Interviewer: Edyta Gawron
Date of interview: January 2004
Daniel Bertram is a retired civil servant, a bookkeeper educated at
the pre-war Jewish School of Commerce in Cracow. He is active in the
life of the Jewish community in Cracow and regularly attends meetings
organized by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and other institutions
dedicated to Jewish culture and tradition. He is one of the few Cracow
Jews (presently there are about 180 Jews registered at the Jewish
community in Cracow) who regularly attend the synagogue and can pray
in Hebrew. He was born in 1920 in the Cracow Jewish district of
Kazimierz, where he spent many years of his childhood and youth.
During the war he was exiled deep into the Soviet Union. In the 1980s
he moved in with his partner, Renata Zisman, and they were one of the
few Jewish couples in post-war Cracow. Since Ms. Zisman's death he has
lived alone outside the former Jewish quarter. Neither Daniel Bertram
nor Renata Zisman had children.
I only remember one great-grandmother, who lived on Szeroka Street
opposite Remuh [one of the synagogues in Cracow]. She was called Fajga
Sobelman, Butner, Bertram, and then Rapaport. I don't know in which
order. Her maiden name was Koszes. She was so healthy that she
outlived four husbands and changed her name four times. She lived 90
years. When she was 14 she already had either a husband or a fiance.
Guests asked her parents where the fiancee, the 'kale', was. 'Kale'
[Yiddish] in Hebrew is 'Kala' – a fiancee or young lady. And her
parents said that she was in the courtyard with the other children
playing shtrulki [dice or pebbles that children used to throw; a
I saw my great-grandmother once in my life. I was two or three years
old and I was at Granddaddy's house. She only walked across the room
towards the window, looked at me, didn't say a word. She had red rings
under her eyes, I don't know if it was from an inflammation or what.
And after that I only saw her portrait, it was probably hanging at
Granddaddy's house. She was dressed in black, wearing the black hat,
already quite an age, nearly 90. One time I asked my daddy: 'Where's
Grandma Fajga?' And he told me that she had died. I didn't go to the
funeral, but Dad took me to her apartment. And there they were saying
the prayers for the dead. I didn't see anything being eaten. Daddy
told me that she was a moneychanger, meaning she was involved in the
money market on the Main Square. She had this bag and exchanged
Abraham Bertram, my grandfather on my father's side, had a
watchmaker's shop opposite his house. Both the one grandfather and the
other were watchmakers and jewelers, you see. My other grandfather had
a shop together with my uncle on the same street as their house.
Granddad Abraham worked until the last moment of his life. He suffered
from diabetes, but he worked. He lived 72 years. He walked very
little, led a sedentary life. And then in 1938 or 1939 he died at
home. And I had to phone his shop. My mother happened to be in the
shop at that moment. When I told her that Granddaddy had died she
closed the shop. And then it was the funeral already, because Jews
have it very quickly, and after the funeral, there were prayers in
Granddaddy's house. My grandfather was a very religious man. He never
said a word to me. Once, when he tested me on sidra, he said in
German, or in Yiddish, 'Owsky zeykhnet', which means 'excellent'
[German – ausgezeichnet, Yiddish – oysgetseikhnt]. Both families – on
my mother's side and my father's side – were religious. They kept all
the traditions and observed all the holidays, and they were kosher,
just as it was supposed to be.
I didn't know my grandma, my father's mother, Estera, or Ester
Bertram. She died before I was born, or just after I was born. I only
knew her from her portrait. Her maiden name was Tilles. When my dad
was working in Belgium as a diamond cutter, Grandma had him come back.
She said she was ill. He came and stayed. What his mother probably
wanted was for him to get married, for him not to be a bachelor. Dad
didn't tell me anything else about his mother. She is buried in the
Miodowa Street cemetery [the new Jewish cemetery in Cracow], in the
second row, or the third. You used to be able to see the inscriptions
from a distance; I wasn't allowed to go closer. And they're not there
any more, because all those monuments were stolen during the
occupation [see German Occupation of Poland] .
Abraham and Estera Bertram had four sons. Bernard was the eldest, and
then there was Saul, my father. The third one was Salomon. He was the
only one of the brothers to survive the war. As to the fourth one, I
don't know what he was called; he died before I had a chance to meet
him. He might have been called Jankiel. I haven't even seen a
photograph of him.
My father was a watchmaker and jeweler. Uncle Bernard was a goldsmith,
but when he married Miss Grossfeld, well, then he worked in her
business. She had a corset workshop, 'Gracja' [Grace]. And he started
working there with her, probably as a cashier. Dad had a sister, too,
Otylia, my aunt Tyla. She married a Ryngiel. Otylia Ryngiel, she was
called. And they lived in Mannheim [Germany].
My maternal grandfather was called Bernard Stiel, in Polish Bernard,
and in Yiddish Bejrisz. And in the synagogue, when they called him up
to the Torah, or when the Kaddish was being recited, they hailed him
Dojw. Dojw is 'bear' in Hebrew [Dov], you see, and Bejrisz is 'bear'
in Yiddish. He had a shop on the street where he lived. He was a
watchmaker, but he had shoes in the shop as well. He would often come
and visit us, because we didn't live far away at first. He died in
1929, at the age of 65. He was buried in the Miodowa Street cemetery.
I was nine then.
Debora Stiel was my grandmother on my mother's side. Debora, and Doba
in Hebrew. [Editor's note: Debora, in English Deborah, is one of the
seven prophetesses in the Bible; it is a Hebrew name itself. Doba, the
diminutive of Debora was probably affectionately used in the family.]
She was an older woman; she wore a wig. She had three daughters. My
mother was the eldest – Ettel Bertram. The second was Anna, Hania,
Chana, I'm not sure of her name. My grandparents' youngest daughter
was Bluma. She married Aleksander Eintracht. My grandmother also had
two sons. One son was Lazarz, Luzor in Hebrew. The other son was named
Jankiel, Jaakow. I didn't know him; he died in Vienna. He was very
devout. Hania, the middle daughter, married Izydor Grinbaum. He had a
bookkeeping and audit office. They had two children. Halinka was the
older and Heniu was the younger.
Lazarz immigrated to Buenos Aires in 1927. In Cracow he met a girl by
the name of Karola. Granddaddy didn't want to allow that marriage,
because her family was poor. Her mother sold bagels and Granddaddy
didn't like that. They wanted to have an intelligent family, or some
money, or a dowry. There used to be this tradition among Jews that she
had to have a dowry. When he emigrated, she went after him as an
unmarried woman. Three weeks she was at sea, sailing on a ship. He set
himself up there; he had friends in Argentina that helped him. He did
well; he was a goldsmith by trade, and here in Cracow he had been out
of work. And he married that Karola in Argentina. They had only one
daughter, a pretty girl. I even have a photograph, a tiny one, which
they sent me in a small package. My uncle was a very good goldsmith;
he did this very precise work on rings, silver and gold trinkets. Then
he opened his own watchmaker and jeweler's shop.
Chaja Molkner was my mom's aunt, so great-aunt to me. I remember that
she was a widow, and a very devout person. One time, when I was
pre-school age, I was visiting my grandmother and she came. She
persuaded me to learn broche for every kind of food. And she gave me
this notebook, to write down every broche and for every broche I would
get 5 groszy [the Polish currency: 1 zloty=100 groszy]. And so I wrote
them down, and in the end I saved up 8 or 9 zloty. She lived very
frugally; she was very devout. Because she didn't have kosher milk she
wouldn't drink milk at all, only black coffee. And probably because of
that she became hunched, and she went around with a hump on her back.
She sold cloth; she would just go round various acquaintances and sell
cloth. When I was nine, I wanted to go with Mom to see the grave of my
granddad, her father. Mom had an anniversary and she went with her
aunt Chaja Molkner. And Mom wouldn't let me go in there, but that
devout aunt let me. She asked how old I was, and said that if I wasn't
13 yet, I could. Chaja Molkner died in 1938; she was maybe 84 years
old. She was trampled by a horse and lay injured at home. I didn't go
to her funeral.
My Mom was Ettel Bertram. She didn't like her name, so she said that
she wanted to be called Eda, and that's what they called her. Mom kept
house in the mornings, brought in the shopping and made dinner. She
had her culinary repertoire. In the afternoons Mom went to the shop
and sat there, and either wrote letters to her brother in Argentina,
or watched the customers, because you had to be careful in that line.
Dad often said to Mom in Hebrew 'watch', or 'watch out'. I remember
one instance, when a handsome young lady was looking at rings and she
hid one ring up her sleeve.
Once there was this case, I think it was in winter, when Dad and Mom
went to the shop in the early hours of the morning. They had been
called out by the guard who watched the shops and every so often
dropped a note in with the time on it, saying that he had been there
and checked things. He said there had been a break-in, and a roll-down
blind had been damaged. There were things missing: watches from the
display. Dad was insured, I don't remember if it was with Fenix [an
insurance company], but he didn't get compensation. As it turned out,
only the safe was insured, and not the display. Dad always put the
most expensive articles into the safe.
I was born in 1920 when my parents lived on Krakowska Street with my
mother's parents, and then we lived on Mostowa Street, in the same
house, in the apartment next-door to Granddaddy [paternal grandfather]
and my uncle. I found out that I was born on Krakowska Street from
books, because I thought that I was born on Mostowa. I was two, I
think, I don't remember exactly, when we were gassed there. I was
gassed with my parents. The man who lived beneath our apartment had a
shop with cooked meat. And he explained in court that he had been
cleaning a gas lamp. On Mostowa Street there was gas lighting, both on
the street and in the apartments. So he had been cleaning a lamp and
hadn't turned it off, and that was why the gas escaped. An ambulance
came; there was a crowd, an awful lot of people gathered then. Uncle
Salomon rescued me. They threw me up and down so that the gas would
come out. Apparently I was in a terrible way, because I was already
yellow or green. And my parents were poisoned just the same, but they
saved us all. The people from the ambulance services said that ten
more minutes and we'd have had it. My father didn't tell me whether
that neighbor was punished, or whether he got any compensation for it.
We lived on Mostowa Street for perhaps two years.
After that we moved to a street in a Christian neighborhood. There we
had two rooms. And there, once I was seven, I was very close to the
elementary school 'Florian' that was a government school named after
St. Florian. I was excused from writing on Saturdays. There were a few
of us Jews. One was called Reinstein, one was called Romer and one
Ginter, I think, the son of a dentist. Four altogether. In the
neighborhood I had a few Catholic friends, one a girl. She lived in
the same house with her sister, the daughter of a plasterer, a kind of
sculptor. Her name was Krystyna Pilchowska. Her sister was called
Before I went to school I spent a lot of time on my own. Because I
didn't go to nursery school I got bored. I really needed nursery
school, but my parents didn't want me to go to the nuns' playschool,
with Christian children. Sometimes I would play with the sewing
machine, I would ride on it as if I was a streetcar driver and I was
going along, stopping at all these stops. Sometimes I would sit in the
shop too. Then, when the safe was near the display, I would get up on
the safe. Customers would come in and I would be sitting on the safe.
My brother didn't go to nursery school either, but my sister did.
I remember my bar mitzvah. My father's family came, which meant my
father's brother, my father's sister-in-law, and her daughter. There
was no one there from Mom's side. The only other person there was
Granddaddy. My uncle was there, all from the Bertrams' side. And there
was my rebbe, the beak who prepared me for my bar mitzvah, Nuchim
Schpitz. He was this thin man who promised me that he would bring me a
watch. And apparently he bought me a watch for my bar mitzvah in
Vienna, but he said that it had been stolen. When I repeated that to
dad, he said to me: 'khusid ganev'. 'Khusid' [Galician Yiddish] means
Hasid, and 'ganev' means 'thief'. He could have said 'liar', but he
said it so sharply because Dad was a 'misnaged' [an opponent of
That rebbe prepared me a droshe. And I had to talk about tefillin, in
Yiddish, which I had never spoken. I learnt it by heart. And I said
it. Granddaddy understood, my uncle understood, I don't know if my
aunt spoke Yiddish. Then I translated into Polish. Instead of
preparing me for something else, to read the Torah on Saturdays, he
made me translate a speech like that. But I was allowed up to the
Torah, of course. Then Dad said: 'Baruch shebetranu main on shoi
sheluze'. That more or less means that I cast all my sins off me.
Because that is when you join the community.
I was the oldest of us brothers and sisters. My brother Henryk was
four years younger. My sister Ernestyna, or Nusia – that's what we
called her – was seven years younger than me. Each of us went to a
different school. Nusia went to 'Konopnicka'. That was a girls'
school. And on the next street was the boys' school. Henryk went to
that boys' school first, and then he moved. After that he went to
evening school, to an evening grammar school on the Main Square, and
worked at the same time. My brother and sister and I never spent time
together. All we did together was eat breakfast, or dinner or supper.
And other than that each of us went his own way. For all meals the
whole family always sat at the table together. But other than that
everyone went their own ways and I didn't know anything, what kind of
life my sister led, what my brother did, where he went to school, if
he had a tutor. I didn't know anything.
When I finished elementary school, so seven classes, Dad asked me
whether I wanted to study or work. So I said: 'I want to study'. So
they enrolled me in a school of commerce. But my brother didn't want
to study, he preferred to work, preferred to be earning money. And he
learned his trade from my father. So in his workshop Dad had both an
apprentice and my brother.
I spoke to my brother and sister in Polish, and my parents spoke to
each other in Yiddish. Dad talked to us very little, perhaps because
he couldn't speak Polish. We talked very little then, unfortunately.
Dad usually spoke Yiddish. You see, when he asked me: 'Profitierst?',
I had to work out what he meant: 'Is it worth it?' He was talking
about a placement in my uncle's office that I was doing at the time.
And every Saturday he either read the Hummash or he read 'Kol ish,
yesh cheylek, leolam haba'. I'm saying that in the Sephardi 
fashion now, but then people spoke in the Ashkenazi manner. So Dad
would say 'Kol ish, yiesh chailek leoylem habu' – Every man has a
place in the world to come. [Editor's note: This sentence is very
close to the Mishnah quotation said before studying 'Pirke Avot': 'Kol
Yisrael yesh lahem cheylek laolam haba', or in the Ashkenazi fashion:
'Kol Yisroel yesh lohem cheylek loaylom habo', meaning 'Every Jew has
a part in the world to come'. It worth noticing that Mr. Bertram
–probably unnoticed- replaced 'every Jew' with 'every human being'
when citing the quote.] And Dad believed that and every week he would
read it, so that I would hear it too. I stayed longest at the table.
You see we all ate together at one table in the kitchen, and on
Saturdays in the living room. But other than that everybody went
I was interested in my own subjects; I would sit up until eleven at
night. I was the last to bed, sometimes Mom was. I had to get up early
in the morning to get to school. Once I was late, and we had the one
commerce master in whose class there was a very high standard of
discipline. If anyone was late – and I was late – as a punishment I
had to arrive the whole week at 7.30 until further notice. Well, and
he taught me so well that I'm disciplined now, and wherever I go, I'm
always punctual. You could take your breakfast to school and eat at
school. I ate in my cap, because that was what I was used to. There
were some of my friends, you see, who ate with their caps off. My
parents were always telling me about the commandment 'Do not commit
adultery.' I didn't even know what that meant. My father wanted me to
go to different schools; he was even prepared to enroll me in
university. There was money enough for that. When I went to the
elementary school I had private lessons. This so-called tutor would
come round. It was Mom who made sure I had help. I had problems
concentrating, you see. I didn't have 'very good' in all my subjects.
I had 'good', or sometimes 'satisfactory'. I didn't have
'unsatisfactory'. My best marks were for behavior. But at home
sometimes I'd run riot, fight with my brother.
I went to four schools. First of all to 'Florian', and after that I
went to Mizrachi [the elementary school founded in 1921 in Cracow by
the local branch of religious Zionist organization 'Mizrachi'], next
to the Izaaka synagogue. And another Mizrachi school was being built
at that time next to the Tempel [Synagogue], at number 25 or 26. One
day, Dad went with me on a Sunday to Mizrachi, to enroll me in the
third class there. And the teacher told me to sign my name in Hebrew.
I didn't know how to sign my name. I had gone to cheder, to two
cheders, but they didn't teach writing there at all. There we only
translated from Hebrew into Yiddish. And you paid for that. The
students didn't understand anything. Only the ones that understood
Yiddish. And as I didn't know Yiddish, I didn't understand. And the
rebbe never translated into Polish. And no one asked what it meant. He
thought that we all knew Yiddish. I didn't tell my parents. My parents
were never interested. They didn't care about anything; they had just
the business on their minds. And when I couldn't sign my name, Dad
didn't help me by saying 'beyt, reysh...' [bet, resh in modern Hebrew,
the first two letters of the name Bertram]. And because of that I had
to repeat the second grade and I lost a year.
At Mizrachi in the mornings we had Hebrew subjects and in the evening
we went to the new school that was being built for Polish subjects.
One of the teachers was Mom's teacher and mine at the same time.
Hoffman, his name was. After that, my third school was Kraszewski
School. After the war it was called Dietl School. Now the old entrance
has been bricked up. We went there five days a week, because it was a
government school. The teachers were mixed, Poles and Jews, and the
students were just Jews. Well, and the first time I went there, there
were more or less 25-30 pupils. Suddenly I saw 14 pupils dressed
identically. I thought that one mother had 14 children. And it turned
out that each of the boys had a different surname. And they talked
about an institution. It turned out that it was the Orphans'
Next I went to the School of Commerce. I went to school longer than
either my brother or my sister. It all cost money. The fees were 20
[zloty] in the first year, but I got in for 15 zloty. Then more and
more every year; you paid more or less every month or so. It was a
co-educational school. A Jewish high school of commerce,
coeducational, a very hard school, one of those with four grammar
school classes with a school-leaving exam. We had a few foreign
languages: besides Polish there was German, English and Hebrew.
There were 16 teachers there, men and women, 23 subjects altogether.
Among those who were still alive after the war was Mr. Aleksandrowicz.
Mr. Szlang also survived the Holocaust. He probably immigrated with
his wife to Israel. Of the other teachers, I met Mr. Bart in Lwow. Mr.
Natel – bookkeeping – and Mr. Mandelbaum – commerce and commercial
correspondence – taught there too, in a partner school. Bart taught
commodities and calligraphy. There in Lwow there was Mr. Silberfenig,
teaching Palestinography. There was Miss Szylingier, she taught
geography and history. And Mr. Guzik taught us religion and Hebrew.
Mr. Szlang taught religion and Hebrew too. Mr. Mandelbaum was taken
away from the school, because some Ukrainian student turned him in,
repeating the teacher's words that this was going to change. He meant
that the system was going to change, but there you weren't allowed to
say anything. And that was how he got arrested. That was probably in
1939. In 1945, in front of the former School of Commerce building, I
met his wife, Mala Hofszteter. She was a Polish teacher. They got
married before the war. And then she immigrated to Israel and met her
husband there, who had served in the Polish Army during the war. But
then he had a brain hemorrhage. In Israel a Stanislaw Mandelbaum
school of commerce was opened.
I got my best school marks in stenography. I remember all my
stenography to this day. I took part in three competitions: at school,
in Cracow, and in the Polish national championships in Warsaw. And
this guy, the best Polish stenographer, came to me and asked whether I
would like to go to Warsaw. I turned him down, unfortunately, because
I already had a job then. Since I'd got a job – and it hadn't been so
easy to come by, and it was on two shifts as well – I had to refuse.
That guy was called Maslowski and he took us for stenography.
After school I had work experience at Izydor Grinbaum's, who was the
husband of my aunt Hania. He had a bookkeeping and audit office. And I
did my office internship there. He promised that after three months I
would get 30 zloty. Unfortunately I didn't. He wanted to give me a
fountain pen, but I said: 'thanks, but no thanks'. I said I didn't
want it. I wanted 30 zloty. So Dad banned me from going there.
Greenbaum was a very clever guy; he ran the office and had two people
employed there as well. First of all there were two sisters, then this
one guy called Blemmer, and then a girl by the name of Pajno. They
were working professionally, earning. But I did typing there, was
getting good, using the ten-finger system. Was that what I needed to
go to school for, to do typing? Sometimes I helped out with
inventories too. There was this firm, Kohn, which was in the iron
business. And another firm, his brother Kohn, some razor blade outfit.
During the war, in Lwow, my uncle told me that that guy was a spy.
All the men in the family wore head coverings. Only my father wore a
hat; all the others wore yarmulkas. Today they're round, but then they
were different – these forage caps like the army wore. Usually they
were black, sometimes dark blue. There weren't any others, round ones.
These forage caps were in place of yarmulkas. My dad didn't wear the
gabardine [caftan] and he didn't wear the streimel. Only my
grandfathers wore the streimel. They had gabardines too, but they
didn't have side locks, just beards. Dad didn't have a beard, he
didn't have side locks; he shaved. My family was Ashkenazi Jews,
because we're all Ashkenazim here in Poland. And the ones who used to
wear the streimel, they were Hasidim . My one Granddaddy, and the
other, wore the streimel, but they weren't Hasidim. They wore it for
tradition; only on Saturdays did they wear the black gabardine. But
their sons didn't wear it; they dressed in the European fashion. My
father dressed in the European fashion too. It was when my father went
to Belgium that he stopped wearing the gabardine.
We went to several synagogues. The first synagogue I went to, when I
was of pre-school age, was Shomer Umonim, which means 'Watchman of the
Believers'. Dad was the gabbai, the administrator there. And Dad was
always complaining that if he weren't the gabbai he wouldn't neglect
his business. Once, perhaps, we went to 'Amster', there was a
synagogue called that. They held Sukkot there. We went to those
synagogues when we were living in the Christian neighborhood. After
that, in 1933 or 1934 we moved back into the Jewish quarter. And in
the center of town we went to a synagogue opposite the bank, that was
Ahavat Rayim, or 'Love for Your Neighbor' [Editor's note: 'Ahavat
Rayim' means 'Love for One's Neighbor'].
Dad went with me on Fridays. Once there was a friend from Mizrachi
there. He was called Dawidson and when he was still a boy he was a
chazzan there. That was the synagogue where Schperber's choir was,
famous in Cracow. The boys in the choir had the same black gabardines,
and he was the conductor. Schperber conducted at Tempel as well. On
Saturdays we went to Migale Amikes Shil. The other Jewish name was
Barbl Bes Medresh. I don't know whether that means 'on the hill', or
something else. Migale Amikes has been in existence for probably 350
years. [A synagogue and institute in which Nathan Spira lectured,
called after his work 'Megaleh Amukot', 'he who reveals mysteries'.]
Long ago the famous cabbalist Spira was connected with that synagogue
[Nathan Spira (1584-1633): the rabbi of Cracow, devoted to the study
of the Cabbala]. Before the war only men went there, and there were
Hasidim too. I don't know whether they were really Hasidim, or just
Orthodox. There were some who had the streimel, the fox-fur. And there
were some that didn't. And if there was a separate prayer, at the
Halel festival, in the evening some of them prayed separately in
another room. They were probably Sephardi Jews.
All the men from our family went to that synagogue on Saturdays.
Granddaddy and Dad, my brother and I, my uncle, Granddaddy's son,
Granddaddy's other son, and my uncle's son as well. Seven of us from
the family there were. Two friends of mine from school went there as
well, this one – Grossbart, his name was – went there. The Bossaks
went there and the famous Aleksandrowicz [Prof. Julian
Aleksandrowicz]. There was this one odd guy there, too, who wore the
streimel and shaved. That was the only time I saw a clean-shaven man
wearing the streimel. He would wear it on Saturdays. He had this
redbrick shop, a newsstand.
Before the war I only went to a few synagogues, not all of them. I
also went to Tempel then. When I went to Kraszewski School we used to
go there on all the national holidays, because it was very close.
[Most Polish national holidays were celebrated in the religious
institutions too, as the members of Tempel synagogue were tending to
assimilation and they were involved in politics. The synagogue used to
be a place for national manifestations of the Jews.] At Tempel
Synagogue they celebrated national holidays like 3rd May [the
anniversary of the signing of the first Polish constitution, in 1793],
and maybe the November Uprising  and others. Tempel Synagogue was
the only Reform synagogue in Cracow. The president was Dr. Ozjasz Thon
. He was a deputy to the Sejm [the Polish lower house of
Parliament]. Pre-election rallies were always held in his house. Our
school always stood in one of the side naves, to the right of the
entrance. And in the middle sat army officers - Jews. I don't know if
there were any ethnic Poles among them. Dr. Ozjasz Thon always gave a
sermon in Polish. He would start his sermon: 'Dear young people,
devout listeners...' But before the sermon they would play the
Hatikvah  there. And there was a mixed choir. And they played and
sang 'Boze cos Polsk?…' ['O God, who Poland…' - a patriotic Polish
song, at this time almost chosen as the Polish national anthem]. My
uncle, Aleksander Eintracht, my friend Henryk Kleinberger, and the
wife of the president of the Jewish Community Organization, I don't
remember her name, sang in that choir.
After the death of Dr. Thon, Dr. Schmelkes gave the sermon there. I
remember I went to Dr. Thon's funeral. The mounted police were there
keeping order, because a very large crowd had gathered. And we stood
outside the cemetery on the street, because so many people had come. I
only went to that synagogue on a Friday once. No one was praying. They
either didn't know the prayers or they didn't have prayer books. Only
the cantor was praying. He was dressed in this black silk coat and had
a hexagonal black hat, if I remember rightly, like students in the US
have, not square, but six-sided, flat. And the porter who stood at the
entrance was dressed like that too. I only went in there once. They
used to say that it was only progressives that went there, once a
year. Always on Yom Kippur there were vast numbers of cars there.
As for other synagogues in Cracow, there was Stara [Old] Synagogue.
Except then they didn't call it 'Old' in Polish, but Alte Shil in
Yiddish. All the Yiddish names of the synagogues were used. Stara
Synagogue, Migale Amikes Shil. Then Poper, then Wysoka [High] - they
called it Hoyhe Shil - Izaak [Isaac] Synagogue. And on the left of
that one was the temporary Mizrachi school. And opposite that one,
Izaak, was another synagogue, but I don't know what the name was. Then
there was one on Krakowska Street; I don't know what it was called. I
only went there once. That was where my uncle's father went to pray.
Then there was Cypres, and after the war there was a printers' school
there. There's Kupa Synagogue too, Kupa Shil, that's what it was
called. Then there's Mizrachi, but I don't know if they prayed there
before the war. That building that's built there now was a school, you
see. But after the war they prayed there, there in Mizrachi; I looked
in there once. But whether it was a prayer house before the war I
don't know. And on Dietla Planty [a strip of grass alongside a road
called Dietla Street] was this temporary shack, a prayer house called
Astoria. Then there was the synagogue where the rebbe that came to us
and taught me at cheder was from. He either came to our house to
collect me, or took me home or to cheder. Once, at Yom Kippur, there
were prayers in a house on one of the city squares. But I don't know
if it was a permanent prayer house. Perhaps there was an inn or maybe
a hotel there.
There was another synagogue that I never went to but Mom used to talk
about. And where the [Jewish] Cultural Centre is now, was Bnei Emuna –
'Sons of the Faith'. And there was Bnei Sheyrit. And Chevre Tylem
[Association of Psalmists], that was where Mom always went, once a
month, when they had the 'Blessing for the New Month' prayer. That was
where women went before the new month. They were always up in the
gallery, up above, because downstairs were the men. Once I went there,
on some holiday, probably Yom Kippur.
As I was walking to Szeroka Street one day I saw the first Hasid I'd
seen in my life, a young man, who had a black hat, I don't think he
had the streimel. He had a black hat, and side locks, and that black
silk gabardine, and white socks. That was the first time I'd ever seen
white socks. That was an unusual sight for me.
I remember the Jewish theaters too. There was the Ida Kaminska Jewish
Theater. And the other theater was the summer one, in the Londres
Hotel. I went to both of them. I went to the summer theater with my
father and my brother, to see 'Sulamit'. That was the title,
I don't remember everything that happened in the play, but there was a
priest in it. 'Ikh bin Nussem Hakohen'. 'I am Nathan the Priest'. In
Hebrew 'Nussem ha-kohen'. I remember that. That was the first time I'd
been to a summer theater like that. Mom had gone away with my sister
I also remember how we used to walk to my grandparents' on Krakowska
Street, and later to the streetcar, the number 1. And on the wall of
the old town hall there, there was this plaque, a bas-relief showing
Jews bringing the Torah to King Casimir the Great [King of Poland,
1333-1370]. I don't know if it was a homage, if they're thanking him
for accepting the Jews, who were persecuted in various countries in
Europe. That plaque isn't there any more; the Germans took it down.
[In fact, the Cracow City Council restored it in 1996.]
In our family no one belonged to any political party. Dad told me
never to belong to any political party. I once talked to a man who
said: 'A man who doesn't belong to any party is worth nothing.' But I
think that it's best not to get mixed up in things like that and to be
objective. And observe from a distance, which is the best system. The
communist system had its pros and cons, you see, and the present
system has its different pros and different cons. There's no such
thing as the ideal system.
A few times people tried to get me involved, agitating. I went once on
a Saturday to Hashomer Hatzair , another time to Shomer Hadati.
They had these miserable little places. Once I went to Akiba [Zionist
youth movement] with a friend and my aunt's brother-in-law. But it
didn't appeal to me, somehow. With hindsight, though, I can see that I
should have got involved. I was afraid my studies might suffer, but
you had to go to one of those organizations! One of them, because
there were various different ones: Akiba, Hashomer Hatzair, Shomer
Hadati, Ichud [left-wing Zionist organization], there was the Bund
We did support the building of the Jewish state, though. In every
Jewish home there were two tins [money-boxes]. We had two: Keren
Kayemet , and the other one was Keren Hayesod . A collector
came round, once a month, I think, to collect the money. There was
money in those tins and he collected it and passed it on for the
restoration of Palestine, to buy land.
All the food in our house was kosher. There was dairy in the morning
and dairy suppers. And I asked why we always had dairy suppers except
for Fridays and holidays. And Mom said that rich people eat meat
suppers. We ate different things, sometimes herrings, usually
scrambled eggs, or sardines, or sprats. I don't remember exactly. In
the morning it was mostly scrambled eggs and coffee with milk. I
remember it was chicory then. I don't know whether it was real coffee
or ersatz. On holidays Mom and the maid prepared different dishes. But
it was all kosher. The crockery was separate – separate for dairy
products, separate for meat. And at Pesach, we would bring out this
hamper, which we had special crockery in. The hamper was in the loft
all year. And then we changed over all the dishes. The gas cooker was
covered with this metal sheet. That was observed very strictly too.
And when it was all over, what good did it do... Nothing! More
unreligious people survived than religious ones.
At home we lit candles in candlesticks. And at Chanukkah my father
always lit candles for 8 days, I mean every day, every evening, one
candle more. And he said the brochot, or the Chanukkah blessing. There
are three blessings: three on the first evening, but only two on the
And after a funeral, if there was a wake we ate either round peas or
perhaps egg. You sit on low chairs for seven days. It's only devout
people that keep it up for seven days, and then again on the 30th day
too. And you recite the Kaddish for the dead person for twelve months.
I remember a few anti-Semitic incidents: seven or eight, a few
happened before the war and a few after the war. It started one day
when I came home crying, as a preschooler. This one guy attacked me,
hit me, near our home in the Christian neighborhood. I didn't know
what for, I didn't know what a Jew was, I didn't know what an
anti-Semite was. And there were anti-Semites there. There were
anti-Semitic youths; they were brought up like that. As I stood there
by our gate, as a preschooler, he had a go at me. There were some
older kids there, not my friends, walking along the river. They would
gather there and sing anti-Semitic songs. I even remember those songs.
I didn't say anything to my family. I didn't know that it was
important to tell them. It went in one ear and out the other. To this
day I remember this one short song that the older one taught the
younger ones: 'Jew, Jew! The Messiah is born' and there was another
sentence that I can't remember. I remember another sentence from the
song: 'Ai vai kimmeshai, don't touch my beard! My beard is blessed,
curled on a stick!' But that was nothing. Once they hauled me down
there, down by the river. And I wore new velvet clothes. I even have a
photograph of them. They were standing there on the bank of the river.
The water was dirty. Well, and someone pushed me. I fell into the
water and went home all wet. Granddaddy was very angry, and so were my
parents. None of my friends owned up. The girl I suspected, Ola
Mleczko, told my Mom: 'I didn't do it.' Granddaddy told Mom to go and
report it to the police, but she didn't.
Later on, in 1935-36, I went to military preparation lectures.
Military service was two years, you see, but if you went to military
preparation they shortened your period of service by six months. So
you had a year and a half. I went for two years, a friend, Landau,
persuaded me. I was supposed to learn how to shoot. I didn't say
anything to my parents, because that was how they had brought me up:
not to tell them anything. They weren't interested in us at all; they
didn't have time. When Mr. Aleksandrowicz, who took us for gymnastics,
asked who wanted to sign up, I signed up. So I went for two years. And
I went on a two-week camp to Stary Sacz. And in Nowy Sacz we were
supposed to have a march-past. I desperately wanted to take part in
the march-past, with that rifle in front of the general at arms,
General Kasprzycki. We spent a long time practicing for it. And one of
the students from the very beginning called me Morytz [perceived by
some Jews as a derogatory name, similarly to Icek, often used to
replace 'Zydek'- little Jew]. He was in front of me in the line and he
would shout: 'Morytz!' OK, Morytz, fine, I didn't say anything. But on
the last day, when they all went for their certificates, I couldn't,
because of that boy. He offered me some soup, which he must have
tipped some powder in. I had a vomiting attack. They all received
their certificates except me.
I remember when I was older, school age, I saw this shop, which said
'money-changer', on the corner of the Main Square. Currency exchange.
It was the only shop of its kind I saw in Cracow. Other than that, in
the park at the foot of the castle, Wawel, just by the Royal Hotel,
was what was known as the 'black money exchange'. They were Hasidim,
who exchanged currencies, mostly dollars, illegally, I think. 8.90 the
dollar cost, and the official price in the bank was 5 zloty 25 groszy,
but you couldn't buy it at that price.
I also remember that before the war, when I was seven, Polish Radio
was in the center of Cracow. And I even went there, to the radio, in
the first grade of elementary school. We gave a performance; we said
something on the radio. And that was the first radio, in 1927, the
first time there had ever been radio in Poland. And our class put on a
performance of some kind. We didn't have any Jewish neighbors when we
lived in the Christian neighborhood. And when we were back in the
Jewish district we didn't have any contact with our neighbors, because
they were mainly progressive Jews there.
From our time in Kazimierz  I remember Purim. As a child I always
went to Krakowska Street with my parents. We stood on the pavement and
thousands of people in masks walked down the road. It was a
masquerade, in Hebrew 'adloyada'. Some just wore masks, some were all
dressed up. We even met one dressed up as a cat. Mom recognized him as
the furrier. We didn't dress up; we just stood on the street. But Mom
bought my brother and me masks. I was staying with Granddaddy and my
uncle then, on Mostowa Street, I was in the first grade of elementary
school. And my uncle told me to sing, so I sang what I knew from
school – 'A birdie flew along the street', or something.
In the summer of 1939 I was with my Mom, brother and sister in Zawoja
[a mountain resort in Poland]. And Dad called to tell us to come home
immediately, a week early. I asked Mom if we couldn't go just yet,
because I didn't want to leave. There was a swimming pool there; it
was nice weather, fresh air. We didn't know that war was going to
break out. We didn't realize, we hadn't read the papers. But Dad
realized, because every day before he went to work he read Nowy
Dziennik [Zionist newspaper, published in Cracow in Polish from
1918-1939]. So he knew that war was going to break out. So Mom put our
departure off, because we didn't want to go. And then Dad sent this
car, and seven families left with us. We went back to Cracow and Dad
was angry that we were delayed. But we arrived more or less a week
before the outbreak of war. Then Dad decided that I would stay with
the family and my brother, four years younger, would go out into the
world. But my aunt, Granddaddy's sister, advised my father that I
should leave home and escape, and my brother stay, because he was
younger. The Germans were taking boys of my age and sending them to
the German-French front; those were the rumors. If it hadn't been for
my aunt I wouldn't be here and perhaps my brother would still be
alive; perhaps he would have survived.
And then Dad went with me to buy a rucksack. I have that rucksack to
this day. We bought the essential clothes for two weeks, because
everyone was lying, saying that the war would last two weeks. The
neighbor also said that I should take my matriculation certificate and
my birth certificate. Well, I didn't want the matriculation
certificate because it wouldn't fold up; it lay so nicely in my desk.
So I took my birth certificate; I didn't have my ID card yet, just my
So the decision was made that I should go. Dad had approached the
neighbor and found out that he was going, that he was going to
evacuate, or escape. He was supposed to be going with his
brother-in-law and his friend. And on Monday 4th September he said
that they weren't going. Dad came back from the neighbor's with the
news that they weren't going. And it wasn't until Tuesday 5th
September that he found out that they were going. But on the Sunday
I'd met a friend called Grossbart outside his parents' shop. And he
told me that people were escaping, that there was illness in Wieliczka
[a small town outside Cracow] and starvation. He wanted to escape with
me, and I should let him know. So I sent my brother on 5th September
at 6 in the morning to tell him to get ready to leave. My brother went
to his place, and he said that he wasn't going, he wouldn't go. So
then I went at 8 in the morning to see him. His mother was there, and
his sister too. They stood in a line and he said that he wouldn't go.
'What will be will be!' I wanted to go with him; I wanted to save him.
His mother was trying to persuade him, and his sister, but he didn't
want to go. And he died! In Remuh synagogue there is a memorial
plaque, white marble, in English and Hebrew, saying that he – Joel
Grossbart – and his whole family died. One of my friends married
Grossbart's sister after the war. She was the only one of the whole
family to survive. I suspect that she had Aryan papers. It was a
I was packed up and I said goodbye to my family. They all stood in a
line outside the door: Mom, my brother, my sister and Dad. And they
all said goodbye. That was the last time I saw them. I didn't know it
was the last time. I thought I would be going back, that I would meet
up with them. So I set off then. Mom saw us off; she walked down the
opposite sidewalk. She wanted to give me a blanket. I didn't want it,
because it would have been too heavy for me to carry. I already had to
lug my overcoat during the heat wave, and all that in my rucksack. So
my journey was very tragic, because I walked nine days and nine
nights. And I slept 15 minutes, in a ditch.
There were four of us: my next-door neighbor, his brother-in-law, a
friend and me. We walked in the direction of Plaszow [a station in the
east of Cracow] and there we boarded a cattle wagon at noon. There
weren't any windows in there, just a bench along, and another bench.
It was dark, and all the seats were taken, but they made room for us.
We traveled like that until 3am. The others traveled on, but we got
off, because the train was going too slowly. It was dangerous, because
the Germans were already close to Cracow, and Cracow was taken on 6th
September. Then we jumped onto another train. That was the first time
I had ever jumped on when the train was moving, and with my rucksack
as well! We couldn't get inside because the door was locked. We
couldn't open it. And the handle was very cold. And I didn't have any
gloves. And we had to hold onto the handle for half an hour and stand
on the steps: each of us on a different step, because two of us
wouldn't fit on one step.
We were heading east: via Debica, Tarnow, Rozwadow, Przemysl, Lwow,
and then on to Zloczow. [see Annexation of Eastern Poland]  In
Zloczow there was a holiday celebration, the New Year festival, Rosh
Hashanah. We slept and in the next room they were praying. Then we
went back to Tarnopol [today Ukraine]. I spent a few days in Tarnopol.
When we arrived in Tarnopol there was another holiday, this time
Sukkot. There this family took us in, or two families actually,
because I ate with the older couple, and the others stayed with their
daughters, in the same building. They were called Fleischman. They had
a daughter, and in the other place there were two older daughters. He
was a poor man, a barber; he had one or two rooms and a kitchen. They
were supporting me; I wanted to pay them before I left but they
wouldn't take anything.
After that we went back to Lwow. In Lwow they left me. For the first
time in my life I was away from home alone; it was awful for me. I was
without a roof over my head, you see, and I had nowhere to sleep. So I
found out that there was a hall where you could sleep. People slept
there side by side on the floor: men and women on the same floor.
There weren't any straw mattresses there, and there was no room for
me, so I slept on the corridor. That was from Friday to Saturday. A
guy my age noticed me and took me to the synagogue on the Saturday. I
already had a temperature, and neither a place to stay, nor an
emergency room, nor a hospital. So there I was with this temperature
sleeping in the first room in the synagogue, and there in the next
room everyone was praying.
After the prayers that friend spoke to a tailor, a poor guy, who took
me back to his place. He had a wife and two daughters. And I didn't
say anything, because I never said much. I was shy, didn't have much
to say. I just slept for three days, and that friend talked to them.
The tailor sewed me a lining in my overcoat. And after three days I
thanked them and left, and went back to the [first] house, because I
didn't have anywhere to sleep. That time I got into the hall. I hung
my cap on a nail and lay on the floor. And in the morning I get up and
see lice on my cap – well, there's no way you can live in conditions
like that! But it was hard to find anywhere else to stay, so I went
back. And then the Germans caught me and moved back to the west, so I
worked on the roads in Wieliczka, then in Niepolomice and Biezanow
[satellite villages around Cracow]. I worked for a few months and then
I escaped from them again, over to the Russian side.
In April 1940 I went back to Lwow, found myself a place to live. First
I lived in an apartment with a friend, and then I moved elsewhere, to
an apartment with a Russian family [Russian Jews who had escaped from
Russia because of the persecution during tsarist times]. It was a
housewife with two sons and her mother. Only the younger son lived
elsewhere. I lived there with a guy from Sosnowiec, and in the
apartment next-door were some people called Meller. One day they
started arresting people, first of all capitalists. I heard that
they'd arrested Monderer too, as a capitalist. I'd done a commercial
internship with Monderer and Erlich [some business owners in Cracow]
in the winter holidays before the war. That was a kind of textiles
business. Then they arrested Polish officers, and then they arrested
'byezhentsy', or deserters [those who were running away from Poland,
to the East].
I was a deserter. So I went with my rucksack to a restaurant run by
Redlich, a friend of my uncle's from Cracow. And that uncle of mine,
the one I had worked for in Cracow on my office internship, he was
there: as a friend and as the bookkeeper. First he had been in Russian
captivity; I saw him the first day that I was in Lwow. He wore an army
coat and said that he had returned from captivity. He was always
trying to persuade me to go back to my parents. I went to my uncle, to
that restaurant, with my rucksack because he had offered to let me
sleep there. And I slept one night on some chairs. The next day I went
to the baths, to the post office, I had a card to send to my parents.
That day, I remembered that I'd left my pajamas at the Russian woman's
apartment. I went to get my pajamas at 2 and she offered to let me
have a nap. I wasn't at all sleepy, but I lay down for two hours. At 4
I got dressed and suddenly the housewife's son, Marek, comes running
in. And he said 'Hide, because they're looking for you.' So I hid in
the toilet, but they caught the other guy who was with me. And they
wouldn't have caught me if I hadn't given myself up. I came out of the
toilet and went with them. I even had to pay 30 rubles' lodging,
several days in advance! I thought they'd catch me the next night
anyway, so I gave myself up. I did right, because if the Russians
hadn't caught me then, the Germans would have caught me later, and
shot me like they shot my uncle.
Two of the Russian soldiers from the NKVD  led us. They had loaded
rifles. They took us to the barracks. We were there for three weeks,
without baths. We slept on bunks. We didn't know how long we'd be
there. And when I was asleep that guy from Sosnowiec stole my watch. I
got it back, but there's no knowing how many times he stole from me at
the house. He could have stolen money from my wallet, because I never
kept tabs on it. I was trusting; I never thought that anyone would rob
me. And then he said goodbye because he was going with a different
group. After three weeks they took us away in this lorry, to the
station in Lwow. We didn't know where we were going. They loaded us
into cattle cars. There were these bunks with palliasses, and a tiny
window with a grille. The heat was terrible, but every day it got
colder, which meant that we were traveling north. They gave us a meal
once a day. They gave us this kind of round loaf to share between
four. Then some of the others among us, in their underwear, got out at
lunchtime and carried a pot with noodles. They were pleased to be out
a bit in the fresh air. They called it 'lapsha' over there, noodles.
We traveled for six days and got right out to Rybinsk. There we got
out and were given a set of clothes, camp clothes, dark blue, our own
belt and a dark blue hat with a peak. They gave us dinner, and then
took us to the barber, who shaved our heads. But when I was at the
barber, the others went to where General Rapaport was giving a speech.
He talked about our obligation to work and about discipline. That was
Friday. They loaded us onto a ship. We sailed up the Sheksna. The
Sheksna flows into the Volga. There were a few devout Jews among us on
the ship. And they wanted a minyan, so they co-opted me. They weren't
at all worried that we were going to a camp; they just prayed. Then
they put us off at the camp, which was called Turgenevo.
There we got these little pink tokens and on that basis we got
breakfast and dinner. Only twice a day there was food: before going to
work and after coming back. And during the day only work. The next day
early in the morning this 'nevalny' woke us up. 'Nevalny' is Russian
for 'orderly', and we were called 'zakluchony', which means
'prisoner'. Everyone got a saw and axes. And they took us to the
forest, where we had to fulfill a plan. I sawed; we were clearing
forestland. We had roll calls as well. It's called 'povyerka' in
Russian. Every gang foreman had 16 people. One was called Epstein. He
offered us cigarettes; the first cigarette I'd ever smoked in my life.
Some of them preferred to smoke than to eat bread; they'd exchange
bread for cigarettes. There was a roll call before we went to work, a
roll call in the forest, and a roll call after work. And then again in
the zone, in the camp, another roll call, to check that no one had
In Turgenevo there were some who tried to form a minyan. So they got
me into the minyan and gave me a prayer book, because I didn't have
one. They took my prayer book off me in a search; there were ten
searches, you see. They took my prayer book and my tefillin. But they
left my tefillin batu, that's this bag for the tefillin, I still have
it to this day [Tefillin batim is the cover of tefillin; 'batu' is the
local pronunciation of the word]. And then, it was Yom Kippur, this
one functionary Russian found my tefillin. And he ripped it out of my
hand, took my prayer book off me. We didn't even get a chance to pray
on Yom Kippur. 'You're not allowed to pray!' But one old man managed
to keep his tallit. So he prayed, put it on sitting on his pallet on
the top bunk. And my friend, who I was in Georgia with afterwards, and
back then in the camps, saved his tefillin, because he hid it under
his knee. I was in Turgenevo for a few months. They sent us out there
on 20th July 1940.
Then, in the winter, they took each one of us with a different gang in
a different direction. In the next Gulag  there were better
conditions. The conditions in Turgenevo were harsh, you see, at first
you weren't allowed to write letters, weren't allowed to have a
pencil. You weren't allowed more than 50 rubles, or jewelry, or a
watch, or any sharp instruments. If anyone had jewelry they handed it
in, it was put into the safe and they got a receipt. I was the only
one who had a watch, hidden on my elbow, wrapped in a kerchief and
tobacco. But at first I had it inside my trousers. So they'd say
'Bertram – your trousers!' when they wanted to know what the time was.
The second camp was called Kanatna Droga. We went there in the winter,
by sleigh – I even drove the sleigh. And there were 'boytsy' [this is
what they called Russian soldiers] there. There were a few of us
[Jews]. Stones were transported there; it was on the Volga. From one
bank to the other on this cable car thing these little trucks went
back and forth. They were called 'kubonetki' in Russian and were 0.6
cubic meters, these little trucks. The stone was transported to our
bank. It was washed automatically and sorted. And our people carried
these 'nosilki', 'carriers' all day long. Stones on these carriers. I
felt as if it was 4,000 years ago in Egypt, where the Jews were
slaves. And for the most part the majority of us were Jews, but there
were Catholics too. There was this one priest, Father Jacek, without a
cassock. There were Silesians too. For the most part they were older
people; I was one of the youngest. Well, at Kanatna Droga I worked
voluntarily as well, in my free time. Then that job ended and I said
goodbye to them.
I was taken to yet another camp, Piatiy Uchastek. And we were there
for another few months. We were driven there, because it was a
different season. We were driven in lorries, but not petrol powered,
but wood powered. Every few kilometers the driver would stop and throw
the blocks of wood into this cylinder. And that's how we traveled. We
didn't know where to until we came to Piatiy Uchastek, or 'the fifth
section'. They were always chopping and changing the groups, a
different team every verse end. Different people. A stranger among
strangers, I was. I didn't know anyone. And work again. The conditions
were harsher there. The best conditions were in Kanatna Droga.
There was this huge project: there were an awful lot of Russkies
[derogatory term for Russians], who were building a hydroelectric
power plant. We were reinforcing the sluicegate, all the time, near
the Volga. And then one day, one night, 4th September 1941, we found
out about the Sikorski amnesty. We didn't know about Majski then [the
Sikorski-Majski Pact] . The next day we were called out to the
registration committee in alphabetical order. And they asked me where
I wanted to go. Did I want to go to Kokand [Uzbekistan] or to
Tashkent? I wanted to go to Astrakhan, because there was Russian
industry there. But a friend from Cracow told me that the Cracovians
were going to Georgia, and that I should go there too.
So I went to Georgia: anywhere to be free, so to speak, and not in a
camp. There was no question of the West, only what was then the Soviet
Union. And everyone could go where he or she wanted, it only had to be
at least 100 kilometers from the border, meaning from the front, and
we weren't allowed to go to the central cities. They didn't want a
large influx of people. They suggested Kutaisi [today Georgia], so
that was what I chose.
So we went to Georgia, arrived in Tbilisi. Before the war it was
called Tiflis, and afterwards Tbilisi. We get there and straight from
the station went to the prayer house. It used to be called a prayer
house. Synagogues are built differently, you see, and a prayer house
is this tiny room, or in somebody's house. There it was a small room.
There were Jews from Kiev there, who had escaped. And it turned out
that when we got there it was Rosh Hashanah. Morning and evening we
had to go to the prayer house. In the evening, when the hakham spoke,
I didn't know what he was saying. I thought he was speaking Yiddish
and that's why I couldn't understand him. It turned out he was
speaking Georgian. He was appealing to all the Georgian Jews to look
after all of us that had come out of the camps. And they invited us
for dinner and let us sleep that first night. I got this host where I
had dinner and I slept one night there.
There in Georgia this Georgian woman asked me: 'Is it true,' – because
she had been reading the newspapers – 'is it true that they are
killing Jews?' I replied that I didn't know anything. But two people
from Lwow came to Georgia. One was called Zelmanowicz and the other
Gutman. And they said that there, in the ghettos, there was
starvation. I don't know how they got to us. But we went to this one
prayer house every Saturday afternoon. And one of these Kiev Jews gave
a 'droshe'. 'Droshe', in Ashkenazi 'drasha', in Sephardi, means
'speech'. And he gave this speech about the Torah what is said on a
given day, what 'parsha' [parashah], or 'polsyk' [according to Mr.
Bertram the word used in prewar Cracow for parashah]. And right at the
end he told us about the tragedy, that over on the other side they
were killing people by then. He already knew everything; perhaps he
had read a Russian newspaper or a Georgian one. Perhaps he had found
out from Georgian Jews. But we didn't really believe it; we didn't
really take much notice, because we didn't know whom it affected. We
I had a few friends in Georgia. On the whole they were good people,
though a bit selfish. I've got a photograph of them. The oldest one,
in glasses, with the Lenin beard, was from Podgorze [then a town near
Cracow, now a district of Cracow]. He was an artistic signwriter,
could turn his hand to anything and did very well for himself. He
promised me that I would be his partner. That was Abraham Lamesdorf.
His wife had stayed behind; she died with their son, probably in
Belzec . My other friend was called Dawid Kos Klajman. He had two
names, I don't know why; I think he was some kind of salesman. He said
he came from Brygl. Brygl, I think in Polish that must have been
Brzesko. He never said it in Polish, all he said was Brygl. He had a
secret from us: he had a lady friend, who fed him, and he was at her
place all day long, after work, of course. We didn't keep tabs on
whether he went to the synagogue on Saturday or not. But it was a
small town; it was uncomfortable in that little town to be seeing a
non-Jew. Especially because on Saturdays and holidays I went with the
friend I talked about to the synagogue. There was no one else from
among our people at the synagogue, only the two of us.
We went regularly, but we didn't have access to the 'liye' [according
to Mr. Bertram the word used in prewar Cracow for 'aliyah' – going up
the bimah to read the Torah]. We didn't have any money, and you had to
pay an awful lot. And the hakham called people up. It went to the
highest bidder. 'Assima naty, to...orrasi manaty, sammassi manaty...
tiskula mitzvah'. That was what he said, in Georgian and Hebrew.
'Tiskula mitzvah' means 'you will be doing a good deed', or
'commandment'. And what I said at the beginning, that was the bidding.
100 rubles... 'mana' is rouble [in Georgian]. '100 rubles, 200 rubles,
300 rubles.' We couldn't afford such luxuries.
We sat at the side, and over there they were bidding for the reading.
That's the way it is all over the world, except in Poland. Others of
our people didn't go to the synagogue because they were busy with
work. And one of them criticized me terribly when I asked him if he'd
been to the synagogue, because I was surprised that he hadn't been.
Well, he offended me terribly. He found out that I'd been to the
synagogue, and told me that I was 'as stupid as a shoe off the left
foot'. But the older one in glasses said to me: 'Don't worry, Bertram,
the Lord won't forsake you.' This barrister, Goldberg, was in the
apartment too, and he added: 'If the Lord God doesn't forsake you,
then people will!' And I can't forget that. Very few people went to
the synagogue there. Synagogue was luxury. They were busy working, to
earn money to buy bread. But because we went to the synagogue, we had
these hosts. And they would invite us to their homes every Saturday
and every holiday. And we would eat Georgian kosher food; we waited
for that meat all week, of course, because other than that, privately,
I didn't eat it. For lunch we had gruel, flaked corn. And that was our
lunch. I don't think I ate anything else. We didn't get a second
course there. And as for breakfast, they did very well for themselves,
only I was the worst off. I'm talking about our private lives now, not
about the factory.
There was a time, you see, when I didn't even have enough money for
breakfast. I went through a whole month like that, and they persuaded
me to sell my Tissot [a watch-brand] that I'd been given by my father
when I graduated from school. Well, I sold it. I wanted 5,000 rubles,
but I only got 3,400 or 3,500. And then I had to give my two
housemates some money to buy oil, for arranging the sale.
I was working in a clothing factory. 'Shveyna fabrika', or 'The Kiev
Clothing Factory'. The director was called Macharadze, and the other
one Karikashvili. A year I worked there; then I got seconded to the
Labor Battalion [group of the prisoners from the Labor Camp, who
worked in much harder conditions]. I was in that Labor Battalion six
weeks; those were the harshest conditions. No prison on earth has
conditions like that. Six weeks I slept on the bare ground; it wasn't
a hut, just a tent with no roof. No roof, just branches. So I spent
six weeks in my clothes, six weeks on the ground, six weeks without a
bath, and on top of that: lice. I didn't know how long I'd stick it
there, because the work was hard and they gave us very little to eat.
I got weak, could hardly walk; like an old man. I stayed in Georgia
from the time they liberated us from the camp on 4th September 1941
almost until the end of the war.
The war ended on 9th May 1945, and I left Georgia on 22nd April 1945.
I left, but at that time we still weren't allowed to leave! My
neighbors left earlier than that; they kept it a secret from me, but
they came back. They were turned back by this NKVD functionary,
because he asked them, on a train during an inspection: 'Where are you
going?', and they said: 'To Poland.' 'Go back, there is no Poland!'
They came back, and then my neighbor got himself and me passes from
the militia, to travel on family affairs, but not to Poland! We only
got two rail tickets: on one we were to travel to Slavuta [Ukraine],
and in Slavuta we were to throw that ticket away and go to Kamenets
Podolski. We were traveling for three weeks, changing trains every
other day, because there was no other way.
It was very hard to get on a train, and the conductor was on the
running board, and people everywhere. How were we supposed to get on,
with a rucksack, and him with a briefcase? Well, that neighbor of mine
was cunning, the one in glasses, with a beard. 'Comrade, sir!' – he
said and winked conspiratorially. So he [the conductor] got all
excited that he was going to get some money. And when he'd let us into
the wagon, he didn't give him any. And he would do the same thing with
In Tbilisi my wallet was stolen. I had 90 rubles in it, my school ID,
my secondment papers from the camp, and three or four letters or so
from my parents, postcards. And at the militia station where I
reported the theft, they put my witness and me in a cell: all night,
with young Georgian criminals. And in the end the duty officer opened
up and the chiefs came with a list and let us all out. They'd let my
witness out earlier, at 8 o'clock in the morning. But I'd been kept in
Once I was free I picked my things up from the deposit. They gave me
to understand that I should travel without a ticket if I didn't have
any money. Outside the guy with the beard, Lamesdorf, and my other
future partner were waiting for me. And we went on. So we were in
Kamenets Podolski, and the border is in Rovno. There they told us that
we had to hand our passports over. So we handed them over, and we then
had to get a stamp on our passports and military service books. We
went individually, not waiting for a transport. We got on a train in
Rovno. All of a sudden there was an inspection; this NKVD functionary
came round. He let the three of us through, and we were on our way to
Poland. In Kovel, at 2 o'clock in the morning on 8th May 1945, there
were shots. I asked what the shots were, and they said that the war
was over. From there we went in the direction of Cracow. The one from
Brzesko went straight to Cracow too, because there were lots of people
coming to Cracow from small eastern towns.
We arrived in Cracow on 9th or 10th May. We reported to the Jewish
Committee and there they registered us. And there, this couple,
Aleksandrowicz was their name, a young married couple, asked me: 'Do
you have a cousin named Olga?' So I said, 'Yes.' And she said that she
used to go to school with her. And she told me that she had left Lwow
and crossed the border somewhere with a guide. And I found out that
she had managed to get to Los Angeles, via Yokohama, together with her
husband, who was called Erteschick, from Cracow. They hadn't managed
to get married here, but they got married there, in Los Angeles.
I registered with the Committee, and from time to time they gave us
some money, some food: dried cod. There may have been dinners there
too. They helped us as much as they could, because we weren't working
and didn't have anything. Everyone who came back from Russia was poor.
We reported to Albin Kenner, who was a friend of Lamesdorf's from
cheder, but he had also been in the same camp as us. He was the chief
administrator in the hostel, and told us that there was no room for
us. There were only places for people from the German camps. So I went
to another registration point, but for Catholics. And there they were
surprised, and said that they could give me a ticket to a hut with no
floor. 'Why don't you go to your own people?' So I went back to the
other place, and Lamesdorf had somehow managed to persuade that Kenner
to take us in, as a favor. We slept on straw mattresses on the floor,
for two weeks, in this tiny little room on the ground floor. We were
happy just to be lying on those straw mattresses.
Later on, in the early hours of the morning, I heard that my aunt had
arrived. And my sister-in-law; I recognized her voice. Later on, I met
up with them. My uncle, my aunt's husband, Aleksander Eintracht, was
still on his way back; he had been in a different camp and came back
much later. I went to the radio with my aunt and there we registered
that we were seeking our family. That was where everyone went who was
looking for family, Polish Radio. We put out an announcement that we
were seeking our family. We gave first names and surnames, I my
nearest and my aunt her husband's. But we never found them...
After that, two weeks later, we were offered a better place in the
Jewish hospice. Downstairs used to be a firm, Michal Kahan and
Company. He had materials downstairs, and upstairs I think there was a
warehouse. It was in the same building where our School of Commerce
had been. We sawed up shelves to have somewhere to sleep, because
there weren't any mattresses. I took my neighbor, Lamesdorf, to see
our old apartment from before the war. We looked at it; I only went
into one room. A family called Werner was living there. He was the
director of the Cyganeria cafe, where Liebeskind  from the ZOB
 had thrown the grenade [see 'Cyganeria' Campaign (22 December
We went to the lawyer, Keiner, who later changed his name to Korczak.
His son was called Janusz, just like the famous Korczak . That
lawyer, Keiner, or Korczak, said that if the judge knew what was what,
he would allocate me at least one room. There was a hearing. The judge
was called Guzek. He said: 'If you had a mother I would allocate you
one room, but since you're alone you'll manage.' And they carried on
living in our apartment, because that Werner came to the hearing, to
the second hearing, with the caretaker, a woman called Mikolajowa. She
was the caretaker from before the war, an old woman by then. And she
said that my father had sold the furniture for 5,000 zloty to some guy
from Warsaw [this probably should prove, that there was no property in
the apartment, which could be claimed back; but also that moving had
Apparently my parents had moved to Czerwony Pradnik [a district of
Cracow] before they went into the ghetto; I didn't even know. I also
found out from my aunt that my parents had lived on the ground floor
in the same building in the ghetto as her. And they had gone in the
first transport, on 2nd June 1942. Apparently, first of all, on a
Saturday, they had gone to do some road works, and my father hadn't
managed to get them a blue card, which could have helped them live
longer [Editor's note: The card confirming employment and necessity
for the Germans, and permission for staying in the ghetto, was of blue
color and attached to the 'Kennkarte']. And people who didn't have a
blue card were deported at once along with the whole transport via
Plaszow camp , and at Plaszow into what were probably cattle
wagons. My uncle told me that they spread lime there. And then, when
they went to Belzec, there weren't gas chambers at that time, but just
exhaust fumes from motor vehicles. They weren't all taken away at the
same time; other relatives went in later transports. All my relatives
were there, my uncles and my aunts. They went in later transports.
My aunt, Otylia, or Tyla, from Mannheim, she and her family must have
gone to Belzec too. And my uncle, the one whose name was Eintracht,
who after the war settled in Czestochowa, and the others, were lucky:
they went in different transports, to other camps, and somehow managed
to survive the Holocaust. Hania, my Mom's sister, died, unfortunately.
During the war she was taking kosher meat into the ghetto, as an
Aryan. She looked Aryan. At the time she was living in Sedziszow, and
she probably died there with her children. Her husband was shot in
Lwow. It was him I had met in Lwow; he was the bookkeeper in Redlich's
restaurant there. The Germans shot him and the Russians deported me.
It was he, Izydor, who had tried to persuade me to go back to Poland.
But I had registered myself and he hadn't. And it was probably because
he hadn't registered that the Germans shot him. A guy I knew in the
camp, Pukiet, told me about that.
Bluma, my mother's sister, had two children, two sons. One was perhaps
five when the war broke out. The other was born in 1939. The elder was
called Beno, and the second Macius. During the war, it could have been
1942, the end of 1942, the children were taken to the woods in a cart.
Bluma and her husband were in the camps; they survived the Holocaust.
Afterwards they lived together and had a daughter, Danuta. They are
dead now. They were the only ones of the Stiel family to survive from
Poland. Bluma is buried in Radomsko, because the Jewish cemetery in
Czestochowa has been closed for a long time. My uncle was buried
before her in the Jewish cemetery in Radomsko. And I made sure that my
aunt was buried in a Jewish cemetery, because she was in danger of
Poles burying her in a Christian cemetery. I couldn't have let that
Their daughter is handicapped, mentally unstable. She lives in
Czestochowa. She doesn't listen to me when I give her advice. I help
her out financially. She dresses nicely, even gets a little benefit.
She has a son, too, but from a mixed marriage. They live apart,
because her son doesn't want to have anything to do with his mother;
he hates her. He was christened without her knowing. Her husband,
persuaded by the neighbor, took him to church to have him
Christianized. They said they were going to the dentist. But my cousin
doesn't know herself whether she's a Jew or a Pole or a Christian. I
wrote to her and told her that she is a real Jew, but she doesn't know
the Jewish religion; as a child she went maybe once to a prayer house
in Czestochowa with her parents. I don't know whether she remembers.
Otylia Ryngiel, Dad's sister, died too. In 1938 her husband had to
leave Germany because of Hitlerism. He used to come to Poland via the
border crossing in Zbaszyn, and then he would come to Cracow and go to
some place in Podgorze district. Dad told me that he was worried that
he would commit suicide, that he would jump into the Vistula. But he
didn't jump. In 1939 my aunt sent him a telegram: 'Our panes smashed'.
They had a beautiful shop, you see, a fashion house selling clothes.
And Uncle Jakub didn't know what that meant. He thought that 'our
panes' [in Polish 'szyby'] was some minister in Africa... And she
moved out of their four-roomed apartment and sent all the furnishings
from the four rooms here, to an apartment where some Poles lived.
That's what my uncle said. And they both died, probably in Belzec.
When I went out that day, back then on 5th September, to my friend's
place to ask him if he wanted to escape with me, I met her. And she
said goodbye to me and kissed me. I didn't know it was for the last
time. You see, everyone was saying, lying, that the war was only going
to last two weeks. A group of us from the Jewish community
organization went to Belzec, in 1960 or 1961. There's a mass grave
there. Those who wanted to cried, and then Fogiel recited the Kaddish.
For the rest go to;