Memories From the Abyss / But I Had A Happy Childhood
Under German Occupation
Some Hungarian officers showed up at the power station, visiting different departments. They came into my office and we had a brief professional conversation. Before they left, they told me they knew I was a Jew, explaining that this made no difference to them but that they would soon be replaced by Germans, at which point I could expect extremely bad times. They suggested it would be safer for me to stop working and not come back to the office. I agreed.
The Hungarian army left Stanisławów in late July of 1941 and was replaced by small contingents of German special operations units. Among them was the Gestapo. They made their headquarters in the vacated Polish district courthouse building. Along with heavily armed German police in heavy jackboots and large helmets, they patrolled the streets and intimidated the entire population. The Jews felt like the breath of death was coming their way – a feeling confirmed within hours of the Germans entering the city. They rounded up former members of the city’s kahal (the local elected body authorized by the Polish government before the war to represent Jewish communities), which had been dissolved by the Soviets. The Germans began by beating up those gathered, breaking the arm of one man named Seibald. Then the Germans established a Judenrat (Jewish Council) and appointed a former banker named Lamm as its deputy chairman. To demonstrate their contempt, they called him “Lämmchen” (little lamb). The Judenrat served as the intermediary between the Gestapo and the Jewish people; in other words, it transmitted and executed Gestapo orders.
The first order that affected us directly came just two days later when all Jewish professionals and leaders of the community were ordered to assemble in the Gestapo headquarters building at specific hours, organized according to their professions. Failing to comply would be punished by death. My sister Nitka’s husband, Nusko Feld, a high-school teacher, and Charlotte’s sister Mañka, a pharmacist, both complied. Charlotte, being a pharmacist, wanted to join her sister. But I had been educated in German schools in Prague and didn’t trust the Germans, so I definitely refused to go and tried hard to persuade Charlotte not to go. Eventually I threatened her that if she left the baby, who was unwell at the time, I wouldn’t look after her. This worked and she didn’t go to the Gestapo headquarters. Only a few doctors were later released, including a dentist friend of ours who trusted us and told us what happened. The rest were detained without explanation and no communication with them was allowed nor was information released about why they had been detained.
We heard from our friend that the detainees were viciously beaten and psychologically abused by the Gestapo, who used sophisticated torture methods. Soon, rumours (most likely planted) were spreading that food parcels for the prisoners would be accepted. Family members delivered them in spite of the extreme difficulty in obtaining food and despite the absence of confirmation that their loved ones actually received them. A few months later we found out that not a single parcel had reached the prisoners, who had all been starved and tortured. Some were killed and some died; those who were still alive were transported in trucks to nearby woods, where they were executed.