This photo is from Hanukkah in Lodz, Poland, 1948.
The photo is of a Hanukkah party at the Coordination Committee Orphanage.
All the children in the orphanage had been hidden by non-Jewish families during the war.
Yad Vashem Photo Archives FA262/A33
The November 18, 2021 Telegraph features an article about the new book. You can read the entire article here.
Ostarbeiter had to wear an identifying patch:
"We didn’t know where they were taking us. We were unloaded in the drizzling rain and organised into columns in silence. They escorted us with dogs to a building where we found others like ourselves. Everybody was given a coloured patch to attach to the left-hand side of their chest, either red, yellow, green or blue. We were given yellow patches, which assigned us to the distribution camp."
Some were assigned to concentration camps:
"The camps here were large, and surrounded by barbed wire. […] There were barracks with stacks of greatcoats heaped outside that had belonged to our deceased prisoners-of-war. There was no lavatory; just a hole under one of the watchtowers. And you were expected to use this hole in full sight of the guard, who might just take a pot shot at it for fun, to watch you get splattered with excrement."
They were sold to employers at slave auctions:
"Representatives from a firm or enterprise would come and – for a fee – choose workers. They were generally most interested in the candidates’ physical conditions; many of the Ostarbeiter were too young to have professional qualifications and, in most cases, their education had been rudimentary.
Anna Kirilenko (from Rostov-on-Don, Russian SFSR) remembers:
They looked at us to see whether we were in good physical health, and then checked whether our arms and legs functioned properly. For the factory where I worked, they chose young, agile people of a light build. […] The bigger, stronger, fitter ones were assigned to heavy manual labour.
And Anna Sechkina (from Volodarskoye, Russian SFSR) recalls that “not everybody was selected – the elderly, and children younger than 10, were rejected. The managers said that feeding them would be a waste of bread.”
For many, the selection process was redolent of a slave market, where labour was purchased and sold. Lev Tokarev (from Peterhof, Russian SFSR) was deported in 1942. He says:
When we were taken to the labour exchange, everybody was chosen, but nobody took me. I was scrawny, and was left standing on my own. "
Germany looked like paradise to these young people from Poland and Ukraine:
"“There were flowers on the balconies and all along the sides of the roads. It was beautiful – I had never seen anything like it! We had flowers, but not in such abundance.”
“Even the people at the railway station looked to me as though they had just stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. It was a different world.”
“I tell you, Germany must have been created as a paradise. […] Everything was clean, beautiful and tidy.”
But Germans didn't much like the Ostarbeiter
"The Germans would line the streets when we were being escorted back from work. Each would stand on his own doorstep, and the children would fire little stones at us from their catapults. The Germans would laugh when one found a target."
|Andzrej Stankiewicz provides this caption:
Józio, son of Artur, Jurek, son of Stach, my aunt Irena, Janek, younger brother of Jurek, and Seweryn Jan, my father.
I received an email on October 13, 2021,
the day after my birthday, that prompted me to spend today, a beautiful autumn
Sunday in November, reading, again, about Polish-Jewish relations.
It's as if all the uncried tears are pouring
out now. I need to keep wiping my face so that I can see this computer screen.
Researching Polish-Jewish relations
taught me many things. Inter alia, it taught me this: no matter how dark the
world has gotten, in the midst of that darkness, there have been refulgent
lights. Those lights often have disguised themselves, by necessity. Those
lights have often been ignored, because the world would rather focus on cheap
spectacles. Just because we do not see these lights does not mean that they are
not there. Thus, despair is self-indulgent and a sin. As John wrote, "The
light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."
Back in December, 2015, I wrote the
following on this blog:
"Between fifteen and twenty years
ago I was doing a massive amount of reading that would inform the book
Bieganski. I read Polish history, Jewish history … I read about the Holocaust
and I read about other atrocities including the Rwandan and Cambodian
genocides. I read memoirs, scholarly and newspaper articles and internet
postings by average Joes … I was swimming in an ocean of words so vast that I
could not see dry land.
In all that verbiage, I have forgotten
plenty of things. Sometimes I stumble across a book, think, 'I should read this
book,' and realize that I'd read it, reviewed it, and quoted it …
And then there is a fraction of the
material I read. This fraction consists of material that I not only remember,
but that I can almost quote verbatim …
One such unforgettable passage concerned
a young Polish Jew named Jurek Leder. We know about Jurek Leder thanks to Mary
Berg's Warsaw Ghetto diary. Below is the passage that mentions Leder.
'Jurek Leder, my close friend, who now
works for the Jewish police, is also a passionate Polish patriot. "If only
I could get out and join the partisans!" He says. "At least I could
fight for Poland then. I love my country and even if a hundred anti-Semites try
to convince me that I am not a Pole I'll prove it with my fists if not my
words." Leder's father is a captain in the Polish army and is presently
interned in Russia.'"
And that's all I knew about Jurek Leder.
Just those words that Mary Berg quotes, above. I didn't know what he looked
like, or how old he was, or anything. But those words turned Jurek Leder, to
me, into a breathing, animate, flesh-and-blood human being, stepping out from
the ranks of black-and-white, nameless victims, shuffling through my brain on
their endless march to oblivion.
There's much more in that initial post
about Mary Berg; please see that blog post here.
Five years later, I had reason to post about Jurek
Leder again in July, 2020. Andrzej Stankiewicz had sent me an email seven
months before. Mr. Stankiewicz had happened upon my blog post about Jurek Leder
and he wrote to inform me that he is related to Jurek Leder! He shared with me
a photo of Jurek Leder that I posted on the blog, here. Mr. Stankiewicz
provided me with many interesting details about his family, about those who
perished in the Holocaust, and those who survived. He also informed me that
Jurek Leder was a recipient of the Virtuti Militari "for heroism and
courage in the face of the enemy at war." Mr. Stankiewicz could not tell
me much more because he didn't know much more. War swallows up so many
biographical details. In any case, that blog post is full of the then-available
details; please see it here.
Now, to October 13, 2021. I received a
new email from Andrzej Stankiewiecz with some exciting news. He had found a
document that provides many more details about Jurek Leder.
"I want to let you know that thanks
to Prof. Engelking from the Polish Center for Holocaust Research an important
document surfaced concerning Jurek and his family. This is a 1996 publication
based on the memoirs of Mrs. Zofia Debicka, a 'Righteous among Nations', who
was hiding Jewish families in Warsaw and among them Jurek Leder, his mother
Berta and his younger brother Janek."
This emergence of a fuller picture of Jurek
Leder through the chaos of war and the mists of time and forgetting is very
moving to me. Maybe this is why I am moved to tears. I had thought this human
life, like so many other human lives, erased. Jurek Leder moved me with just
the few phrases Mary Berg recorded about him in her sadly neglected Warsaw
Ghetto diary. I knew he was a special person, but I could not know how or why.
Thanks to the new document Mr. Stankiewicz sent to me, I would soon have a fuller
I can read Polish fairly well but it
requires patience and concentration and I didn't want to wait till I had some
hours to devote to the task, so I impatiently forwarded the document to Lukasz Klimek,
a great friend of this blog. I asked only for a summary but Lukasz kindly
provided me with a word by word translation into English.
Reading this document opened a window to
the past and allowed me to gain a fuller picture of the man whose plight and
whose patriotism touched me so deeply. The account is very worth reading and I
will be happy to email the Polish-language PDF to anyone who requests it. The
account offers personal glimpses into Jurek Leder from someone who knew him.
Jurek was, the document states, a
19-year-old graphic designer. He made signs at railway stations, such as:
"Exit," "To the buffet," and "For men." He had the
right to wear a railroad cap, which gave him a certain sense of security. He
was "brave, valiant, resourceful, saved many people from death already in
the ghetto with his courage, bravado and resourcefulness. Jurek simply fulfilled
himself in the face of danger."
Mrs. Zofia Debicka describes Jurek helping
to find safe housing for a Jewish toddler whose parents died in the Holocaust. Jurek
contributed so much to the care for this toddler that a ring procured to sell
for provisions for the baby turned out not to be needed. The toddler's rescuers,
who included an Englishman and Mrs. Debicka, put the ring into storage for the
Jurek's mother was a timid soul,
terrified of discovery. Mrs. Debicka describes Jurek's mother deciding
"that the safest thing for her boys
would be to hide in some provincial corner, and she moved out from Warsaw.
Jurek could not bear the atmosphere of permanently closed shutters, sneaking
out of the house after dark, and he returned to Warsaw. He quickly came to an
understanding with my 'English son' [an English officer living in Poland and
helping Mrs. Debicka] and joined the sabotage unit. By disarming the Germans
(with his bare hands) several times and thus supplying the unit with weapons,
and by organizing an action in an extraordinary way, he soon became the brain
of the unit and the head of the liquidation cell.
When Jurek's mother found out about
Jurek joining the organization, she was devastated. While sobbing she said to
him that he is willingly taking on additional risks. But when we were left
alone, she said: 'You know, maybe it was a good thing with this organization -
Jurek will die, because he will die for sure, but in battle, not a humiliating
And so it happened. Jurek was killed in
the fall of 1943 on Plac Zbawiciela [Savior Square] in an action against one of
the executioners of the ghetto. His corpse, abandoned in the street, was taken
by the blue police. At night, the boys from his unit stole the body and buried
it in the cemetery in Bródno. After the war, with difficulty, together with his
father, who came with the Polish People's Army, we found a small grave near the
cemetery wall. We put up a sign with the real name "Jerzy Leder. Hero".
I can only hope that anyone reading this blog might be tearing up right now just as I am. Jurek, thank you for letting us get to know a bit more about you. Through you, may we be reminded that victims of atrocity are all people, just like us, unique, with names, families, loves, life stories. And some of them, like you, are heroes.