Sofia Grozalski

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Sofia Grozalski (Kapulski)

Also Known As: "Sima"
Birthplace: Grodno, Grodna District, Belarus
Death: March 09, 2016
Westford, Ma, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Rachel Kapulski
Wife of Lazar Grozalsky
Mother of Lester Gardner and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sofia Grozalski

Now I Have a Reason to Live The story of an exceptional woman By Lester Gardner

I.Overview A. Introduction 1. Early life experiences 2. Family life 3. Description of the conditions

II.First Invasion A. Germany and Russia Divide Poland 1. Germany invades 9/01/39 2. Russia invades 9/17/39 3. Division 9/27/39 B. Working for the Russians C. Making due

III. Germany attacks Russia

A  Creation of the Ghetto B.. Forced Marches   C. Working in the ghetto D.  Day to Day life  IV.  Hiding

A. Where

B. When

C. Why

D. Time line

V. Second coming A. Russians return

B. Looking for others

C. Getting back what was theirs

D. Pregnancy

VI. Displaced persons camp

A. Life born

B. People

C. Activities

VII. Rebirth


My name is Lester Gardner, and I’m writing this in 2013. If you’re reading it in 2023, 2053, 3001, or who knows when ... I'm smiling, because my purpose in assembling these words is to create a legacy for my mother, a record that will live on after her.

Too often, when people die, their stories die with them, and are lost to future generations. That’s a shame, because all lives are interesting, and instructive. In the case of my mother I would use adjectives that are even bolder. She lived through one of the most terrifying periods in human history. And she lived – and continues to live, though the phone could ring at any moment – a life that is rich in lessons that can be of value to many.

I wanted to capture some of her story while she was still here to tell it in the first person, so I spent a fair amount of time with her with a tape recorder, and seven dictionaries, since that's how many languages she speaks. I didn't inherit that gift. While I'm great with numbers, I’ve always had problems speaking even one language, so I apologize in advance for any awkwardness in that arena. It doesn’t matter too much, anyway, because what my mother has to say is so powerful that it transcends language.

If you listen to the tapes you’ll notice that I’ve taken some liberties to tidy up the places where she runs on or expresses things awkwardly. She also jumps back and forward in time, so I’ve taken pieces and rearranged them in chronological order to make this more readable. But the essence of what you will read here is here story, in her words.

With that as background, I hope you enjoy this. If I'm still alive when you read these words, give me a call. If I'm no longer on the planet, I'm delighted that these works, and this record of my mother, are still alive.

(this forward was written by my friend Warner Low, after several conversations on the book )

My name is Sima and I am 93 years old. A year ago, in October of 2012 my children had to put me into assisted living in Hollywood Florida. They told me I was messing up my medications, and falling down, so I had to live differently to safeguard my health and security. Well, as my health improved and my desire to return to my home grew stronger and stronger. Almost on a daily basis the nurses would have to return me to my quarters from my attempted escapes. My quarters where on the third floor of a 4 story building, so I decided to tie sheets together and escape out the window. I was miserable because my life had gone the way of all the old people that came before me. I am constantly tell people that we should be born old and grow young. Things were so bad that I wanted to just end it all. What was the point in living on? What was my legacy? What did the world need my diminishing body and mind for? I was angry, and frustrated.

I reached out to everyone: – my bingo buddies, who came and tried to get me out; my grandchildren, who I bribed; or for the matter to any one that would listen. I was trapped in a prison that was beautiful but without purpose. Every day continued to be hell. There was no reprieve, and no governor to pardon me from this living death sentence. There was no peace. I was back in hiding, like during the War, but at this time without a husband, because Larry my husband for over 50 years had passed on in 2001 from complications with kidney failure and I had been living independently in my condo.

That wasn't so bad. I had aides coming in on a daily basis to assist me. They would come in by 9 AM and I would be thoroughly annoyed with them by 11AM. They were supposed to provide me with companionship, general household clean up, make meals and assist me with my showering and other personal items The vast majority of the aides where from the Caribbean and they didn’t care about me just the hours that they got and the pay. A few were caring loving people it’s a shame that there are only a few. In southern Florida Home health care is a very large business. I was not an angel to them; between my broken English and their Caribbean accents we really did not understand each other. There shifts were supposed to last to 1 PM but my frustration and upsets were so great that I dismissed them at 12 and paid them for 4 hours. The rest of the day I would watch game shows and I even watched the CCTV of the front door to my complex for hours. Watching the comings and the goings of all my neighbors. Night time was my best time. BINGO occupied my evenings.

 Four miles from Hollywood is a Bingo parlor that I attended on a daily basis.  There was a driver who would pick me up at my building at 5 PM drop me off at the parlor at 5:30 PM.  The parlor would serve free of charge a dinner.  Usually hotdogs, Pizza, pasta and occasionally a hamburger.  Gourmet it wasn’t. It wasn’t the dinner it was the women that I had befriended that was my joy.  There were about 10 to 15 when I started at that Bingo parlor.  When Larry was alive I would leave him home one or two nights a week to join in the game.  In the early days we used paper to play and I would play 60 cards every game.  My mind was different then I would remember every number called and where they were placed on my cards.  You have to remember that we were playing for money.   This was no penny ante game it was for hundreds of dollars.  With Larry’s passing there were more evenings free so I started to go every night.  My kids would say that it was the cheapest form of therapy.  My evening would end about 11PM, I loved it the girls, the game, a little dinner what more could a little old lady want.   But here, in assisted living, all of these things are gone.  I am alone. My children are up in Boston, and they even set it up so I could go to Bingo But that didn’t do it for me I lost the desire to go. .   December my oldest son Lester took a seminar course in Hollywood Florida  and had the chance to visit me daily. That was wonderful, but I still continually asked to go back to my own apartment, to return to my life of bingo.  One day he had another idea. He told me he wanted to write my story and leave a legacy not for him or his brother but for the future, for all the generations that have flowed from what happened during the war, all the people who would not be here if Larry and I had not managed to survive Holocaust.  

I have never wanted to tell the story, it is a painful reminder of the loss of so many family members. Even when Stephen Spielberg’s the Shoah Foundation came to my house seeking recordings of living history I found it difficult to tell the story, because it was like reliving horrible memories. This was different. This time my family wanted to know. This time they asked the questions, and I was happy to reply.

Sima and Larry circa 1970s

At the first session Lester told me of his conversations with Barbara, his fiancé, and how she had suggested that I tell the story in my own words. As Lester began to interview me and record my words I found myself happier and happier. Every question brought me back to the time I had wanted to forget the bad memories. Speaking them out loud, made it better, telling him and the future generations made it easier. This first session was a special one. Free from the weight of the past as each word escaped from my mouth the veils were lifted. I became a different person, I didn’t cry or hide,. When Lester left the room I turned to Barbara and said “Now I have a Reason to live”.

Larry and Sima circa 1950


I was born July 12, 1919, per my Massachusetts driver’s license and immigration papers. Over the past 20 years, when people asked me how old I was, I would pull out a picture of myself from the displaced persons camp and say I was born in 1945. I really don't know when I was born but needless to say I was reborn in1945. For purposes of this book I will keep 1919 date as a guide post. Dates and time are controlled by all of us and events that occur. For example, New Year's day, various holidays, someone's birthday, and celebrations will force how we remember time and dates. When your life is in jeopardy days roll into days, and nights seem like forever with no end. Fear rules you, will I be caught today, will I have any food or water, what do I have to do to make it thru another day. So age is what we make of it.

Grodno was the city I was born in, as was my husband Larry and my oldest son Lester. Grodno had been at the crossroads of every government in Europe since 1100 ad. Think how important that makes you when everyone wants to own you. Being ruled by several different governments in the short span of time destroys your culture, your memories and your personal freedom.

Historical View Courtesy of

The city of Grodno is located 80 km northeast of Bialystok. It was the second largest city in the Bialystok district, an area approximately the size of Belgium, and on the eve WW2 had a population of approximately 50,000, of whom 42%, or 21,159 were Jewish. A part of Poland between 1921 and 1939, and from 1944 to 1991 included in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia, the city is today situated in the Republic of Belarus. The Bialystok district, of which Grodno became part, experienced a turbulent history. As a border region between Poles, Lithuanians, Russians and Ukrainians, it was often subject to military attack. In 1939, it was conquered by German troops. These troops later withdrew and the region was occupied by the Soviet Union, only for German troops to reoccupy it immediately following the commencement of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union in June 1941. On the night of 22-23 June 1941 the city fell to the German army. At first Grodno was not included in the Bialystok district but remained part of the Generalkommissariat Weissrussland. Then, on 18 September 1941, it was attached to the Bialystok district. A Gestapo deputy office (Nebenstelle) was set up in Grodno, initially headed by Kriminalsekretär Gross, and, from December 1941, by Heinz Errelis. Errelis had thirteen men under his command, including his deputy, Schott. Gross, who was in charge of Jewish affairs; Kurt Wiese, who would afterward become the commandant of Ghetto I; Otto Strebelow, commandant of Ghetto II and Karl Rinzler, commandant of the Kielbasin concentration camp.

Ghetto Street #1

Ghetto Street #2 At the end of June 1941 a Judenrat was created with an initial membership of ten people, and headed by David Brawer, the headmaster of a local school. With the occupation the Jews lost any civil rights. Their lives and security were of no consequence to the occupiers. In common with other areas occupied by Germany, severe restrictions and prohibitions were placed upon the Jews of Grodno, including registration, the stamping of Jude on their identity cards and from 30 June 1941, the wearing of an identifying badge. At first this was a white armband with a blue Star of David; a month later the armband was replaced by two large yellow patches worn on the left side of the chest and on the left of the back. Children were exempt from this decree. Although forced labour was introduced immediately after the occupation, this was largely on an improvised basis. However, on 15 October 1941, the first official order was promulgated for the entire district regarding forced labour; it specified the ages of those who were obligated to work - males aged fourteen to sixty and women aged fourteen to fifty-five.

Arrival at the Ghetto #1

Arrival at the Ghetto #2 In November 1941, shortly after Grodno was annexed to the Bialystok district, the city’s Jews were transferred to two ghettos about 2 km apart from each other. As was usual with the establishment of ghettos, the Jews were concentrated in areas where sanitation, water and electricity, roads, etc. were completely inadequate for the occupants’ needs. The first ghetto (Ghetto I) was established in the city’s ancient, central section. Some 15,000 Jews were crammed into an area of less than half a square km. The second ghetto (Ghetto II) was created in the Slobodka suburb, a part of the city which was broader and more open, with fewer houses. Some 10,000 Jews were incarcerated in this ghetto, which was larger in size than the main ghetto but more dilapidated. Generally Jews were sent to one ghetto or the other based on their work; the first ghetto was intended for "productive" workers, the second for the "unproductive".

Batory Square The relative quiet that characterized the first year of the ghettos enabled the Judenrat to ease the Jews’ plight by creating a very large bureaucratic apparatus, which in itself became a source of livelihood for many ghetto occupants. Judenrat head Brawer considered the supply of food to the ghetto to be one of the Judenrat’s major functions. As was usually the case, the affluent enjoyed better conditions and the poor made do with the scraps; but the fact remains that in Grodno, in contrast to other ghettos in Poland, no one died of starvation. The occupants of the Grodno ghetto, like their brethren in many other ghettos across Poland, adopted the slogan, "salvation through work". In other words, nearly everyone believed that as long as the Germans considered the ghetto occupants to be productive elements who were useful to their economy, they would let them live. Factories were therefore created to produce items for the German war economy and to supply the personal needs of army and Gestapo personnel stationed in Grodno.

Arrival from Rzeszow

Arrival from Suchowola

In late 1942, exactly one year after Grodno’s Jews had been herded into the ghettos, the Germans began making preparations for transporting them to the death camps. In the winter of 1942/1943, when the transports ceased elsewhere in Poland (in the Generalgouvernement and in the Warthegau), it was the turn of the Jews in the Bialystok district. There were about 130,000 Jews in 116 localities, including 35,000 in nineteen locales in the Grodno sub district. The officials responsible for the transports in the Grodno sub district were Heinz Errelis, the chief of the Gestapo in the city, and his deputy, Erich Schott. Transit camps, or as the Germans called them Sammellager, which were actually stations on the way to deportation to the death camps, were set up at various sites in the Bialystok district. The sites of the transit camps were chosen for their proximity to Jewish places of residence. In the case of Grodno, a transit camp was set up at Kielbasin (Kelbasino). From the transit camps the Jews were transported to Auschwitz and Treblinka. Jews from the Bielsk-Podloski sub district, in the southern part of the district, were sent directly to nearby Treblinka without passing through a transit camp. The horrific conditions in the transit camps - overcrowding, inhuman living quarters, nonexistent sanitation, serious food shortages, bitter cold, and unspeakable filth - inevitably led to illness and epidemics. The mortality rate was high. Inmates were also subjected to all manners of harassments, beatings, abuse, and even outright murder by the staff and guards.

On 2 November 1942, the Ghettos I and II in Grodno were completely sealed off. In the morning the workers from Ghetto II were held up at the gate and suddenly the commandants of the two ghettos, Kurt Wiese (Ghetto I) and Otto Strebelow (Ghetto II), appeared and began shooting at the workers indiscriminately. 12 Jews were killed, forty were wounded, and the others fled wildly in panic. It was the first time that Grodno’s Jews had experienced sudden mass murder, perpetrated without warning. In the evening, the news spread through the city that the Jews from the neighbouring towns had been transported to the Kielbasin camp. The sealing of the two ghettos was accompanied by show-hangings and acts of group murder. Punitive executions were not only meted out for trying to escape. The fate of anyone caught smuggling food into the ghetto was also sealed. Shooting of Jews who were found carrying bread or other food became routine. About two weeks after the Jews in the neighbouring towns were taken to Kielbasin, the Germans began liquidating Ghetto II. First, however, they transferred those with useful professions from Ghetto II to Ghetto I. The first deportation from Ghetto II took place on 15 November 1942. The Jews were told that they were being sent to work, and, according to the testimony of Grodno survivors who reached Bialystok in 1943, the Judenrat and the other Jews in the ghetto believed this tale. Therefore, very few tried to hide. The deportees reached Auschwitz on 18 November, and before they were murdered they were given prepared postcards on which a sentence in German was printed: "Being treated well, we are working and everything is fine". They were ordered to sign the postcards and address them to their relatives in Grodno. The first deportation was followed by a brief lull in Ghetto II. But a few days later, on 21 November, everyone still in the ghetto was deported to Auschwitz. There is some uncertainty regarding the precise number of deportees, but it is probable that at least 4,000 inhabitants of the ghetto - those remaining in Ghetto II after the transfer of a similar number of Jews to Ghetto I - perished in Auschwitz as a result of these "actions". The deportations from Ghetto I began at the end of November 1942, following the opening of the Kielbasin transit camp; they followed a different pattern from previous "actions" in the region’s ghettos and in Ghetto II at Grodno. All told, about 4,000 Jews from Ghetto I were sent to Kielbasin in two transports. Later they were deported from Kielbasin to Auschwitz and Treblinka. The first Aktion in Ghetto I (the third in Grodno) took place in late November 1942. In the dead of night, men, women, and children were removed from their apartments and concentrated in the Great Synagogue. Toward morning Wiese and Strebelow arrived, ordered the Jews out of the synagogue, and began to march them to Kielbasin, all the while beating them. At the front of the column marched a respected Jew, Skibelski. The Germans forced him to wear a clown’s hat, dance and play the fiddle. Kielbasin, formerly the farm of a Polish squire, lay 5 km from Grodno, on the road to Kuznica. The Germans converted it into a camp for Soviet POWs. The camp covered 1 square km, and a double barbed-wire fence surrounded it, with a guard tower at every corner. By the autumn of 1942, there were no further POWs in the camp. It then became a concentration camp for Jews from Grodno and from the surrounding towns. It has been estimated that at least 35,000 men, women and children were deported to Kielbasin from Grodno and the surrounding area. Survivors of Kielbasin remember its commandant, a Rumanian-born German named Karl Rinzler who could speak Yiddish mixed with German, for his extraordinary brutality. Almost always inebriated, he would take inmates from their huts and shoot them publicly for his amusement. In the morning, upon entering the camp, he called over every Jew he encountered (especially women) and with a heavy rubber club that had a small metal ball attached to its end, beat them until the club was drenched in blood. The Kielbasin inmates lived in a sort of barracks, "Ziemlankas", as the camp’s inhabitants called them, 50-100 m long, 6-8 m wide, and about 2 m high (the floor was half a meter deep under the ground). They were the products of the Soviet prisoners' labour during the camp’s previous incarnation. There were six blocks of these barracks, which were separated from one another by barbed-wire fences. A block consisted of fourteen barracks, each of which held at least 250 or 300 inmates (about 500, according to Errelis). Towns populated these barracks: each town was allotted one or more barracks on the basis of its Jewish population. The floor in these Ziemlankas was plain earth padded at the bottom with branches and covered with straw. On entering one had to step down five or six steps. Inside there were double shelves/bunks, which served for sleeping. Those in the bottom row could sit but not stand up. Those on top had the roof immediately above them and had to crawl in order to lie down. The boards were dirty, and water leaked in from the roof. Men, women, and children lived together in each Ziemlanka, and also shared the toilet - an open pit, for men and women together. The overcrowding, the bitter cold, the rain that leaked in, and the filth and lice turned these accommodations into death traps. The camp had running water, but Jews were forbidden to go near the taps. It was not uncommon for inmates to be flogged to death for stealing water. Hunger was a permanent fixture at Kielbasin. Food rations consisted of soup with a few unpeeled potatoes or scraps of rotten cauliflower cooked in water and 100-150 grams of bread per person - though even that miserly bread portion was not distributed every day. The hunger, overcrowding, dirt, and lice resulted in lethal epidemics that claimed many victims - seventy a day, on the average. The ill were transferred to separate Ziemlankas and treated by Jewish physicians and nurses who were also incarcerated at Kielbasin. But Kielbasin was only a transit camp. A week after the first Jews were imprisoned there, the transports to Auschwitz began. The order to begin the transports was issued by the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to Wilhelm Altenloh, head of the Gestapo in the Bialystok district, who relayed it, first by telephone and then in writing, to Errelis and to the Gestapo’s external station at Grodno. The police and personnel of Sipo and the SD read out the names of the towns; their former inhabitants were then concentrated in the centre of the camp and made to march to the train station at Lososna. The elderly and infirm that were unable to keep up with the march were shot on the spot. At the station the Jews were packed into freight cars for their final journey. In December 1942, a severe shortage of railway wagons forced the Germans to suspend temporarily transports to Auschwitz from the Bialystok district ghettos and from Kielbasin. Instead, however, they stepped up the transports to Treblinka, which was relatively close. Towards the end of the month, the Germans decided to liquidate the camp. The last of the Jews there, 2,000-3,000, from Druskieniki, Suchowola, and Grodno (as well as those who had avoided the earlier transports by hiding) were made to walk back to Ghetto I in Grodno. Again a Jew playing a fiddle was placed at the head of the column. Some Kielbasin inmates had managed to escape from the camp during its brief existence.

The respite in the deportations from the Bialystok district lasted about a month, from mid-December 1942 until mid-January 1943. But on 18 January 1943, deportation notices began to be issued. That evening the ghetto’s gates were sealed for five days (until 22 January), and the Jews were not allowed out. The manhunt began. More than 10,000 people were rounded up and herded into the Great Synagogue. The deportees were marched to the train station at Lososna; only the elderly, the sick, and the children were transported there by wagon or truck. Guards were present in large numbers, shooting those who could not keep up. At the train station the deportees were shoved and pushed on top of each other into cattle cars; the doors were closed and sealed; and they set off on their final journey. During the January 1943 Aktion, 11,650 Jews were deported from Grodno to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of these, 9,851 were murdered as soon as they arrived at the extermination camp, while 1,799 (1,096 men and 703 women) were selected for forced labour.

Following the "Action of the Ten Thousand", approximately 5,000 Jews remained in the ghetto, about half of them "illegals" without papers. On 11 February 1943, the Judenrat announced that the Jews were being sent "to new places of work". Two days later, on 13 February, a few hundred Jews were taken to work outside the ghetto. Shortly after their departure, the ghetto was closed and a new Aktion commenced. Wiese, Strebelow, and their cohorts appeared at the ghetto gates, where hundreds of Jews were assembled in the hope that they would be taken to work. Shooting into the crowd began. The Jews were then made to line up and marched to the synagogue. Some managed to flee, others were shot in the attempt. The members of the Judenrat and its clerks, led by Brawer, were also herded into the synagogue. At around dusk Brawer was called outside, where Wiese shot him after discovering that two "Farbindungsmen" (liaison-men) of the Judenrat, had fled from the ghetto. A few youngsters tried to break down the doors and windows in the synagogue and escape. Some Jews hid inside the synagogue itself. At 10 p.m. the manhunt was called off, and during the night the detainees were made to march to the Lososna train station. On the way there were more escape attempts. Some were shot to death, but a few dozen did succeed in getting away. The transport left Lososna at 5:40 a.m. and reached Treblinka at ten minutes past noon. Two days later the manhunt resumed. On the final day of the Aktion, on 16 February 1943, Jewish policemen went through the streets announcing that anyone caught outside would be shot, but that no harm would come to those who assembled at the synagogue. This time, though, scepticism prevailed and no one came forward. That afternoon the Germans released 200 Jews who were already massed in the synagogue and declared the Aktion over. Jews emerged from their hiding places and were greeted by the sight of bodies in the streets.

Main Synagogue In the February Aktion more than 4,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka in two transports - 2,500 in the first and 1,600 in the second - of whom 150 were selected for forced labour. After the two mass "actions", more than 1,000 Jews still remained in Ghetto I. There was a chronic shortage of food; at the same time, anyone caught smuggling in food faced certain death. On 11 March 1943, tension in the ghetto rose to a fever pitch. The next day everyone was ordered into the synagogue. This time, though, the Jews did not believe Wiese’s assurances that they were being moved to Bialystok. Most were certain that their destination was Treblinka. Nevertheless, they remained quiet, careful not to antagonise their captors. The assembled Jews, 1,148 people, were force-marched from the synagogue to the train station and crammed into freight cars, about 110 to each car. When the train arrived at Bialystok, the railway cars were opened. The Jews were marched to the ghetto; only now did they believe that their destination was the Bialystok ghetto and not an extermination camp. On 13 March 1943, posters were put up on the city’s streets announcing that Grodno was judenrein. On 14 July 1944, the Red Army liberated Grodno. Some forty to fifty Jews who had been in hiding in the city and its environs emerged. By the end of 1995, some 1,000 Jews remained in Grodno (out of a population of more than 250,000). Of them only five were former Grodno residents who survived the Holocaust, returned to their native town, and chose to remain. Given the circumstances, there was a high level of resistance in the Bialystok district. Groups of partisans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were active throughout the region. But one desperate act of resistance by Jews from Grodno is particularly noteworthy. One evening in the second week of December 1942, a transport of about 2,000 Jews was brought to Treblinka from Kielbasin and included people from Grodno and the surrounding area. When the transport entered the camp, most of the prisoners had already been locked in their barracks. The deportees were brought to the transport yard and were ordered to undress and go to the "baths" / "showers". Some obeyed the order and were taken through the "tube" to the gas chambers. Amongst the last who remained in the transport yard and who had not yet undressed were a few dozen youths. They quickly realised the truth about where they were and the purpose Treblinka served. Some of them began calling out not to listen to the Germans and not to undress. A great riot broke out. The Germans opened fire on the crowd. Suddenly there was an explosion. One of the young Jews had hidden a grenade and had thrown it in the direction of the shooting. Dozens of youths who were still in the transport yard began beating the Ukrainians and Germans with their fists and tried to break through the fences and escape. Other people from the transport joined them, and many dispersed throughout the various sections of the camp. Some succeeded in breaking through into the living barracks of the Jewish prisoners and sought cover. The Germans and Ukrainians recaptured them and returned them to the extermination area. The rest of the escapees were also caught throughout the camp. Dozens were shot on the spot as they resisted capture. At the entrance to the gas chambers the people continued to resist and absolutely refused to enter. The Germans and Ukrainians shot into the corridor where the victims had gathered. Many were killed and the rest finally forcibly pushed into the gas chambers. The Germans had learned a valuable lesson from this mass resistance incident, for subsequent transports to Treblinka were not received after dark.

Of the four major war criminals who were involved in the annihilation of the Jews of Grodno and its surroundings - Heinz Errelis, Kurt Wiese, Otto Streblow, and Karl Rinzler - the first two were brought to trial. Errelis’s deputy, Schott, killed himself after the war. Streblow was apparently killed in action, and Rinzler, the sadistic commandant of Kielbasin camp, disappeared. In 1966-1967, Wiese was tried in Bielefeld, Germany, together with Errelis and other Gestapo personnel who had been active in the Bialystok area. The court acquitted Errelis of charges of direct involvement in murder for lack of evidence. He was found guilty only of complicity in the murder of the Jews of Grodno in Ghetto I and of the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto, to which he was posted following the liquidation of the Grodno ghettos. The sentences were handed down in April 1967. Errelis received six and a half years in prison and was deprived of German citizenship for five years. Wiese was convicted of murder and complicity in murder and received seven consecutive life terms. In 1968, the two were also tried in Cologne, together with other war criminals who had been active in Grodno.

Sources: Edited from Lost Jewish Worlds: The Communities of Grodno, Lida, Olkieniki, Vishay, published by Yad Vashem. See: Sir Martin Gilbert: Atlas of The Holocaust Yitzhak Arad: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka Judgement in the Cologne trial of Wiese and Errelis.

Photos: GFH

© ARC 2005

My Background

I had 5 sisters Libby, Youdis, Minai, Evenely, Shienndel and I was the sixth (Sima) My mother (Rachel) had the first four children then she had a lapse of 10 years before she had Schiendel and myself. My father died when I was just a few months old . In Poland there was no social security death benefits. As life was hard before, it multiplied upon his death. My mother took in whatever domestic work she could, primarily sewing and the sisters all helped. Our house that I was born in was a small 3 room home on a street with 10 to fifteen others just like it. One of the benefits was that we lived across the street from the Hospital. Not that we could afford to send any one there. My oldest sister died in our house when I was about 4 years old. We don’t know where they (neighbors) took her body , she was just gone my mother and I looked for the grave but never found one. We didn’t have the funds for a proper burial so she must have been put into a pauper’s grave.

Life was difficult but I never strayed far from my mother side, she was a short stocky woman and afraid of everything and everyone. Her life was one of hiding in the shadows hoping never to be seen or confronted. Every time I asked any questions like how did my father die my mother would say you don’t need to know. So I withdrew and said ok Mama don’t cry. So the majority of my questions went unanswered undefined and still remain with me. As the baby of the family I got taken care of watched over and to some degree protected. Because I was the baby the chores in the house where basically spread out between the older girls Every day was the same in our household long dark dreary very little laughter very little joy. So my mother stayed hidden and I was kept in the dark.

So my early childhood was full of work no real childhood. Playing with others feeling the sun shine on my face laughing and just being a little girl. I had to grow up fast, I had to be quick and smart to survive. I spoke Polish, that was the language of the area, Yiddish the language of the house hold , Russian the language of the neighbors. Hebrew I learned later as well as German. Schooling was for the wealthy . So you can better understand. There were two types of schools available to us. The Polish school which was free and the Jewish school which cost money. My mother didn’t want us to mingle with the Polish children and the Talmud tera (the Jewish+school)would not allow me in without money. My mother would send me off each day to the Hebrew school in hopes of their being one kind hearted soul would take me in and teach me . It was the same each day. Sima do you have any money, we never did and I was sent home crying. So my education consisted of home tutoring. Mr. Abranisky who owned the bookstore in town took me under his wing and taught me to read and write. He would drop by the house every other week visit my mother and then help me with my schooling. Basically my education did not exceed third grade level Schinedel went to aberashulan a school for a trade paid for by Jewish families who had (rahmunis)pity on the family. I am not certain what her trade would have been but! My mother was very proud of Schindel. As for the four older sisters I am not certain of their schooling or what education they had. Since my father was alive during their schooling I must assume that they had some education. I do not even know what my father did for a living or what caused his death.

Our lives and existence was marginal we were a family without a father. The family was very fortunate we had some distant relatives that had made it to the United States in the early twenties and they like so many other families were willing to take in a child. The horror stories where spreading all over the world. The rise of NAZI’s bigotry, the killings and the end of humanity. So our relatives in the United States requested my sister schindel who 2 years older than I and myself. My Mother intervened and sent them Evelyn instead who was 13 years older than I . Well like all things in our home and in Poland there was a story behind the story. Evelyn 3 months earlier had just married the boy down the street and he and Evelyn lived on the sofa in our house. The plan from what I remember was to send her, then have him follow shortly there after. Well when she arrived in America she meet wonderful man who she fell in love with. All this time her husband in Poland would stay in our house leave in the morning go to work and come back at night. When we received the news that Evelyn was going to marry a man in America my mother was furious. My mother was so mad at Evelyn when all this came out. After several days of problems and endless discussions with Evelyn’s Polish Husband (his name was shepshel (shapsel)) and his family they finally moved him out . S o you shouldn’ t worry about him Evelyn’s girlfriend had a crush on him and they ran off to get married. I never saw him again even in the ghetto .

So as I grew into my teen age years I caught the eye of many men. The doctors would drive by the house and ask me out. But my mother would not even allow them to set foot in the house. One young man from a different part of town really liked me and seen around the house constantly. His name was Lazor (Larry) his father was a builder and they seemed to have some wealth and influence. Larry was a very likable person soft spoken, intelligent he went to the gymnasium (high school) was a bicycle builder and from what they tell me a great soccer player. In the bicycle factory he had many non Jewish friends one of them turned out to be our guardian angel. Whenever he could, he, would be there holding my hand and just sitting on the sofa (under the watchful eye of my mother). Every day seemed the same except for the rumors.

	  In the shadows of the day everyone whispered as to what they thought was happening under the Nazi regime, but! the majority of us did not believe the rumors how could civilized people do the things they we heard.  Yes there were pogroms we know about them they had gone on for years.  But it had been quiet for  a while and I guess it was the quiet before the storm. 

My mother Rachel was a good cook and always made sure we had food on the table On average we would have Geese at least once a week. I called it geese what it was the parts consisting of the head, feet, neck, and two wings the older sisters would get the wings, the next two would get the head and neck and the youngest the feet. Then we would have the soup later on in the week. Soup made up the majority of our meals and once a month we would eat Pichad a gelatin based was made from cows feet. Our day to day lives were simple. Everyone did some form of work brought money to mother and ate soup.

German and Russia split

Larry and hundreds of other boys were taken into the polish army. They were all given wooden guns to carry. After a few weeks they were all sent to the border to protect Poland. When Germany invaded Poland Larry and many of the other boys Dropped their wooden rifles and ran back to their homes.. When Larry made it home the Russian were in full control of the area.

So here we are Poland was split in half by the Germans and the Russians and the Allies that did not do to thing to help. Polish resistance did not exist on either front and would leave any reasonable person that it was a predetermined win for both. As I mentioned earlier Grodno was at the heart of several countries that wanted the passage from north to south. Our original distance to Russia was just a few kilometers so many of us spoke Russian as well as Polish. The Russian commander of the occupying forces was Jewish so we all feared well under them. I ended working for the General in the commissary as the manager. My job was making sure that the general his staff and guests and other officers had the best food available. I also ran the distribution center where food was distributed to all the citizens in Grodno. This job required my hiring 4 other women to assist me to make sure everything was working fine. The Russians had their own system and every month a supervisor would appear and we had to be ready. We could not be off in weight or monies under our control. The end of each month we would all work to make sure that we were exactly where we should be. Siberia awaited any one that was off even one ruble.

Yanolevitck and bolak

the ghetto.

It was November 1941 when the Germans attacked

I woke up one morning to the pounding sound on the door. It was the German soldiers telling us that we had to get out of our own home. We had one hour to collect belongings and be out in the street. We could only take what we could carry. My mother was in tears she was screaming at us. Wake up, get dressed put things together leaving it was bedlam. My oldest sister Looking my mother asking her what to do husbands they him over and Evelyn said quickly, quickly get your stuff together. We have to go to make him angry don't hurt us does the longest hour that I can ever remember my life with you but with that few belongings. We had to put the two other briefcases and walked out of our home we had occupied for over almost 100 years there we stood in the street with all our neighbors. All the same, all frightened, soldiers were everywhere barking orders, striking people with the butts of their rifles. So, the streets were very muddy it had rained the day before and people kept falling down, young, old men, women and children chaos and fear.

The Germans forced us to March to the center of town. Each family was assigned a room as a family. One room for my mother, three older sisters, their husbands, their four children and I made 10 to one room. I remember walking up 2 flights of stairs is to be in our new home .. The next several months, I kept asking my mother why we had to leave our home and what was to become of us. There was no kitchen in this room, no toilet, and only one bed. Each day, we would huddle in the corner together ( bevaning) crying what is to become of us , what is to become of us. Every room was full of people, anywhere from 7 to 15 people in a room. We had people asking the same questions every day. WHY! What sin did we commit to deserve this treatment? Every morning we had to lineup to receive out allotment of food, a piece of bread and a bucket of water. The men in the building were all forced to go down and dig toilet facilities, (sanitation did not exist in the ghetto and disease spread). Each morning the men were taken to work for the Germans outside the ghetto. Every day posed new challenges, as we found ways to survive, the tormentors found new ways to torment.

The ghetto was surrounded by barb wire and guard posts most of them manned by Jewish workers who the Germans enlisted to guard their own. I would run to the fence to see the world outside the prison that they had made for us. One day a German officers wife saw me and took me out to watch her children Every day she would do this. I took care of the household and watched the children's it was wonderful she would give me some food to bring back. This work provided me and my family some degree of independence and a glimpse of the world. The woman had to be careful because a Jewish woman working for a German in their home was strictly forbidden. The punishment for this would be my death and his imprisonment. This work gave me a chance to steal a little food from the women I would hide it under my dress and share it with my family.

Forced marches to a sub camp kielbasin would take place almost weekly , the Germans would always make us be lead by a fiddler playing Yiddal with a fiddle (Jew with a violin's) they always wanted us to be embarrassed. If you were slow or fell down, or got out of line march you were shot. At Kielbasin When the barracks where full, they march you back to the ghetto. 2 girls that I didn’t know had tried to escape from the ghetto and where caught they were summarily hung to prove a point to us that escape was futile. ( In 1966 I was asked and testified at Nuremberg Trials on this particular event.)

Each day in the ghetto Larry would come and sit with me we would just hold hands very little conversation because there were too many ears in the room. Larry escaped one day on the sanitation truck but returned unnoticed saying there was nothing out there for us. Larry’s mother, father, 2 brothers , their wives and children where all in the ghetto 15 people in their one room. Little did I know what the next chapter was to be. My mother went to the rabbi a few floors down and set up marriage for me. That day the rabbi showed up and my mother said to Larry do you want to marry my daughter, he said of course my mother turned to me and said, a young girl like you needs a protector. In five seconds I was married. Our honeymoon was short lived, Larry just wanted to escape the Ghetto and the Nazi tormentors and I agreed with him. I pleaded with my mother and sister schindel to join us on our attempt to escape. Schindel kept saying look at the sign (Abecht mach Frei) Work makes you free. As we sat there thinking of and how we were to accomplish this goal. The Nazis decided to liquidate the Ghetto On that Friday night the Germans seemed to love to inflict more harm and pain the Sabbath they called us all down to the courtyard split us in to two groups one went on a forced march to kielbacin and the other was forced into the temple. “in November of 1942 more than 2000 of the Jews in Grodno where removed from the ghetto and transported to Auschwitz.” It was the start of the liquidation of the ghetto. January 22, 1943 the ghetto is liquidated. I was with Larry and my mother with the rest of the family all were put on the forced march to the subcamp of Kielbasin. That was the last time I It was the last time either of us saw members of our family. I found out later that they were all transported to Auschwitz

Our group was herded into the temple, hundreds of us, men, women, and children, packed into a house of worship like sardines in a can. Screaming and crying people were throwing up and some praying to –od for salvation. The doors were closed and the Germans started to fire directly into the building. Bullets where flying everywhere one of them struck Larry in the arm went straight thru his arm into the two men directly behind and they dropped dead on the spot. After a short while the Germans emptied the Temple of all that could walk. I held Larry up because they were killing all the wounded. As we started to march I turned to see the Temple ablaze. We were all being forced to march to Kielbacine then to Austwitz . Since it was night I held Larry up his arm bleeding and flaying from the wound. As we walked I saw an opportunity to fall into a ditch beside the road. I gripped him and we both fell in. The German guards did not see us. We laid there for what seemed hours and hours. Just before sunrise we got our selves back up on the road and proceeded back towards town. Because the sun would we up soon we sought shelter in an outhouse. Outhouses where on the sides of the road two or three of them together, we knocked on the door and a voice rang out Hevery(Jew) The door open and inside was a family of three mother father and a son. They too had escaped in the darkness of the night to find there way to the outhouse. We decide to join them in one outhouse rather then occupy two which may have lead to our being found out, so in one outhouse a family of three and Larry and I. Larry was not well it was cold, the loss of blood and I guess he was in shock.

I decided that we needed help to survive so I ventured out. Everyone always told me that I did not look Jewish so I walked to a house nearby. I knocked on the door and told the women that answered that I needed a hat for my sick husband. She looked at me strangely maybe she remembered me from the street or from a dress we had sewn for her. I pleaded with her, for anything she could spare clothing food anything at all. She finally agreed, I left with a hat and some bread. The first bite to eat in days. For the next three days we constantly moved from the outhouse to outhouse so that we would not create a problem. We would take turns saying occupied, again not to arouse suspicion. Larry condition was getting worse he was running a fever; we did not have an medicine. The other couple was still in the outhouse with us the women kept saying that if she had some money that she had a place of safety. I had 20 marks with me and I believed her, so foolishly I gave what little money I had. She said that she would return later with help for Larry, we never saw her again. Larry and I stayed hidden for another two days each day I would forage for food and water danger was always present Larry was not getting better and we had now spent almost a week there.

Larry before the Germans came worked at a bicycle factory and he had many good friends there. One of them Bolak Yanolevich a man the same age as Larry. Larry told me to seek him out and that maybe because they were friends that he would help. I ventured out to his house and knocked on the door, his wife answered and informed me that he would be home within the hour. His wife looked at me with an questioning eye not certain who or what I was or represented. When bolak arrived home he recognized me and told his wife that I was his friend’s wife and he need some help. I explained to him the situation and he listened intently. He said he could do nothing for us but may be his father who lived on a farm onside the city could.

Yanolevich was a polish born American citizen who had returned with his brother to help defend Poland from the German onslaught. During the invasion not only did the Germans kill his brother but also his wife. His bitterness was so extreme he hated the Germans more than his hatred for the Jews. Bolak told me he was sorry we could not stay at Bolak’s house because his wife would turn us in. Bolak told me to go back to where Larry was hiding and come back that evening with him. I walked back to the outhouse slowly so as not to arouse any suspicions. Even though I wanted to run to Larry because at least we had a possibility. As I walked back my mind drifted off to my mother and sisters and there faith. As I mentioned I could easily pass as a non Jew and find refuge anywhere. But! I had Larry.. Here is Larry seemingly half dead waiting in an outhouse, yet he still had enough strength to hold me tight. Larry and I waited till nightfall and left our safe haven. We arrived at Bolak’s house, Larry hid in bushes as I went to get Bolak. Larry and Bolak hugged and he told us that his father had agreed to take us in. Finally a safe place to rest.

As we walked in the streets the three of us Larry walked 10 feet behind us Bolak and I walked in front. I walked with Bolak so that if we were stopped I would not be questioned. Even though the journey to Yanolevich house was not far the trek was difficult, Larry’s wound was not healing and bleeding from time to time. Yanolevich lived in a small 2 bedroom house outside of Grodno. My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry walking on the streets a Jew at this time was dangerous and could have ended three lives in an instant. As we reached the outskirts of the town Bolak and I gripped Larry to help him complete the trek to the farm house. After walking for over an hour we reached our destination bolasen farm house. We all sat in one of the rooms were he had roaring fire going after some discussion he agreed to hide us in his crawl space under the house.

Yanolevich had a small farm, a barn for some of his animals and the crawl space under his house which was surrounded by wire to keep the pigs in that he housed there. His daughter lived in the house with him so in fact three people knew we were there. She was the one we feared the most she had a temper and was known for dating Germans. Her fear of her father keep her in check most of the time. In the house he a grist mill that he used to grind the grain for his neighbors.

Before we could anything we had to fix Larry’s arm. Yanolevich helped me put a cast on it. After a few days Larry temperature was very high and he was very ill. We didn’t realize that when we cast his arm we forgot to leave a drain hole for the pus and he got a terrible infection. He was burning up and we needed a doctor. I left the safety of the crawl space and went back into town. There was a doctor that had lived several hundred yards’ from my home so I went to his house. Larry arm was bad he was shaking we did not have an medicine so I had to venture out. When he saw me in the doorway he tried to shut the door, I stuck my foot in between to keep it open. He said I had to go he was afraid of the retribution. I told him that my husband was sick and that I needed medicine for him. I told him if you didn’t give it to me that I would tell the Germans that he was a collaborator. He told me to go to the back of the house and he would help me. In Europe we did not have pills but were given powder. I waited a moment in the back and he produced several envelopes of medicine he told me that he was giving them toi me and that I would say nothing. I agreed and I ran back to our hiding spot. I gave the medicine to Larry and he finally slept after being up for 48 hours straight. Larry was in such a state that after we ran out of medicine I would put my hand in my pocket and bring out lint and tell him that it was medicine. In his fevered state he believed me and slept. Larry had the ability to sleep any where and at any time

Our hiding area was under the house with pigs that he kept for slaughter. The pigs turned out to be the best watch dogs that were ever created. They would snort wildly whenever anyone approached the house giving us time to crawl into a makeshift hole we had dug to cover us from being seen. During the course of our stay we had several encounters where the pigs save our lives.

One day a very dark cloud came over the house Larry and I were grinding the flour to help. Larry started to feel sick and left the room to use the outhouse Bolasen and I were taking when we heard the pigs start to squeal. My heart stopped Larry was in the outhouse I was in the front room and a German patrol was approaching the farmhouse. My heart started to beat there was no place to hide no place to run. Bolasen opened the oven door and said get in I jumped into the oven he closed the door and an eternity passed by. The oven was still somewhat warm from the bread that was baked in the morning. I heard the Germans walk in they were yelling they were sent out to round up any Jewish strays that escaped.. Yanolevich pulled out a bottle of wine that he had and offered it to them after a few drink s and a few laughs they bid their farewell to Yanolevich. Larry in the outhouse had also heard the pigs squeal and locked the door and waited for them to leave the house. Yanolevich waited several minutes before reopening the oven door and said never again would he allow us in the house it was way to dangerous.

Yanolevich had two children Bolak Larry’s friend and a daughter who was not a nice person , one day Yanolevich went to the field’ s to help his neighbors and left us behind. One chore that we helped him was turning the grist mill to grind the wheat for his neighbors. This faithful day I was grinding on the mill when Yanolevich daughter came in and demanded the dress I had on. She needed a dress for her date with a German Soldier and she had decided it was mine that she was going to wear. I didn’t know what to do, one word from her and Larry and I were dead, so I took it off leaving myself in a slip I had on underneath I didn’t have another dress. I ran back to our hiding place crying. Larry was laying there and he held me in his arms as I cried softly I think this was the last time I ever cried. Yanolevich in the meantime returned from the harvest and saw his daughter in the dress. He asked her where it came from she told him and his anger was unleashed he came to our hiding place with the dress in his hand. He yelled at me for giving my dress to her. He forbid her to ever ask us for anything. She feared him more than anything else. I was afraid to start with him and her, one word and Larry and I were dead he could kill us and no one would even question him.

Even though he had his daughter at home he found her to be a idiot he loved talking with me when Larry and I were in the house helping him grind the neighbors wheat he also had a very large oven to bake their bread for them.

Hours passed, days passed weeks passed all we could do was hide and be at the generosity of Yanolevich. Sitting in the hiding spot day after day turned into boredom. One of the bright spots was that the pig had several piglets and Larry and I took care of them. Neither one of us had ever been on a farm and our knowledge was extremely limited so that the first brood died of malnutrition. We learned that you must hold the piglet to the sows teat for the first few hours because they will only nurse off the same teat.

Larry and I huddled together every moment to stay warm we just had the cloths that we escaped with on . Larry had on 5 pairs of pants 4 shirts and 2 jackets. We could only leave the shelter of the hiding place in the evening to stretch and use the outhouse. Food was scarce for Bolaem and even scarcer for us . Every day had it’s own hardship boredom was the hardest. We could see from time to time some of the neighbors come over to Bolsem house to sit and chat. We listen intently thru the floor boards for whatever news was available. They would talk about the war, the allies. Where they thought the battle was raging. Day after day the same, cold, hunger and fear. There were times that we thought of leaving the relative safety of Yanolevich house and going back to our home. But the knowledge of what was happening in world out side made us stay. And stay we did for almost 18 months during this time I lost my period and Larry and I suffered from massive tooth decay. Malnutrition was taking its toll on both of us. The sound of voices was often our only diversion we had to restore our sanity.

One day Yanolevich came running into the house yelling Sicily umbrage which meant that the allies had taken the Sicily. He said that the Russian’s were advancing on Grodno and that we had to go. He gave us a bottle of wine that he had been saving and asked us to leave. The choice of to stay or go was no longer ours. We hugged and thanked him a million times bottle in hand we went out to find our future. Yanolevich was inducted into Yad Vashim in the late seventies.

As we approached the street we heard the rumbling of trucks and tanks and saw the Russian flag . We stood at the side of road waving and held up our bottle of wine. A transport full of Russian soldiers stopped they were happy with the wine and shared their food with us. Having not eaten in all this months to see bread and jams was heaven we devoured what ever they gave us. We stay with them for the next several days driving and interrupting for them. Their job was to gather food from any source to feed the army ahead. On the fifth day the transport, we drove to the main post for them and as we got off the truck a beaming familiar voice sounded. It was the Russian general who I had worked for before with tears streaming down all our faces we hugged. He said he never would have thought that we would have survived the Nazi’s. He made sure that we had adequate clothing, food, and shelter. Could this be heaven could this be the salvation of Larry and I. The General put me back to work in the job I originally had and Larry was given the job of laborer.

With our new found freedom we walked back to what was our old house. It was occupied by some vagrants who refused to leave the house. We pleaded with them we just wanted to determine if any of relatives had survived and retrieve the few belongings that where hidden. Their refusal to vacate forced us to ask the general to intervine. He immediately issued an order for them to evacuate the house in seven days. They moved out immediately and we walked back into my own home. The feelings were running all over the place did anyone else survive would I see my mother, my sisters their husbands nephews nieces would there be any other member that I would have . Larry too looked dazed all the time we didn’t talk about it we didn’t even cry we just sat and prayed and hoped that another member of our families survived . We survived why couldn’t they. No one made it out of the 40 some odd people that were in the ghetto with us we made it alone . We had each other, we had hope, we had a tomorrow.

I went to work every day at the commissary beceause of the work I did they required that I have a physical. At the physical I found out that I was pregnant and expecting in 5 months. I had lost my period for such a long time in hiding that I did not notice the subtle changes in my body . I was going to have a baby. What was I to do there were no parents around to tell me what I needed to do or how to do it.

Lieb was born the early hours of March 9 over 4kilos close to 10 pounds. Believe it at the hospital across the street from my home the very same one from my youth. We backdated his birthday to March the 8 because it was a holiday in Russia “International Women’s Day”. We thought it would be beneficial to be born on a holiday.

Larry and I longed to have family and be with family BUT! None ever returned. Over the next several months we were approached by various Jewish organizations to leave the Russian zone and find our way to the American sector. Because we could not discuss these offers with anyone we constantly questioned our actions. Here we are new baby a new life new job what should we do. If the Russians had any knowledge that we were contemplating defecting our fate would have been sealed in Siberia. Here I had a good job, with the support of a Russian General and Larry was working also in the kitchen

The agencies begged us to let them bring us to the American sector. I knew I had a sister in America and so we agreed to go with them.

The rest of the story is not from recordings from my mother But rather from her telling me the stories over the years.

One night they gather up about 40 to 50 of us. I was surprised that there were several children they probably came out of orphanages. We traveled at night walking everywhere sleeping in the woods and avoiding all contact with anyone outside our little group. The leaders had accumulated food and water so that we had food. Every couple of days other leaders and individuals would join us in our march to freedom. The majority of our travel was at night. One night my son was very ill and crying uncontrollably and we had to cross the border into Czechoslovakia. They offered me sleeping pills to give him I refused I was afraid. Because of his crying we were left behind and instructed to cross when he was quite and catch up with them. Larry and I were alone again watching them march off into the night. We did not speak Czechoslovakian and we had only a few rubles with us But we were together.

The night pasted uneventful and Larry went out in the morning to a local farm and got some bread. We waited for the cover of darkness to try cross the border. Setting out at dust we started our trek over the mountain, 5 hours into our journey we were caught by border guards. They at least understood Russian and took us in their vehicle to the local police station where we were put in jail. In the next cells where all of our original party. They were also caught the night before.

We all sat there for two days until some one came in and got all of us released. The remainder of our journey was uneventful. Sleeping during the day and travelling at night we finally ended up in Bad Racievcnall Germany at a displaced person camp ( Camp Tivhvah) . Here all the people were the same Jewish survivors. We had regular food and water clean facilities and a hope for tomorrow.

Larry was hired to help teach the men how to us common tools. Many had been in the concentration camps and had lost dexterity. Every day we marched at the camps in support of the creation of Israel. We knew we had to have a country to go to. Europe was not a place for the few Jewish people left alive. But! The world did not want the remnant’s left behind. Every day quotas were issued as to where we could immigrate. One day Russian Jews would be accepted in Canada, one day German Jews could be accepted in Argentina and so it went on a daily basis. Larry and I got married at least 5 times with different nationalities different birthdays. Everyone in the camp did the same thing hoping to shorten their stay and start a new life. We were there approximately 3 and half years then we finally got word that it was the United States and my sister.

A woman in the Bad Reichenhall camp for Jewish displaced persons. Bad Reichenhall, Germany, 1947. Photograph »

It was a 6 week trip I think, all I can say is that we were seasick throughout the voyage. We were on a Liberty ship the SS Ernie Pyle. Seasickness and freedom is what we moved toward. Lester loved the trip he got to eat fresh apples and had the run of the ship. He always made sure to bring back some rations from the commissary. We landed in the United States in January 1950. Arriving in a new land without being able to speak English. A year later my second son was born Sam January 1951. Both a joy and a hardship.

To say that my mother was exceptional is definitely an understatement of biblical proportions. Her love for her two sons is best described by the story she would tell us all the time.

“ Irving a young man wanted to marry a women from a neighboring town. His love and adoration for her seemed to hold no bounds. After many months of courtship she finally agreed to marry him with one stipulation, that he bring his mother heart to her to prove his undying love for her. He was needless to say perplexed and he had to prove his love. He went to his mother and told her the story of what his future bride had asked for. Mother said son you love her that much, take my heart and give it to her. In his hands he now held her still beating heart. Tears running from his eyes he started to return to his future bride. He tripped on his way, as he laid on the ground his mothers voice came through the heart “are you OK my son.”

Private Stories

I have a younger brother Sam 6 years my junior born in this country well I am a little jealous he could have become the President of the United States. When I told him that I was writing Mothers story I asked that he write something about her that I could use in the book. The story below is what I got.

“It was the early 60’s and Bill Cosby was the hottest comedian around. And he was coming to play at the Hynes Center but it was all sold out. Now I always thought Ma was a witch but a good witch in that she could make things happen when they seem impossible. So naturally, I went to her to see if she could get two tickets for my friend Ricky and me for the Friday show. If I remember it was probably Wednesday when I asked her. As always, she said she would see what she could do.

The next day she told me she had stopped on her way home and made arrangements with the Ushers to let us in on Friday. She really found a way. But when we went down on Friday to see the designated Usher, some of the other staff at the facility tried to accommodate us because they had heard my mother earlier and they wanted to help her. Anyway, the Usher escorted us into the theater - the show was sold out and there wasn’t a seat to be had. He brought us right down the middle aisle, about 10 rows from the front and sat us down. As he we walked away, he said tell your mother I took care of you. PS It was a great show.”

Now for my special story

My Mother, my friend ,and my confidant. I could probably list a thousand adjectives and each one would be her. My first memories of her is in the displace person camp in Bad reniald Germany (right near Munich) and Hitler’s summer retreat. There are beautiful mountains and streams lush green everywhere. . Since I was one of the only children amongst hundreds of adults I became the darling of the camp. My mother said that every reached sticker from me (pinching holding ) . I was speaking Jewish and German at that time of my life. I related to all the other refugees in Yiddish. My parents were busy helping other refugees with occupational therapy , the majority of the refugees can out of the concentration camps. My parents had been freed almost a year by the Russians so that they had the ability to provide help to others. That work had the effect of allowing me to run around the camp constantly. We all lived together like a large dorm room each person or family has a section with curtains separating one from the other. She was ill prepared to be a mother, never mind raise a child. As a new infant she feed me chocolate that the American soldiers gave her. Imagine a 9 month old being feed chocolate. Well that just the start of things, I was circumcised when I was four. In Jewish tradition it is usually the 8th day is the optimal day to do that But when I was born there were no moles around.

My mother had the infinite ability to read and understand people she knew how to make things happen she knew how to create a tomorrow. While in the camp we waited for the immigration to anywhere with baited breatrh. The war stripped my parents of their identity, they had no papers, no identification. Really a few photos that they saved a distant memories of the worst days of what they felt was their lives. Each week would bring a challenge to my parents. Quotas were set,by each country’s and every morning they would print what countries would be willing to accept a Jew and under what circumstances . So my parents would get married and new documentation from a different nationality every week. would be created . So one week we were Polish Jews,( which is funny since that is what we were) the next week we were Romanian Jews and so on. And so are lives where constantly in a flux . The original spelling of our last name was “Grozalski:” they told my parents to change it to Grozalsky which would identify us as Jews. Then they told them about Social Security and age requirement so my parents made themselves older so that they could collect. So if someone went to check the records they would find some children older than their parents.

After the first seven I stopped giving them wedding presents.  Since we were in a displaced person camp in Germany I basically spoke German with my parents, mixed with Yiddish.  Considering that my mother spoke 5 languages at the time they had plenty of room to cover what ever it was that they wanted to say so I would not understand.  My best expression was ‘Mudel itch een neifght suldick’  (Mother I am not to blame) can you imagine what I must have been doing…  Through even this adversity my mother found strength to teach me, give me values, respect for human live, love and understanding.  She was deadly afraid to talk to outsiders so every day I would hear a segment of her life watch her cry and try as a child could to consol her.  My father was busy teaching teenagers and young adults who came out of the camps how to handle simple tools and rally for Isreal indendence. .   Finally we got accepted to immigrate to the United States.  We transported on a Liberty ship the SS Ernie Pile and landed in Ellis Island March or April 1950.  Both my parents were ill from the crossing But I loved every part of it, imagine fresh fruit every day hot meals and both parents sick in bed I had the run of the ship life was good. 

We moved to Chelsea a suburb of Boston not a melting pot like Dorchester and Mattapan where all t european jews went to but to a true blue collar neighborhood where only English was spoken. If I thought I was bad kid in the DP camp this section of Chelsea was mine I fought every kid older younger made no difference the parents lined up to complain to my mother who at that time spoke very little English But she listened politely to there lament. Here we are in a strange new world both my parents foun d jobs 3 each day and night they had the desire to make it to provide educate and grow a family from the burnt out past. Just to demonstrate one story that I never told, I was embarrassed to tell anyone. I was about 12 years old this is several years since entering the country and I could speak English very well I was having a problem with two older catholic boys at school. I didn’t want to go to school and I refused my mother looked me in the eye and said your going don’t even differently by the way that was in three different languages. I finally broke down and told her what was going on and she told me not to worry. The next day she went to school not to the principal’s office not to the guidance office, she stood in the door way waiting for the two tormentors. Since I had described them she pick them out of the hundreds of children streaming by and asked them to step aside. I was across the street . my heart pounding in my mouth not knowing how this was to turn out. She talked with them for a few moments and they smiled the two worst kids at school actually smiled and mother with a smile on her faced walked towards me. Everything’s all right in perfect broken English go to school they won’t bother you. My mother facing adversity was not a new trait she knew how to handle things when others mouths go dry and their hearts beat in their chest she is calm and collected. We never ever spoke of that incident again, I was never harassed by them or any other older boy in that school.

I guess that my mothers strong suit was strength . As a youngster I really tested her metal. Over the years I relied on her strength and advise No I didn’t take it all . Like all young people at the time I knew better. A trait I am sorry to say somewhat carries over to my adulthood. Her strength helped my father establish his own business, and created a future for my brother and I. As I look over the years and remember the trials they went thru the uphill battles they fought I am amazed at the foundation that they built.


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Sofia Grozalski's Timeline

Grodno, Grodna District, Belarus
March 9, 2016
Age 94
Westford, Ma, United States