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Maria Leszczyńska-Ejzen

       The text that follows was published in the first volume of "Children of the Holocaust Speak".

Maria Leszczyńska-Ejzen
(1933 - 1995)

       I had time to be happy for six years in my home town, Konin, where the whole Leszczyński clan lived (they were windmills owners and later owners of both windmills and oil mills) and the whole Ejzen clan - they weren't landowners, but people who made their own careers as doctors, lawyers, historians and even actors (in Vienna). My father, Majer Juda Ejzen, was a barrister. I remember quite a lot from the time before the war: the death of my grandfather Ejzen, his orthodox funeral, Aunt Mira Leszczyńska's wedding under the chupah; I remember my relatives' flats, family gatherings, and, though we were not devout believers, Sabbaths at grandmother Rozia's, and "the enchanted musical chamber pot" in her flat. Yes, those were six happy years!

       In 1939 my father, a member of the Polish Legions, was called up. Together with my mother and the Leszczyński family I went to Poddębice, my great-grandmother's estate, and later to Warsaw, because we believed that the Germans wouldn't get that far. I remember our dramatic wandering on a horse cart, bombardment, the siege of Warsaw, the first blood and corpses. After the capitulation my father found us and after a short stay in Konin, already occupied by the Germans, we returned to Warsaw. We lost everything in Konin, we couldn't go back. In November 1940 we moved to the Warsaw Ghetto. My father, who was handsome but Semitic-looking, couldn't live on the "Aryan" side, and besides we didn't know anybody in Warsaw because all our relatives had gone to the Ghetto. We settled in a big flat with many rooms in Nowolipki Street, just by the wall. Father started work as a labourer in a windmill (?). He supported everybody: grandmother Rózia Leszczyńska, Mira and her husband, Mietek Kleiner, the Brysz cousins, Uncle Ickowicz, and Hanka Nasielska with her parents. We ate together, but there was less and less to eat. In the beginning I liked the Ghetto; I went to a kindergarten where you paid at the entrance. I saw a performance there of Dobry Doktor Ojboli (a thrilling experience). My mother tried to teach me to read and write, but without success. The famine came and I got typhus. Grandmother Rozia sat beside me and told about different events in the family and fairy tales - I remember everything so well! Later I got gangrene in my hands and feet and everything was very bad again. Even today I can still see my grandmother tearing a sheet, soaking it in boiling water, and wrapping my fingers and toes... it was the only medicine.

       At that time we had to move from Nowolipki because it was too big a flat with too many people; it was difficult to hide... My mother, my father, grandmother Rozia and I went to Toebbens' building in Leszno. The others went wherever they could. I never saw any of them alive again. In Leszno also my grandmother Rozia left us. She was in a hiding place on a ground floor, because she could no longer walk on account of her heart disease, and we were hiding (until Mother got a ticket from Toebbens) [TICKET FROM TOEBBENS - so called "ticket to life" for Jews working in one of factories producing items for German army, temporarily exempting the owner from deportation to the death camp.]in another hiding place - in the basement. Once we returned after a "blockade" and the cupboard in the hiding place was untouched, only the duvet was pulled out, but Grandmother was not there. Father told me, "She's gone to heaven". We cried and cried. Leszno was a constant alarm: a "blockade" - we have to hide, we run to the hiding place, for hours we wait without moving for the Germans to leave the house, the terrible fear: did Father survive?

       Once the Germans rushed into the courtyard and my mother and I had no time to go to our hiding place. Together with a large group of people we were driven into a corner of the courtyard. They fired a volley at us, but neither my mother nor I was wounded; the bullets missed and we fell down under the corpses of other people and survived.

       Another time the Germans found us in our hiding place and I somehow happened to be in a group driven to the Umschlagplatz (literally "transshipment square") was the former railway siding by Dzika Street. Here the Nazis loaded deportees onto cattle trucks to be "resettled in the east" which in practice meant being sent to the extermination camp at Treblinka.] I don't know how it happened, but I found myself alone on the first floor at the Umschlagplatz. I was standing up to my ankles in shit and suddenly I heard: "Marychna!". It was my beloved father! He carried me on his back under his coat, I was holding him under his arms, I was so small and thin that nothing was visible. He bribed everybody. Sometimes at night I still hear the cry "Marychna!". I run but there is nobody there.

       When we came back to Leszno another tragedy awaited us. We got the news that grandmother Kalcia, my father's mother, and his sister, Manka Lipszyc, had committed suicide in the Ostrowiec Ghetto, when they found that everybody else in the Ejzen family had been murdered. My father cried a lot. It was the first and last time I saw him crying. That was when he gave me the poison (a vial with something in it), because I was hidden somewhere else, in a hiding place under the second-hand bookshop in the same building, together with a boy named Mietek. There were a lot of bats there and I was coping very badly. Later I was ill again - my ear - and the decision was taken that my mother and I had to go to the "Aryan" side. It was a few days before the Ghetto uprising; Father must have known about it, because he was very insistent. Sentries were bribed and I went to the "Aryan" side. I had with me a little bag from the Jablkowski Brothers shop and inside it was a clay doll without legs from the Ghetto - the only thing I still have from there today.

       After a short stay on Krucza Street we moved to a flat on Pańska Street. Besides my mother and me there were six Jews from Radom, and one of them was a watchmaker who had a great many watches.

       The uprising in the Ghetto was crushed, the smoke over the Ghetto dispersed, and the merry-go-round just outside the wall was still going around. One night my father came to us. He had come from the Ghetto through the sewers and was covered in excrement. He didn't talk at all for many days. After they left the sewers they (the group from the Ghetto) were assaulted by szmalcownicy [Paid informers. A szmalcownik would typically blackmail Jews, and when they could no longer pay he would betray them to the Nazis and collect a bounty.] and there was a fight. In the flat at Pańska Street men printed some papers, and often somebody would come to collect them and ring in a special way. The wife of one of the Radom Jews also came; she was hiding with a doctor's family in Blonie. She came together with Leszek, allegedly an AK member [Armia Krajowa - the Home Army, the largest of the underground resistance groups], the son of this doctor's family.

       On the 16 May 1944 I was taken, probably by a representative of Żegota [Relief Council for Jews, working under the auspices of the Home Army], to a hospital in Pruszkow to Dr Felicjan Kaczanowski, because I had become ill again with night-blindness. On 17 May Leszek came with the Gestapo and rang at our flat in Pańska Street. My mother was just washing her hair and was barefoot and in a dressing gown with nothing on underneath. She quietly went to the door and in spite of the special ring looked through a peep-hole: on the other side of the door were a machine gun and the Germans. She returned to my father, who ordered her to go down by the kitchen stairs to the flat below and say that she was a servant of "those Jews". She did so. My mother was a good-looking blond with an "Aryan" appearance.

       They let her into the flat and some time later somebody came and said that one of the Jews had pushed a German through a window and jumped after him from the fourth floor. My mother got up and went downstairs. It was my father. She approached a Polish policeman named Stokowski who was guarding him and said that she should be taken too. The policeman said, "You're crazy!" and pushed her behind the rubbish bins. When the guard was dismissed and everybody was taken away, he led my mother to his home. How he did it - she was barefoot, in a dressing-gown, and he in his uniform - I do not know! He gave her clothes and money, and my mother wrote a receipt which she signed: Magdalena Leszczyńska from Konin.

       Mother came to Pruszkow for me, and from that time until the Warsaw Uprising we were begging in the nearby villages. Especially near Zielonki and Marki. When the Uprising came we followed my mother's wise advice and went to Warsaw. From there, like everybody else, we were driven to a camp in Pruszkow and later went to a village, to farmers. We were liberated by Russians, and one of the soldiers gave my mother a German overcoat. With this overcoat we returned to Konin. We returned to wait, because the others would return, too... Nobody returned.

       The later period in my life was quite dramatic and formed my character forever: my over-sensitivity, my unreasonable pride, and my distrust of people. I, the only Jewish girl in the school, became the victim of a cruel anti-Semitism. Nobody wanted to sit with me, I was sitting alone, they called me "dirty Jew", I had no friends... It's true, I was different, small, dark, serious, with no memories of early youth, I couldn't swim or ride a bicycle, I had no grandparents, no uncles, no godmother, none of those attributes of normality. I read different books. They even threw me out of the Scouts, because I could not swear a Christian oath. A boy who sympathized with me got his nose broken for defending a "dirty Jew".

       It was then that I decided to run away to Palestine. My mother had quite different experiences: friends from before the war, servants, and workers at the windmill welcomed her very warmly. They came to her with things left with them for safe keeping (for example Mr Bunikowski from the windmill came with a box of silver hidden by grandmother Rozia), photos, even paintings and napkins. Somebody brought the portrait of my great-grandmother, Markowska, an old Jewish woman in a wig, cut out from its frame by the Germans. He picked it up from a rubbish heap and kept it during the whole occupation in "Warthegau" [the section of western Poland annexed by Germany, as opposed to the part of Nazi-occupied Poland administered by the General Government] - incredible! One day instead of going to school, I went to the station and took the train to Lodz, because I had heard that some rabbi was collecting Jewish orphans for departure. I wandered for a long time and when I found him I told him that I was an orphan. My mother found me there and took me back. Later she tried to get a permit for us to emigrate to Israel, but without any success. It was there that I wrote a memoir of the Ghetto, but it didn't help - it didn't lighten my heart.

       I graduated from the high school in Konin, but - as I promised myself - I went to Warsaw to study, in order to get away from the Koniners, though by that time I had some friends there. In Warsaw I graduated from the University law school. Now I have a daughter and a granddaughter.

       In 1978 I lost my dear mother.

       I would like to mention two other events. My mother was at the trial of this policeman, Stokowski, who after the war was charged with collaboration with the Germans. She came into the courtroom and tried to kiss his hand. The judge interrupted the trial and pronounced him innocent. He is dead now. The second event took place in the tragic year 1968 and is worthy of a separate story. One evening the phone rang. It was my colleague from Konin: "Marychna, do you need anything?" This question warmed my heart.

Warsaw, November 1992

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