Yom Hashoah in Sydney

April 9, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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More than 900 guests packed Sydney’s Moriah College as the NSW Jewish community commemorated Yom Hashoah and the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Following the screening of a video on the history of the Warsaw Ghetto, the combined choirs of the Emanuel School and Mount Sinai College sang Eli Eli before Michael Jaku the Chair of the Shoah Remembrance Committee welcomed the guests.

Lena Goldstein who witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was one of the main speakers . Here is her story…

Lena Goldstein    Photo: Giselle Haber

Lena Goldstein Photo: Giselle Haber

“I remember the Germans announcing to the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto that each of us would be given a loaf of bread and a portion of jam when we presented ourselves at the Umschlagplatz for transfer to the East. Many Jews volunteered for this transfer as they were hungry —-they believed, or they wanted to believe that the Nazis were telling the truth. Whole families presented themselves hoping to escape the cruel reality of starvation in the Ghetto.

But over time fewer and fewer Jews volunteered for transfer and forced deportations began. With forced deportation came Selektion. To the right meant to stay and work, to the left to be deported. Each person was allowed only one suitcase, except that in some suitcases there was no clothing. There were in fact

little children whose parents were trying desperately to prevent separation by sedating them and concealing them inside the suitcases.

We also believed that if we worked for the German war machine we could avoid deportation. German factories, or rather conglomerates, employed Jews as slave labour. There were tailoring factories, shoe factories, fur and leather workshops and a laundry.

The biggest conglomerates were Schulz and Tobbens. My parents managed to get a job in the Schulz laundry washing German uniforms. But working for the Germans did not prevent deportation. This was a deception. My parents were deported after two separate selections and I managed to hide myself under a pile of bloody uniforms when my mother was taken away. Then, in order to exist, I managed to take over my mother’s job.

While I was working in the factory, a few escapees from Treblinka managed to come back to the Ghetto. That opened our eyes to the real purpose of the deportations. We discovered that there were no labour camps in the East; just gas chambers. Once you got on the train there was no return.

One of the escapees knew my father and he looked me up in the ghetto. He had met my father in Treblinka when all the men were lined up naked waiting to enter the gas chambers. My father led the Kaddish for the women and children who had already gone in before them. Somehow this man escaped. My father told this man that he worried about me. My father, waiting to die, was worried about his daughter having no money and no-one to care for her. I never saw this young

man again. Succeeding in escaping death once did not bring an assurance of survival.

This was 1942.

During this time many young people began to organize resistance. Some belonged to Zionist youth groups like Poale Zion and Betar. Some were communists and some belonged to the Bund. There were plenty of volunteers but not enough guns.

The Polish National Army declined to help us, and the Polish People’s Army that said it would support Jewish fighters demanded exorbitant prices for each revolver and each round of ammunition. To pay for the guns and ammunition, the resistance fighters decided to collect money – a tax – from the wealthy ones who were still in the ghetto.

The money was collected during the night after curfew, moving between the buildings through holes in walls, attics and cellars. As my building did not have a common wall on one side, sometimes fighters spent the night at my home until morning when the curfew was lifted.

There was a Communist resistance cell that was situated in the attic next door. In fact some of my friends from the laundry joined this cell. The attic was packed with feathers taken from peoples bedding which had sold for food. (to make them less bulky and suitable for smuggling, the bedding had been emptied of its feathers. The volume of feathers provided excellent camouflage for people as well as arms).

I volunteered to join the resistance. But not having been a member of any organisation. I was told that I could not be a fighter. But I was asked to help the resistance by stealing German uniforms. I also stole light bulbs which were used to produce Molotov cocktails.

Stealing uniforms was simple really. We carried German uniforms on our backs from the laundry to the tailor shop for repairs. Some of the uniforms were simply plucked off our backs, by resistance fighters waiting in the gateway next door. The uniforms were used by the resistance to make it difficult for the Nazis to distinguish between the German soldiers and the Jewish fighters.

I escaped from the Ghetto 1 day before the Uprising. My father had shared his meager ration of food with an old gentleman who was left alone in the ghetto after his family had been taken away. That man’s son and son-in-law remembered my father’s kindness and offered me a hiding place with them outside the Ghetto. I was reluctant to leave and to leave my brother behind, but my brother who was in a different part of the ghetto convinced me that it would be easier for him to fight the Germans without having to worry about my safety. Besides, he said it is our duty to survive each in his own way because someone had to tell my sister, who we hoped was still alive in Siberia, what happened to the family and the Jews of the ghetto.

Before I left the ghetto I said goodbye to my boyfriend, Gutek, I asked him:

“It is so hopeless. Why do you do it? A few hundred young boys fighting against the whole German army with revolvers only.”

His answer was:
“On us will be bestowed the honour to first start the Uprising. Then our Polish

comrades will join in, and if we have to die, at least we will die with dignity.”
We had the honour to start the uprising, our Polish comrades never joined in, but

Gutek and his companions brought back dignity to the Warsaw ghetto.

I escaped from the ghetto on April 17. On the night of the 18th and 19th of April the Germans surrounded the ghetto. The Uprising began.

My brother and his young wife perished in the Uprising. I am here to tell.”

Dr Avril Alba, the Roth lecturer on Holocaust Studies and Jewish Civilisation at the University of Sydney also spoke.

The function will be repeated this evening at Masada College.

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