Maria Kamińska, born in 1935
My name and… my life were stolen
I was born and lived in Lwów before the war. My name was Ruta Linder. My parents, Sara and Sender Linder, were pharmacists. Several years before the war, they settled in Pomorzany where they worked in their own pharmacy. In 1939, my father, as an officer, was mobilized, fought in the defense of Lwów among other places, and by a miracle, avoided Katyń. One of his soldiers helped him by bringing him a civilian suit. After a certain time, he safely returned home.
Katyń – the Soviet massacred several thousand Polish officers in the town of Katyń at the beginning of World War II soon after the USSR occupied eastern Poland.
In 1940, our pharmacy was taken away from us, and we moved to Brzeżany, where my parents could still work in a pharmacy. In 1941, we found ourselves in the ghetto. After three months, my mother decided that we had to get out of the ghetto. I don’t know how they managed it, but we found ourselves free. In order to survive, my parents had to turn me over to some Polish family, because I was frequently sick and my cough could have given us away.
We made our way to Pomorzany. Here, my parents gave me over to a Polish family they knew Unfortunately, I ran away from there to my parents. Another time, an acquaintance, Father Kostołowski, placed me at the home of a lady he knew, Malwina Lipińska, in the village of Urlów in the Tarnopol province.
There, I stopped being Ruta Linder and began life as Maria Kamińska. The way it happened was as follows. Mrs. Lipińska was reading aloud a list of those who had been shot to death, and I happened to remember precisely this name and surname. I received a false certificate of my christening, I had to learn prayers other than the ones Mama had taught me, and I ceased being a child. From then on, the fear that someone might recognize me was constantly with me. I lived like other country children. I took the cows to pasture and fed chickens and turkeys. I longed so much for my parents that I tried to kill myself by hitting my head against a wall, but I only managed to get my head banged up and not to kill myself.
We lived in a Ukrainian village, and followers of Bandera began to bother us. In order to save our lives, we had to get out of that village. Surprisingly, the ones who helped Mrs. Lipińska were the Germans. There were German officers (Austrians) quartered with us. They gave us a truck and transported us with all our household belongings to Czchów on the Dunajec River in the province of Kraków.
Stepan Bandera was the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Galicia, whose followers carried out anti-Polish and anti-Semitic attacks.
We moved in with the sister of Mrs. Lipińska, Mrs. Maria Barącz I was there as a relative. I called both ladies “Auntie,” and everybody knew that my parents had perished during a bombardment. Mrs. Barącz had a very nice home in which there was also a pharmacy. The front rooms were occupied by Germans as their living quarters. It was extremely crowded in the house, because Mrs. Barącz’s entire family had sought shelter under her wings. I remember that all the time, I slept in a small child’s bed. Behind the house, in the woodshed, a Jewish man was hiding under the firewood.
The girls of this family belonged to the Home Army. It was a heroic family and very noble. Unfortunately, both sisters are no longer alive. I am still in touch with their daughters and grandchildren. At one time, I wanted to arrange for them to receive the medal of the “Just Among the Nations of the World.” In response, I heard, “You know Marysia, that is completely unnecessary. For us, the biggest reward is that you are alive.”
At the beginning of 1945, a Russian tank pulled up in front of the pharmacy, and my mother emerged from it. It is very sad, but I did not recognize her. I had bidden farewell to a beautiful, shapely, light blond, and now, I saw an elderly gray-haired lady. Mama had a pass for three days. She was working then in Zbaraż, in Russian-occupied territories, and she had to return there.
In July 1945, my parents were repatriated to Bytom, and they then retrieved me from Czchów. It was wonderful to be in one’s own home again. I again experienced a horrible shock. I was brought up in the Christian religion, and my parents tried to explain to me that this was not my religion. I had two religions and two mothers. It was awful.
Many years have already passed, and I still do not know how to cope with certain problems. In Bytom, I finished elementary school and a lyceum of general education. I was admitted to a pharmacy program. I interrupted my studies when we decided for the second time to go to Israel. The first time, we were refused. My father had been arrested in 1948–49 and brought to trial before a military tribunal for “attempts to overthrow the Polish Government.” He lived through the hell of interrogations in jail and emerged in very poor health. In 1958, while we were in the course of arranging matters related to departure, my father said that, unfortunately, he no longer had the strength to leave, and we remained in Poland.
…“attempts to overthrow the Polish Government.” – false charges were sometimes brought against those who wished to emigrate.
In 1983, I suffered a heart attack. Because of war experiences, I have had heart ailments since childhood. My parents died one after another in 1986 and 1988, and I was left alone. During the war, Germans murdered my entire extensive family.
People think and react differently to war experiences. I told myself that I would not have children, because I did not want to expose them to what I myself had experienced. I do not know whether this name and surname, from the list of people who had been shot, brought me luck or not.
Now that I am an elderly woman, more and more frequently, I have the feeling that somebody stole my name and with it my whole life.
Bytom, November 10,1992