Leah Hammerstein Silverstein
Born: 1924, Praga, Poland
Describes lack of burial of the corpses of people who died in the Warsaw ghetto [Interview: 1996]
At that time you still could have a burial if you paid to the, to the, uh, Judenrat, to the Jewish council, about 15 zlotys, they would bring a hearse and, and carry away the dead person. But we didn't have the money. So, what people, poor people, used to do is to put the cadaver out in front of the house, and then there were special wagons who came and picked up all those dead people and brought them to the cemetery on Gesia Street. So, the next day I ran to that cemetery hoping to find my father there. And what I saw is, it was, you know, a terrible nightmare. For the first time in my life I saw a pile of dead bodies, you know, like two stories high. Because the, the, the amount of dead people was so enormous and growing from day to day that the, the gravediggers couldn't keep up with the pace of the, of the dead, you know, of the amount of people who were pouring into that cemetery. So they collected them, you know, piles, one upon the other, you know. And, and all these corpses, you know, their limbs intertwisted between, you know, with open mouths, and I was a young girl, and the stench from that pile of human, uh, corpses was so terrible. It's a sweetish smell, you know. I, I don't have the, the words to describe it, but, it was, you know, hell was, even the word hell is not a word to describe it, you know. So I couldn't find him on that pile, you know. I just couldn't make it, and I went back to the kibbutz.
Leah grew up in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. She was active in the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir Zionist youth movement. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto, which the Germans sealed off in November 1940. In the ghetto, Leah lived with a group of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir members. In September 1941, she and other members of the youth group escaped from the ghetto to a Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir farm in Zarki, near Czestochowa, Poland. In May 1942, Leah became a courier for the underground, using false Polish papers and traveling between the Krakow ghetto and the nearby Plaszow camp. As conditions worsened, she escaped to Tarnow, but soon decided to return to Krakow. Leah also posed as a non-Jewish Pole in Czestochowa and Warsaw, and was a courier for the Jewish National Committee and the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). She fought with a Jewish unit in the Armia Ludowa (People's Army) during the Warsaw Polish uprising in 1944. Leah was liberated by Soviet forces. After the war she helped people emigrate from Poland, then moved to Israel herself before settling in the United States.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections