by Marcel Drimer
On January 27, 2018, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Polish government passed a bill that would make it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or Polish people of complicity in Nazi war crimes.
For that reason, I am very upset with the current political situation in Poland. Even though I left the country 57 years ago, I am in contact with friends and family who still live there, and their quality of life and freedom of expression matter greatly to me. Therefore, when Diane Saltzman from the Museum called me to ask if I would accept an interview with Polish TV Station POLSAT, I gladly agreed. Since I read the liberal Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Newspaper) every morning, I felt well informed and capable of answering the interviewer’s questions. The next day a couple of journalists working for POLSAT, an independent (nongovernmental) TV station showed up at our home. The stations owned by the government are censored. They would not like to hear what I had to say, and I would have not agreed to talk to them.
The interview lasted over an hour. It was shown in Poland the next day and lasted 12 minutes. The interviewer was interested in my experiences during the war and my encounters with Poles. I gave her several examples of how the actions of some Poles almost cost us our lives.
I related what happened in August 1942 when a 12-year-old Polish boy showed the Germans and their collaborators that they missed the apartment in which five members of my family lived. These family members were killed in the Belzec extermination camp.
In the Drohobycz ghetto there were frequent Aktions (pogroms), so my parents prepared a hole under the floorboards and covered it with a mattress, as the beds had already been taken away. One day during an Aktion, we hid in the hole. My uncle Abraham, my mother’s brother (we called him Bumek), was sick that day and did not go to work. The Germans and Polish policemen came to our apartment, walked around, and pretended to close the door. Bumek was claustrophobic and lifted the mattress to breathe. At that moment, we heard in Polish “get out, get out, birdie.” One of the Polish policemen had been Bumek’s schoolmate and now wanted a bribe for not reporting us. After a while Bumek lifted the mattress and asked Mother and another woman hiding with us to give him all the money they had. We were lucky that they robbed us of money and not our lives.
After escaping the ghetto, my family hid in the lumber factory where my father worked. There, a friend told Father about a woman, Teresa, who suspected Father was hiding somebody. She had seen him in the middle of the night carrying food and said she planned to report him to the authorities and be rewarded with a kilo of sugar for each person revealed. The situation was grave; something had to be done. Father knew a doctor working in a nearby clinic. This doctor wrote an anonymous letter to the SS pretending to be a German officer on leave from the front who had a sexual encounter with Teresa, infecting him with syphilis. Very soon two German soldiers came to the factory and took Teresa to the clinic where the doctor worked. He “confirmed” that Teresa had syphilis and she was taken away.
But we knew we had to find another place to hide. Father searched among local farmers for someone willing to hide us. He encountered many who blackmailed him by threatening to denounce him if he did not give them a bribe. There were many similar examples of greed, hatred, and lack of humanity.
On the other hand, an example of what was good and noble in Poland is the Sawinski family. They first agreed to hide my mother and sister, Irena, both blond and blue-eyed, Aryan looking. I presented more of a problem because, as a Jewish boy, I was circumcised. If we were discovered, we and the Sawinskis would all be killed. After a heart-wrenching meeting, Mrs. Sawinski agreed to hide me as well. Eventually their family hid 13 Jews. The Sawinskis were given the honor of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and their names are listed at the Museum.
The television interviewer also asked my opinion about the new Polish law concerning the responsibility of Poles for the Holocaust. I criticized that law and the general attitude in Poland, adding that nationalism is not patriotism. Having lived in Poland for most of my youth, loving Polish music and literature, being in contact with longtime friends, I do care about the country. The journalists sent me a link to our interview, which I forwarded to all my Polish-speaking friends in the United States, Israel, and Poland. Their reaction was positive; they hate the current government as well. One of the unexpected results of the interview was that one of my friends, Krzysztof, was able to find the name of the doctor mentioned above, who against the Hippocratic Oath, had Teresa sent away, therefore saving my family. Krzysztof discovered that the doctor’s name was Benedykt Frommer, born in 1892, educated in Vienna, a friend of Bruno Shultz, who survived the Holocaust in Drohobycz and died in 1947 in Poland. I was happy to find out the name of this Jewish “Righteous” person. Krzysztof also sent me a copy of my father’s birth certificate and copies of some other interesting documents.
I am glad that there is still a semblance of democracy in Poland that allowed thousands of viewers to hear the opinion of a survivor who cares about Poland.
To that point, I attended a very big commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In attendance was the Polish President Duda. I was heartened to see hundreds of young volunteers dispensing jonquils, the symbol of the uprising.
Maybe not everything is lost in Polish-Jewish relations.
©2018, Marcel Drimer. 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.