I am the son of a slave — pt 2
This is part 2, part 1 is based on my dad’s history and is based on what he wrote and his testimonies, however this part is about a visit to Poland where he was accompanied by my sister Nicky and myself, so it’s a more personal account.
Second Visit to Poland — 1995, 50 years after Auschwitz was evacuated.
In December 1994 dad read in various papers about the forthcoming Remembrance Ceremony planned in Auschwitz and he began to feel quite strongly that he should be there. Earlier that year he had met again with Luke Holland (a film maker) who was researching the resistance movement in Auschwitz-Buna and the role of I.G. Farben and its amazing capacity to survive to that day still being in the process of being ‘wound up’.
The Nuremberg Trials had issued the winding up order in 1946.
Luke had gotten dad’s name through Dr. Franz Unikower, the oldest survivor of Auschwitz who also had been dad’s father’s lawyer and friend. He was now living in Frankfurt. Luke’s questions and their discussions of some of the facts he had already found, brought sharply into focus dad’s time in Auschwitz. Luke wanted to go with dad and record this important event. He had observed that dad could no longer ignore what had happened 50 years earlier. Dad also started to think that he owed it to his parents, sister, relatives and everyone that perished there, to pay his respects. He was understandably, apprehensive of opening old wounds and having to re-live that awful past.
In January dad contacted Victor (Cushy) to check what the ’45 Group’ was doing for the anniversary of the Liberation and learned to his surprise that nothing had been arranged for Auschwitz, but everyone was going to Israel later in May. Dad made arrangement that he all our family would join them there.
Later he read an article which said that many people were going to Auschwitz, including the famous Eli Wiesel. Dad obtained a programme from the Polish Embassy, but there seemed to be no organisation looking after simple things like transport or hotels. He then made a second stronger request and was given the number of a professor in Warsaw who was ‘organising everything’. Dad phoned and got through to a secretary who eventually put dad through to him. Though the professor was very charming and insisted that dad was most welcome, when asked about arrangements, he said “just come”. A few calls to travel agents confirmed that all planes and hotels were fully booked by the invited VIP’s and press. The ‘ordinary survivors’, he surmised, were not that important ‘in the big picture’ that was going to be played out at Auschwitz. He told Luke he “wasn’t going”, so Luke booked to go off to South America to do some filming for other projects.
Dad couldn’t get it out of his mind that he should really be going, so looked at the programme again. He realised that all the big fanfare was taking place for the 50th anniversary of when the Russians had arrived at the (mainly deserted) camp, but dad had been evacuated a week earlier and everything started to fall into place. Dad thought “to hell with the Russians”, they hadn’t done him any favours. He could arrive in Poland by plane on the day that they had been marched out of the camp and there were no problems with booking hotels. Dad booked Nicky and myself to go with him, both as witnesses for future generations and also to give him the strength to go through with it. Luke, unhappily, could no longer change his commitments. None of us realised what was waiting for us in Auschwitz and elsewhere.
Our journey to Auschwitz 18/01/1995
We arrived in Poland on the 18th of January 1995, picked up a hire car, then drove to our hotel, the Forum, in Krakow.
We travelled with LOT, the Polish Airline. Dad was very worried as he’d heard bad things about their aeroplanes, so he contacted an old work colleague (Peter Percival, the friend who had worked on the V-2 turbine) who now worked for SITA. He reassured dad that the plane was a new Boeing and had been recently serviced.
We decided to make notes. Dad would write down what he could remember had happened that day 50 years ago and Nicky would write what we found and her impressions.
Dad: Today is the 50th anniversary when I left Auschwitz on foot, on a cold day, dragged away and guarded by the vile guards. In the distance we could hear guns. German guns? Russian guns? It was clear to all of us that the Germans were on the run. Where were they taking us? What was going to happen to us? Here in Poland I could recall with crystal clarity what happened that day we left to a very uncertain future. I was so near my birth place, should I try to escape, but without my father I would not know who to trust, if there was even such a person anymore. We knew of course about the mass killings; Were we being herded to be killed somewhere else? It seemed this may be the last chance to escape. I cannot remember why I didn’t.
For weeks now, my memory has slowly come back, and my protective shield seemed to have come down and here my recollections are flooding back, so far only those which had good endings for me.
It is with very mixed feeling that I go back to that German killing machine, a monstrous place run by this devilish ‘Super Race’.
I could not stop myself. I had to go and say some prayers for my lost family and the nearly 2 million of my people who were enslaved, murdered and tortured here — not very far from where we are now. We are staying at a 4-star Hotel (Forum) in Krakow. Nicky and Steve are here to prop me up, should it become too difficult for me. We are really close now; I have a warm feeling inside me, and we will be all right.
Now that I have the safety of a family around me again, who I know love me and of course I love them, I must remember everything and write down what happened here. These hideous crimes against us must not be forgotten and must be a warning what happens to the Jewish people who had to trust the ‘goyim’ — the non-Jews for their very lives. We must never be in that position again and allow ourselves to be herded like sheep to the slaughter.
Wednesday Evening 18/01/95
Tomorrow we are going to drive to Auschwitz to visit the crematorium where dad will say a prayer and see what is still standing in the camp he had been in — Auschwitz Monowitz-Buna.
Dad thought about what happened 52 years ago when he arrived at this terrible place, it needed to to be put into the story, if he was ever going to write about it properly.
Dad: I arrived on the 6th of March 1943 from Breslau some 170 miles away. More than a thousand people arriving at the infamous ‘Judenrampe’, in covered railway trucks used for goods or cattle. During the journey we were crammed into them, mostly standing as there was not enough room to sit. Soon there was a terrible smell of sweat and later urine and faeces. A blanket was held up for women who crouched down to aim at a small slit in the sliding door. On the opposite side the men peed through a similar slot with more success. I was trying to avert my eyes, but the images stayed. We were no longer considered human. On arrival we had to unload our luggage and leave it neatly on the ramp. Everyone’s luggage had been labelled in Breslau as had been ordered and it would be taken care of. My mother had packed mine and Kãthe’s small cases which we were allowed to take with us, so we had all we might need in our ‘new home in the East’. It was a lie of course, you were either going to die very quickly, or more slowly as your body wore out and then the next new person took your place and worked themselves to death. No dignity would be given to you, even in death. Even the most primitive of people respected life, but not in Auschwitz.
I cannot forgive or forget these evil thugs who committed these crimes, but I have tried to live a ‘normal’ life and hoped the new generation would be ashamed of what had been done by their parents and had to be given a chance and great encouragement to become good human beings and live with their past as I have to with mine.
We arrived at the Auschwitz main camp (Auschwitz 1) which dad didn’t know. It was a work camp, but it was famous for torture and murder. It was the original death camp before Auschwitz II-Birkenau was ready to kill on a massive scale. We hired a guide, a young Polish lady who spoke English. I was the camera man. It was bitterly cold, perhaps -10°C or lower. Dad got annoyed because the guide insisted that we should first visit the documentation centre, because it closed early. He couldn’t see the point of going there. We didn’t want to look at documents. We went through the gate with the infamous and cynical inscription:
Arbeit Macht Frei — Work gives freedom
We entered the reception part of the document centre, a small room, and dad was asked about relatives who might have come to Auschwitz. After explaining that he and his father had been in Buna but his father probably came to Auschwitz I after he got ill.
Nicky takes up the story.
Nicky: At Auschwitz I they have a registration card and another entry of dad’s dad — Ewald Karmeinsky. He had been in Monowitz (Buna) hospital on 07/05/1943 (entered). He died of a heart attack in Block 19, the hospital in Auschwitz I according to the documents, i.e. a death certificate.
They found this and other documents from recently released material from Moscow. Dad remembered his Dad’s number when we entered — 106 961, but then could not remember his own number 106 962, he had to look at his arm. The shock of the concrete evidence was indescribable. The three of us cried. It felt (to me) almost unbearable.
Dad said Caddish at the crematorium at Auschwitz I on the 19th January, 1995 for his father, for mine and Steve’s and Katie’s opi (Grandfather). We all shed tears. I can’t believe how cold it was there. I can’t really describe how it felt to be there. I stood and looked down the rows of barracks, the barbed wire, the watch towers and tried to make a picture of crowds of starved, deprived, terrified people — inadequate adjectives — and I could not, I just felt immense grief, pain, anger. I thought, I hoped that my omi, my opi and my auntie are all at peace. And I held my Dad’s hand and we walked out of that place.
We took pictures of dad’s father’s (mine and Nicky’s grandfather’s) card showing his progress through leading to his death in Auschwitz.
He was most likely killed by phenol injection, as this was the most common method in block 19. The medical block.
Nicky could not carry on writing. It was very heavy for us to bear what we had just experienced and seen after we left the documentation centre.
Dad asked himself now, why and how he had survived Auschwitz, Dora and Belsen (but only just).
Was he ‘chosen’ to be a witness, were all survivors to carry a message, dedicate their lives to tell others? If so, he had failed the task.
At the time of his liberation and later, he was devoid of feelings — just emptiness. He wanted to be someone else — He had to become someone else. He had to become someone else to stay sane. Perhaps changing his name was part of the process that meant he didn’t have to think, to hate or want revenge.
But now. Seeing it again and remembering again, how could he live with it now?
We all felt very close, Nicky was tremendously supportive and looked after dad and he knew that she deeply sensed what was going on inside of him. I had to deal with my own emotions which I felt uncomfortable about showing. Dad began to think we might have to go home as soon as possible. It might be too damaging to us.
Here dad stopped writing except for the odd note. He couldn’t concentrate or marshall his thoughts, everything was muddled up in his head.
The following is a mixture of notes that dad wrote in London from memory assisted by the notes he had made and my own memories and notes.
The guide took us through Auschwitz I emphasising that the first inmates were Polish resistance who were tortured and hanged to die slowly. The blocks here were all brick and some were heated, the snow had been cleared and grass laid. We saw the SS brothel and swimming pool.
We were in shock, but eventually dad pointed out that we were Jews and would like to be taken to the Jewish blocks. None of these were heated, except one of the children’s blocks. Later, it dawned on us that the only heated ones were probably the blocks which were to be shown to the VIP’s! You wouldn’t want all these dignitaries getting cold or walking on mud.
We saw the hair, the thousands of shoes, the luggage and all the horrific reminders of what had happened here. The sub-zero temperature brought it home to us how difficult it had been to function for all of those slaves, and for dad in a camp a few kilometres away. Dad remembered his early time in the camp and his fears about how to get through another day. We were hungry as we’d not eaten since breakfast and it just seemed too realistic.
I remember being underwhelmed by Auschwitz I, it was a small camp. brick buildings, it didn’t have gas chambers as such, the Germans had just sealed some prison type cells and tested Zyklon-B on prisoners there. It was mostly a Polish political prisoner camp and they shot prisoners against one of the walls. There were a couple of ovens, but again they just tested burning bodies there and not on an industrial scale. The lack of scale didn’t make sense to me.
Then we went to Birkenau and saw the remains of the gas chambers and the huge ovens, the mass killing machines. At this point the guide stopped pushing the ‘balanced’ picture that “Poles were here and suffered terribly”. Dad commented that some of “our boys had also been in the Gypsy camp (Zigeuner-Lager)” — in fact Victor ‘Cushy’ Greenberg of the 45 gang.
Here the scale did hit me, we entered through the archway along the train tracks with watch towers either side as far as the eye could see. Again brick barracks at the end on the left (Russian POW camp) and the remains of wooden barracks that had been burnt as the camp was evacuated (some reconstructed so the tourists could have some idea of the conditions).
There is a huge Russian monument to the people that worked or were killed there, but no mention of Jews. The prisoners are depicted wearing red triangles (political prisoners). When you get to the remains of the crematoria, you see the multi-language small plaques.
For ever let the place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity were the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.
The guide then offered to show us what was still left of the railway ramp that dad had arrived on, which wasn’t part of her prepared talk. Dad appreciated it. She then explained the old ramp was no longer there but there were still some wooden huts, which were used to temporarily store all those worldly goods, that had been so carefully packed and taken. Here the guards had their shelters and presumably also the special ’Kommando’ (work group) of prisoners who worked for them in the camp called ‘Canada’, who ‘sorted’ the luggage. The huts were now being used by the people living nearby.
It was now late in the afternoon and we rushed to find dad’s camp Auschwitz III-Monowitz Buna, without the guide. Officially it doesn’t exist. We soon found what was the I.G. Farben complex and its main entrance and tried to persuade somebody to let us in. Dad had telephoned the current Managing Director (Jan Babiarz) whilst still in London, through the Polish secretary of his friend Günter (referred to in dad’s first visit to Poland), and left a message that dad would like to see the factory again. We had a feeling they were expecting us, and a manager explained we could not enter the main factory due to regulations, but in his office he showed us an aerial photograph taken by the RAF. He tried to convince us that nothing of the original camp remained and there was now a supermarket in its place. He also said that the Russians had taken all the machinery and this chemical complex was all newly built and we had to leave.
Maybe he was referring to the British Prisoner of War camp which was near there? Most likely it was just a lie. We soon found the side entrance, where dad had been marched into the complex and some of the original huts, both on the other side of the complex and on another road. We also found where the original camp had been, with three barracks still standing, which were being used as storage by the local farmers living in houses which had been built on the camp area. We found some thick concrete pipes lying on their side half buried at fairly regular intervals, where dad thought the perimeter of the camp had been. Dad had seen those pipes before, but could no longer remember why.
Only when back in England and much later did Luke tell dad what they were. They were bunkers, air raid shelters, for the guards at each watch tower, who could dive into them when Allied planes approached. They had expected attacks where planes would gun them down in their watch towers and disable the killing machines — it never happened, those poor slaves were far too low on the list of priorities, even for the Allies.
It was getting dark and we were heading back, when we spotted a stone memorial on the road side near the main entrance of the chemical complex. It was in memory of the 30,000+ Polish Resistance fighters and Prisoners of War that died there.
No mention of Jews, who made up at least 95% of those who died by being beaten, worked and starved to death or died of untreated diseases as it wasn’t cost effective for I.G. Farben to wait until they got better and pay for any medicine. Jews weren’t Prisoners of War, they were just expected to die. The memorial made us very angry.
Here in the years 1941–1945 upon the site of the former extermination camp Auschwitz Buna-Monowice the Nazi perpetrators of the genocide killed about 30,000 political and war prisoners of various nationalities. We honour their memory: The community of the Oswiecim district.
That evening over Dinner we reflected, mostly silently about what had happened that day. Dad could not sleep for a long time. I shared a room with him and went back downstairs to the bar and returned in the early hours. Dad thought on how it felt to be a nobody, just a number, nobody cared a damn about you. And now the Poles added to his grief by not even acknowledging the Jews. Their gleaming chemical complex, the pride of high technology which has largely been built with the blood of Jews, who were not prisoners of war, they were nothing, just slaves condemned to death.
Dad thought about the terrible food and starvation, the lack of medical facilities. All this was negotiated and paid for by I.G. Farben, they owned the camp and the slaves and they must be held responsible. He also thought about the rump of I.G. Farben still being around (still being wound up!), paying pensions to their German employees, and it was rumoured that the top guy of the old I.G. Farben who did the deal to get the camp built, eventually became very senior at Deutsche Bank. He did not feel well that night and hated everybody.
Friday 20/01/95 Resenberg (Olesno)
Today we are going to Rosenberg the small town where dad was born. His family left there in 1940/41 to go to Breslau, though dad had already left earlier having been expelled from school and sent to an orthodox Jewish boarding school. The papers had announced “at last free of Jews” (Judenfrei). Dad felt nothing for Rosenberg — but wanted his children to have an image of where they lived. Though now some of it looks so drab, because people living there don’t care about it. It is not theirs, it has a bad history, let it rot?
Rosenberg — Dad’s Father’s last Joke
After a long and difficult drive, we arrived in Rosenberg. We looked at the house dad lived in and it looked even worse than the last time he’d been there. I videoed it all. Dad felt that me and Nicky must have thought “aren’t we glad we weren’t born here”. Dad found Ralph Preiss’s house, his school friend (and sister’s ‘boyfriend’) who became a computer engineer at IBM.
We then went to the town square and photographed the spot where the Hotel Baginski had stood, but it wasn’t there anymore. We did this for the Baginski grandson who lives in London. We took shots of dad’s school, but it was very, very cold and dad now had a revolt on his hands. Nicky and myself wanted to stay in a cafe which they had spotted, to warm up, we had had enough. So in the mean time dad took some more shots and found that there seemed to be a reasonable restaurant, where the canteen had been on his previous visit. To his amazement some people there were speaking German and dad introduced himself to who put him in touch with Mrs. Smyk who went to his old school and seemed to know his family name.
She offered to take dad to the records office where he wanted to find any documents about his family. He then found out that she was helping the old German population with forms and other things he didn’t understand. She was also involved in building a new school which would also teach German to the children. The surounding countryside was still 80% ex-Germans! They did not want to go back to Germany as the “race was no longer pure there!” Here they were pure Germans and they did not inter-marry! Dad internalised “No comment necessary”. He was however accepted.
We arrived at the local records office and of course all the German documents were still there. In the past, during the communist times, dad found it impossible to get any answers. Others had been told there were “no such documents”. Dad found his own birth certificate, with the name “Israel” added to his name (as per the law) and dated. On his father’s birth certificate there was an entry that he had voluntarily added the name Israel, dated some weeks earlier. That was a very typical act from his father, a proud man and fighter. How it must have hit him later. To his amazement dad found they even added the name Israel to friends who had emigrated long before! Just imagine the effort involved. On the positive side, all this effort must have detracted from preparations for the war and hopefully shortened it.
Though looking back, it was the efficiency of the German record keeping system and their use of Dehomag (Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft GmbH — wholly owned subsiduary of IBM) tabulating machines which were used in the census.
Next to dad’s father’s birth certificate he found his aunt Martha’s (his father’s twin sister) — that he’d forgotten about. According to some notes on the certificate, she had lived during the war in Öls, near Breslau and died in 1972 in a town called Herby which was nearby. Dad was surprised about that. Mrs. Smyk asked about her children and dad thought that that “they’d surely be dead”. Mrs. Smyk seemed puzzled and spoke to the lady there in rapid Polish. They made a note where dad’s father was born but it was too late to go there that day, although it wasn’t far either. Mrs. Smyk suggested that we should come back on Tuesday.
We left and drove to Breslau our next stop.
Dad showed us where all the Jewish places were (or had been) and where they’d lived. First the Synagogue. It looked a lot worse than when dad was there previously, to add to the injustice, it had been bought (from whom? it was Jewish property) by a developer, who had put some hoarding round it. There were signs in the adjacent building in Hebrew and Polish giving a telephone number, evidently a Jewish office. There was nobody about. It looked that there was no longer a Jewish service in dad’s Bar mitzvah class room, like on his last visit.
Dad’s school which was previously abandoned and boarded up, was now in use and evidently had been taken over by the town. A similar story with the Jewish hospital which was also in use and part of a newer hospital which seemed to have been grafted on to the back of it.
Dad din’t know the legality but thought at the very least it should carry a plaque to say what it had been and who it had belonged to in the past. He couldn’t imagine that any large Jewish community would want to go and live there and take it back.
On dad’s last visit he couldn’t find the Jewish cemetery, but this time we found it, his grandfather (Angress) was buried there. We had more time and dad knew it was opposite the airport. It looked a sorry sight all locked up and the blue signs also in Polish and Hebrew giving a telephone number. Looking through the bars of the gate we could see it had been vandalised and nasty anti-Semitic slogans in Polish and crude drawings had been painted over many of the graves. He thought “pathetic Poland, how many Jews have survived here”. He doubted that more than a couple of thousand were still living here. He got very angry seeing all this.
There was something about the airport he thought he should remember, but couldn’t.
It was Nicky’s birthday (Jan 22nd) and we asked the hotel staff for a very good restaurant. Some of them spoke very good German. They called a taxi which took us to a really nice place. Nicky was in splendid form, although dad knew she was probably wondering how he’d stood up to all this and was also worried about her. I gave the appearance of being more relaxed. As we waited in the dark street to take us back to the hotel dad had a good look at the yellow awnings over the entrance of the restaurant. Next morning, we drove around and realised we had eaten in the Jewish street, the ’Wallstraße’ opposite the Synagogue and dad thought the restaurant was part of the original school for Rabbis that was next to the Chief Rabbi’s house, but in ‘another time’.
We had a quick look at the immaculately kept ‘Dorm Insel’, an island in the river Oder, the seat of the Catholic Churches and Catholic hierarchy, that had remained unchanged to dad’s eyes, since he was still a child in Breslau, we then set off to return to Krakow our base.
Krackow wasn’t far from Auschwitz wasn’t and was being prepared for all the VIP’s. It had hotels and restaurants and had turned ‘pro — Jewish’. Spielberg had filmed ‘Schindler’s List’ and it had become the base for a lot of Americans and had become a tourist’s attraction. Restaurants had Jewish names and offered Jewish menus. Even though it was somewhat fake, there was a friendliness, which was quite endearing. Dad hoped it would stay like this and spread. It was a relaxed Sunday night and we were ready for another trip to Auschwitz, though only to the bookshop as Nicky wanted some material for her Holocaust piece she was doing for her BA degree. We were definitely not intending to look at the camp anymore. Tuesday we’d go back to meet Mrs. Smyk and look for more documents which might throw more light on our family history.
Monday 23/01/95 — another visit to Auschwitz
We arrived at Auschwitz amongst lots of activity. Soldiers had arrived to help clean up the passages in the camp, stands were being erected, grass was being laid where no grass had grown for 66 years or more. There was noise everywhere from power saws, bulldozers digging, turning over and smoothing the old earth which had soaked up the blood and tears of thousands, making it look ‘nice!’ We thought it was obscene.
We rummaged around the book shop and tough we did find a very useful book, it was only available in Polish and French and “no it was definitely not available in English” and while dad was venting loudly in disappointment, somebody approached him and said a researcher would like to talk to him in another ‘Block’ which had become a research centre.
We were pretty fed up and really ready to go back, but dad agreed, and we went to see the researcher. He asked dad a number of questions about Buna and particularly whether dad had been to the infirmary. It turned out that somebody had accused one of the two prisoner doctors of helping the SS doctors in selections (deciding who would have to die). Dad told him that his life was saved there and couldn’t support that. On the contrary dad believed they did an impossible job. In his view he saw the long line of Muselmänner, all very ill and dying comrades, who would rather die peacefully there than face another terrible day. Can anyone who wasn’t there imagine the impossible tasks of those doctors who had no medicines, even charcoal tablets were in short supply. Dad once got 4! The next day there were none even though dad still had the shits. — Dad gave the researcher his address so he contact dad if he needed any further help.
Later that year dad met Leon Stasiak who had been working in the infirmary. He told dad how they had kept back and hidden people who had died and swapped them for those who had been selected who they tried to save, hoping they would recover from their illness.
When we emerged from the Block there was an ITN News camera crew waiting for us. They had been told that a researcher from England was here and was in a meeting.
Over coffee we learned that two of the people were from the Middle East news team, based in Natanya and Chris Shaw was from the London office. We told them why we were here. They then asked dad whether they could interview us for the 10 pm News (News at Ten). For the first time in 50 years dad agreed to be interviewed provided we had some idea what they had in mind. Their first request was that they wanted some background shots around the camp and later on we were going to be interviewed.
At some point Chris told dad that his mother had been in Auschwitz for a short time, but he had not known this. Before she died, she gave him a tape she had recorded about her experiences. He hadn’t been able to listen to it. He had asked to be able to come here and help to bring the story of what had happened to a wide audience. This felt like a bomb shell and suddenly all our hesitations and reluctance to go back to the camp and do the interview vanished. We became completely committed. We spent some hours doing the interview and they filmed dad saying Kaddish (the Jewish Prayer of Mourning) at the ovens in Auschwitz I for all the people including his family who had died.
They had brought all the editing equipment with them and had it installed in a hotel room and were going to transmit it back to London via satellite.
Tuesday 24/01/95 back to Rosenberg — Tracking down dad’s Grandparents
Dad and Nicky went back to Rosenberg to meet Mrs. Smyk to see if they could find some more information, I wasn’t feeling very well and had decided to stay at the hotel.
Mrs. Smyk took them to the next town, but it seemed there were no records about dad’s Grandfather or any other relatives. So they went to the birthplace of dad’s father just 15 km from Rosenberg. As they drove into the village there was a long one-story building and dad instantly knew that must be the house because he’d had seen it on a photograph as a child. The present owner had only lived there since the war ended and couldn’t provide any other information but sent them to another house where apparently the family had lived there for generations. They found the son of the man who had worked for dad’s grandfather. Dad’s grandfather had rented this large house with its barn and acres of ground as far as the eye could see from a baron who owned most of the land and property in the vicinity. Dad’s grandfather owned 8 horses and judging by the mans’ tone of voice, that was a lot in those days. Dad’s grandfather also had to import Polish labour from across the border some 20 km away to bring in the harvest. Half of the house was the general store and pub. During a fire dad’s grandmother was supposed to have been seen rescuing gold, which was hidden in an outhouse. That seemed to have been the event of the century.
The father who worked for dad’s grandfather regularly delivered alcohol to a customer in Poland while the border guards were having drinks and food at the pub, so the son said. He was 95 years old. He then said he had two barrels which originally belonged to dad’s grandfather but were given to his father when dad’s grandfather left the village in 1908 but he didn’t know where they had moved to. He could not show dad the barrels as he had something in them, in any case they belonged to him. Dad suspected that he was worried that dad might claim them. May be there was still some trade going on? Dad’s father was 8 years old when they moved away, a large family of three boys and six girls!
On dad’s next trip, he got a clue what might have happened.
On their way back, they passed a small village and dad realised that aunt Grete, one of his father’s sisters had lived there and ran the local pub until Jews were forbidden to have pubs, then she opened the local general store and Post Office which were still there, but nobody living there remembered them.
Mrs Smyk said that they were invited to a birthday party in a few weeks’ time in another town where there had lived a Karmeinsky who was in the same school as her husband. She was going to follow it up.
What a day they had! It became clear that their family had all lived nearby.
Again that would be confirmed on dad’s next trip later that year.
They trekked back to Krakow and arrived back in the evening. I greeted dad and Nicky with excitement as people were looking for us and would be coming back at 11 in the evening. I had also met a lot of journalists and had a lot of stories to tell.
We went for a quick meal and it I explained my annoyance:
- Local farmers were complaining and wanted to reduce the size of Birkenau, Auschwitz II, ‘the death factory’ — “the Jews do not need such a big monument, there are better uses for this valuable farmland”.
- Monuments and commemorative signs provided by Canada indicating that mainly Jews had been exterminated, had either been kept in storage for years citing lack of labour, or put in places where it was difficult to find them, they were eventually placed by the remains of the crematoria.
- The main Catholic church in Auschwitz stated in Polish on the altar — “In memory of our saviour Jesus Christ, killed by the Jews”.
- Journalists found a certain reluctance by the locals to talk about the Jews. They wanted the Polish prisoners to be remembered The large numbers of Polish Jews murdered didn’t count as Poles!.
The Calendar of Crime — history of Auschwitz writes about the “……. many thousands of defenceless Warsaw Civilians” which were killed … (by troops under the command of SS Gruppenführer General Erich von den Bach-Zalewski), sent to dad by the Polish Embassy; These Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto evidently are counted as Poles. All very confusing.
We rushed back to the Hotel for our late evening meeting.
The ITN Story
The meeting at the Hotel was with the ITN film crew and Bob Moore, the chief of the Middle East Team, had also arrived. The good news was that he felt that we’d done a good job yesterday and it would make a tremendous impact on television. The bad news was that he wanted it to be absolutely perfect and wanted to do some shots again the next day. We agreed; those few shots took most of the day.
They also interviewed us and both dad and Nicky were very eloquent, I felt bitter and I think that came across, as my interview wasn’t shown, but all the footage was taken back to the crew’s hotel and made into the 4-minute news item presented by Trevor McDonald on ITN News at Ten.
The last item which annoyed us was an advertisement in the Lot Flight Magazine given out on their aircraft on our journey home, which was at best in bad taste at worst anti- Semitic. Dad complained to the Polish Embassy here in London. He never even got a reply.
We did keep the advert, but just another item lost.