shtetlink logo Radom    





                Family Histories

Family Names

Meyer Zucker Interview by his cousin Philip Weinberg

Wajnberg, Cukier In 1987 I was visiting my aunt in Florida and used the visit to do an oral history with her.  When a cousin stopped by, the one Holocaust survivor from our family, my father got caught up in the idea of oral histories and started asking him questions.  I joined them around the kitchen table and asked if I could tape their discussion.  Meyer had a very thick accent and much of it was difficult to understand, but I am very grateful to have that piece of history on tape.  This interview should be read in conjunction with that of Phyllis Eisenstein, also a cousin of Meyer.-courtesy of  Susan Weinberg

Phyllis Eisenstein (previously Fela Cukier) by Susan Weinberg


Wajnberg, Cukier, Rozenberg When I began my genealogy research my parents suggested that I speak with Phyllis.  At the time I don't think any of us fully realized the relationship between our families.  I was to learn that there were several marriages between our families, both families worked together in the flour milling business and Phyllis had lived next door to my family members in Radom. She was a wealth of information on family and her information enabled me to locate other family members who were survivors.-courtesy of Susan Weinberg with a special thank you to Phyllis Eisenstein

Excerpt from "J'avais Promis à Ma Mère de Revenir" by Moniek Baumzecer


Baumzecer, Fridman, Dresner, Suskind, Goldenberg, Rotenberg Excerpt from "J'avais Promis à Ma Mère de Revenir" by Moniek Baumzecer
Copyright 2006, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved

When I visited the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, I located a file for Moniek Baumzecer, my third-cousin.  I discovered that Moniek had survived the war and settled in Paris where he and his wife raised their family.  A search revealed that he had written a book when he was 86 on his experiences during the Holocaust.  The book was published by Le Manuscrit and the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah and is only available in French.  I have translated to English the section on family and his early life in Radom (prior to the family moving to Lodz). If you are interested in obtaining the full book in French you can locate it at foundationshoah.org. This excerpt is provided with the kind approval of Moniek Baumzecer and Le Manuscrit.

Manny Steinberg -

Steinberg Manny Steinberg, from Radom, was 14 when the war broke out.  He has written a book "Outcry" about his experiences during the war.  An interview with him is available on Youtube.

Dora Eiger Zaidenweber by Susan Weinberg


Eiger, Zaidenweber    Dora Zaidenweber, from Radom, was 15 when the war broke out.  Dora was interviewed by Susan Weinberg about her experiences in Radom prior to and during the war.  Because she was in the forced labor camp in Radom until 1944 she recounts the events that occurred in Radom up until she was sent to Auschwitz.  Dora's brother and her husband hid photographs in their shoes.  They survived the war and their shoes were never taken from them so the photos survived as well.  In 2011 Dora joined Susan Weinberg, an artist, on a return visit to Radom where Susan exhibited her artwork on the former Jewish community of Radom and Dora shared her photographs and spoke to students about her life in Radom. courtesy of Susan Weinberg with a special thank you to Dora Zaidenweber

Isaia Eiger

Eiger (Isaia, David, Dora, Hanna Rose, Itzhak, Nechemiah)

Other Radom names noted in the names index include: Chaim-Shalom Alter/Eiger,  Berneman (Avram, Itzek & Pesach), Irmiyah Birnbaum, Joseph Blas, Lutek Blatman, Nute Broniewski, Joseph Cesarski, Yurek Den, Joseph Diament, Reb Finkelstzajn, Tuvye and Meir Finkelsztajn, Artur , Fridman, Samuel Frydman, Glatt(policeman), Yechiel Glatt, Goldberg (Hillel and Israel), Shashek Hammerstein, Moshe Hoch, Kaplan (
Menashe & Shlomo), Leibel Katzenelenbogen, Shaul Kirshenszweig (from Przytyk), Adolf KleinertMoshe Margulis, Shaya Melchior, Meryn, Shlomo Minsberg, Mordechai Naidik, Oblerski, Menashe Rapaport, Benjamin Reich, Yosele Richtman, Reuben Rosenholtz, Tuvye Rutman, Bernard Schechter, Fayvel Szainboim, Yoske Sztajman, Tsingisser (Abraham, Akiva, Israel), Michael Tober, Shmulek Warshauer, Jules Zaidenweber, Meir Itsche Zilberberg, Reuben Ziskin, Zuckerman
After the war, Isaia Eiger wrote a memoir of his two and a half years in Auschwitz where his skill at languages earned him the job of recording incoming Jews.  There he interacted with the Jews of Radom as they were sent to the camp. Prior to the war he was a director of the Jewish orphanage and an accountant in Radom.  The memoir was only published in 2013 after his daughter found the last portion of his manuscript and translated it from the original Yiddish script.  At the back of the book is a names index of those mentioned in the book and those from Radom frequently are specifically mentioned.  Excerpts are available on-line.
Kempner, Friedenreich


Malka Friedenreich Kempner relates the story of her family from Radom and her husband  David Kempner. Malka and David's son Irv also relates his knowledge of the Friedenreich family.
Moishe's Story

Austryan, Austrian, Swarc
Under the Cemetery Page is listed a link to the  Radom Burial Societies which mentions Moishe's Family Society of Radom.  This story is related to the family on which that society was based.  The contributor's great grandmother was Fajga Brandla AUSTRYAN, Moishe' aunt. The story, handed down through three generations, recounts Moishe's hanging despite efforts by Rabbi Kerstenberg to save him.  Interestingly the story is supported by an excerpt from Rabbi Kerstenberg's diary. -courtesy of Greg Tuchman and Rick Leeds
Joseph Horn

 Horn, Weinberg
Excerpt from "Mark It With a Stone" by Joseph HornCopyright 1996, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved

This book excerpt shares Joseph Horn's early recollections about his experiences in pre-war Radom.  Through descriptive anecdotes.he paints a picture of the Jewish experience in anti-Semitic Poland and the values of a Jewish family that sustained them.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the entire book or in photos and video associated with this story go to  Mark It With a Stone -courtesy of Joseph Horn's daughter, Sandy Rubenstein.
Sol Finkelstein
Finkelstein, Warszenbrot, Excerpt from "I Choose Life  by Jerry Jennings and Sol and Goldie Finkelstein with Joseph Finkelstein, Copyright 2009 Joseph Finkelstein, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved

This book excerpt shares Sol Finkelstein's early experiences in Radom through the time of the Radom Ghetto. The Finkelstein and Warszenbrot family originated in the towns of Pulawy, Konskowola and Wawolnica.  In 1928 Sol's parents moved from Pulawy to Radom, 35 miles to the west.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the entire book, you can locate it here. -courtesy of Joseph Finkelstein
Abusz Werber


Werber, Kastner
The Word of Abus Werber tells his life story, before, during and after WWII. Werber grew up in Radom and later moved to Begium. There he was the party leader of a Zionist-Socialist party and one of the initiators of the Jewish Defense Committee of Belgium which saved 3,000 children and several thousand Jewish adults from the Nazis. He ensured the editing, publishing and distribution of 28 issues of a clandestine Yiddish newspaper "Unzer Wort (Our Word), in which he called neither to follow their orders nor respond when summoned to go to Mechelen, a transit camp before deportation.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the entire book, click here. -courtesy of Michel Moshe Werber
Ann Lenga
Najman, Milstein
Listen to Ann's story at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum. Ann Najman Lenga was born in Radom in 1931. During the war she lived in the Radom ghetto and later in hiding. From 1942-1944, Ann worked in the Plonki Labor camp before being sent to Auschwitz in January 1944. Ann, her mother and brother survived the war. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 and she later married Morris Lenga, another survivor.

Interview with Dora Eiger Zaidenweber
by Susan Weinberg
with a special thank you to Dora Eiger Zaidenweber

Dora’s Family

I was born in Radom in 1924 and grew up there until age 18.  My parents were Hanna and Isaia Eiger.  My father was from Radom, my mother’s family lived in Przytyk which is a small town near Radom.  My father was an accountant and my mother was a homemaker.  We lived on Traugutta 51 the last several years before the war. Before that we lived on Reja 8.  My brothers were David and Moniek, Moniek was five years younger than I and David was 15 months older.

Most of my family lived in Radom.  Generationally there was my great-grandmother, my great-grandfather was no longer alive.  There were my grandparents, my grandmother and grandfather until 1939 when my grandfather died.  I had a number of aunts and uncles and ten cousins.  

Those who lived in Radom got together very often.  We lived quite close together, within walking distance and we often visited.

Was your family religious?

We were very Jewish.  We may not have practiced religion every day, but certainly we observed the Sabbath, we observed all the holidays.  Our home was kosher and we felt ourselves very connected to the Jewish community.  My grandparents were of course much more religious.

So what was your Sabbath meal like?

Every Friday was gefilte fish.  Usually we ate dinner, the main meal, in the middle of the day, like 2 or 2:30.  In our particular family, that’s what we did.  And in the evening my parents usually had friends come and it was supper. So for supper after the candles were lit in a huge candelabra, it was very festive, but all we had was gefilte fish and maybe a vegetable or salad and pastries.  And actually we went to our youth organization, the Zionist youth organization meeting places and had an Oneg Shabbat.

Tell me about the Zionist Youth Organization.

My Zionist youth group was affiliated with the Scout movement.  We were also engaged in Jewish education.   Ideologically we were tied to the movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Some of the older youth had already taken the step to resettle in what was to later become the State of Israel. 

The Streets and Institutions of Radom

Can you tell me about some of the streets, like Walowa?

Walowa was the entrance into what was mostly a Jewish area.  In my generation we already lived wherever we wanted, spread out over the city.  The Walowa area was pretty much Jewish. When you come in, on the left were the buildings and on the right it was pretty wide, not just (a) street, but kind of like an elongated square. In that place there was usually a small market on Thursdays.

 The synagogue was on a small street off of Walowa.  A very little street (Bozniczna).  The ghetto was set up in that area.  The entrance to the street was blocked off and there was a guard in front of it and it was the entrance to the ghetto.  Further down was what was called Stare Miasto, old city, where the hospital was.  

Walowa curves to the right and a considerable walk took you to the Jewish hospital.  When the ghetto was established, it went much further, beyond where the Jews lived.  At the time when I was growing up the concentration of Jewish settlement was quite small because most of us lived outside of the Walowa area.  There were actually two ghettos, one was way out in a totally non-Jewish area, a working class neighborhood which was the smaller ghetto.  That was called Glinice.

When you walked on Zeromskiego just before you came to Walowa, Zemoskiego ended.  To the left was Walowa, to the right was a big church, beyond that was the prison.  The street curved to the left and that’s Reja.  The first building to the right on Reja was the prison.  When I was really young and we lived on Reja, I always walked by the prison.  It was a high wall, but you could see the cells at the highest stories with broken glass on top and barbed wire.  So it was kind of tingly. There was someone looking out there and he was maybe a killer, it was mysterious.


We all wore uniforms.  All school children had to wear uniforms.  The uniforms were the same, navy blue.  Girls had a skirt and a top. For special occasions we could wear a white blouse with a navy skirt.  Boys had a navy blue suit and a jacket and coats and hats.  We wore berets and the boys wore hats with a visor.  All schools from 7th grade on, everybody wore a uniform.

 What was the school you went to ?

 It was a Polish name ….Przyjaciol Wiedzy, The Association of Friends of Knowledge.  .

There were schools of that association in other cities as well.  That was the Jewish gymnasium. Everything was taught in Polish.  There were (schools that taught in Hebrew), not in this area where we lived, central and western Poland.  In Eastern Poland there were tarbut schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew, not Polish.  Our schools were accredited by the Polish Minister of Education and it had to conform, had to be exactly like every other gymnasium, plus the Hebrew which was in addition.

So we all went to school six days a week six hours a day and then we had an additional 7th hour of Hebrew and Jewish subjects. So when it came to finishing the end examinations they were supervised by the minister of Education.  So we were entirely included into the education system and Hebrew was in addition to it.

Did your brother go to the same school?

No, my husband’s school and my brother’s school were both on Traugutta. There were two buildings, one behind the other.   The front building was the Handlowe Gymnasiam where my brother attended.  The building in the back housed Gymnasiam Chalubinskiego where my husband attended. Neither were Jewish schools.  

Tell me about the languages you speak.

Polish and Yiddish which I grew up with.  German which was a required foreign language in our schools and Hebrew which I was not completely fluent in, but I could converse in.  In the third and fourth year of gymnasium I started studying some English.  I finished the fourth year of gymnasium in 1939 when the war broke out and finished my education.  However in late 1939 and 1940 I did have an English tutor and after the end of the war when I spent five years in Germany I continued to study English.  When I came to the United States I was already an English speaker.  I loved studying languages.  My father was even more of a lover of languages.  In addition to the ones that I spoke, he spoke Russian and French which later helped him survive Auschwitz for two and a half years.


You were telling me before that you viewed yourselves as Poles.

We were Poles.

Did the Poles view you as Poles?

No, but we were Poles in cultural terms, not religiously.    We were of Polish nationality of Jewish religion. 

As we were growing up we were also exposed to Zionist ideals. 

Summers and Summer Camp

Tell me about how you spent your summers.

Up until I was 11 we went every summer to Garbatka.  I don’t know exactly how far it is, not very far, by train maybe 4 villages away, maybe 20 kilometers.  I was very fond of it.  I went back in 1939 even though I was going to a different camp then.  It was fun, it was nostalgic.  We went there, my mother and the kids with a whole bunch of household items.  We rented a house, a cottage, and stayed there all summer and everybody else we knew did the same thing.

Was your father in town?

 My father was in town.  The fathers all came out Friday afternoon so the kids all ran to the station and greeted the fathers coming.  One of the fondest memories I have was those weekends when my father came.  He really loved being with the kids, a whole bunch collected, cousins of mine too.  He would take us for a good few hours into the woods, way way into the woods, and we would pick mushrooms. He knew mushrooms, and berries, blueberries, raspberries, wild strawberries. Then we would come back and would cook up the mushrooms and we would eat the fruit with sugar sprinkled on it. It was just wonderful. Then Sunday the fathers left and we stayed there for the rest of the week.

Tragedy Strikes

After that I was eleven…in the meantime there was a very tragic thing, I lost a brother.  My younger brother died. He was sick for six months of leukemia and died and my mother didn’t want to go to Garbatka again.  My older brother and I were old enough to go to camps so that’s what we did from then on. 

Were they Jewish camps then?

Yes, those are privately arranged camps. Two teachers would take a group of kids, we would stay in a pensione and they would arrange all sorts of activities for us, swimming and hiking. Most of the time we went into the lower mountains in the south of Poland.  That only lasted like 3 or 4 weeks so there was still time.  One time after I came home from camp, I went with my father to a spa, a resort – Szczwnica. Where there were all kinds of remedies for health.  I went with him one time for two weeks, but there weren’t that many years between 11 and 15.

 The last year in 1939, as I said I went to visit my aunt and her family at Garbatka for a few days and then I went to a Zionist youth camp which was in the high mountains in the Tatra mountains. That ended in a big tragedy. It was a summer that was very wet.  It rained and rained. Our camp had 400 kids from all over the country. It was on a slope.  Our organization was affiliated with the scout movement so we had the usual raising of the flag in the morning and all these patriotic things.  The cabins were along the slope in a rectangle and the main buildings were at the top.  The grass was thick green grass, but it rained so much, I remember when we had to get our food to bring to the cabins we had to sit down on our butts and ride down, it was so slippery, like ice.

The last week there was always an excursion, a hike, into the high mountains. It was a Monday and there was a big assembly.  The leadership, which was 20, 21, 22 year olds, real adults,  they gave us the choice because it was so bad, it was raining so much,  there were so many thunderstorms, that it may not have been they thought so safe to go into the mountains, but we would decide.  Well that was what my mother was afraid of.  That’s why she didn’t want me to go.  So of course the enthusiastic 14-16 year olds decided to go.  So everybody started out at 6 in the morning and by noon, one group that scaled a pretty high mountain that was above the tree line, Swinica was the name of the mountain.  It was a very rocky place and it started lightening and thundering.  The rocks were struck by lightening and started rolling down.  The two leaders who were both 21 were killed right away because they were right in front, six more were killed, a number were injured, they scattered, two were never found.  It was just a horrible disaster and that happened on August 15, 1939 just two weeks before the outbreak of the war. 

Relations between Poles and Jews

I can’t say that we weren’t aware as children that there was a difference between Poles and Jews, but Poles and Jews lived in fair harmony for many centuries.  It wasn’t a new relationship.  But there were the 150 years just before the end of WWI that most of Poland was under Russian occupation, good chunks were under Prussian and Austrian occupation which was different.  Under Russian occupation there was a lot more anti-Semitism which filtered through from there.  There was awareness of it, but I can’t say that we were affected by it in everyday life.

Growing up did you encounter Anti-Semitism?

Being in a Jewish school, no. But there were other things.  From 1918, the liberation of Poland, until 1935, the head of the government was Marshall Pusitzsky.  He was a benevolent dictator and he kept an iron hand on things and there was no problem.  It wasn’t really a dictatorship of the kind that you see in other political systems.  But primarily I think it was because Poland didn’t really have any kind of experience with democracy or being a republic.  Poland was never really a republic before then. Prior to the 150 years of occupation Poland was a kingdom and a feudal society. It was never a republic until 1918.  But in 1935 Marshall Pusitzky died. 

Mind you Hitler was already in power in Germany next door.  So there is this incredible surge in anti-Semitism in Germany.  By 1935 they had already enacted the racial laws.  When Marshal Pusitzky died.  I remember it very well. I was 11 years old at the time.  The seat of the government was Warsaw, but Cracow was the ancient royal capital so the kings were buried in Wavel.  So his body was being taken from Warsaw to Cracow.  Radom is on that rail line.  All along, his body was on a caisson with horses and an honor guard, I remember, I can see it right now.  All of us kids were lining the side of the train as the train slowly rolled by and I imagine it was the whole 295 kilometers from Warsaw to Cracow.  It was all lined with school children. And we were wearing black armbands crying as well we may have because it made a difference after he died.  We were Polish kids, crying and mourning the leader who died.  We didn’t know anything else.

After that things really got much worse.  Much more open. Before Jews had a lot of autonomy in Poland, but now a lot of this autonomy was being chipped away and the expression of anti-Semitism was becoming more acceptable.  Most of it was obvious in universities.  In 1938 when the Poles, now I’ll say Poles and Jews, they decided at the University in Warsaw.  There was an open anti-Semitic organization that was manifest by a little saber, a tiny little Constantin sword.  They demanded that the Jewish students sit on the left side of the lecture halls. That meant that they would be admitting to being Communists or Socialists. The Soviets were always enemies so every Jew was accused of being a Communist.  We were accused of being both, we were Capitalists and Communists.  It didn’t make any difference. The Jewish students refused to sit on the left side, but they wouldn’t let them sit on the right so they stood.  There was a lot of harassment.  There was police harassment.  It suddenly became ok to harass the Jews. 

Personally going to a Jewish school we didn’t feel any of it.  My brother didn’t go to a Jewish school.  In the 9th and 10th grade the boys had paramilitary exercises so he was wearing this khaki tunic on the days they had exercises and a wide leather belt.  My brother was the number 1 student in the class and was not a fighter.  One day he came home from school in that uniform and I noticed that there was something written on his belt.  We had double desks, two people to a desk,  so he knew who was sitting behind him and looking at it, it said “you dirty Jew”.  So my brother the next morning he came into class, pulled that guy out of his desk and started beating him.  That was the first and only time (he fought).  No one said anything and the teacher was standing in the doorway and he never said anything.  He knew that if his star student who never fought with anybody was doing this he had a good reason.  It was trouble.

My husband had another experience. He also didn’t go to the Jewish school. He graduated in 1938.  Prior to that there were six Jewish boys in a class of 60 which was divided into two sections.  In preparation for graduation they had class pictures.  Each individual had a picture in an arrangement.  They all went to this particular photography studio and had their pictures taken.  Then some weeks later the picture was displayed in the case at the photographer’s studio.  The Jewish kids were not on the picture.  They had pictures taken, but the arrangement didn’t have any of them.

Those were the sorts of things that (happened)…it probably would have been intolerable to keep on living there.  By then we were so steeped in Zionism, whoever could afford it sent their sons usually abroad to study, to Italy and France.  Not to mention in the interim years before all this happened when the Germans took over in 1916, a lot went to German universities.

I mentioned the town Prytyk that my mother was from.  In 1936 on market day there was a pogrom.  Some Polish hooligans overturned some Jewish stalls and the young Jewish men fought back.  I don’t recall if there were any casualties among the Jews, but there was one Pole who was killed. The only ones who were pursued by the law were the Jews.  I think there were 6 of them and they all fled abroad.

I’m not interested in white-washing what went on in Poland, but they didn’t have a collaborating government, probably the only one that didn’t.  If you go to Yad Vashem, more Jews were saved than by any other nationality, but there were more Jews in Poland.  When I think back to our own Zionist groups and they ranged from left to right.  There were maybe 4 different kinds, there were more fights with the boys in the different groups than there were with Poles. Jews lived in Poland for many generations. They were originally invited by King Kazimierz in the 14th century I think to develop commerce in a more feudal agrarian society and that’s why the Jewish community got a lot of autonomy.

Things were terrible, but who could expect what would happen.  There weren’t that many Jews in Germany, 6-700,000 out of 75 million which is a very small percentage.  They were emancipated, the earliest emancipation.  They were also assimilated in the last couple of centuries and it was unbelievable that it would happen there both because of the numbers involved, but also because of the perception of Germany having this high level of culture and civilization which obviously is only skin-deep and wasn’t even skin deep.  Therein lies the tragedy.  It was incendiary.  Not just what happened later that was just the outcome, but I think the progression of this anti-Semitism that was planted in Europe and became so explosive and so open.  Anti-Semitism usually was a little subdued.


Sept 1939 – Germans invaded Radom and put punitive measures in place for the Jews

1940 – Armbands required for Jews

March/April 1941: Ghetto formed

April 1942: Dora’s father is taken to Auschwitz

Early August 1942:  Liquidation of the small ghetto of Glinice and the front of the large ghetto

Dora’s grandmother, aunts and cousins who lived at Walowa 5 were deported and killed.

Her uncle and family who lived in Glinice were killed.

Mid-August 1942: Large ghetto was liquidated, forced labor camp formed with the remaining 2000-2500 people

January 1943: Palestine Aktion

People with close relatives in Palestine were to register and the rumor was there was to be an exchange for Germans in Palestine.  Dora, her brother and her mother registered.  Dora’s boyfriend didn’t.  Everyone who registered survived while those who did not were taken away.  Dora was able to get her boyfriend out even though he had not registered.

March 1943 Purim Aktion, murdered over 100 of the intelligentsia and professionals in the cemetery of Szydlowicz

July 1943  Dora and Jules married in part out of concern that she would get sent to Palestine and he wouldn’t.

August 1944- 3 day march and transport to Auschwitz/Birkenau

January 1945 – 3 day march and transport to Bergen-Belsen

April 15, 1945 – liberation by the British

The Invasion and Occupation

It started in September. The first three weeks were really terrifying. We stayed home, not daring to go out because we didn’t know what to expect.  We knew what the situation was in Germany with Jews next door.  They bombed Warsaw for the first three weeks and of course the planes were flying over Radom on the way to Warsaw. 

The Germans communicated with the Jewish community via the community leadership.  Communal things were pretty much administered by Jews.  Religious, first of all, mostly it was religious and there were certain legal things of a religious nature.  So those were the people, the council of the community, that were the first line of communication for the Germans. 

One of the early things they did was to siphon money off.  They would arrest prominent members of the community and you had to pay by a certain date, maybe a week, maybe less, hundreds of thousands of zlotys. Otherwise they threatened the people would be executed. 

Most of the communication between the entire community and the German administration, which was just being set up, was via bills that were posted on the walls. You had to read them to know what you had to do.  Immediately there were anti-Jewish measures. First of all they introduced rationing and the rations were already different for Jews than for non-Jews, smaller. They were starting to register everybody and new passes were handed out, that’s when we, the Jews, were designated as Jews.  And in fact the passes were a different color (than those of the Poles).  When we had to register for the new passes you had to bring a birth certificate and there it said who you were and any kind of identification had the religion on it.

The next bill would tell that we had to surrender all weapons and radios which was pretty early, like in October.  And then the threat, if you don’t and you were caught with any of those this was punishable by death.  Everything was punishable by death.  We couldn’t walk on the sidewalk.  That was one of the measures.  First it started by having men, men again, not women, men had to tip their hat if they passed a German in uniform.  Then we had to walk in the gutter, all of us.  They couldn’t enforce it until we had the armband.  They couldn’t tell a Jew from a Pole.  The Poles could tell us, but the Germans couldn’t. 

And schools never opened. Essentially everything shut down. Later grade schools opened.  The gymnasium never opened for the entire duration of the war. 

The soldiers were fanning out into the street and grabbing Jews off of the street to do some dirty labor.  I think that was only Jews, but at that point I don’t know how they could tell.  They really couldn’t. 

So later as time went on, on November, 10th, 1939, Nov 11 was Polish Independence Day, the end of WWI, they arrested a lot of prominent Poles and Jews.  They released them after a few days. They did that to prevent some kind of a demonstration because of the holiday, the Independence Day.

Dora with armbandEventually in 1940 they made us wear an armband.  All Jews had to wear an armband with a Star of David.  The armband was white.  They were very specific and very strict.  The white armband had to be a certain width and the blue Star of David had to be a certain size. So it became an industry.  Everybody had to have it.  People lost their jobs.  There were no jobs.  Can you imagine everything shut down?  Businesses, Jewish businesses, were expropriated.  Radom had in addition to (a) weapons factory, tanneries.  Some of the tanneries were owned by Jews. They didn’t throw everybody out because they wouldn’t know how to run them.  So they kept all the people that were there, but they put in a German administrator.  My father had clients who had tanneries.  He was working as an accountant (in one). 

So all this went on in time.  It wasn’t all at once.  It took until about all of 1940. At that time we got a German employee billeted in our house.  They requisitioned one of the bedrooms and we had from then on a German in our house.  They didn’t mix with us at all.

The situation for Jews became desperate very quickly because Jews could not make a living.  Those who had the means could buy additional things on the black market.  A black market always emerges at a time like this.  And that went for the Poles too because businesses were closed, offices were closed.  There was no place to work.  Among the Jews, I told you they were grabbing people off the street or storming a building and taking men. For more than two people to stop on the street and talk was very dangerous, because we could be plotting something.

There was more communication between the Jewish leadership and the Germans.  It became a governing body of the Jewish community.    The Germans they were on the march.  At this point, in 1939 and 1940 and early 1941 they had a non-aggression pact with the Soviets.  They were pretty much settled in Poland and Poland was only half of what it was before the war, just beyond Lublin, and the rest was in the Soviet side.  A lot of Jews fled to the Soviet Union, maybe 200,000 I think, whole families. 

They still needed workers. They stopped catching people off the streets and the council arranged with them that they would deliver a certain number of people for work every day and then the council paid these people.  At the same time the Germans periodically were demanding more ransom. And that’s how they were getting money out of the community in addition to impoverishing the people.  The system was so diabolically designed that one thing sort of followed another.   It was a design where we were treated as less and less human, deprivation was such that you are beginning to think this to be normal.  It was a descending level of normalcy.  In the end when you end up in a place like Auschwitz there was a certain normalcy even to Auschwitz. Because you’ve come there gradually, in steps.

It was a little at a time.  That’s not true of everywhere.  Of everywhere else it may have been immediate.  I’m sure that say in France, in Germany, in Holland, in Western Europe they didn’t do the same they did in Eastern Europe.  They didn’t give people a chance to get used to one level, from one level to another.  They knocked on the door and hauled them away which was probably much more shocking, but it wasn’t as debilitating as what they did to us.  And it dragged on and on and on.  It became so that one’s self respect was destroyed, self worth nearly destroyed.  It was really destroyed for some people, but not for everybody. 

The Ghetto is Formed

And that’s when we were ordered into the ghetto (March/April 1941).   There was a little security being in the ghetto. A certain level of normalcy.I think we felt at first at least, not as vulnerable, not as accessible, because they wouldn’t want to come into the ghetto.  The Germans would have been afraid of coming into the ghetto one at a time.    At first they didn’t. Now there was the council firmly established that was taking orders from the Germans and filling them, carrying them out and they were squeezing us, but they weren’t at least destroying us.  It was a little safer.  There were certain institutions established.  First of all a kitchen that could take care of the people.  Everybody had a place to exist, what kind of a place it was, was a different story.

(Before) we had this huge apartment that we came from.  Now we were at the very edge of the ghetto. The ghetto extended somewhat beyond the traditionally Jewish area.  It was a small house that probably one family owned, they had to move out. When we moved in there were two small rooms in the front with a little hallway between the two rooms and we had that, the four of us.  There were two rooms in the back and there was another family of five.  Then there was a small upstairs with maybe two or three rooms, there were two families up there.  We had no indoor plumbing.  There was an outhouse and a water pump in the yard.

By then there were a lot of places that the Germans needed workers.  When we moved into the ghetto there were a lot of people from the ghetto who worked for the Germans.  There was a lot of black marketeering.  My brother worked in the office in the ghetto, so did my husband, my boyfriend at the time.  I didn’t work. I and a few of my friends had a teacher.  There was only one teacher of secular subjects (non-Hebrew) in town.  All the others had left, gone to the Soviet side.  They were not originally from Radom. So my parents hired him and we were studying.  We were doing 11th and 12th grade.  It was limited because he had been a science teacher so we got more of math and science than literature, but I was a voracious reader.  We still had the Jewish library (on Zeromskiego 25)  In fact I read an enormous number of classics at that time including Gone With the Wind.

Then we had another teacher of Hebrew and studied with him, so we were kept busy, but we didn’t work. At that time I’m talking about being 16 and 17 in 1941.  It really was like, if they leave us alone we’ll live.  It was a little hopeful.  You have to understand that all this was anything but normal.  It was so far from normal. It was so abnormal, but we got used to it.  And really the attitude was we’ll make it if they leave us alone in the ghetto.  Nobody could imagine killings, nobody could imagine what they actually and truly did and even while they were doing it we couldn’t believe it.  It wasn’t believable.  At that stage until the end of 1941 and maybe even half of 1942, although things changed in 1942, we thought we would live.  There were cases of illness. There were cases of spotted typhus, and there was hunger and people were dying, people who probably wouldn’t have died otherwise, but it wasn’t as bad as it was in some other bigger ghettos, certainly not the ghetto of Warsaw where there was terrific suffering and death. 

Father is Taken

And then in 1942, I think it was maybe February, there was a raid in the middle of the night in the ghetto and they arrested several members of the council and they disappeared. Then they appointed some more members of the council and then on April 28, 1942 there was another raid.  Now the two rooms I told you, (one) room was the kitchen that was divided in half and my brother slept on a cot in one half and the room on the left was where my parents slept and I slept on the couch in that room.  They were small rooms, but we still had a few pieces of our furniture.  We came from a six room house to two small rooms so there were just a few pieces.  What woke me and I’m sure everyone else in the house was shooting, there was firing outside.  We didn’t have weapons so firing was Germans and just about at the same time, it was 4:00 in the morning, there was a knock on our door and my brother was the first at the door. There was a (voice) barking in German and he opened the door and there was a German officer with the Gestapo insignia with a Jewish militiaman.  There was a Jewish militia in the ghetto, for order, they didn’t have any weapons of course. And the German had a list in his hand and the militiaman said to my father, “Please get dressed and come with us”.  My father had sciatica at the time.  He could hardly walk.  He got up at with a cane.  My father at the time was 44 years old. He got up and got himself dressed.  The rest of us, my mother and I, I think we were stone, we were turned to stone. We were in such terror.   I don’t even know if I was thinking.  I couldn’t move.  We were just speechless, we were so horrified.  Because the whole time the shooting was going on and we don’t know. we (envision) him dead outside and it’s a curfew hour, you can’t even open the door.  So there we sat the three of us speechless.  My brother finally spoke up and said, “After the curfew is over I’ll go out and find out what happened.”  In the meantime we got a knock on the wall from the other side and this man was also arrested. 

At six o’clock the curfew was over and my brother left. Now we had to wait to find out what happened.  We didn’t say a word.  There was nothing we could say.  We were so dumbfounded, we were so stricken we couldn’t talk because we were fearing the worst, that he was already dead.  Eventually my brother came back.  He had gone to the office of the council. What he was told was they had arrested about 200 men and they included mostly well-known men, men who were important men in the community.  They didn’t know what happened, but they knew that they were shooting some and taking some away.  But they don’t know who was shot dead on the spot or who was taken to Gestapo headquarters. But the bodies of those who were shot were taken and laid out in the yard of the hospital and so David was told that if he wanted to know if his father was shot or not he had to go to the hospital and there on the grounds were all those who were dead. So he did. 

David came back and he said he wasn’t among the dead.  By then people are coming out.  My uncle, my father’s brother, was arrested too, but neither of them was shot.  So they were at the Gestapo headquarters and later that day the Gestapo sent word to the ghetto to send food, send soup for the people, so they did and a couple of the militiamen went with the food and saw them.  When they came back they said they were pretty beaten up.  That night they were shipped out and that was it. We didn’t know where.  Nobody knew where.

They took them to Auschwitz, but at that point Auschwitz wasn’t something we knew to think about. ….  Now when we found out that they were sent to Auschwitz, that was something, a geographic point, but we didn’t know what went on in Auschwitz.  But a few weeks later people started getting telegrams from Auschwitz that the person by name had died of natural causes, I think it might have said a heart attack.  In fact my uncle died and he did die, he wasn’t killed if you call dying of natural causes being in Auschwitz where they let you die or by some violence.  They weren’t gassing people at that time. But as it turned out people only had a three week life expectancy in Auschwitz in those early days, they were killed other ways.  So people started getting those telegrams.  We actually never did. Everything was rumors,  and what you were hearing you didn’t know if it was the 50th person who repeated it to you and it was totally different.  You didn’t know what to believe.

My father is gone and the world is very dark.  It was still possible to give some things to those who went out to work to trade in for food, to sell for a little money.  My brother was still working.  My brother was studying accounting in high school and he worked with my father so he took the job that my father had in one of the tanneries. So he was getting some pay, but not much, not enough, so my mother was selling things.  In the meantime deportations started in the ghetto of Warsaw.  Again the rumors came.  People were risking their lives, taking off their armband in order to go from town to town to do some trading. So there were people who were coming past so we found out that there were deportations going from Warsaw to an unknown destination. Nobody knew where.  The rumors were, at least the Germans spread the rumor that this was resettlement.  Because of the way the conditions were in the ghettos where people were really starving, dying in large numbers, so they were going to ship them.  Prior to this the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and very quickly ended up at Leningrad and Moscow.

So there was fear, but we didn’t know what was going to happen.  In our house it was dark.  Father wasn’t there.  We lost our protector.  Who was going to protect us? 

Liquidation of the Ghetto

One night early in August  the ghetto of Glinice was liquidated. It was far enough away that we didn’t hear the shooting.  There was a lot of killing in Glinice.  One of my uncles, the family lived there, I think the whole family was killed.  Later that morning they took a group of men from the large ghetto to Glinice to clean up, to dig a trench and bury the dead.  And I think somebody told us that they saw the bodies of my family.

The Germans came into the large ghetto.  They were short, they still had more wagons, box cars available and they sealed off just that small section right in front of the large ghetto on Walowa and they took away another 2000 people, my whole (extended) family went. We were the only ones left.  We were way (in the back of the ghetto).  All my family lived there at Walowa 5.  That’s where my grandmother lived.  My grandmother, all my aunts and their children lived in my grandmother’s place in Walowa 5. The only one who wasn’t taken was Uncle Leon.  He was not taken and my Uncle Samuel who lived near us at the other end of the ghetto.  After that on the 18th and 19th the whole large ghetto was sealed off and the rest of the deportations took place and there were only maybe 2000, 2500 people left.

Forced Labor Camp

Part of the ghetto became a forced labor camp for those who were not deported.  My brother in 1942 was 19, had a work pass, he was working.  My husband Jules, had a work pass he was working.  His mother was working, but his father and his sister were deported.  I at that point was working in an army unit, we were a gardening unit so I wasn’t even in the ghetto at the time of deportation.  There were 100 women. They took us and kept us there, they knew what was going to happen so they took their workers and kept them there so they wouldn’t be in the ghetto and they wouldn’t be taken away.  So I was in that group and was not in the ghetto those two days of the deportation.  My mother did not have a (work) pass, she somehow was let go. 


It all came down in rumors.  The rumors were they were going to exchange us for the Germans in Palestine, that there were negotiations going on.  They never told us anything.  There were some things that happened later that pointed to the fact that it was being negotiated.  The council was ordered to register people, to make up a list of people who had close relatives in Palestine.  That was in early December 1942.  So the council did that.  My mother and David and I were maybe 5th, 6th and 7th on the list. That’s how we trusted it.  My father’s first cousins were in Palestine.

Jules was vehemently opposed to it.  He thought it was a ruse and if something happens they’ll take the people from the list.  On January 13, 1943 it was another deportation.  Very early in the morning, everybody had to leave.  We went into a huge courtyard.  The building was in front with one gate, one door out.  In front they set up small temporary tables with a number of SS people sitting at the tables and they would call the names.  Every time they called the names they were accompanied by a Jewish militia man to the beginning of the row.  There was a no man land between the assembled people who were already processed and the door to that courtyard.  When I was in the courtyard I didn’t see any of this. Not until I came out of the courtyard and I was watching what was going on.  Now I’m desperate.  I have to figure out a way to get Jules out.  He’s not coming out because he’s not on the list.  Two of the militia men were distant relatives and they were coming out escorting people.  I asked one of them.  There’s this no mans land, an empty space, no one can just run out of there and come and join the column.  They have to be escorted by a Jewish militia man.  I asked one of my relative who knew Jules, please get him, walk with him and bring him out.   He went back in and eventually came back out with somebody and said he couldn’t find him  and then he said even if he could, he was afraid because Jules wasn’t on the list. 

I asked the other one when he came out with some people and eventually he walked out with Jules.  He risked his life doing it. When they were finished reading, it was late afternoon.  They spent the whole day reading that list.  We didn’t know what was going to happen.  It could have been us who would have been out.  They told us to push back and they brought out the people who were left.  I still see the faces in my nightmares. I see the faces of these people.  They were walking by so closely.  And they took them away.  Several hundred were sent away, seven or eight hundred, all of the people who were not on the list.

The Weapons Factory

Jules and I got married in July 1943.  I was 19, he was 23.  He was going to stay and I was going to go to Palestine so we got married.  We thought (we would go to Palestine) very soon.  Then we decided it was too uncertain.  The war was going badly for the Germans and that didn’t bode well for us. The worse the war was going for them they speeded up the Jewish thing.  Staying in the camp seemed to be a little risky.  Jules had a Polish frie
nd from high school who worked in the weapons factory. At some point there were about 1500 Jewish employees in that factory.  At some point they moved them closer to another small camp near the factory.  It seemed that the weapons factory was the safest place to be.  Jules graduated from high school in 1938 so this Polish friend had probably one year of university education.  He worked as a medic in the factory.  Jules thought he would go see him and see if he could get him and me some kind of a job that wasn’t working on the machines making guns.  One day Jules went and met with this friend and he promised that if we came he would arrange for Jules to work as an electrician.  That summer of 1943 I worked in a small workshop, a German workshop.  This one was making some very primitive office furniture. I was finishing these, there were shelves and there were little desks.  I was doing some finishing by staining that furniture.  In the factory the guns were packaged in boxes, but they were very nice boxes, nicely finished.  They had a whole department of cabinet makers who made those boxes and so they could use someone who’d finish those boxes so he got me a job there.  I was the first woman there.  There I was with all these guys.  They were all Jews and to have a 19 year old Jewish girl working there was a real treat for those guys. Since I had no idea how to do this finishing they were teaching me.  I had a great time there.  Jules got a job as an electrician so wherever they needed a change of a bulb, Jules was wandering all over the factory so he came to see me several times a day.  It was pretty good until one day…These wonderful cabinet makers, specialists in what they were doing.  They were making wonderful furniture for those guys at the top.  The factory was run by an Austrian company, named Steyr Daimler Pulk, a private company that was running this factory for the German military.  So their top people had those real good cabinet makers make dining room tables, all kinds of wonderful furniture and little me learned how to finish that, rubbing it to a real high shine.  And they were also making small things.  At least on two different occasions, I was taken by a SS man to somebody’s home to finish, to touch up somethings there.  At some point that SS man left me alone, I could have walked out.  Where would I go was the question. I wasn’t going to go any place because my mother and my brother would pay for it.  I didn’t go.

But then I lost tha
                                  & Julest job and they put me on the machines in the gun factory.  I had to work 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening and 6 in the evening to 6 in the morning alternate weeks.  It nearly killed me.  I couldn’t sleep in the daytime and I couldn’t stay awake at night and it was very dangerous.   I was working on a machine.  The output was like 300 guns a day, they were small handguns.  What I had to do was punch a little hole, a square hole on top.  The piece had already gone through 70 machines to the time that it came to me it looked like a gun.  The machines were semi-automatic , you set them, but they were not precise so you had to watch exactly where it went.  And all I had to do in 12 hours was 75 of them, 75 little holes.  Can I tell you how horrible that was, how boring, how mind-destroying.  There were two of those machines, in two shifts it was 300.  I don’t know how I survived this.  Then Jules’ friend came to rescue again and I was transferred to a day machine., six in the morning to six in the evening. (Sept 1943-July 1944)

There were no deportations in that period of time.  My mother and David were still in the forced labor camp.  In December they liquidated the forced labor camp and everybody was transferred to where the weapons factory was.  By then they were in a different section which was adjoining, a different set of barbed wires.  We could see each other and we could stand there and talk to each other (through a barbed wire fence).  On that part of the fence the guards were Ukrainians.  They were killers, they were used as executioners.  There was one Ukrainian who let me crawl under the barbed wire to stay with my mother overnight.  First thing in the morning I came back and went to work, but her bedbugs were different than mine and they ate me alive.

Purim Aktion

There was another action in the forced labor camp in March 1943.  They took more than 100 people to Szydlowicz.  That’s when everybody thought this would be an exchange.  They were all dressed up.  It was a real ruse and they took them to the cemetery and executed them.  Maybe a dozen people came back. They shot and killed whoever was killed and those who weren’t they brought them back.  It was called the Purim action.

There was another registration and at that time they registered only professionals, doctors, engineers, intelligentsia.  All these people were on that Palestine list two months earlier.  That was the proof for us that they were going to be exchanged.  They were told to be ready sometime on Sunday and they came in their finery with suitcases, all dressed up. It was a beautiful Spring day, sunny, we’re still in the forced labor camp.  And everybody is looking on, I’m so jealous, and then they walked out the gate and then something gave it away because right after they left and boarded trucks, the forced labor camp as you came out, this was parallel to Reya.  The truck turned onto Reya and right behind was a truck with black uniformed soldiers who were the Ukrainians.  Everyone knew something was bad.  It wasn’t more than 3 or 4 hours later that those that survived came back.

Note:  Dora was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 along with her mother.  There they discovered that her father was still alive in Auschwitz.  As he spoke seven languages he served as the registrar which had allowed him to survive.  Both Dora and her mother were liberated from Bergen Belsen and reunited with her father, brother and husband.  Her extended family did not survive.

Return to Family Histories

Interview with Meyer Zucker

by Philip Weinberg, his cousin

 What do you remember about my grandfather?

He used to eat in our house.  He used to go a few blocks (unclear). His name was Meyer Gumela..  It was a nickname.  He was a very nice man.  Everybody loved him.  Very religious guy too.

What did he do?

He worked with flour, a miller with grains, wheat.  All the boys worked in the flour business, Yusel and Dubic.    My mother was a business lady.  She used to help all of them.

My father had two sisters (one was Meyer’s mother) and two brothers.  What was your mother's name?

Beila (born in 1889)

And who was Ruchal's mother?

Fayga, So there was Fayga, Baila, David and Yusel.

 And my father was Schlimel.

No, Schimel.

Now you had a brother.  A younger brother.  How much younger was he than you?

Eight years younger.  We had two sisters. Younger.

A childhood memory…Used to call the doctor up...used to do when one got sick...what do you call them... years ago.  Those glasses on your back, when you have a cold and you're sick...what do you call them...bankas, bankas!

When the Nazis came into Poland in 1939, were you in school?

In 1939 I was 19 years old.  At that time I couldn't go to school.  Was no school.  I used to go to school... in accounting to help in the business.  During the war we used to have horses to deliver the flour to the bakers.  Used to go from "marsh city (?)" to the big capital city (Warsaw)..... I used to (unintelligible) like 24 hours.  It was about 100 kilometers south of Warsaw.

So the Nazis got to Radom before they got to Warsaw?

In Warsaw they were fighting, they were fighting in Warsaw.  Fighting with those big, what do you call them, the "isla".

The Polish soldiers were fighting with horses and they were coming with tanks and airplanes.  They were bombing Warsaw.  Did they bomb Radom also?

Yes. I was seventeen when the Nazis came.  Once I got caught.  I was let go.  I got caught once coming home.  Was a curfew.  Couldn't get into the city.  I got in late to the city and I got caught and (held) for twenty-four hours.

I was in Auschwitz.  In a big tent. .  Was selection like every day.  I have a little picture that was taken after was liberated in 1945.  I was on the border in Germany.

I couldn't walk.  I was in the hospital. I had bronchitis.  A spot on the lungs.

How did my father connect with you?

I was living in a small town in Germany.  A guy says, you know I wrote a letter to my uncle and he says he met a Schimele Weinberg.  He wrote a letter to his uncle and his uncle got in touch with your dad.  They were friends together.  They played cards years ago.

Do you know what his name was?

Gooden (Goodman).  Lives in the Bronx.  It was in 1945.

My father went away from Europe for so long and he never wrote anybody, so I was surprised.

He used to send, to write letters.  I remember when I was a kid that I had an uncle in the United States.  He used to send a ten dollar bill to his father.

I didn't know that.  I thought my father completely lost his roots when he came to this country.

Return to Family Histories

Interview with Phyllis Eisenstein

(previously Fela Cukier)
by Susan Weinberg
with a special thank you to Phyllis Eisenstein

What was the relationship between Meyer Cukier (family member who survived the Holocaust) and my grandfather Samuel Weinberg?


Meyer’s parents were Schmul (Cukier) and Baila (Wajnberg). Samuel Weinberg was Baila’s brother so Meyer was his nephew.   Schmul, Meyer’s father, was the brother to my father Didia (Cukier/Zucker).  My father was Didia Cukier and my mother was Talba (Tauva) Rosenberg.  Baila was a little bit red headed, a very smart business woman.  Always dealing in flour (flour milling was the family business).  On weekends she would get dressed up to go to court to sue people. 

 Can you tell me about my grandfather’s siblings?

Dubic Wajnberg was red-headed and tall and married to my aunt. My aunt Chana was the oldest sister of my mother. Her maiden name was Rosenberg.  I think  Fayga may have been other Wajnberg sister and possibly the mother of Ruchal.

 Yusel Wajnberg lived next door to me when I was growing up.  He was always joking with me when I was a child.  One Passover I got new shoes and ran next door to show him. He told me to tear them up in good health and I went crying to my mother because I thought he was telling me to tear them up. We got a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals each year.

 Yusel had a son Moishe and a daughter Hannah (Hancha).  Moishe was married with one baby and Yusel was a very proud grandfather.  I looked up to Hannah.  She was about 5 years older

 Meyer told me that the family was in flour milling.  Can you tell me about the business?


The family had a mill in Radom which was run by my father and Meyer’s father.  They made farina.  There was also a mill in Firley, a suburb of Radom.  There were two brothers in the Zucker family who had a small watermill on a farm 2k away from Firley that they inherited from their grandfather (Zucker family).  Samuel’s brother Dubic and his son were in business together in a partnership.  Both Yusel and Dubic worked in the business.  Yusel sold flour to bakers.


Can you tell me about family during the war?

September 1st 1939 was when Poland was invaded and the ghettos were formed.  Meyer’s mother was on the farm with everyone else to avoid the bombing in the city. She went back into town to see if it was all right to go back to their homes and did some business along the way.  She was a very brave woman.


I was in one camp first, and then with Meyer in Blizyn. Then both of us were in  Auschwitz.  I was always with Meyer. When they deported Jews to Treblinka he wasn’t able to save his parents.  His family was deported to Treblinka.  His sister and my family, my brother died in the camp of starvation.   They took my family and Meyer’s family in the first deportation.  They didn’t have enough from the small ghetto to fill the deportation so they also took from the larger ghetto and that’s when they took our families. 


What did you do after the war?

After the war, Meyer and I were in Germany together.  He took out papers in the name of his brother since if you were younger they told you there was a greater chance of getting in. Meyer’s real name was Leibel. (She believed Meyer was born in 1920)  Leibel was the oldest, Sheindel was the sister and Meyer was the youngest.  After the war I lived in Italy, then Germany and then came here.  I met Julius (her husband) in Germany after the war.  We were in the same camp, one camp.  He knew who I was, but I didn’t know him.


When we (Phyllis & Meyer) were in Germany together I gave him money to go to Poland.  The family was very wealthy.  They had a villa and a beautiful apartment upstairs and downstairs.  There were stables and horses.  Meyer sold the house, but found that somebody else had sold the farm with falsified papers.  There was a lot of land, house, barns, horses and cows.  Sheindel had been living there.  Her grandfather and two brothers  (Cukiers) lived on the farm.


I went into my old apartment after the war.  I was lucky that a Polish woman let me in.  I wasn’t able to see Yusel’s apartment.


I was the only woman on both sides (both mother’s and father’s families) who survived, although I had an aunt on my mother’s side who moved to Israel in 1936 and there are now cousins in Israel.  The aunt’s name was Hinda Rosenberg.  Her second ex-husband Banka  had a business with Dubic.


My mother had a younger brother who left for America – Mendel Rosenberg, possibly in the late 20s.  I think he was born around 1890.  I would like to know anything about him.  His parents were Yehudah and Chaja Rosenberg.  


               Return to Family Histories

Excerpt from "J'avais promis à ma mère de revenir "
by Moniek Baumzecer
translation by Susan Weinberg

published by Le Manuscrit and Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah, 2006
with permission of Moniek Baumzecer and Le Manuscrit

My paternal grandparents lived in Radom. My grand-father, Simcha Baumzecer, the owner of a store of fabrics, had married Szajndla of the Dresner family, well regarded in the city and also the owner of a store of fabrics.

They had nine children, three girls and six boys. The eldest daughter, Sara, had married a tanner by the name of Rotemberg. The second, Ester, had married a trader in leather of the name of Suskind.  I do not know the given name of the husband of Golda, the third,but his surname was Goldenberg. The six Baumzecer sons: Abram my father, born on 25 October 1889 as well as Izak, Jakob, Shalom, Szlomo and Arom.

I remember little things about the brothers of my father. I know that Izak had left his parents to study philosophy in Warsaw and that he had become a free-thinker. I also know that the youngest, Arom, accountant for my grandfather, had married Paula and that they had two children.

During the war, I found Paula in tragic circumstances at Auschwitz. Many years after the war, during a trip to Israel, I met Mosche, son of Yankel, and grandson of Chaïm, a brother to my paternal grandmother. Yankel had been deported but he had survived ; and just after the war, he had his son Mosche in Germany. A year later, they had moved to Israel.

The family of my mother was from Ozarow, a city where I have never gone, a little more than a hundred kilometers south-east of Radom. I remember my grandfather Samuel Meyer Fridman who towards the end of his life lived in Radom. With my maternal grandmother who I didn’t know because she died relatively young, he had nine girls, including my mother, Estera Liba, born on 13 October 1887.

In Ozarow, my grandparents had a store, a  delicatessen with "sweets," cakes, etc. My mother remembered helping her parents; then she was still a child, but serving customers. I know only that there were two older sisters of my mother;  Braindle who was married in Radom, and Rivka installed with her husband to Wierzbnik and who I met at the time of the burial of my maternal grandfather. The other sisters lived in small nearby towns such as Sandomierz about thirty kilometers south of Ozarow, or  Klimontow, the same distance to the west of Sandomierz, or in Zawichost between Ozarow and Sandomierz. I didn’t know them; however, I knew their husbands Yankel Nomberg and Mayer Duzenman, who came to buy fabric in my father’s store.

 In 1911, my father married Estera Liba Fridman in Radom. After his marriage, he began to work with his father at a fabric store known as Simcha A. Baumzecer. Six years later, 27 November 1917, my older brother, Lejzer Icek (Izrak) was born. In 1921 arrived my brother Izaya, who later in France will be called Charles. Finally, the last, Samuel Mayer, was born September 30, 1930.

My maternal grandfather, no doubt after the death of my grandmother, came to Radom,  initially living with us, then at my Aunt Braindle.  I remember him well. Always dressed in an old style with a  long black cloak, he had a great white beard, as well as paiess and stood very straight. One would have said a Rabbi. He was a Hassid, adhering to the Hassid movement of the rabbi of Ger. In the morning when I arose, I greeted my grand-father and he asked me regularly: Have you said your prayers?

 Of a new generation, my parents s dressed in the modern way, like the Polish. I remember that in winter my mother was wearing a coat of lambswool/fur (?). She also wore a hat with a small veil on the front that always intrigued me. My father had just a short goatee.  In daily life, when he went out, he was wearing a hat as the regular Polish men, but for the prayers, he wore a small hat with a black velvet brim.

My parents were practitioners, they followed another Hassidic movement than that of my grandfather, one of the rabbi of Alexander. They did not attend the synagogues of the city: we travelled to a private house of prayers (Sztybel), financed by some Hasidic families, including ours, of the movement of Alexander. Men prayed in a room and women in another.

At home, prayers were said each day, particularly during meals, and one ate kosher. They respected all holidays. For the seder of Pessah, it was I who asked the ritual questions “Ma nishtana ha laïla hazé… ? "Why is this night different… ? » Referring to the exodus from Egypt of Hebrews.  For Yom Kippur, we passed the day at the prayer house, but only adults fasted. At Shabbat, my father would go to the office while my mother was preparing the traditional dishes. When my father returned home, we proceeded to the table. My father said the prayers, candles were lit, then came the Kiddush; we each had  our small glass of kosher wine that we drank after the blessing. Then we ate traditional dishes carefully prepared by my mother: challah (plaited brioche), gefilte fish (stuffed carp), chicken broth, meat and compote. Of these Shabbat evenings of my childhood, I have always been very nostalgic.

At a very young age, I had a small talit, a prayer shawl, with the fringes hidden in my trousers.  At the age of four, I was entered in a Heder, a religious Jewish school, as well as my elder brother who was seven years old.  In the morning someone from the Heder came to find us at our home and in the evening they accompanied us home.  We remained all day and at noon they gave us a meal.  I first learned about the Hebrew alphabet and daily prayers, and then was taught the siddur, the daily prayer book.  I remember a fellow of the school, a little older than me, named Chaïm Zucker.  His father, a very pious Hassid, acted as chohet, responsible for the ritual killing of chickens.  My friend read smaller books that he refused to show me saying they were not for me.  Later after the war, in Paris, I learned from someone from Radom that the big brother of Chaïm was a Communist and the source of the small books.  In 1936 he engaged in the war of Spain, then he came to France where he changed his name.

At home, a Jewish cook named Perele spoke in Yiddish, like my parents, and prepared kosher meals.  A small Polish Catholic, very nice,
Véronika, was part of the household. I spoke Polish with her, as well as with my friends, all Catholics, with whom I played ball in the courtyard of our building.  I knew Yiddish and Polish and I learned to write in both languages.

I observed that my friends didn't have dietary restrictions as in my family.  I remember the images of the Virgin Mary, illuminated by a candle inside their homes, of which I was afraid.

I also remember a procession during a Catholic feast day with the religious banners and the people who were singing.  I was outside with my friends.  When the procession arrived where we were, all were kneeling.  I of course remained upright as a Jew would never kneel.  One of my small comrades then sent me to earth with a (kick). 

I had felt no aggressiveness in this gesture.  In contrast, another day, a buddy with whom I played insulted me with "dirty Jew, go to Palestine!"  I fought with him even though I was not allowed to do so.

In 1930, my maternal grandfather died.  I was ten years old and I attended the burial in the Jewish cemetery located outside the city.  To go to the cemetery and to return to the house, my father had rented a dorojka, a carriage.  During the ceremony, I recited the kaddish with adults present.

In September of the same year our younger brother Samuel was born.  His circumcision took place on the evening of Yom Kippur.

After the death of my grandfather and the birth of Samuel, a major change occurred in our lives. The previous year, following the great crash in the United States, a serious economic crisis had erupted in the countries of Europe.  In Poland, and in particular to Radom, Jewish shops were boycotted.  My father therefore made plans to leave the city.  He knew Lodz  well where he frequently provided fabrics to a German manufacturer.  This great industrial city, located 130 km southwest of Warsaw, offered many opportunities.  It is there that my father decided we would live.

Return to Family Histories

Moishe's Family Society of Radom
by Greg R. Tuckman O.D. & Rick Leeds

My maternal grandfather’s family, the Austrian’s, emigrated from Radom, Poland between 1897 and 1928.  They came to the United States for the same reason many Jews did during the years between the World Wars, to escape persecution.    Passing through Ellis Island they settled in Manhattan and then eventually spread out to the other boroughs.  A close knit family, my ancestors created a ‘family circle’ in order to continue being a part of each other’s lives.  Thus, Moishe’s Family Society of Radom was born.


Szmul Moszek (Moishe) Austrian was born in Radom, Poland in 1880.  The son of Szaia Maier and Sura Swarc, he had nine known siblings including his brother Dawid.  Only half of the children were to live through World War I and have families to carry on our traditions.


Both Dawid and Moishe were tailors.  At a very young age, Dawid traveled to South Africa.  From there he found his way to London in 1901 and then on to America.  Moishe is listed on the SS New York as leaving London for the United States in 1903, but never boarded the ship.  Instead he returned to Radom.


Having earned enough money in London, Moishe opened a hotel and restaurant near the railroad station.  He and his wife, Bila, had no children, so they were quite generous.  They donated often to orphan’s homes and their synagogue.


Unfortunately, Moishe was about to encounter anti-semitism.  His father-in-law owned a home nearby, and as a capmaker it was necessary for him to own a horse so he could peddle his wares.  One day the horse ran into the field of a wealthy Gentile landowner who did not care much for Jews.  Moishe and his father-in-law were told the horse would be killed if they did not move away.  They stood up for their rights and the Gentile Pole injured the horse.  There was a witness to this incident and the Pole was sentenced to a few months in jail after Moishe took the matter to court.


World War I came and the German’s temporarily occupied Radom before the Russians came and took their place.  The Pole, having been released from prison, threatened Moishe with a gun in front of witnesses.  He then swore an affidavit before the commanding Russian general stating that Moishe was a German spy.  Moishe was arrested by the Russians, and life changed for the Austrian family.


The Russians came and tried to arrest other members of the family.  Moishe’s mother and youngest brother Paul were not home, but his sister Bila and her four children were.  The Russians tried to take her away, but the children screamed for mercy and for some reason she was spared.  Months later she was arrested and sent to Siberia for a period of three years along with Moishe’s uncle, Emanuel.


The family attempted to get Moishe released.  They had the leading citizens and most influential rabbis write letters establishing his esteem within the community.  Unfortunately, the next day the Russian troops left town taking Moishe with them.  As he was being led out of town, Moishe drew his hand across his neck indicating he already knew he was to be hung.


The Austrian family continued to fight for Moishe’s release and followed the Russian soldiers and Moishe to Kielce carrying a letter from the highly respected Rabbi Kestenberg.  Unfortunately when they arrived they learned they were too late.  Moishe had been hung.  The year was 1914 and Moishe was 34 years old.


Moishe’s mother and brother, Paul, were forced into hiding for a three month period until the Russians were once again driven out of the area by the Germans.  They were then brought before the Germans and exonerated.  The Pole ended up spending three years in prison in Germany, for unknown reasons, as an undesirable.


During this time the children of Szaia Maier and Sura were gradually crossing the Atlantic Ocean and restarting their lives in the New World.  Dawid was there, and he helped Jakob, Gerson, Paul, Sura and the others enter America where their dreams would be fulfilled.


The story you have just read has been told to you as it was passed down to me through three generations.  As I researched the Austrian history I always questioned how much truth there was behind the story.  After five years of research and tracing the Austrian’s back to 1727 I can now verify many of the facts behind the story.


The esteemed Rabbi Kestenberg indeed existed, and I have been in touch with his ancestors.  About two years ago I sent an e-mail to JRI-Poland asking if anyone heard of Rabbi Kestenberg, the man who tried to help Moishe.  I received an unexpected reply from Warren Blatt.  He told me he recognized the surname AUSTRIAN from the Kielce Yizkor Book and sent me the following excerpt from the diary of Rabbi Moshe Nachum Jerusalimski.  There are truths behind those family stories.  Research them and discover your history.


Excerpt from the Diary of Rabbi Moshe Nachum Jerusalimski  
Complete Diary

On Tuesday (21 Cheshvan, October 28) during the middle of the prayers, a great crowd came to me in the synagogue with crying and wailing, for they had heard about the sentencing of Yitzchak Hecherman (who was known as a G-d fearing person, an honest man) to death by hanging.  The lamentation filled the synagogue.  The children grabbed me around the neck with weeping and wailing, which shattered me…  I decided what to do.  I ran to the official of the gendarme, who was located in a hotel.  I saw him only for a few minutes.  He wrote down the name of those who were arrested, whose names he knew.  On the same day, at 12:00 p.m., I went to see the governor and his assistant.  He was very friendly to me, and he informed me that my request that I had placed on Monday to allow Jewish nurses in the Jewish hospital would be granted.  As I was leaving from there, the official of the home-police met me along the way and informed me that there was an order from the commandant that I must come to the jail at 3:20 p.m.  My heart began to beat loudly, as I understood that a death penalty was to be carried out there…  I do not know with what type of powers I was able to arrive home in peace.

When the set time approached, as I was parting from my family, I said that who knows if I would come home at all.  I felt as weak as a small child…I felt that I had no energy to hold up.  Along the way, I strengthened.  I said to myself that perhaps they had called me for something else.  Only when I approached the jail, which was on Cziste Street near the town hall, did I see that they had erected a large gallows there… At that moment, my eyes became dark, and my feet underneath me became crooked so that I could not stand still on the spot…  My friend Avraham Wachsberg, who was walking close to me, led me into the consular office along with some superintendent…  As I entered, the general arrived in order to carry out the sentence.  Shortly, they would carry out the procedures of the death sentence in the consular office by means of hanging:  Yaakov Hecherman of Kielce and Shmuel Moshe Astrian.  They read out the death verdict to them, and told them that they had the rights to speak about anything.  The Radomer* wrote out a will regarding his estate.  Then they confessed**…of repentance at such a time.  The Radomer shouted out that he was innocent of the charges for which he had been convicted.  The Kielcer requested that I study at least one chapter of Mishna for his soul.  I requested of the general in my name, in the name of the Radomer, and in the name of the entire Jewish committee that he permit them to be brought to a Jewish burial in the Jewish cemetery.  He answered that this does not depend on him, and that one must submit a request to the higher authorities.  I did so.  (However to my sorrow, three days later, on October 30, I received an answer on an official document, number 721, that my request has been rejected.)  Oy Vey!  I will never forget those minutes.  I mean the reading of the sentence, the writing of the will, the recitation of confession, and over everything, the look in their eye…together with the shrieking and wailing of the Radomer’s wife as they separated her from him, and the carrying out of the hanging outside...  After I told them that they should accept their fate, that their deaths will serve as an atonement for all of their sins, and that just before their deaths they should shout out “Shema Yisrael”, I fell down like a stone.  Then the general convinced me that I do not need to fulfill his command of witnessing the execution – and I remained sitting in the consular office.  (The well-know deputy Puriszkewicz, who was at that time present in Kielce, stood outside at the time of the hanging.)  I arrived home greatly troubled and weakened.  I lay in bed for ten days.  For a long time, that which I heard continued to ring in my ears…  For very long did the terrible picture stand before my eyes…

*Evidently, Astrian was from Radom.

**Referring here to the Jewish death confessional rather than to a legal procedure.



Excerpt from the diary of Rabbi Moshe Nachum Jerusalimski (of blessed memory), of Kielce, from the time of the First World War.  Transcribed from a Yiddish manuscript by his son David Yonah (of blessed memory) and given to the Kielce Yizkor Book committee in Tel-Aviv in 1956 to publish, by his son Shamai Dov Yerushalmi (Jerusalimski).


Translated from the Yiddish by Jerrold Landau, 2002.



  Return to Family Histories

Mark It With a Stone
by Joseph Horn

excerpt reprinted with permission of Sandy Rubenstein and Barricade Books
Copyright 1996,  all rights reserved

Radom, where I was born and raised, was a city of eighty thousand located in central Poland, about sixty miles directly south of Warsaw.  Back then, it was an industrial hub known mostly for its leather tanneries, although the city also manufactured textiles, steel, wood products and china.  In addition, many of the products over which the government held a monopoly such as tobacco, alcohol, matches and sugar were either manufactured or distributed in Radom.  The government also built and operated a weapons production facility that was one of the largest in the country.

In the 1930s, Jews comprised about one-third of the city’s population.  Because of discrimination, they held none of the well-paid government jobs.  There were Jews in the professions, but they were becoming fewer and fewer as it became more and more difficult for Jews to gain admission to the universities.  As a result, most Jews eked out a living as small shopkeepers, tailors, cobblers and small entrepreneurs.  But despite their position at the bottom of society, Jews were singled out in Poland as scapegoats for the widespread poverty brought on by the worldwide depression.  This was further exacerbated by the xenophobic, chauvinistic, pro-Fascist, military junta in control of the government.  Poland’s constitution, an impressive document similar to that of the United States, theoretically gave rights to all, but the dispensation of justice was left to biased courts and bigoted, unjust police departments.  The condition of Jews in Poland in the 1930s could be compared to the African-Americans in the rural South in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan.

Under these conditions I was born, the youngest of four.  My brother Abram was born in 1920.  Bluma, my sister, was born in 1921.  Eli was born in 1923 and I in 1926.  My father’s name was Judah and my mother’s Yohevet.

My paternal grandfather, Abram, died before I was born, but I remember my grandmother, Yita, who died in the early thirties.  My father had three brothers, Hershel, Layzor and Maylech, and one sister, Tsipora.  They were all married and lived in Radom with their extended families. 

My mother was born in Pionki, a small town about twenty miles from Radom, to Koppel and Frayndl Weinberg.  Grandmother Frayndl died before I was born. Grandfather Koppel lived in Pionki until his death in 1937.

My mother had an older sister, Tsyvia, an older brother, Noah, and a younger brother Mordechai.  Tsyvia married a Grossfeld and lived in Radom with her husband Aron-Meyer and four children.  Noah lived in Pulavy with his wife Guta and five children, and Mordechai lived in Warsaw with his wife Tosia and two children.

A strong bond of culture and tradition held my entire family together.  Each member was aware of his or her standing in the community and felt duty bound to uphold the good name of the whole family.  Each member of the family had an obligation to provide other members with financial or emotional support in times of need.

As I grew up, I learned that this family interconnectedness extended in its own way to the entire Jewish community.

The first rule I learned was never to strike back when hit by a Catholic child. Doing so could start a pogrom.  Collective responsibility grew out of the threat of collective punishment.  It followed the well-established Jewish tradition of survival at any cost until redemption and the arrival of the Messiah.

My earliest recollection is of the day when my father took me for a long walk to the city park.  I was recovering from a serious illness at the time, and I believe the doctors told my parents I needed to be out in the fresh air.  Certainly I recall feeling important because I had my father all to myself.

As we walked, he held me by my hand and answered all my impossible questions.

My father was a tall man, with a dark complexion and steel gray eyes.  His almost gray hair was always immaculately cut and combed back without a part, and he was always clean shaven.  He walked with a slight stoop as if he carried the burden of the world on his shoulders.  He wore gray sharkskin suits, a lighter weight in spring and summer and heavier woolen in the winter.  His name, as I said, was Judah, and in my eyes he was a lion of a man.

When we reached d the park, he stopped to look at a rectangular mark on the gate.  Clearly there had been a sign there once, which had since been removed. I noticed that his eyes became glazed and a sudden sadness came over him.

“”Papa, why are you so sad”” I asked.

He pulled me past the gate and into the beautiful park, then he bought me an ice-cream cone and tried to talk about the beauty of nature all around us.  Bust like a curious child, I refused to let go of the question.  Finally we sat down on a bench and he waited until I finished my ice cream.  He then explained that the city of Radom had once been occupied by Czarist Russia.  During that time, the authorities affixed a sign on the gate, and when a Polish interim government was established under the Versailles Treaty, the sign was removed.  But the marks were still there.

I never forgot the words which my father spoke slowly that day, first in Russian, then in Yiddish. “Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter this park”.


The building in which we lived was home to more than twenty families: several Polish Catholics, the rest Jewish.  Across a wide yard was another building which housed eight more Jewish families.  For the most part, there was an uneasy peace between the Jews and the Poles, but there was always a cultural and religious undercurrent that separated the two.

On either side of the yard, to complete a rectangle, were wooden structures that served as garages or stables for horses and wagons.  Several families who lived in this complex were in the transportation business and used these stables as needed, which meant that, when the weather was good, there was a great deal going on in our yard.  Goods were being loaded or unloaded or transferred from one wagon to another, carriages came and went, horses were fed and tended.  Some of my favorite memories are of Friday afternoons when we children were allowed to ride the horses bareback to the smith to have their shoes checked.

One bright, crisp, sunny morning, I lay in bed, wide awake and looking forward to a day of play and fun with my friends.  The rest of the family was still asleep, and I did not dare make noise for fear of waking them.  Then I heard movement in the yard.  Quietly, I slipped out of bed and stuck my head out the window.

I saw a neighbor of ours, Moshke Dorozkarz (Moshke, the coachman), come into the yard as he did every morning except Saturdays and holidays to get his horse and carriage out of the stable to start his business day.  That day, when he got to the stable door, he found it blocked by some clothing hung out to dry.  I could see that Moshke was agitated because, after all, the clothes might belong to one of the non-Jewish families.  He discreetly began to knock at windows and ask to whom the clothes belonged.  At the third window, Moshke was told that the clothes belonged to Pani Raykowska, a Catholic Pole.

I knew the Raykowski family.  Pan Raykowski was a confirmed alcoholic, and Pani was a nagging shrew.  Their two older sons were out of school, unemployed, and already had drinking problems.  And their youngest son, Zbigniew, was my contemporary and my nemesis.  Even as a six year old, he knew that he could lord it over the Jewish kids, abuse them and get away with it.  I feared and hated him from the day I can remember being conscious of my Jewishness.

 When Moshke found out who the clothesline belonged to, he began pacing back and forth in front of the inaccessible stable murmuring something to the effect that he needed his horse and buggy to earn a living for his wife and children.  At one point he looked up at the sky and, in the inimitable, age-old Jewish way of conversing with the Almighty, lifted his hands to the heavens and asked, “Why are you doing this to me?”

By this time, windows were wide open all around the yard.  Everyone was anxiously awaiting the outcome of this unfolding drama.  At last, Moshke mustered enough nerve to knock at Pani Raykowska’s basement window and ask, in a pleading voice, if she would please come up and remove the clothesline so he could get his horse and buggy.  There was no response.  After a short interval, he knocked again, this time a bit louder, and said that as soon as he got his horse and buggy, Pani Raykowska could put the clothesline back in the same place, and he would not even mind.

The window opened and out popped Pani Raykowska’s head, spewing anti-Jewish epithets.  From her abuse alone, you could get a pretty good collection of anti-Semitic diatribes, starting from the two-thousand-year-old accusations of Deicide, to the more recent Beilis Affair- in which he was accused of killing Gentile children to use their blood to make Matzo- and ending with rhymed insults such as “Beduiny won do Palestyny” (“Bedouins out to Palestine!”) and Wasze kamienice ale nasze ulice” (“You own the buildings, but the streets are ours”).

All Moshke could do in the face of this verbal torrent was lift his hands to the heavens and ask, “Dear God, did it have to be Pani Raykowska, the worst Jew hater of all?”

As if in response to his plea, I could clearly hear in the morning quiet the singing voice of Pan Raykowski returning from a night of drinking on the town.  As the singing became louder, Pani Raykowska came up from the basement to continue her harangue, warning that when her husband arrived he would mete out just punishment to this loathsome Jew who dared disturb her peace.

The drama climaxed when Pan Raykowski entered the courtyard and, through an alcoholic haze, slowly became acquainted with the problem at hand.  On one side, his wife, in frenzy egged him on to break the Jew’s bones for insulting her and for daring to disturb her peace.  On the other side, Moshke stood shaking his head and repeating, “All I want to do is to get my horse and buggy so I can earn bread for my family.  What’s wrong with that?”

Then the unbelievable happened.  Pan Raykowski’s already ruddy face turned purple with rage.  He turned to his wife. “Ty stara kurwa (you old whore), “ he screamed. “This poor man has to get up early because he has to work to feed his family, not like you, you lazy bitch.”  In a drunken rage, he ripped the clothesline off and ordered his wife to take her rags and hang them elsewhere.

A chorus of approval and applause greeted him from the open windows.  My brother Eli, always the wise guy, shouted, “Bravo Solomon.”  Pan Raykowski actually took his hat off and bowed like an actor on a stage.

I have remembered this incident all my life, when a Polish Catholic actually sided with a Jew.   I remember it because it was an exception, the only exception I know in the unhappy life of Jews in the Polish Diaspora.  In the end, such small victories as Moshke’s helped lull the Jewish community into a false sense of security for which it eventually paid the ultimate price.


In the early thirties, when I was five or six, I was introduced to a cheder, a kind of kindergarten school, where most Jewish children of my generation began the study of religious dogma.  My mentor and teacher in the cheder was Rabbi Abush whom, because he had a red flaming beard, everyone called "the red rabbi". 

When my mother first brought me to cheder to make the arrangements, Rabbi Abush seemed polite and reasonable.  The school itself consisted of three classrooms strung out like railroad cars with a small office in the front vestibule.  The first room held the youngest group, and the last room held the oldest.  My brother, Eli, studied in the middle room - he was about eight or nine at the time.  I was eager to stay because, as I looked around, I saw that most of the boys in my room were my friends. I thought it would be fun.

I asked to be seated next to Nathan, the son of our neighbors Issac and Leah with whom I loved to play in the yard. It did not take long for Nathan to disabuse me of the notion of having fun in cheder. He warned me of Rabbi Abush's temper and advised me to go to another cheder even if it was further away.  I told Nathan that I was afraid to even mention it to my mother.

My first day was devoted to learning the Hebrew alphabet from a printed page that was so old and crumpled, I was afraid it might disintegrate just by my looking at it.  For the first time, I felt confined and regimented.  And Rabbi Abush changed almost immediately from the smiling and polite mentor of our first meeting in my mother's presence to a strict demanding short-tempered autocrat.

He led us with an iron hand as we learned by rote, chanted prayers, recited passages from the Bible and memorized important excerpts.  Each day I was expected to remember and recite everything I had learned the day before.  We learned everything in Hebrew, which was completely foreign to me.  And somehow Rabbi Abush always seemed to be behind me as we swayed and recited in unison hour after hour after hour.  When my attention wandered for a moment, I was brought back to reality by Rabbi Abush's firm hand across the back of my neck or by a simple old-fashioned ear pull.  I soon had second thoughts about the whole project, and one day I suggested to my mother that I had had enough of Rabbi Abush and his cheder.

In a no-nonsense voice, she said," You will do as you are told and continue religious school."

From the vehemence of her answer, I realized that I was stuck with Rabbi Abush and would have to make the best of it.

There were certain aspects of the Bible, such as the story of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery by his brothers, that caught our imaginations.  At such times, the power and the beauty of the Bible seemed so great that we loved what we learned in spite of Rabbi Abush.  But for the most part the only thing I learned from the cheder was a distaste for religious education. 

My cheder career came to an abrupt end one day when my middle brother, Eli, actually hit back at one of the rabbis in his classroom.  Both of us were declared unfit and banned from the cheder.  My mother endured a certain amount of shame from her peers, and my brother endured his share of reprimands from my mother, but among our friends, we were heroes.

After he had received what my parents considered enough threats and reprimands, my brother started private grade school, where he continued taking religion as one of the subjects.  As for me, my mother engaged a Melamed, a tutor, who came to the house three times a week to keep me religiously indoctrinated.  My new teacher's name was Reb Mendel.  He was very tall and awkward and walked with the support of a cane.  He had high cheekbones, a long bearded face, and a relaxed manner.  He wore the prescribed visored black Chassidic cap and a frayed and shiny black coat, called a "capote".  His shirt was white, without a collar and buttoned all the way up to the neck.

For our first lesson, Reb Mendel tested my knowledge of the elementary prayers and my reading and writing skills and concluded that he had to start from scratch.

Every time Reb Mendel came to the house, my mother served him a giant portion of steaming hot soup with a hefty slice of buttered rye bread.  He would assign some work for me while he went about sipping soup and dipping bread.

I watched his high cheekbones move up and down with a crunching rhythm as he ate with astonishing enjoyment.  He always left a little bread so he could wipe the soup plate clean.  When he was finished eating, he would take his tattler, a guider that looked like a pencil without lead, and start me off on that week's Bible reading.  At first the tattler was firm in his hand, and it would stop when the reading was faulty, then continue firmly when I corrected myself.  But after a while, the tattler began to meander across the lines.  I learned to continue my reading chant uninterrupted until Reb Mendel was sound asleep.

All in all, Reb Mendel was a great improvement over the fiery red Abush.

But of course, my education, religious and otherwise, could not stop with Reb Mendel.  My mother was proud of her family lineage which she traced back to important rabbinic scholars.  She was vehement and uncompromising in her quest to keep our home strictly religious.  One of the memories I cherish to this day is the ritual of lighting the Sabbath candles.  My mother would gather all of us in a most beautiful and solemn ceremony, light the candles, and bless the family with all the strength and conviction of her abiding faith in the God of Israel.

My father, although lukewarm about religion, was very clear about education.  For him education was a way to rise above the trap Polish anti-Semitism held us in.  I often remember him watching me play soccer with other kids.  I felt so proud when I did well when he watched me.  But inevitably he would pat me on the head and say something like,"Why don't you go upstairs and study or read a book.  Kicking a ball will get you nowhere."

And so, since education was of paramount importance, and since as Jews it was difficult for us to attend public schools, our parents enrolled the four of us in private schools.  The expense was enormous for a family depending on one breadwinner, but the sacrifice was deemed to be worth it.

Needless to say, our parents expected us to be scholastic superachievers.  My mother was a master in the subtle art of praising achievement.  Every time she went out, she always managed to bring back a tale of some child who had won an academic prize or was able to recite passages from the Talmud at the age of six.

I regret to say I came to dislike these brilliant children, whom I never met.  I loved to play with friends and often "forgot" to do my homework.  At school I improvised as best I could, but the results were dismal.  I barely scraped by.  Often my mother lashed out at my lack of enthusiasm and my ingratitude, and when my father protected me (probably because I was the youngest), she accused him of spoiling me.  I felt like a traitor to the family cause.

On occasion, my father would take me and my brother Eli to a bathhouse.  Most Jewish people used the ritual bathhouse called "mikvah," but my father was a notch above that and considered it avant-garde to use the newly built public baths instead.  For me the evening was a beautiful and memorable experience.

We met at my father's office warehouse which gave me a glimpse of the mysterious world of business he was a part of.  I was impressed with the high stacks of leather in many colors lining the walls of the warehouse.  I asked many questions about business and about how it was transacted.  My father was always patient and informative.  We then started our walk to the bathhouse with me proudly holding his hand. 

The highlight of the bathing ritual was the hot sauna after which my father trained a cold-water hose on us.  My father would hose us down, at first with a spray.  He would gradually increase the water pressure until we squealed with delight.  After that we would get wrapped in large luxurious towels and enter a dark room full of cots for a short nap.  I remember always being so excited that sleep eluded me, but I knew that I had to be quiet and not disturb the others sleeping in the room.

The best of such an evening was yet to come.  After we got dressed, we were ravenously hungry.  Our next stop was a delicatessen restaurant called "Reshke's."

We were seated at one of the tables, and a waiter came to get the order.  For us, the menu was always the same.  My father ordered a batch of frankfurters called "parawki" and a plateful of fresh sliced rye bread.  The waiter then brought an aluminum pot filled with water.  It had an electrical cord which he plugged into a receptacle on the wall under the table.  He also brought mustard, sauerkraut, and chicken fat.  When the water in the pot started boiling, the bread and frankfurters appeared.

Then came an unforgettable eating experience.  The frankfurters were thrown into the boiling water and after a proper interval fished out and consumed with rye bread smeared with chicken fat and mustard and sauerkraut heaped on top.

I often conjured up the memory of those meals in later years when hunger was my steady companion.

Those were far better memories than the one from the beautiful spring day when I was about ten.  I found myself in front of the school, horsing around with friends, feeling a great reluctance to start classes.  As on many previous occasions, a classmate suggested that we play hooky and go to the city park instead.  Another boy I liked was willing to join us, and for the moment it seemed like a good idea.

We spent the day in the sun playing and having fun as only ten-year-old boys can.  On the way home, I decided to stop at a stationary store near the school to buy some supplies.  The store was owned by a neighbor who told me that my mother had been in the store that day to say hello.  I got what I needed, signed for it, and left with a courteous good-bye.

Once outside I began to cry. Our house was quite far from the school, and my mother would never come to that side of town without visiting it.  The jig was up, and my life was over.  But I did not want to be late for dinner. That would just make things worse-- in our house being late for dinner was almost as bad as being truant.  So, head hanging low,  I walked home to face the consequences.

I later learned that, when my homeroom teacher saw my mother that day, she had greeted her warmly and told her how nice it was for her to come to school to explain my absence.  My mother caught on quickly, nodded in agreement, and made an excuse for me.  That afternoon when I opened the door and my mother saw my terrified face, she concluded that I had already punished myself enough.  Her only comment was, "I hope this experience has taught you a lesson you will never forget."

I didn't fully understand the importance of education until the summer of 1938, when my family vacationed in the small town of Pionki, near Radom, where my grandfather owned a substantial piece of land and a large house.  After grandfather Koppel passed on in 1937, part of the house had been rented out and part was kept for our family and my aunt Tsyvia's family to use for vacations.

My father came out on Friday afternoons for the weekend.  Every Friday afternoon, I waited for him at the Pionki train station.  The anticipation of his arrival and seeing him alight from the train remains to this day one of my fondest memories.  I would buy a newspaper at the station kiosk and read it carefully so we could talk about world news on our walk home. 

There was much to talk about. Nazi Germany was rearming at a frantic pace.  Chamberlain and Daladier were playing the appeasement game with Herr Hitler, and England issued a "White Paper," denying Jews the right to go to Palestine.  Polish hooligans were throwing stink bombs into Jewish business establishments and otherwise preventing people from shopping in Jewish stores.  When these practices were challenged in the Polish courts, the ruling was the infamous "Owszem," declaring that such picketing was legal.  Polish-born Jews were being booted out of Germany and sent to Zbonszyn, a Polish-German border town.  America was in a deep economic depression, politically isolationist, with a Nazi-supporting group called the German-American Bund marching in the streets with swastika banners flying high. 

As I discussed all those events with my father, he remained an optimistic.

"Jewish people have had to endure Hamans throughout history, and somehow we survived," he said.  "Hitler is just another Haman.  He will exact a toll, but in the long run, we will persevere."

"But father, why is the whole world against us?"  Why is there so much hatred?  Can't we do something to defend our rights?  And why can't we leave this God-forsaken place full of hatred and bigotry?"

He would pat my head, and his eyes would become sad.  "To leave now would require a lot of money that we don't have.  Besides, how can we leave our place of birth where everyone knows us, our friends, our relatives?  The little we have here sustains us, and it is more than we can hope for in a new country in these times of depression."

"But how can we stay?"

"By relying on our faith and in our Bible.  Remember, we are the people of the book."

"Bust what if that is not enough?”

"That is why we are trying to establish a state in Palestine.  And, who knows, if not in my lifetime then perhaps in yours that will become a reality."

One day, while walking home from the railroad station, he gave me some very good news.  One of the Jewish soccer teams from Radom, the "Hapoel," was scheduled to play the Polish team in Pionki the following Sunday.  I loved to play soccer and loved to watch it played.  Two of my cousins, twins, played striker on the "Hapoel."  All week, that upcoming match was the first thing I thought of when I woke each morning.  I even arranged with my mother to have a basket of goodies to hand out to my cousins and the others at halftime.

The day of the event finally came.  I was at the stadium ahead of everybody.  I watched the bus with the Radom players pull in and was very proud of the healthy-looking Jewish young men getting off.  I greeted my cousins and showed them the basket that mother had filled with lemons, apples, strawberries, and a jar of lemonade wrapped in a towel to keep it cool.  When it was time to play ball, the Jewish team took the field dressed in blue-and-white jerseys and lined up in the center of the ballpark.

My heart sank when the spectators greeted them with hisses and anti-Semitic catcalls.  Then the Polish home team ran out dressed in red and white, and the cheers were deafening.

Play began, and within five minutes, the Hapoel team scored.  Because I was surrounded by Poles, I was afraid to cheer, but still it felt so good inside. As if to confirm my happiness, they scored another goal within minutes.  By halftime, the score stood at 2-0.

I took my basket of goodies and ran to the Jewish side, where I quickly distributed my treasure trove.  I was a kid in the company of big boys, and nobody paid much attention to me except my two cousins.  As I milled among the players, I sense a lack of excitement.  They seemed strangely subdued for a team with a solid halftime lead.

When the whistle blew and it was time to go back on the field, one of my cousins leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Go home now, we are going to lose."

I was stunned and didn’t move.  As he ran onto the field, he turned and motioned again for me to go home.

Then I understood.  They had to throw the game to avoid a massacre, and he didn't want me to see their defeat.

I walked home, my spirit completely crushed.  Somehow the precariousness of being Jewish sunk in at that moment more deeply than ever before.  For the first time, I knew what it was to be a stranger in my homeland.  I knew now that my parents were right when they set high standards of achievement for us.  Prejudice against Jews was the fuel that gave the incentive for scholastic excellence.  Just being good was not good enough if you were Jewish.

That afternoon on the way home from that soccer game, I became fully committed to Zionism.  I decided to fight hatred and bigotry for the rest of my life, wherever it raises its ugly head.  In this I never wavered, even though the struggle was about to become harder than I could possible have imagined.

Return to Family HIstories

The Word of Abusz Werber
by Michel Werber

excerpt reprinted with permission of Michel Werber
Copyright 2017,  all rights reserved

Abusz Werber's Path

Before the Occupation

ABUSZ (ABUSH) WERBER was born into a religious family on September 17th, 1908, in Radom, Poland, which was then under Russian rule. His father was a tailor at home, his mother a housewife. He was the seventh of eight children to reach adulthood; two of them had died very young, before his birth. He was given the name of his maternal grandfather, who had died a few years earlier, and his mother was, therefore, particularly fond of him. The young Abusz studied in a Heder, a traditional Jewish elementary school, where he received an exclusively religious education. He would have preferred a general education, but his father would not let him go to a secular school so as to prevent him from “becoming a goy (gentile).” He was, however, open enough to authorize the taking of a family photograph for his oldest son, Isroel-Leyser, who was serving in the army for a period of 25 years, as per the Tsarist regime’s requirement for every male first-born.

At the age of eleven, Abusz left the Heder to go and earn a living, and learned the trade of leather-cutting for shoes. The following year, he began a general school curriculum, attending evening classes in Hebrew at the newly opened “Evening Lessons (Shiyurei Erev) Society” in Radom. He was also initiated into politics through joining the Poalei Zion (The Workers of Zion), a Marxist-Zionist movement that had just been split into two branches: the Poalei Zion Tseirei Zion, right-winged Zionists, and the Left Poalei Zion (LPZ) left-winged Zionists.

Abusz joined the youth movement of the latter party, LPZ, where he spent his entire political career. In the years to follow, driven by an unquenchable thirst for culture, he continued his education on his own. Thus, he ate into his measly salary to take private lessons. Furthermore, he diligently frequented the LPZ youth movement’s library and resolved to read every book in it by its numerical catalogue order.

As an active member of the youth movement, Abusz quickly climbed the ranks, soon finding himself on the Board of Directors. In 1925, when the majority of the movement’s leaders was on the run, or arrested by the Polish police, he reconstituted the organization and became its head. In 1927, at the age of 19, he was one of the LPZ delegates at the first World Congress for Jewish Culture, organized by the Shiyurei Erev society.

Two years later, in February 1929, he left his native country for Belgium, where Bunim, one of his older brothers, had settled. There, he also met up with Tsalel (Betzalel) Kastner, a childhood friend from Radom, who had become secretary of the Jewish section of the MOI (Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée – Immigrant Labor), an affiliate of the Communist Party. As for Abusz, he established contact with the local subsidiary of the LPZ. At the time, the PZ was the most powerful Zionist party in Belgium, as shown by the World Zionist Congres selections held between 1927 and 1939. Together, the two branches of the PZ were by far the majority parties in Brussels, Liege and Charleroi. They were, on the other hand, much weaker in Antwerp.

In early 1929, Abusz was elected to the party committee and, as head of Department of Culture, he would develop it with his usual zeal. Because of a lack of suitable premises, some party meetings were held in the home of Shlomo Zilberg, an LPZ sympathizer, and René de Lathouwer’s father. In October of the same year, he left for Poland where he represented the LPZ in Warsaw, at the Congress of Workers for Eretz-Israel, where he was appointed member of the Organizing Committee.

In June 1930, he returned to Belgium. There, he pursued evening classes in Commercial Sciences for two years and he later studied at the Brussels’ People’s University, alongside his political activities, while earning a living working in the footwear industry, firstly as a hand, and later by setting up his own business.

It was at this time, during a party meeting, that he became acquainted with his future wife, Sofia (Shifra) Trocki-Musnicki, her brother David (Dodè) and his wife, Haya (Paulina) Avsrijtsky. Here are a few biographical details about Dodè, Shifra and Paulina, who were to play a major role in Abusz’s resistance journey: Dodè was born in Vilnius, Lithuania on September 23, 1904 into a middle-class family. His father had progressive views. He completed the last three years of his secondary education at the Ershter Yiddicher real Gymnasie, the first Jewish secondary school to offer a Natural Sciences curriculum. Shifra, his sister, born on March 31 1908, graduated from the same school four years later. Influenced by his history teacher Moshe Erem, who stirred up a great interest in Borochov’s ideas among his students, Dodè joined the PZ youth movement. In 1924, he left for Belgium where he enrolled at the Polytechnic Institute of Ghent. Shifra joined him in 1926 to study economics at the Graduate School of Business Sciences. In Ghent, Dodè formed and managed a group of LPZ students, and became the stage director of the student organization’s dramatic circle. He also got in contact with the Jewish Scientific Institute of Vilna (YIVO) and became one of their Zamlers, a voluntary document collector. In April 1928, still a student, Dodè Trocki married Paulina, a student at the Faculty of Medicine of Ghent since 1923. Paulina Haya Avstriitsky was born in Kishinev in Bessarabia on December 28th, 1905. During her studies, she was active within the Poalei Zion party and the aforementioned dramatic circle. They both finished their studies in the same year, receiving their diplomas (Dodè graduating in Chemical Engineering, andPaulina in Dentistry), and they settled in Brussels. Dodè was an active member of the Zionist labor movement. He gave talks in Brussels, Antwerp and in other Belgian cities. He was a member of the LPZ’s Central Committee in Belgium and very active within Jewish community institutions.

Abusz and Shifra married in July 1931. By the end of the 1930s, Abusz owned a workshop at 79 Andenne Street, set back from the Courtyard of Saint-Gilles Church. There, he made shoes and employed several people, including his niece, Lola. She had left Radom for Paris where her older sisterlived. Not finding employment there, she moved to Brussels with her uncle, Abusz, where she was employed at the workshop until the war-period.

Nothing slowed down Abusz’s political activity. In 1932, he set up the youth movement of the Left Poalei Zion, the LPZ Youth Organization – YUGNT. At its head, he began the political education of the young people, with whom he often forged personal bonds. He encouraged them to read and to continue their education. One of these young people, Dora Rabinowitz, remembers having started reading the newspaper, daily, following Abusz’s prompting. At the same time, Abusz pursued a journalist’s career. As well as being editor of a youth newspaper in Brussels, he wrote a series of articles in Yiddish for Warsaw’s Workers’ Times (Arbeter-Zeitung), and from 1932 onwards, among other things, he wrote political editorials for the Paris Workers’ Voice (Arbeter Wort), the LPZ’s weekly publication distributed in Western and Central Europe. One of its key concerns was the Yiddish language. In 1935, he published “In Support of Yiddish” in Warsaw’s Workers’ Times (reproduced in“From Under the Pen”), for the promotion of Yiddish in Palestine, and he announced a campaign for the publication of a proletarian periodical in Yiddish,New World (Naywelt), which was to be distributed there to counterbalance newspapers in Hebrew.

It was also at this time that he published two brochures outlining the party’s ideology. The first, signed by his first name, is entitled “Our Call”(“Unzer Ruf”). It came out in November 1935 and addressed the young Jewish worker. Here are some excerpts:

“... The youth movement YUGNT is addressing you in this period when reactionary regimes are trampling over your existence and human dignity...”

 “... The economic situation of the Jews is disastrous, not only in fascist countries, but also in countries with a bourgeois and democratic government. In Belgium, the new measures against foreigners have cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs…”

It is followed by a discussion about the political situation and the dangers of fascism that manipulate the world and lead to war. Abusz expressed the party’s position which opposed the creation of popular fronts in which the proletariat does not set the pace.

“The LPZ and its youth movements in Europe have struggled for decades,on the one hand, to meet the economic, cultural and political needs of the Jewish masses and of the proletarian youth in their environment and, on the other hand, to find a territorial solution to the Jewish problem in Palestine, while pointing out the positive role that Palestine plays and will continue to play in the process of normalization, and in the fight for the liberation of the Jewish working nation worldwide.”

The aim of this approach was to maintain close ties between the party and the Jewish workers commonly referred to as the “Jewish Street” (“Yiddishe Gas”). In September 1937, Abusz Werber was sent to Paris as delegate to the Congress for Yiddish Culture, organized by the Association for Yiddish Culture, an American association with communist leanings. At the same time, he was forced to step down as leader of the youth movement because his activities within the party consumed all of his time. That was when he created several party institutions including the “Folks Klab” (People’s Club), and the “Shul un Dertsiung” (School and Education), of which he became the first secretary general. He trained managers who were to be active members within the many community institutions.In a rare photograph from that time he is seen with his wife and several militants, along with Yehuda Tiberg, who was, then, leading the LPZ.

It was also in this very year that Abusz returned to Radom for a brief visit. He wanted to introduce his wife to his mother, a widow of two years. Abusz maintained close ties with his family members as far as possible, and never stopped honoring their memory, in his own way.

In 1938, Abusz and his brother-in-law, Dodè Trocki, represented the LPZ at the Council of Jewish Associations of Brussels. Established the year before, this body brought together twenty-seven organizations, from communist to religious Orthodox. His mission was to deal with the numerous problems facing the Jewish community, from the legislation on foreigners’ work, to their legal representation in face of the threat of deportation, not forgettingwelcoming in the Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism. Abusz and Dodè were members of the Culture Committee of this council. They then established the Jewish People’s University. There, Abusz taught the history of the Jewish labor movement and Jewish sociology, and Dodè, Jewish history. Moreover, it goes without saying that Abusz published articles in the new organization’sweekly, Unzer Yeshuw (Our Community). In December 1938, Michel (Moishele in Yiddish), Shifra and Abusz’s only son, was born.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE HE

Return to Family HIstories


© 2010-2023 Compiled and Created by Susan Weinberg
Please contact Susan Weinberg with your additions and your comments!
 Last updated 2023