Album of My Life
When It All Changed
…German troops marched into Lodz on Friday, September 8, 1939. It was a warm, sunny day and Iwalked toward Plac Wolności to watch the arrival of the occupiers. They came on foot and in trucks, looking immaculate in their uniforms, boots shining. Many of them carried flowers from the German population of the city. City Hall and other buildings were decked out with huge flags with swastikas. In other words, the city rolled out the red carpet to welcome the invaders, whom some regarded as liberators. The large German population of the city opened their arms for their brethren, even though the community had lived in Poland for generations. There weren’t many sad faces in the throngs, and there were fewer Jews.
Signs of things to come appeared almost immediately. I witnessed a soldier pulling an elderly Jewish man’s beard and kicking him to the ground because he wasn’t working fast enough to fill the trenches that had been dug only a few days before to stop the German tanks. I remember how enthusiastic and patriotic we had felt when we dug those trenches.
At the end of September,after weeks of siege and relentless bombing, Warsaw capitulated and the triumphant German army occupied the city on October 1, 1939. In the conquered capital city, burned out, demolished buildings bore witness to the results of modern warfare. A beautiful, cultural city was reduced to rubble. Most of Warsaw’s defenders were dead, and while the valiant survivors could resist no longer they were still full of spirit.
My sister’s store faced the Zielong Rynek, the Green Market. On one Sunday soon after the Germans arrived, the stalls in the market were closed and some boys were playing soccer there when a truckwith German soldiers went by. They stopped and joined the boys in the game, which frightened everybody. Another time, when I took my niece for a stroll in the park – this was before the harsh laws banning us from parks were passed – an older soldier next to me started playing with Miriam. With tears in his eyes, he told me that he had left a baby the same age back in Germany. I don’t remember any other demonstrations of kindness. Maybe the same soldier would think nothing of bashing a Jewish baby’s head against a wall to kill it. These examples are just too minor when you consider what was about to happen to us.
Before long, all kinds of decrees and restrictions started appearing, each one more dehumanizing than the last.There were so many of them that it’s hard to remember them all, although a few stand out in my memory. No Jews were allowed to attend school or institutes of higher learning, regardless of age, which brought my formal education to an end at fourteen. We were banned from using public transportation and from entering any park, theatre or cinema. A curfew was imposed from seven at night until seven in the morning. We had to get off the sidewalk when a German soldier approached. Most shameful of all, we had to wear an armband as a sign of our Jewish identity on our sleeves. Disobeying this rule was punishable by death.