By Manya Friedman
The news of the approaching German army spread like an uncontained fire in this small town in central Poland. The defenseless population was devastated. Only one brave young man, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, a military cap askew on his head, patrolled the streets of his hometown with the illusion that he could single-handedly defend and protect it from the approaching mighty power.
A streak of stubbornness and the cocksure attitude of the young men of his generation convinced him that he could conquer the world. Even the roar of the motorized military column heard from a distance did not dim his determination. He was willing to sacrifice his life in defense of his hometown.
The first tank, preceding the armored column, with its machine guns ready to fire, entered the town and scattered the young man’s body all over the pavement near his home. After his burial, pieces of his flesh were still found in that street. Thus he became the first casualty in this small town invaded by the merciless German army—a lesson for the inhabitants—the price they would have to pay for resistance.
The young man left behind a mournful town and a bereft family: his parents, two brothers, two sisters, a brother-in-law, and his adorable baby niece. His older sister, with her husband and the baby, had only recently returned to this small town from the big city in western Poland in the hope that Hitler would be stopped before his army could reach central Poland. They were wrong.
During the deportation of the local Jews and the Jews brought in from the neighboring towns, the young man’s sister was in line clutching her baby girl to her chest when an SS man approached and tried to take the child from her mother’s arms. She resisted and would not give up the baby. The SS man shoved them both into the group of people destined for death. The child’s grandmother, thinking that she might be of support to them, stepped forward, and she, too, was pushed into that group to share the destiny of the others.
The deportations continued. Young people were sent to slave-labor camps, others directly to the death factories. The two brothers and the brother-in-law of the young man in the street were among those sent to labor camps in Germany. None of the three young men returned.
The father and his youngest daughter, who was my age, together with others, were sent to a munitions factory, Hasag, in Kielce. One day, rumors were spreading about a forthcoming deportation. Some of the workers hid in the attic at the factory. They were, however, soon discovered, and as they descended the stairs, each one of them was shot. Among them were the father and his daughter.
Historians, scholars of the Holocaust, and the world in general consider them among the six million Jews murdered in Europe. To me, they were my uncle (my father’s oldest brother), my aunt, and my cousins. Each one of them had a name, and each had a face, which I recall often among my haunting memories.
After my memory is gone, and I can say kaddish no more, do not forget them.
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