Henryk Hajwentreger, born around 1937
Given to a Polish family for safekeeping
From what I remember, I was born in Warsaw. I don’t know the date; it was determined based on a court decree. I was born on Ceglana Street in Warsaw. I lived with my parents on Dzielna Street. My grandparents lived on Pańska Street, but in Jeziorna, near Warsaw, they had their own house and land. My father, Mojżesz Hajwentreger, was a cantor in the synagogue. Mother, Bronisława, née Singer, was a housewife.
They had three children: Lucyna, Sylwester, and me, Henryk. We all ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto. My mother started working in shops where uniforms for the German Army were sewed. Thus, she had an Ausweis (identity card) authorizing her to cross over to the Polish side. Soon, my sister and brother were also supposed to start work there. Just before the Warsaw Ghetto was set aflame, my mother carried me past the Wache (guard post) and turned me over for safekeeping to the Polish family named Aleksandrowicz, living on the grounds of Królikarnia off Puławska Street (in a grounds-keeping annex).
Królikarnia – a former palace on a large estate in Warsaw, is now a museum.
During the deportation of all inhabitants of Warsaw in 1944, Mr. and Mrs. Aleksandrowicz locked me up in the cellar with a padlock and instructed me to wait until I heard Russian spoken (I had no idea how I was to recognize it). Then, I was supposed to start shouting that I was locked up. They left me a supply of bread which I hung on the wall in a small bag so that rats would not eat it. I soon discovered that rats had gotten into it anyway by climbing the wall, and they had eaten what was left. I had only three bottles of raspberry juice, but I felt no hunger, just thirst. Small, white lumps of secretion formed in my dry mouth. And so, I would have died there.
Suddenly, some fleeing man broke into my cellar through a space above the door below the ceiling. He waited out the chase. I, hidden under the blankets in the big washtub in which I lived, remained unnoticed until the intruder left the cellar by the same route. This fact caused me to try to go out from the basement in the same manner. And thus, driven by hunger, bitten by rats, I walked around the open, deserted apartments, and there in kettles, I found what was left over of water and, in pots, rotten boiled potatoes. Thanks to this, I survived.
On one occasion, I heard the steps of boots with metal cleats. Frightened, I hid under a pile of bed linen and clothing dumped behind a door where there was also a wringer. I pulled all of it over me and waited out the invasion of the apartment by Germans in uniforms with swastikas on their shoulders. One of them kicked the pile of clothes under which I had hidden, but… they left. Saved again, I waited for a while before I resumed walking through the empty house.
Walking caused me pain, because, during my long stay with the Aleksandrowiczes, when they went out of the house (Józef worked in a bakery), I would be locked up in a drawer with half its wall sawed out. I was never permitted to stand up, so that I could not be seen through the window. Thus, I cleaned the apartment also on my knees and slept under the bed. Toward the end, I was locked up in a damp basement, and there I became seriously ill in my joints, which made it impossible for me to walk or even hold anything in my hands.
Polish workers, who came to Królikarnia to work in the field, poked around the house and discovered me walking on all fours. After a few days, one of them decided to take me to Rembertów in a truck with workers. I well remember the final stage of this trip, past the Wache, in a sack on top of a bicycle.
After but a brief stay there, where they deloused and fed me, Germans moved into the school building adjacent to them. Therefore, they decided to take me back to Puławska Street. I was supposed to walk directly to the Red Cross with a basket of bread and a small prayer book.
Thus, I reached Pyry, where I encountered a lady who hid me under a table and showed me to her daughter, who was lying with other sick people on the floor. There, I also lived through a terrifying moment, when upon the news of liberation, everybody went out into the street, and a Soviet airplane, in a low dive, mowed down everything that was moving with its deck-mounted guns.
Pyry – district near the outskirts of Warsaw.
After liberation, I was transported to the children’s home in Kościelisko, where two daughters of the lady from Pyry were working as educators. One of them recognized me and took me to Warsaw where I was adopted by people who took the place of my parents. They provided me with a home and an education, and thanks to them, my horrible war sufferings receded into the past.
My parents and siblings, the closer and more distant family, all of them most likely perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. Up to now, all searches to find them have produced no results.
Warsaw, January 1993