All interviews were conducted by Plater Robinson, the Institute's Holocaust Education specialist.


Oral History  |   Video Biography   |   Video Interview   |   Video Transcript  

Eva G. was born in 1924 in Oleszyce [oh-la-shitz-a], Poland. She was the oldest of eight children and is the only survivor of her family. The following interview was conducted by the Institute's Holocaust Education Specialist, Plater Robinson.

EG     I was born in Poland in 1924. My name is Eva G.

PR     And you were born in what town in Poland?

EG     Oleszyce.

PR     Your husband has showed me where on the map Oleszyce is, and when I go to Poland I will go there, and it's very important for me to understand the way of life that existed before the war in Oleszyce, and so if I can begin by asking you simply to imagine if the two of us left your house early one morning, and walked down the street, what would our eyes see before us?

EG     It is very difficult to talk about it because it left so many bad and good memories. Good that we lived together with the family, and bad because I have to leave under those circumstances. Well, the life wasn't so exciting. It was a little town, and you could imagine when I left my city it was 1942, and at that time that little city didn't even have running water, or electricity.

PR     And the streets were not paved.

EG     No paved streets. They were wooden sidewalks, and the water we had to carry from pumps. People had like wells in the backyard in pumps. Some people still had those draw wells that they draw with buckets the water from the wells. The light was lamps, they called, from kerosene lamps, that's what we used. But the life was quiet. Nobody knew anything better so we were happy. We lived like in the country. But it was not a modern country like they have now. Probably in Poland it changed too. Because that was many years ago. We went out like every Polish city had a plan that every city small big where you came it was built with a square. It was in the middle a square and a big house and around the square was stores, and every week, by us it was a Wednesday. It was day of like market. So all farmers from around came with vegetables and fruits and they were standing in the markets with their carriages and sold and people went to go and they were vendors who came in with different articles. It was fun for us children, Wednesday, to go in the market and to look whatever the people they came. Magicians, and to show tricks. Everything happened on Wednesday. It was a nice day. But if it was raining it was bad. Because the whole city was mud.

PR     But if it was not raining. It was a very colorful sight.

EG     Yeah, it was colorful. We enjoyed that. Everybody looked forward to Wednesday. And that city, we had one public school that everyone went to that school. It was eight grades, because the whole city where we lived had about ten thousand people. It wasn't big. So one school was enough, and that was a time compulsory to go eight years to the school. Now, if somebody wanted to continue to high school or gymnasium, like they taught by us, we had to go to a different, a larger city. Some people commuted, and some people lived with friends or relatives in a bigger city to continue the schooling.

PR     And what was the percentage of Jewish people who lived in Oleszyce?

EG     It was about thirty or forty percent Jewish people in that town.

PR     And in your grammar school, obviously you attended school with Poles as well.

EG     Poles and Ukrainian. We lived, many Ukrainians lived. It's a big percentage of Ukrainians. It was probably about a third Jews, a third Ukrainians, and a third Poles, and we went all together but the discrimination was big. You knew right away who was Jewish and Jewish people weren't too good accepted.

PR     Did the Jews and the Ukrainians and the Poles mix at all or were there very obvious lines drawn?

EG     They were separated. We weren't separated by the line. But socially everybody stuck to their own. The Ukrainians stuck to their own, the Poles to their own, Jews to their own. Jews weren't accepted. We were in the school, we were friends. But outside the school nobody associated.

PR     How is that?

EG     I don't know why. It was always the anti-Semitism and the Jews felt inferior. We were always inferior and we were very lucky and happy that somebody wanted to associate in the school. It was like this. I don't know, we accepted it. I had very good friends in the school, and in the school I used to help them or we used to...somehow, somehow, the Jewish students were always the brighter. I don't know why. And we helped friends and everything and they were happy in school, but outside the school they didn't mix with us.

PR     And did the Poles dislike the Ukrainians as much as the Poles disliked the Jews?

EG     They disliked Ukrainians but not as much as the Jews.

PR     And the relationship between the Ukrainians and the Jews also was bad?

EG     Bad. Bad. Ukrainians didn't like us either.

PR     In your family, what business were they in?

EG     My father had a religious, the Jewish religious paraphernalia.

PR     And Oleszyce was renown for its Jewish paraphernalia.

EG     It was like the manufacturing. Everybody did it in that city. My father exported this in Poland to big cities where they didn't have that, and to all Europe. And all the countries. Mainly he traded with Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. It was the biggest market for it because they had a lot of Jewish people.

PR     And what precisely do we mean when we say "Jewish paraphernalia?"

EG     Used for prayers. The Torah that is used for the services in the synagogues. The Jewish prayer shawls. The Jewish, what they called the mezuza. Everything they used in the prayer services.

PR     And I assume that you spoke Polish as well as Yiddish.

EG     Yes. We spoke Yiddish in the house, and we spoke Polish in the school and with our friends. And everything you have to use the Polish language. We spoke a little Ukrainian too because a big percentage of the Ukrainians like from the fourth grade on was like a second language.

PR     And did Jewish people have a strong presence in the businesses in your town?

EG     They had mainly businesses, but small businesses. They had small businesses and trades. Because the Jews weren't permitted, I never knew a Jew that should be in some position like in city hall or some-place or even a teacher. I never had in the school a Jewish teacher because the Jews weren't permitted to advance socially. That's why they stuck mostly to trades and small business. Somehow it is a myth that the Jews were rich. I didn't know any rich Jewish people. They made a living. That meant they were rich. They had, everybody had a small business, they were in trades like tailoring, shoe making, those kinds of trades, and they were very, very poor.

PR     And those that did not have trades, there was a large percentage of Jews particularly in eastern Poland who were completely impoverished, and who traveled from town to town begging.

EG     Yes. There were a lot of beggars. In carriages they came from town to town, to beg for money. They couldn't find jobs mainly because you were small, you had small tradesmen, they didn't, there weren't factories, but small tradesmen, they employed two, three people and that was the limit. People couldn't, and if they went in a small business they sold something, they hardly made a living. Especially, I don't know how Poles, it was sad because my father traveled to the other countries. We never went abroad. We were so close to the other countries. But my father in his business he was taken to those other countries. And he said in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, in Germany, that the Jews lived much better than in Poland.

PR     I assume that there was a synagogue in Oleszyce, perhaps there was more than one?

EG     Three synagogues. We had three synagogues. In that time, everybody was Orthodox, and everybody attended the services. The synagogues were never empty. That was the only place to socialize. In such a small city we didn't have a movie. We had a traveling movie that came once a week to the city, and showed the movie, and then they left. So everybody went to that movie once, but everything was around the synagogue. So everybody, all the news, everything that somebody wanted to hear they went to the synagogue.

PR     So Friday night was a festive occasion in Olesyzce.

EG     Yes, everybody observed the holiday and it was very much observed. The people were friendly. Everybody associated with everybody. It was a holiday, and the same thing Saturday after people came from the synagogue. They went Saturday morning to the synagogue. They had their lunch and they associated. Went to visit friends and relatives because everybody lived together. And all the young people got together and talked and were singing. I remember singing songs and we told stories and read books, then we went for a walk. There were many orchards, many woods around, which was nice. We went for a walk. We weren't afraid, one thing like here, to go out. We occasionally we were, some Polish boy or some Ukrainian boy threw a stone at us, but besides that, they were not incidents of murder or rape or something else. So the young people were free. That was the only thing, the only enjoyment, to go out for a walk, to go swimming. We had a little river. It wasn't any ocean, but we had a little river, swimming. We got together a youth organization, just to get together in one room, by one family, and we had a little library, their own, and people took books. People read a lot. I think people, young people even in those times were. It was maybe, we had the only radio in the city maybe, and no television, and nothing to know, just the newspaper. People were more educated and they knew more than the young people now. They had such a broad education, and they participated. They traveled. We read more. Everybody read a lot.

PR     It was one of the few pleasures open to you.

EG     Right. Right. Everybody read a lot. Even those people who didn't continue the higher education just went those eight years, they knew a lot. Read, they were self-educated, and read very good books, not trash. We didn't have trash at that time. We read classics, we read literature, when we met, people discussed those books like reviews. That was how we lived.

PR     That was the Old World.

EG     Yes.

PR     Was there a bathhouse in Oleszyce?

EG     Yes. There was a bathhouse because people didn't have running water. They washed themselves, you know you have to warm water at home in big pots and everybody had like a tin bathtub where you took the bath. But most people went to the bathhouse.

PR     You mentioned earlier that sometimes you would be walking about and a Polish boy or a Ukrainian boy would throw a rock at you. You leave me with the impression that anti-Semitism didn't express itself except for occasionally.

` EG     It expressed itself but not in a violent way. It was, they could scream after us, "Jews to Palestine! Jews to Palestine!" In a different way. It wasn't expressed yet in violence, and violence it started to express right before the war when the Germans, when Hitler was already in power.

PR     After the death of Pilsudski?

EG     That was the time when there started the Hitlerism in Germany. It started, they called Edekism in Poland.

PR     National Democrats.

EG     Right. It started in Poland, that's when it really started.

PR     You would view the Endeks as the Polish equivalent of the Nazis.

EG     Right. Right. They opened Polish stores and boycotted the Jewish business. They didn't come to buy. Occasionally they beat up the Jewish students in the university. You had the university had a percentage. They had only, I don't remember exactly, one or two percent of Jews. Jews could, but if any Jew who was very, very smart, was accepted to the university, not one, he was beaten up very often. Jewish students. By the Polish students.

PR     And of course there were the "ghetto benches" in the universities as well.

EG     Well, we had in school as well Jewish students were sitting on one side and the non-Jews on the other side. We were sitting, we knew where was Jewish side to sit down right away in school.

PR     Your grammar school?

EG     Yes.

PR     So when you walked into the classroom...

EG     Yes. I sat automatically on the side where the Jews were sitting. We couldn't participate in any school plays. We never participated in a school play. We were so envious. We went to the plays, they had always on every holiday school plays. On every national holiday school plays. Not one Jewish student participated in those.

PR     And do you remember in the latter part of the thirties when the Warsaw government attempted to decree that cows could not be slaughtered...

EG     Yes, I remember. It was a time that they couldn't kill according to Jewish religious law. They made believe that it is the cruelty of animals.

PR     Did that ever become law?

EG     I don't remember. I was very young at that time. I don't remember. I remember the decree how people were worried. Because everybody ate kosher, but I don't think, I don't remember that it should be a shortage in, if people were able to afford wasn't a shortage in kosher meat.

PR     As a little girl before the war, did you ever witness a parade by the Edeks in your town?

EG     No. Not in my city. We had during the German occupation but not...

PR     No, no. I'm talking about a parade of Endeks.

EG     No, no.

PR     Was there the presence of the Endek party in Oleszyce?

EG     It was, but they weren' see, they weren't so much organized. In the bigger cities, they were organized. In the small cities, you didn't feel it so much.

PR     I don't want to ask any uncomfortable questions, so stop me if I do. But do you remember the first of September, 1939?

EG     Very, very, very much so. We remember. I remember it very good. First of all, before the first of September, we had an influx of Jewish people that Hitler expelled. Polish citizens that Hitler expelled from Germany, and we had a lot of those refugees who lived, you see, they came by trains and by wagons and dispersed through the whole Poland, and mainly they stopped in the small cities they had more place to come. But then September the first, started to fly the German airplanes and threw bombs. We were running out of the houses because the bombs were coming. It didn't take a few days. The Germans came in. First came the motorcycles, and they were starting to shoot without discrimination. Poles, Jews, or not Jews, who was on the street. Right, left, right, left, to shot. And many people were killed right away, the first day when they came.

PR     They came in shooting to establish the presence of terror.

EG     I assume like this, otherwise why would they shot right away when they came in? (drinks water)

PR     Back to the first of September, which was a Friday. Was it early in the morning that those planes came over?

EG     The planes came over in the morning, and in the evening the whole day. They were a few days, because the whole war was a blitzkrieg. In a few days, it didn't take three or four days they were there already. Somehow we believed, because the Poles claimed that they were prepared and they were singing songs: "We swear that we won't give not one inch of our soil to the Germans." Somehow, we trusted the Polish government. We didn't believe that the Germans will be in right away. We were a little farther from the German border, so it took a few days, but they were in Poland already on the second day of the war. Somehow the Polish soldiers even they claimed they were prepared and it didn't work out.

PR     The Polish government was arrogant, and the German government was arrogant and powerful.

EG     That's probably what happened.

PR     You know what I find extraordinary, Mrs. G., is that your town, which was a small town off the beaten track, was still bombed by the Germans as if it were of military importance.

EG     They bombed every inch of Poland. They bombed every inch. Wherever. They had so many airplanes that they were able to go wherever. In front, before they came in, they bombed every inch.

PR     In Warsaw, which was besieged for three weeks, Poles and Jews fought together at the barricades. There are some wonderful photographs of rabbis helping to build the line of defense. I wonder, was there any sense of common ground between Poles and Jews in September of 1939.

EG     No, no, no. It worsened, because the Germans came in and the real anti-Semitism began. The Ukrainians collaborated with the Germans, the Poles didn't stick too much up for us, they were I guess afraid for their own lives because right away there decrees in Poland who will help the Jews they will kill their families. I mean, the Gentile families, the Polish families. So they didn't too much stick up for us and the gap even widened between the Poles and the Jews.

PR     Your friends who you went to school with, there was a complete separation.

EG     Complete separation. Complete separation. Even my, I had one brother who had a real good Ukrainian friend and we had a Ukrainian teacher who came in because older brothers they didn't go away to school to another city so my father took a private tutor, and he lived in our street. He was an unemployed Ukrainian teacher, and he taught my brothers. And came into our house, and was like a friend. My mother fed him, and the other brother had Ukrainian friend because he learned the trait, he wanted to be a tailor, he learned tailoring. That Ukrainian boy worked together with him, and they became very good friends, but the minute the Germans came in, they turned to enemies. One even, that teacher, slapped my mother on the street. Because there was a decree that Jews couldn't walk on the sidewalk. Only the mud. And my mother forgot, and went on the sidewalk. And that teacher passed by, and even though my mother was so much older than him, he struck my mother. And mother came in and cried so much. She said, she wouldn't be so much insulted in a German would do to her, or a stranger, but a person whom she served food and fed and came in to our house, and he beat her.

PR     The Germans quickly established a government. I can't imagine the Germans could staff the administration of a small little town like yours with pure ethnic Germans.

EG     No, they had Ukrainian collaborators. Ukrainian became the police. Ukrainians, they helped. Not the Poles.

PR     And Volksdeutsche?

EG     Those who proclaimed themselves Volksdeutsche, they had some German grandfather or something, those helped too.

PR     And the decrees came flying down.

EG     Day after day, so quickly, so quickly. The way how the decrees (slight laugh) were, that is interesting, how the decree were proclaimed in a small city. You didn't have a radio. You didn't have the loud speakers or something. It was one man who went with a drum, to every street. He came with drum, drum, drum, drum, the whole street, and everybody came out. Soon you heard the drum, people came out from the houses because they knew it has to be something told. Even in Polish times it was the same thing, about tax collection, or about painting, or about cleaning. All the decrees came through that drum, so people came out rushing from the houses to listen what they have to say. And that's how we had to know everyday by the Germans the new laws with that drum.

PR     And was there a strong German military presence in Oleszyce? Or was it German police?

EG     It was German police, not military, but still they were enough to scare everybody off. Besides people, nobody was armed. From the civilians, nobody before the war owned a gun, or a rifle. You didn't have that, like here.

PR     I've seen the terrible photographs of religious Jews who had their beards cut by the Germans.

EG     Yes. Yes. They come out, whoever they found on the street with a beard, they cut the beards. Yes.

PR     The Polish population, which itself was threatened, remained impassive.

EG     Right. They didn't help. You see, they, the Polish population were under the occupation, but they weren't persecuted. They had their political, like they were oppressed politically, let's say. It wasn't their country. They had to do as the Germans did. But they weren't threatened with death unless they found somebody was involved in politics. They had many political prisoners, the Germans took political prisoners, but if somebody sat quiet they didn't have what to fear. But the Jews no matter what, just because they were Jews they were persecuted.

PR     Elie Wiesel has said, "Not every victim was a Jew, but every Jew was a victim."

EG     Right. That's true.

PR     When was the ghetto established?

EG     By us it was established right away. In some places later. By us it was established in 1941. We belonged after the treaty Germany had with Russia, they divided our city, came under the Russians, and we were, first the Germans came in, we were a couple of months under the German occupation, then they withdrew back, and they gave a part of Poland, which we belonged to, to the Russians, so we were almost two years under the Russian occupation. And the Germans came back in 1941. The Russian wasn't a really, it was a suffering like the Poles. We weren't singled out. We were equal to everybody else under the Russians. You suffered economically, you suffered politically, but you didn't suffer because you were a Jew. I wasn't afraid if I will go out on the street, I should be caught and sent to the concentration camp or killed. That was the difference. So I would have rather stayed with the Russian than with the German. You see, it was bearable.

PR     So when the Germans attacked Russia in June 1941, they established the ghetto.

EG     We were on the border, exactly on the border, because our city was the last one that was on the Russian side. It was a little river, San. And San was the border, and we were near the San. So that's why, we didn't even know that the German will attack. We went to sleep Saturday night, the Russians were there on the street, and we woke up six o'clock in the morning, and we heard a noise, and we saw the Germans on the street.

PR     And life changed once again.

EG     Oh, immediately. Immediately. For the worse. Right away. They were so organized it didn't take them a day, right the next day we knew that we are Jews.

PR     I'm interested in Polish-Jewish relations, and I keep looking for a little bit of light there. Do you know of any examples when Poles did assist the Jews?

EG     Maybe it was a small percentage, but not by us, not that I knew about that. Not by us. By us I don't know why, even it was a small city, people knew one another. They knew everybody but somehow I don't know, is it for fear? Or is it for greed? Because one instance I had got to know. We had one drugstore in the city. Because it wasn't a drugstore like here. It was Apothecary. Only prescriptions. And they had a maid the whole life. They raised that maid. It was a Polish maid. They raised her as a child. They married her off, and she worked for them the whole life, so the Apothecary's children were like sisters and brothers to her, so it was a young man, the Apothecary's son, that she hid during the war, and people who lived in the city knew, three days before the war finished, she exposed him, told the Germans that he is here, and they killed him.

PR     Three days before...

EG     Before, because she was afraid if he will survive she will have to give back everything. All their belongings that she has hidden.

PR     When the Jews in Oleszyce were put into the ghetto, what happened to your homes?

EG     Who knows what happened? We went to another city. Gentiles moved in right away. Before we left, because we could take only what we were able to carry with us, the rest remained. Before even we left the house there were already neighbors who took out everything from the house.

PR     You saw this with your own eyes?

EG     Yes.

PR     Neighbors?

EG     Neighbors. Of course. And then somebody moved in. I don't know up till now what happened. Somebody lives there if the house still survives.

PR     Do you have bitter feelings towards the Poles in general?

EG     I don't have bitter feelings towards anybody because I know what a war is. A war demoralizes people, people get drawn in. I see what happens in Israel, people were moral, the highest moral standards, and now when they have to fight for their life, they're changing. I don't keep even a grudge against the Germans.

PR     You know what I find interesting in a tragic way, is that many Polish Jews that I have spoken to dislike the Poles more than they do the Germans.

EG     Well, the Germans followed the order. They followed. They were hypnotized by Hitler. Poles were able to be a little more, I don't know, it was, they were anti-Semites. Many just, some anti-Semitism was instigated by the Polish clergy. The Polish clergy was different. Because I remember we lived across from the church, across. When Easter or Christmas, when Easter, they went out from the church, they were so, especially the young people, "Christ killer, Christ killer," you just heard "Christ killer, Christ killer." Because the sermons that the priests preached on those holidays were full of hate. The Jews killed Christ and what happened two thousand years ago we are responsible now, that one Jew killed another. Didn't even kill. Pontius Pilate gave the decree. But that was fight between one Jew and another. It was inflated, it was terrible. That was the same thing in Russia. Mostly the anti-Semitism was on a religious basis. This was in one way. The other way somehow it was a jealousy that, I don't know what kind of jealousy because Poland, you didn't have such rich Jews to be jealous, but maybe they always, the Jewish family pushed for more education, that the Jew was always more educated. Even the Jew couldn't be in a high position, but he was always more educated than the Pole.

PR     And there was resentment.

EG     Yes. That's what I think.

PR     Having interviewed many Polish Jews, and having been overwhelmed by their hatred of Poles today, and at the same time having interviewed many Righteous Gentiles in Warsaw last summer, I'm confused because the Righteous Gentiles leave me with the impression that there were many people who helped, and the Polish Jews that I have interviewed leave me with the impression that there was no one that helped. So I have a question about this.

EG     They were some that helped, but percent wise it wasn't enough. They were very, very few people who helped. But I didn't encounter. Just what I heard and read about it. But I didn't encounter anybody who helped me.

PR     Did anyone look at you with sympathy?

EG     No. No. I didn't, and besides later I lived under an assumed name as a Pole and I heard the talking and I had to quench in me not to say anything. The remarks, and I didn't encounter who would talk about the Jews. As a matter of fact, I have still many Polish friends.

EG     I liked them very much. They are not the Poles from before the war, but they were Poles before the war, some were very nice too, I assume because there were some people who helped, but not between the specially poor Poles, the farmers who always blamed like Hitler did, the Jew was the scapegoat. If was a economic recession or depression, the Jew was the scapegoat because it is because of the Jew. And they believed it. Especially those people because you had many illiterate people, especially among the illiterate people who listened just to the sermons what the priest had to say. Although there were I heard monasteries that saved some Jewish children, but I didn't encounter it. There are some probably.

PR     There was that vicious rumor that was typical of pre-war and post-war eastern Europe that Christian children were taken at Passover.

EG     This you have to be stupid to believe it, but still you read what was the book about...

PR     The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

EG     It is not just the Protocols but you had another book written about Russian Jew named what was his name I forgot who was also because of that rumor they were pogroms in Russia. But who could believe such things. Only people who were illiterate. How could you believe such a thing? And there were many rumors of those.

PR     But back to the point I was making earlier about this gulf of difference between those who saved and those who did not, and the confusion I have, I placed this question to Leo Schrer when I interviewed him, if I was being deported somewhere and I jumped from the train and ran, always my thought would be, how will I make it? Who will help me? I asked him what would my chances be if I jumped from the train and ran...

EG     That's what I did, I jumped from the train and I ran, and nobody helped me. I run from I jumped from the train and my sister and brother jumped from the train and they were killed right away. I ran, and I went back to my city to some farmers who were friends of ours whom we entrusted some belongings, and I came in and they were afraid to give me shelter, they were afraid for their own life. I wouldn't say that they were so mean. But they were afraid that they will kill their family. One family gave me shelter for a few hours, until it got evening, because I came, they put me behind a chiferobe you that they have in the corner, and I was standing there the whole day, crying, and heard when neighbors came in and told them, "Oh, they are taking the Jews away and they shot this person, they shot that person, because they knew everybody." And I was standing and listening to it. Then in the evening she gave me a few zlotys (Polish money), and she gave me a half a bread, and told me to go. And I came in, and that was January the seventh, the coldest time in Poland, with the snows and the freezes. Came to another farmer inn, that we knew too. She didn't even want to let me in. So I went to the stable and they had a stable, they had cows. I went to the stables and stables was open and there was a little cow, a little calf, the cow gave birth to the calf so I hold that little calf, I just squeezed it to keep myself warm, and then before that lady went to sleep, she went to check the calf and saw me in the stable, so she was, she felt sorry and let me into the house to sleep until it got light, twilight, in the morning, and she told me to go, nobody helped me.

PR     How old were you?

EG     I was seventeen. Nobody helped me. They were afraid for their own life. In a way I don't blame them, and I don't hate them for that, because they, I don't know how I would have acted if I had been in their shoes. So I can't blame them really.

PR     Then you made your way to Krakow.

EG     I made my way to Krakow and by chance, it was just luck, they caught that time Polish boys and girls for work for Germany because nobody wanted to go, and I was caught among those people. They didn't have their papers, because they were on the street, went out, and they took us to work, to Germany, that's how I ended up with a farmer the whole time during the war. And under assumed papers, I went with them to church, I went to confession, they were Catholics, so I was a Catholic too.

PR     Where did you get the papers?

EG     No, they later gave me when they caught us, they registered everybody, and we had to go to, you see, they had to check us, the doctors if we are healthy because they didn't want sick people to bring there, so everybody was registered, and they gave me a paper, so when I came to Germany then in Germany they gave us German passports.

PR     It's such an irony to me that you would be safer in Germany of all places.

EG     Even my Polish friends, I acquired them because they were every farmer depends on the size of the amount of the land, they got people to help them work, because their husbands or sons were in the war, so on Sunday we had half day off, so all the Poles and there were Russians and they were from Czechoslovakia people, we became friendly, all the maids, we were maids, so I associated with the Polish, so I don't know if all my friends if they would have known I'm Jewish if they wouldn't have exposed me. My own friends there.

PR     What led you to suspect that they might expose you?

EG     Because I heard the way how they spoke about Jews.

PR     And how did they speak about Jews?

EG     With hatred. With hatred, and I didn't want to defend because I thought they will suspect me, so I didn't answer, but I heard their expressions, and their jokes and their everything, they didn't show any like pity. It was one big farmer and they had a little camp that was not really a concentration camp but a camp of Hungarian Jews and they led them everyday to work to the farm and they saw, people knew that they were Jews, because, "Oh they are leading the Jews." We went to the fields and I saw my friends and they shout, Oh, look, the Jews are going already, they are taking them already to work. You know, never said, "Oh, poor people, look how they treat them", or something. Never.

PR     Did they show appreciation for what the Germans were doing?

EG     No, they didn't show appreciation.

PR     The fact that the Germans were ridding Poland of the Jews.

EG     Well, they, it didn't come to it. I don't think it was ever we ever spoke about it, but the Germans by themselves where I worked, they didn't know what they are doing to Jews. They didn't know that they are killing the Jews. They thought they take them out to work. You see, these Germans, actually, they weren't Germans, they were Austrians because I was on the Austrian-Czechoslovakian border, they were Germans but they considered themselves as more Austrians because they lived in Austria. They never said that they are killing Jews. They didn't know.

PR     How did you know how to handle yourself as a Catholic? How did you know the prayers?

EG     I didn't know and I was very afraid. When I came to the church, I did what they are doing. They didn't see, but the worst thing was the first time before Easter, the farmer lady, they had three daughters, said, "Well, you are going to confession and to the communion," and then I thought, here could be something. I didn't sleep at nights, but then it came to me. We were on the border, and my friends didn't know how to speak German. I learned very quickly how to speak German because by us the languages go very, very easily, and so my friends, you see, even we were Poles working there, so we had to have, if somebody wanted to go from one village to another, you have to have a permit. So they wanted to go to Czechoslovakia to the church, because Czechoslovakian is close to Polish language, so they will go to confession and say it in Czechoslovakian. So I said to the girl, to the daughter, I don't want to go to Snid for confession, give me your prayer book, and show me what to say, so I will go to the German here, here to the priest for confession. She opened the prayer book and showed me what to say. So I figured, if I will go to that German priest, he will think, That's a Polish girl, she doesn't know it as good. So I went to confession and it went good, and then I went to communion and did what everybody did. Put out my thumb, kneeled, and just when the first time it was hard, but later it wasn't any problem.

PR     You were lucky not only to be able to pick up German so quickly, but to have been able to speak Polish so well.

EG     Well, Polish, I lived in Poland, it is just like living here in the United States. Well, I was, I came here, but I have accent, but children born here speak English. That's the same way. It's no big deal. I lived in Poland, so I spoke Polish.

PR     But there were many Jews who lived in Poland who did not speak Polish.

EG     They spoke Polish but they had a very bad accent.

PR     And they gave themselves away.

EG     Right. They could recognize it.

PR     Was there ever a time when you were working for the Germans that you feared you might be exposed by the Poles?

EG     Yes. I felt the first few months, but as time passed on, I became more secure.

PR     After the war, you returned to Poland.

EG     Well, you see, where we were, it belonged, Czechoslovakia took over, so they told all the Poles to leave. They didn't want nobody to stay. So I went with my friends, and when we returned to Poland and I told already one of my friends that I'm Jewish, and I have written, and I remembered I have a half-brother in the United States. I went with her to her house because I didn't go back, I was scared to go back to my own city. I knew nobody's there. I have written a card, when the mail started functioning, to my brother and I got back a telegram and he sent me papers, but he sent me papers, couldn't come to the United States, because it was the quota. He send me a transit visa to Sweden. So I went to Sweden. Henry came to Sweden.

PR     But this Polish friend, when you told her that you were Jewish, her face must have shown quite a bit of surprise.

EG     Yes, she was surprised by knowing me so long, so she was very fond of me, and we became good friends so at that time it didn't matter.

PR     But had she expressed anti-Semitic views before?

EG     Well, she spoke about Jews, but you see, you don't like other Jews but one is always good.

PR     I find it an interesting case study here that she spoke about the Jews in an ugly way and at the same time she was friends with someone who in fact was Jewish and later she discovered that and realized that a Jew was just a regular person.

EG     Well, you can't, people, they are conditioned at home. With many people, you hear talk the whole life so bad, but always said, Between the Jews there is one good one. You have always like the kings. They expelled the Jews in the old times, but still they had one living with them who was good.

PR     Is there something that I haven't asked that you would like to tell me?

EG     I think you approximately covered everything. And if one day you think about something and you will be here you could call me if you will think about something.

PR     So, now I go to Oleszyce.

EG     Well, it is a small town so maybe you will find it. It is not far from Jaroslaw, Lubachow. We have seven kilometres from Lubachow. In Lubachow we had the ghetto, our ghetto was in Lubachow.

PR     When they were marching you to the ghetto down this road, were the Poles and Ukrainians watching?

EG     Yes. One incident I will tell you and then I will finish because it's too tiresome. When the Germans came in, that was the second, at 1941, after a few days, they told like the decree, the man came with the drum and said all the Jews have to assemble in the market place. All the Jews. If one wouldn't come, he will be shot. Everyone has to come, from big to old. So they took us end, and they told to go in force, and they made like a parade. They let us go like in a parade, and all the Poles and all the Ukrainians were watching like you would watch here a Mardi Gras parade. All the Jews, and they were putting the old Jews with young girls, you see, old religious Jews, and walked through the whole city. Then they brought us back to the market place, and they had put everything from synagogues, took out all the books, all the prayer books, they made a bonfire, and they told everybody should dance around, and our neighbors stood and watched and laughed. That was a bigger hurt than the degrading that they did. At that time they took out everything, I mean the prayer books, everything took out from the synagogues, and put the synagogues on fire. They burned the synagogues, and we had to dance around the bonfire.

PR     And you're telling me that the Poles and Ukrainians stood there.

EG     Yes. Yes. I have now like in front of my eyes I see them.

PR     And they stood there and they did what?

EG     Watched like you would watch a Mardi Gras parade.

PR     Did you tell me that they laughed?

EG     Yes. Many of them.

PR     Well, Mrs. G., I know this is an uncomfortable thing for you.

EG     Yes.

PR     And I appreciate you speaking to me.

EG     Yeah, OK.

- END -

Oral History  |   Video Biography   |   Video Interview   |   Video Transcript