The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Eddie Klein

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Born
May 30, 1927 Sieradz, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1956 Montreal

An idealist and a dreamer, young Icchok Klein writes poetry in the Lodz ghetto, a talent that leads to him to be rescued by a tight inner circle, where he comes under the protective wing of the chairman of the Council of Elders, Mordechai Rumkowski. In a flash, Icchok’s life takes a decidedly different path, giving him a birds-eye view of a house of privilege and a polarizing, controversial figure. But in August 1944, Icchok’s fate spirals when he is among those transported from the ghetto and he is forced to face, alone, each precarious moment.

About Eddie

Eddie (Icchok) Klein was born in Sieradz, Poland, in 1927. He immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1945, where he was drafted into the military, working for the Palmach and later the Air Force, doing mechanical repairs. Eddie married his wife, Miriam, in Tel Aviv in 1955; they immigrated to Canada in 1956, settling in Montreal, where Eddie still lives.

Photos and Artifacts

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    The only pre-war photo Eddie has of his family. From left to right: Eddie’s father, Samuel; Eddie; Eddie’s brother Kalman; his brother Chaim; and his mother, Hela. Sieradz, date unknown.

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    A page from the official Residents’ Registration Book in the Lodz ghetto, showing the list of people residing at the Rumkowski residence on Hanseatenstrasse 63. Icchok (Eddie) Klein is listed second from the bottom. Circa 1942. Courtesy of the Center for Jewish Research at the University of Lodz.

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    Eddie Klein’s death certificate, erroneously issued in Mauthausen, 1945.

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    A photo in an Israeli newspaper showing Eddie inspecting a student’s work at Ben Shemen school B. Kfar Vitkin, Netanya, 1949.

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    Eddie supervising his students, 1949.

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    Eddie (back row, fourth from the left) with students at Ben Shemen. Circa 1950.

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    With Ben Shemen students in the early 1950s. Eddie is standing fourth from the right.

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    Miriam Fluk, Eddie’s future wife, 1950.

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    Eddie and Miriam’s wedding photo. Tel Aviv, July 5, 1955.

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    Eddie and Miriam with their children, Mark and Vivian, on the construction site of Eddie’s future factory, circa 1968.

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    Eddie (right) in the factory he built for miniature automation. Montreal, circa 1970.

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    Eddie and his son, Mark, at the Western Wall on the occasion of Mark’s bar mitzvah. Jerusalem, 1973.

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    Eddie, Mark and Vivian in the Old City. Jerusalem, 1973.

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    Eddie and his son, Mark, at the Western Wall on the occasion of Mark’s bar mitzvah. Jerusalem, 1973.

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    Eddie on a Hobie Cat 16 in the 1980s.

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    Eddie and family in Montreal, 2013. In the back row, left to right: Eddie’s grandsons, Doron, Gilad and Adam; in front, left to right: Eddie’s daughter, Vivian; his daughter-in-law, Jan; his son, Mark; and Eddie.

  • Eddie Klein larger image and caption

    Family in Montreal, 2014. Left to right: Eddie’s son-in-law, Itzhak, Doron, Eddie, Adam, Vivian and Gilad.

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    The Spirit of Windsurfing (2005), a portrait of Eddie painted by his good friend Rita Briansky.

The Book

Cover of Inside the Walls

Inside the Walls

Rumkowski still remains shrouded in mystery and much controversy, and though my own view may be biased, I am convinced that he cared deeply about the Jews in the ghetto.

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Inside the Walls

Loss in the Ghetto

During this first winter, as the walls grew wet and frozen, we had to move to Brzezinska Street, where we were warmer and away from the barbed wire fence and the German guard who occasionally fired his gun. I made friends in our new place. One of them was a composer a few years older than me. He had a girlfriend who was a musician as well. Even though we lived in the same building, we exchanged letters; we promised to be friends forever.

The small apartment where we lived was available for a short time only, and we were next sent to occupy a small room on Zgierska Street, near the bridge. The apartment consisted of a tiny entrance hall and kitchen combination, and another room that was already occupied by a family. This building was close to the barbed wire fence, behind which the tramways for the gentile population moved along freely. However, we were not directly exposed to the fence, as our room faced the courtyard. There was an outhouse in the yard, where people would empty their chamber pots. In the winter the opening to the outhouse would freeze over, and people would continue to empty their pots, creating a hill that grew and froze until spring came. There was no escaping the stench and it was hard to avoid stepping into it. While I dulled my senses to everything else, this sight and the smell repelled and revolted me. I washed every part of my body whenever I could.

Almost immediately upon our arrival to Zgierska Street, we were, to our horror, infested with lice, and there was no escaping the scourge. I succumbed to a feeling of self-loathing, and once, as my father and I stood by the window, I exhaled loudly and told him that I wished that someone would push me into a hole in the ground and bury me. Surprised at my own vehemence, I glimpsed my father’s profile and saw a look of sadness and despair.

During the first few months in the ghetto, we received mail from my brothers in Soviet-occupied Poland. They were preparing to come back and lead us to the Soviet Union along a certain route. My brothers specifically stressed that there would be schooling for me there, which was an ongoing family concern. But in the spring of 1940, the ghetto was hermetically closed and there was no longer any mail, news or communication whatsoever with the outside world. The penalty for listening to a radio was death.

[...]

In the fall, on Yom Kippur, we went to a prayer gathering; it was the first time I saw my father dissolve into tears. Whenever we thought things could not get worse, they did.We were hungrier than ever and we were getting weaker. My father was unable to carry on digging ditches for potato storage, the work to which he had been assigned. I started to work at a saddle factory, sewing leather and making harnesses, and the meagre pay was enough to receive our basic weekly food ration. It was up to us to consume the ration – bread and other staples – when we wished, and we rationed our food scrupulously, but it was a terrible temptation to dig into the weekly supply. The amount of the ration changed every week, depending on what the administration could get as payment for the production of goods for the Germans.

I felt mindless. Starvation was soon rampant, and mortality in the ghetto reached epidemic proportions. Death started with apathy, weakness and the swelling of ankles. The swelling would move upward, and ultimately the heart and lungs would shrink, resulting in a lingering death. On July 2, 1941, that is how my father died.

When my mother realized that my father’s situation was critical, she sent a neighbour to come and get me at work, and I came home. My father looked at me for a while, and then he closed his eyes for the last time. He was buried in the cemetery at the edge of the ghetto.

My mother and I were now alone.