Ada Boddy, born in 1935
Fear has remained…
My sister, Renia Szymańska, has written about our life during the occupation. Her memoir was published in the second volume of Children of the Holocaust Speak. Renia wants me to complete her account with what I remember. But I don’t remember much…
We’re standing, our mama Genia, Renia, and me, at the edge of the town of Prużany, among other women and children waiting for the men who were running from Hajnówka (we had been forced out of Hajnówka to the ghetto in Prużany, the women and children were brought on trucks). Wailing all around. The men, one by one, are dragging their feet. Crushed, tired. Only a few arrived. The rest were murdered on the twenty-kilometer route. Those falling down from exhaustion were shot by the Germans and quickly buried by those who were still standing. Our father is not among the men who came back. Mama cries inconsolably, I pee my pants, Renia takes them off and comforts me.
After fleeing the ghetto, Mama leaves me and Renia in Narew (where we were hiding) and goes to another town or village to steal a crucifix and an icon from a church where no one knows her. She wants to put them in the house as proof that we are Catholic. She steals them and comes home after dusk. Renia and I, upset about her absence, are crying. Mama has a gray face, she trembles in fear. It’s also separation fear. Only the three of us have survived from our large family.
This fear continues and resurfaces in various moments, for example, when she works for the Germans as a cook. She steals a piece of sausage, hides it under her coat and brings it home. She gives it to us and tells us to eat it quickly. She sits down on the bed and trembles in fear. They could have shot her for stealing… The same fear makes her find hydrogen peroxide and gradually bleach Renia’s hair. The little girl, my sister, suddenly becomes a blonde.
Suddenly, for several days (maybe shorter, maybe longer, I can’t remember) I am separated from Mama and Renia. Renia breaks her arm and Mama takes her to a hospital in Białystok. Fear, fear. I’m at some woman’s who is supposed to take care of me during that time but she makes me rock her child in a completely dark room. I pinch this child to make it cry and it does. I can leave the dark but then I get spanked. Mama and Renia are back. We are standing behind a cottage, Mama is holding us by the hands and tells us to look up at the stars and ask all the dead to let us survive.
We survived. The Russians liberated us in Narew. They came on horses, singing “Tiomnaja nocz” We aren’t afraid anymore, said Mama. But it wasn’t true. Fear has remained forever. After the war, in Brześć, Mama baked bread and we sold it in the market. Little girls doing illegal trade—fear again.
We were going back to Poland. Six days from Brześć to Łódź on a wagon with cows on one side. What joy, the train stopped and Mama bought me blueberries for my birthday from a babushka on the platform. It was June 22. In Łódź our Jewish friends told Mama: “It’s better not to admit you’re Jewish.” It was the end of the war but fear remained.