The teachers in the various schools, working with the parents, had organized clandestine school groups to continue
our studies. We met in groups of five or six in each others' flats. I was in a group together with my friend from
Rydzyna, Alex Lempicki. The teachers came to these groups and lectured us, handed out study assignments and
checked our homework. With this arrangement we made very fast progress in our work. Nobody goofed off. We
were all anxious to learn fast while we had the opportunity. Everything was so temporary, who knew what
tomorrow might bring?
The element of secrecy and danger added a spice to the learning. We had our own codes for warning, if for some reason it was not felt that it was safe to meet in the previously arranged place at the set time. Each student would arrive at the meeting place five minutes apart, and after class would leave the same way. One of us sat at the window watching the street to warn of any unusual activity outside. At the same time through-out Warsaw (and of course elsewhere in Poland) probably hundreds of such school classes were taking place. Our group was the senior year, we were preparing for the final examinations called Matura in Polish, the equivalent of the Bac in France or Matriculation in England.
By the end of May we were ready for the tests. One morning our group teacher came, set us down apart from each other and then handed out the questions which covered the whole gamut of required study in high school: Polish literature, history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology. Three to four hours of complete silence followed. Each of us concentrated on writing our answers to the questions, or essays as the case might be. At the end of the allotted time the teacher collected our work and took the papers away for checking. A few days later the group assembled again, as I remember, in our flat in Narbutta Street. Our teacher read out the results. We had all passed! We had a couple of drinks, toasted each other and thanked the teacher............. ...............................
................................................. During 1940 and 1941 the grip of the Germans had increased on life in Poland and Warsaw in particular. The number of Germans. civilian, military and SS living in Warsaw had steadily increased. They selected the most modern residential blocks for themselves and evicted the Polish tenants or owners at will. Thus in the summer of 1940 we had been evicted from our lovely flat on Narbutta Street........
..........Lili and her mother and sister had lost their own home in the siege of 1939. Later they were thrown out from the flat that had been loaned to them -- with just one suitcase. Two years later they were evicted again. However, this time they were allowed to take all their possessions .......................
.......... During the winter the only source of heat was a kind of Franklin stove in the center of the living room.
From it a long black sheet-metal pipe lead to a hole in the window that overlooked the rear yard. This pipe helped
to contribute a fair amount of heat to the flat. From 1942 on, electricity was very limited. Usage was rationed. I
found a way to by-pass the electric meter so that we did not exceed our ration. This method resulted in a very low
voltage so the lights were dim, and the electric radiant heater in my room and Hania's bedroom barely glowed, but
did take some of the chill out of the air.
In 1943 the Germans started disconnecting the electricity altogether, except in the central part of the city where many Germans were living (Deutsche Wohnunggebiet). In our area we were provided with electricity for only two hours a day. For illumination we used carbide lamps, which were very smelly but produced a fairly bright light. During the last two winters I did all my homework by this light...........................
Whatever our problems might be, the suffering of the Jewish population was infinitely worse
..........First they were obliged to wear
yellow Stars of David on their clothes or on an arm-band. Then they were evicted from their homes and flats and
forced to move into the already crowded Nalewki district, which for the last 100 years had been populated almost
exclusively by poorer Jews, workers, shopkeepers, artisans. This overcrowding was increased by the transportation
of Jews from other Polish towns, especially those in Western Poland which had now been incorporated into the
Reich itself, to Warsaw. Already early in 1940, a small number managed to secret themselves, with the help of
Polish friends, among the general Polish population. This involved considerable risk for those who
hid them and assisted them in any way. However in the city with large numbers of refugees, both from eastern and
western Poland, crowded into the four and five story apartment buildings, it was easier for this subterfuge to be
successful than in smaller towns and villages.
The next step was the building of a wall around this district, which occurred towards the end of 1941. The Jews were no longer permitted legally to live outside the "Ghetto," as it was called. They only left through the few gates in work parties, under guard.
.................. It is reported that before the mass deportations to the death camps started, almost 500,000 had been crowded into the cramped quarters behind the walls of the "Ghetto." Thousands died from malnutrition and sickness. The rations assigned to the Jewish population were even more meager than those of the remainder of the Polish population. Most of us however, were able to supplement our rations with food bought in the black market, mostly smuggled in from the surrounding countryside. In the "ghetto" supplementary food sources were non existent. The German guards at the gates prevented any contraband from entering. Although the daily work parties had some possibility to acquire extra food, the gate sentries would search them when they were returning.............
........... the Jews from Warsaw and other towns in Poland were being transported to Treblinka and Sobibor, about which, initially, we knew nothing. In actual fact, during the first three years of the war, most of the inmates of Auschwitz (Oswieciem), which figures so prominently in the post war stories of the Holocaust, were not Jews but Poles, some Czechs, Gypsies and even Germans. Hundreds of thousands of Poles died there from malnutrition, sickness or were hanged or shot. In 1943 a new camp at Birkenau, adjacent to the old camp at Auschwitz, was built and the transports started arriving with Jews from other camps in Germany, France and the Netherlands................ German technicians had now developed a gas as an efficient way for disposing of all those camp inmates who were no longer useful for work, the old, the young children, the sick and weak................................
................. As I have said earlier the Nazis were systematically removing Jews by the train load to camps in Eastern Poland, principally Treblinka and Sobibor. It had now become proven that as the trains arrived, the majority were taken to a "bath-house" in which the shower-heads sprayed, not water, but cyanide gas. The bodies were then removed and burned in large furnaces. Evidence of this had been obtained by the Underground and passed to London and to Washington. It was later learned that this intelligence was deemed to be so preposterous that it was not believed. It seems that the Elders in the "Ghetto" did not believe it either, they knew that these trains were taking them to camps but did not believe they were being systematically murdered. Therefore they cooperated with the Germans in selecting the daily quotas for loading into the trains. Finally, they realized that the unbelievable was true.
The decision was reached that, although a fight was doomed to failure, it was better to die fighting the enemy than be passively lead to the slaughterhouse. In the spring of 1943, at Passover, a week before Easter, the Jews in the "Ghetto" rebelled against the Germans. The battle lasted nearly three weeks. The Jewish fighters were able to inflict substantial losses on the Nazi forces who had to fight them house by house........ ............Soon the area fell quiet, the blazing houses burned out and the huge cloud of black smoke finally died down. All that was left of a couple of hundred city blocks, inhabited towards the end by half a million people, were heaps of blackened rubble.
Poles have been criticized loudly by Jewish writers and publicists, particularly in the United States, for not providing assistance. This is not true, the small quantities of arms and ammunition that the Jewish fighters had, were provided by the Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army). The only way of communicating with the "Ghetto" was through the sewers, and that was not easy. Many of them had been blocked or booby-trapped. Some Jews managed to escape from the "Ghetto" by this route and were assisted to safety by the Polish Underground. We agonized over our impotence, a gloom fell over all our meetings and social gatherings. The cloud of black smoke hung over the city, at night the sky was red from the flames. Several diversionary attacks were carried out by the AK, the largest on April 23rd, but they had no overall effect. We were certainly in no position at this time to mount a major military effort. And it would have been doomed to fail, as it eventually did even under much more favorable conditions, a year and half later. The Allies had not yet set foot on the European continent. In the east, the Russians had just started an offensive on the river Don, 1,000 miles away................
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