Rose's Story

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

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Part III

Debbi Portnoy: You talked about how you were surrounded. Describe the guards and how they surrounded it.

Rose Silberberg-Skier: Well, I’ll describe the guards a little later on, because what happened…Let me tell you this. I was with the Polish woman, basically, most of the time. My parents used to go from there, into the ghetto, to get some supplies, and to get some clothes, and to see the relatives, and to just get some fresh air. Because in the Polish woman’s place, we were not allowed to move. We had to sit, in our bare feet, and not talk at all, because she was ‘alone’, and the next door neighbor—you could hear everything there that was going on—the next door neighbor was very very anti-Semitic.

Had she known that Mrs. Cicha had Jews, she would have instantly gotten the Germans. So in order not to make noise, in order for her not to hear any voices, we had to be totally quiet all day long. And we couldn’t go out.

In fact, when we came to the house, we went through the back way. I never saw the house from the front. I didn’t know what it looked like. I only knew the chicken coop. I knew that she had pigs in the back yard. I never saw them but I heard them. And she had rabbits inside, that we could see. We could go out from the chicken coop, into the kitchen when nobody was around. As soon as somebody came, of course, we used to hide and close the door.

So in a sense, if you went to the ghetto, and just got some fresh air, it was a novelty. I know that even when my mother took me once in a while, just for a day, it was like…people are actually on the outside, and talk loud?! Because in the ghetto you could talk loud…you could get killed…but you could talk loud. So sometimes you needed that.

When they left, I remember, then I stayed, and the last time when they left, they left in June, and in July was my birthday. And there was an aunt with me in that bunker. Her name was Sara. She had Christian/Aryan papers.

She looked very Polish. Natural blond hair, grey blue eyes. Skinny. And spoke just like a Pole. She was typically a Pole. She was like no other member of the family. She was like out of…somewhere! And this aunt took me by the hand and said, “Come, we’re going to the ghetto because your parents want to see you.”

July 1943. And it was a late Friday afternoon. When we got there, my mother was so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see my mother. It was wonderful.

(Click to watch video)

Now, mind you, there was still another story about my sister. Originally, my sister had been also in the hiding place, but she was very little. And my parents were afraid that you could not tell a child, “Don’t talk, don’t sing, don’t jump…” And here you had to sit still. It was a 2 1/2 year old, almost 3 year old child.

So my father knew another Christian Polish family he was friendly with, and he got around to them, and he said, “Would you like to take my child for the war?” And he was going to pay them, also. They liked her very much, and they said yes.

But, there was a condition: After the war, she would become a Christian. Also, they knew the family, and one of the sons (his name was Kazek) was crazy about my little sister. He said, “I’ll marry her!” So they said, “I want your permission, that when she becomes a Christian, that one day he’ll marry her, in case something happens to you.”

I remember that scene, because it took place in Mrs. Cicha’s house. My father consented, under duress. It was either having her there and who knew what would happen, (or if you had to escape suddenly, what would you do?) or saying yes. Now, he was very Orthodox. For him to say, “Yes, my child will not be Jewish anymore after the war, if she survives…” It was traumatic.

And I had never seen my father cry before, but I remember when he said yes, he cried (breaks down)…I remember when he said yes…he cried…he said “Allright…she’ll be a Christian…” And they took her. He never saw her again.

But they were good people, and we knew she would be safe there…they would treat her well. So…that was as far as my sister went.

So then my parents went back to the ghetto for a little while. And my aunt took me to the ghetto, and that was July 1943.

DP: You talked about how your parents went from the ghetto to the bunker, from the bunker back to the ghetto. How were they able to get back and forth so freely, what happened?

RS: At that time there were gates, but they knew little places where you could sneak through. People used to sneak through just to go to the Christian side to buy food on the black market, because there was so little there in the ghetto. So only the Jews knew where to do it, of course. If someone got caught, they got shot.

But they didn’t do it that often. Maybe two times or so. But I remember this because when my parents left I was very lonely, at that point, and I used to write them letters. And I used to stay with the Polish woman, especially after my sister left.

DP: How much time did you actually spend, originally, in the ghetto?

RS: Probably about 2 months.

DP: So during that two month timeframe, how did you spend your time?

RS: As I said, I went to school, for a few weeks, until they started to take the children in the vans. And after that, I was just playing with my cousins. Everybody was all together, and we were 17 people in two, three rooms. As far as children…children are children. They play. We were playing with each other. I had company, my cousins were there. Each of my uncles had children.

DP: What did you play with?

RS: Oh not WITH! We just played with each other! We used to just take a little…rock, and play with a rock. Throw it, and this was a ball…we had no toys. We had nothing. Or sometimes we used to make games. Like from paper, you know. But otherwise, nothing. Just playing with each other, mainly. Running after each other, screaming, hollering like this. “I’ll catch you. You catch me.”

DP: You talked about making games. What games did you make?

RS: Well, what we used to take at that time, I started to learn how to do it, from cigarette boxes and cartons of cigarettes, because there was no paper to be had, we used to make playing cards. And on these cards we used to sketch something. And I knew how to write numbers..1, 2, 3 etc. And make a king, a queen, and so on. And that’s how we used to play with each other on the ground.

DP: Which card game did you play?

RS: I don’t know exactly, but I think we called it “bridge.” Probably it wasn’t. We called everything “bridge.” We were very funny. Bridge—six year olds!

DP: What did you eat in the ghetto?

RS: I remember that my mother gave me potatoes, which was something terrific for me. I was a poor eater before the war. And she used to beg me, run after me in the streets, and I was spoiled. But at that point, I was hungry. And when she said come and eat, I ran!

But I do remember one thing. That there was so little food, and I realized it, that I never asked my mother for food. I never said, “I’m hungry.” Only when she said, “Come sit and eat.” So mainly it was potato. We didn’t have any meat anymore. No vegetables either, not fruits. Potato and bread, more or less. That’s what it was. But I was very aware of the fact that there was just so little of it.

So she used to say, “Are you hungry?”
“” And I remember that.

Now my mother used to teach me manners. She used to say, “If you go to your friends (which was like on the block) and they say, ‘do you want something to eat,’ always say ‘no thank you.’ They DON’T have it. If the offer you because they’re giving it to their own children, it’s because they’re polite. Always say ‘no thank you,’ no matter how hungry you are. Unless you’re so starving. If they offer you three times, on the third time you can say yes. Then they mean it.”

DP: Tell me about the religious observance in the ghetto?

RS: We did observe everything the same way. I don’t know if my father went to the synagogue, but I know he used to pray at home. He used to put on tfillin. And they had minyans there because everyone was so crowded together, so there was no problem with that. They definitely observed everything.

DP: Do you remember any types of Bar Mitzvahs, or anything else going on there?

RS: Oh, no no no. There was nothing, nothing, nothing. Don’t forget, mainly, that they had started to deport the Jews already. We were not deported yet, by sheer accident. So once this started to happen, the ghetto was depleted, people were just crying. Because either the sister, or the mother, or somebody was taken away. There was no joy there, nothing. It was tragic.



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