As the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz approaches, we slowly get further away from the horrors of the Holocaust; the survivors, sadly, are slowly dying out. It is my duty as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to make sure their story lives on, so that with confidence I am able to say Never Again.
My grandfather Josef Glaser grew up in Poland, in a town called Wolbrom. This was a religious community, and like the others in the town, his family was religious as well. He grew up with his parents and his 12 other siblings. His father was the shochet of the town, which was the person who would killed the animals in a specific way to ensure that they were kosher. Though his story of the Shoah, the hebrew name for the holocaust, did not really start until he was 16, right before the Rosh Hashanah of 1942, when all the Jews in Wolbrom were rounded up and were forced into the town square and they were not permitted to leave for 3 days and 3 nights. All the women and young children were separated from the men and sent on trains to death camps. Josef's mother, sisters and youngest brother were sent away and that was the last time he ever saw them.
Josef and his brothers were sent to a ghetto called Stalova Wola, near a small city called Sandomietch, which contained an iron factory that produced ammunition. Josef's father left to Krakow to try and help Josef's other brother Benjamin who was studying in a Yeshiva.
On the Shabbat before Yom Kippur of 1942 Josef's older brother Mendel escaped the ghetto fleeing to Sandomeitch, to stay with distant relatives. His reason for leaving was because he was not allowed to celebrate the Shabbat before one of the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion, so he thought that if he could not celebrate Shabbat then there would be no way to celebrate Yom Kippur. Mendel smuggled a letter to the ghetto explaining to Josef and his brothers how to escape and they all met up with Mendel in Sandomietch.
Though the day they got to Sandomietch they found out that the next day there was going to be a selection of Jews to go to work camps. One of the distant relatives was on the Jewish Police of that town and forged work documents for them so they would not be sent to the labor camps.
With those work documents Josef and his brothers decided to go back to their house in Wolbrom, though while they were there the Germans had another liquidation of Wolbrom so Josef and his brothers decided to go to the town where their father was born called, Chenstechova.
From Chenstechova, Josef and his brothers tried to pay someone to smuggle them across the border into Hungary. The smuggler sold them out and they were caught by the Germans and taken to Auschwitz in 1944. While there, they were mistakenly marked as political prisoners, and they were put to work instead of being sent to die. Joef was sent to Mathausen where he worked in the Guzen II mines, which he said was the worst part of the whole experience for him. Josef was tattooed with the number 130809 and in records he was identified as a Polish Jew. Josef was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945.
My grandmother Ruth, though her original name was Rachel, barely ever spoke of her experience, finding it too difficult to tell anyone what happened and now it is too late to illicit any stories from her. Though, she did give a few details and share a few stories so I am able to piece her story together
She was born in Lodz, Poland to modern orthodox (for the time) parents. Her father owned a kosher catering hall. Ruth was the 2nd youngest out of 9 children. When she was young they moved into the Lodz ghetto, Ruth did not even get to finish the 3rd grade. She remembers that in the ghetto her and her family lived on 16 Rembrandstrasse, which in English is 16 Rembrant Street. Ruth would often tell stories about growing up in ghetto, saying she was never a good student but excelled at sports and was even the captain of her dodgeball team. Ruth, a tomboy, would always after school go outside to the square and play ball with the boys after school. If the boys would pick on her she would often times grab the tail of one of the rats in the ghetto and swing it around so they would no longer bully her.
While in the ghetto, Ruth and her family suffered from illness and hunger. Ruth's father died in the ghetto of what was listed as starvation and shwartzewase, which is cholera, which he probably contracted from drinking dirty water.
Ruth and her family were in the Lodz ghetto until 1944 when her and her 3 other sisters were taken to Auschwitz. Ruth's sisters put makeup on her and made her wear heels in order for her to look older so she would be selected for work.
When arriving at Auschwtiz, Ruth and her sisters were separated from their mother, and their mother was sent to the gas chambers. After the selection Ruth and her sisters were sent to get their hair cut and deloused. The only story from within the camp that Ruth would ever talk about was that process. First they were told they had to take off their clothes put them in a pile because they were told they were getting uniforms, then they were sent to get their hair cut off. Ruth had curly golden blonde hair that was shaved off, in what she describe as a quick but violent manner, when rejoined her sisters after the haircut they all made fun of her and said she looked like a boy.
After that there is not much else known about Ruth's story, except that she was liberated from Bergen-Belson in 1945.
At this point is where Ruth's and Josef's stories intersect. Both Josef and Ruth after their liberations were sent to a displaced persons camp in Bari, Italy and that is where they met. Ruth, 17, and Josef, 18, met and married within the displaced persons camp. While in the camp people from the Jewish Agency were passes to travel to then Palestine on a boat called Ahyelet.
The boat was over crowded and during their journey the passengers ran out of food and water. Josef often times found himself having to hold Ruth back from jumping off the ship. The boat finally arrived in Acco after breaking the British blockade because the area was still under the British Mandate at the time.
After the arrival they had a daughter named Rivka, or Rebecca in English, and Josef fought in the 1948 War of Independence (which has many stories of their own). After the war The Glasers: Josef, Ruth (who was pregnant), and Rebecca moved to Bolivia, where Ruth gave birth to a son (my father), his name was Mauricio. Within 9 months they moved to Argentina where Rebecca and Mauricio grew up.
Often times when learning about the Holocaust it is easy to think of the victims as mere characters in a story, but we must not forget that this was real. People, not only Jews, were persecuted because of their race, religion and sexual preference and for years the world turned a blind eye and let a systematic genocide of a people take place. Though it seems like a distant past, a mere 70 years has gone by. This is no ancient or biblical story, we must not let the Holocaust turn into a mere history lesson like the inquisition. We must get as many survivor stories and first hand accounts as possible before it is too late.
For me it is too late to get anymore stories from my grandparents and that is something I regret every single day. I promise to get off my soapbox in a moment, but let me just say one last thing. Learn, educate, visit, do whatever you can to make sure that the atrocities of the Holocaust do not become just another chapter in a text book.
Links to Josef's brothers:
Sadly I have yet to find records of Ruth or her family.