By Manya Friedman
He was only nine years old when Germany invaded Poland. The youngest of three children, he was a skinny little boy on spindly legs, agile body, and a small pale face. The only outstanding features were his two large brown eyes, mischievous and alert. Since Jewish children no longer were allowed to attend school, he became restless and was constantly on the move. He often kicked around a ball in the backyard, or pebbles, or rode the bike he had to share with his older brother and sister. It was amusing to watch him navigate that bike. Too short to sit on the seat and reach the pedals, he would stand up and shift his hind end from side to side, the bike leaned in one direction and he in the other to maintain balance.
Before the war a tall building was being erected next to us, but the construction was interrupted when the war started. He used to roam around in that unfinished building looking for a place where we could hide, and often seriously discussed the possibilities with father, convinced that we could make a hiding place there. Of course, he did not take into consideration the necessities we would need to survive.
He was also outgoing and streetwise, he had the last word in any dispute, and was in complete contrast to the rest of us. His mind was always working on how to “organize” something (an expression used during the war). Somehow, he always knew where a line was forming to distribute something edible. By the time we got in line he was already a mile ahead of us with his inseparable school satchel, either by himself, or attached to someone pretending to be their child. We often came home empty-handed because they ran out of provisions, but he usually managed to bring “something” home. He took his job very seriously, which often caused our parents much anguish. Sometimes he sneaked out from the house while the curfew was still on, and our parents spent many anxious hours looking for him. But among our parents’ friends, he became a celebrity, a hero. They admired and praised him. This made his two-year-older brother somewhat jealous. There was such a contrast between the two of them, both in looks and personality. The older brother was blond, blue eyed, with a light complexion and angelic face. He looked like a well-fed, protected child. Some said he had an aristocratic look. He was quiet, serious and reserved. When into mischief, he did not need to defend himself; grandmother acted as his lawyer. He was her favorite, probably because he was named after her husband, who died very young. By then he was twelve years old, already employed by a German company. His employment card (sonder-card) had great value, not only for himself but also for the entire family. The more employed members in the family, the better chance of not being deported, at least for the time being. Those cards were called “a way to life.” But the older brother still wanted to prove that he too could contribute. Beside the miserly few things allotted on the ration-cards, Jews were not allowed to have any other staples in the house. But the allotment was so meager, hardly enough to survive on. So whoever could, at a great risk, bought things on the side (black market). Some unscrupulous Poles took advantage of the situation and cheated the Jews. One day the older brother, on his way home from work was approached by a young Pole with an offer to sell him some margarine at a price. He came home very excited and told mother about the prospect of getting some margarine. Mother gave him the money and the next day he brought home a package wrapped in a piece of cloth which he excitedly produced from under his coat. The margarine, in those days came in cubes about 3 inches in diameter. When mother unwrapped the package, there was only a thin, outside layer of margarine, the rest was a nicely sculpted turnip square. We all felt sorry for him; no one said a word because this was a common occurrence. You exchanged money for the “merchandise” in some dark alley or hallway, at a great risk, making sure that there was nobody around, and ran.
In March 1943, the SS men surrounded the shop where I was working and we were all taken for deportation to Germany. My parents and both brothers were still at home. They all came to the deportation point and brought me a suitcase with my personal belongings. We could not talk much. They stayed till it was time to leave, each one of us probably with the same thought...
That was the last time I saw either of them.
Their images are forever etched into my mind.
©2002, Manya Friedman. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.