Rose's Story

My mother, Rose Silberberg Skier, tells the miraculous story of how she survived the Holocaust

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Part I

Debbi Portnoy (interviewer): Tell me how things started to change for you and your family.

Rose Silberberg-Skier: Before the war started there was no change. Everything was just normal. The first day of the invasion it started to go haywire.

DP: Tell me about that.

RS: First of all, when the Germans invaded in 1939, they took my maternal uncle, who was 18 (his name was Yehudah Klapholz), my paternal uncle, Menachem Silberberg, who was a married man, but a young man, and other uncles and cousins, and they put them against a wall and shot them dead. This was in the city of Trzebinia. Because when they invaded, some people ran to Krakow, a little bigger town, figuring the Germans had already a name that they would be looking for. To just hide. But they rounded them up.

I understand that when they saw my uncle Yehudah Klapholz, he was walking in the street. The SS came over and said, “Are you of the Chosen People?” And he was startled…he must have said yes. And they took him and they shot him dead.

DP: How did you know that?

RS: Well, as far as what happened, I know from my uncle, who is his brother, who is alive now. And there is a book written about this town and how my uncle was killed. Exactly. In fact, from the book, as I was reading, and from people who were eyewitnesses, who were not shot. Women were not killed at this time. Only men.

They used to call them the Einzatzgruppen. These were just “death squads.” They used to come with the soldiers, and round up the males, and shoot them.

DP: So that happened to your uncle. What about to you yourself. How did things start to change for you?

RS: Well I remember my mother, whose brother was murdered like this, how she cried, and my grandmother. And I remember how they had to go and identify the bodies, because they were all in one pile. They just left them there like dead, to bleed to death. And some were not even dead yet.

And my grandmother, who was a widow…it was a major tragedy for the whole town, because everyone was going there to look for the dead people. And who were the people? Young people. A boy of 18. This was a son who was murdered for no reason whatsoever.

In fact, I understand from my aunt, who was in that town last year, that this mass grave is there in that city of Trzebinia. So it was already a terrible thing to see my mother cry for her brother. And I remember him because he used to give me piggy-back rides. He used to give me little chocolate fish with green paper wrapped around it. And then I hear 2 or 3 days later that he’s dead.

It just was horrible, horrible. It was the beginning of all the misery.

DP: What went through your mind when you first heard that he was killed?

RS: I…You know, when say “killed” when you are 5 years old or 6 years old…it still doesn’t make that much sense. It’s just that I realized that I’ll never see him again. I couldn’t believe it. And then, of course, he wasn’t the only one. There was another uncle and another uncle…terrible. Because from both sides of the family they were grieving.

DP: Were any anti-Jewish laws put into effect at this point for you?

RS: Oh, absolutely. First of all, the Jews had to give everything up that they had. They had to give up furs, or diamonds, or any kind of money, or foreign currency…

DP: How did you hear about that?

RS: That I heard as they were discussing it. And they used to go to a certain point, to a certain place and give everything up. And if you didn’t give it up and they found you that you had it, you were shot. So it was just like that. And then what happened was, we were living near the highway going to Krakow, all the Jews were evacuated from the highways, from the main places, and put into the inner city.

So that we were moved from our apartment. Everything was lost. The furniture too. Everything was gone, out. And we moved to my grandfather’s house. That was really in the middle of the town. That was his own house, three stories high. So the whole family, all the uncles, brothers, so on, all moved to the same spot. And even though the house was nice and spacious when my grandfather was there, but still, when you had a few families, it became very crowded.

DP: How many people were you in the house, approximately?

RS: Well, I know that I was in one room with my mother and my father and my sister, so just one room. And a few of his brothers and sisters and families, and there were also some single brothers and sisters…maybe 20 people? But on the main floor there was a store, and then in the back there was a printing press which was still running…run by the Germans, taken away from the Jews, but still running. And the stores too.

So it wasn’t just that it was an apartment. There were apartments there. But still, it was very crowded.

And then they had to have coupons to buy food, and there was very little food already. There was rationing. And you had to stand on line for the food. Which before the war, there was no problem with food in Poland. If you had the money, you could buy it.

And also, you could not go anywhere out of town. So for instance, the six buses that my grandfather had, which were his buses, his business, that was taken away. And the Jews were not even allowed to board them.

DP: Describe a typical scene where because of the crowding, people were having difficulty getting along.

RS: I had one uncle, he was a single boy, and he was maybe 18, 20 at that point. His name was Motl Silberberg. And he used to pick fights with his sisters and brothers who were all adults already, because of the nervous situation that was there. And I remember my father used to say, “Stop it.” My father had never used to live with him at this point, except now we had been there together. He used to say, “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”

And then, I remember what happened to him. The Germans came, and that was the first action they started in this town, must have been the end of ’40, ’41? And they came and they took away my aunt. Her name was Goldie Silberberg, she was very pretty. And because this Motl, who was the brother, used to fight so much with her, for no reason at all, suddenly he felt very bad about it, and he went down to the Germans, to the market place where they were all assembling there and said, “I want to give myself up, and give back my sister.” Of course they took both of them. Nobody ever heard from them again. They were taken to Auschwitz.

DP: How did you know they were taken to Auschwitz?

RS: Because it was known later that all transports were going to Auschwitz, and we were only ten miles from Auschwitz. That’s where we were born. So it was just 1-2-3. And there was a railroad track there. They used to go by rail.

DP: At this point, in ’40, ’41, did you know what Auschwitz was?

RS: Not at all. Just we thought they probably went to work. Because that’s what they used to say, the Germans. “You’re going to work.”

DP: You talked about having to wait on lines with coupons for food. Did you ever have to do that?

RS: No.

DP: Who took care of that for your family?

RS: My mother, because at that point there was no more maid. Because we had to move away, but also because the Germans forbade Christians to work for Jews. So she had to quit even though she wasn’t happy because she needed the money. But she had to quit, so my mother used to do everything after that.

DP: Were you able to stay in contact with her (the maid) at this point?

RS: No. Because she was in the Christian side, and as they put us in the inner city, then they got rid of the Christians, and they moved the Jews in. It wasn’t a “ghetto,” but still it was already a separation, and you couldn’t go to the other side of town.

DP: How did you take care of religious activities if you were kind of constrained like that?

RS: The synagogue was still within that part of town where the Jews were living. There was only one. So there was no problem there.

DP: Were there any type of curfews set up?

RS: Absolutely. I remember, even before we had moved to my grandfather’s house, that I and a cousin of mine, were walking around 7 o’clock. And it was Friday, and we totally forgot the time, and we were playing, and right after that we realized as we were going home that an SS man was following us.

And we were just little kids! 5, 6! And he was following us right into my house. And as we came home, the door was open, and my father was making Kiddush. And he had a beautiful voice.

And the SS man stood, and waited till he finished, which was unusual. And then he said, “They broke the cufew. Next time this happens I’m going to take them away. You’ll never see them again.” And my father was thanking him. I remember that.

Of course, when he left, the SS man, my father almost hit me. “What did you do! That’s all I need!”

DP: Was there any type of schooling that you attended at this point?

RS: Well, it was in my home town. As long as I was in my home town…up to the six months. After that, no, because the Jews were not allowed to go to school. Because these were schools that were Christian schools, basically. And there were no Jewish schools. The Jewish schools were shut down.

DP: What happened after that?

RS: After that, I remember that we were…my father heard from a Polish man who told him that he had overheard Germans (because he was working for the Germans, in a hardware business or something) that they will come the next day, and dissolve the whole town and take all the Jews to Auschwitz. When he told this to my father, I remember my father hired a wagon with a horse, and a driver, and we all got in that wagon and we went to another town called Sosnowiecz.

At that time, since this was still not a ghetto, we could do it. We could just drive off. And we did. And the following day, true enough, the whole town was gone. Our home town of Jaworzno. And we were in Sosnowiecz.



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