Jadwiga Fiszbain-Tokarz, born in 1935
In a beehive, in a bread oven, in a haystacks
I was born in Kraków into a Polish-Jewish family. My mother, Miłka Fiszbain, born in Budapest, was then twenty-five years old. Father, Tadeusz Wojciech Tokarz, lawyer, a captain in the Polish Army, older than Mother, came from the Tarnopol area. I do not know any more about Father. He was mobilized in 1939 and disappeared without a trace in the September Campaign.
September Campaign – fighting between Poland and Germany at the outbreak of the war..
We lived in Kraków on Sebastian Street, later on Wiślana Street. Also living there were the Linzners, my family on my mother’s side. I spent the occupation years in Nowy Sącz. I recall very well the moment the German troops entered; my mother and I stood in the market square. The roar of engines and the hum of motors could be heard. They were headed in the direction of Heleński Bridge along Jagiellońska Street. This was the first time in my life I felt fear. The tears in Mama’s eyes and the firm clasp of her hand made me realize the danger of the situation. From that time on, fear and terror would accompany me for many years. Indeed, one never outgrows it.
We stopped over at the home of a Jewish family we knew, the Szateks, in an old railroad settlement. Terror mounted every day; there was no end to oppression. They housed us in a tiny place like a chicken coop. In the houses, there were searches and roundups. It was precisely from there that we were taken to the ghetto in 1940.
We settled at 12 Kraszewski Street. It was exceedingly difficult for us because, escaping from Kraków, we did not take anything with us that could be exchanged for food. I was barely five years old, but I remember clearly that we were very cold and hungry. The effects of frostbite have stayed with me for the rest of my life. Mr. and Mrs. Grotman rushed to help us then. Mama did not sit with her hands folded; she was busy primarily with acquiring food but was also quick to provide help for others. I know that she passed on medication to the sick, obtained from, among others, Madam Dr. Kozaczek. This was terribly important because sick people were “liquidated” on the spot. This was the job of special units which continuously checked apartments.
In 1942 (it must have been early autumn because pears were just ripening) came the liquidation of the ghetto. Some of the people were taken away in cars, but the so-called death marches were also taking place. Jews were herded like cattle through the entire city and loaded into freight cars. They were sneered at along the way, and those who could not keep up and walked too slowly were shot at like ducks. The escorts of these convoys traveled on motorcycles, and automobiles with blue-uniformed police followed. Bringing up the rear were some people, probably also Jews, who picked up the bodies of those who had been killed.
For us, the death march turned out to be a march of salvation. Mama, falling to the pavement, dragged me down with her and ordered me to lie very quietly. When the column moved past us, we crawled in the direction of the shrubbery in a near-by Evangelical cemetery. I remember her words that she had no hope at all to survive, that she only wished us to die together and not allow us to become separated before death. In spite of all the terror, by Mother’s side, I felt safer.
In this way, we found ourselves outside the ghetto. We hid at many people’s homes. First, we were given shelter by Mr. and Mrs. Antoni Ptaszkowski at 20 Kunegunda Street (my uncle, Stan Fiszbain, had already been staying with them for some time). Then, we moved to the home of the couple, Joseph and Janina Mazurek, at 25 Sikorski Street (in the Piekło area). Finally, a helping hand was extended to us by Professor Giesing of 29 Kołłątaj Street at whose home we also spent a little time.
We had to frequently change where we were staying. I did not have “good looks”; Semitic features and black curly hair attracted attention. It made it more difficult to maintain safety. I was being hidden in a variety of the least expected places: in a beehive, in a bread-baking oven, in a made-up bed covered with a bedspread, in cellars, in small gardens, and in haystacks. I spent six weeks underground in a hideout, especially dug out for me in a little garden, on top of which was placed a beehive. For a certain time, Helena Mossoczy, a nun in a convent near Święty Duch Street, was hiding me and teaching me. Next, Mama placed me in Stary Sącz in a flour mill, next to the Klaryski Convent, at the Michalaks. During roundups, the nuns would hide me, along with other Jewish children, in a crypt in the chapel.
Toward the end of the war, Mama and I were both hiding (we already had false papers) in Chabówka at the home of the Palarczyk family. It was there, in fact, that liberation found us. Our experiences have left permanent marks on my health. Other than the two of us, no one from my family survived the war. Although immediately after the cessation of hostilities, Dr. Korewa, from the Society of Health Care for the Jewish Population in Szczecin, surrounded me with care, I never returned to being myself. I am ailing from rheumatoid inflammation of the joints, and since 1984, I am on pension (second disability group). In 1989, I was classified, because of my health, as belonging to the first group. I am totally unable to convey the entire enormity of the sufferings which became our lot and which burden us to this very day.
Second disability group – beneficiaries for disability pensions are classified into three groups and receive pensions according to the level of severity of their disability and suffering.
Wrocław, December 1992 – January 1993