South Carolina Council on the Holocaust

“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”

--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

The Survivors' Stories -- A Virtual Library

RENEE . . . .

The first thing the Nazis did in the ghetto was to form a Judenrat (U-Den-Rot) which means a Jewish council or committee. The Germans told the council what they wanted and its members carried out their orders. SS officers would tell them we need so many thousands of zlotys, the Polish currency. This money had to be collected from the people in the ghetto. Another job of the committee was to supply men for Nazi work projects. Later the SS came to our houses and picked up young men right off the streets. They put them to work digging ditches and cleaning the streets and apartments of Germans. They did all kinds of hard, physical labor. Next younger girls and boys had to go to work also. They picked us up in the morning and brought us back at night.

At this time, my school ended too -- end of everything. We had to move from our apartment to my grandparents' house. Their house was in the part of town where the ghetto was formed. The Nazis also brought a lot of people to Kozenice from smaller towns all around. Apartments were impossible to get. We were lucky. We stayed with my grandparents.

We lived from day to day. There were no paying jobs. Nobody could work. We had nothing to do, nothing. Within the ghetto, we formed a committee to help the poor. A lot of people that came to the ghetto were very poor. Somebody was always at the door crying for food. The poor couldn't feed their children. Twice a day, some of us mixed formulas and gave it to the poor children. But it wasn't enough. The children ate potato and onion peelings from the trash. They ate anything they could get. Children were the first victims. After a while they closed the ghetto to outsiders and kept us inside. We couldn't get out, and even inside the ghetto there was a curfew.

One day, my father was warned by friends in the ghetto to get out of town because the SS were going to arrest him. We had an aunt in Warsaw, so my father and I went to Warsaw. My mother and my brothers stayed at home. Shortly after we arrived, my aunt was warned that she had three weeks to get out of her apartment and move to the Warsaw ghetto.

We went out with my aunt one afternoon to rent an apartment in the section where the ghetto was going to be. When we came back to my aunt's apartment, we couldn't get in. Whatever we had on was ours, and that was it. We had to move to the Warsaw ghetto. At that time the Warsaw ghetto was still open. We could stay outside until 6:00 P.M. A few weeks later, however, the Judenrat spread the word that the Warsaw ghetto would soon be closed. So my father and I came back to Kozenice.

My family stayed in the Kozenice ghetto until 1941. We didn't starve, but whatever we had we sold to buy potatoes and bread. My father sold his gold watch. Anyone who had a piece of silver, sold it. Polish people were eager to buy it because we had to sell it so cheaply.

Renee in the Labor Camp

In 1941 Renee was taken from the Kozenice ghetto to a labor camp in a Polish town called Skarzysko (Scar-Jess-Ko). In this camp, the men and women were separated. Renee worked in an ammunition factory. She and her mother stayed in this camp for three years. They were able to keep Renee's younger brother with them. Next they were sent to the Polish city of Czestochowa (Chest-Ta-Hoe-Va). In this reading she tells about her life there.

In 1944 when the Russians started coming into Poland, the Nazis moved the ammunition factory I was working in to a camp in a Polish city farther from the Russian front and closer to Germany. The factory made parts for machines that made bullets. I worked on one of these machines. The type of work I did was one of the things that saved me. I was not a very strong person, physically. If I had been forced to work fourteen or fifteen15 hours a day, I would never have lived through it. But they picked me to do a job that was very precise, and I was not allowed to work more than eight hours a day.

We had to be at work at seven o'clock in the morning. But we came out of the barracks at five o'clock because they began the roll call then. They were counting and counting and counting. We had to stand in the snow for hours. If one person was missing, they started the count over from the beginning. We didn't sleep in beds. They had bunk beds, three rows high. The beds were just boards with straw on them.

We had soup twice a day. They gave us some dried turnip cooked in water and once a day a slice of bread. We'd get a small loaf of bread for ten people. How can you slice ten slices exactly to the crumb? Maybe once a week a little pat of margarine. That was it -- lunch, dinner, and breakfast.

To survive we had to look presentable. At the time we didn't have any clothes except what we wore. But we tried to have our hair combed and put a little bit of lipstick on because if you looked bad or tired, that was the end of us. In the morning when we came out, they counted each person and looked at our faces. If you didn't look good, out you went. We never saw those people again.

We had to wash our hair to keep it looking clean, but we didn't have any hot water so we washed it with warm coffee. If we had to wash our hair, we didn't drink the coffee. We saved it. We washed our hair because if our hair was not clean, they cut it off. In the camp we had a wash room. We didn't bathe there. We could just brush our teeth and wash our faces and a little of our bodies. They took us to a shower once a month.

As a part of my job, I used a crayon to measure the openings in the machine in which the bullets were made. I wore cotton gloves for this work. We received new gloves every day, so I was able to make a little collar out of the old gloves. I pinned it on my dress, combed my hair, and used the crayon for lipstick.

The only time we were happy is when we had to go to the bomb shelter when the Allies were bombing. The Germans were petrified, but we had nothing to lose. Anything would be better than what we had.

Renee is Liberated

I was liberated in January 1945. All day bombs fell. The Russians were bombing. The German guards opened up the barracks and told us to come with them. I knew that if I went and got my brother, they'd take him right away from me because boys and girls were being separated. So I dressed him like a girl. We stayed in the barracks. There were a lot of Jewish policemen in the camp. The Germans sent a Jewish policeman into the barracks to make sure everyone got out. The policeman came into the barracks and told us in German, "Raus, Get Out." Then in Polish he would say, "Don't move. Stay."

From this I knew that if we went with them, they would take my brother away from me and they would kill us. I thought, "Well I'm not going anywhere." We sat in the barracks for a few hours. It was very quiet.

Then all of a sudden the policeman came back. He said, "They're all gone." So we came out of the barracks. We were so trained to be pushed around that we marched in groups of eight. We walked until we came to the end of the camp. We looked around and there were no Germans with us. Near the barracks there were houses where the German commanders lived. We went there, but the houses were empty. The Germans were in such a hurry to leave, their dinner was still on the table.

The next day we didn't see anybody. We didn't know where to go or what to do. A Polish policeman came and warned us to get out of there. He thought the Germans had mined the camp and it might blow up. We went out, but there was nowhere to go. No friendly soul. No friendly Poles. I remembered that my parents and my grandparents used to say that after World War I people couldn't find each other for such a long time. They always told us, that if anything like that happened again, and we survived, come home. So we went home.

We went back to Kozenice, but there was nothing to come home to -- no family, nobody we knew, no food, nowhere to work. We went to the house that we used to live in. This house was empty because the Germans had been using it for an office. We moved into the kitchen because it was the one room we could heat. I went to my grandparents' old house and tore off some boards so I could heat the house. We stayed there.

But a few weeks later the story started all over again. Too many Jews had come back. The Polish people started killing Jews in small towns. In a little town not far from where we were, two sisters, that I was in camp with got killed by Polish villagers.

We had nothing to eat. To live there was unbearable. Every corner, every place I went reminded me of somebody. Everything we had was taken except a few pictures. So we decided to go to a larger Polish city called Lodz. We stayed there a few months, and then we went back to Germany to the displaced persons camp in Stuttgart. In the camp, I wrote a letter to my uncle in Charleston. With the help of Governor James F. Byrnes, my uncle was able to get us to the United States in 1947.