In a little Polish 1930s village called Narewka, situated near Bialystok, a little boy named Leib Lejzon, grew up like most little boys in those days. Avoiding the adults and being naughty, doing what his mother had forbidden him to do. His childhood was a happy one, not preparing him for the monsters he was about to meet nor the horrors he would see.
Narewka had been on the map for a long time, being a place where they made iron from blog iron and perhaps it was not strange then, that his grandfather was a blacksmith. His ancestors had lived in the village for 200 years. By the time Leib lived in Narewka, the village had about thousand Jews living there, which was half the population. In a book about Auschwitz, I read that the people least prepared for the Nazi hardships and concentration camps, were the rich Jews who had never lacked anything in their lives, and that the hardworking ones, used to going without, were the ones who did not lose weight so fast, staying healthier longer. Leib’s mother Chanah, was one of those hardworking women. Her beautiful sister, Shaina (beautiful in Yiddish), did not have to work because of her beauty, but with Chanah, things were different. She married at the tender age of 16 to Leib’s 18-year-old father Moshe. And the hard work continued for her.
Moshe was a visionary man. He wanted to make something of himself and give his children options. They were not going to have to work in the family smithy. He took work at a factory, as a machine operator, and as the bottle factory grew, he was promoted. When the owner decided to move the factory to Kraków, Moshe went with it, only visiting the family once every six months. Moshe really stood out on those visits, in the simple and poor population, wearing his nice city suits, that one day would save the family’s lives. In awe, the boys Hershel, (Betzalel) Tsalig, David and Leib, listened to his descriptions of running water indoors and trams, as did their sister Pesza. As soon as Hershel was old enough, he had to move to their father in Kraków, Chanah not being able to handle his teenage rebellious behaviour and Hershel avoided coming home, when their father went to visit. Tsalig was the nicest of the brothers, the technical genius who built a radio all on his own, reinventing the thing. Leib truly admired him and yet, one-year-older David, was Leib’s best friend.
The only anti-Semitism Leib encountered growing up, was during the week of Easter, when the Christians called the Jews Christ-killers. Apart from then, the neighbours pretty much lived in harmony with each other.With some few exceptions of course. There ar always exceptions! There had been pogroms, which Leib did not know anything about. But his mother’s brothers Morris and Karl had left for America, thanks to them, and later they were joined by the beautiful Shaina, for the same reason. At the age of five, Leib started cheder and studied Hebrew and the Torah, which tradition you can read more about in my review of “Vienna and the Jews”. At the same time, his family believed in education, contrary to many ultra-orthodox Jews (which they did not seem to be, but the grandparents might have been from his descriptions), and he went to school like his Christian neighbours from September-May. There he learned that Jews were not allowed to take Polish names (which I would call anti-Semitism) and they had to suffer through a lot of religious teaching, not pertaining to them, in silence.
Narewka was very old-fashioned without paved roads. Instead the streets were cobble stoned, one walked to where one needed to go, all houses were of wood and only one story high. Electricity did not arrive until 1935, when Leib was six years old. Indoor plumbing did not arrive though. In his home Leib spoke Yiddish, outside Polish, in cheder Hebrew and his parents had the foresight to teach him some German as well, which became very useful in the future. His mother’s parents had to support the family, after his father had left for Kraków, with their meager harvests, them being farmers, renting land from what Leib said, the Greek-Orthodox church, but surely he must have meant Russian Orthodox? In 1938, his father had finally saved enough money for the entire family to join him in Kraków, and eight-year-old Leib never understood, when he excitedly said goodbye to grandparents, aunts and uncles, that they would never see each other again. Arriving in the busy town, was very exciting for him, no more so, arriving to the bottle factory flat, they were to live in. Four families sharing a loo, was an exciting prospect for a boy, who had dreaded the outhouse every night. He and his brother David went exploring in the Jewish quarters of the town, and then ventured even further, in the old capital of Royal Poland.
He found friends among boys who did not care that he was Jewish and they tricked the tram drivers, travelling for free. He visited his father at the factory where his father made parts for broken machines, but also created moulds for the bottles. Hershel, now reunited with the family, had grown responsible and had a girlfriend, so they never saw him during the week days. 1/4 of the city inhabitants were Jewish, in other words 60 000, and he felt they were integrated, but says that if he had looked enough, he should have seen the problems arising. The news were fast becoming concentrated on Hitler and all his doings. Before they had even got used to Austria and Sudetenland being taken over by Germany, they found out that 17 000 Polish Jews had been told that they no longer were allowed to live in Germany, and Poland closed its borders, not wanting them back. They had to live in a no-mans-land, trying to survive, or bribe guards to let them cross to Kraków or other Polish towns. His parents seemed to have thought it just another pogrom, but in the west this time, but as Leib says, there was nothing they could have done, no matter how scared they were. It had taken years to just save money for the family to be together again. Running off somewhere, was out of the question, had they even wanted to.
I think there is a common mistake in our generation, to look at the Holocaust and think, why did they not do something? Why did they not read the signs? Why did they not realise the danger and leave? How could they have been so stupid and stay? Well, how could they have read the signs? Nothing like what the Germans did had ever been done before. Who could have even dreamt that people were capable of doing what they did? Such evil had never been present in the pogroms. In a book about the Yiddish civilisation, which I have as an unpublished blog post still, the author, describes the pogroms and the aftermath after every one of them. The Jews were very used to them. No, they were not nice at all, Christians destroyed property, beat up Jews, demanded they leave. But the Jews basically only moved across the street and waited, and soon they were welcomed back, because society could not live without them and their service. Not to make pogroms sound like a piece of cake, but they were never ever on the scale of the Holocaust. So one can understand that Leib’s parents thought the Germans jut being up to a nasty big pogrom. But surely they did not really mean to kill off the entire Jewish people?! Another thing we must not forget, is the fact that most Jews were not rich. To emigrate cost a lot of money. It took years to save up money to move to another country. What happened in Sweden up till 1910, is a good example on emigration. 1/3 of the population, basically, emigrated to the US. Was it the poor and lazy that left? Dreamers? No, “Sweden was drained of the best” according to the Swedish state church’s clergymen. The ones who had had enough, who wanted to make something out of themselves by hard work. They worked hard, sold what they could and left. Most of the time, the men would leave first and then earn the money for more family members to join them. But this escape route became more and more impossible for Eastern Europe’s Jews and Jews from other nations as well. America did not want a bunch of superstitious, traditional and orthodox Jews, to enter their country, with their only education being that of Hebrew and the Torah. They wanted hardworking people for their nation, who would contribute with knowledge and muscle. In some way, by the 1930, the poor ultra-orthodox Jews had ruined things for their entire “people”, since nations looked upon everyone Jewish as uneducated, poor and a foreign element which would not melt in to the rest of the population. No matter how many Jews who saw the dangers in Germany, and would have loved to have left, it did not matter. Thy all had to face closed borders and countries, even if they had been able to scrape together money for passage out of Eastern Europe. Previous emigrants had burned the bridges by entering for example the US and settling down in regular ghettos, where they continued their shtetl experience with no work and Torah studies all day long. As I said before, exceptions always being available, but law makers do not usually look at the exceptions. The truth was, that there was no way out for families like Leib Leyzon’s!
And Leib no longer felt safe. He felt as worried as the rest of the nation, that Poland might soon be in war with Germany. Kraków’s population started to board up windows during the summer of 1939 and stock up cans of food. His brother Tsalig, had trained himself to be an electrician, and was now asked to draw in electricity, to everyone who had made air raid shelters, in their cellars. Some Jews felt that eastern Poland was safer, so they left for that part of the country. When the Germans started arriving the 1 September, most men did what the Jews had done, they left for the east, so they would not be caught for forced labour, like in the previous war. In Leib’s family, it meant that his father and Hershel went back to Narewka. All men, thinking that women and children would be safe, like in the last war. Surely the soldiers would be like the Germans who had arrived in 1914-1918? Germans only doing their duty, Germans who longed for their wives and children, and who appreciated hospitality and kindness.
A couple of weeks later, Moshe, returned alone, a changed man. There had not been any escape. He just hoped that Hershel had made it safely, he himself having regretted abandoning his wife and young children. Leib lost his friends, who did not want to associate with a Jew, and all his freedom was gone, when German laws were passed in Poland. The propaganda against the Jews were strong from day one. Both Germans and Poles, now emptied Jewish flats and threw the inhabitants out. They walked in to shops and took what they wanted. Ultra-orthodox men had their side curls and beards shaved off, on the streets. A German took over the factory where Leib’s father worked and he fired all the Jews, except Leib’s father, since he knew German and could translate between the new German owner and the Christian Poles working for him.
People robbing a neighbour’s flat, turned Leib’s family in (after Moshe refused to give them the key), so that 18-year-old boys of the Gestapo, arrived and assaulted Moshe. They wanted the family’s money and jewelry, having believed in the propaganda, that all Jews are rich. It did not help when Moshe asked them to look around the flat and see that they were not rich. Moshe threatened them, telling them that he would have them reported, since he knew powerful men at the factory, which made the matter worse. They took him away and Leib and David spent days trying to find out where the Gestapo had taken their father. Walking up to anyone in German uniform and risking their lives. Him gone, made life very difficult for the family. Their savings account had been emptied by the Germans. Since Jewish children no longer were allowed to go to school, they all had to go out and try to find jobs. David got to carry tools for a carpenter. Pesza became a cleaner and ten-year-old Leib started working at a soda factory, gluing on labels on the bottles and at the end of the day, his payment was a soda bottle that he brought home to share. His father was released from prison finally. But he was a changed man, had lost all his strength, but most of all his human dignity. He was a beaten man. And he had lost his job at the factory.
At the end of November 1939, all Jews had to go to the Judenrat and buy a white armband, with a blue star of David, that they from then on had to wear if they were over twelve years of age. Leib never did wear it. He decided to trick the Germans, since he did not look Jewish. He even sat down on benches forbidden for Jews to sit on, just to prove that he could do it. His father also broke the law, by taking illegal work. Working at the bottle factory during the nights. One day he was sent across the street to an enamel factory. This nazi wanted a safe broken in to. Moshe opened it without questions and was offered a job. The Nazi was Oskar Schindler.
The factory Schindler took over, had 250 workers and in 1940, only seven of them were Jews. He called it Emalia and tried to get
contracts with the Army. Making pots and pans for it, brought him a nice income, since production costs were low, paying the Poles minimum wage and the Jews nothing at all. What employment at his factory meant for the Jews, was important though, since it gave them ID-papers, which protected them from all silly German ideas, like making them scrub the streets and so forth. Moshe now had two jobs, working for Schindler in the day and at the bottle factory at night, which at least brought them a little bit of food. Him trying to smuggle home some food every day, from his lunch. He also had a friend sell off suits for him, one by one, on the black market.
In May 1940 , the Germans decided that only 15,000 Jews should be allowed to live in Kraków. Tens of thousands had to return to villages and far away towns, which they had come from quite recently. Since Leib’s father worked at Emalia, the family was allowed to stay. His father’s work permit included his mother, Tsalig, David and Leib. Pesza had managed to get a job at an electricity company and had thereby been given her own work permit. At the end of the year, a new thing happened. The Germans constructed a 4 meter wall around the part of the town called Podgórze, where a ghetto was to be created. All non-Jews had to move out and the 15 000 had to move in. March 1941, Leib and his family left their little flat, with a borrowed wheelbarrow, and entered the gates to the ghetto, adorned with what looked like tombstones to the family. (I thought the entrance looked pretty, but of course nothing that day can have looked nice to the family, being petrified and horrified at the thought of not being allowed to live where they wanted to. And not knowing what was to happen. Also, I have no idea what the text is saying. Something nasty no doubt!) Moshe had traded his flat against a non-Jew’s, in the new ghetto, but arriving to the one room flat, the Germans had given it to another couple. So the family of six moved in with the couple and tried to partition the room with a blanket. The Lustigs had a son in safety, in New York, and they came from the group of Jews, who had been thrown out of Germany.
The ghetto area which normally housed 5 000, now had to house 15 000 and there was no indoor plumbing. Filth and disease spread all
over. But the German plan, that crowding them like this, would bring out the worse sides in them, did not work. They all tried to keep their dignity, pray, hold concerts and treat the sick with kindness. And people fell in love. Like 17-year-old Tsalig, who fell in love with Miriam, the brush maker’s daughter, and walked around holding her hand, planning their future together. The only way for Leib’s family to survive the ghetto existence, was to work. They had no money saved up, like some. Tsalig continued to fix electrical things for food. And he worked for Miriam’s dad, making brushes. Moshe and Pesza worked outside the ghetto still, which meant lunch at work and sometimes being able to smuggle home a potato or bread. His mother cleaned for the Judenrat and the offices of the Nazis, working in the camp. Moshe even got Schindler to employ 14-year-old David, one day. And Leib got to work making brushes, as well, together with Tsalig.
In May 1942, the Germans were asking for volunteers to leave the cramped up ghetto, to go to the countryside instead. 1500 volunteered. But in June, they did not even ask for volunteers anymore. All unnecessary Jews must leave, like the elderly and unemployed. The Lustigs were forced to go. Mr. Lustig had left his entire pipe collection, which had given him such a comfort the entire time in the ghetto, since he knew where he was going, he would not need them. A week later another train arrived, and by now, escapees had returned and told that the trains went to a camp, not to the countryside, and that it always returned empty. And the camp, never grew in size strangely enough, no matter how many people arrived. The 8 June chaos broke out, people not wanting to go, suspecting what awaited them. Moshe had received a Blauschein from the Gestapo, to show, with his ID-papers, that he was employed. The family was included in it, except now Tsalig was 17, considered grown up, and needed a Blauschein of his own, which he did not have. The family had not prepared at all for this situation, for some reason. Tsalig was taken away. That was the day, when Oskar Schindler managed to get his book-keeper Itzhak Stern, off the train. It is shown in the film called “Schindler’s list”. What is not shown, is the fact that Schindler saw Tsalig, recognised him as Moshe’s son, and told him to get off the train too. But Tsalig stood there with his girlfriend Miriam, who did not have family working for Schindler, and he refused to abandon her. They were taken to Belzec and days later, the family found out, that this camp gassed people to death. Leib asking himself “How long can Tsalig hold his breath in a gas chamber? Long enough to survive?”. Poor boy! One wants to cry when one reads it all, since Tsalig was a genuinely nice boy. There he sacrificed himself for Miriam, his teenage love, and there is no doubt in my mind, that they were not allowed to die together. But who knows? Maybe the Germans did not take the time to separate the genders that day? Let us be naive and imagine that they got to die together, giving each other strength. It is too awful to think that they did not. The only thing known, is that not a single person survived that particular transport.
Surviving was pure luck in a world that had gone completely mad. Late october 1942, Schindler found out about another big round up and kept his workers in the factory over night. The owner of Pesza’s factory, did the same thing. Leib’s mother had decided with a neighbour wife, Mrs. Bircz, whose husband had been taken away long ago, to look busy sweeping the courtyard and they had told the three young boys, Leib, Yossel and Samuel, to hide on beams, right up by the ceiling, in a shed. Chanah came out with tea water for them, for some strange reason, and then decided to hide with them up there. They hid for 48 hours, while they heard screams and shots from all over. Not until a man called out “Chanah Lejzon”, did they dare to climb down. Moshe had sent him there from the factory, to tell them it was safe to
come out. Mrs. Bircz was gone, arrested. That evening Moshe came home with David and Pesza and told the family, that they were ordered to go to the work camp Plaszów. While the three of them left, for Amon Göth’s camp, Chanah and Leib, were moved in to ghetto A, for workers. The Germans having divided the ghetto in to two parts, A for the useful and B for the disposables. The only place they could find to stay in, was two beds in an attic, all flats being full already. In March 1943, almost the entire ghetto was gone. The few remaining Jews were to go to Plaszów. But Leib was selected twice for the children’s group, which was considered useless and were to be sent elsewhere. Three times, he tried to smuggle himself in to a group of men heading for Plaszów and the final time he succeeded. Outside the ghetto, he realized he had been on another planet, in a time machine. People were clean, looked nice and everything was like they had left it, before the ghetto time. The people totally ignored the Jews. Leib had thought the ghetto bad, but when he arrived in Plaszów, he realized he had arrived in “hell’s inner circle”.
The camp was built on two different Jewish cemeteries. It was run by German and Ukrainian guards. Things got really bad for Leib in the camp, getting his blanket stolen one cold night, when he forgot it, going to the loo, and not finding his family. He felt terribly isolated. Until one day, when he found out where Schindler’s Jews were. His father and David could not help him right away, and sent him back to his own barracks, telling him to lay low and do as he was told at all times. He was forced to carry heavy timber and blocks of stone and one day he cut his leg so bad, he had to go to sick bay. That day, he found out that had he stayed longer there than it took, he would have been killed. Amon Göth had walked in soon after he left, and had shot all the patients, only because that was the sort of man that he was and what he did. Leib swore never to go to sick bay again, no matter what. Obviously not a safe place! But he ran in to Göth another day, shovelling snow. Göth thought the shoveling was going too slow and decided to have them all whipped. 25 lashes each. Leib snuck over to his father to tell him the awful news, and got absolutely no sympathy at all. This was another hard blow for him, his dad not caring. Eventually, he got to work indoors, the night-shift, at he brush factory, which had also been moved to Plaszów.
At the end of 1943, Schindler bribed Göth and others, so that he could build his own barracks by his factory in Kraków, to save on
transportation time, and in 1944, he was employing 30 more Jews. Leib’s name was on the list, as well as his mother’s. Excitedly he waited, till one day the foreman walked up to him and told him, that his name had been struck off the list. He decided to go and wave his mother goodbye at least, but when he got to the group, he decided that he would die in Plaszów, if he did not get to leave somehow. He walked up to the guard with the list, only reaching him to the belt buckle, and told the guard that he had been on the list, that his mother was on it and that his father and brother already worked for Schindler. The guard could have shot him but instead told him to go stand with the people “moving” barracks. Once again, they were walked through Kraków, this time with their heads bent down, trying not to be seen.
Pesza was safe, working in the factory where she had been working all along. Leib now got to share a bunk bed with his father and brother, which helped him not feeling so isolated as before.
The factory was in production day and night, non-Jews working the day shifts and Jews, the night shifts. It was no longer just producing pots and pans, but also war materials. Leib and his brother worked making cartridge shells and since Leib was so short, he had to stand on a box, to handle the machine. Schindler found this very amusing and often came up and talked to the boys, showing a real interest in them and looking in to their eyes, like no other Nazi did. When he saw how fascinated Leib was with a new machine being installed, he transferred David and him, to the same section as their father, making tools. He saw to that Leib got double portions of food and often left a packet of cigarettes for Moshe, so he could trade it for bread. He was no ordinary Nazi and when he patted someone’s shoulder, the way he often did, or used their individual names, he really should have been shot, according to the Nazi ideology. He defied all rules he found stupid.
In 1944, hope started flourishing when German businessmen started to pack together everything they had been able to steal and earn in the war years. It felt to them like the war must be close to ending. But it soon meant that Schindler also had to close shop. Everyone was to be transferred back to Plaszów, except for a select few, who would close the factory and help set up a new one, in Czechoslovakia. Leib’s mother was one of those lucky ones. On the day of the transfer, Schindler came to say goodbye, and Leib felt he had to do something. He suddenly drew attention to himself, so that Schindler noticed that he was among the people on the transfer list, and he told Schindler that they were all on it, Moshe, David and himself. Schindler said there had been a mistake made and took them back to Chanah. The whole factory was taken down piece by piece, to be moved to Brünnlitz, in Sudetenland, where Schindler came from. While they waited to be taken to Brünnlitz, they were taken to Plaszów after all, and one of the tasks given to David, was digging up people from mass graves, in order to hide what the Nazis had done in the camp. In Plaszów they also met Pesza again. The owner of the factory where she had worked, had taken the money and run, so Moshe begged Schindler, to also put Pesza on his list, and she was added.
The men were put on a train, 15 October 1944. But instead of ending up in Brünnlitz, they ended up North-west of Kraków, in the concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Hope quickly vanished when they were shaved and treated like regular concentration camp inmates, but after some time, they actually were sent to Schindler’s new factory, where they were to make ammunition and weapons. But the women were not there. They had been sent to Auschwitz. When Schindler found out their fate, he left for the camp right away, bribing everyone, so that he could get his women with him, to Brünnlitz. Pesza had during the selection been asked to walk to the right, since she was a healthy looking 18-year-old, but Chanah with all the other women from Schindler’s factory, had been sent to the left. Schindler arrived just in time, saving them all from the gas chamber, where they were heading, being counted as useless, all being 40 or above. Schindler now tried his best, keeping them all alive. Food was scarce since the Germans were loosing the war and his factory did not really produce much of the way of ammunition. Finally the soup was just hot water, basically, and the bread ration very, very small. Moshe no longer could stand up by his machine for 12 hours, David had sores on his legs, which would not heal, and Leib was seeing double.
One day, Schindler advised all guards to run and he gave every prisoner blue cloth and a bottle of vodka, which he knew they would be able to trade for food and other things they needed. They had made him a ring, from some tooth gold, with a text inscribed from the Talmud:
Schindler left for the American front, where he would be safe. And the Jews anxiously waited for days, till a Russian soldier rode up to the gates and asked who they were. He told them to rip off the triangles and numbers from their clothes. It was the 8 May 1945, V-E Day. 1200 Jews had been saved by Schindler. Czechoslovakia offered them all free transport home to Poland, and while Chanah really wanted to go to Narewka, Moshe said it was too dangerous, so they headed to Kraków instead.
But returning was not that easy. Moshe found the man who had sold his suits, and that man in turn, had a friend who could offer them roof over their heads for a couple of days. They were all wearing striped prisoners outfits and not all Poles where that excited about their return to Poland. They had been happy about the Jews leaving their country, even though the Jews had lived there for 1000 years! Leib’s mother had a tailor sew Leib a pair of trousers, out of the blue fabric Schindler had given him, and the tailor got the leftovers as payment. Moshe got his old job back at the bottle factory. The family had to live in a student home, which had become a refugee center. The few thousand Jews who had survived out of the 60 000, were now refugees in their own country. In the summer of 1945, a Jewish woman was accused of having kidnapped a non-Jewish boy and the rumours spread that the returning Jews, were using Christian blood for blood transfusions. The old Catholic anti-Semitism in full force again! Actually they still make these accusations in Poland today, in 2015! Day after day, Jews were being assaulted, beaten up and synagogues were being destroyed. The Nazis really had unleashed the devil! Chanah wanted to return to Narewka, thinking it a safer place and hoping to find Hershel alive there. This is when Moshe finally had to tell her the dark truth, which he had found out in the factory from people who had gone back, to make sure their relatives in Narewka were still alive and well.
In 1941, when the Germans reached Narewka, an Einsatzgruppe brought out all the men to a field and machine-gunned them down. All the women and children had been locked up in a barn for 24 hours and then they were also killed. All Jews in Narewka were put in a mass grave. One young man had tried to escape, maybe it was impulsive Hershel, but a Pole proudly told Leib, many years after the war, that one of the villagers, had told an SS-guard and he had the young man killed, as well. Pesza and David decided to leave Poland and the pogroms, in 1946, and go to Czechoslovakia instead, starting a new life there. Moshe and Chanah also decided that they could not stay in Poland, where they were so unwelcome, and applied for help from a Zionist organisation. Going to Palestine was out of the question, since Leib’s parents were just too worn out, but they snuck across the border to Czechoslovakia and travelled to Salzburg, Austria. A UN-help organisation put them in a refugee camp, in Wetzlar, Germany, in the American zone. Leib started to gain weight and put on height as well. A tailor was making clothes out of uniforms, which he pulled apart, and Leib even received a hat to wear. His father found, in town, an unemployed teacher, Herr Neu, who could help Leib catch up with all the schooling he had missed, since he was ten years old and forced out of school. He learned that there were two kinds of Germans, the Nazis, who would wind up their watches or look in the ground, when the war was mentioned, and then the Herr Neu kind, who showed a genuine interest in what Leib had been through. He went to Herr Neu for two years. The Jewish help organisations had been able to locate Chanah’s sister Shaina and brother Morris in California, and they and other friends who had left Narewka, sent the family food parcels. Part of those became payment for Herr Neu. Especially the tinned ham, was given to him, his wife and five children.
In 1948, Pesza and David left for Israel, but Moshe and Chanah would not allow 19-year-old Leib to go with them. They had decided that he must come with them to America, not wanting to lose all their children. He especially had to make up for Hershel and Tsalig. In May 1949, they were given the right to enter the USA. Upon arrival, customs changed their name to Leyson and Leib had already changed his name to Leon, since he thought that a cooler name. That was not the only adjustments he had to make in the US, where there was no understanding for what the Jews had been through. When he tried to describe the ghetto and starving, to a neighbour, the stupid person said “well we had to live with rations”. Right, big difference living off boiled water and not getting to eat as much butter as you like. But comments like that made Leib stop talking about Poland and the war, all together. The worse thing to do when you have been through a trauma!
He and his family lived with Jenny, Shaina’s new name, for a while, and then got a two room flat, in the same building as Morris. Leib had to sleep on a tent bed in the kitchen but compared to Plaszów’s crowded bunks, he thought it heaven. These were not all hardships they had to go through. Moshe had to work as a custodian at a school, instead of the skilled labour he was used to, and Leib in a factory making supermarket trolleys. But he was young and had the future in front of him. He started studying at a Technical college, graduating in 1951. Right in time to be sent to Korea, even though he was not even an American citizen. He was drafted. Before he was deployed anywhere, he had to train of course and that is when he did the terrible discovery that his new country was as racist, as the one he had left. He sat down at the back of a bus, and was ordered to move by the bus driver, since those seats were for black people. He could not believe that the Americans were doing the same thing as the Nazis, who had forced Jews to travel in the back of all public transportation. When the army tested his language skills, they discovered that he spoke German, Polish and Russian, so he thought they would send him to Germany, but instead they sent him with the engineers to Okinawa, Japan. After returning to the US he finished his education and became a teacher in 1959. In 1965 he met his wife Elisabeth, and they brought up a son, Daniel Tsalig,and a daughter, Stacy Miriam, keeping his past from them so they would not feel weighed down by the past. Even though they got to carry the names of the two persons sent to Belzec, that fateful day in Kraków.
In 1971, Moshe passed away and Chanah five years later. They never got over the loss of Hershel and Tsalig and the experiences they had gone through. Another person who had a difficult time coping after the war was Schindler, who could not do business like he had during the war, with tricks and bribery. At the end of his life, he lived on contributions from Jewish organisations, according to Leib. He died 1974 in Germany, regarded as a traitor by the Germans, a Jew-lover. He never had any children and wished to be buried in Jerusalem, “since his children, the Schindlerjuden, were there”. So that is where this Nazi is buried, mourned by all survivors and their offspring. Not until 1994, did Leib decide to talk to a journalist and it brought out an immense interest in his experiences, from colleagues and students, but also from all sorts of organisations. He did not stop talking about it after that. The world was finally ready to listen. Way too late for some people. 12 January 2013, Leib died of T-cell lymphoma but as his wife Elisabeth said, his spirit lives on in two children and six grandchildren. He managed to trick the Nazis one more time!
The book, is basically what Leib said in all his talks and interviews. I would say, that it would be a good book, for schools to use, because it really does lack the gore and all the darkness of other Holocaust memoirs. Leib managed to write a very light story even though he was describing a very dark story. Does that make any sense? He focused not on all the violence, but on his close knit family. When one hears how harsh his parents were, it is a little bit diffult to understand how close they were and the love there was between them. But even though the parents were not the kind who gave cuddles, like many working class families, they did love their children. And they always tried to do the best for them. It only shows that there is different ways to show love, and that children can love their parents deeply on the smallest feedback.
The most touching part for me, is Leib’s descriptions of his brother Tsalig. It is strange, but it is often the nicest who have to die young. The ones who really had so much to offer the world. In another time and place, Tsalig could have done amazing things. A real inventor. A person who showed great moral strength and love, just what the world needs! But those God loves the most, he brings home early! Not fair is it? To rob US of such beings!
It was years and years, actually 1994, since I saw “Schindler’s List”. It was an amazing film and one which doesn’t leave you untouched, no matter how many years passes. But I remember that one thing shocked me very much, after seeing it, because there were some of the Jews saved by Schindler, who actually did not quite appreciate him. I am sure that they did not rather have wanted to die, but they did not think him such a good person, as others did. I think in this book and in the film, Oskar Schindler, shows proof of what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us: It is possible to repent, if the will is there. Humans can change. Yes, Schindler was a Nazi. But he was also a sly businessman. And many, many of the German people, especially in business, very soon realized that a membership in the Nazi party, was helpful when it came to earning money and getting somewhere. From what I have read and seen, Schindler was more of a Nazi on the paper than in his heart. Many people after the war claimed “I was not a Nazi” and I honestly believe that some of them really meant it. They were not Nazis in their hearts. It was just convenient to be one. It made life easier. But worse of all, they did not care one way or the other who was in charge of their country, as long as it did not impinge on their lives. And for some people, it did not effect their lives, who was in charge.
Today you have people staying home on election days. They just don’t care. They don’t appreciate their democratic rights. Some people are just so self-absorbed that nothing matters outside their little world. And I get the feeling that Schindler was on of them. He wanted money. He loved alcohol, women, parties, fancy clothes… And being a Nazi, helped him live the lifestyle he wanted to live. The part of the ideology which said you must hate the Jews, was probably not one he ever thought that deeply about or at all. It was very convenient to loose competition and to be able to take over a Jewish business in Kraków. I think it was not until he actually learned to know a couple of Jews and saw what they were going through, that he might have started to actually think, and little by little understand that one must take a stand point, that one can not just turn a blind eye to things. Perhaps he could have saved more, like the grumbling survivors said, perhaps he was a selfish person? But he did change, didn’t he? He did not have to do a thing. He could have done what all the other businessmen did. Follow traditional Nazi rules, work the Jews to death and when they did not do a good job anymore, get new ones, not caring what happned to the “old” ones. Get as much money as possible and then disappear. Leaving everyone to their fates.
But Schindler did more and more listen to that litte voice, called a conscience. He could not treat these humans as just numbers or animals. At first he tried to be a better employer than most, but still earn money, but finally he did come to the point that the only thing important to him, was to save the Jews that had come to rely on him for their lives. We will never know, if he only cared for the Jews who had become his “friends”, and cared nothing about what happened to the rest of the Jewish civilisation. But it seems like had he had more money, he would have tried to save more. He was probably painfully aware of that others regarded him as a disgrace for the Nazi party, but still he did decide to stand up for what he knew was right. And Leib, who did come to know Schindler pretty well and saw him on a daily basis, did say that he agreed with this man Joseph Cambell, who said that what makes a hero, is a human being who does his best under the worse possible conditions. Schindler did this, and it is rather ridiculous for us in 2015, to point out his shortcomings. We should just look at his good deeds. Bag his motifs. The only thing that should count to us, is the fact that he saved 1,200 lives. God can judge over his motifs and decide if he could have saved more but did not. The ones who judge him are ungrateful. But there are always people wo will never be satisfied with anything.