Rose's Story

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

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Rose Silberberg-Skier: I stayed at the orphanage and I used to daydream. It was such a nightmarish place. I’m in my grandfather’s garden. There are lilacs. My cousins are playing. And I used to just lie there for hours. Time was passing that way. They used to talk to me and they would say, “ARE YOU DEAF! You don’t answer!” And I used to just lie there like somebody on dope.

And after a few days, I heard that downstairs, they have a tree. And on the tree they have a list of people who survived the concentration camps. And every day there is a new list, and maybe my parents are alive, after all. I used to go downstairs, look at the list, did not find my parents, and then I’d go upstairs, lie down and daydream.

Suddenly, we heard shots. Screaming, yelling. They started pogroms in Krakow, and in the orphanage. All around the orphanage. So after that, the people who were the head of the orphanage said, you cannot go down anymore, because they probably will start shooting.

Debbi Portnoy: Who were they?

RS: Lena Kuchler, she was the one in charge.

DP: Who was shooting at you?

RS: Oh, the Poles. It was the Polish Underground Army called the Home Army. These were the fascist army against the communists. The west was for them, because they were against the communists. But basically, they were a vicious lot. Here, these were children, who just survived the war, and they’re mostly orphans who are sick and depressed. And even those who were not children were around that Dluga 38, because this was like an agency also. People who maybe got a little food there and so on. And they came and they were shooting at the Jews. But not just in Krakow, in all of the cities.

So this woman, who was in charge of the orphanage said, “Something has to be done about the kids.” Finally, they decided to split us up into two groups. 50 apiece. They took us in trucks that were covered, so the population couldn’t see, and we went to the mountains. One bunch went to a place called Zakopane, and one bunch went to a place called Rabka. I was sent to Rabka.

DP: Tell me about when they first put you onto the trucks. What were you thinking?

RS: I was thinking anything is better than what I’m leaving, because what I was leaving was horrible. I was just worried about my aunt. Could she find me? They said “We’ll let her know, we’ll let her know where you are.”

And when we got to the mountains, two things happened. The place was much nicer, and we got food. And they said, “Do you want more food?” (gasp) That was a revelation to me! More food? Really.

And what happened is that since I had lice, everybody had lice in that orphanage. They decided to delouse us. And how did they do that? They used a thing called Naphtha. Naphtha is like gasoline. And they put gasoline on our heads, soaked it, then they would put a towel around it, and between 3 days to 7 days the lice were dead. Meanwhile we walked around smelling like anything, but it was still better to kill the lice.

Now, those who were finished with delousing, they used to be the big shots then. They used to take a shower, whatever, and they used to run around. But we used to be stuck mainly indoors. Because here with the towel and the gasoline on our heads.

So they did this, and they gave us some clothes which they said came from America as donations, from Joint. So here, all of a sudden I got a dress, which I hadn’t had in God knows how long, something new. And they gave a pair of shoes, and they deloused us, and gave us food…You know, things started to look up. And even I got a letter from my aunt. The letter was channeled from Krakow to there. And she wrote: Sooner or later I’ll get you.

Everything seems fine until that night. Suddenly, there was gunshots. They were shooting at us like crazy. A big pogrom. And the pogrom was, they realized, here are Jewish kids. It’s a free for all. These were grown men coming with guns and with hand-grenades. Throwing the grenades. My roommate was wounded. She wasn’t killed, but she was wounded. But they had nowhere to take her. Because to go outside, you were dead. And there was one doctor on the premises, but the doctor was helpless. It was terrible.

But, something very beautiful happened then. About two days later. Because every day they used to have this. And we used to huddle in the corridors, every night. It was only at night that they did this. They were shooting and shooting. A Russian detachment came in about two houses down. These were all like villas. And the commanding officer went over to his soldiers, the Russian soldiers, and he announced that there are Jewish orphans two houses down, and they’re being attacked at night by the Poles. If there’s anybody who would like to stand guard at night, he should volunteer.

Four soldiers volunteered. Four Russian Jewish soldiers. There were only four Jews there, and the four Jews volunteered. When they brought those Russian soldiers to us, were we happy to see them! They were such dolls…we loved them! First of all, they couldn’t speak Yiddish, Hebrew, or anything else. They knew nothing about the religion. All they did was take out their little passports, or IDs and point “Yevrei, Yevrei! See I’m a Jew, I’m a Jew.” That’s all they knew. But they had a Jewish heart. They had a spark in them. Like a pilot light. Something was there, that they came to guard the Jewish children.

Not only that, but there were two boys, the oldest—I want you to know how young we all were—the youngest were 3 years old—the oldest was 14 1/2, and one was 14. So two were teenagers. So these soldiers started to teach them how to shoot. They gave them ammunition. They said, “look, we’re not going to stay here forever, because we probably will be recalled.” And they taught them how to shoot. And this was very important, because when they did call them back, and they did, because they had to move on, they weren’t on Holiday, as soon as they moved out, they had spies. And later they said the cook, who was a Polish cook, told them when the soldiers moved out. That night they came already and they started to shoot at us again.

DP: What type of contact did you have with the four Russian soldiers?

RS: First of all, we used to stare at them. Here I am, by that time I was probably like 11. They were in uniforms, and they were cute. I don’t care how cute or not, but to us they were the sweetest thing on earth. And we used to just look at them. They probably were embarrassed, but we used to just stare at them. We couldn’t talk to them, because we couldn’t speak Russian and they couldn’t speak Polish. Just looked at them. And they used to smile at us. You know, like big brothers.

And when they moved out, we really were scared, and we were right. Because that night they started again the same thing with the shooting. That was when, finally they decided, this place has to be vacated, it’s no good. So they took us from that orphanage, which is the second orphanage, to a third orphanage called Bielsko. (October 1945).

But this one was the pits. First of all, they boarded up all the windows, knowing that they would have pogroms. They were overcrowded, because other Jewish orphanages brought kids there. And there was just one little light, everything else was dark. They kept everything in the dark. But me, for some reason, they put me into a room with kids who had German measles, and chicken pox, and this type of thing. So what happened is, once you got into this kind of room, they wouldn’t let you out. They would not let me out, because they said now I’m contagious.

So I was stuck with barely light, I could read, and I said, “give me something to read.” So they gave me some baby stuff to read, but I couldn’t even read because it was too dark. And I couldn’t leave, and I wasn’t sick. I never caught anything from these kids. But I had to stay there a few weeks in that room. It was very bad.



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