Barbara Góra, born in 1932
Sind dort Juden?
I was born as Irena Hochberg in Warsaw into an assimilated family, not religious, but not cutting itself off from its Jewish roots or relatives who, on my mother’s side, were more or less Orthodox Jews. However, I knew neither Jewish customs nor the Yiddish language. My father, Wiktor Hochberg, was a self-employed electrotechnician, and his friends and acquaintances were both Poles and Jews. We lived in the center of the city at 18 Żurawia Street. Before the war, I was able to complete the first grade of elementary school located on the Third of May Avenue where I was picked on because I was the only Jewish girl in the entire school. However, in our apartment building, Poles and Jews lived in harmony, and during the time of the war, all the children played together in the courtyard.
In 1940, when the Germans created the ghetto, my father managed to exchange apartments, and we moved to 38 Pawia Street (across from Pawiak Prison). Before that, however, I spent a few weeks at the home of Mother’s stepbrother where, for the first time, I saw a traditional Jewish home.
Located in our apartment building was a dry cleaners called Opus where my father was working at the time. We tried to live normally. I must have studied very intensively at home, because even before reaching the age of ten I had covered five grades of elementary school.
Still in 1941, I twice attended performances in the orphanage of Janusz Korczak, where my older sister worked as a volunteer for a certain period of time (in the office). Also, for the first time in my life, I attended a symphonic concert at Femina Theater. But in 1942, I was already working at a milling machine in an illegal workshop established by my father and a colleague (we were manufacturing plugs there for electrical equipment which were then smuggled over to the Aryan side). Or, I sat in a hiding place made in someone else’s alcove into which one entered through a wardrobe. The dry cleaners was converted to a “shop” in which furs taken from Jews were unstitched and washed. My father and my sister worked there.
When in July 1947, SS burst into our building during an “action”, I was not in my hiding place. We were alerted by the shouts of the caretaker of our building. Mother and I and other tenants ran to the attic where the furs were stored. We covered ourselves with these furs and lay there. It was hot. We were in luck. When the SS men rushed into the attic and a voice boomed, “Sind dort Juden?” (Are there any Jews here?), not a single child cried out.
In the courtyard, they were slaughtering women workers from the workshop, but my sister managed to survive, and my father had somebody call him to attend to the boiler which allegedly was about to explode. We heard someone call out his name, and then there was a shot. They had killed our sick neighbor who was lying in bed.
After these events, my father asked me whether I wanted to leave the ghetto. I agreed to do so. On August 17, 1942, a friend of my father (whom he had met already during the war), Mr. Kazimierz Krauze, who worked in Opus, escorted me out of the ghetto. The policeman was bribed and turned his back on us when we walked out past the guard post.
For a time, I was in the apartment of Mr. Krauze on Miedziana Street, but I could not stay there for long because it was too close to the ghetto. Then, I was taken in by Wanda and Bolesław Dzierżanowski, who lived on the corner of Waleczna and Francuska Streets in the Saska Kępa district. (Mrs. Dzierżanowska was a secretary in a firm managed by our neighbor from Żurawia Street, attorney Jan Szmurło.)
In the apartment next door lived a Jewish woman, a permanent resident of the building who had not moved to the ghetto (she was the wife of a Pole). Therefore, I was taken away to Góra Kalwaria, to a cousin of Mr. Szmurło. After a month, perhaps, I returned to Warsaw. For some time, I was at the home of Mr. Szmurło’s father, Professor Jan Szmurło (a laryngologist) on Chopin Street, then at the home of some ladies (very briefly) somewhere on Copernicus Street.
Finally, I stayed with a real German woman, Mrs. Zucker, whose husband was a Jew and in hiding, showing up at home (somewhere in the center of the city) only occasionally in the evening. There, I felt as if at home. However, one day the Gestapo came and took Mrs. Zucker and her daughter who lived in the same building with her husband. Then, they were detained for four months in Pawiak Prison because Mrs. Zucker refused to sign the Reichsliste. Her son-in-law, Mr. Marian Zarębiński, then escorted me back again to Professor Szmurło’s.
Reichsliste – list of German citizens living in Poland who declared themselves loyal to Germany rather than to Poland.
In the meanwhile, my sister, my father, and my mother, one by one, left the ghetto. They were all hiding separately at different addresses. Perhaps at the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943, my father found me a permanent place to stay in the Grochów district at the home of a former Polish policeman who later became a Treuhänder at the Opus cleaners. Father had met him during his stay in the ghetto. This man had been dismissed from his job for drinking and was unemployed. The family was supported by his wife, who was engaged in smuggling. She was helped by the oldest of their three sons, who worked in a factory. They needed money badly, which my father paid them. Moreover, my guardian was a person who wanted to get along well with any authority, and having on his conscience collaboration with the Germans, he probably expected that in case they were eventually defeated, he could defend himself based on the fact that he had saved me.
Treuhänder – administrator appointed by the Germans.
I was passing as a niece of his wife. I worked in their house, cleaning, washing dishes, going shopping, mending, and darning socks. At night, I used to travel by train to the Lublin area with my guardian or alone, smuggling provisions and also shoe soles or underwear, stolen from factories doing work for the German Army. In 1943, we lived for several months in the village Wojciechów outside Lublin. There, I sold tobacco to peasants, and I helped the son of my guardian, at night, to illegally distill liquor. For a while, I was even hired out to some woman as a nursemaid for her eleven-month-old child whom I looked after during her absences. I was undoubtedly taken advantage of. I lifted heavy weights, carried water from the well, and often slept only four hours a night.
My guardians were quite primitive people and treated me in a manner to which I was not accustomed. However, they treated their children the same way. Today, I understand that they risked their lives for me to the same degree as people who treated me well and took no money from my father. Although I had a good appearance and a legitimate birth certificate obtained from an underground cell which operated in the town hall; nonetheless, as it turned out later, a shopkeeper on Omulewska Street where we lived surmised who I was.
In August 1944, I left the people looking after me and moved together with my parents and sister into an apartment on Fundamentowa Street (also in the Grochów district), where my mother had been shut in for over a year. It was there, on September 13 of that year, that liberation arrived for us. Soon, we traveled outside Warsaw because Praga was being shelled by the Germans from the left side of the Vistula. I started attending the sixth grade of elementary school in Ostrów Mazowiecka and then high school in Garwolin.
In the spring of 1946, we returned to Warsaw where I attended the Narcyza Żmichowska High School for one year, next, the Bolesław Limanowski High School (RTPD, i.e., Labor Association of the Friends of Children) in the Żoliborz District. I passed my matriculation in 1951. Then, I studied at the Timiriazjew Agricultural Academy in Moscow in the Agricultural Department. I completed my studies in 1956.
I began my professional work as an assistant at the Institute of Cultivation and Acclimatization of Plants in the village of Stare Olesno in the Opole region of Silesia. After two years, I transferred to the research center of the Physiology of Plant Development of that Institute in Radzików near Błonie, to which I commuted from Warsaw. After 1962, I worked as an editor and translator at the departmental Information Center of the Central Agricultural Library. After 1967, I worked as a book editor in the publishing department of the National Economic Publishing House for Agriculture and Forestry. In 1980, I returned to the Central Agricultural Library in the position of adjunct. I had the responsibility of preparing scientific reviews of international literature on current topics and, independently, I prepared weekly informational bulletins for the top echelon of the agricultural department, drawing on materials from foreign periodicals. I retired in 1988.