Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Sambor, Ukraine

“We go in and ask him if he speaks Polish. No, he doesn’t. So I tell him the situation. Here we arrive, we have to wait until the next day, and we have this small child. She is crying. She is cold, couldn’t he do something for us, you know, let us into the German waiting room, or maybe we can sit in his office here. He says, no, he is on duty. He is sorry, but he cannot. He was polite. He thought we were little Polish ladies in fur coats. So he says, ‘No, he can’t do anything about it.’ And as he looked out through his office, another German official passed by. So he said, ‘Why don’t you talk to him. He is off duty now, maybe he can help you. I am on duty; I can’t do anything.’ So he calls him in. The man doesn’t speak one word of Polish either. Again, we start with him.


“He turned out to be one of the nicest persons. He says, ‘I live not far from here,’ he says, ‘you are coming home with me to my apartment. It’s nice and warm, and then tomorrow morning…’Of course, he thinks that he is speaking to two Polish women. And he says, ‘And what does it harm, what sense does it make, separate waiting rooms for this one, for that one. What’s going on here?’ He says, ‘I am all against it.’ He was not a soldier; he was a train official.

“So we go out. He says, ‘We are taking the streetcar,’ and we say, ‘No, it’s curfew for us.’ ‘You are now with me, forget curfew.’ We come into his apartment – he lived in one of those buildings they were specially built, again it was like something unreal.

“You come into a nice warm room. It was the beginning of December; he was already collecting his Christmas gifts for his family. He had a wife and four children in Munich. He has cognac. He gives us some cognac to warm up. He makes real coffee. I didn’t have coffee for ages. And we sit and we talk. And he wants to know about us. And we tell him a tall story. ‘Yes, we were supposed to be going to visit my sister. She is my cousin,’ I don’t remember anymore exactly, ‘Her husband is there, and we are going to join the father and…’ We sit all night long and we talk, and we eat, and we put the baby down on the couch and she sleeps. Then we lay down a little bit, and we are waking up every few minutes.

“In the morning we go to the train station. We take the train and we come to Sambor. We come to this inn and there am I. This was really something. Sambor is a small Ukrainian city. And this woman, very energetic, the owner, with whom her husband lives. She has this inn there, which is the gathering point for all the Nazi’s there. I mean, in and out, in and out. A bar and food and…

“She was clever, she knew right away who I am. I think she also knew about him, I’m not sure, I suppose she does. And there he is, that husband. Really, it was so pathetic: tall, handsome, dark hair, wearing those shiny tall boots and a moustache like this… He looked like a real Ukrainian, really. And there she comes, this little woman. She was also small and blond, and of course, with this little baby. Of course, for her there was no problem. I never knew what happened to them. I left them there, and never heard from them again. Sometimes I wonder… I hope she survived, because when we came to Krakow and it was so cold, she says, ‘Look, for all I know we may even freeze here to death, and nobody will ever know.’ I think about her sometimes. I don’t know what happened to her and the child.

“Anyway, and here I am. One day I come and say, ‘I think I am going to go back to Warsaw.’ And she says, ‘Wait, wait. Maybe we can find something for you here. Maybe you will work in the inn. Maybe you should go to the employment office, the German employment office. Maybe they will find a job for you,’ and I don’t know what. But I felt very uneasy and very uncomfortable. I mean she, okay, this was her boyfriend, she has a child with him and there is a responsibility. Even so, people, all kinds of people were wandering around. It was a war, after all, and the front was moving, and what have you. But I just felt this is the wrong place for me to be.

“So after a few days I decide I am going to go back. And that’s when she said that woman, she knew – she said, ‘I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t have all the papers in order…’ she says, ‘Be careful at the train station, because they are looking for Jews here all the time and are checking everybody’s papers.’ I just said, ‘Well, that doesn’t concern me.’ Of course, it did concern me. And, of course, there is some palpitation. I suppose, but look, it was all so… In a sense, one was indifferent. One just took those things in stride. One just went, I don’t think one really thought so much, you just…

“Anyway, I went. I come to the train station, and I take the train. Nobody recognizes me; nobody stops me, and there I travel again to Krakow. I mean the train stops at Krakow. And there I sit in the train among the Poles. I sit down, and the people around you, everybody is talking. You know, ‘this happened to me.’ Talk about the Poles with their antisemitism. They are sitting and they are talking about the Jews: ‘And one good thing, no matter what Hitler does to them…’ Actually, there was this gentleman sitting and he was telling somebody across. He had some sort of a business and what difficulty he had to get a permit to conduct the business. He had to go back about three generations and show the Germans there is no Jewish blood in him. And he says, ‘Imagine me, they are looking for Jewish blood.’ And they joke and they talk. One of them says, ‘Well, no matter what Hitler does, at least he will rid Poland of Jews.’ And he talks some more.

“So anyway, we arrive in Krakow. It was noon time, a little before noon. And again, the train, the next train doesn’t leave until late or the next morning, or something like this, I forgot. We walked down and this gentleman – I was so, even when I think of it – and this man, he walks beside me and he says, ‘Do you know a place where you would like to rest up?’ And I said, ‘No, as a matter of fact, no, I am just by myself.’ He says, ‘Because I have here a very lovely lady. Whenever I come to Krakow I stay in her house. If you like to, you can too. She has several rooms which she rents and she’s a widow,’ or whatever, and he says, ‘And she is very nice, and one can wash up and rest up and even get a meal. So if you would like to join me.’ I said, ‘Why not.’ So we go.

“We come in and this woman was quite educated. She says, ‘Oh, Mr. so and so,’ whatever his name is, ‘I haven’t seen you in so long. Don’t look around at my house everything is upside down. You’ll never believe what happened here.’ She says, ‘You remember those three lovely ladies that stayed in my house? You remember, the ones with the German boyfriend, three attractive young women? They stayed here for a few months and, imagine what happened last week! I come home one day, and everything is upside down in my house and there is the Gestapo!’ She says, ‘You would never believe it! These three women were Jewesses! And one of them even made friends with a Gestapo man. What did she expect!’ And this man, I am next to this man, and this man says, ‘See, this couldn’t happen to me. I’d smell a Jew three miles away.’

“So here I am. And then he introduces me. ‘Miss Anna Voichek, and could you also show her a room. She likes to rest up because she also goes back to Warsaw.’ And she shows me this room and I go in. I sit down and he goes into his room, and there I sit. And I sit. And the more I think about it the more uncomfortable I get. So, I had some satchel or something, so I decide, ‘well, I’d better get out of here and take a walk and think it out.’ And I go down and I tell her, ‘I’m going down because I forgot…’ whatever, toothpaste or something, and I go down the street.

“I walk down a block and there comes this German, George Stratten. We even saw him after the war in München, my husband and me. The German from the train, my friend. He comes. He sees me. ‘Fraulein, Miss Anna, how are you and how is your cousin, and what’s happening, and’ blah, blah. So, I tell him, ‘Well, you know, she’s situated, and everything is fine, and now I am going back to my family in Warsaw. Everything is just fine and dandy, couldn’t be any better.’ And he said, ‘And when is your train leaving?’ I tell him whatever it is that evening. And he says, ‘Oh, why don’t you have lunch with me?’ Why not. Then he says, ‘Where are you staying?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have this room here.’ He says, ‘Let’s go and get your bag. Why do you have to pay this woman? You can rest up in my room, you know it’s no problem.’

“And we go there, and here I come with this German. And we take the thing and go down and he takes me to the German officer’s dining room. And there we come. We come in and he introduces me to some other people who are sitting. We sit down, and there again, the meal of my life – everything. Then we talk some more, and he says, ‘Well, would you like to rest up?’ Again, we are stopping off in some store and he is buying, in this commissary or whatever, and he shows me. This for his wife, and this is for this daughter, and this is for that daughter, and he misses them so much. And, again about the Poles, ‘Why are they treated… What’s the difference?’ Of course, the Jews don’t exist, and nobody mentions it.

“We come up to the apartment, into this room, and I sit down. And I am getting more and more – I mean I am just ready to explode. So, I… I came out with it, and I told him, ‘Do you know why I went to Sambor and who we are and what we are!’

(To be continued)

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