Leszek Leon Allerhand, born in 1931
I come from a family of Jewish intellectuals which had a strong propensity toward assimilation. My father, Joachim Allerhand, had a law office in Lwów at 20 Jagiellońska Street together with his father, my grandfather Maurycy. At the same time, he held the position of Professor, with a chair in Civil Law, at Jan Kazimierz University. My mother, Zinaida Rubinstein, was Russian. She and her entire family escaped to Poland at the time of the Revolution. During the flight, a part of her family perished, including her mother. Here in Poland, she supported herself by giving piano lessons.
Jan Kazimierz University – also known as the University of Lwów.
“worked in a toy factory” – most intellectuals were forced out of their jobs; some avoided deportation to Siberia as enemies of the State by becoming manual workers.
The German occupation found our entire family in Lwów. For me, the occupation began rather joyfully. Early in the morning, our maid, Maryśka, brought a suitcase full of candy and said that during the night, the Russians had fled. The city of Lwów was deserted, and stores had been broken into.
In just a couple of days, together with my father, I was already being herded with a whole group of rounded-up Jews towards the “Brygidki”– a prison full of corpses. We had to cross Kapitulny Square on all fours, then on the run, and then again on our knees. Right in front of this building, I received a kick in the stomach and was told to scram. Around us was a hostile crowd, yelling threats at us and throwing stones. Father returned at night, beaten and bloodied.
Several days later, Grandfather was taken to the Gestapo. Two officers arrived by car and ordered him to get ready. Grandfather was a well-known person, a professor of law, a member of the State Tribunal, and, at some time in the past, head of the Jewish Community Council. The Ger- mans offered him the chairmanship of the Jewish Council (Judenrat). He declined. Two days passed, and then the Germans ordered us to immediately leave our apartment. We packed in a panic, taking only the most essential things. A library of many thousands of books, paintings, crystal, bronzes, and carpets were left behind.
Our family separated. My grandparents settled into an apartment by themselves, and my parents and I, on Sobieski Street, in our second apartment. Across the street from the building into which we moved was a synagogue. It was set on fire not long afterward. The Germans ordered us to stand in the windows and watch. Dozens of Jews crowded around the burning building. I was close to suffocation.
After that, a relative calm ensued. Polish friends began to appear in our new apartment. All of them were kind and polite, and they were all ready to store the remains of our possessions. We distributed what we could. Meanwhile, I was running all over town without an armband. With a group of buddies, I collected wood to burn. We bought up white bread from the privileged, and I sold newspapers. I was away from home for days at a time.
In the fall of 1941, we received an order to proceed to the ghetto. I remember this line, several kilometers long, of loaded carts, wagons pulled by people, very rarely by horses, hordes of people with bundles on their backs, the sick carried on chairs or beds. The closer to Zamarstynów the thicker the crowd became. Crowds of passersby stared at us. I do not remember that anyone extended a hand to us. There were sneers, smiles, and, most often, silence.
Zamarstynów – area of Lwów which became the ghetto.
We took quarters on Zamarstynowska Street, a dozen or so persons in one room. There were two or three persons in one bed, and the floor was spread with makeshift bedding. There were daily conversations about work which gave one a chance to survive and the struggle to keep getting one’s “Judenkarte” stamped at required intervals, authorizing a longer stay and protecting one from roundups.
“Judenkarte” — “Jewish card,” a document giving the right to work and receive food rations.
Hunger, forced contributions, lice, and dead bodies. I was not able to sit at home. I raced along streets, traded what I could – vegetables, potatoes, wood, beet marmalade, and bread. No, I was not a smuggler. All that I did took place within the ghetto. Often, I would arrive bruised and bloodied, quite a number of rubber truncheons having reached me. Yet, in general, I did not have to do all this. We were still affluent people. We tried to maintain a tolerable household. But I liked the taste of beet marmalade prepared in pails and claylike dark bread.
I fell in love with a girl on our floor. Her name was Ania. We ran around together, and evenings, we sat on the stairs holding hands. In August 1942, they hanged her and her entire family near a railroad track embankment. Supposedly, they found something in her apartment. I cried a long time. I was then barely ten years old.
The so-called “action” began. There were masses of police – German, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish. Father pushed me into a column lining up for work outside the ghetto, Mother, also. We did not have any documents. We walked in the direction of one of the ghetto gates which was located below a railroad embankment. The crowd pushed me forward… and somehow, I was pushed through. Mother, also.
Mother and I had sizable packets with our jewelry, gold, and other such things hung around our necks. Father worked in a sawmill, in a large enterprise on Lenartowicz Street. We were brought in there and hidden in the midst of large stacks of boards. Beforehand, however, we handed our bundles over to him. We sat in the middle of this wood for twelve hours or more. We had a little bread, and we quenched our thirst with rainwater. Father, in spite of our arrangement, did not return. We decided to leave our hiding place. We learned that Father had been taken by the police. We were left alone, without money, without friends worthy of trust, without any hope for the morrow.
Mother decided to return to Sobieski Street, to the building where we had lived before and where Mrs. J. F., who was friendly with us, also lived. It was a dangerous decision, because everybody knew us there, but we had no other way out. We were accepted without enthusiasm but cordially. Mother was placed behind a wardrobe standing obliquely in the corner of one of the rooms. A hiding place in the lavatory was found for me. Above the door to the lavatory was a big recessed nook where the washtub and various odds and ends were stored. A small space was cleared out from the toilet side and screened with household articles …and, well, I sat there for hours. Our hostess was Ukrainian. Her brother served in the German Army, and she had a lively social life. Evening meals often lasted until the early morning. Of course, everybody used the toilet all the time, as if out of spite.
One day, my father appeared. He had fallen victim to denunciation and blackmail, and everything we possessed was taken from him. During a transport in a convoy to Janowska Camp, he managed to escape while it stopped at the Jewish cemetery. My parents determined that they must separate. Father departed for Jaworów, where he survived the occupation.
Janowska Camp – concentration camp on the outskirts of Lwów.
About two weeks later, we decided to leave the apartment. It was too dangerous. However, in order to describe the place we stayed next, I must step back in time a dozen years or so. One of the members of our family converted to Christianity and married a young, pretty, Polonized
German woman. Later, they divorced. From time to time, we were in contact with them. Mother decided to seek help from her. Mrs. M., “Aunt,” as I used to call her, lived alone. She was a so-called Reichsdeutsche. She received us cordially.
Reichsdeutsche – german citizen living in Poland.
It was determined that I could not be shown, and Mother would have to leave the apartment during the day. Even before this, they tried to make a girl of me. They dyed my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes black, put me into a dress, and stuffed my bosom a little. The effects were deadly. I was chalk white and freckled. The black color of my hair accentuated my pallor still more.
Thus, they stuck me under the bed. I lay under this bed covered with smelly bedbugs which I squashed, as many as I could. I lay paralyzed with fear, without moving, doubled up with pain in the stomach and bladder. Frequently, I relieved myself there. There was constantly something going on in the room. I saw various kinds of boots belonging to soldiers and officers, some pants lying about, parts of uniforms. And above me, the bed was prancing about in all kinds of ways. It bent rhythmically; it jumped. I was petrified. Moreover, there was this continuous talk in German, each word of which transported me, out of fear, into the world beyond.
Evenings, our home became calm. My mother came, Aunt relaxed peacefully, and there was white bread and marmalade. Mother was already aware of everything; I, not very much. I was full of lice. They nested all over the place – in clothes, in hair. I was doused with hot water and some kind of vinegar. Later, the women did the same. And when we had already crawled into our makeshift bedding, the daily hopeless battle with bedbugs began. Thus, weeks went by. I became accustomed to my hiding place, and the observations made expanded my knowledge about life. It was the safest place in the whole country, under the bed of a German whore.
One day, the German sanitary control appeared in Aunt’s apartment. It turned out that she had been reported as the contact for a venereal disease. We fled in fear, not knowing, after all, where and to whom. Mother, during the time of her wanderings, had become friendly with an elderly lady living next to the Carmelite Church. We went to her and were taken in. After a few days, my mother became ill. The doctor who was summoned diagnosed typhus, but after being paid off, agreed not to report it to the authorities. In the morning, I was hidden in a wardrobe while our hostess was told that I had gone to school.
The Easter holidays were approaching, and everybody was going to church. Our hostess took me with her to Holy Mass. I stood in the church in a crowd of people, frozen with fear. I knelt automatically, got back up, mumbled prayers. It seemed to me that everybody was looking at me. Suddenly, a woman called out in a loud voice, “A Jew is in church!” Confusion ensued. I started to push my way through in the direction of the vestry. I knew the layout of the church very well. I rushed out through the rear entrance and fled to our little room.
We decided on an escape. We were accompanied by a young Ukrainian girl, a neighbor with whom we were friendly. We always walked separately on the street. We signaled each other with a special whistle. Mother passed out in the street. She was carried into the entryway of a building. I observed everything from a distance. Some woman took her into her apartment. We told her we came from the Wołyń area from which Poles were being displaced. They looked at me with suspicion, but my mother, with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and slightly singsong Russian accent, dispelled doubts.
After two days, we had to leave our shelter. My mother decided to join Father who was working as a carpenter in a sawmill almost seventy kilometers from Lwów. I was supposed to travel with Hania, our Ukrainian caretaker, to the countryside to her parents.
According to the birth certificate, my name was then Bazyli Szczepański. We rode on the train and then went a few kilometers on foot. I found myself in the middle of a small Ukrainian village. Everybody was looking at me and whispering something. I sat behind a table and ate a poppy seed cake with butter and cheese. It was delicious, but it was hard to swallow. At night, I was awakened. The room was full of peasants. Hania was crying, and I was told to pull down my pants. They looked and looked and then told me to recite a prayer. I knew them so well that I could recite them backward, but the people were not convinced.
Hania took me again, and we set forth. We wandered during the spring night, and in the early morning, we arrived at another village. I was hidden in a barn with hay. I lay there for three days. Hania came evenings and brought me food. She would lie down next to me, caress me, kiss me on the legs. The whole time, she would whisper in Ukrainian, “Tell me, tell me that you are not a Jew.” I would assure her solemnly that I was not.
We had to return to Lwów. We had made arrangements with Mother to meet on a certain day at a specific hour in a side street near the main railroad station. I waited together with Hania, my loving caretaker. It was early afternoon, people were all around. Suddenly, I heard the cry, “Jew!” A group of teenagers started to gather around me, stones began to be thrown at us, and the word “Jew” appeared more and more frequently, louder. Suddenly, my mother emerged from the crowd. We began to retreat from the square, but the band of youngsters was after us. Adults joined in. Someone brought a Ukrainian militiaman. A German soldier appeared, a sentry from a nearby post. We were led along the middle of Pieracki Street. The situation was clear. We were headed in the direction of Janowska Road, and it was well known what was there, a concentration camp. People were looking at us unmoved. I remember their look of curiosity and approval. A group of boys still surrounded us but was getting smaller and smaller. The German guard returned to his post. Mother and Hania started pleading with the Ukrainian militiamen to let us go. She pressed into their hands her wedding band, a ring, and the rest of her money. Hania joined in with her Ukrainian life story. The militiamen were uncertain. We were by then already alone, not far from the camp on Janowska Road. Perhaps Hania and her credibility prevailed. Suddenly, the militiamen disappeared, and we escaped, running between the wagons on the nearby railroad sidetracks.
We decided to return to our recent quarters near the Carmelite Church, to our “babcia” (grandmother or grandmotherly person). We were accepted. We told some made-up story about a holiday stay with family, about matters we still had to settle, and somehow, it worked. I have remembered for many years those twenty odd minutes when I walked along the streets together with Mother and Hania, escorted to the camp in the middle of crowds, the yelling and the stones…
Hania disappeared somewhere; we remained alone. In order to be consistent with our story, we would get up at dawn and leave our little room. We did not have anywhere to go. The street was untrustworthy and decidedly hostile. We settled on the Łyczakowski Cemetery. There, early in the morning, we tried to locate some neglected grave, usually off to the side, and we worked solidly at tidying it up. We moved from place to place. Fortunately, the cemetery was very extensive. We found a tomb with a stone slab that could be moved easily. Inside, there was quite a bit of room. Furtively, we brought over a mass of branches and leaves. I would crawl in there when Mother went into the city. Inside the tomb, it was safe, peaceful, and comfortable. I ceased being afraid.
It was summertime. We decided to stay in the cemetery several nights, and at home, to declare that we were going to visit family. By this, we made ourselves more credible to our hosts. Nights at the cemetery were peaceful. There were no ghosts, apparitions, or corpses, all of which hounded us until that time. Weeks passed.
Although we entered the cemetery through different gates, still, several times we came into contact with the same persons. We decided that this was too dangerous, and Mother made a decision to change our hideout. That was not easy. We had no friends and were short of money. Mother dug up in her memory our former maid who years earlier had declared herself ready to help. Her name was Ryśka. She was cross-eyed and very sloppy. But that was in former times. Now, she seemed most beautiful. She accepted us and offered her help. After a certain time, we received the address of a person who agreed to take us in. There was already no pretending. It was clear who we were and how much it would cost.
A ground-floor apartment, a room with a kitchen, on Na Bajkach Street. The owner turned out to be a rather likable seamstress, a widow with a fifteen-year-old son, Mietek. Her dressmaking workshop was located in the apartment. Every moment, someone was coming in and out. It was necessary to hide us still more. An enormous marital bed stood in the room, full of eiderdown and pillows, covered by a wooden frame which gave it shape. And precisely there, among the big pillows, it was decided to make a hiding place. Mother and I lay in one bed, covers drawn over us, unconscious from heat and lack of air, numbed by our immobility. The problem of physiological need became a painful, unimaginable nightmare. I had learned a way of holding back my natural needs, but often it did not succeed.
After several weeks, we entreated our hostess to move us else- where. Unfortunately, there was no other place. The room was small and cluttered. It was decided that we would lie under the bed. I was even pleased with this; I already had experience. We crawled under the bed, slid over trunks and suitcases, and created a small nook with a chamber pot and a pillow. One could breathe. The room was always full of clients. No one suspected that in this little space, two Jews were to be found. One time only, some little dog barked furiously at our hideout but could not get through the wall of valises.
In the late evening, we would come out of our hiding place. We walked around the apartment on all fours. It was dangerous to straighten up; somebody might see us through the ground-floor window. So, monotonously but peacefully, the weeks passed. Our good friend, the former neighbor at whose place we had a part of our things for safekeeping, appeared regularly and paid for our stay.
One afternoon, two Ukrainian militiamen with rifles entered the apartment of our landlady. Without any ceremony, they pulled us out from our hiding place, and not paying any attention to our birth certificates or tears, ordered us to get ready to leave. After a moment, negotiations began, appeals, as a result of which, they consented to a payoff. Since we had no money with us, they agreed to let my mother go, and I stayed behind as security. Mother reappeared soon; she brought what was needed. The militiamen ordered us to leave the apartment and flee, after which they themselves disappeared.
We pleaded with our landlady to allow us to stay through the night. We were aware of the danger which threatened us, but the street was even more dangerous. We stayed. At night, my mother, poking around the kitchen, found in our landlady’s cubby a part of our ransom money. The same five hundred złoty bills, evenly stacked. It became clear to us that everything we had gone through was planned, prearranged, ordinary blackmail.
Early in the morning, we fled our apartment. Again the cemetery, again my, or rather our, hideout, again a piece of sky coming through the slightly ajar slab of the tomb. We stayed like this several days. Mother went out into the neighborhood, brought food, sought contacts. One day, she returned with the report that someone there had agreed to let me into an apartment whose owners had departed for a while, leaving the keys behind. They agreed only on me. I found myself in a huge apartment with paintings, rugs, covers on the furniture. I had a slip of paper with a note about what I was not permitted to do. I was not to walk, move, use gas, water, light, toilet, or the bathroom. I was to sleep on the floor. Getting close to windows or balcony was doubly prohibited. I was to be lifeless. And thus, I barely lived. I did as I was told.
Every couple of days, in the morning, I would find food and a note from Mother. Weeks passed. Not a living soul around. I talked to myself. I dreamt about having a look at the street. I read some old newspapers, calendars. Near a window stood a wardrobe. I discovered that when I got on top of it and covered myself with a blanket, I could observe the street unnoticed. And indeed, my life became interesting and colorful. I lay on my wardrobe, the sun shone, it was warm. I looked out and dreamt. One afternoon, I fell asleep and fell off the wardrobe. After a moment, I came to. In the evening, my caretakers arrived. In the entryway of the building, my mother was already waiting. She took me back, and thus ended one stage of my hiding.
For several days, we stayed in private rooms rented out to railroad workers. We would arrive in the evening – the rooms were full of snoring tradesmen – I, with a woolen scarf over my head, Mother, also. Immediately, we’d go onto a bunk in a corner. At daybreak, we would leave the shelter and go to the cemetery. Twice, we encountered szmalcownicy. Somehow, we managed, more because they were not so sure whether they had run into the real thing. My decidedly Jewish looks were neutralized by the Aryan appearance of my mother.
We decided to return to the apartment on Na Bajkach Street. In spite of the fact that it was precisely there that blackmail was perpetrated on us and that our hostess was involved in it, Mother decided to place trust in her. It was agreed that we would be taken in. Again, everything went on as before. The hideout under the bed, evening walks on all fours, listening intently to news from the front.
A frenzy of prayers overcame us. Various “Our Fathers,” novenas, Advent prayers, religious songs, rosaries, holy pictures. It lasted for hours, indeed, for days. Our landlady accepted it with approval. Frequently, she herself took part, often with her son. On a neighboring street, they found Jews who were hiding. All were taken, together with their hosts. Our landlady was pale and frightened. We wanted to leave her place. She told us to stay. We then forgave her the entire history with the Ukrainian militiamen and her part in the blackmail.
The front line was approaching. In the regions of Wołyń and Podole, Polish-Ukrainian pogroms began. Dozens of refugees, running away from the “pacification” of small Polish villages by Ukrainian na- tionalists, were arriving in Lwów and vicinity. It was March 1944. One day, some distant family of her husband knocked at the door of our hostess. After a moment, we were already seven people, and, together with our hosts, nine. Neighbors began to come in order to get a look at the refugees and chat.
“pogroms” – attacks on Polish villages by Ukrainian bands in what was then eastern Poland.
We could not remain in hiding any longer. Mother, in a shawl, took part in the conversations and recollections. I was made out to be sick. I lay in bed, wrapped up to my eyes, and next to me, were three snotty emaciated boys. No one bothered us. Ever so often, someone would stroke me through the scarf, which fully covered me. In the chaos that prevailed, no one paid any attention to anyone. After a few days, everything calmed down. People dispersed. We did, too, officially, but in reality, we returned to our spot under the bed.
The frontline approached. Bombardments of the city began. We lived in the vicinity of the Main Railroad Station and on the border of the so-called German Quarter. It was a region that was particularly endangered. During the frequent air raids, the building emptied out, and everybody ran to the basements. We sat there half-dead from fear. My teeth clattered like a machine gun. After a string of air raids and a bomb that fell not far from our house, we decided to move elsewhere.
We did not have much choice. We proceeded to the Carmelite Church. Our babcia took us in. In the dungeonlike cellars of the church, hundreds of people were encamped. There was no light. An inconspicuous corner was found for us. Because it was cold and dark, nobody paid any attention to people wrapped in various blankets and shawls to avoid recognition. Thus, we lasted until July 27, 1944, arrived. So ended our occupation.
July 27, 1944 – liberation by the Soviet Army occured on this date.
My father survived, working the whole time as a carpenter on Aryan papers in Jaworów. However, of my entire remaining family, numbering thirty-five persons, on both my father’s and my mother’s sides, nobody was found after the end of the war.
At the beginning of 1945, we were repatriated to Poland, to Kraków. I continued my school education. I did well. It was just after the occupation, and it was not always possible to find acceptance by those around. To my schoolmates, I was always the “little Jew.” I could not manage to do gymnastics well; I did not know how to catch a ball. My muscles were weak and still affected by fear. I began to exercise evenings by myself. I did it with the sweat of my brow, with great self-denial. My frail body began to bulge and take shape. Finally, I succeeded in blending into the classroom atmosphere. I became one of “them.”
Later, there was matriculation, medical studies, and finally, the diploma of Doctor of Medicine in 1957. I began work in the Third Clinic of Internal Medicine. Next, I moved to another city, where, in fact, I have stayed to this day. My work as a doctor gave me much satisfaction.
In 1968, I was dismissed. I transferred to another less attractive position. I lived through a difficult period. A legal case was initiated against me. Many of my clients were interrogated. My friends acknowledged my troubles with sympathy, but no one was in a position to help me. After several months, all the charges were dismissed. I was rehabilitated and clean. However, a res- idue of the experienced humiliations remained. Twice, we tried to leave for Israel, and each time, we were turned down. Later, the illness of my parents and their age precluded leaving the country. In all the situations that called for it, I stressed my origins. I tried to have the concept of a “Jewish Pole” or a “Polish Jew” be something normal. I did not always succeed.
The fate of people who had helped us and with whom I tried to maintain contact took various turns:
1. My “aunt,” the German M. R., fled with the Germans. After the war, she returned to Silesia, settled in a small town, and avoided contact with us, but we found her. Before her death, she presented me with a nineteenth- century mirror which has been with me ever since.
2. Mrs. J. F., Ukrainian, in whose place I sat hidden in the water closet, settled in Bytom, became ill with tuberculosis, was treated in Zakopane, and was, among others, under my care.
3. The owner of the empty apartment where I stayed for several weeks turned out to be a teacher from Lwów, and after the war, an official of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Warsaw. He assisted me in my efforts to be accepted for studies.
4. Babcia from the Carmelite Church was evacuated, along with the church, to Kraków, where we looked after her until her death.
5. Mrs. M. M., in whose apartment we lived on Na Bajkach, remained in Lwów. From there, she was later repatriated to Poland somewhere in the vicinity of Lublin. We did not succeed in establishing contact with her.
6. The person who yelled out “A Jew is in church!” during Lent services was a twenty-year-old Volksdeutsche, Ms. J. S., who lived on Sobieski Street and knew me by sight. She was arrested with her entire family by the NKVD.
NKVD – Soviet Secret Police.
7. Our prewar neighbor, Mr. J. G., who was paying our stay in hiding by converting the property entrusted to him into cash, settled in Wrocław where he passed away. We stayed in touch with him. He was not able to sell off portraits of my family, a porcelain lamp, and a rug. He returned these objects to us, and they remain in my possession to this day.