Sabina Wylot, born in 1928
I couldn’t go back to the ghetto
I was born in Łódź. I lived on Śródmiejska Street with my mother, Bela, née Dawidowicz, father, Szaja Kleinlerer, and sister, Felicja. We had the extended family there, both the Dawidowiczes and the Kleinlerers. Late in the fall of 1939, or perhaps at the beginning of 1940, I don’t remember, we were forced to give up our apartment because a German family was moving in. We took bed linen, personal belongings, and whatever we could. The rest of our possessions remained.
We settled in Warsaw at 22 or 20 Twarda Street. Conditions were becoming more and more oppressive––poverty, hunger, and disease. Another move on Twarda Street, perhaps to Number 5, because that was now the ghetto. Extreme poverty, shortages of everything, exhaustion, the indigent state of my family and others. Daily sights of listless dying people, those who had died of hunger being gathered up from the streets. It was like this day after day. Corpses, corpses, corpses.
Father died of starvation. Even what little there was, he did not want to touch in order that the family might have just a bit of something. And that was cooked peelings, which, even so, were very tasty. Provisions were being sold from trays covered with wire grating (protection against theft). Trays were hanging from shoulders, yet they stole anyway, because hunger is such a terrible thing.
Mama, my sister, and I were left. I began to cross under the walls of the ghetto so as to bring something to eat. I was then thirteen years old! With the collected, begged-for money, I would pass under the wall to the Aryan side for flour, kasha, onions, and potatoes. There was not too much available. With little bundles and bags, I would return back to the ghetto.
Mama became ill with typhus. Taken to the hospital, she returned with her head shaved, wasted, the shadow of a person but still alive. We were transferred to Krochmalna Street to shared communal living quarters. Going under rubble and walls to the Aryan side, I set out again to earn something. This was the last time I saw my mother and sister.
While returning with my purchases, I was caught, along with a few other children, in the vicinity of Żelazna and Chłodna Streets. Military policemen ordered all the children to pour out their purchased possessions and stand against the wall. I must have been the only girl among boys. I was rescued, thanks to a blue-uniformed policeman who convinced the military police that I was not a Jewish girl. He gave me a kick in the behind saying, “Get lost little girl. I don’t want to see you again.” (I am, in general, considered short.) And this is how I was saved then. In a few moments, shots were heard, and probably not a single child survived. This, one cannot forget.
I did not return to the ghetto after that; I couldn’t. All the passageways were guarded. It was no longer possible to slip under the walls. I was left alone, without money, famished. I began to roam the streets. I wandered out only at night in order not to attract attention to my unkempt appearance. In the daytime, I hid in various nooks and crannies like a mouse.
And thus, I don’t know after how many days and nights, I found myself in the Mokotów area on Skrzetuski Street at the home of Mr. Jerzy and Mrs. Danuta Downarowicz. They fed me, scrubbed me, and gave me a taste of family warmth. Jerzy Downarowicz, under the pseudonym “Schmidt,” typed masters, and his wife, Danuta, printed copies on a duplicating machine, of a clandestine newspaper Dzień (The Day), which used to reach the Warsaw Ghetto, among other places. Jerzy was in charge of the so-called wild distribution of newspapers in the Żegota movement, calling upon Poles to help Jews.
My good fortune lasted only a short time because someone “got wise” to me, and I had to leave. This time, I found my way to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bokus in the Służew district, who, in spite of their own large family, five children as well as the couple, did not turn me away. I was treated like a sixth child. I was comfortable with them. Only at night, I cried a little, wondering what had happened to Mama and my sister.
And here, too, it did not last long. Somebody again “got wise” to me. Thus, I had to leave. I acquired a new address––the Komorowski family, 14 Siewierska Street, Warsaw. Here it was very nice for me, also, but I was spotted by a youngster, who like myself, smuggled food from the bazaar to the ghetto and even used to help me pass under the wall! He recognized me now and bellowed out loud, “A dirty Jew! To the oven with her!” Thus, I had to again move on…
The next stage led me to the sisters of Mr. Komorowski, Maria and Zofia Komorowska (Zofia Ślaska), 29 Koszykowa Street, Warsaw. There, I lasted and lived through the Warsaw Uprising until capitulation.
During the uprising, I helped as much as I could. Through underground passages, trenches, and under the streets, I carried wheat from the brewery, which was given to the fighters. Only minuscule quantities were left for distribution among the inhabitants, ground up in a meat grinder and steeped in boiling water so that there would be something to eat.
On October 4, 1944, there was a forced evacuation of Warsaw, a hunger march along Śniadecki Street. Then came the German camps–Pruszków, Łambinowice (Lamsdorf), Leerte, Sprunge, Hamelun. In Lamsdorf, the depraved Germans arranged “entertainment” for themselves. Naked women were inspected by men, and men, by women, and this done thoroughly, peering into private parts under the guise of searching for some crab lice and fleas preying there. Our things were removed for delousing, and we slept naked on the straw, waiting for clothes and some grub.
Next, we were taken for forced labor to the town of Eldagsen. Here, the following event has remained in my memory. German troops were retreating; the front line was moving. One day, the authorities in Eldagsen announced that Soviet war prisoners would be passing through our village and that each farmer should put turnips, carrots, cabbages, all raw vegetables, out in front of his house. So, this was done. The prisoners of war, seeing some edibles in the baskets, threw themselves upon them. But this is what the Fascist swine had been waiting for. In a few moments, the entire street was strewn with corpses, because any prisoner who approached a basket did not return from there.
I was deported from Warsaw together with Danuta Downarowicz (née Zendlewicz). In order to avoid being separated, I was convinced by Danuta to present myself as her sister, adopting her maiden name, Zendlewicz. This is the name under which I was registered, and in October 1944, I was issued a German identification document, Arbeitsbuch für Ausländer (work permit for a foreigners).
I worked very hard until the end of the war. The fingers of my hands became frostbitten from the excessive German “cleanliness.” I developed varicose veins and other ailments. I returned to Poland in October 1945. I found no one from my family.
Warsaw, August 10, 1992