You Won’t Believe It. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Piotr Kazimierczyk 1922 Bagatele   Photo:  Mr. and Mrs. Piotr Kazimierczyk

Ok, here is what happened.

Yesterday, I posted about the interconnectedness of the universe and how remarkable my journey has been as I work on Sam and Esther’s story.  Well, hours after I posted, I got a Facebook message and an e-mail that even Einstein couldn’t have predicted.

The first was a Facebook message from a woman named Julieta Lande. Here is what it said:

Hi Karen, how are you? I’m from Argentina, and I’m doing a documentary about the story of my grandparents (survivors from Stoczek). I’m travelling there on January. I found your blog and saw that you where there and also doing a research project. My grandfather, Yoel, was one of the people in charge of gathering the testimonies for the Yizkor Book. For the documentary I’m doing the translation of some chapters of the book to spanish and I’m choosing some chapters that I think could have interesting information. One of those was the one signed by Samuel Goldberg about his experience in Treblinka, and I just found that you are related to the family, so I thought it was a good idea to contact you and know more about your experience on Stoczek and your project. Best, Julieta.

Ok, wait – I messaged her back asking if she will be in Poland on January 15th. I briefly explained the story, telling her that Shlomo will be there as the Stys family receives their honor from Yad Vashem.  She responded – “yes, I am leaving Poland the 16th for Israel.”  She would love to attend the Yad Vashem ceremony for the Stys family!  Cool.

Not crazy enough for you – hold on – later the same day (yesterday), I received this e-mail from Terisa Schor:

Hi, I live in New York and I’m originally from New Jersey. My mother’s father was born in Bagatele and came to the States in 1913. We visited Bagatele and Wasewo for a few hours about 10 years ago after a 2-week guided tour of Poland. 

Bagatele is so insanely small. When we visited, we also had the experience of people walking up leaving their homes to see who these weird out-of-towners were. We didn’t know anyone we met (despite them saying they were “cousins,” but an old woman gestured to where she said our family farm had been. 

I had no idea Bagatele had a Jewish community. 

This is a photo of her Uncle Piotr. According to the family story, he was somehow involved in the resistance during and after the war and was executed in some sort of communist turf war. 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/terissaschor/132416912/in/album-72057594113085917/ . . .

What did you think of Bagatele?

Terisa

Well, Uncle Piotr’s (pictured above with his wife) last name was Kazimierczyk.  On the back of this picture, it written: Bagatele 1922.   I remembered that Mr. Zaleski (the oldest living person in Bagatele) told us the names of the families who lived there before the war.   When my daughter, Esther and I visited him in April, Mr. Zaleski dictated a map of sorts showing where all the families lived.  The Kazimierczyk home is three doors down from Sam’s house.  Mr. Zaleski told us that for the years just before the war, Sam’s brother, Itche, and his wife, rented that home from the Kazimierczyk family.

How is it possible that the day I posted about the tapestry of the universe and how we are all interconnected, I received these two messages, one about Stozcek from Argentina and a second about Bagatele from New York?

I can hardly believe it.  But it’s true.

Scottie – beam me up!

 

 

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Einstein’s Universe: A Weaver’s Delight

Life is a great tapestry.  The individual is only an insignificant thread in an immense and miraculous pattern.    Albert Einstein

Universe

“So you want to write a holocaust book” – this is the name I chose for this blog.  I had a lot of Chutzpa to think that I could write a book, let alone a book about the Holocaust.

But my soul yearned to do this.  I felt that this was the time – so I dove into the deep end.  What I discovered is expressed by the quotation above:  I am an “insignificant thread in an immense and miraculous pattern” of life.

I began slowly – I read histories and biographies and memoirs.  I read interviews, speeches and dissertations.  I began talking to people, asking lots and lots of questions.  I began the hardest thing of all – listening.  To listen, to really listen, is a skill we must develop – I am still working on it.

As I chose the doorways to enter and the paths to go down, I encountered remarkable people and experienced things I had only dreamed of.  In planning my June 2016 trip to Poland, I spoke to my sister-in-law Fay about where to begin looking for Helena’s home.  She had no idea.  But she mentioned that she had some letters, written in Polish, that she found in her father’s condo after his death.  Fay sent them to me and I took them to my superhero travel agent, Joanna, who I met through friends at the Seattle Holocaust Center.  Joanna translated the letters and googled the names.  This led to meeting the three surviving children of the families that helped Sam and Esther survive as they hid from the Nazis.  We met Janina, Eugenuisz and Jan.  We met Grzegorz and his family.  The list goes on and on.   I have learned from every person I met.

Sam always believed that he was the only survivor from his family and the only Jewish survivor from his town of Bagatele.   But alas, there was a boy – a 6-year-old boy – alone and frightened – who survived the war.  He is Sam’s cousin – from the town of Bagatele.   And in this crazy connected universe, a Polish priest in Wonsewo (town next door to Bagatele) – Father Rafael Figiel – found my blog as he was searching the internet for information about the Jews of the area before the war.  He introduced us to Idul Lis – the now 80-something year old man, who lives just outside of Warsaw.

My daughter Esther and I met Idul and his daughter, Marta, in April of this year.  Idul and Marta will meet Shlomo in January when he goes to Poland for the Yad Vashem ceremony honoring the Stys family.  Ewa, another of Idul’s daughters, lives in Boston.  She has met all three Goldberg children – Fay, Shlomo and Molly.

*****

I recently cried my way through a book – Einstein and the Rabbi:  Searching for the Soul, by Rabbi Naomi Levy.  In this book, Rabbi Levy found a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to “a grieving parent” about the interconnectedness of the universe.  Einstein writes that a person “experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”   There is no separateness – we are all part of the greater stuff of the universe

In her search to uncover who wrote this letter and why, Rabbi Levy went on a journey, talking to people, reading articles, books, old yellowing letters, anything that might lead her to a deeper answer.  Her journey took her the liberation of the concentration camp Buchenwald in 1945, to Jerusalem, to Cincinnati, to New York, to Elie Wiesel, to Rabbi Meir Lau, to Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Rabbi Levy’s beautiful book is part memoir, part religious exploration, part self-help, but mostly, I found it to be an opportunity to connect with the rest of the universe.  The idea that we are all part of a greater whole is the best explanation for how I found the Grzegorz and the Stys family, Idul Lis, Father Figiel, Mr. Zaleski, Joanna, and so many more people that opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at the world, a place, an idea, even a brick in a wall.

“Thank you,” Rabbi Marcus’s daughter, Roberta said to Rabbi Levy.  “A random call from a stranger and the missing piece of a puzzle has now found its place.” (313)  This is how Grzegorz felt after our first phone conversation.  My call to him was a “random call from a stranger” and it helped him put pieces of the puzzle of his family into place.   Our meeting with the Stys family helped Shlomo put missing pieces of his family’s puzzle into place.

I am grateful for all the people I have met and all that I have learned the in the past two years.  I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Einstein

 “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space.”    From Albert Einstein’s letter to Rabbi Marcus.

Yad Vashem Ceremony to Honor Stys Family set – January 15, 2018

 

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The date is finally set – January 15, 2018 – Warsaw, Poland.

Yad Vashem will bestow the honor or Righteous Among the Nations on Helena and Aleksander Stys and three of their children: Janina, Leokadia and Anotoni (aka Polikarb).

The only one of these righteous people we met is Janina – photo above.  She is no longer in the world of the living.  Although none of those receiving the honor are alive today, their children and grandchildren will gather for this beautiful ceremony, led by the Israeli Ambassador to Poland.

Shlomo will be there, to celebrate with them.

Unfortunately for me, January 15th is the only date in all of 2018 that I cannot make it to Poland.  I am fortunate to be involved in planning for the first ever Limmud Seattle.  Limmud takes place on January 13 and 14.  No way to get to Warsaw by mid-day on the 15th.  Such is life.

But if you are in Seattle that weekend – please join us at Limmud.  Registration is open!   Check it out here:

http://www.limmudseattle.org/

While I am thrilled that the Stys family name will be listed among the Righteous, this is bitter sweet moment because the Wladyslawa and Stanislaw Stys family will not receive the honor.  They too are righteous.  They will be honored this coming summer by the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity.  There will be a ceremony in the Stys home, together with a delegation of people from Seattle.  I am grateful to the Holocaust Center for making this a reality. 

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Eukodal Was Invented By a Jew – and Other Fun Facts.

Fire

Eukodal was Hitler’s favorite opioid.  His personal physician, Theo Morell, injected Eukodal directly into Hitler’s veins, making him feel – all better! (see Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, by Norman Ohler and blog post 11/22/17).  It turns out that Eukodal was invented in Germany by Professor Jakob Edmund Speyer, a Jew from Frankfurt-on-Main.  Professor Speyer was deported to the Lodz Ghetto in 1942 and died there on May 5th.  He died of “exhaustion and weakening of the heart.”[1]

*****

I learned this fun fact while reading Martin Gilbert’s 2005 book – Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction.  I was surprised because I had read Blitzed by Norman Ohler which goes into detail about Eukodal, but leaves out the ironic tidbit that it was invented by a Jew.

Gilbert takes a deep dive into Kristallnacht and provides eye witness reports from personal diaries and newspapers. The reports are heartbreaking:

“That evening Eugen Lehmann wrote from Berlin to his son, who was already in Britain: ‘It is now six-thirty and I can hardly think clearly.   What happened to us Jews in Germany since four-thirty this morning is indescribable.  In the whole of Germany there exists no synagogue that is not burned or still burning, there are no more store windows that are not broken.’ At one Jewish-owned department store in Berlin ‘all glass was broken by 2 p.m.’, at another ‘it was twelve’ and at a third ‘at seven’ etc., etc. You can imagine what became of the displayed merchandise.” (51)

OR

“’The great shopping centers looked as though they had suffered an air raid,’ reported The Daily Herald from Berlin.  ‘Showcases were torn from walls, furniture broken, electric signs smashed to fragments.’ The News Chronicle reporter saw looters ‘smashing with peculiar care the windows of jewellery [sic] shops and, sniggering, stuffing into their pockets the trinkets and necklaces that fell on the pavements.’” (46-47)

Kristallnacht was a clarion call to many German Jews to get the hell out of there.  Between Kristallnacht (November 1938) and the outbreak of the war (September 1939), 120,000 Jews left Germany.  In contrast, the prior five years saw a total of 150,000 Jews emigrating.  (268)

Four years after Kristallnacht, the leaders of the Third Reich gathered at Wannsee to discuss the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.  Probably to a drum roll, the number of Jews left in Germany was announced:  131,800. (252)  The deportations of what was left of Germany’s Jews began in earnest – to Belzec, to the Lodz Ghetto, to Auschwitz.

Even Jewish men married to non-Jews were rounded up.  The Gestapo collected 4,700 such vermin in Berlin.  Their wives were not amused – or at least 3,000 of them.  They stood together, for an entire week, protesting outside the building where the men were imprisoned.  Goebbels got fed up and finally let the men go free.  These Jewish men survived the war.  (262-263)

But of the 131,800 German Jews who had been listed for death, fewer than 10,000 survived.  Of the 10,000 – 4,700 were the intermarried men mentioned above.  Another five thousand or so survived by hiding with the help of non-Jews.  (265)

A nine-year-old witnesses to Kristallnacht, Ruben Moller, lived through eight ghettos and slave labor camps.  Seven years after he watched the synagogues burn on Kristallnacht, Moller was a prisoner at Kaufering, a subcamp of Dachau.  Gilbert conveys a conversation Moller overheard between a German mother and her six-year-old daughter as they walked just outside the camp:

“‘Muti, was fur Menschen sind die?’ ‘Mother, what kind of people are they?’

[T]o which the mother replied:

Das sind kein Menschen, das sind Juden.’ ‘These are not people, they are Jews.’” (267)

I think I need some Eukodal

[1] Gilbert, Martin.  Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction at 257-58.

[For more on Kristallnacht, see blog post dated 6/27/17]

Meth, Opioids, Cocaine, Morphine – Guess Which Were Hitler’s Favorites.

Pills

By the time Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, he was a drug addict.  First, it was simple hormone and vitamin injections, then he graduated to opioid injections and finally, a cocktail of opioids and cocaine. No wonder the Germans lost the war!  Their leader was propped up by magical potions that made his limbs tremble and warped his mind.  In his book, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, Norman Ohler quotes Hitler’s personal physician’s notes from the end of 1944:

“‘Left hand very strong tremor,’ wrote [Theodor] Morell [Hitler’s personal physician].  Then: ‘increased tremor in the right hand.’ Or: ‘The left leg is not trembling now, but the left arm and the left hand are.’  Hitler buried his fingers in his coat pockets to conceal the fact. By now it could hardly have been described as trembling, as it had graduated to shaking.” (Ohler at 177-178)

Things went from bad to worse as the Allies bombed Berlin.  On just one day – February 3, 1945, the Allies dropped 2,264 tons of bombs on Berlin. (216) Among the many buildings destroyed were pharmaceutical factories – drying up the drug supply.  The Fuhrer showed signs of withdrawal: “the tremors were getting worse and his body was going into rapid decline.  At his final speech to the district leaders on February 24, 1945, he had finally lost his power of suggestion.  He made a pitiful impression on his visitors, stood bowed, drooling.” (Id.)

To commit suicide with his now wife, Eva Braun, Hitler ate a meal of spaghetti and had hydrogen cyanide for dessert.  After eating the cyanide, Hitler shot himself in the brain with a 6.35 Walther.[1] (224)

But this is not how it started – oh no.  When Hitler came to power in 1933 – he was all about the purity of the German body.  Years before Nancy Reagan, Hitler “just said no” to drugs.  Morphine and cocaine, which were the Germans’ drugs of choice, were outlawed.  (5-15) In the autumn of 1935 The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, requiring sterilization for certain conditions, including drug addiction. (17)  The next step was to kill all the drug addicts.  The Euthanasia program, called T4, was the perfect vehicle (17) (see blog posts 11/12/17; 4/14/17; 12/21/15).

It was “well known” that Jews were druggies.  They loved morphine and cocaine – the twin enemies of the Nazi party.  As Ohler describes, “SS Haupsturmfuhrer Criminal Commissar Erwin Kosmehl, who was from 1941 director of the Reich Central Office for Combating Drug Transgressions, asserted that ‘Jews play a supreme part’ in the international drug trade.  His work was concerned with ‘eliminating international criminals who often have roots in Jewry.’  The Nazi Party’s Officer of Racial Policy claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent: the intellectual urban Jew preferred cocaine or morphine to calm his constantly ‘excited nerves’ and give himself a feeling of peace and inner security.  Jewish doctors were rumored to be ‘often extraordinarily addicted to morphine.’” (19)

Propaganda was the key instrument to insure indoctrination of the youth.  In an antisemetic children’s book “Der Gifpilz (‘The Poisonous Mushroom’) the National Socialists combined their twin bogeymen, Jews and drugs, into racial-hygiene propaganda that was used in schools and nurseries.  The story was exemplary, the message perfectly clear: the dangerous poison mushroom had to be eradicated.” (19)  The book contains a picture of a young boy kneeling and handing a mushroom to a woman with a basket (think red-riding hood) in the forest.  The caption under the picture reads: “Just as poisonous mushrooms are often difficult to tell from good mushrooms, it is often difficult to recognize the Jews and confidence tricksters and criminals.” (21)

Well, with morphine and cocaine now outlawed for all living under Nazi rule, pharma companies got creative.   In 1937, the German pharmaceutical company, Temmler, developed and patented a new method of synthesizing methamphetamine.  They gave it the trade name – Pervitin.  (28-29) Taking Pervitin had magical effects: “All of a sudden the consumer feels wide awake and experiences an increase in energy; the senses are intensified to the extreme.  One feels livelier, energized to the tips of one’s hair and fingers.  Self-confidence rises, there is a subjectively perceived acceleration of thought processes, a sense of euphoria, and a feeling of lightness and freshness. A state of emergency is experienced, as when one faces a sudden danger, a time when an organism mobilizes all its forces – even though there is no danger.  An artificial kick.” (30)

The Temmler marketing team had a hay day.  They sold the meth over the counter, and marketed it for curing “frigidity in women,” by “increasing women’s libido and sexual power.” This powerful pill was said to cure the negative effects of “withdrawal from alcohol, cocaine and even opiates.” (32)  They put meth in chocolate and stated it was “perfectly safe” and a “delight.” (34) After eating a few of these chocolates, “housework would be done in a trice, and this unusual tidbit would even melt the pounds away, since Pervitin, a slimming agent, also curbed the appetite.” (34)

September of 1939 saw the invasion of Poland and the start of World War II.  German commanders handed out Pervitin to soldiers to keep them awake longer and give them a boost of energy and confidence.  Ohler quotes a medical officer from the IX Army Corps: “I’m convinced that in big pushes, where the last drop has to be squeezed from the team, a unit supplied with Pervitin is superior.  This doctor has therefore made sure that there is a supply of Pervitin in the Unit Medical Equipment.” (53)  In the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht High Command classified Pervitin as ‘decisive for the outcome of the war.” (101)

This decisive drug led to a generation of meth addicts.  In the end, none of these drugs saved Hitler or the German people, yemach shemam (may their names be erased).

Hitler’s personal doctor and drug dealer, ended up being arrested and put in jail.  But he was no use to the American interrogators, he sat apathetically and depressed in his jail cell.  He was released from prison in the summer of 1947 – dropped , shoeless, outside Munich’s central station.  There he sat, unable to muster the energy to move until “a half-Jewish Red Cross nurse took pity on him and put him in a hospital in Tegensee, where he died on May 26,1948,” (225-26) just twelve days after the State of Israel was declared.  Sweet revenge.

 

[1] After Hitler’s suicide, 100,000 Germans followed their Fuhrer and committed suicide.  Id. at 225.

The “Truth”: Janusz Korczak and Velvel Schneiderman.

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The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is holy ground.   While visiting the cemetery with my family in June of 2016, we saw a statue of Dr. Janusz Korczak, the proprietor of the Warsaw ghetto orphanage.  The photo above is Shlomo pointing to Korczak.  It stands tall among the low tombstones.  He has no grave; he was murdered at Treblinka.

Janusz Korczak was his pen name.  He authored children’s book in Polish.  His name at birth was Henryk Goldszmit.  The statute depicts him walking with a young child in one arm and holding the hand of another child who is followed by yet more.  I had read and been told that Korczak was given an opportunity to leave the Warsaw ghetto and find freedom and safety outside of Poland.  But he refused, boarding the train to Treblinka with his children.

This “truth” seems a bit shaky now, after I read Victor Ripp’s book, Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials.  Ripp visited a memorial dedicated to Janusz Korczak (not the statute we saw in the cemetery).  He had heard the story of how Korczak went to the gas chamber together with the children.  Specifically, Ripp heard the story that “[t]here was an SS officer at the terminal when the train was being boarded.  As a child, he [the SS officer] had loved Korczak’s books so much that he was ready to intervene and save the author.  But Korczak refused to leave the children.” (Ripp at 56)

The memorial is located in a simple park and depicts Korczak as embracing six children with a “saintly” expression on his face.  The small girl at the front is holding a doll and looking down, while other children gaze at Korczak.  While Ripp was sitting contemplating the statute, a group of Canadian high school students came by.   Their guide said the following:

“’Some of you may have seen on the Internet or perhaps heard the story of how Korczak volunteered to go to Treblinka with the orphans.  But that is a legend.  It makes for a nice story, and we can use some nice stories about that terrible time. But it’s not true.’” (Ripp at 57)

What did she say?   Ripp needed to clarify.  He ran and caught up with guide and asked her – what do you mean the story about Korczak isn’t true?

“’It is all because of one man:  Wladyslaw Szpilman,’ she said.  ‘In Polanski’s movie The Pianist, Szpilman is portrayed as a national hero.  After that no one argued with anything Szpilman said.  When he wrote in his memoir that he saw Korczak at the train station that day, volunteering to go with the children, that became the truth.  But there are many inconsistencies in Szpilman’s story – he got the weather of that day wrong, also the time of the train’s departure.  But you really have to know only one thing.  The Nazis did not give anyone that sort of choice.  ‘They were not so generous.’”(58)

The reason Ripp decided to visit the Korczak memorial in the first place was because his friend Agata Tuszynska told him to.  Tuszynska is a writer and longtime resident of Warsaw, who wrote a controversial book about Vera Gran, a popular singer who after the war was accused of collaborating with the Germans.  Agate told Ripp that her book “takes no sides,” but “it just shows that memories of that time can be very tricky. . . .  Who can say what the truth is?” (58-59)

I have been thinking about who gets to say what the “truth” is quite a lot.

In writing or thinking about the past, memories are distorted.  Trauma plays mean tricks on the mind.  Different versions of the same event emerge.  What is truth?  What is reality?

Recently, Shlomo located some testimony from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about the war years from Velvel (William) Schneiderman.   He escaped Treblinka with Sam and together they met Esther in the woods.  Esther took both Sam and Velvel to Helena Stys and convinced her to hide them as the Nazis were searching for Treblinka escapees.

I was shocked when I read Velvel’s testimony.  He states that he was together with Sam after escaping Treblinka and they met “a boy, a young boy with a sister-in-law” – presumably Esther and Chayim.  He states that, together with three others, he hid in a pit that they dug.   He indicates that he was there for eleven months, until the Germans were retreating from the area.  He describes how he got separated from the other three and the Germans captured him.  Ultimately after some time he got away from the Germans.[1]

Velvel’s “truth” does not match Sam, Esther, or any of the Stys family members’ “truth.”  According to Sam and Esther, Velvel was with them for the first few days, but then he left and went off through the forest on his own.  While the Stys family members clearly remembered Moishe, Esther, Chayim and later – Sam – they had no recollection of Velvel.

Schneidman Goldberg jpg

[Photo – Left to Right:  Velvel Schneiderman; Norma Schneiderman; Sam Goldberg; Esther Goldberg, holding Fay – at DP Camp – Föhrenwald.]

Bottom line – there is no way to know what really happened during this terrible time.   No one who lived through it can be blamed for having different versions of the truth.  It is all the truth.

[1] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Interview with William Schneiderman. September 1, 1994.  RG-50.030*0288.

ESTHER GOLDBERG’S 20TH YARTZHEIT

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Today is Esther Bryndl Wzsnia Goldberg’s 20th Yahrzeit.

I always know how many years since Esther died because I was pregnant with my youngest daughter Esther, who bears her name.  She was a proud and resilient woman who survived the Nazis and lived to see nine grandchildren, with one on the way.

Readers of this blog know of her miraculous and difficult years of survival during the war.  She began in 1939 as an innocent 19-year-old and ended in 1944, an orphan, a widow, having lost a child and survived four Nazi massacres and two years hiding in a pit or a barn with very little food.

Today, I would like to remember her as the warm, laughing mother-in-law that I knew.  Yes, she cried too – daily – but my memories are filled with her deep, hearty laugh, her brown hair teased up high on her head as she stood in her small Miami Beach kitchen wearing a patterned house dress with snaps down the front.  She was the best cook I ever met – from latkes to chicken soup to kreplach – all delicious.  My mouth waters with the memory.

Today, I pause to remember her and to remind myself of the love she showed me and the lessons she taught.  I am grateful to her for the family she created and how she welcomed me into it.

May her memory be a blessing to us all.

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