My father was not a Lubliner, but he lived in Lublin and the surrounding area from
1940 until 1946. I remember his loving soft gray eyes as he so often looked towards me saying, "mein teiere eintzige tochter" – “My only precious daughter”. Ever since my childhood, I remember him as thin and prompt, efficient, skillful and industrious.
He loved books, animals and nature. A keen gardener, he, together with my mother, cultivated a beautiful garden. We always had flowers at home, “a house without flowers is like a home in mourning," he would say.
He adored Yiddish literature and had books written by Shalom Alechem, Shalom Ash, Yud Lamed Peretz and Mendele Mocher Sfarim as well as books on Jewish art and other subjects. When I was a little girl every evening he would read a passage from Shalom Alechem, the author he loved the most. The Polish authorities forbade us from taking art works and books with us when we left Poland for Israel but he could not part from his beloved books and daringly "smuggled" out some books hidden in my piano.
Father cared for me as I was the apple of his eye. When he was young he had been a soccer player, a swimmer and gymnast, yet he shielded me from any physical effort.
He did not teach me to swim – out of fear that I might drown. When we did "swam" together he insisted that I hold tightly onto his neck and he carried me on his back.
He would have wrapped me in cotton-wool if he could.
We had the same, unchanging, ritual every day when he returned home from work.
After putting his bag away and washing his hands he kneeled on the floor so that I
could climb on his back and we “rode” – galloping happily until we were both tired.
He owned an old shiny JAWA motorcycle which he maintained with his own hands.
On holidays and on weekends we drove to the woods and parks of Lower Silesia.
Daddy driving, mummy in the back seat and I squeezed between them. Fila, our
dog, rode along in a rucksack on mummies back. Twice a week my father's friends
came to play chess and mummy served tea and cakes.
I had a beautiful early childhood. My parents were happy with me and I was the focus of their attention.
Less marvelous was when both of my parents shouted during their sleep. Screams of fear. The answer to my questions was always "daddy or mummy had a bad dream” and never more.
Sometimes when I was out, they would speak quietly. When I entered the room I felt their sadness. Sometimes I saw that one or the other had tears in their eyes. When they heard me both suddenly became quiet. Father would say, "shah, dos kind" – "hush the child”.
The expressions on their faces changed to smiles and their discussion immediately stopped.
By the time the war was over father was wounded; his injuries received in battles with the partisans against the Nazis. Also, the years of hunger made their mark on his health. He recovered after his homecoming and life returned to normal.
We arrived in Israel in December 1956 and were sent to the north, far away from Tel-Aviv. My father was sure that as he had survived the holocaust, and being a good worker, he could contribute his knowledge and skills and be active in building the country. But there was not enough work for the "local" people, let alone the newcomers in the area where we lived and this too played its part in worsening his health. In spite of their poor financial situation, my parents did everything they could to prevent any harm from coming to me.
Every Purim festival they made a costume for me. One year, for example, I was a doll in a box. My father built a cardboard box with a cover to fit my measurement exactly. Of course my costume won the first prize. Another year when I was dressed as a painter he made a wooden easel and a hat in the shape of a palette. Then I also won a prize.
Before the Eichman trial police officers from the Nazi Crimes Investigation squad came to our home. It was then for the first time that I heard what my parents had gone through during the holocaust. Then I began to understand their "bad dreams" and the outcries at nights. Finally, due to his bad health, my father could not testify at the trial.
In 1965 my father was summoned to testify against a Nazi criminal, the commander of Lipowa 7, the Jewish Prisoner of War (POW) concentration camp and I traveled to Germany with him.
My father Pinchas Zyskind was born in Dubno. His father was the administrative manager of the Jewish hospital in town. His mother died when he was one year old and his father died when he was twelve. He was apprenticed to a local tinsmith. He was independent from an early age and ran a workshop together with two partners. After he completed his service in the Polish army he intended to marry is fiancé before Rosh Hashana 1939 and built a house by himself that they would live in together.
When WW2 started he was recruited into the army reserves, and, during the fighting, was captured and sent to a Stalag in Germany. At the end of 1940 he was sent from Germany to Lublin and then to Lipowa 7 camp. Life in the camp was hell: the Germans treated the Jewish Prisoners of War as ordinary Jews and not POW's.
One day while taken to work, 55 prisoners ran away. In retaliation the Germans increased their terror and hung 15 men. An additional 300, including my father, were sent to the Majdanek extermination camp where he languished for three months and 6 days.
As he was a skilled craftsman they sent him back to the Lipowa 7 camp.
After a while he began to work outside the camp. Escorted by two armed Ukrainians he left the camp for work every morning and returned in the evening. Working outside he was able to smuggle some food into the camp.
With time an underground was established. Father had connections to the Polish underground. His outside work at that time was covering roofs with tarpaper. He built a bucket with a double bottom and knowing that the Germans checked everything for contraband he partially filled the bucket with tar. The Germans stirred the tar inside the bucket with a stick but found nothing suspicious. In this way, he, together with a few friends, managed to smuggle 38 pistols, 3500 bullets and 80 grenades into the camp.
Jewish women who worked in the Plage Laskiewicz camp (the Flugplatz) sorting the clothes of murdered Jewish victims supplied a portion of the money to buy the arms. They threw little packages containing money, jewels and gold coins which they found inside the clothes over the wire fence which my father and his friends collected. Some of the women paid for this with their lives. Unfortunately, the POWs did not succeed in carrying out the uprising that they had planned.
My father's friend, Chaim Chalef, told me that my father always tried to help his friends. Chaim was an artist, a sculptor and a painter. He engraved little pictures in wood and my father exchanged them for bread. Also some SS officers had their portraits engraved which they sent to their wives. In the camp Chaim met and fell in love with a beautiful girl from Lublin. In 1942 she was sent to death together with her entire family. Chaim survived, went to Australia, married and had a son. He was a close friend of the painter Josl Bergner. In the sixties he made aliyah, lived in Jerusalem and continued his creative work. After my father's death I continued the connection with Chaim whom I found to be a sensitive and warm person. He never forgot his beloved from Lublin.
My father told me about Leiser Klepacz of Dobno, the brother of his close friend Itzhak. Leizer was an athlete and weight lifter. He could not bear the hunger in the camp. Once, out of desperation, he bit his hand. The wound became infected and, as he was not able to work, the Nazis shot him.
After he escaped the from Lipowa 7 camp, my father joined the partisans in the Parczew woods under the command of Yeger. The chief commander was Yehiel Grinspan. The partisans did what they could to harm the German war effort; bombed trains and vehicles and ambushed the Germans.
Father's friends told me about his courage and his tendency to volunteer as much as he could. Once, together with a friend, he volunteered to deliver food for women and children hidden in a bunker in the woods. On their way back they were spotted by the Germans and in the battle that developed his friend was badly wounded, and subsequently lost his leg, and my father was injured in his leg and hand.
In the partisan camp there was also another couple from Dubno, Motaleh Abarbanel, his wife and their four year old daughter. Motaleh refused to send them to the bunker with the other women and children so that the family was always together. He always carried his daughter on his back. Miraculously they survived. After the war their son, Nathan, was born. Their daughter became a doctor who worked at the Afula hospital for years.
My father’s two sisters were both murdered in Dubno together with their husbands and children. His fiancé and two brothers were also killed by the Germans. Another brother of his went to Palestine before the war.
When the Germans were defeated and the Red Army came to Lublin, all the partisans from the area received uniforms and arms and were posted to keep order in town. Father was in charge of those who manned the checkpoints. One day, close to the curfew he saw a woman, wearing a large Polish Peasant type shawl, approaching the bridge. She told him that she and her family had arrived in Lublin and that she had gotten lost. He looked into her dark eyes and asked: "Amchu?" (a word by which Jews from all over the world recognize themselves). "Amchu" she replied. After few months they married in Lublin…
The war ended for my parents on 22nd July 1944 and my mother left her hiding place with a Polish man who had saved her life after she had run away from the concentration camp in Lublin. That same day she volunteered to work in a Soviet military field hospital. When the hospital moved to the front she went to a nearby Polish village and worked as a cow herder for a Polish peasant. When she felt that the place was not safe enough, she left in the direction of Lublin.
My father was a humanist all his life. The atrocities he went through did not change his view that people are basically good, with only a minority being wicked. He believed in equality and justice. If he saw an ant on the floor, he never stepped on it but lifted it onto a newspaper and threw it into the garden.
He believed, even during the most difficult moments of his illness, that he would overcome his sickness. At the end of his days when he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, he used to say; "If Hitler did not succeed in killing me, no illness will!"
I remember the night before the amputation of his leg. It was one month before my wedding. I sat with him in the hospital and he did not stop singing the Yiddish song of the Jewish partisans: " Don’t ever say that you go your last way…" The doctors told me that if he survived the operation, he had one year to live. My father lived five more years.
My father’s most important request was to attend the wedding of his only daughter.
He did. His friends from the camp and partisans were his special guests.
When my father died in 1976, at the age of 64, his granddaughter was 3 years old and his grandson was 2 months old.
I conduct my life as he asked me to do. Never to bargain with craftsmen and never return a hand, which is stretched out to me, empty.
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