Jerzy Frydman, born in 1934
I knew that I had to live
I was born in Błonie near Warsaw. My family was fairly large. In addition to parents and grandparents, I had two brothers, David and Josef, and two sisters, Małka and Fajga. When the war broke out, my oldest sister, Fajga, left with our uncle for the USSR. She was supposed to send us documents for the whole family. Of course, we never received those documents, and instead of departing for Russia, we were forced, by the Germans, to move to the Warsaw Ghetto.
Life in the ghetto was horrible. There was no food and not even the minimal necessities for life. Instead, there were various diseases. One time, Father decided to escape with Mama and me. We managed to get beyond the walls of the ghetto, but not for long. Mama and I were captured by the Gestapo. The Gestapo beat Mama up terribly. They made us return to the ghetto, but Father remained outside the ghetto. The second time, I escaped with my brother, David, but again, we were caught by the Germans who made us return to the ghetto.
One time, Mama and I went outdoors to search for food in trash bins. And during that search for bread crusts and potato peelings, I became separated from Mama, and I could not find her anymore.
I remained alone. I did not know what to do, but I did not cry. I knew that I must live. Wandering around the streets near the ghetto gate, I noticed that children my age and older were playing with a ball made of rags. I joined this game. We played near the gate of the ghetto. During the game, we, that is, the children, would rush the gate like a swarm of locusts and try to get over to the other side. But this was not so easy, because the Germans and the Polish and Jewish police kept guard and beat us with whatever they had in their hands. They lashed me also with a whip across my back such that I have a mark to this day.
I did not, however, lose hope. I suddenly noticed that towards evening, Poles were taking away trash on horse-drawn carts. I conceived of a wild idea how to escape. I buried myself in the trash, and thus I arrived at the gate of the ghetto. Suddenly, the horses halted, and the Germans began to search the carts to see whether there were any Jewish children there. They searched with the help of bayonets and rifles. I was lucky that they did not find me, and I traveled out of the ghetto.
After traveling a few hundred meters, the cart halted, and the peasant pulled me out of the trash, seated me on the horse, and we drove in the direction of the forest. In the forest, in the vicinity of Błonie, he let me go free, and from that time on, I did not return to the ghetto anymore. One time, I was begging at a man’s house. This man fed me and then locked me up in a closet. He then drove by himself to the Gestapo in order to denounce me (one must not forget that Germans paid for each Jewish child who was turned in). It was my good fortune that I managed to get away. Afterward, I again hid in the woods and in various country villages.
One day, dragging myself through a potato field, I chanced on my father who was also hiding in the nearby villages. Father told me that if I wanted to live, I must never admit that I am a Jew. He also gave me a Polish name, Jerzy Staniak (not Israel, as I was called at home). Papa also told me that I must find somebody who would teach me to pray in Polish. A few days after this encounter, the Germans captured my father and shot him to death. Although I have not seen my father for so many years, I remember him perfectly.
I continued hiding out in various small villages in the area of the Kampinos Forest. One time, I decided to cross over to the other side of the Vistula by ferry. Walking down a country road, I bumped into some peasant who was driving toward the ferry, and I asked him to take me with him. He seemed to agree, but instead of going to the ferry, he drove in the direction of a forester’s lodge where the Gestapo was. There he left me and collected his reward.
Of course, my tragedy began there again. The Gestapo man questioned me from every angle, and I lied as best I could. Finally, he told me to undress, and he saw that I was circumcised. Thus, my Jewish origin was revealed. He locked me up for the entire night in the cellar. In the morning, he took me out to the yard, and suddenly, I saw him pulling out his pistol. I realized that he wanted to shoot me. Then, I climbed over the fence like a cat and ran in the direction of the forest. He started to chase me, but I managed to escape.
After a few weeks working for a peasant as a farmhand, I had to go with him to the village administrator to obtain food ration cards. When I arrived with this peasant at the village administrator’s place, I felt sick because we encountered there the same thug who a few weeks earlier had wanted to shoot me. But now, this Gestapo man ordered me to work for him. This lasted for a couple of weeks, and then he gave me up to work for a Volksdeutsche. There, I had an accident. I fell into a treadmill, and it broke my right arm in several places. I got myself up on my feet and picked up my broken arm. The farmer’s wife laid me out on a horse-drawn cart and took me to a hospital in Nowy Dwór.
In the hospital, when they undressed me completely and laid me out on an operating table, the doctor noticed immediately that I was a Jew, and he declared that he would not do surgery on me. The Volksdeutsche began to shout that she was responsible to the Gestapo for me. She had paid 150 German marks and 26 pfennig, and she demanded that surgery be carried out. In spite of this, I was not operated on. They laid me down in some corridor, and I stayed there a full twenty-four hours. On the next day, a different doctor came, Mr. Żurowski, and he amputated my arm.
I spent approximately four weeks in the hospital, and things went well for me there. I could not be discharged from the hospital without permission from the Gestapo. One day, a peasant whom I knew came to the hospital, and I told him that I must escape because everybody in the hospital knew about my origins. I decided that I would enter a toilet on the third floor and jump out of the window, and so I did.
The man I knew was standing down below, and he caught me. We fled in the direction of the Narew River. There was a small boat there in which we traveled to the country village where I had worked. When I arrived in the village, the Volksdeutsche said that since I had no arm and was not able to work, I could leave her. And that is what I did. But now, it was much more difficult for me to hide because I had a recognizable mark – the lack of an arm.
One day, they organized a hunt to get me. I fled to a tiny village to a woman who often gave me help. She was a splendid human being. It is a shame that I do not remember her name. She hid me in the cellar under the floor. The Germans burned down this village. When I emerged from the cellar, I saw one big pogrom. Other than burned-down houses, nothing remained. People were totally stunned.
This woman, who had been hiding me, stood in front of me, and I could not believe my own eyes. I saw a totally different person. She had been a beautiful woman with dark hair. Suddenly, after a few hours, she had become old and gray. She said only one sentence to me which I remember very well. “Go away and don’t come back to me, because I do not have any strength left.” And that is what I did. I walked in the direction of the forest. I stayed in the forest during the day, and at night, I went into the village in order to steal something to eat. This was already towards the end of the war.
One night, I was hiding in some cellar. When I awoke in the morning, there were some other people lying next to me. I was terribly frightened. I wanted to flee, but they caught me. They were soldiers from the Soviet Army. They took care of me during the first few days.
After the war, I stayed in the village. I worked in the summer for peasants, taking the cows to pasture, but in the winter, they threw me out because I was not earning my keep.
In 1946, I found myself in Wawer near Warsaw. I did not admit that I was a Jew, and, meanwhile, I presented myself to receive Holy Communion. In 1948, a couple of Jews arrived in Wawer and wanted to take me with them. I picked up a few stones and ran away up a tall tree. From there,
I started to shout that I would kill anyone who approached. They did not give up and brought up a militiaman who fired a shot into the air. Then I became frightened, climbed down the tree, and they caught me like a hare. They took me to a hostel for Jewish youngsters at 28 Jagiellońska Street. There, for the first time, after so many years, they gave me a bath with scented soap, shaved my head completely, and dressed me in new clothes and brown shoes. Of course, the very same day, I ran away from the “Jews” back to my little village. But in the evening, when I had to go to sleep in the barn with the cows, the stench of cow manure forced me to turn back, and I decided to voluntarily return to the hostel.
In the hostel, Mr. Kozak began to look after me. He questioned me as to what my name was from home because I did not look like a Jerzy Staniak. I, of course, did not remember anything other than the place of my birth and the occupation of Father. The next day, Mrs. Rappaport, from the hostel, traveled with me to Błonie in order to seek my “roots” there.
In Błonie, we found the apartment building on Warszawska Street in which I was born. When we knocked at the apartment closest to the entrance, some old woman came out, and the moment she saw me, she exclaimed, “Srulek, you are alive?” and fainted. From her, I found out all about my family, about my real name, how many brothers and sisters I had, and what their names were. She also told me that my mother and my brother, David, were shot by the Germans on the highway to Warsaw.
After returning to Warsaw, Mrs. Rappaport began to search for some traces of my family. After a week, we received a telegram from Lower Silesia that my sister, Fajga, who survived the war in Russia, had been there but had gone abroad. After a few weeks, I was sent to a children’s home in Helenówek near Łódź. My first encounter with this children’s home was with the director of the home, Mrs. Maria Falkowska.
When I arrived at the children’s home, I was completely illiterate, and yet, I was already fourteen. Mrs. Lunia Gold, the educator, began to teach me to read and write. Then, they enrolled me in an evening school on Kiliński Street in Łódź. Later, I studied at the TPD School (Association of Friends of Children).
After finishing elementary school, I continued my education in preparatory studies and passed my examination to graduate high school in the course of two years. I began mathematical studies in 1960. I received the master’s degree. I began to work at the Łódź Polytechnic as assistant to Professor Krysicki.
In 1962, I decided to leave for Israel In Israel, I married a beautiful girl whom I met while still in Poland. We have two children, a daughter and a son. In Israel, I have been working the whole time as a mathematics teacher in a technical high school.