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  • Jane

Such a Real Real Dream

With mum in The Hut. 2019.



I can't believe that it was for me. My dream.

From War.

I had a boyfriend...he was such a lovely boy.

I am saying thank you - that I am here, alive, with you, with the family. It is what is important.

Jane: Tell me about Kuba.

Mum: You know...Yashi - he look exactly like Kuba.

Jane: And you loved Kuba?

Mum: He loves me very much....for me, he went to a worker's camp, and for me he died.


I don't like to remember too much

***




In 2008 mum used to come to my home weekly to tell me her stories from the war when she was a teenager. I would video her and record her story. Here is an excerpt where she talks about Kuba:


Kuba


'I was fifteen years old and he was sixteen.


As an only child, my parents tried to do their best for me. I went to a private school from the beginning. A Catholic school, of course. When I entered sixth grade they put me into a Jewish school for one year. Our high school in Zgierz, Stanislaw Stasic, was one of the most highly rated in Poland and there were very strict entry exams. Thirteen children from my Jewish school took the exams and only three passed, two boys and me. I had been well prepared by a tutor.

My high school years were happy ones. I was active in sport and well-assimilated into Polish society but now, I was referred to as ‘one of them’ (a Jew). I began to hear terrible anti-Semitic remarks. Whenever they discussed Poland, sooner of later they were blaming the bloody Jews for having taken over commerce. Any problem, it was always the Jews and that sooner or later they would have to leave the country and go to Palestine.


I listened, and I was growing up, sitting on a fence between the (to me) artificial Jewish ghetto of the core religious people such as Mr Brzeziski and my Polish upbringing. For instance, when coming home from school, Jewish children always walked a whole mile detour to their homes to avoid the Polish hooligans waiting for them, to beat them up and throw stones.


In my street there lived a strong man, a butcher I think he was. His three boys were always sitting in the gutter around 3.00, just when the Jewish kids were coming home, waiting to beat them up. One day, when I was about thirteen, I decided to take a cricket bat and as they sat in the gutter waiting, I ran out and whacked them all hard in the head. Then I ran back home and crawled under the bed. I wasn’t such a great hero. It wasn’t long before the boys’ father was at our door, shouting. My parents didn’t know where I was or what I had done. “She nearly killed my boys! Blood was running from their heads!” But after that, when I walked down one side of the street, they always made sure they kept to the other.


Whenever my girlfriend Leosia or one of the other children was in trouble they ran into our doorway and called out for me: ‘Marta! Marta!’ That was the shortest way to say my name. One day our housekeeper was chopping meat when the children called me. As I passed the kitchen I grabbed her cleaver and ran out into the street with it. Fortunately, the bad children ran away, because I could have killed someone.


I arrived at school early one day, because we had exams. It was wintertime and I sat behind the big tiled oven at school, going over the material on which we were to be examined. As the other students arrived they talked among themselves. They didn’t know I was behind the stove. I heard one girl say: ‘Hey you, Jan. Hadn’t you better choose another girlfriend than this Jewish Marysia?’ We were at the age when friendship is a kind of romance.


In the winter of 1938 I then decided to join one of the Jewish youth groups. I knew one of the groups met in a little house in a back garden. I had no idea about political affiliations, it was something I didn’t understand. I didn’t know there were workers parties and capitalists – they were all Jews to me. As it happens, the group I asked to be allowed to join turned out to be Hashomer Ha’tza’ir. They held summer camps, and the leaders, who were about eighteen or nineteen years old, came to my mother to ask if I could join the camp. The leaders promised my mother that I would get the best food three times a day and proper care, but my tent leaked right over my head on our first night, when it poured with rain. We played different games and discussed things. I bloomed in that summer camp. I met the flower of Jewish youth and absorbed their ideas and aspirations. We played a lot of sport and I was good at sport.


I went to both a summer and a winter camp and it was at the latter I met my first love. Kuba Skopicki. We already knew each other superficially from the summer camp. He was a very good-looking boy and was always surrounded by good-looking girls. I was very timid because I didn’t really know that crowd, but after a while Kuba started to come over and talk to me. The other girls were very jealous. I wasn’t a beauty but I was a good-looking sporty girl.


At that camp he kissed me for the first time. He was very devoted to me. Kuba lived in Lodz and came to visit me often in Zgierz. We went for long walks in a little forest where, between nature, we kissed many more times. They were unforgettable moments in my budding years.


Then the war broke out. There was a police barrier at Radogosz, between Lodz and Zgierz. Trams were often stopped and people were taken away for interrogation. But through the first month of war Kuba never hesitated to come and see me. Sometimes he slept at our place because it was too dangerous for him to go home and there was no telephone. On those nights we went out into the yard and, with the stars shining above us, we kissed. He was a beautiful young man with a beautiful nature, tall with straight blonde hair brushed back and blue-green eyes. Kuba had a lovely younger brother and also a younger sister.


One third of our town was Polish, one third Jewish and the other third were German. The Germans didn’t need to come over the border to our town, because all the high positions had been in German hands for a long time. But we didn’t know they were Volksdeutsche until after the invasion when they all came out as Germans, especially in our town. I already told you of how my mother’s masseur who worked at the covered swimming pool was the one who came to throw us out of our home. My mother was a good swimmer. One moment we had a nice life. Next thing we were on the highway, not knowing where to go.


On 1 May 1944 we moved into the Lodz Ghetto, which was then closed. My mother’s parents lived in Warsaw and we could have gone there but I was begging my mother to go to Lodz instead, because Kuba was there. Whenever she discussed where to settle I was pushing for Lodz. We saw each other again in the ghetto. My father was on the committee of the Jewish orphanage and another member of that committee became the head of the ghetto - Chaim Rumkowski. When we arrived he gave us a small house with a little garden on the border of the ghetto, in Marysin. Part of the house was home to a tiny little man with an invalid wife and a lovely daughter. The rest of the house and the garden belonged to the three of us.


Kuba was also living with his parents. There was a cellar in our kitchen where my uncle (Zelik Szerakowski) stored black radishes from his fields. His wife (Franya Messing/Szerakowski) was a half-sister to my mother, a daughter from a previous marriage. This uncle then put a big padlock on the cellar door. Slowly we got hungrier and hungrier in the ghetto, with these hundreds of kilos of radishes just inside our cellar. Kuba decided that he was going to break the padlock, but how? He did so by loosening the screws at one end of the plate holding the padlock and a few times a week he went in and took out a few radishes, which we sold for something to eat. Afterwards he put the screws back in and nobody could tell that the door had been opened.


Eventually, our greedy uncle noticed some radishes were missing and removed all the remaining radishes. By then it was winter 1942, a very heavy winter. People were dying all around and they were desperate for food and fuel. They began to cut down the trees in the ghetto. One night we woke up and found people had started to break down our wooden garden fence in order to burn it and the next day they started to break up our little wooden house.


My father was so very hungry and when they started to dismantle our house, that’s when he began to steal our very meagre rations from us. My mother decided at last, that in such terrible circumstances and with my encouragement, that she would leave him.


The relationship between my parents had never been good. I was never really told about why my mother, who had come from such a cultured and elegant home in Warsaw, ended up marrying and living in a little provincial town like Zgierz. My guesses as to what had happened are based on remarks I heard: that my mother had had a fiancé in Warsaw and there was some family intervention from his side. He broke the engagement. I think he was Jewish and of the same social level as my mother. In desperation, she then married my father.


Meanwhile, every day the Germans issued a new law, but quietly. It was still early days in the Lodz Ghetto and they were calling for young men to volunteer for work in Germany. They were told that their wages would be paid to their families in the ghetto and each man can officially decide who should receive the money. Realising our situation, Kuba volunteered, arranging for half his wages to be paid to his mother and the other half to my mother. Then he left to work on building railway tracks. We received only one or two payments and then there was nothing. Most probably he was killed.


For me, Kuba was like my father. He was always taking care of me, so beautifully and for such a short time but the memories of him are still with me'.




A year later, in our hut. Mum is still reminiscing about her first love, Kuba.