Rose's Story

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

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Part II

Rose Silberberg-Skier: Now in Sosnowiecz, very shortly thereafter, they also made a ghetto. This was the first time I had heard of a ghetto, and there was a real ghetto, and it was called Srodula. It was a very poor suburb of Sosnowiecz. Mostly peasants lived there. And what they did was transfer the peasants into Sosnowiecz, into the Jewish homes, and they took the Jews and transferred them into the peasant’s homes in Srodula. But they used to bunch us up. We were, like, 21 people in one room.

Terrible conditions. Huts. Very little food. And by then, it became a ghetto that, even though it wasn’t with barbed wire, we were not allowed to leave the ghetto. So if anyone was caught wandering around in the Christian part of town, he was shot. But definitely you never heard from them again.

Also what the Germans did, was they used to “target shoot.” They saw Jews walking, so they used to shoot. So you never knew if you went out, even in the ghetto, if you ever were going to come back. If you saw them, you better hide.

DP: When did you first arrive to Sosnowiecz?

RS: I would say 1942. And Srodula started probably the beginning of ’43. That, I have a great memory of already.

DP: Where did you go when you first arrived to Sosnowiecz?

RS: We had a little apartment. And again, the same story happened. The Jews had to go and register. And when they registered, the Germans had a few different registration forms. And cards with different colors.

If you got a certain blue or green, then that meant that you would get coupons for food. If you didn’t, that meant that you were probably going to be deported, that you would NOT get the food.

So everybody naturally wanted to get certain colors, etc. And in order to do that, my parents wanted to show that they were young, that they could work if necessary. They got dressed very nicely. Everybody used to get dressed very nicely, so that the Germans would figure, “OK, these people are on the level.”

Of course we didn’t realize that it made no difference to the Germans if you were dressed or not dressed or WHAT. But nobody knew that, so naturally you wanted to make a good impression.

I know that my parents went, and they got the cards, and they came back and said, “good, I think we’re lucky.” Later on it turned out it meant nothing.

But this was in Sosnowiecz.

But very shortly thereafter, my father realized that he has to do something about his family. The family was definitely going to suffer, or who knows what else. So he had someone he knew, a Polish woman, a Christian woman, and he went to see her, and he said: “How about if we make a bunker in your house, and we hide?”

And he did offer her money, which was understood, and also he said he would sign over the house in Jaworzno to her, which he meant. And she said, “Alright, fine.”

Now, she was alone. Her husband went to work in Germany. He was taken by the Germans, but not into a concentration camp, just labor force for the Germans. And she had no children. She had just pets. She had a dog, a cat, rabbits, pigs. But otherwise she was alone.

And she lived in a house which was a two family house; it was attached. And she said to him, “You know what? It’s OK.”

Now when she said OK, he said, “I also would like to do as a precaution, make a sub-bunker, before we move in.” Because what she was offering him was a chicken coop. She said she’d get rid of all the chickens, and board up the little window that was there, and this would be our bunker.

So what he did, was he opened a wooden floor, and he made like a grave, it would be probably the size of a grave. And after that, he put a drawer on top of it, and potatoes on top of the drawer. So that it was sliding back and forth. If you wanted to go in, you would slide it and go in.

The problem was that you needed somebody on the outside to slide it back, so it would be closed. We always figured she would do it. Her name was Mrs. Stanislawa Cicha. If we had to hide suddenly, then she would slide the drawer back. And then open the drawer when the peril was over.

So this was very important what my father did. After he finished digging and all that was done, then they put some clothes there, and some food, whatever, something that could be held. And we moved there.

There was my mother, and my father, and I, and my little sister.

DP: Before you moved into the bunker, I wanted to go over some information about the ghetto itself. Can you describe your living situation in the ghetto itself? You talk about there being a lot of people there, but what kind of facilities did they have there for your bodily needs?

RS: None. I mean, the toilet was on the outside. No running water. The water you had to bring from some kind of a well, or barrels, in pails. So everybody used to go up to the mountain and bring water down. Food? Very little food. Only what you got on coupons, or on the black market.

DP: At this point how old were you?

RS: Well, it was 1943, so…eight.

DP: What did your parents tell you about what was happening in the ghetto?

RS: I was in the ghetto too.

DP: What did they tell you about that?

RS: They didn’t have to tell me a thing. I saw everything myself. I saw what was going on, and people used to talk freely. My parents didn’t hide anything from us. We children had to know. We were very wise to what was going on.

And I remember, while I was in the ghetto, two SS men walked in unexpectedly, and took two of my uncles—they came with German Shepherds—and they said, “Everybody into the yard!”

We went into the yard, and they said, “Everyone sit on the ground.” We sat down, and they took two of my uncles and told them to run back and forth, and they made two of the German Shepherds run after them. One of them, they opened his head, the dogs, and the blood was streaming down. It was so horrible. You have no idea. And we were shocked. Shocked.

And then they took my father and put him into a…ditch there, and they were going to shoot him. And I remember my mother went over and spoke—in German—because the Jews knew German, because Yiddish and German were very similar—she begged him, “Don’t shoot him!” And he looked at her…and said, “OK.” And they left.

And when they left, my father came out from the ditch, and this uncle, who was a young boy (20 or 22), his head was open, and they said to me, “Go away, go away!” I shouldn’t see this.

In fact, this uncle had a brother, and his brother survived the war. I...I never told him this. Because I figured, why should I tell him this? He’s dead, the other one’s dead. Why tell him such a terrible story. I never told him that. But it was something to behold.

DP: What was the uncles name, that got killed?

RS: Moses Wachsman. And there was another one who was also running back and forth, because they took two men, and he survived the war. Because he had all the wounds, all the bites, but somehow he survived. The other one didn’t.

In fact, my mother had sent me to school. They had a school there. And what happened, is the children would go to school, and like once a week, the vans would come, and they used to put the kids into the vans, and drive them off to Auschwitz. The parents would come for the children, and there were no children there. It was terrible, the wailing of the mothers. So finally, my mother said, “You’re not going to school anymore. That’s IT. Finished. We’re going to the bunker, and we’re going to hide. We’re going to go into Sosnowiecz, to the Polish woman, and hide.”

DP: What was the approximate size of the ghetto?

RS: That, I don’t know. As a child, I don’t know. But I know one thing. In the Holocaust museum in Washington there is a big plaque, and a description of the Sosnowiecz ghetto saying it was the second largest ghetto in Poland. But I don’t know the details.

DP: What type of boundaries did the ghetto have?

RS: The boundaries were such that they had a railroad track, and where the ghetto was there was a ravine, then came the railroad track, and then there was another ravine, and then there was the Christian side of town. So if you wanted to go to the Christian side of town, normally one had to go to a bridge and cross, under normal circumstances. But since they didn’t allow the Jews to go to the Christian side, if somebody could sneak out over the railroad tracks, then that was it. But nobody could, because usually there were SS men watching. So we were totally surrounded.



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