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Chapter 1: Escape from the ghetto.

The whistle of the train woke me up. We were approaching Lublin. I was on my way to Warsaw, escaping the horrors of the Lwow ghetto,  going to hide under an assumed name among the "Aryans". My father decided on Warsaw, because in Lwow I could be recognized on the street by my former schoolmates,  neighbors, and others. Blackmailers and Gestapo informers were everywhere. In Warsaw, on the other hand, no one would recognize me.    Also,  one assumed that in Warsaw,  a much larger city, it would be easier to hide.
My mother's younger brothers, Lorenc and Jozek, were already  in Warsaw,  living  under assumed  Polish names as Aryan Catholics.  They sent  a man,  who, for a large payment that included compensation for the high risk, would accompany me on the  trip,  and deliver me safely into their hands. My escape had been planned since the end of the infamous "August Action" (Akcja Sierpniowa) in  which 50,000 Jews  (40% of Lwow's Jewish population) were taken from their homes to the Belzec and Janowska death camps.
The Action started on August 10, 1942 and lasted two weeks. On the first day, my maternal grandparents Frieda and Salem Klinger, my aunt Erna (Jozek’s wife) and their one year old son Emil were taken to the gas chambers in the Belzec extermination camp, 70 km away from Lwow. They never returned. The Gestapo and the SS entered our home in the ghetto at 11 Wagowa Street. They wanted to take the children - my brother Marian and me - with them. Terrible fear overtook my mother. She knew that they were taking us to our deaths. She asked, first politely, then with agitation, to leave us at home. When they rudely refused, she became hysterical, and tried  to block the door with her own body. A shouting argument developed between her and the commanding officer. Eventually she fell to her knees, grasped the officer by his boots and begged him to leave her at least one of her children. While struggling to free his legs, the officer turned around, gave a short order to his subordinates, and they all left, leaving us behind.
This episode was exceptional to an extreme degree, in striking contrast to the reality of the Action. Was the officer impressed by my mother’s clean and aesthetic appearance? By her pure and rich German? Or did she awaken some humane feelings in him? We were saved by a miracle. To stay at home  would be suicidal. They would surely come again and the miracle would not be repeated. We had to leave, to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was out of the ghetto.
Later on during the day, when the Action abated and the Nazis left the ghetto, we went to hide in “Textilia”, the textile factory where my father worked.
Textilia was located at 23 Legionow Street. In it, raw materials were extracted from old  uniforms stripped off Soviet casualties and prisoners, and were converted into cloth for uniforms for the German armed forces.  Only Jews worked there, all as slaves, without  any  compensation.  However,  the  work provided the slaves with  an employment  certificate - a key for survival. We spent several days in the Textilia storeroom, squeezed between bales of cloth. There was hardly any food,  but enough water and tea. My mother was very sad and cried most of the time, thinking of her parents who had just been taken to their deaths. Both were in their sixties. My mother was 41. She sang a sad German song, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden". I still remember that song.
As the days passed, the Action in the ghetto seemed to draw to an end, and my parents decided that it was time to return home. We did, but not for long. August 17th was one of the worst days of the Action. The Nazis came in large numbers,  assisted by the Ukrainian police.  Thousands of Jews were taken from their homes and sent to the Belzec and Janowska camps.  My mother,  brother and I were caught.  The Nazis were very brutal, quick and efficient. They would not listen to arguments or explanations. Pushing, using sticks and the butts of  their rifles, they threw us out of our home, downstairs to the backyard,  and further on to the street. From there, the Ukrainian police led us to a nearby house at 11 Goluchowski Square, and shoved us into a large courtyard. The courtyard had a single gate. There was no other exit. Some 200 people were squeezed into this yard. The Ukrainian policemen and the SS guarded the exit.
It was a very hot day. We were sweating and very thirsty. No one would give us water  or anything else to drink, or any food. More and more people were forced into the yard, fear and desperation on  their faces. Stench in the air.
Mother repeatedly told me and Marian to stay close to the gate at all times, and to watch for an opportunity to escape. She would try to escape later.  At that moment any chance of running away seemed impossible. The police force was large in number, and they all seemed to keep their eyes on us. We told our mother that we would not run away.  We  felt safer with her and wanted to stay with her. But  she saw escape as our only chance to survive, and was very firm and insistent about it. We were both small and very thin, and could perhaps squeeze by, unnoticed, between people entering the yard (Fig. 1).

Fig 1
Fig. 1:  The courtyard at 11 Goluchowski Square. Here Jews were gathered before being shipped off  to Belzec.  The only gate was heavily guarded

“Now is an opportunity", mother said suddenly and pointed to the direction out, "Go away! I will come after you".  In an instant, perhaps a  second or  less, we found  ourselves between the  boots of the Nazis and the legs of the Jews being shoved in, and then, suddenly, on the street, among people moving freely. Walking quickly, but not running, in order not to attract attention, we went in the direction of Textilia, to our father.
My father already knew that his family had been taken away, but there was nothing he could have done to help  us. A quick conversation with other Textilia workers, and we were again hidden between the bales of cloth, as during the previous week. Mother, of course, did not follow us. She never came...
Another victim of that day's Action was my paternal grandmother Feiga. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Lola and Bruno Gersten (Fig. 2). They were protected by employment certificates.  She  was  not. In  addition, she was ill and bedridden. When an SS man ordered her out of bed and out of the apartment, she could  not comply. A shot in the head from his handgun cut her life  short. We heard this from Lola a few hours later. There were no funerals. Jews who died or were killed in the ghetto were dumped into common graves.  My father never found out where his mother was buried.

Fig 2
Fig 2:  My paternal grandmother Feiga Weissberg (second from left).  To her left  are my father,  father's aunt Liza Rappaport,  unknown woman, my mother, father's sister Lola, unknown woman,  Mina Weissberg.  Sitting in  the front row:  my father's brother Izak flanked by Tosia and Ziuta - Liza's daughters


We stayed in Textilia for another week, and when the Action ended, returned to the ghetto. It was hardly recognizable. The population had shrunk by 40 percent, and so had the size of the ghetto itself. When we returned,  Wagowa Street was no longer within the ghetto limits.  We found ourselves in a two-room apartment with four other families,  about 20 people altogether. Besides my father, brother and myself, there were my father's sister Lola (Fig. 2), her husband Bruno, Bruno's brother Mundek  (a bachelor),  their cousin Bruno Bindel and his wife (their  child was  in hiding outside the ghetto),  Mr.  and Mrs. Kleiner (he  worked before  the war as an administrator in one of my parents’ apartment houses, on 11 Chocimska Street), and several other people. There was  no running  water. A wooden outhouse in the backyard served as a toilet. Water was available in a  nearby well, and  we washed in a small basin. During the morning hours, when  everybody was in a hurry, most of us would just not wash. This was  a striking difference to our previous living quarters:  in the  apartment on  Wagowa St. we alone had occupied a room-and-kitchen apartment, and everybody had had a bed of his own. In the new place, a two-room apartment, there was no room for 20 beds. My father,  brother and I slept in one bed; the others likewise. Food was much scarcer than before and for the first time we felt hunger.
Almost everybody worked, because the Action eliminated nearly all of the unemployed; my  brother  and  I  were  notable exceptions. There was  mortal danger in being unemployed. It was obvious that in another Action,  we would be among the first to go. Within several days, my father had obtained a job in Textilia for me. Getting a job for a boy of 13, small and thin, took a lot of diplomacy and  a large bribe,  but eventually I became a laborer in Textilia, and would go to work with my father every day. This provided me with an employment certificate, which seemed to give some protection for the immediate future and a sense of security.
My brother Marian was 10 years old. To obtain a job with an employment  certificate for him was  plainly impossible.  One  had to look for a more realistic measure to save him.  This was found through  the  excellent  relationship  we had with our  former maid  Zofia ("Zosia") Jarosz.
Zosia was a Polish Catholic woman in her thirties. She had worked for my parents for several years, during which time she had lived at our home, and was like a member of our family. Her family were all peasants and lived in the country. After talking to her parents,  Zosia took Marian to their home in the village of Pruchnik, County Jaroslaw, some 100 km away from Lwow. Marian would stay with the Jarosz family until the end of the war,  and would  help  them  in  their  work. Our father  would  pay  them by transferring funds  through contacts in Lwow.  Immediately after making this  arrangement,  father started  looking for a similar arrangement for me.
                          
It reflects strangely on human nature, but many people refused to  believe that  all those  taken away were killed soon afterwards. There were rumors about labor camps where the Jews were imprisoned,  raising hopes that at the end of the war  they would return. Illogical though such rumors were, that was what people wanted to believe. The truth was too horrible to comprehend.

During the last days of the August Action both of my mother's brothers, Lorenc and Jozek (Figs. 3 and 4) were imprisoned in the Janowska  concentration  camp.  The  camp  was  located  on  the north-western outskirts of Lwow,  at the end of Janowska Street, from which it took its name. The camp was notorious for its high execution rate 1.  My uncles were  well aware  of this,  and  from the  moment of  their imprisonment  started  planning  escape.  Both  were  in  their thirties, full of energy and initiative, and very bright.  Also, they  had  connections  with  people  who  could provide  forged documents proving their changed identities.

Fig 3
Fig. 3:  Lorenc Klinger, 1904-1944

Fig 4
Fig. 4:  Dr. Jozef Klinger, 1906 - 1944

Escaping from a concentration camp was never easy. However,  Janowska inmates used to work outside  the  camp,  mostly as garbage collectors in the city. While on  job assignments,  there  were opportunities  to enter  some building, allegedly to collect garbage, remove the jacket  with  the  brown vertical stripe on its back intended for easy identification of all inmates, and then to leave the building through a different exit, as a different person.
I never found out whether Lorenc and Jozek took advantage of a city-cleaning assignment, or perhaps managed to penetrate the barbed wire surrounding the camp at some weak spot, but several weeks after their imprisonment (end of September or early October, 1942) we received news that they were in Warsaw,  living under assumed names as Polish Catholics.
Lorenc Klinger became Stanislaw Nowak, Jozef Klinger became Jozef Przyzycki. Jozek (diminutive of Jozef) was alone since his wife and son had been taken to the Belzec gas chambers two months earlier. Lorenc had his wife with  him.  They  were willing to bring the rest of the family to  Warsaw,  as soon  as they  settled down  and made the necessary connections. This might take a couple of months. In the meantime, forged identity documents with Polish names had to be obtained. Through appropriate contacts and at great  expense, my father acquired a set of papers for me identifying me as Jozef Balicki (Figs. 5,6,7,8).

Fig 5
Fig. 5:  Birth and Baptism Certificate issued in the name of Jozef Balicki,  born in Brody on November 20, 1929, son of Michael and Maria nee Raczynska

Fig 6
Fig. 6:  School Certificate of the Stanislaw Sobinski Elementary School in Zborow for the year 1938-39

Fig 7
Fig. 7:  School Identification Card, 1938-39

Fig 8
Fig. 8:  School Identification Card of the Polnische Volksschule fur Knaben, issued in Lemberg (Lwow) in 1942

As well as us in Lwow, there was a branch of our family that lived in Zbaraz, a little town east of Tarnopol: my  mother's sister Stella, her husband Gabriel Seidenwerg, and their two sons, Marek, 9, and Adam, 4 (Fig. 9). They also had to be taken care of and brought to Warsaw.
In November 1942 there was another brutal Action,  but being employed in Textilia saved both my father and me. Soon after this Action, the ghetto was drastically reduced in size and closed off. A tall fence was erected around it with just one gate, under the railroad bridge on Sloneczna Street. People were put in  military camp-like living quarters, referred to as "barracks" (koszary, Kaserne). Men lived separately from women.  Families were not permitted to stay together.  My father and I  were assigned one  bed in  a small  room shared with six other men. Every morning, under heavy escort, we were marched in a military fashion, four in a row, from  the ghetto, each group  to its place of  work. In the late afternoon, there was the same military style march back to the "barracks" in the ghetto, where we slept.  Communication  with Lorenc,  as with anybody from  outside, became much more difficult.

Fig 9
Fig. 9:  Stella with her children in 1938

Every week or two, a contact man would appear unexpectedly from Warsaw, enter Textilia and talk with my father for a few minutes. It was clear to everybody that time was running out and  extermination  neared.  There were  no more  illusions that those taken last August were living somewhere,  in some labor or concentration camp. Panic became widespread.

December 1942. Rumors of more Actions to come. Sending me out became my father's first,  most urgent priority.  The expense of living in Warsaw was expected to be very high. One had to take into account the cost of food, lodging, compensation for the risk to the people who would give me shelter,  ransoms for potential blackmailers, and many unexpected expenses - all this for an unknown length of time - the war could last several more years. No one expected that I could earn money in Warsaw,  so all the funds had to be provided in advance. Obviously, my uncles would share with me whatever they had,  but they too were in hiding, and had only expenses, no income.  For coverage  of this  huge expense my father gave me a large  diamond, to be handed  to Lorenc  immediately upon  my arrival in  Warsaw.  The diamond was sewn carefully into a seam in the crotch of my pants.
The day of escape was set for Tuesday, December 22. That morning I took from the ghetto a small parcel with two shirts, some socks, and in addition what few belongings  I could put in my pockets:  a toothbrush,  a comb, a pocketknife, a Mont Blanc fountain pen (my grandfather's Bar-Mitzva gift), and a few family photos. The  photos were carefully  chosen so that the faces in them did not betray semitic origin.
The weather was pleasant. I marched to Textilia and did my usual day’s  work. Before the group prepared for the return march to the ghetto, I had a parting conversation with my father. He instructed me on how to behave and gave me my new set of documents.
My father was a very reserved person, always very controlled, never showing his emotions. But this time he was quite emotional,  and cried when he kissed me goodbye. It must have been obvious to him that we were parting forever. I was the last and only member of his family still  with him. From now on he would be alone. That very night he would sleep alone. He realized that his chances  of  survival  were  nil; mine,  not  much  greater.  My thoughts were  different. I was probably too young and immature to grasp fully the seriousness of the situation. To me it seemed that I was going to safety in Warsaw. Father,  and Stella with her family in Zbaraz, would follow soon. The nightmare of the ghetto was about to end.
The last few moments arrived. People were leaving the factory, gathering in the yard  to march off.  My father was the last one to leave the building. The  gate of  the factory  was locked,  while  I stayed behind.  Through  the window I watched the group marching off. My last view of my father: his back. He did not look back.

The time was 5 o'clock. I waited one hour. Kazik, the contact man, was  due to arrive at 6. A few minutes before 6, I opened the narrow window on the ground floor and squeezed out into the yard (Fig. 10).  It was dark.  I waited,  and then saw Kazik entering the yard.  He  wore a brown sporty hat with a feather,  Austrian style. It gave him the appearance of a German and a false sense of security.  Without exchanging a word,  I followed him through the  streets,  walking  about  10 meters  behind him,  like  two strangers. We  walked for about 20 minutes in the direction of the central railway station. Not far from the  station he  led me  into a  narrow side street. He knocked on the door of a ground floor apartment  and we entered. A small Christmas tree was on the table, decorated, ready for the holiday.  As well as the couple who  lived there  and  who offered  us tea,  there  was a boy, about my age, with a semitic face, talkative and with a Jewish  sense of humor. Another one like me,  I thought.  Probably Kazik had brought him here.

Fig 10
Fig. 10:  The narrow window through which I escaped is on my left. Photograph taken 50 years later

Kazik asked to see my identification card. He took it and rubbed it against  the table top to make it appear older and well used. This made me quite upset, because I liked its brand-new appearance.  But Kazik knew better.  After about an hour we left the  apartment  and,  again as  strangers,  went to  the railway station and  boarded the train.  We sat in the same compartment, ignoring each other. It was an all-night,  uneventful trip.  Our tickets were checked a few times, but nothing else happened.  In the morning we were in Warsaw.
There was a long ride in a streetcar, from which I remember one detail: when the tram passed by the wall of the ghetto, I noticed a sign in  Polish  and  in  German:  "Typhus  endangered  area.  Passage permitted in vehicles only." ("Obszar zagrozony tyfusem plamistym. Dozwolony tylko przejazd."). Ridiculous. Obviously,  there was no danger of  catching typhus  by walking close to the ghetto wall, but the  Nazis wanted to prevent  any contact  between the Jews inside and the “Aryans” outside. Anyone who disobeyed the sign would be shot or arrested for investigation by the Gestapo.
Lorenc met us on the street and Kazik departed. A brief walk to Lorenc's home  at  24 Aleje  Ujazdowskie,  where he  and his wife rented one room in a first floor apartment. His landlords (Schmied family) were  of  part  German  origin (Volksdeutsche), and thought that he was part German too.  
There was no "permanent" arrangement for me as yet and Lorenc  did not want me  to stay in that German home.  I would be safer spending the first few days with Jozek.  He lived with an elderly couple, to whom  I was  introduced as  a child of old friends,  visiting relatives in  Warsaw for the holidays.  I would spend the nights with Jozek, and the days with the non-existent relatives.  So during the following  two days Jozek and I had to spend as much time as possible out of doors.
December 24. Spending Christmas Eve "with relatives" meant walking through  the streets  of Warsaw.  It  was overcast and quite warm.  Slight  drizzle.  The snow  covering the  sidewalks melted to slush. We walked a great deal and Jozek showed me some places of  interest.  I  remember  best  the  12-story  "skyscraper" - Poland's tallest  building at  that time -  and  St.  Alexander's Church  ("Church  of Three Crosses")  at the  square bearing the same name.  We must have seen much more,  but I was tired to the point of exhaustion. Besides, so many things had happened during the past three days that I could not remember many details. But I did get a real feeling  of Warsaw.  Because  of the curfew we had to be at home by 8 o'clock. A rather short Christmas Eve.


1 Leon Weliczker Wells: The Death Brigade (The Janowska Road). Holocaust Library, New York, 1978.

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