Six Lost Years (Traduction française à venir)
My Introduction to Misery
For the next five months, we experienced some tranquility; we had more freedom and peace. Radom had a large Jewish population before the war and it had become larger due to the influx of Jews from surrounding areas. It was not paradise or like life before the war, but we managed to sustain some quality of family life.
My brother Ben befriended a younger man whose father was a watch repairman. Being so mechanically inclined, Ben was fascinated with the mechanism of watches and picked up the profession in no time. He also befriended a young lady, Etta, and soon insisted on marrying her.
Then, by April 1941, the ghetto in Radom was established. At first, it was easier to endure than the ghetto in Lodz or Warsaw, but with the influx of Jews from other communities, it soon also became crowded. With a shortage of apartments and work, the picture started to look like Warsaw again - people begging and sleeping in the streets, with some never waking up.
In the ghetto, the Nazis formed a Jewish police force. Ben was invited to join but declined. We were allowed to go out only if we had work outside the ghetto. We had to have official papers showing our place of work, were forced to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David and had a 7:00 p.m. curfew. After that time, we kids congregated on the stairway of our apartment building to entertain ourselves.
Through the Jewish Council, who were in charge of the ghetto’s administration (under Nazi orders), Ben got a job as a superintendent and handyman in the German Security Service, or “SD,” which occupied an entire six-storey building. The Germans took a liking to him; sometimes he came home with bread, salami or cheese. He also received a bicycle and special papers permitting him to leave the ghetto at any time. The bike had a plate on it saying: “This bicycle belongs to the Department of Special Forces,” and nobody could claim it. It was unusual for a Jew to possess a bicycle, but its purpose was to allow Ben to go to work on the spur of the moment.
Ben had a gift. People always took a liking to him. He was handy and inventive, and had built an AM and shortwave radio at age fourteen. He was a mechanical genius and could fix anything. He mastered watchmaking and photography, and he even fixed guns. I asked Ben if he could get me a job as his assistant. He asked his boss and sure enough, I became Ben’s helper. He showed me how to install electrical lines and outlets, make window blinds and fix small appliances. We worked together on many projects.
Working in a military building, we saw Poles who had been brought in from the underground organizations and from the Polish intelligentsia - leaders, lawyers, priests, doctors and teachers. They were interrogated and tortured; we saw them beaten beyond human imagination. Their screams still ring in my ears.