Irena Wójcik, born in 1937
The son was my first relative
Here is an account of my fate. I do not remember anything from before the war. In 1941 or 1942, my parents handed me over to a certain woman who had no children of her own. She was an acquaintance of my parents, a Polish woman. She owned a grocery store as well as a liquor store with sausages and vodka. There were people who slaughtered pigs and made sausages as well as home brew, and she would sell it in her store, legally or illegally I don’t know. She was a good woman. She also helped other people who had troubles with the Germans. Her husband went to Germany to work.
During the war, I went to preschool and to school. I did not want for food. Once, the Germans caught her suppliers with their goods. They beat them so that their cries were heard a dozen houses away. She went and talked in German, and they let them go. They had bruised faces and black eyes. They would often come to our place; they would drink and sing until late into the night. Sometimes, they would take me to the table and pamper me, and sometimes, they would tell me to go to sleep.
I often got a beating from my “mother” for any little thing. And then, she would cry and tell me that she also had no one and that she was an orphan just like me.
Officially, I knew that I was her child, but sometimes children in the street would tell me that I was Jewish and that this was not my mother. Twice, people reported me to the Germans. The Germans came, but I was in the courtyard behind the house. Her cousin came and told me that I should play for a long time and not return too quickly to the house because the Germans had come for me. I knew that they could take me away and kill me.
When I would get a beating from her, I thought about running away, but I had heard that Germans catch Jews and kill them. Therefore, I preferred to stay with her. Her husband sent me dolls from time to time.
When the war ended, her husband returned and officially separated from her. She left him the store. She found herself another husband who was a former Polish officer, and we left with him for the Recovered Territories where we lived for two years. There, they again opened a store. This father did not permit me to be beaten.
After a couple of years, the marriage broke up. My “mother” moved out, and by then, she was not permitted to open a store. This was in 1947 when they started opening cooperative stores. She had nothing to live on. I was then already in the fourth grade. One day, my “mother” officially told me that I was not her child, that I was Jewish; therefore, she wanted me to go to a boardinghouse. I was then a very romantic girl and a boardinghouse meant to me something very special. However, I said, “You are not my mother, but let us leave it as it is and pretend that you are my mother.” But she said that this was not possible and that she must take me there. Thus, we went by train to Łódź. I cried the whole way. In Łódź, in the Jewish Committee, they talked Yiddish, and to me it seemed that this was German. There we parted.
From there, some man took me to the children’s home in Helenówek. The person in charge, Mrs. Maria Milsztejn, received me there. As she approached me, I lifted my arms, covering my head and face. “Don’t be afraid, I won’t beat you. Here, we don’t beat children.” These were the first words that I heard in the children’s home. During dinner, I sat next to another girl, Lusia. Lusia began to tell me that her father had several watches. I said, “Your father is as rich as the Jews.” “Yes, my father is a Jew, and here we are all Jews.”
My despair knew no bounds, but then I slowly got accustomed to it. I reflected on it in the depth of my soul, “After all, they, also, always used to tell me that I was Jewish. Too bad. One must reconcile oneself to one’s fate.” I became very attached to Mrs. Falkowska, the director of the children’s home. I wished that she would be my mother only. But once, she said to me, “And what will other children say to this?” Yes, she was our common mother. She was that to all those children who had been touched by misfortune. We did not wear identical clothes. She did not want us to look like children from an orphanage. We had our own dressmaker.
Each young lady had a different dress. Thanks to this, we did not feel like orphans but like young princesses. I shall never forget that.
In 1954, in Helenówek, I met Leon W. who came to our place for a party. From that day on, I went out with him. After half a year, he was drafted into the army. During this time, I finished the Pedagogical Lyceum. After finishing the lyceum, I left for Wrocław. There, I worked for a year as a teacher. My fiancé completed his military service, and in 1956, we got married. We lived with his parents, which was not convenient.
At that time, the majority of Jews were leaving Poland. Therefore, we also departed for Israel. A week after our arrival, a son was born to me. This was my first relative that I ever had, knew, and remembered. I love him more than life.
After a year, I gave birth to another son. It was extremely difficult. We lived in a single room without a kitchen and without conveniences. On a shelf, built by my husband, stood two pails, one for clean and one for dirty water. It was thus that I conducted our household. But we were healthy, and my children were never sick. There was a period of time when I prepared three dinners on a kerosene cooker––for us, the adults, for the older child, and for the little one. The district doctor said that these are the healthiest and best developed children in the entire quarter.
My sons finished school and married happily. Now, I already have four grandchildren whom I love very much.