Memoirs of WW2: Piotrkow, Poland, August 1942 – By Herman Rosenblat of Miami Beach, Florida

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Piotrków, is a city in central Poland with 73,090 inhabitants (2019). It is the second-largest city situated in the Łódź Voivodeship, Central Poland. Previously, it was the capital of an independent Piotrków Voivodeship (1975–1998); it is now the capital of Piotrków County in Poland.

Founded in the late Middle Ages, Piotrków was once a royal city and an important place in Polish history; the first parliament sitting was held there in the 15th century. It then became the seat of a Crown Tribunal, the highest court of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The city also hosted one of Poland’s oldest Jewish communities, which was entirely destroyed during the Second World War. The old town in Piotrków features many historical and architectural monuments, including tenements, churches, synagogues and a medieval castle.


The sky was gloomy that morning as we waited anxiously.
All the men, women and children of Piotrkow’s Jewish ghetto
had been herded into a square.

Word had gotten around that we were being moved. My father had only
recently died from typhus, which had run rampant
through the crowded ghetto. My greatest fear was
that our family would be separated.

‘Whatever you do,’
Isidore, my eldest brother, whispered to me, ‘don’t
tell them your age. Say you’re sixteen.

‘I was tall for a boy
of 11, so I could pull it off. That way I might be
deemed valuable as a worker.

An SS man approached
me, boots clicking against the cobblestones.. He
looked me up and down, and then asked my age.

‘Sixteen,’ I said. He
directed me to the left, where my three brothers and
other healthy young men already stood.

My mother was
motioned to the right with the other women,
children, sick and elderly people.

I whispered to Isidore, ‘Why?’ He didn’t answer.
I ran to Mama’s side and said I wanted to stay with
her. ‘No, ‘she said sternly. ‘Get away. Don’t be a nuisance. Go with your
brothers.’

She had never spoken
so harshly before. But I understood: She was
protecting me. She loved me so much that, just this
once, she pretended not to. It was the last I ever
saw of her.

My brothers and I
were transported in a cattle car to Germany .

We arrived at the
Buchenwald concentration camp one night later and
were led into a crowded barrack. The next day, we
were issued uniforms and identification numbers.

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‘Don’t call me Herman
anymore.’ I said to my brothers. ‘Call me 94983.’

I was put to work in
the camp’s crematorium, loading the dead into a
hand-cranked elevator.

I, too, felt dead.
Hardened, I had become a number.

Soon, my brothers and
I were sent to Schlieben, one of Buchenwald’s
sub-camps near Berlin .

One morning I thought
I heard my mother’s voice.

‘Son,’ she said
softly but clearly, I am going to send you an
angel.’

Then I woke up. Just
a dream. A beautiful dream.

But in this place
there could be no angels. There was only work. And
hunger. And fear.

A couple of days
later, I was walking around the camp, around the
barracks, near the barbed wire fence where the
guards could not easily see. I was alone.

On the other side of
the fence, I spotted someone: a little girl with
light, almost luminous curls. She was half-hidden
behind a birch tree.

I glanced around to
make sure no one saw me. I called to her softly in
German. ‘Do you have something to eat?’

She didn’t
understand.

I inched closer to
the fence and repeated the question in Polish. She
stepped forward. I was thin and gaunt, with rags
wrapped around my feet, but the girl looked
unafraid. In her eyes, I saw life.

She pulled an apple
from her woollen jacket and threw it over the
fence.

I grabbed the fruit
and, as I started to run away, I heard her say
faintly, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

I returned to the
same spot by the fence at the same time every day.
She was always there with something for me to eat –
a hunk of bread or, better yet, an apple.

We didn’t dare speak
or linger. To be caught would mean death for us
both.

I didn’t know
anything about her, just a kind farm girl, except
that she understood Polish. What was her name? Why
was she risking her life for me?

Hope was in such
short supply, and this girl on the other side of the
fence gave me some, as nourishing in its way as the
bread and apples.

Nearly seven months
later, my brothers and I were crammed into a coal
car and shipped to Theresienstadt camp in
Czechoslovakia .

‘Don’t return,’ I
told the girl that day. ‘We’re leaving.’

I turned toward the
barracks and didn’t look back, didn’t even say
good-bye to the little girl whose name I’d never
learned, the girl with the apples.

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We were in
Theresienstadt for three months. The war was winding
down and Allied forces were closing in, yet my fate
seemed sealed.

On May 10, 1945, I
was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at 10:00
AM.

In the quiet of dawn,
I tried to prepare myself. So many times death
seemed ready to claim me, but somehow I’d survived.
Now, it was over.

I thought of my
parents. At least, I thought, we will be
reunited.

But at 8 a.m. there
was a commotion. I heard shouts, and saw people
running every which way through camp. I caught up
with my brothers.

Russian troops had
liberated the camp! The gates swung open. Everyone
was running, so I did too. Amazingly, all of my
brothers had survived;

I’m not sure how. But
I knew that the girl with the apples had been the
key to my survival.

In a place where evil
seemed triumphant, one person’s goodness had saved
my life, had given me hope in a place where there
was none.

My mother had
promised to send me an angel, and the angel had
come.

Eventually I made my
way to England where I was sponsored by a Jewish
charity, put up in a hostel with other boys who had
survived the Holocaust and trained in electronics.
Then I came to America , where my brother Sam had
already moved. I served in the U. S. Army during the
Korean War, and returned to New York City after two
years.

By August 1957 I’d
opened my own electronics repair shop. I was
starting to settle in.

One day, my friend
Sid who I knew from England called me.
‘I’ve got a date.
She’s got a Polish friend. Let’s double date.’
A blind date? Nah,
that wasn’t for me. But Sid kept pestering me, and a
few days later we headed up to the Bronx to pick up
his date and her friend Roma.

I had to admit, for a
blind date this wasn’t so bad. Roma was a nurse at a
Bronx hospital.. She was kind and smart. Beautiful,
too, with swirling brown curls and green,
almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with life.

The four of us drove
out to Coney Island .. Roma was easy to talk to,
easy to be with. Turned out she was wary of blind
dates too!

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We were both just
doing our friends a favor. We took a stroll on the
boardwalk, enjoying the salty Atlantic breeze, and
then had dinner by the shore. I couldn’t remember
having a better time.

We piled back into
Sid’s car, Roma and I sharing the backseat.

As European Jews who
had survived the war, we were aware that much had
been left unsaid between us. She broached the
subject, ‘Where were you,’ she asked softly, ‘during
the war?’

‘The camps,’ I said.
The terrible memories still vivid, the irreparable
loss..I had tried to forget. But you can never
forget.

She nodded. ‘My
family was hiding on a farm in Germany , not far
from Berlin ,’ she told me. ‘My father knew a
priest, and he got us Aryan papers.’

I imagined how she
must have suffered too, fear, a constant companion.
And yet here we were both survivors, in a new
world.

‘There was a camp
next to the farm.’ Roma continued. ‘I saw a boy
there and I would throw him apples every day.’

What an amazing
coincidence that she had helped some other boy.
‘What did he look like? I asked.

‘He was tall, skinny,
and hungry. I must have seen him every day for six
months.’

My heart was racing.
I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be.
‘Did he tell you one
day not to come back because he was leaving
Schlieben?’

Roma looked at me in
amazement. ‘Yes!’

‘That was me!’

I was ready to burst
with joy and awe, flooded with emotions. I couldn’t
believe it! My angel.

‘I’m not letting you
go.’ I said to Roma. And in the back of the car on
that blind date, I proposed to her. I didn’t want to
wait.

‘You’re crazy!’ she
said. But she invited me to meet her parents for
Shabbat dinner the following week.

There was so much I
looked forward to learning about Roma, but the most
important things I always knew: her steadfastness,
her goodness. For many months, in the worst of
circumstances, she had come to the fence and given
me hope. Now that I’d found her again, I could never
let her go.

That day, she said
yes. And I kept my word. After nearly 50 years of
marriage, two children and three grandchildren, I
have never let her go.

About Wale Fasade 146 Articles
FCT Abuja Bureau Chief 9News Nigeria

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