced person’s camp.

In 1948, we arrived in Canada,, and as soon as we were settled, my parents contacted the Bars and began to send parcels to them. They continued to correspond with them and help them as much as possible. After my parents’ passing, I continued the contact and in the year 2000, my wife, my son, and I, together with three other relative reunited with the daughter, Janina, who was still alive. Her parents had passed away a few years earlier and we visited their graves. We were able to have Janina recognized by the Righteous Gentile organization in New York, and the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Israel. A few years ago, we were advised by Janina’s daughter that she had passed away.

I will never forget them, and share my story with my children and grandchildren. My their memory be a lasting beacon for generations to come. Thank you.

Fanya Pilat

Description: Macintosh HD:Users:bellemillo:Documents:Fanya Pilat.jpgAt the beginning of the war, the German air force bombed and destroyed the bridge over the Dniester River near our home city Mogilev-Podolski. We didn’t have the opportunity to evacuate and our family decided to walk to the east. However, in the next village, we found out that the German army stopped us. We returned to Mogilev-Podolski and found our home had been looted and was empty. In July, 1941, we were transferred to the Ghetto. Later in the fall, many people from Bucovina, Bessarabia and other parts of Romania were transferred to our Ghetto. Two families were placed in our home. Life in the Ghetto was very difficult and we were starved and humiliated. It was very cold and we lived in a very crowded place with no means.

In the summer of 1942, we were deported to another camp. As I remember it, we were on a freight train and later we walked most of the way. It was painful, very hot and we lost many people. Exhausted, we arrived at Pechera camp.  I later learned that this place had previously been a sanitarium for people suffering from tuberculosis. The camp was guarded by Romanian soldiers and called the “Dead Loop.” I often cried, not only because I was starving, but because the people around me were so pale and thin and covered with lice. We slept in a stall meant for horses, on a cement floor. However, worse things were still in store for us.

In August or September of 1942, trucks arrived with German officers and soldiers. My brother and I were separated from our family, and along with others, we were sent to a labour camp in Tropova, on the opposite side of the Bug River, in the province of Vinnitza. It was under German control, but the guards were from the local Ukrainian population. I remember we were in a yard surrounded by barbed wire. In the back was a big pile of clothes; what struck me in particular was a big pile of children’s shoes beside it. Nobody asked us what our names were. They only said, “go left,” or “go right”. My older brother showed me how to look taller. We never saw the people who went to the left again. At night, we found ourselves a small place in a little room with a broken-down stove. The windows were covered up with veneer.

In the morning, a Ukrainian policeman explained our duties to us: In exchange for our work, we would receive one loaf of bread each week. This loaf got smaller and smaller over time. We worked from early morning until night in a quarry, breaking up huge rocks into small pieces. While the Ukrainian police oversaw our work, German officers judged whether the quality was good enough with their walking sticks. In the winter, we built high snow walls along both sides of the road. It was a very hard job to do in any weather from dawn to dusk, but we knew that if we stayed in the camp, we would be executed. In fact, we witnessed three executions.

One day as we were working at side of the road, the Germans came  by and selected people who they thought were not working hard enough. My brother and I tried to continue shovelling, but I felt a blow with the butt of a rifle. Instinctively, I turned and saw the German officer. I only understood two words: “Kann Arbeiten”. I don’t know who saved my life – God or the German officer. By that time only 33 of the original 300 remained in the camp. The next day, there were many new arrivals.

One day, were surrounded by German soldiers in the yard. The officers said that there was a typhus epidemic in the camp and that we needed to go to Vinnitza for a bath. We were taken to the bathhouse there and waited a long time for water. Eventually we were taken back to the camp without having bathed. Even the guards at the camp didn’t want us back.

The very next day proved to be a lucky one. The Ukrainian policeman handed my brother a note. When he showed it to me later in the day, I recognized my mother’s handwriting. She told us that we must trust this policeman and that he would help us escape.

My first reaction was that I couldn’t do this –that I was too afraid and we didn’t run away that night. The next day, we received another note from our mother. She said that she couldn’t stay in the village any longer to wait for us, and that we had to run away. The dogs began to bark, we became frightened and lost our way to the quarry. We wandered into the forest and didn’t meet up with our policeman. At dawn, we realized that we were on the opposite side of the quarry. We hid in the forest until dusk and then went to the village. At the edge of the village, we met an old Ukrainian woman. She cried out to us: Don’t go into the village – they are searching for you!” She took us to her home and late that night she brought us to our policeman. He took us on a ferry over the Bug to another village where we met our mother. You can imagine the scene!

We learned from our mother that three men who had escaped from the camp had returned to the ghetto at Mogilev-Podolski and told my mother about us. She felt that she had endangered her children. She had walked all the way to Pechera to try to find someone to help us. One day, she accidentally met the priest from the nearby village. It was a rainy day and he took pity on her and invited her into his home. My mother confessed her grief to him. The priest thought for a bit and decided to help her.  He had her hidden temporarily by a trusted friend. Now I understand that the priest and his friend arranged for our escape from the camp.  You see, we were totally exhausted and yet excited and at the time, we didn’t think to ask the names of the people who had helped us.

During the night, we all left the hiding place. One more obstacle awaited us: We had to go to Pechera and wait for a sign for a man who would help us get back to Mogilev-Podolski. My mother received a note and told us it was time to run. Unfortunately, some local children followed us and began to scream, “The Jews are escaping!” We turned into a side street away from the children and came upon the priest’s house. The priest’s wife took us in and hid us in the attic, instructing us to keep silent. The priest wasn’t home at the time. Later we heard a lot of noise. When all became calm, a man’s voice called us down – it was the priest. He told us that the police from the camp had come after us. He said that he had crossed himself and told them that no Jews were in his home. They believed him and did not search the house. He was such a rare and honourable man!

I was later able to find out that his full name was Fyodor Vasielivich Zaverucha and that his wife’s name was Alexandra Evmeeivina Zaverucha. They have long since passed away and had no children or close relatives.

It is so painful for me to relive all the hell that I suffered. I would like to thank Belle Millo for giving me the opportunity to dedicate a plaque in memory of the Righteous priest Fyodor Zaverucha.

Barbarab Goszer

Dr. Christie, Clergy, Honorees, Fellow Survivors, Ladies & Gentlemen,

This evening is the conclusion of programming for Shoah Week, during which we memorialized our six million Victims, Martyrs and Heroes, offered our prayers, and read the names of families of Survivors inscribed on the Holocaust Monument on the Legislative grounds, thereby acknowledging their existence. As always, we also held numerous other programs in different locations of the city to make them accessible to everyone. The services at the Monument and at the Synagogues were moving and well attended. As a Survivor, seeing so many people at these programs made me feel somewhat hopeful that when we, the Survivors, are no longer here others will be here to remember. As we approach the end of Shoah week programming, we must pledge the renewal of our PROMISE OF NEVER AGAIN. We pledge VIGILANCE and INCLUSIVENESS and thereby prevention of a recurrence.

Tonight’s program is very meaningful and absolutely fitting to the time and the occasion. We are here to honor and pay tribute to Men and Women of Valor – THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS. These men and women displayed tremendous courage in the face of immense adversity and defended the right to life of all humankind – Jews and others – at great risk to their own lives.

My task this evening is to dedicate several plaques in honor of these exceptional individuals. I consider it a privilege and a personal honor to have the opportunity to be a participant in this ceremony. However, before I proceed with that I would like to make an observation. This is always a difficult week for me, a very emotional and draining one. I stand here facing you, as a woman of 81 years of age, looking at my fellow Survivors, many my age or older, wondering how much longer can we continue to be the guardians of our unfortunate legacy?

We need renewal, we need replacements, to whom do we pass the torch?

The Holocaust does not belong to its Survivors. Holocaust happened to the Jews, but the entire world is its owner, because it was the world that allowed this to happen by their complacency. I feel that we all have to take responsibility in the prevention of another catastrophe. I ask each and every one of you to commit to be our voices in the future - every person, every creed and every nationality!

I have been carrying this message within me for a long time and this evening seemed the perfect time to share it. Please accept this observation as a trust. I feel it is the right time, the right place, and the right audience.

Now that I have had my say, I would like to return to my real purpose here tonight – the dedication..This first plaque is being dedicated to the people who saved my husband’s family. My husband, Adam, his mother, brother, and sister lived in Korzec, Poland. In their town there was a Ghetto which was liquidated in July 1941. Not knowing what to do, Adam and his family ran for their lives and sought refuge with a non Jewish family they were well acquainted with, the Wienckowskis. JOZEF and WANDA WIENCKOWSKI, of blessed memory, with full knowledge of the peril to their own family took in my husband and his family: Pesel Goszer, Rachel Goszer, and Boris Goszer. Adam and Boris stayed with them for a period of time but later went into the Forests nearby to join the Partisans. Their mother and sister owe their lives to this courageous family. My husband, the only currently living member of his family, could not be here with us this evening but often told me stories about that family that spoke to their decency and kindness.

Tragically after the war ended, Adam and his family moved away to a larger city in the hope of leaving Poland. Just before they left, he met someone from his home town and was told that the Wienckowski family had been murdered by their neighbors when it was found out that they had sheltered a Jewish family. It is with sadness and profound gratitude that I honour them for their noble deeds.. In my eyes, they, too, are martyrs.

The following Plaque I dedicate to MARIA STOKLOSA and her children: BRONISLAW, GENOWEFA, STEFA & JOZEF GINALSKI who were my protectors and saviors. I was born and raised in Lwow, Poland. Our Ghetto was huge. It held approximately two hundred thousand people at the time of its inception. The Stoklosa family was a business contact of my father’s. They and my father somehow managed to sneak me out of the Ghetto walls from where I walked the rest of the way to their apartment by carefully following instructions I had been given. I was twelve years old at the time and I spent two and a half years with the family – from December 1942 until May 1945. I was treated with kindness, empathy and respect. The promises they made to my parents to keep me safe and treat me well were never violated. I owe them my life and, in part, who I am today. The values I hold are partially their credit. Their courage and strength was my role model. Mother Maria died many years ago – may she rest in peace. The rest of the family has also passed on. I will always remember them with fondness and gratitude for their selflessness..

This last Plaque is one I felt was my responsibility because, as Past Chairperson of Holocaust Awareness, and as Past and Founding Chairperson of The Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre, I believe that it is my duty to honor and pay tribute to all the Righteous Among the Nations for their acts of courage, valour and heroism. . I do this on behalf of all men, women, and children whose lives were saved by these courageous acts but, unfortunately, are no longer with us to acknowledge this gift of life. I hereby publicly thank them for their extraordinary tenacity and their selfless acts of humanity under such dangerous circumstances.

In conclusion, I wish to thank The Winnipeg Jewish Federation and The Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre for giving me the opportunity to participate in this very moving and most important event. It gives me hope that our children, our grandchildren, and future generations May  they indeed carry the torch and stand up for their rights as well as those of every other human being!

Betty Kirshner and Carmela Finkel

The Germans came to our town in 1941.  Dad was 41, Mom 39, I was 10, and Carmela 8 years old.  Once the Nazis entered our town, things changed drastically: Dad lost his job as manager at a flourmill and Carmela and I had to stop going to school.

Pretty soon, the order came for all Jews to leave their home and go to the ghetto that the Nazis were establishing in town. Our parents knew that this was not a good option and tried to find different places to hide, in order to avoid going to the ghetto.

One of our earliest places to hide was a cistern,  an old gas tank, buried underground during WWI.  Dad’s friend and customer, Tomas Gogala, told Dad about it and we moved into it right away. Unbeknownst to us, including Mr. Gogala, there were still remnants of the contents, absorbed in the metal wall, and when our Mom and our aunt tried to cook that evening on a little “Coleman” stove, the resulting gas fumes nearly killed us! Carmela’s reaction was the worst, so our cousin, Joseph, pulled her out and laid her out on the snow. It was November and he ran to get Mr. Gogala, who came with more of his family to pull all of us out, and take care of us while we recovered from this inadvertent gassing.

We continued trying to find different places to hide, by running at night from one place to another. Michal Ochocki saw us, as he was a night watchman at the mill that Dad worked at. Mr. Ochocki came to Dad and offered to help us and specifying that he was not offering this for money but out of gratitude to Dad for always being good and kind to him and his family.  He also added that this was only to be for a couple of months, as the war was bound to end by then. After thinking about it for a while, and a narrow escape from an Einsatzgruppen Aktion, Dad decided to accept his offer.

Mr. Ochocki had a wife, Jullia, and a five year old boy, Wladek.      Their house was only two houses down from where we lived. In his house there was a room  that was never used and that is where we were to be staying. There was also another family of 4 that were there, too. We came there in November of 1942 and  that  same night, Mr. Ochocki and our Dad started to build a bunker under the  floor boards.

The bunker was the size of bathroom or a closet., and this is where the eight of us had to spend  most of our time. A pail was used as a toilet. Mr. Ochocki emptied the pail every day, as we couldn’t risk going out for fear of being discovered. This family took great risks by hiding us, because, if they were to be found out that they were hiding Jews, they, along with us would have been killed.

Mr. Ochocki’s mother was of German descent, so he made a point of advertising that fact and hung a large German flag in his house, to pull wool over the German’s eyes. They helped us out with a lot, except with buying food.  They couldn’t draw attention to themselves by buying for more that three people.

There were a few instances that we were in harms way and nearly found out, so they were very much at risk, as well. One time, when Carmela and I were asked to look after their little boy as Mrs. Ochocki had to attend to something in the garden.   While we were in the kitchen, watching Wladek, a neighbour’s daughter, who used to be our playmate, walked into the kitchen, recognized us and ran out.  She obviously told her father about it, because that evening he came over and repeated to Mrs. Ochocki what his daughter saw.  She, of course denied it, and suggested that he check the house himself. He walked through the house, checked every closet and every place he could think of where we might be hiding.  While all this was happening, we were in the bunker. We were all terrified that he was going to report to the Germans, which he did.

The next morning a few Gestapo agents came with rifles on their backs with bayonets at the tip.  They searched every corner and dug the bayonets into the boards, looking for hollow spaces, which would indicate hiding places under the floor. The opening to the bunker was under the bed.   We were very fortunate that they didn’t think to move the furniture to check beneath. 

As mentioned before, Dad had another friend, Tomas Gogala; he may have been an in-law to Mr. Ochocki.  Before we went into hiding, Dad made arrangements with him to keep our valuables and sell them, should we need money.  Once a month,  Dad would venture out at night, walk through fields to his place and get money and food. Mr. Gogala was also a very good friend, in that he always tried to lift Dad’s spirits, by telling him not to give up hope.

By the time the Russians liberated us in  July 1944, we had been at the Ochockis’ for twenty months. The Ochockis insisted we stay with them for a while longer to recuperate – to get used to the fresh air and the sun.

We very anxious to see if any family members survived, so after a month we went to Lwów, to Krakow, and then in 1945 we came to a displaced persons camp in Germany. Finally, in 1948 we came to Canada.

Dad kept in touch with both families and helped them out until their last days, by sending them whatever they needed. For as long as they lived, the Ochockis were fearful that the neighbours would find out that they hid Jews. We are forever grateful to the Ochockis and Gogalas for  saving us from the horrors of the Nazi occupation. During their lifetime they were adamant about not being recognized, out of fear, but since they have passed away and we are not aware of any descendants still living, and so, we are in the process in honouring both families at Yad Vashem.

All that’s left to do is to have our testimony notarized.

GOD BLESS THEM!  & May they rest in peace!

If Poland would have more people like the Ochockis and Gogalas, we wouldn’t have lost so many lives………..

AND THESE PEOPLE WERE OUR HEROES.