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Jakub Gutenbaum

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

Jakub Gutenbaum
(BORN IN 1929)

       I was born in Warsaw. I had a brother who was three years younger. My parents, Aron and Rywa Gutenbaum, were teachers. Until September 1939, we lived in Warsaw at 42 Żelazna Street.

       In the winter of 1939, my father, fearing reprisal because he had engaged in labor union activities before the war, made his way illegally to the territories occupied by the Soviet Army (He feared reprisal from the Germans who had already entered Warsaw, not only because he was Jewish but because of his prewar activities, which the Germans would have considered to be antifascist). At first he stayed in Kowel, from which he was deported to Siberia to work for a government operation engaged in cutting down trees and processing lumber (lespromkhoz - government forest products operation. In February 1940, Russians began mass deportations of Poles in eastern Poland to Siberia and the Soviet Far East as slave labor. Conditions were severe and many died) in the Novosibirsk region. From there, we received only one postcard from him, in the summer of 1940. After that, all traces of him vanished. I found out after the war that he died of exhaustion in 1943.

       Until the ghetto was closed off in November 1940, my mother worked as an aide in the hospital on Leszno Street. The house in which we lived was located beyond the borders of the ghetto. We were removed from our apartment, under duress, by some woman who came with a German officer. We were ordered to leave the apartment within twenty-four hours. We moved to the apartment of an aunt at 6 Franciszkańska Street.

       We were supported by the work of my mother in CENTOS (Headquarters of Societies Caring for Orphans and Abandoned Children) as well as by the sale of our possessions. After a while, I became employed as an errand boy with the Department of Schools of the Jewish Community and, later, as a messenger delivering demands for payment. In spite of this, we lived at the edge of poverty with a constant feeling of hunger.

       Successive changes of the borders of the ghetto deprived us also of this apartment. We moved to the apartment of my paternal uncle on Zamenhof Street at the corner of Niska Street.

       After deportations began, we went into hiding in a concealed space in an attic that had a window looking out onto Umschlagplatz. It was possible to observe what was happening there. Among other things, I remember when my mother said that Korczak was brought there with his children. One day, during a moment when someone opened the window slightly, shots were fired. This forced us to change our hiding place.

       We hid ourselves next at 24 Zamenhof Street in a room to which doors were concealed by a heavy cupboard. We entered on all fours through a movable rear wall. In this manner, we managed to survive until the end of the first phase of the deportations. Nonetheless, our entire immediate family-two sisters of my mother with their families, two sisters and a brother of my father with their families-were deported and put to death in Treblinka.

       We managed to stay alive but did not have any means of support or any resources. In order to sustain ourselves, I began to sell cigarettes. I stood from morning until evening at the entryway of the house at 44 Muranowska Street, having on me a few packages of cigarettes and matches. I would buy cigarettes in the evening when the placówkarze, the Jews employed outside the ghetto, were returning. I sold these cigarettes by the piece throughout the day. The earnings were minimal, but they provided a means of support for myself, my mother, and my brother.

       We managed to survive the deportations of January 1943, also in our previously mentioned hiding place behind the cupboard. In this very room were hiding then a dozen or so people, among whom were the wife and son (of my age) of Szmul Zygielbojm (Socialist Bund Party Representative in the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. In May 1943, he committed suicide in London to protest the inaction of Allied governments in saving Jews). One day in the evening, some people, supposedly from the Polish Socialist Party, so my mother told me, came for them and took them away to hide on the Aryan side. I never heard what happened to them.

       After this stage of the deportations ended, I continued to support my family by the sale of cigarettes, stationed in this same entryway. It was then already quite risky, but anyone who was not working had no right to live. Patrols circulated through the streets, shooting at anything or anyone they spotted. The streets were deserted, but I was hidden in the entryway, looking out for equally illegal clients whose craving for nicotine compelled them to leave their hiding places. Various dangerous situations arose in this regard, leading to dramatic escapes through attics and abandoned apartments.

       During this period, I maintained contact with a group from the resistance movement whose leader was Lutek Rotblat and which had its headquarters in the house at 44 Muranowska Street. They belonged to the Akiba organization (conservative nationalistic Jewish organization, part of the Warsaw Ghetto's Jewish Fighting Organization). I carried out various assignments for them. In particular, I was instructed to signal the appearance of anyone suspicious whenever meetings were taking place in the group's quarters. One day, some man contacted me on behalf of Lutek, and asked me to put Alfred Nossig, who lived in a neighboring house, under observation. I didn't know what it was all about until the day on which Nossig, an agent of the Gestapo, was assassinated.

       After the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we hid in a bunker at 24 Zamenhof Street. It was a cellar with a concealed entrance, without any source of water or electricity. We lived through dramatic days there. The building above us was in flames, and choking smoke penetrated into our shelter. We plugged up all the cracks in order not to succumb to asphyxiation. The temperature rose. We lay without clothing on the floor in complete darkness. At night, we went out to search for water and food, wandering in the midst of flames and literally stumbling over corpses.

       The thirtieth of April (or the first of May), 1943, our bunker, in which several dozen persons were hiding, became exposed. After pouring tear gas into the bunker, German soldiers burst in, and, threatening with automatic pistols, forced everyone to come out. Then, with our arms raised, they herded us toward Umschlagplatz through streets with buildings burning on both sides. We were detained in an area of a building on Stawki Street. Every so often, drunken Ukrainians from the SS Galizien (Ukrainian unit from Galicia attached to the SS) dropped in. They would kill a few random persons, breaking their skulls with wooden cudgels. Threatening further executions, they demanded money as well as valuables.

       We were terribly thirsty, because during the entire time of our stay in Umschlagplatz we had no access to water. After two or three days of lying in the midst of corpses and our own excrement, we were led to railroad wagons. They crammed into each wagon as many persons as they were able to force in. During the ride, which lasted more than twelve hours, many people died.

       The train was unloaded at some Lublin railroad station, from which they herded everyone on foot to the concentration camp in Majdanek. Many people were also murdered during this march, since the escorts shot those who fell. I was in a lot of pain during this march, because my mother, while pulling us out of the bunker, had forced me to put on women's boots with high heels so that I would appear taller. In this way, she probably saved my life, because when the SS men made a selection after we arrived at the camp, I found myself in the column of men sent to work. However, my mother and my brother were herded into the group destined for extermination. They perished in the gas chambers of Majdanek.

       I spent more than two months in Majdanek, in Field no. 4, Barrack 21. Each day was a struggle for survival.

       In July 1943, I found myself in a transport sent to the Skarżysko-Kamienna Camp (Werk C [Factory C]). I worked there in a munitions factory, disarming anti-aircraft shells. I fell ill with typhus. During my illness, the Germans conducted a selection, and I found myself in I a group destined to be shot to death (such was the method of putting people to death in the Skarżysko Camp). I was pulled out from there by Dr. Alter Rosenberg, a dentist, who surrounded me with care throughout the rest of my stay in the camp and after the war as well.

       In August 1944, after a selection that resulted in a large group of the weaker and sicker prisoners being shot, the camp was evacuated. The remaining prisoners were sent to the camp in Buchenwald. There, on the day after arrival, upon the urging of prisoners already in the camp, mostly German political prisoners, a lynching was carried out on those who had collaborated with the Germans in the Skarżysko Camp.

       From Buchenwald, I was sent to the camp in Schlieben. Initially, I worked again in a munitions factory. Since I had festering wounds on my legs, I found myself in the infirmary. A Belgian doctor, a political prisoner, kept me there for quite a while, and later kept me on to work as an attendant.

       A few weeks before the end of the war, the camp was liquidated. >From the Camps and Jewish prisoners were transported to Terezin. It is there that I was liberated by the Soviet Army in May 1945.

       After the war, I stayed in the children's home in Helenówek near Łódź and attended gymnasium there. I also spent several months in France and Belgium. Later, I settled in Warsaw, living with a paternal uncle who survived the war in the USSR.

       In 1955, I graduated from the Moscow Institute of Power Engineering. After my studies, I began work at the Polish Academy of Science. I received my doctorate and Habilitacja (Postdoctoral degree that qualifies one for a professorship) at the Warsaw Polytechnic. In 1976, I received the title of full professor.

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