“You remember, Stephanie, I mentioned that I was missing one of my pyjamas, a skivvy type winter pyjama?”
I vaguely remember, you mumbled something the other day about one missing.
So, what about it?”
“I found it.”
“Mazeltov”,. Stephanie remarked half sarcastically. “Okay, where did you find it?”
“Oh, I found it in my emergency bag.”
“Where? What’s an emergency bag?”
“You know, an emergency bag with all the things you may sometimes need.”
“No, I don’t know, tell me.”
“You don’t need one for her.” – Dad was angry. “She is only seven, how is she going to schlep that thing?”
‘That thing’ was a military green coloured canvas type rucksack. Before the war we used one to pack things in, when we were going on a school holiday or some scout camp "na kolonie”. During the war, however, it was a commodity found in every Jewish household, a commodity more important in those days than anything you would find in today’s households.
could see those rucksacks peacefully leaning against the bedroom wall, probably
in every Jewish bedroom in my home town
They were waiting to be picked up quickly as soon as one heard the terrifying sound of those heavy military boots running up the stairs with that horrible noise when slamming or kicking your door.
There would be no time (everyone knew this) to look for that rucksack or muck around with adjusting the shoulder straps, the function that in today’s world is so politely explained by that nice air hostess when instructing you how to use a life jacket at the beginning of a nice overseas flight.
There would be no time to check the contents of those green rucksacks, so it was a frequently repeated procedure of making sure that in it were the basic necessities – a bar of soap, a comb, a small towel, a pack of dry biscuits, a small container of water, a couple of band aids, a small bottle of iodine, a pair of woollen socks or mittens.
My mother, probably like any other Jewish mother, neatly sewed a label on each rucksack with our name printed on it, using a kopiowy olowek, indelible pencil.
This way, she explained, it could be easily identified if you lose it or misplace it somewhere.
Painfully we know today how naïve such a statement was.
worry dad”, I mixed in. “She won’t have
to schlep it. I will carry
mum didn’t agree with me, so
No one was really sure when we would need those things, no one knew where we would be taken, or when. Would it be to an umschlag platz, would it be an evacuation to another town or ghetto somewhere, a selektzia or train travel somewhere?
Hamburger’s flat (mieszkanie) was
next to ours. He came from
His wife, the beautician, not a Berliner, wasn’t such an optimist. When she was listening to her husband’s predictions she had only one comment – “Nonsense, he is a dumkopf”.
:”Cesia” (mother’s name was Cesia), dad would ask her after a similar visit, “What’s wrong with those yekies, they are all the same. What’s wrong with Mr Hamburger, is he blind not to see what is happening here? Is he deaf not to hear from others what is happening in other cities? Doesn’t he realise what those sadistic brutes have in store for us?”
Mum would not answer or comment. She would only look up with her sad and beautiful eyes (I remember those eyes so well), as if she would be asking someone up there for some answers or comments.
Mr and Mrs Hamburger (they had no children) were taken away one night in February 1942. Peeping through the window that night, I saw them being roughly pushed forward by a few SS men.
Mrs Hamburger had obviously convinced her husband as they both had rucksacks on their backs.
How scared I was, looking at that couple going somewhere. Will that happen to us? I asked myself. I was sure it would, but when? I was in prison two months later, in April 1942.
“You see, Stephanie, I am not a youngster. In my emergency bag, not a rucksack, but a nice Tosca travel bag, I have a few necessities, a pyjama, shaving utensils, toothbrush, something to read, mobile phone? – no – mobile phones are not to be used there.
The last person who saw my parents alive is my friend Marysia who lives now in Tel Aviv. When Srodula Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, she was separated from her parents in Auschwitz and survived.
I met Marysia in Krakow in 1946. “You know, Genek”, she told me, “when I went with my mum and dad across that small bridge in Birkenau, Auschwitz, before we were separated, must minutes before the selektsia, I saw your parents next to my parents crossing the same bridge, with your little sister Ada. I remember distinctly, I can see her now, walking and carrying on her back a rucksack, a green one, a bit too big for her, I thought then.”