Halina Peabody discusses living in Jaroslaw, Poland under false papers identifying her as a Catholic. A local woman took Halina, her mother and sister in and gave them a place to live, while never suspecting that they were a Jewish family hiding as Catholics.
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“She saw a mother with two children, worn out and you know, just completely at the end of their tether. She said she is going to take us in.”
Over sixty years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.
This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program, First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors.
In today’s episode Halina Peabody talks with guest host, Suzy Snyder, about living in Jaroslaw, Poland under false papers identifying her as a Catholic. A local woman took Halina, her mother, and sister in and gave them a place to live, while never suspecting that they were a Jewish family hiding as Catholics.
So at this point you’re in Jaroslaw and you have no place to live. You have nothing. You have no game plan.
We don’t know the city, we don’t know the town. We’re just walking in the main street there and so my mother, being my mother, always finds a way. So she saw a little café, so we walked into the café. It was very important to be off the streets because the Germans were looking for stragglers and it was always dangerous.
Now I have to say, we didn’t know if our papers were real or not. Could have been a complete…I still don’t know. So we didn’t want to have them examined if possible. So we didn’t want to be found on the street. So it was very important to find some place to live. So when we got into the café my mother started asking people there whether they knew of anybody who took lodgers and luckily again somebody got up and said, “Yes, I know a lady who takes people in and I’ll be happy to walk you over, it’s not far from here.”
So he walked us over there and this nice old lady who was a washer woman with four strapping sons who were not happy to see us at all, but she said…she was a very good woman. I would say she was a real good Catholic. She saw a mother with two children, worn out and just really completely at the end of their tether. She said she was going to take us in. She took us in and what we got was a bed, that’s what you had. I mean you didn’t get apartments or rooms, you just got a bed. And that was sufficient, but we were in.
And my mother said to her that she doesn’t have any money that she’ll have to go to work the next day, whatever work she can find, and whatever she earns she’ll bring back to her and pay her for keeping us. And she did exactly that, she learned to do some housekeeping and she was very able to learn, especially in that kind of a situation. So she started working as a housekeeper somewhere. It was very meager and she worried all the time that we would be, some sign we might give…and she was always worried about us giving ourselves away.
We did not speak Yiddish, our accents were pure Polish because my mother went to Polish school, so that was to our advantage
In the meantime, I was going to school with the Polish kids for two hours a day. One hour was religion and one hour was general studies. Of course I was far ahead because I could read and write which was very helpful. I learned the Catechism from A to Z, if anybody’s Catholic they know what that means. So, the priest liked me very much, they of course didn’t know who I was, but I did very well with him and he was a very nice priest.
Can I ask you a question about that?
Are you sure that the priest didn’t have an idea that you were Jewish?
What about the woman that saved you?
Absolutely not. My mother thought that she suspected maybe my father was Jewish.
But she did not suspect that…?
Absolutely not at all. No she did not. They would have been too afraid.
Talk a little bit about her four sons. Because you mentioned one of them was very suspicious.
Yes one of them was very suspicious and he also worked for the Germans and he used to come home and talk about pulling gold teeth out of Jewish dead and things like that for us to hear. But he was suspicious, but she wasn’t going to listen. She was very intent on saving my soul. My mother was too old, my sister was too young, but I was the one she worked on. She sent me for special classes. I went to the communion and she was really a very good person and she tried, according to what she believed in, to save me. And I appreciated that, more so today than maybe then.
You have been listening to First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our Web site, www.ushmm.org/firstperson, and follow the prompts to the First Person podcast survey to let us know what you think.
At our website you can also learn more about the Museum’s survivors, listen to the complete recordings of their conversations, and listen to Museum podcasts Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention.