Rose's Story

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

Thursday, March 31, 2005


Debbi Portnoy: What effect have your experiences had on the way you brought up your own children?

Rose Silberberg Skier: My kids say that it has a great effect. I don’t see it. But they say, “Mommy, you hover over us. You’re scared. You cross us at age 18, you take my hand...” I do it automatically. I take my daughter’s hand and I cross her, she says “MOMMY!!” And I did not let them do a lot of things, such as:

They weren’t allowed to cross the street until they were very old. 12 maybe. This street going across, I used to hover over them.
Also I did not let them go on the subway. I didn’t care how much money the buses cost. They used to have private busing going to Washington Heights [Yeshiva University]. And there was a point to it. My son still remembers “I had no liberty. It was terrible. If I wanted to go somewhere, either you drove me, or I had to take a bus, I wasn’t allowed into a subway…” I said “Listen,” There was a friend of his who was attacked in Harlem, coming with a yarmulke from Washington Heights and he’s still paralyzed. I said, “Do I want to take chances like that? I’d rather pay, or drive you.” Which wasn’t so easy.

So they say that we were overprotective. At least I was. So they say. Whether it was true? Probably yes. But it didn’t hurt them? Right? So what. It didn’t hurt them. And I always did drive them.

Then I used to always run after them with food. My neighbor, who still is the same neighbor as when I came here when I was pregnant, used to say, “God. Where do you think you are, in Poland? Leave them alone! They’ll eat later.” Because they didn’t want to eat, and I had this thought that they could die of hunger, God forbid. Silly, right? Maybe because I used to go around hungry so much. So I used to go run around after them with food. And they were terrible eaters. Probably to spite me! With my last child I didn’t do it anymore. Eat, don’t eat. Do what you want.

DP: Do you ever dream about your war experiences?

RS: Absolutely. I’ve had such nightmares, and whenever I’m worried about something, it comes right back, and my kids are in it. That’s the worst part. My son is never in it. It’s just my two daughters. And the last one I had was like six months ago. I don’t know what triggered it. But it’s a crazy nightmare that recurs. I’m in a bull-ring. Now if that makes any sense, I don’t know. In Mexico City. To me, it looks like. Then I realize, I’m in a bull-ring, but it’s not Mexico City, it’s Bosnia or something crazy. Probably I’m listening to the news. But, there are woods there, and I hear them yelling: “Cross out! Cross zig zag! Come to the woods, and we’ll rescue you!” And around the whole bull-ring are SS men with guns. And I say to my middle child, “Come let’s zig-zag!” And she says “No, NO!” And I drag her, and she won’t go, and they shoot her.

It’s a terrible nightmare. I say this is bad. Maybe because I knew that she’s a little timid? She was always a little timid, and she’s very refined, and I used to worry about her that she’s so refined, I wondered, how is she going to get through life, being so utterly refined. She could never refuse anybody a favor, things like that. So maybe this was in the back of my mind, that she couldn’t be rescued? It scared me. But it’s a recurring thing.

DP: How does your present level of belief or observance of Judaism compare with your pre-War belief or observance?

RS: Well, before the war I was too little. I did what I was told. And I always believed in God, and I still do. I never doubted Him. I never thought it was God’s fault for what happened. Never. I thought people did it, not God. And I truly believe in God. I believe in the destiny of the Jewish people. They’re the greatest. I love them. They are my brethren.

And what happened…happened. I think it’s terrible. I can’t sometimes visualize how this happened. Six years? All it took was six years to murder six million Jews? Terrible.

DP: Are you involved, or were you involved, since you came to the United States, in any Jewish organizations?

RS: Yes. I was working originally for the Jewish Defense League, which was Meir Kahane’s organization. He wasn’t famous at that time. He was just working to release the Russian Jews, at that time, and also equality for the Jews, those who were persecuted here in Brooklyn, those who were attacked, and so on. I worked in his office. I had no children then. And the funny thing is, I used to come in the morning, I came late, I left early, because this is what they told me to do. I used to sit, type, file, do everything, I never saw him. He was gone by the time I came. He had not returned yet by the time I left. And I was a great admirer of his. Later on, he formed the Kach party in Israel, and I was all for him. And I still am. And he was always right.

And other than that, I’m a member of the Young Israel here, in the sisterhood, but nothing very special, because basically I just used to take care of my kids and do homework.

DP: Have you ever given your testimony to any other organizations?

RS: Yes. I did the Yale University. And also there was a book that Maxine Rosenberg wrote about 14 children. Basically it’s a juvenile book, and she contacted me and she said she’d like to interview me and write about it, and she did. It was mostly abbreviated, but it was there. It has been published.

DP: Why do you think you survived?

RS: Why? I ask myself that. I really do. First of all, I say, why not my sister? Who I considered much smarter and better and cuter. Except that she had the misfortune to have brown eyes, which is unbelievably horrible. I have asked myself this many times and I have no answer. I don’t know.

DP: Why did you give your testimony?

RS: Now? Well personally I think this should be, at one time or another, maybe sometime in the future, somebody should be interested, it should be there for them to hear, and to learn something from it.

And I’ll tell you something. The fact is, that this what happened, the Holocaust, is the most terrible crime that ever happened in human history. In it, one nation focused on strictly murdering another nation for no reason whatsoever. And they succeeded. And the world was very silent. The Jews had no sanctuaries. America did not let them in. Even a ship like the St. Louis was denied entrance. The British closed the gates of Palestine. There was a White Paper in force. They could not escape. They were just trapped.

And now [1997], the thing is repeating itself. In another way, but similarly. For instance, the terrorists, as we see right now, are attacking the Jews in the heart of Jerusalem, in their own capitol. Why? No reason. Because the Jews want peace, they offered peace, they gave up a lot of land, they pulled out of Hebron, they do their best. Yet they’re being attacked. And what does the world do? Press Israel to give more concessions to the Arabs.

Now I think, having seen what happened in the past, we have to learn from history. We have to first of all be behind Israel. We have to support our Jewish brethren there. Because to cave in to the demands of the world and appease the Arabs is comparable to dining with a tiger. You may enjoy the meal, but the tiger always eats last.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Part XX

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Rose Silberberg Skier:This is an exerpt from a newspaper from 1928, and my great grandfather, Abraham Klapholz, who was the head of the Jewish Community, is greeting the president of Poland. And with him is a rabbi bearing the Torah.

Debbi Portnoy: Which one is your grandfather.

RS: [3rd from left]. The president is 2nd from left.

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The gentleman 3rd from the right, with the beard and the hat, is my grandfather, Abraham Silberberg, he is on a ship, going to what was then Palestine in 1938, in order to build a house for his children and bring them all over to Palestine. Because he saw that problems were coming up. And first of all, he was a Chossid, but he also was a Zionist (unusual for those days), and he decided he wants to live in the holy city with his children.

Unfortunately, what happened a year later, is that in 1939 he was cut off from his whole family. And when he heard that his children were murdered, he laid down, he was so despondent, he laid down on the bed until he died. And he was not an old man. He just died from Tzores.

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The shorter house is our house. My grandfather built it [in Jerusalem] in 1938. There are six stores on the bottom and five apartments there. My grandfather was hoping we would come, and as we were not coming obviously, the refugees from Germany who were able to come somehow past the blockade of the British, came and rented these apartments and rented these stores. Even though it’s under rent control, I know when I went to Israel, that some of the people who are now in their 90s told me how much they loved my grandfather. He was the one who rented to them.

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The bride in the picture is my aunt Sara, whom I mention in my story, who looked so Polish.

DP: What was her last name?

RS: Originally Silberberg. She was my father’s sister. And here she married a Mr. Klagsbald but he was murdered. And she had a baby who was murdered too. Then she remarried after the war, and her name is Wachsman.

But here, in this picture, this is in 1939. My grandfather who is in the middle with the beard, came from Palestine to just be at his daughter’s wedding, and then he went back.

I am here, the little child, the 5th from the left. And my mother is next to me. I’m 4 ½ years old.

DP: How did you get this photo?

RS: This is the photo that my aunt Sara had in the pocket of her coat, that she had had in the cellar, and later brought up again. She took it from the bunker and always carried these photos around. And that’s the only way we have it. From all these people, except for my grandfather, who died in Palestine, just my aunt Sara and I have survived. All the others, members of my family, were murdered.

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The lady on the left is my mother’s mother. Gitel Klapholz. And she was a lovely lady. She’s the one who gave me that doll that said “mama mama.” That’s my grandmother. She was taken to Auschwitz in 1943. A few months before my parents went. And she was murdered there.

DP: What year was this photo taken?

RS: 1938 probably. Before the war. This looks like a vacation spot. Carlsbad, in Czechoslovakia. The gentleman on the right is my father.

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This is my uncle, Samuel Klapholz, who threw me into the sub-bunker, and saved my life that way. Then he opened the drawer and took me out again. So he definitely saved my life. He was very brave. This picture was take in 1947, after the war. My uncle now lives in Flushing, Queens, two blocks from me. He’s married and he has children and grandchildren and they all went to Yeshiva.

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This is my father, Moses Silberberg. He was born on the birthday of Moses, the 7th of Adar, that’s why he was named Moses. Also, the saying goes that he almost died at birth and so “Moses” was a double-meaning name.

He was sent to Auschwitz from the ghetto Srodula around August 1943. And from eyewitnesses, this is what I heard about him. That he survived until about March 1944. He worked in the kitchen in Auschwitz so that he had a little food. But a man from his hometown who was very sick approached him and asked him if he could give him a potato. So he took a raw potato from the kitchen, and put it in the pants of his pajamas (because that’s what they used to wear there in Auschwitz), and as he handed the potato to the man, an SS man saw it, and he beat him to death.

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This is my mother, Felicia, or Fela (actually she was also called Feigel) Klapholz Silberberg. She was taken also to Auschwitz together with my father, in August 1943 from the ghetto of Srodula. And again there are eyewitnesses who told me after the war how she died. Died? How she was murdered, I should say. It seems that about 4 weeks after she got there, she started to get very sick. She had typhus, and they just let her lie on that cot until she died. They never fed her. They said she died of hunger.

She was 29 when she was murdered, so you can imagine how old she was [when this photo was taken]. At 29 she was dead.

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This is my sister Mala, or Malka Silberberg. And she was 3 years old when this picture was taken in our town of Jaworzno Poland in 1942.

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I was called by the Yeshiva of Flatbush to come over in 1989. They were going to set up a Holocaust museum in New York, and they were getting ready with all kinds of artifacts. And when I got there, they told me they had this picture, and they wanted some details and verification, and they were very interested in my sister. I was very surprised to see this picture. In fact, when I got there, in the auditorium there were so many people, and this picture was hanging, and it was magnified so many times. When I got there, she stared me right in the face. I became hysterical almost. I ran out and got my kids. I said, “take a look—that’s your aunt.” Would have been their aunt, had she lived. I was very moved.

So they told me, “One day we will open up a museum, if you have anything to remind you of her, give it to us.” And I did. We made some [playing] cards, and these cards I gave to the museum.

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This is the stationary of my grandmother and grandfather, Jozef Klapholz. They had a big hardware store. And my grandmother wrote a Will on this stationary in 1921. I think it’s such a beautiful handwriting. I’m very proud of her.

DP: How did you get a copy of the Will?

RS: You know my uncle (Sam Klapholz)? The one you saw in the New York Times? Well this was together with the insurance policies that he had which was shown in the NYT.

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This house is the house of Mrs. Stanislawa Cicha in Sosnowiecz. This is the back of the house. This is where we were hiding from 1942 to 1944. Till we were discovered. And in that house, also she had the chicken coup, that was the bunker. This photo was sent to me by Mrs. Cicha. [reading the caption on the back] “This is the house where we lived together during the very hard times.”

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This is Mrs. Stanislawa Cicha, who was hiding us in the chicken coup. This is from 1962.

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This is Sister Andrea of the Convent of the Grey Sisters of Neisse-Neuland. When she was being evacuated with the German troops, as she was a German Nun, they were going to Berlin when the Russians were nearer and nearer, she left her room and she left the door open. I was standing in the corridor and I said, “Sister, you forgot your picture.” And she said, “I don’t want it, but if you want it, you can have it as a souvenir of me.” I went in and I took the picture. This was 1945.

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This is a picture of me when I was 10 years old in the Convent. We went out, and they had a kind of 5 and dime store, and we went in. And just as they have in this country, you could just put in a coin and get a picture taken, and I decided I’ll do that. So the picture is not very clear, but here I am, in the Convent in 1944.

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This is a very unusual document. It’s a certificate of liberty. When we were questioned by the Gestapo at Gestapo headquarters, and they accused us of being Jewish, and we denied it, at the end, as they were letting us go, evidently believing our denials, they gave my aunt a certificate of liberty. That we are released and not under suspicion anymore. So not only that we were released, but at the same time the three SS men signed it. It says “July 6, 1944, in Neisse.” On the bottom is a picture of my aunt, with the name Maria Masur, false papers, and it gives her permission to go back to work.

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This is a letter that was written by my aunt Sara in Germany when we were on Aryan papers. The letter is addressed to my uncle, Sam Klapholz. He also received Aryan papers from that man, Nedza, but he was on the same list as us. And even though we were released, my uncle was not released. Being a man, he didn’t deny that he was Jewish, and he was sent to Auschwitz. He lived through Auschwitz, and he was liberated in 1945.

But the letter is very interesting. Because my aunt wrote him this letter because she heard that he was on Aryan papers. By that time, he had been taken to Auschwitz. And the letter came back as “man is absent, or unknown.” We were lucky that the letter came back. Had they connected us with my uncle, who was already in Auschwitz, especially since they had already questioned us, they would have probably figure out that we were Jewish.

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This is an exerpt from Maus 1, by Art Spiegelman. When I was reading it, I realized that I had been in the same bunker in the attic, with the entrance hidden by a chandelier. And I wrote to him. And his sketch is very exact. It’s exactly as it happened when we were caught by the Germans. And then after I had written to him, he wrote me back a very beautiful postcard.

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This is the postcard I received from Art Spiegelman replying to my letter. And he also sketched that little mouse, because I had told him in my letter how the child died in the garden. And on the other side, he makes I believe two mice that are dead mice and the parents are looking on.

I forgot to say something, apropos this baby. I would like to say something.

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This is an original sketch by Art Spiegelman depicting the story I told him. The mouse is that little baby in the garden that’s dead, and the people here are pointing to the dead baby. Actually, it was only the father at that time who saw the baby dead, not the mother. But the thing is that the father, who gave himself up to the Germans did not survive the war. The mother did. That woman, Frieda, survived the War, and went to Israel. And about 15 years ago my aunt Sara, who was together with us, went to Israel, and as she was in Tel Aviv, looking through a window for pocketbooks, through the reflection she saw in the back of her a woman that looked familiar. She turned around—it was Frieda. It was the mother of that baby. They hugged, and she said, “My God, I didn’t know you survived!” She said yes, and she remarried, but she had no more children.

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This is a stamp that was published by the State of Israel, depicting 50 years after the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, plus other concentration camps. And they blew it up, and it’s above Yad Vashem entrance in Jerusalem. It happens, that the man on the right is my uncle, who was liberated from Dachau. His name was David Klapholz. He’s my mother’s brother [and brother of Sam Klapholz]. And the picture was accidentally found, and blown up. They never knew the names, until my cousin went and said, “This is my father. The man on the left is his friend. The man in the middle died the day after liberation.” And then they put down the names of these people.

Unfortunately my uncle, who is in this picture (and this is such a famous picture), never saw it because he died before this was published.

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This is my grandfather’s house in Jaworzno Poland. In the back was the printing press. And up on the top floor was my grandfather’s apartment. And that’s where we were during the war. In that apartment the Germans took away my Shabbos doll. And at one time this was a pharmacy, but I see it’s something else today. This was taken four years ago, 1993.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Part XIX

Rose Silberberg-Skier: From there, we took a train, and we kept going for about a whole day until we reached a place called Frankfurt am Main. There was a displaced persons camp there, which we were told at that time to go there. And it was called Zeilsheim.

Debbi Portnoy: When did you arrive there?

RS: We arrived there maybe November 1945.

DP: Was there any type of registration when you got there?

RS: Yes. There already you had Jews in charge. It was a displaced persons camp, run partly by the Americans, and the Joint. And they gave us food, they gave us places to sleep…It was like a barracks at that time.

DP: Who was in your barracks?

RS: Maybe 100 people. I didn’t know these people, but they were Jews. That was the main thing. They were all fellow Jews.

DP: Was it divided, men and women?

RS: No, because we slept in our clothes. It wasn’t a hotel. But they said, “Don’t worry, you’re going to get regular homes, regular rooms. But this is just temporary.” And it was.

And General Eisenhower I think was in charge at that time. Still, he was there. Because as soon as another general came, they threw all the Jews out. But when Eisenhower was there, they gave us housing, regular housing.

DP: Did you ever see Eisenhower?

RS: No. I saw Mrs. Roosevelt. She came to see the Displaced Persons camps.

DP: Describe that to me.

RS: A lovely lady. Not pretty, but lovely as a human being. There was a young boy there in that camp, little boy. He was maybe nine. He had beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. He was gorgeous and he had a beautiful singing voice. And when she came, he stood there and he was singing the American National Anthem (they taught him). She was so impressed, and she went over, she hugged him. And she asked us all questions. Do we have food, where do we want to go, and what happened—well, she didn’t want to go into details about what happened. She knew what happened. But just generally. Do you have parents? No. Do you have parents? No.

DP: Did you make any friends in the camp?

RS: Absolutely. I had a lot of friends, and I started school. The Jewish way. Right away there came some Shlichim, people from Israel, teachers, and immediately started a school. And all of us kids went to school, at different levels, because some kids were like 18, and some were like me, 10-11, some were 15. Didn’t matter. We were all bunched up because we had no education throughout the war.

So we all were together, and they used to really have terrific intensified courses. They used to give us everything. We even studied German and Latin. We studied Hebrew, math, reading, geography, you name it. History. Everything.

DP: And when you weren’t in school, what were you doing?

RS: When I wasn’t in school, then finally they gave us housing. My Aunt Sara married and had a baby, and I used to take care of him. Otherwise I used to have a lot of friends.

Now my friends, all were from the school or from the camp. We used to go walk to each other. I remember they all had parents, at least one parent. Most had mothers. And I had never been jealous of anybody in my life. But I was jealous of anybody who had a mother. The first thing that I would ask a kid when I met one was, “Do you have a mother?” “Yes.” I though, Oh, you’re so lucky. You have a Mother! And this was my first question. It was pathetic. But this was how I felt. And do you want to know something? I still feel like that, till today. Till today.

Because even when I was married, and I had children, my children never had anybody. My children didn’t have a grandparent to hug them or love them or something. They were alone. And I took care of them. It wasn’t a matter of getting aid, such as physical aid. But it was just a matter psychologically there was nobody to love them. I said, “If God forbid, something happens to me, these kids would go to an orphanage. There’s nobody to take over and nobody to take them. Or they’ll split them up.” And I used to worry about this. I’d say “I can’t wait for them to grow up.”

Even when my son was Bar-Mitzvah, I sat there in the Shul and I thought “If my father were here to see how well he’s doing, my son, how he would be proud of him.” But all things like that, you know. You visualize. So I have always missed my parents, and especially my mother. But I did have a lot of friends.

DP: When did you get to the United States?

RS: First we tried to get to Palestine, but you know the English—first you had to have certificates, they had closed borders, the white paper, and they wouldn’t let the Jews in. So we decided to register for the United States. And I came here August 24, 1951.

DP: How did you get to the United States?

RS: On a troopship, General Blanchford, all by myself. Because I did have family. My uncle, Sam Klapholz was there, but he was a “K” in the alphabet. My aunt was Wachsman (“W”). I was “S” for Silberberg. Now they went according to the alphabet. You either went, or you forfeit your right to go. So there was nothing to talk about. I was 17, and I picked myself up, I had nothing to wear, no clothes and no money, and I got on the ship and I came here.

It happens, that I had an aunt here, who also was a refugee. And she said, “Come on over to me and stay for a while.”

DP: Describe your journey here on the ship.

RS: It was terrible. Even though I was grateful to go. The people were nice. There were American troops there. They were being shipped back to the States. And the refugees. They gave us to eat. And we had terrible quarters. We were so many women together, bunched up. And we were very very hot. There was no airconditioning. They gave us the worst little cabins. I couldn’t wash anything. I had no clothes. I wanted to wash my clothes. Overnight, no facilities.

I remember that finally I volunteered to work at the dispensary. They had a lot of women who had babies. So these babies used to come there, and so on. And I used to help a nurse. She was a Navy nurse, and her name was Jeanie Johnson. She spoke with a Southern accent. I couldn’t understand one word.

And I want you to know that when I was going to school there I learned English, but Shakespearian English. They taught us Shakespeare. Like this was going to help us. So when she talked, not only did I not understand the English, the colloquialism, I didn’t understand the Southern [accent]. So when she spoke to me, it was like a blank. And she used to tell me, “Rosie? ROSIE?” She thought I was deaf. But I wasn’t deaf. I just didn’t understand. When you don’t understand, people think that you’re deaf, so they talk louder to you.


Monday, March 14, 2005


Rose Silberberg-Skier: Suddenly, my aunt came to get me.

Debbi Portnoy: How did you spend your time during those few weeks?

RS: Nothing. I was just lying there like that and I was so miserable and I used to say, “get me out of here, at least into the corridor, let me be with the other kids,” because there were other kids there. “No, no, you’re contagious.” So why did you put me there? “Be quiet.” They had no time. They were very overcrowded. It was a terrible place. When my aunt finally showed up, it must have been October, I was so glad to see her.

She said: “I came to get you. We’re going to Palestine.” And at that time, there was no iron curtain yet. It was ‘45. So you could get out of Poland, but you had to maneuver a little bit. But there was no transportation.

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So my uncle, Sam Klapholz, had come…what happened to my uncle Sam, is that the same man who had the false papers for us, gave papers to my uncle. But what I didn’t mention to you before is that the man who gave us the papers, who sent us to the Convent to work [Nedza], he had to have an operation. He was very sick. And when he was on the operating table, there was a Polish doctor who was going to operate, and he told this doctor, “I have a list of Jews that I sent on fake papers and I’m sorry about it, but that’s what it is.” So this Polish doctor called the SS, and they came, and they said, “Where’s the list?” And he told them. They got the list, and systematically, they came to round up all these Jews. That’s why they came [to our Convent], because we didn’t know how they found out in the Convent that we are Jewish. That’s why the SS man came and said, “Come to headquarters, we’re going to question you,” because we were on the list. He gave us the work, so we were on the list.

So what happened was that my uncle Sam also had false papers, but they came and they got him, and they took him to Auschwitz. And he has the number from Auschwitz. But he survived Auschwitz, and he came to our hometown, and when my aunt came to get me that time in the orphanage, she said, “Your uncle is there, and he’s waiting for you. We’re all going to go together to Palestine.”

And that’s how we started to go from Poland, to the Russian part of Germany. Because there was at that time four parts: Russian, American, British, and French. We went to the Russian part. To the Russian part of Germany, you didn’t need a passport, because Poland was under Russian control too. And we had to wait 2 weeks on the tracks to get a train. There was no transportation. We were just like Gypsies.

The Russian soldiers used to come, and take everybody’s watches away. So they had watches here, here, here, here, here…(points up arms). They open their jackets, here, here, here…they said they’re taking the watches to Moscow. They robbed you. Whoever was stronger robbed you. That’s how it was.

DP: Did you have to do anything to protect yourself from the Russian men?

RS: Not me, but my aunt did, because they used to rape the women something vicious there. Very bad.

DP: Did you ever see or hear about any?

RS: Yes, I heard, I did. I didn’t see it, but I heard. Somebody told us. We were told that this is what’s going on, we should be very careful, because they’re coming, and they’re taking the women away, and they’re raping them. This is what they did. But we took the chance anyway. And there were a lot of people on the tracks. Mainly they were interested in robbing you. Because they were going to go back to Russia and bring stuff. So if you had anything of value, you were doomed. You had to give it up.

And finally when the train came, I remember, we were sitting like Gypsies on the floor, waiting for the train. Then we sat inside the train on the floors. And it used to stop and go, stop and go. It took us weeks to get to the Russian part of Germany. Once we were there, we had with us whiskey, which we knew, this was the only way to bribe the Russians to go to the American part.

DP: How did you get the whiskey?

RS: My aunt got it, I don’t know how. But whiskey was not hard to get. In Poland you could get whiskey, vodka, anytime. Must have been vodka. You could get it anytime, because it’s cheap. Because they all drank.

DP: At this time, how were you getting money, how were you getting food?

RS: My aunt got it. She didn’t tell me how, but she got it. My uncle told me that he had, at one time when we were still in the Polish woman’s house, he was hiding there jewelry and things like that. And when we were discovered, this stayed there. Because nobody knew where it was. He went back there, and he got some stuff out. So he must have sold some of the jewelry. Because they had a little money, not much. But just enough to get on a train and things like that.

So from there we went to the Russian part, and then he bribed the guards. Oh, it was a terrible ordeal to the American part. Because I remember there was a tremendous ravine; it was as if there was a river on the bottom. And it was dark. And my uncle said, “We have to go there, and then go up, and there will be the American part.”

So we said, “How can we go down there? We’re going to drown?” And he said, “I’ll be the first.” He was the first one. And he slid down right into what looked like a river. But he screamed, “IT’S NOT A RIVER! IT’S OK!” So we started to go. We all slid down and fell in. And then finally we started to go up again, and we stayed. He said, “Wait, and let me see if we are on the American side. Maybe we are still with the Russians.”

He went. He came back. He said, “I just saw the most gorgeous soldier. He’s an American, and he has a cap like that. Gorgeous people, and they gave me white bread. White! Not Challah, white bread!”

We said, “Ach! Go away, you’re lying. I never heard of white bread!” He said, “Yes, yes! White bread!” We were hysterical. We ran with him. Sure enough, the Americans came out and gave us bread. We were like refugees.


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.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Part XVI

Rose Silberberg-Skier: And when we arrived in our hometown, everybody was dead. There wasn’t a Jew left. And we went to our house, and there was nobody. And we had nothing to eat. We had no money. And even if we had, there was nothing to buy. But we specifically had nothing to eat.

And the people, all around, when they saw my aunt, they knew her. So they knew that she’s Jewish, because they knew her from her youth. “Oh my God, how come you survived? I thought Hitler killed you all! You survived??” Very unhappy. “What do you want?? You want your house back? What is it that you want here?”

Who thinks of houses? We were looking for our FAMILY. “Do you want your house back?” That was all they were worried about.

Then my aunt said, “Let’s find out 100% what happened. Maybe the maid, Maria, maybe she will know what happened.” So we knew where she lived. My aunt went there with me. As she opened the door, she was wearing my mother’s clothes. And there was silverware all around from my mother. I didn’t want to say anything. But just automatically I said, “This is my mother’s!” I was happy to see something from my mother. This was like…home, you know? And she [Maria] brought me up, I want you to know. And she said, “Jew! Get out or I’ll call the Home Army.”

The Home Army was like a fascist Polish Underground, that was against the Communists. They used to make pogroms all over Poland against the Jews. “I’ll call the Home Army.” She slammed the door, and we walked away. We said out of this town. We better get out of here, because we’re dead.

So my aunt went to Krakow, and in Krakow, which is very near, she heard there was an orphanage, on Dluga 38. She said “I will bring you to the orphanage, because maybe they’ll give you something to eat. I have no money. I have nothing. And when I get myself together, I’ll pick you up, and we’ll go to Palestine.”

DP: Was this a Jewish orphanage?

RS: Yes. In fact, there is this book, My 100 Children, that describes the Krakow Jewish orphanage. When she brought me to that orphanage, and then she left, I can tell you that was one horrible place. Horrible. First of all, there was nothing to eat. There were 100 kids there, crowded in together, and lice were crawling all over. Some kids were on the floor with blankets, and some were on cots. I got a cot. That cot was crawling with lice, and the blanket was crawling with white lice. These are typhus lice. I didn’t have any lice throughout the war. Suddenly, in five minutes, I was full of lice. I was itching…it was just unbearable.

And the kids were crying, and some were sick. You name it, they had it. And there were not enough people to take care. And I remember they fed us…once a day? At that point it was once a day. This is how I remember it. If it was more, it’s possible, but I remember it as once a day.

And the one who was in charge of the kids, she was cutting for everybody a piece of bread, she had some soup. The soup she gave out. But the bread she put in the middle of the table. Now where I came from, you would never grab. I waited for her to say “take your slice of bread.” But she didn’t, and the kids grabbed my bread. I was always left without the bread. I used to cry, not just from hunger. I was so angry at her. I used to say, “this stupid woman is so unjust. Why doesn’t she watch out for me?” She sees the kids are hungry, they’ll take my slice. Because my mother said you don’t take, you have to wait until they tell you to take. And I waited, because I was stupid! But this was how I was brought up.

DP: How old were you now?

RS: Now I’m 10.

DP: Did you ever change your name back?

RS: Yes, when my aunt brought me to the orphanage it was under Rose Silberberg. And at that time her name was Klagsbald. She was a widow because husband was murdered and her kid too.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Part XV

Rose Silberberg-Skier: We stayed in that Convent, and other than these incidences, we were comfortable. Because they didn’t torture us, they didn’t beat us. They thought we were Christians.

In April 1945, there was a lot of bombing going on. The Russians were bombing the Convent, and most of the nuns started to go with the soldiers to Berlin. They left. And I remember that one Sister, Andrea, was leaving her room, and the room was open. And I said, “Sister Andrea, you forgot your picture in your room.”

And she said, “I don’t want it. You want my picture as a souvenir? Take it.” So I went in, and I took Sister Andrea’s picture.

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One thing I forgot to say: When we came back from Gestapo headquarters, after we had been interrogated, when I say my aunt was lucky that she told me to take the pictures from the cellar, there was a work crew there. They were making an air-raid shelter from that cellar. And taking everything out. All the stones, all the rocks. My aunt said, “Can you imagine? They would have found those pictures!” And that morning she said, “bring me the pictures” out of the blue, for no reason. And sure enough, they made the air-raid shelter and everything was gone.

So, we went to the air-raid shelter, and in April 1945, the Russians finally entered that town. But I remember that before they came, that last day, there was such terrible bombing going on, that we realized that they’re bombing the Convent. All around, the grounds were bombed. One nun was killed.

So I said, “Oh my God, I lived through all this, and now I will be killed by my allies!” And I started to pray. And this is what I prayed, because I remember:

“Oh please, God, let me live through this day. Please let me live through this one day. Because if you let me live, I vow to you I will rebuild the Holy Temple! I will rebuild the Holy Temple!”

This was my background, evidently. I mean where did it come from? I must have heard it somewhere. That this is the greatest thing to do. And I lived through it.

Debbi Portnoy: What language did you pray in?

RS: Polish. And sure enough, the bombing stopped. The doors opened. The Russians were there. I can tell you, when we came out from that shelter, and when I saw maybe 500 Russian tanks lined up there…it was so quiet. Suddenly it was so quiet. I looked, and I thought the Messiah had come! Oh my God, the Messiah had come! The Russians are here! We are FREE!

And we were free. For a while.

My aunt thought, this is the end of all persecution. But she was wrong. She went out, she approached one of the Russian officers, and she said, “I’m a Jew!” As if to say, are you happy? Look, I survived.

And he said, “You’re a Jew? Come here. Bourgeois?” He was a communist, but he also was a Ukrainian. Hated Jews just as much as the Germans! So she said she was joking. And she said to me, “Uh-uh. Don’t tell anybody you’re Jewish. I see we’re back to the same thing.”

We wanted to leave in order to go back to Poland. We wanted to see if anybody survived from the family. So, my aunt approached an officer, who was known to be Jewish, and she went over and she said to him, “Look, I’m Jewish, and I’m afraid to be here. Because they hate the Jews.” He was an officer in the Russian army, he wasn’t afraid. “Do me a favor. Give me a horse and buggy, and I’ll go back to Poland, because I want to see where my family is.”

And he said, “YOU are JEWISH?? You don’t look Jewish to me!” And he didn’t believe her! Frankly, she didn’t look Jewish one bit.

She said, “How can I prove it to you that I’m Jewish? I’m going to talk to you in Hebrew.”

He looked at her like, what? Hebrew to him was like from the moon. He was brought up in Communist Russia. He didn’t know Hebrew. He didn’t know Yiddish. He only knew, that on his passport, he had the stamp that said “Jew.” But he had a feeling…when she kept saying “Please, please, you want to hear the prayers? You want to hear Shma?” And he was like, what?

Finally, he said, “Alright. If you say it so many times, you’re Jewish.” And he did give us a horse and buggy, and a few other workers came, and we went all back to Poland.

DP: Did you have any contact with the Russians? Did you say anything to them? Did they say anything to you personally?

RS: No, the only thing is that they liberated us, but we saw that we have to be very careful because they were very anti-Semitic. Maybe that was a detachment of Ukrainians there. But they hated Jews. And the others were from…Mongols. So we didn’t know what they were like. Except that they used to run horses. If you saw them ride, you’d be scared to death. Just over our heads. This was their sport. So, we were scared, we said let’s get out of here.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Part XIV

We come back, and this SS man is holding the coat, and he says, “You forgot your coat!” And with that lining on the outside, the same way, he hands it to my aunt. That’s it. We took the coat and we started to walk. I said, “Aunt, I have to sit down.” Because I couldn’t STAND IT!! I was SHAKING, like THIS! And there was a little park there and we sat down. You forgot your coat! My God! I thought they were going to shoot us!

So I said to my Aunt, “Let’s run away, let’s run away!”

“No! We’re not running anywhere. Because, if we run, we have nowhere to go, they will know we’re Jews. But if we go back to the Convent as if nothing happened, we have a chance.”

She was right, and she was very brave. We came back to the Convent, and the Mother Superior came right away and said, “What happened? Why did you have to go to the headquarters, to the Gestapo?”

My aunt was very wise. She didn’t deny. She didn’t say, “Nothing.” No. She said, “They thought we were Jews. Evidently, somebody has the same name, or stole our passports, I don’t know what. But they thought we were Jews. Of course we’re not Jews. Some dumb Jew has our papers, so therefore they let us go, because they realized we’re not Jews.”

So she said, “Oh…now I know.” But she knew in advance why, because she was told by the Gestapo man why he came. I mean, she was the Mother Superior. But every after that, the phone rang, and he was asking if we were there, and what we were doing. Because there was no phone in every room, but there was a phone in the foyer. So I remember her answering the phone, one of the nuns, and saying, yes, they’re still here. No they didn’t run off. Yes, they seem ok. They’re normal. They never took us again.

So it was the first and last time we were there. But it was a terrible, terrible experience.

Now, in February or March of 1945, the doorbell was ringing like crazy. One of the nuns opened the door. And there stands, my cousin, Sammy Silberberg, with the uniform of a concentration camp. You know how they have those pajamas from concentration camps? And two other concentration camp guys. And he says he wants to talk to Maria.

And the nun didn’t know what it was. She didn’t know it was concentration camp (uniform). And my aunt sees this, and she was motioning like, ‘go away.’ But she said in Polish, “come back at night.”

What happened was, that they were on a death march. You know the Germans, towards the end of the war, were marching these people to death. From one camp to another, into inner Germany. And he knew that we were in a Convent. And how did he know?

Because when we were still with the Polish woman, the reason we later found out that we were even discovered by the SS [in the coup]—why were we discovered by the SS? Nobody even knew we were there. Because this woman, Dudwauka, who used to threaten Mrs. Cicha, we realized that something had to be done about her, because every day she was threatening to call the Germans. So it was smartly done. They took one of the girls, who didn’t look too Jewish, and they said, “Take a lot of money and knock at night at her door. Say ‘Here’s some money, let me stay two hours. I’m Jewish, let me stay for two hours and I’ll leave.’” And they did it. She opened the door, took the money (she was very greedy) and let her stay. But she ran off very shortly, because she knew that she’d take an axe and kill her. And we told her, “when you leave, make sure she doesn’t follow you,” because she had to come back right next door. After that, this woman never threatened Mrs. Cicha. She felt already, hey I’m traife, I’m not playing games.

So we said, “How did they find us?” The story was, that my uncle, who was the brother of my father, was in a concentration camp. He knew a German guard, who seemed to be on the level. And he said, “When you go back to Poland, (because he was going back on vacation), go to this woman, Mrs. Cicha, (whom he knew from before the war), and there is my wife. Just tell her I’m OK.” Nothing else. So, the man went, he came, and he said, “your husband is OK.” So we knew about the husband, and the son, Sammy, the young boy. So my aunt [note: this is not Aunt Sara] wrote a Jewish letter and told him to give it to her husband.

On the way back, the guard forgot his ID. Once he didn’t have his ID, he was searched on the train, and they found a Jewish letter. Now, the guard was not Jewish. Maybe they punished him for this. But they weren’t going to kill him for forgetting his ID. But the Jewish letter? What is this?

“Well, I did a stupid thing, I went there, there’s a Jewish woman there.” He never saw anybody else except my aunt. So when they came to get us, they thought they were coming for one Jewish woman. They got 17 Jews there that time, with my sister.

So what happened was, my cousin knew that someplace we were in a Convent. [See Comments] He came and my aunt at night snuck him in and two other guys, snuck him into a loft. There was the spare hay for the horses. And they were there for 3 months, hiding. My aunt used to bring food, stealing from the pigs. I used to be the lookout. Used to help with the water, and take out the pail (because you had to empty the pail).

But what happened is, the Polish workers used to go in the morning to take some hay, they used to take these hay forks and just stab. Now, if you are hiding there, if they would hit you, they would kill you! Because they didn’t know anybody was there. And if they did, for sure they would kill you, the Polish workers. Either way.

One of the boys, and his name was Moshe Ganger, said, “I cannot stand this anymore. I will not stay here. I’m going out, I’m going to go to the employment office, and say I want to work for the war effort, I’m a Polish man, and that’s it.”

My aunt said, “You look Jewish! You don’t look Polish. Brown eyes, brown hair, forget it!”

No, he wants to go. So we said, “If they catch you, if you give us up, then we’re all going to perish.”

He said, “No, don’t worry.” So he decided he’s going. So my aunt said, “I’ll follow you at a distance, because I want to know what’s going to happen to you.” Like Moses and Miriam. And we followed together.

This man goes into a factory to volunteer to work for the Germans. A half hour later we see SS. SS are coming into the factory and out he goes with the SS. Into the same Gestapo headquarters that we had been questioned in.

DP: So you were there watching this?

RS: Watching, but like a block away. Oh my God! My aunt said oh my God. If they torture him, for sure he’s going to give us away. He’s going to tell them everything, because you cannot withstand the torture.

Well, he was gone like that for hours on end. And we were standing, and we didn’t know what to do. But my aunt said, “We have to wait. We have to see if he comes out at all.”

Sure enough, maybe six hours have gone by, he comes out, with the SS, and he shows us like everything is fine. And what happened was, we looked at his face from far away, but we could see that he had not been tortured. He was not beaten up. He looked normal. So what took him so long?

After the war, my aunt said, “What happened to you?”

He said, “If I tell you, will you believe me? You will not believe me. This is what happened: When I got there, they said, ‘He’s a Jew,’ and they took me to Gestapo headquarters. But one SS man said, ‘let’s see if he’s circumcised.’ So one said, ‘yes’ and one said ‘no.’ So now, they wouldn’t kill a Christian just for the hell of it, so they said they had to call a doctor. And he will be the one to judge. But the doctor was busy a whole day in his office, and by the time the doctor finally decided to come, the day was gone, but he came. And he looked, and he said, ‘this man is not circumcised. So take him to work.’” So he went to work. If I tell you that he was circumcised, he came from Chassidim! And his son lives today in Kiryat Arba, he has five children!

But it was like a miracle. The doctor said, and this is it. But meantime, we lost years off our lives just looking, watching for him.


Monday, March 07, 2005


Debbi Portnoy: Mrs. Skier, tell me what happened at that point:

Rose Silberberg-Skier: Well, just prior to that, about two months before[November 1944?] , something else happened. We were working in the Convent, and suddenly, the gate opened, the nun let a man in who happened to be an SS man. And he was asking for us by name. And she called my aunt, and said, “This is Maria Mazur.” That’s who he was asking for.

He said, “Get dressed, take your stuff. You’re going to the Gestapo headquarters, because you are Jews.” Like that.

So my aunt was shocked. “What is going on here? Everything is in order! Why?”

“Just get dressed.” And that’s it.

Now just prior to this SS man coming in that morning, she said to me, “Go into the cellar, and bring me back the pictures.”

I had said, “Leave them there!”


So I went down, and brought the pictures. So I had the pictures, and here, the SS man walks in and says, “Come to Gestapo headquarters.”

I had the pictures. So my aunt took the pictures, and the SS man didn’t realize it, because they were wrapped, and she threw them under the bed. She said, “Oh God, I hope they don’t clean tonight under the bed.” But she took her stuff, we took the suitcase that we had. We never opened that suitcase, to tell you the truth. It was just sitting there for months.

And on the way, she said to me, “I have to make believe that I’m tying my shoe.” Because he came with a bicycle. Imagine that! He didn’t come with a car. He was on the bicycle, and he put the suitcase on top, and we were just one at each side.

So my aunt said, “My shoe is falling off! I have to do something.”

So he said, “Do it.” And he continued.

But what she was really doing was…in the lining of the coat she had a $100 bill. American money. I can’t even tell you what that meant. Even if you were the Pope, if you had American foreign currency, you were dead. You weren’t allowed to have it since 1939. Now it’s 1944. And secondly, for sure, the only people who would have it are Jews. The peasants didn’t have $100 bills. So she knew that if she doesn’t get rid of this, on the way, before she’s questioned, and before she’s searched, forget it. So she opened the lining, and then she said she had to tie her shoe, and she squashed it and she threw that money into the weeds.

DP: How did she get the $100 bill?

RS: Oh this she had from some time ago, from the family. They used to have money. They didn’t give everything to the Germans. They had it for rainy days. They used to distribute it. I case we had to bribe somebody. So hers was in the lining.

Now, when we got there, this was the story. They brought us to a room to interrogate us. There were 3 of them. 3 SS men. Gestapo men, basically, because they were in civilian clothes. We were sitting next to each other, my aunt and I, and one SS man was sitting with us. Two were just sitting, on the opposite side. And each one was questioning us. At all times there was one from this side and one from that side. And they started with my Aunt:

“You are a JEW. You are a Jew!”

“No, NO! I’m NOT a Jew!”

“But your father was a Jew! Your mother, your grandmother…You’re a half-Jew a quarter-Jew…” They continued on and on. This was going on for hours. Yelling and screaming. Finally, they took me out. One guy took me out.

“You come with me.” Oh, boy, was I scared. And he put me into the lobby, against the frame of a door. And he took out a small revolver and he put it against my temple.

“If you tell me that you are Jewish, I will let you go. If you tell me that you are Catholic, I will shoot you.”

I cannot tell you how frightened I was. I was frightened before he took out the revolver. I was scared to death. But when he did this, I fell asleep. Evidently this is my nature. I fell asleep! I stood there sleeping! And he started to shake me.

“You wake up! I’m talking to you, hear?” But he put away the gun. “I’m talking to you!”

I said, “I’m not Jewish, I’m not Jewish!” So he saw, maybe I’m telling the truth for one reason, because he said he’ll shoot me if I say I’m NOT Jewish.

So he said, “OK. Then let me hear your prayers.”

I knew all the prayers. Every one of them. Paternoster, Ave Maria, all of them. Then he said, “Did you go to Church?”


“With whom?”

“With my mother.” I remembered my maid, and I visualized it. “With my mother.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“We went Sunday morning to church, and we sat down. And then other people came, and they sat down. Then the priest came on a podium, and he started to chant, and he had his hands out like this (spreads arms), and he said, ‘Dominus Vobiscum.’ And we said, ‘Et cum spiritutum’…He said, ‘Oremus.’”

He said, “OK, get out! Let’s go back!”

We went back to my aunt, and he started all over again. But then he stopped suddenly, he said, “Let’s search your stuff.” They opened that suitcase, and one was looking at the lining, and one was looking at the front. And they were mainly looking at the lining, to see if something was there hidden.

Now what I didn’t remember, was that I had a winter coat, and it was like velveteen? And I had had a Jewish star attached to it. Evidently, when I left the ghetto, childlike, I ripped that star off, but, first of all, you could see the outline of that star. Secondly, six points were there, yellow threads. But I didn’t know that I had it. This was the last item on the bottom of the suitcase.

The funny thing was, that there were two guys on one side and one guy on the other. The one who was on the other side was the one who used to look at the front of the coats. He suddenly got up, and he must have gone to the bathroom, because he was only gone 5 minutes. Just then, these two guys took out the velveteen coat, and looking only at the lining, touching touching touching the lining. And I am sitting there and I am seeing those six points of thread. But this guy was in the toilet, evidently.

Oh my God, I thought. Now all they have to do is turn it around, or this guy is going to come…But instead, they took the coat, and with the lining on the outside, he folded it, neatly, and put it against the chair. And just then, the other guy comes back and sits down again! But it was the end of the search.

It was miraculous. I tell you, miraculous!

Now you’re talking about a whole day. They said, “OK, let’s go.” So we got up, and they took us all the way to the cellar. With big keys. So my aunt said, “They’re going to shoot us. Don’t say anything and don’t admit anything.”

They opened the door, and they gave my aunt a certificate of liberty, that she’s not Jewish, and they say, “Go! Go to the Convent.”

I cannot tell you—we looked at each other like…Is this POSSIBLE? Go back to the Convent. And we started to walk, and just then, the door of the headquarters opened and this SS man screams:

“Come back again! Come back!”

And my aunt said, “This is a game they play! They’re going to shoot us, but don’t admit anything no matter what! They’re going to shoot us now!”


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Part XII

Now this convent was located next to railroad tracks. Side tracks. So most of the trains were going with soldiers to the Russian front. Passing us, going through Poland to the front. But some trains were Red Cross trains, or rather hospital trains, with soldiers, wounded. When they were wounded, they sometimes used to put them on the side track because they weren’t important enough to be on that main track. They still needed it for the soldiers to go to the front.

So sometimes for a whole day, a train would sit there with soldiers, and we could look through from our window to their window. We could see what the nurses were doing. We could see their faces. And that’s it.

Now, that January 1945 I remember, suddenly the door opened, and out of the blue, 20, 25 SS men came in. It was unbelievable. I said, they’re not coming for us, there are too many! But they were a scary-looking bunch, I tell you.

The Mother Superior was a Nazi. Her brother was an SS man. (She was German, I must point out). And she invited them all for lunch. And they sat down in the dining room, and there was a long table. She was sitting at the head of the table. On each side were SS men. And then a little further down were the other nuns. All German nuns. And I was helping Sister Roberta, and I brought in string beans, all the way to Mother Superior.

And suddenly I heard her say, “Who is on the train?”

And he said, “Jews.”

“You have JEWS on the train??”


She said, “I thought you were FINISHED with all the Jews already!”

“Don’t worry, we’re taking them from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen and we’re going to finish them off.”

(whispers) I heard it!

I snuck out. I ran to the pig sties where my aunt was working. I said, “There is a train of Jews from Auschwitz! Maybe my mother is there or my sister or my father! Let’s run!”

She ran to the train (it was just…five minutes away). But it wasn’t a regular train. It was a train like a cattle car. And through the slits, we saw just young girls with shaven heads and pajamas. And they were crying, “water…water” in German. It was snowing at that time. And I went over and I said, in Polish, is there anybody by the name of Felicia Silberberg, Mala Silberberg…and they couldn’t understand. So I started to talk German, is there anybody like this, so they said, “No! There are no Polish Jews here. We are a Hungarian transport. There are no Polish Jews in Auschwitz. Give us water give us water!” I went to another car, same story.

So we took the snow, and we started to throw the snow against the grate. Then my aunt says, “You know what? I’ll run down, and get the potatoes from the pigs,” because she was just making boiled potatoes with the peels. “We’ll bring them back.” And we went together and brought a heavy pail of potatoes. We started to squash them and throw them.

Just as we did that, the Polish girl, Irena, came out. She comes over, she takes a look, and she was screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? ARE YOU CRAZY?? You’re taking food from the pigs, and you’re giving it to the Jews?? These are JEWS!! ARE you CRAZY?? I’m going to call the SS!!”

She ran back to the Convent, and she called the SS. And they came running out like wild animals. Screaming, “GET AWAY FROM THAT TRAIN!! These are Jews!! Get AWAY!!” And my aunt was still lingering throwing the potatoes, and he came very close to her. “You LOVE Jews?? I’ll put you on the train! You want to go on the train? Come with me and I’ll put you on the train.” He was going to do it! He was going to open up the train. So we started to run away.

So this is now from the other side. We’re seeing it from the other side. So she ran away. She said, “Come back to the Convent, or he’ll put us on the train.” And that’s it. And then the train took off.

And then I said to my aunt, “What is this? There are no Polish Jews in Auschwitz? That’s where the all went! Where are they? This is our whole family!” So we got very shook up. Because till then, we really didn’t know what was going on. Until it dawned on us, something is very fishy here. Something is terrible. But 100% we didn’t know what happened. Maybe they were evacuated somewhere else. But still it was very bad.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Part XI

So we came there, to the Convent, as workers. I was just a kid. My aunt was the worker, field worker. And because the Convent had a farm and a dispensary, and a small school. But mainly it was a farm. And the nuns were German nuns. And here we had papers that we were Christians. So this was nothing to do with Jews anymore. Just Christians.

I remember before we left Poland, that the woman, where we stayed a few days, she went out and she bought crosses for us. She said wear the crosses, you know, just in case. We did.

Now, when we were in that Convent, I remember that we were told that we were going to sleep with another roommate. Her name was Irena. She was a Polish Christian girl. She was 19 years old. She was very anti-Semitic. And we realized right away that we had to watch our step.

My aunt knew that she had the pictures with her. And she was afraid that this girl was going to discover the pictures. So she said, “You know what? I’m taking these pictures, come with me, we’ll go to the cellar. We’ll put it underneath a rock. But just let’s remember where we put the pictures.”

OK, so the pictures were gone. And the clothes, we left in that suitcase, never unpacked, because most of it was summer clothes. So we just had what was on our backs. Very little clothes. And my aunt started to work there.

Now, the nuns told my aunt, “Look, even though you’re Christians, it makes no difference. Because you are Poles, you are not considered on the level of the Germans. And therefore Rose cannot go to school with German children, because she’s not allowed to sit next to German kids. So therefore, Rose is just going to work in the kitchen.” My aunt said, “Whatever you say, fine.”
So at that time I was still nine years old.

So I was like a busboy..busgirl. I used to help. I remember especially Sister Roberta, she was half-Polish/half-German, so she used to do all the menial work. And cooking. All the lousy stuff. And she used to be my boss. And I used to help her out. Bring string beans to the dining room, and things like that. And we served the nuns.

And, I’ll tell you one thing…life was not bad. If you were Polish and you were a Christian, the Germans didn’t do a thing. As long as you did your work, it was peaceful. It was very pleasant, considering where we came from. From the horror. Here we were among civilized people. So we thought. I mean, they didn’t know who we were, so they were civilized. We used to go for walks. After work on Sunday we went to Church. And it was beautiful.

Now, suddenly, it dawned on my aunt, that she said, “You know, Christmas is going to come? Christmas, do you know what that means?” I said, “What?”

She said, “It means, that something is done on Christmas, which I remember, with a wafer. And I don’t know what. And I’m the oldest among the Polish workers. And if I don’t know what to do, they will know we are Jews.”

There was no library where you could go to find out what do you do on Christmas. It wasn’t America! And you couldn’t ask anybody because you would arouse suspicion. To say, hey, tell me what do you do on Christmas? Forget it. You’re dead!

She was in despair. She started to cry. She said, “I don’t know what to do. We’re going to die.” Over a little technicality!

But, two days before Christmas she says, “I got it! I know! We’re going to assemble Christmas eve. They’ll take out the wafers. I’m going to pick a fight with one of my co-workers, and I’ll run off to my room. You stay behind. You’re the smallest. You watch what they are doing. After the second one does the same thing, you say to them, ‘I’m going for my mother. I don’t want her to be alone on Christmas. I’ll bring her back.’ Come up, tell me what they do, and I’ll come back.”

That’s exactly what happened! I watched, I saw the same thing, and I said I want my mother, and they said, yeah, go get her…I went and I told her and she came back. And then she went over to the worker and she said, “Oh I’m so sorry I picked a fight. I miss Poland, and it’s Christmas…” And the other one said, “I thought you were CRAZY, and I didn’t do a thing to you, and what were you yelling…but OK, I’ll forgive you. It’s Christmas.” They hugged and they kissed; they made up.

Now this is something you don’t anticipate when you are assuming somebody else’s identity. Who thinks of such things? How do I find out what they do on certain holidays?

DP: What did they do?

RS: They were putting the wafer on the tongue. Now I don’t remember what else was going on. But still you had to know what to do with the wafer. What did you do? Bite it? Eat it? Chew it? Spit it? What? You still had to know what to do. It was so important.

Then came something else. It came January 1945. That’s a very important time.

DP: At this point did you have any information about what happened to your family?

RS: Nothing. Not a thing. We didn’t know anything. We used to get propaganda from the radio. We weren’t allowed to listen to the radio as Poles. But we overheard the radio, where they said that Germans are winning on all fronts. Beautiful. Oh, God, you know? But we’re going to stay here for the rest of our lives, that’s what we said. Of course it wasn’t true, but that’s what they said. That’s what we knew. The Germans are winning, and nothing else, and we were not allowed to read newspapers. Even though the nuns were reading, but we were not allowed, and we were afraid to take them, because these were German nuns.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Part X

Rose Silberberg-Skier: The others, some of them survived, and some of them were killed. And we went out from that bunker, to look for another bunker.

Since there was curfew, even for Christians, and this was at night, it was very hard, because they could shoot on sight, regardless of who you were. And here we were looking for somewhere to stay overnight. But my uncle, Sam Klapholz, knew someplace. He said, “Come, let’s go.”

We went from one to the other, and stayed one hour. And everywhere we went, the super would say, “Get out of here, because we’ll call the Germans!” and so on. Towards dawn, we finally found another place to stay. And there were a few other people there too. And this Polish woman said, “OK, you can stay here for a few days, and then you have to leave, because I have no room, and I’m scared…” etc. So we stayed there for a few days.

But my uncle went outside, and he met a man from his home town. His name was Baruch Kahane. He was impersonating an SS man. He was in SS uniform, he looked like an SS man, with a gun. And he said to my uncle, “I can get you false papers. Aryan, Christian papers. Tell me how many you need, and I’ll get it for you. But you’ll have to go to Germany on a train. There is a man there who is bought off by us, by the Underground. And he will channel you to go to work for the Germans. In Germany, but at least you’ll be able to survive.

“See me tomorrow, at the same spot. I’ll meet you at the railroad tracks later, and I’ll have a newspaper, and when I have this newspaper you’ll come and just take these.” And they were envelopes with the swastikas stamped on them and false names.

Debbi Portnoy: How did you know that he told this to your uncle?

RS: My uncle told me this. Just recently! He told me this at the time, but I didn’t remember. But recently he said to me, “Remember what happened with Baruch Kahane?”

So Baruch Kahane gave him the papers for himself, for my aunt, and for me. My aunt’s name was Maria Mazur, my name, I was supposed to be her daughter Rosalia Masur, and my uncle was George something.

This Baruch Kahane somehow was discovered. And as he was walking, another SS man shot him dead in the city of Katowice. For his good deed. He shot him dead.

We took the false papers, went on a train to Germany, and on the train, even though it was going from Poland to Germany, you did not need a passport. Once you had something with a swastika, because it was occupied territory, it was all belonging to Germany. But my aunt only had one for herself.

So she said, “You know what, I don’t have a name for you written out here. Go into the toilet because I see the SS are coming.” They were not looking for Jews, because there were no Jews around anymore. They were looking for just, all kinds of spies, this, that…who knows! They just liked to harass people.

And I went into the bathroom, and I hid there. When they passed, my aunt showed them the paper, and they saw the swastika, and they saluted, fine, good. And then she came to the bathroom and let me out.

We were on that train a whole night, and then we got into a city in Germany called Ottmachau.

DP: When did you arrive there?

RS: February 1944.

And we asked where this place was. It was an employment office, but run by the German state. And they told us (because now we were just fine, with the papers with the swastika)—

DP: What did you do about your clothing?

RS: We had the clothing with us. Some clothing, my aunt took like in a little suitcase.

She did something else yet, which is important that you ask. She was ready for escape, in case of escape. So she had a coat, and inside the coat she had the pictures, which you’ll see later, of Jews with beards, her father, my grandfather, with peyes and so on. These pictures were dangerous. Once you were out of the bunker, if you had these pictures, you gave yourself away. But she had these pictures because she knew these are pictures you cannot replace. So she took her coat with this.

And she had like a little suitcase, and she threw in everything that was like lying around, because you had to do that fast, get out of there. Because we figured the SS will come back. Which they normally would just to clean up the place, take everything away. 1-2-3 in a little suitcase. So we had that. So I had the suitcase, and she had the pictures, and that’s it.

We came to Ottmachau, and this German, his name was Nedza. He was an ethnic German but he was also speaking Polish. And he said to my aunt, “Look, I have a place for you on a farm.” Rattmansdorf was the name of the farm, and he sent us there.

At that time they used to send Polish workers to replace German workers. Especially German men, who were sent to the front. They were all in the army. Except for once in a while you saw a German man who was overseeing a few farms, let’s say. Overseeing the workers.

Now, this one German, I remember, took such a dislike to my aunt, that he started to beat her. And he broke her thumb. And she started to have an infection, and she was in such agony, that she went back to this Nedza, and said, “Look, can you find me another place? Because this man is going to kill me! He beats me every day.” So he said ok.

And he found us a place in a Convent.


Mrs. Cicha

The following is a translation of several letters about Mrs. Cicha, which was forwarded to me by my cousin, Goldie Wachsman Maxwell, Aunt Sara's daughter.

Here's an exerpt from the email she sent me:

Dear Mark,
Hope you are well and getting some sleep -- I gather you are
transcribing after work and it's a time consuming effort.
I've been tracking
each installment and am sending you some relevant information about Stanislawa
Cicha. These letters were originally in Polish and I had them translated by an
archivist at Yad Vashem who was born in Lvov and educated in Poland. The English
is quite good but not perfect.
One letter from Mrs. Biesam--(I don't know if
your mother's story takes her experience into account. Mrs. Biesam was in the
bunker too, where she discovered she was pregnant--after 11 years of
childlessness. Already widowed, she had a miscarriage in the bunker, my mother
had to serve as "midwife." Hygiene being less than perfect in that bunker, Mrs.
Biesam became infected and had to be seen by a doctor and then hospitalized.
Four weeks later the bunker was discovered)--refers to Cicha's courage and her
right to the status of Righeteous Gentile. The other letters are from Halina
Furgalinska, a friend of Cicha's, who describes her last days and her final
request to be buried with a picture of my mother. There are numerous references
to Mrs. Rozia, and I think that is your mother. I also have a few letters
written by Cicha herself.


Letter of Ms. Regina Biesam from Hertzliya to Mrs. Wachsman
November 30, 1963
Dear Mrs. Wachsman!
Let me inform you that I forwarded the article concerning Mrs. Cicha to the newspaper. Enclosed please find a copy of the article. I wanted to mail you a clip from this newspaper, but I sent to Mrs. Cicha a month ago. then I received a letter from her telling me that the newspaper was confiscated in Warsaw. She asked for another clip because she would like to use it for a kind of rents. She told me that she had mailed you a newspaper from Poland with her story written by Mr. Feder, Fela Katz’s brother-in-law [¼]
[omitted irrelevant text. – MSh.]

[Text of the article copied by Regina Biesam for Mrs. Wachsman]
Lately, it is being much written and spoken on the noble Poles that saved Jews during the occupation.
To their bevy belongs also Mrs. Stanis_awa Cicha from Sosnowiec (Dzielnicza street 29), who risked her life hiding in her dwelling 16 Jews. I was among the hidden. It happened in 1943 when a general deportation of Jews took place. My husband has already been taken away. I survived by miracle because Mrs. Stanis_awa Cicha sheltered me. When I found myself in her apartment, I learned that I wasn’t the only one whom this noble lady saved. Everyone who came at night and knocked at the window of her apartment found his or her asylum. Some of the Jews protested against a large quantity of the people, which could cause their give-away. Mrs. Cicha answered them that human beings want to live. She was secretly buying ration cards. She did her best that we would not suffer from hunger. One day I fell badly ill. I had sepsis after an accident. At night she took me to a confidential physician that after examination at once referred me to a hospital for operation. We were running out of time. Mrs. Cicha procured for me the Aryan papers.
During my stay at the hospital this woman skated on very thin ice visiting me and bringing me food that I would recover as soon as possible. It lasted for about two months because I had post-operational complications. Some time later, my hide was revealed. The Gestapo arrested 7 persons together with Mrs. Cicha. The rest of the people hid in the next room under the floor. Next day, they came out of this hide. Nowadays, part of the survivors live in America and in Germany. Mrs. Cicha went through real hell; she was in camps. It is a miracle that that after all the tortures she is still alive. She survived owing to our evidence that we terrorized her and therefore she had to shelter us though she wanted to inform the Gestapo about our hide. The Germans sent her to Ravensbr_ck. Until now her health is destroyed.
She fully deserves the right to be recognized as Righteous among the Nations in order to reward her for her noble bearing during the war, for saving the Jews while risking her life owing to which she experienced so much.
Regina Biesam
Nof-Yam 12

Letter of unknown person to Mrs. Wachsman notifying her on Mrs. Cicha’s death
Dear Mrs. Sala,
I take the liberty to address to you like this because through all the talks with Mrs. Cicha you became very dear to me and I feel as if you were Mrs. Cicha’s daughter as I heard so many warm words about you during her last moments. I must inform you about Mrs. Cicha’s death. She passed away on October 24, 1980. We lost a woman with great heart whom we loved very much and who was and still is very close to our hearts and left in them wound that do not close up. Until now I cannot stop crying because I lost a great friend, a life guide, a very intimate person. I read to Mrs. Cicha your letters; you guessed right that she was unwell. Right after your leave she was unwell, she caught cold and kept on suffering from flu. I took Mrs. Cicha to the best private physician; it was differently – sometimes better, sometimes worse. We fully supported her. She would come for breakfast and stay till the evening or run the house. Later on, she complained on pains in her left side. The doctor said it was intestinal. Meanwhile, arose sciatica, acute joint pain after those camps that she went through. Because of the pain, she couldn’t lie, sit or walk. To diminish her sufferings, we massaged her with ointments, etc. Later on, her condition deteriorated. I brought home a surgeon. He said he would try an operation. We prepared blood, taken all necessary examination; it should have been an operation under local anesthesia, but in the last minute Mrs. Cicha changed her mind. Her health condition deteriorated, she was unable to get up, had problems with the stool and suffered from acute pain. I made her analgesic injections twice a day and pills in the meanwhile. Then came problems with swallowing, she ate less as after meals she suffered from acute pain and screamed day and night. I was doing my best trying to save Mrs. Cicha. I lived through her disease and her death as I could. It was so terrible that I didn’t look a human being, until now I cannot get over. I became very attached and couldn’t think quietly about what had to come. Her death was horrible because she died of hunger, she didn’t eat for 10 days, and she couldn’t swallow liquids. She lost consciousness half an hour before she died. She seized me by my neck when I leaned over her; she loved me very much and kept me by my hand. I didn’t leave Mrs. Cicha for a while. I took a leave and took care of her with my mother. Mrs. Cicha felt uneasy that I had to do some unpleasant things, but I told her she should feel Mrs. Sala doing that because if she were not so far away she would have done that. But life is a very cruel thing - one must live on. We buried her body in her family vault. We put your photograph into the coffin as she wanted that. We are missing her and wish she had lived at least one more year, even sick. We visit her in the cemetery; she’s not alone as she wished. She will always be close to all of us, to those whom she loved so much.
If I missed something in this letter, please let me know, I will write you gladly.
Thank you very much for your holiday regards.
[signature illegible. – MSh.]

Letter of Halina Furgali_ska from Sosnowiec to Mrs. Wachsman mailed also after Mrs. Cicha’s death, probably 1980 or early 1981
Dear Mrs. Sala,
Please receive my hearty thanks for your kindness about which I learned from Mrs. Cicha. I didn’t answer your letter as I was waiting for the parcel to arrive in order to acknowledge its receipt. I don’t know how I will repay you. The parcel moved me so much that I cried.
I want you to know that Mrs. Rózia was also very dear to Mrs. Cicha. I brought Mrs. Cicha to the bank to draw the bonds [in communist countries, there were special bills called bonds, given instead of Western currency deposited or transferred to bank accounts that could be cashed in special shops as Western currency was not permitted. – MSh], she spoke highly also about Mrs. Rózia’s kind heart and her help. She loved you much. I didn’t write you as I didn’t know about your mutual attachment; she asked me not write you before her death “because those my children may cry and will be crying for a long time when I am away”: she didn’t let me write letters as she was badly ill. Until her last days she couldn’t stop enjoying your visit here. She was worried about your health as then it was quite cold. I love Mrs. Cicha, I go to the cemetery, her tomb is always clean, I bring flowers, candles, and when I feel uncomfortable I go to the cemetery and cry there and return as if I am another person, quiet, Mrs. Cicha as if by God’s will brings me will-power. I believe we will meet some time if I am noble as Mrs. Cicha.
I visited the cathedral in Cz_stochowa [the most famous and adored among the Poles, the Jasnogórski Cathedral of Our Holy Virgin in Cz_stochowa. – MSh.], I paid for the mass for Mrs. Cicha’s soul. Her property was divided between her intimate friends. I received her house, we are busy with connecting water, we should do something with it, and I received some clothes too. If you or Mrs. Rózia come on a visit here, please consider this house as yours too, I will receive you heartily, to my best, modestly but warmly. Dear Mrs. Sala, you write wonderful Polish without mistakes, and each your letter is a holiday for me. Our Lord will reward you and Mrs. Rózia hundred times for the kindness of your hearts. Thank you for the dresses from Mrs. Cicha, I think they were yours.
I wish you and all your family all the happiness in the world. God bless you!

[P.S.] I read my letter once more and understood that I cannot write well and express all my feelings, but I think you would understand me.