Dziunia Estera Tattelbaum vel Tajtelbaum, born in 1935
Writing about Myself for the First Time
As a preface to my recollections, I must emphasize that I am writing them for the first time, that for many years I was unable to speak about any of my wartime experiences, even to those closest to me. I simply could not do it. I first began to talk about my experiences in 1979, in Paris, when I met my aunt (my mother’s sister), who survived Auschwitz. To this day I cannot understand how such a small child, which I was at the time, could remember so many facts and names. Of course, the events and dates have not been entirely preserved in my memory.
I was born in Czortków, in the Tarnopol province, as an only child. My father, Salomon, had two siblings—a brother, Jakub, who just before the outbreak of war had finished medical studies in Vienna, and an older sister, living in nearby Skałat, who had two sons. My mother, Chana-Sura, née Frydman, came from Radom, where before the war lived her two brothers and a sister with their families, as well as her parents.
I lived with my parents and grandparents (Father’s parents) in Czortków at 3 Szewska Street in our own house. Father, together with my grandparents, ran a large shoe store. My mother died a year before the war broke out.
After the Soviet army marched in, in September 1939, my whole family left for Kołomyja, where we were not known, because we were in danger of being deported to Siberia. Father remarried there. It was in Kołomyja that the German invasion and occupation found us.
Siberia – when the Soviets took over the eastern half of Poland, they deported to Siberia those considered “enemies of the people”, which included many owners and operators of businesses.
In February 1942 we were enclosed in a ghetto. In Kołomyja the ghetto was set up relatively late, according to my guardians, because in the beginning, the town was under the jurisdiction of the Hungarian army. I remember that we changed apartments several times during this period, probably because of the shrinking of the ghetto area. Initially, the living conditions in the ghetto were bearable. Later, they gradually got worse; we were tormented by hunger, lice, and diseases, especially typhus. My grandmother perished in the Kołomyja ghetto during one of the first “actions”. My father had a good job, which protected him. His work involved the so-called rags. All the members of my family carried poison with them in case the Germans captured us. Father had poison for me as well. I knew about it, even though no one had told me. I was afraid of it because I very much wanted to live.
Hungarian army – Hungary was allied with Germany, and Hungarian military units were part of the German army.
Rags – working with “rags” often meant the job of gathering up and sorting clothing and belongings left by Jews who had been deported.
One day a Jewish policeman who was taking away elderly people came to our house. My grandfather, quick as lightning, swallowed poison and collapsed. He died before my eyes. I shall never forget that sight.
There were more and more actions, and more and more people were being killed or deported to death camps. One day, the Germans ordered all the ghetto residents to report to the town square. My stepmother and I were concealed in a hiding place in the attic. Father went by himself. The Germans searched the houses. To this day I can hear their shouting and stomping of boots. Nonetheless, they did not find us. Father came back as well. After all these ordeals and the fear I lived through, or perhaps also due to malnutrition, all my hair fell out.
Father attempted to get me out of the ghetto. I remember that once we waited outside the ghetto for someone who was to hide me, but nobody came, and we returned to the ghetto. In the early spring of 1943, the liquidation of the Kołomyja ghetto was imminent. My father was killed during one of the actions. My stepmother turned me over for safekeeping to the Śledziński family. I was led out through the basement of a pharmacy in which my stepmother worked, which bordered on the Aryan side. My stepmother and her sister were planning to escape through Romania. I don’t know what happened to them.
I was hidden by Helena Śledzińska (Grandma), her son Leopold, and her daughter-in-law, Maria. I had false documents; I was supposed to be Leopold Śledziński’s illegitimate daughter, Jadwiga Śledzińska. My guardians were good to me. They taught me to read and write, as well as prayers and catechism. Several times they received anonymous letters that they were hiding a Jewish boy—in as much as I had no hair and wore a beret. Mrs. Śledzińska suspected one of her neighbors; she went to him and made a scene. She was a very energetic and forceful person. Moreover, the Śledzińskis deliberately did not change my way of life; I continued to play in the garden and go out in the street. I remember that both in the ghetto and also at the home of my guardians, I profoundly believed that it was impossible that I would perish. I believed I would live.
In 1945, after the war ended, my guardians and I moved to Warsaw as part of the repatriation program. I was turned over to the Central Jewish Committee in Poland and from there went to the children’s home in Zatrzebie, near Falenica. The Śledzińskis were no longer in contact with me, which pained me very much, but I did not know their address.
After Zatrzebie, I stayed in the children’s home “Śródborowianka” in Śródborów, then in Otwock, and finally, in Kraków. This wandering through various children’s homes was related to the successive liquidation of Jewish children’s homes as children found their parents or families, were adopted, or went abroad—even entire groups of children left illegally for Israel. It was very painful for me to go through one transfer after another. While in the children’s home in Kraków, I passed my matura. Later, I lived in a student dormitory and, supported by a scholarship, completed studies in economics.
After I completed my studies, I got married and left for Silesia, where I worked the entire time as an economist in an industrial plant. I have two wonderful daughters, both of whom have completed higher education, and four grandchildren. In 1995 my husband and I were divorced. Since 1992 I have been retired.
At the end of the 1960s I managed to locate my wartime guardians. In 1990 Yad Vashem Institute awarded Leopold Śledziński and his late mother the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations of the World. In 1994 while on a visit to Israel, I found in Yad Vashem Institute the plaque with their name.
From my mother’s family in Radom, the only one who was saved was her sister, who survived Auschwitz and now lives in Israel. I know nothing about my father’s family, with the exception of my grandparents, who were killed. The likelihood of finding me after the war was made more difficult perhaps by a slight distortion of my name, either by my guardians or by the Central Jewish Committee in Poland. I learned about this only six years ago, thanks to data from the archive containing records from the lands formerly in eastern Poland.
…“archive containing records from the lands formerly in eastern Poland” – this archive, called Archiwum Zabużańskie [Archive of Lands Beyond the River Bug], is located in Warsaw-Mokotów and contains birth, marriage, and death records from cities and towns formerly in eastern Poland and now in Ukraine.