Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ghetto Escape

"Opportunity often comes in disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat."
Napoleaon Hill Quotes 

It was the summer of 1942.  Disease, lice, malnutrition and despair was spreading rampantly around the ghetto.  Sarah had found a way to escape at night and go to a Polish friends house to get bread for her two small children.  On her third trip out, however, it was not to go as smoothly as the other two.

When she crawled back through the barbed wire fence and started to walk back home, she felt two people following her.  She walked aimlessly around the streets, for fear of returning home.  Finally, the men stopped her, they were German guards.
"Where are you coming from?" they asked, "No where" she replied.
"So where are you going?" they asked, she answered, "I am just walking, you see I got confused of where to go because I am so hungry, and I do not know where I am going."
"You are lying", they said, "We saw you come through the barbed wire, from the outside.  What did you get?"
"OK", she responded, and took out the loaf of bread, "I snuck out, and saw a store with bread in it and stole the bread from the store."
They hesitated and then responded, "OK, we will let you go, but if we ever catch you again we will kill you.  Not that it makes a real difference anymore, because in the next few days this entire ghetto will be eliminated, and you will be killed anyway.  Now go home."
Sarah continued to wander a bit before returning home.  She knew she had to escape, but did not know where to go. 

Sarah had a few cousins in the ghetto, two male cousins and a female cousin-in-law.  The next morning she seeked them out.  She asked them if they had heard about the elimination of the ghetto.  Yes they had.  She asked them what they were going to do.  There answer was "We don't know about you, but we are going to escape." 
"Take me and the children with you" she pleaded.
"No way can we take you and the KIDS, sorry but no."

She left, and went back home in despair.  It was a Sunday, and when she arrived home a little boy approached her.  "You are a Schonwetter, right?" he asked.  "Yes" she replied. 
"There is a man over there on the other side of the barbed wire, by that house, that  told me to go find the Schonwetter's and bring them back there, he wanted to talk to them".
Now, Sarah had no idea who could want to speak to her, but she went anyway.  When she got to the spot, who was standing there, Pilat!
"I know that by tomorrow morning the entire ghetto will be closed and eliminated.  Get the kids and come back here tonight, you have to escape, and I will take you."
Sarah quickly went to gather the children, and as night fell, she went back to the spot that she met Pilat.  He was waiting on the other side.  He threw a blanket over the barbed wire, and told Sarah to throw each child over and he would catch them.  Now Manek and Zosia were no more than skin and bones at this point, but Sarah was not much more than that herself.  It is amazing the strength you can find when the adrenilane is pumping.  She did as she was told.  Now it was her turn.  Pilat told her to climb the barbed wire fence and he would catch her as well.  She complied.  Once they were all over, he ushered them inside the nearby house, where he had clothes waiting.

You see, when Pilat heard about the ghetto he sprang into action.  He brought Vodka and Kelbasa to the family that lived there earlier that day.  He proceeded to get them very drunk, and they passed out.  They were in this drunken sleep and did not even know what was transpiring in their house.

Sarah and the children quickly changed.  Pilat then gave them their next instructions.  "I will walk out first, out the door, down the street and through the city.  Sarah, you and Zosia will follow a few feet behind, then Manek, you will follow by yourself.  Everyone look straight ahead, do not look down, do not turn around and do not stop.  If anyone stops any of you, the others must keep going, if they stop me, pass me and keep going with out looking.  Just keep walking."  And so they started out.  You have to remember that Manek was not even 10 years old, and Zosia, barely over 5.

I remember when my own daughter turned 5.  At the birthday party my father came over to me, and with a tear in his eye he said "Can you imagine that this was how old I was when it started, and your aunt when she had to go through so much."  We just linked arms and both said a silent prayer, "Thank G-d that they do not have to live through such a nightmare."  I think it was even harder when my sister's son turned 5, maybe because he is a boy.  I know that my father said something similar to her.  I wonder if he sometimes looks at his grandchildren, and perhaps at my sister and I when we were growing up, and thinks of the childhood that was stolen from him and that he never got a chance to experience.  It warms my heart that he is able to share in his grandchildren's lives and get a little piece of that experience he never had.  I sometimes look at my own children and think of my grandmother.  I can not begin to fathom the emotions she must have been going through.  However, her bravery, courage and uncanny intuition got her through. 

The Schonwetter journey now begins, the next 3 years of survival were not easy.  Check back soon to start on this amazing adventure.  The goodness of people will always be a recurrent theme, but the ugliness of what they had to live through may sometimes cloud your perception.  The instinct to survive is strong, and Sarah lived by it.

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