Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Ghetto

"When I look into his eyes, I can see the sadness.
When I listen to him speak, I can hear the anger.
When I wake from his screaming, I can feel the fear.
What kind of being could do this to another?
The kind that can not see, nor hear, nor feel the sadness and anger and fear within,
Yet, this is no excuse."

It was the spring of 1942 when Sarah and her two small children arrived at the Dembitz ghetto.  They would only be here for a few short months until their escape in June of 1942, but those months seemed like an eternity.

The ghetto had been established in 1941. Dembitz was a city that had a population of over 2,000 Jews.  In September of 1939 the Germans had invaded and soon established the "Jewish government", and later consolidated it into the Judenrat.  In the beginning of 1941 they decided that they were going to establish the ghetto.  There was numerous discussions over where this ghetto would be.  "The Jews of Dembitz had to leave their dwellings, homes, stores, and workshops that had been set up through the course of centuries, and concentrate themselves into the designated place, which included only one alley out of all the roads in the city, the Potters' Lane (Tepper Gesel) and the lots that extended to the infantry barracks, where the S. S. resided." (quote from jewishgen)  Barbed wire was placed around this small part of the city where the Jews were to live.  There was one gate that was guarded by the Germans, but once a Jew entered, they could not leave without a permit.  Those that went to "work" were trucked out in the morning and brought back at night.  There were not enough homes and rooms for all the Jews, and barracks were built to house people.  Each person was given only a set amount of square meters to live in. 

When Sarah and the children arrived, they had to try to find shelter.  They walked looking for space.  There were so many people in these small homes, and every inch of flooring, on all levels were occupied.  Finally, they were able to find a small space in the attic of a home.  They had to climb a ladder to get in, and they would take their space there amongst so many other Jews.  No one really had any belongings, and everyone just slept on the floor.

The days all seemed to mesh together.  Food was very sparce.  A "kitchen" space had been marked out.  Basically, tables were set up, and people were assigned each day to bring large pots into this area.  The Jews would line up.  With bowls in their hands, they would each receive one ladel of "soup" water, and a small slice of bread.  That was it for the day.

Disease and lice was everywhere.  Sarah shaved the childrens heads to help alleviate the painful itching from the lice.  Many people died from malnutrition and the epidemics that were rampant in the ghetto.

In the ghetto there were Jewish police, Kapos.  Sarah happened to know one of them.  During the time that they were in the ghetto, Sarah fell gravely ill.  People around her would tell her she needed to stay away from the children, or else they would contract the disease as well.  She did not.  She actually tried to get the children sick, because she wanted to make sure that they would all die together, and that she would not leave them.  At one of the lowest and darkest points, she went to her friend, one of the Kapos, and begged him for a shot of vodka.  She just wanted to escape what was now defining her life.  Her friend complied, and until she got better, each day he would bring her a shot of vodka.
Sarah did get better, and she knew she had to do something for her children.  One day, she found an opening in the barbed wire.  Leaving the children in the attic, she escaped that night through the small hole, and ran to a gentile friend of the family that she knew in Dembitz.  She got bread for them, and came back into the ghetto the same way she had left.  As they saying goes however, 3 times a charm.

On her return the 3rd time, she once again came back into the ghetto through the hole in the barbed wire.  However, this time as she quietly started to walk back to her dwelling, she felt two people following her.  Knowing that she could not go "home" for fear of putting her childrens lives' in danger, she began to wander around the streets.  She kept walking around and around, so afraid of who was behind her, but she knew not to turn around.  Finally, the two men stopped her.  They were German guards, "Where are you coming from?"

Hope you check back soon to hear how Sarah's encounter with these two guards ended up being a life saving experience.


  1. Ann,

    You are a GREAT writer, and I want to thank you for doing this....This blog of your is both historical, as well as therapeutic...

    You are bringing Sarah, and others in your family to life with these stories -- and, I feel like it could have been any of us.

    And, it was.



  2. Than you so much Andy, it means a lot that you like what I am doing. Hope you keep enjoying.