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All That Was: Chapter Sixteen - Tribulations And Salvation

…At long last, about the time of the Ghetto Uprising, the terrible truth about my family was revealed. Somewhere near Lublin, most likely at the notorious Majdanek concentration camp, both my father and my brother, together with many other Jews, were ordered to dig their own graves, before being shot into them.

The exact date of this particular act of barbarism remains unknown to me, but the grisly details crystallized in my mind when, in August 1997, I inspected the well-preserved extermination camp. It would be hard to imagine a more evil, mind-shattering sight on earth. We both felt ill when we finally left this lasting monument to Nazi bestiality….

Lusia Przybyszewicz’s heart-rending account of Nazi atrocities in Poland during World War Two will stay in the mind for ever. Lusia’s survival, and her ability to write about those tragic times so vividly and memorably, is a glorious triumph of good over great evil.

Lusia’s brilliant book All That Was is available from her at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

For a while, our precarious existence in the autumn of 1942 on both sides of the wall continued more or less unchanged. With the approach of winter and with the days again growing shorter, on the Polish side fuel for heating and basic foods were disappearing from sight at an alarming rate.

The factory underwent several phases of 'restructuring', to use our modern jargon. On each occasion this left us with fewer people and more work. The German medical teams conducted regular medical examinations. These examinations ensured that no contagious diseases were tolerated at the workplace. They detected a few cases of TB amongst us. Those who were infected were sent away. Where they went no one could tell.

Once during one such a check up a German doctor complimented me on the healthy state of my lungs. This compliment gave me a sense of great satisfaction especially since my diet at the time was not, shall we say, the best.

At home I tried to eat as little as possible. I was conscious that supplies were stretched to the limit. Besides, I didn't see much of my 'family'. I left and returned in the dark. And most of the time I was dead tired.

At work for lunch we were given a watery soup with bits of gristle floating on the surface.

My working clothes were becoming very dilapidated. It was practically impossible to fathom how they might be replaced.

One morning, as I huddled in the early morning cold in the open-packed section of the tram ('peron' in Polish), the worn out elastic in my undies finally gave, and they dropped to the ground. Luckily, I stood squeezed amongst many semi-comatose early risers, so I was able to step out of my knickers unobserved, and put them in my pocket. Upon arriving at the factory, I managed to secure them with a safety pin.

Meanwhile in the Ghetto conditions were worsening all the time. By then the 60,000 odd Jews left alive after the 8th September had largely learned what to expect. Denunciations and resulting reprisals became regular occurrences.

Sometime in early November 1942, I believe, some new threats, or maybe a premonition of impending disaster, prompted my father to make arrangements for Bolek to escape to the Polish side. The matter was urgent.

He was to come over in a truck with a regular Jewish labour squad. I was to meet him at an appointed spot and then take him to a prearranged hiding place. I do not have a very clear recollection of the details of this plot, because it was conceived in the Ghetto. For obvious reasons, the information over the phone was cryptic.

With all my heart I wanted the operation to succeed. I relished the thought of protecting my darling little brother and having him near me, but I could not under-estimate the great danger ahead, especially without support from someone I could trust. I was faced with a great dilemma: I dared not share the secret with my factory friends; neither could I break my word which I had given to my benefactors in Bracka Street.

In spite of all of those considerations, saving Bolek's life was paramount in my mind.

With lots of daring, unmatched by my experience, I figured out that I should be able to pull this feat off without anyone's help or knowledge. If I could do that, no one could possibly be hurt.

I have forgotten how I managed to be allowed the day off work. I remember that it was a fine, though pretty cold, morning when I met my brother somewhere in a secluded spot in a quiet street on the Polish side. We were both deeply moved by the encounter. He looked very scared; he was a shadow of his former self in his grey overcoat, breeches, boots, and a peaked cap over his brow.

We didn't have much time to talk. We were both anxious to get him off the streets as soon as possible. He had no papers. We progressed swiftly along the pavement for sometime. Suddenly a youngish Pole in civilian clothes appeared in front of us from nowhere it seemed. He sported a wide grin across his face. I realized at once that the whole manoeuvre was botched.

The fellow came straight to the point. He said the game was up because he knew the truth. Without a handsome bribe he was ready to denounce us to the Germans. He accompanied his threat with a hand movement that suggested the slashing of Bolek's throat.

Mortified as I was, I knew that I had to keep my cool. I had very little money. I gave him my only remaining treasures - Mother's watch and the golden pendant with Father's date of birth. He then became more cooperative, but he still insisted on receiving more money. After a lot of haggling he eventually agreed to help us expedite Bolek back to the Ghetto before finalizing the deal. This he did.

On this occasion my brother's life was spared, but I never saw him again. All of his and Father's hopes were dashed forever.

As for me, the repercussions of this incident were immeasurably severe. The Pole escorted me home. He threatened Jerzy with denunciations should he refuse to make further payment. The Pole received his reward, but I was immediately shown the door - and deservedly so I feel.

Soon after, I left my Bracka Street refuge with a small bundle of belongings. I found myself in the street in the late afternoon with nowhere to go. Even if I were to summon up enough courage to seek help from anyone, it was too late in the day to do so because of the curfew.

That night I ended up nestling in the darkest corner of a staircase landing in a block of flats in the neighbourhood. The events of the day kept me awake most of the night. Bereft of any better solution, the following nights I tried the same trick at different addresses.

In pre-war Warsaw many buildings had squat toilets on the landings. Dents on each side of the toilet bowl assisted one to maintain the awkward stooping position by immobilizing one's feet. After flushing the toilet you had to run out the door to avoid being swamped by the overflow. In spite of all those drawbacks, these toilets seemed a godsend in my present predicament, as I had to rely on them right through my staircase endurance test.

In the early mornings, in the November darkness, I left for work as usual. Upon reaching the factory I would try to spruce as best I could.

One night, at one of my hiding locations, I was spotted on my perch by a kindly cabinetmaker who happened to be working in his small workshop throughout the nights right on that very floor. He desperately needed to earn an extra quid. He did not ask me many questions; most likely he guessed the answers anyway. He offered me a shelter for a short while, warning me that the German Police carried out random inspections in the residential areas at any hour.

I spent a couple of nights at the back of his 'atelier', on what in better days used to be a couch. Apart from the monotonous clatter of his tools, peace reigned. Moreover this temporary lodging allowed me access to a wash basin, so that I could actually have a wash before setting off to work in the morning.

On my last night there my saviour's warnings became fully justified! All of a sudden in the middle of the night members of the German Police entered the building. Prior to their reaching our floor, the decent tradesman helped me to slip into his large overcoat hanging from a coat hanger attached to a hook on the wall. He put a wooden box under my feet. I was totally obscured by the length of the coat. On the same hook he placed an old hat which covered my face.

This set-up must have looked like something out of the movies, but it worked. The officers burst noisily into the room. I could only hear them; I could not see them. They asked some questions, had a good look at the workshop and left. By the time the tradesman released me from my Jesus-like posture, I was still paralysed with fear. He was also pretty shaken by the experience.

I thanked him sincerely for his kindly assistance. The next day I set out in search of new pastures.

I was by then in a sort of contact with my schoolmate, Hania Sz. From the beginning of the occupation she had a new identity. She had been living on the Polish side with a boyfriend who also held false papers.

Hania's widowed mother, a cosmetician whom I also knew from Lodz, was renting an upper floor apartment somewhere in Marszalkowska Street. She had converted it into a salon where she attended to her clients.

Upon learning about my problems, without hesitation, she gave me the front door key to the place. I was permitted to sleep there at night on the 'facial' couch. For security reasons, before I entered the premises I had to make sure the cleaners had left. They usually completed their duties in the early evening. For the few days I hid there, I held vigil on the staircase after my day's work at the factory. I had to be sure that it was safe to enter my new shelter.

As the salon operated only in the daytime, the windows had no curtains or blinds; consequently, I could not turn on the lights. From my leather-upholstered couch with no bedding, I was treated to a view of Warsaw by night. As I looked to each side, I saw myself many times over in the mirrors. There was a tiny metho stovette on a suspended shelf for heating the facial wax. I used it to warm up some tinned soup. Before going to work in the mornings I washed as best I could at the sink just as if nothing was the matter.

Eventually, towards Christmas 1942 one of the girls employed at the factory offered me lodgings at her place. Naturally, she was ignorant of the full truth.

Long before that happened, at work I was shifted upstairs to the soldering department, located in the unfinished section of the factory. I was seated amongst a dozen young people around a circular table standing in the middle of a bare room. The floor at that stage of construction was made up only of rafters. We had to move very gingerly indeed to avoid falling through the floor.

Underneath the table top, each person had access to a power point into which was plugged the soldering iron. A pile of metal strips and a box of counter-shaped metal pieces were placed in middle of the table. They had to be soldered into battery tubes. I soon mastered the procedure of dipping the soldering iron into the acid provided and producing the tube in two rapid moves - one to seal the length of it, the other to fit in the round bottom. The top of each tube was left open. In that state they were then dispatched to the Assembly Department downstairs for final processing.

To stay in the job I was expected to produce a minimum of 1000 tubes a day. The edges of the metal strips were very sharp. To make the connection one had to insert one's finger into the tube each time to seal the length of the tube, exposing it meanwhile to the acid. Needless to say, most of us suffered cut, infected fingers as an unwelcome part of the deal.
I remember that I reached a record of 1500 tubes a day.

The cold was intense in the unheated workroom with the missing floor. To warm up on the freezing winter mornings, someone usually supplied a large bottle of home-brewed vodka. We passed it around the table at about 7a.m. Before soldering even started in earnest, each of us would take a long swig from the same bottle.

I shared the Christmas Day 1942 festivities with my factory friends. I particularly remember wearing Bela's astrakhan fur coat and feeling very self conscious about it. It certainly kept me snug in the bitter cold, but more importantly it concealed my wardrobe, which by that time had become pathetically inadequate.

Also on that occasion I heard the German carol 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,' known as 'Silent Night,' for the first time in my life. I found the tune beautiful in the midst of the winter gloom.

The girl with whom I was currently staying was basically decent but rather coarse. She socialized with uncouth, loudmouthed youth. Even in those perilous times fitting into that particular environment was a very major task for me. My worst experience at her flat was the New Year's Eve 1942/43 celebration. At home we used to call it 'St. Silvester Night'.

In spite of the German order cancelling all celebrations out of respect for their comrades fallen at the Eastern Front, my host's drunken mates carried on regardless. Nudged by the company and most likely induced to do so by too much vodka, I actively participated in this boisterous welcome to the year 1943. I remember dancing on the table at some stage. It was a miracle that the dreadful din created by the general pandemonium did not alert the police.

Almost to the end of 1942 I was able to communicate occasionally with my father, who was still in the Ghetto. The dismal failure of our common attempt to rescue Bolek weighed heavily upon him. He could not say much, but his silence was meaningful enough. He sounded dejected and very tired. I told him nothing of my tribulations; there was no point. He told me that my brother was spending his days selling boxes of matches at street corners.

At the beginning of January 1943 Lucjan Kober was still living with his wife and daughter in the modern suburb of Zoliborz. I had kept him informed of my ever-worsening crisis. Quite unexpectedly, he secured a new abode for me. This was a triumph!

Genia, my new host, lived in the vicinity in a well appointed one bedroom flat on the mezzanine floor of a small block. The sun-drenched living area faced an avenue not unlike our Al. Kosciuszki flat in Lodz. A wide pathway with garden beds in the centre separated the paved roadways on each side. The aligned footpaths remained as yet unpaved.

Genia had the beauty of a typical blond, blue-eyed Slav. This well-spoken and gentle young woman was probably in her late twenties. She welcomed me with open arms as if she had known me all her life. With the recent events still fresh in my mind, I felt at once overcome by her warmth and kindness.

In the midst of so much evil around me it was amazing to find a person like Genia. She was earnestly absorbed in her desire to help people like me. She did not seem to give a damn about the consequences. She was a manicurist by day; by night, she practised the oldest profession. She was very discriminating in her choice of clients. They were very few -mostly relatively well-to-do Polish countrymen. For her services they paid her with primary produce instead of money.

I remember those couple of months with Genia as my happiest (relatively speaking, of course) spent amongst the Aryans. She gave up her nice bedroom to me and moved out to the kitchen, where she kept a double bed. I also had the use of her modern facilities and was treated to some wonderful food; eggs, chicken, butter, cheese, milk, and cream were all plentiful. It seemed unbelievable. I went to work each morning neat and tidy on a full stomach. At the day's end, I returned to a warm, sensitive, compassionate human being. Until the last memorable night of my stay with her I did not set eyes on any of her clients.

Regrettably, a paradise like that could not last forever. After several weeks, it seems, Genia welcomed two sisters to her flat. They were about my age, and they had just escaped from the Ghetto under very dramatic circumstances. Prolonged starvation brought their Semitic features into greater prominence. Their stop at Genia's was to be only very temporary. Their arrival on a late afternoon in January 1943 coincided with a new 'Aktion' staged by the Nazis about that time, further decimating the barely-surviving emaciated Ghetto population.

Genia fed them well and then left the three of us to talk. We stayed up late, mainly to quench the girls' irresistible urge to unburden themselves to someone at long last. They told me their innermost thoughts and secrets. I do not remember their stories, but the fact that they did talk to me reminds me of the many instances when I too felt compelled to open up my heart to perfect strangers. Under the cloak of anonymity, as it were, in certain circumstances, such one-sided communication acts like a safety valve. It helps to release the long-accumulated pain.

On that fateful night, in order to give the sisters maximum comfort, I vacated my bedroom and shared the double bed with Genia in her kitchen. I lay on my side, facing the wall, while she received her client behind my back. For me,- it certainly was a new experience. Thankfully, it happened only once. I tried hard to think of all the nice food that would result from it.

None of us had the slightest inkling of how profoundly the events of the following morning would affect us all. It must have been a Sunday, because I recall not going to work. The four of us had a leisurely breakfast in the kitchen.

I was back in my room when I heard a commotion in the street below. This was unusual at that hour. Through the window, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted three or four SS men marching into the building. Almost immediately there followed a wild banging on our front door and the familiar order: 'Aufmachen!' (open up).

I instantly knew that there was not a second to lose. I jumped out of my window onto the soft sandy footpath down below. I was a little dazed, but unhurt. I picked myself up and ran across the roadway on to the garden path where shrubbery offered me some protection. From there I could see the two sisters being escorted away from the building. That brief moment of freedom cost them their lives.

There were a few onlookers to witness the condemned girls' exit. Who denounced them, we shall never know. I suspect, after my experience with Bolek, that they were Polish 'szmalcowniks' with connections to the Ghetto.

I was still standing amongst the flowerbeds, utterly stunned by the merciless swiftness of this operation, when Lucjan Kober joined me. I forget now why he came at that particular time. Maybe he learned about the tragedy by the word of mouth. Or perhaps we had one of our meetings to review my general situation as we sometimes did. I remember feeling deeply grateful for his presence and sobbing on his shoulder.

Genia apparently got off lightly after maintaining to the Nazis that she did not know the girls were Jewish. She was absolutely devastated!

There was unfortunately never much time to cry. At once, Lucjan began to plan new strategies.

In the circumstances we considered it most unwise that I should re-enter her flat. My belongings were bundled together yet again, and Genia delivered them to my new address at her brother's place.

He was a widower, sick and destitute, who lived together with his little girl in an attic in the poorest part of town. It amounted to one long and narrow, sparsely furnished room. There were three single beds and a small kitchenette. My bed stood nearest to the door, behind his, on the left. The girl's bed was opposite to her father's, on the right, closer to the skylight. We had to share the bathroom facilities on the landing with other lodgers. The tiny window provided a frame to the greyness of the surrounding dwellings.

I believe both the man and the child suffered from tuberculosis. Their coughing hardly ever ceased during the nights. They spoke little and did not go out much. The amount of available food was negligible and the air stale.

The familiar sensation of hunger was with me again. I began to smoke in earnest. I learned to pick up cigarette buts in the streets and roll the tobacco thus retrieved in bits of old newspaper. It seemed to help somewhat. Moreover, the tragedy that had unfolded at Genia's undermined my confidence to such an extent that, in consultation with Lucjan Kober, I decided that it would be safer to change jobs, at least for a while.

I found a relaxing, part-time employment in a toy factory. It naturally generated considerably less income, but it helped me to restore a little peace of mind. There were very few employees. We all sat at a long table in a sunny workshop and engaged in painting small wooden toys. Lines traced on the toys indicated which colour to apply to which part. Eventually even I, with a small brush, was able to execute 'works of art'. It was a wonderfully calming pursuit, most soothing to my shattered nerves. Since I did not stay there very long, I don't remember anything about my fellow workers. The boss was a very likeable young fellow, but he made very little money from his enterprise.

About that time, I believe, I made contact with my old pals from Lodz, first with Lola D. and later on, with Hania B.

Lola was living with her German mother in Lvov, which had been captured from the Russians by the Nazis. After she received my news she made an unsuccessful attempt to make me join them there. I think that the problem of the issue of a ration card for me began to arouse too much suspicion with the authorities.

At some stage Hania made her way to Warsaw from Lvov to where the Russian occupation originally led her. She became separated from her parents. They stayed on the Russian side. Hania lived in an apartment with a Polish married couple as their daughter. They had been friends from before the war.

As Hania considered herself a Catholic already before the war, she managed to secure a position of assistant in a German laboratory doing research into typhus. She had to submit her forearm daily, to have it deliberately bitten by lice crawling in specially fitted cages. She was well paid for this awful job. We met occasionally to exchange news. She would sometimes give me some food or maybe an old garment and over time sent me handmade sandals to Germany.

By early March I had practically no news from the Ghetto. As far as I knew, my father and brother were still there. The uncertainty was devastating. All contacts were drying up; as we now know, the so-called 'final solution' was very near indeed. I felt totally helpless.

One day while I was walking in the street, a young man accosted me. He was unknown to me and yet he knew who I was. Very politely in cultured Polish he explained that he heard from his friends about the incident with Bolek. He expressed his outrage and added that he wished to do anything he could to make it up to me.

I was instantly on my guard, very unsure of this latest 'szmalcownik.' He discerned at once how very uneasy he made me feel. He continued to reassure me about his principles and best intentions. However suspicious I felt, I still could not bring myself to brush him off because I was unsure of the consequences of such an action.

He tried to dispel my obvious fears. He invited me for a snack to a nearby cafe where we had a little chat over ersatz coffee. Although he did not come straight out with it, it soon became obvious that he had been following my movements for sometime.

In my mind I puzzled over his intentions. I was aware that he could have denounced me on the spot had he wished to do so. The question in my mind of what was his real goal remained unanswered. Meanwhile he promised to obtain news about my family in the Ghetto through his special connections. In my predicament, it seemed sheer madness to reject such an offer, especially as there always was a remote possibility he was actually telling the truth. There can be no doubt that this logical assessment tipped the scale in his favour. Besides, in those times living dangerously had anyway become part and parcel of my daily existence.

Reluctantly, I agreed to see him again. We met a few times after that first encounter. He most definitely did deliver to and bring news about (not from!) my father, who in early March 1943, against all the odds, still continued working as a cutter. The mysterious Pole also confirmed (ignoring the fact that I already knew it) the information about my brother selling matches. I was impressed.

In my perpetually famished state his frequent invitations to dinner, however modest, also became a definite plus. I gradually acquired a habit of counting on help from this fellow, without asking myself often enough whether he in fact had any ulterior motive for his caring attitude.

One day in late March 1943 my Pole brought the dreaded news of the sudden disappearance from the Ghetto of both my father and Bolek. I forged many conjectures about their whereabouts, each one more horrific than the other.

Many Warsaw Ghetto survivors who until then had been lucky enough to have escaped the daily atrocities were rounded up and transported to the infamous Majdanek camp, situated outside of the city of Lublin on the river Bug. There, extensive German tailoring workshops were already in operation since November 1942.

Following up this lead, my 'guardian angel' undertook the daunting task of finding out what had happened to my remaining family.

Meanwhile we reached April 1943, the month of the now famous uprising in the Ghetto. There were 40,000 Jews left alive at that time. On 19th of April in perfect spring weather 220 heroic, desperate, starving, poorly-equipped Jewish fighters took on the Nazis. The Jews held the Nazis at bay for twenty days. By the 10th of May their death-defying struggle was over.

Those events were very accurately recorded by the few who lived on to tell the tale. To me the memory of their Gehenna which ultimately led to their annihilation is the most moving episode of life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto. From the Christian side of Warsaw my recollections of this mighty battle remain exceptionally clear.

For the duration of the fighting, throughout the city there was an overpowering smell of burning flesh in the air. Clouds of smoke rose from within the Ghetto walls and blackened the sky.

To compound the situation, the dreaded news reached me that Mrs Kober was terminally ill. My natural impulse to be with Lucjan and Alusia at such a harrowing time prompted me for the first and only time to catch a tram to Zoliborz where the family lived. Normally I avoided public transport for fear of unnecessary exposure.

I travelled in the early afternoon. The carriage was almost empty except for two women sitting opposite me. At a certain point the track skirted the Ghetto wall. I could see through the smoke the body of a man hanging over a balcony railing; his rifle was still in his hand. Almost simultaneously, I overheard the exchanges of my fellow passengers. 'Serves them right to fry like that, bloody Jews,’ said one, and the other nodded her head in agreement.

Mrs Kober, whose Jewish descent passed unobserved by the Nazis thanks to her husband's untiring efforts, was now dying of stomach cancer.

In those times for someone to be allowed to die from an illness in their own bed was considered to be a rare privilege. Yet the sight of that motionless, small, wrinkled human skeleton lying uncovered in the centre of the double bed was unbearable. She was still breathing, but Lucjan looked on helpless. Alusia, who studied Medicine a little at the clandestine university, was making vain attempts to administer some inadequate medication to her mother. The only help I could offer was my moral support. Both husband and daughter were overcome with grief.

That was the last time I saw any of them.

My stay with Genia’s brother and his daughter was nearing the end. On top of all his other worries he did not exactly like to have me there. As for me, the constant anxiety about being caught combined with a new anxiety about contracting TB in the poorly ventilated, crammed quarters.

For the time being I could see no way out. I plodded on as best I could. I had given much thought to leaving Warsaw altogether, but I resolved that I would make no move whatever until I learned the fate of the two remaining members of my family, forever the source of my deepest distress.

It was then, when I was at my most vulnerable, that the friendly Pole looked to be my only hope. I was in regular contact with him, awaiting at any moment some news of my father and Bolek.

One day, probably in very early April 1943, my 'friend' announced unexpectedly over lunch that he obtained permission from a mate of his for me to move into his self-contained room with kitchenette. His friend was away from Warsaw for a few months. It was well situated, in a square, not far from where we were having our meal at the time.

For so long I had been deprived of any privacy or comfort! This offer sounded like a distant dream come true. When he suggested that we should look the place over at once, I accepted his proposal with gratitude. In my enthusiasm at the very prospect of having a nook all to myself, I failed to perceive any potential risks. I overlooked also the fact that up until then we had met only in public places.

I do realize now, in my very mature age, how trite this admission must sound in today's world. However it is true that at the time I had no misgivings whatsoever about the Pole's motives. I confidently followed him into the building.

The little flat looked very cosy; it filled me with delight. It took a while before my companion, full of apologies, made himself clearly understood. He said that his friend had given him the use of this place only for the day to enable him at long last to make love to me - a desire he could no longer control.

I was astounded to hear this. Nothing whatever in his conduct over the past months gave me any inclination as to what his real objective might be! I was still too naive to comprehend that very few things in this world are given for free. He went on to say how he hated to deceive me and that he was still committed to discover my family's whereabouts. I knew then that I was trapped, while still dependent upon his good will. There was no way out.

Thinking back now, I presume I should have considered myself lucky.

Unlike many Jewish women of that era, I had lost only my virginity; my life was spared.

As my daughter is fond of saying, 'On the scale of things', it was probably a rather insignificant happening; yet to me his deception remains unforgivable.

This incident did not create a precedent. We met a few more times. At long last, about the time of the Ghetto Uprising, through his contacts the terrible truth about my family was revealed. Somewhere near Lublin, most likely at the notorious Majdanek concentration camp, both my father and my brother together with many other Jews were ordered to dig their own graves, before being shot into them.

The exact date of this particular act of barbarism remains unknown to me, but the grisly details crystallized in my mind when, in August 1997, together with Claude I inspected the well-preserved extermination camp. It would be hard to imagine a more evil, mind-shattering sight on earth. We both felt ill when we finally left this lasting monument to Nazi bestiality.

I know now that my father and Bolek were brought to Majdanek in a convoy from the Warsaw Ghetto sometime in April 43.

There stands a tall dome-like structure at the back of the compound. It is the Mausoleum. By climbing a flight of stairs you are faced by a pyramid of the victims' ashes on display underneath it.

After my initial horror had abated, I just stood before it, wondering...

How does one deal with such a soul-destroying dilemma? I still do not quite know how to do so - not even now, over sixty years on.

This latest news sapped me of all energy and willpower. I felt totally spent, drained in every way. All I wanted to do was to run away as far as I could. To leave Warsaw, with the Pole behind, became a real obsession. I searched my tired brain to find a solution. First, I thought, I required instant help to find a new, temporary shelter. Then I needed the means to escape altogether.

The only person who came to mind at the end of that traumatic April 1943 was Halina N., my factory friend. Our friendship had continued even throughout the time of my absence from work. I decided to take the plunge by revealing to her the truth of my hopeless plight.

The event, which followed in quick succession, did not allow me the luxury of grieving in peace. She heard me out while we both took a walk in the street. She expressed only amazement that I had waited so long to tell her the truth. She suspected all along that I had problems, but she preferred not to intrude. Practical and thoughtful as ever, she immediately embarked upon finding ways and means.

To find a new abode for me appeared to be the most pressing matter. She came up trumps in a most imaginative way, resolving at the same time her own particular problems.

As I mentioned earlier on, she had a 'relationship' (as it is now called) with Boguslav. As with most lovers of that period, they had trouble finding suitable lodgings for their nightly activities. Besides that principal setback, Halina had another difficult task, that of allaying her widowed father's suspicions about her love life.

To protect her secret, she was obliged to leave Boguslav's place very early each morning so that she could find herself in her own bed before her father returned to the flat they shared. He worked as a nightshift manager at an elegant German nightclub in Al. Jerozolimskie. She hated the hurry that this exercise involved, and she eagerly searched for other options. To her, I became a godsend.

She invited me to her place that evening so that we could prepare a plan of action. The layout of her flat was simple. From the front door a small corridor opened onto the kitchen and the toilet complex on the right. Two bedrooms lay straight ahead. They were joined by a doorway. Halina occupied the first one, and the second one was her father's realm.
In the early hours of each morning, on his return from work, he paused for a moment in the darkness by his daughter's bed. Before turning in he patted her head, kissed her lightly on the cheek and tucked her in. Later on, when Halina got up to prepare for work, he was still in bed.

Thus, it came about, that for the duration of my last days in Poland, I agreed with terrible misgivings to 'stand in' for Halina in this whole charade. In so doing my mind became inadvertently focussed on that trivia and away from the traged; it probably helped to keep me sane.

We rehearsed every move she made in the kitchen each morning several times. This included opening and shutting of cupboard doors, flushing the toilet at the precise time, boiling the kettle, making the tea, etc. Not even the slightest detail was left to chance.

We agreed that in the morning she would be back at the exact moment of her departure for work. This involved slamming the front door, which I had left ajar, in order to say 'goodbye, Father', to which he sometimes replied sleepily. My cooperation allowed her at least another couple of hours with Boguslav.

I performed my duties without a hitch for about a week.

Throughout that episode, I recall being put out by the enormous pile of dirty plates in the kitchen sink. Halina washed up only very occasionally - when all the utensils were used up.

Naturally, for me the most unnerving bit was lying in bed the right way, which would enable the father to kiss my cheek, pat my head, and tuck me in. His arrival, accompanied by the noise of his keys turning in the lock, never failed to wake me up in time.

Fortunately, Halina and I were about the same size and had the same colour hair. In the darkness, against all the odds, I must have appeared to him to be his daughter.

Our timing was perfect. She arrived every morning just when I was also ready to leave. We succeeded in never revealing to her father that there were two of us. I never met him, nor did I ever see his face.

By early May 1943 in my inexorable struggle for survival I was on my way to the Third Reich.


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