Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Barbara Schechter Cohen - May 1, 2002

Knowledge of the War

Um, how much did your mother tell you about the war?

A lot. I mean, I know that there were uh, uh, parents that didn't talk about the war, but both my parents talked a lot about the war.

So were the three of you together from '41, from the time of your birth until the end of the war?

No. My mother and I were separated from my father. Uh, he was able to get forged papers that we were uh, Poles. And uh, they decided that it was too risky to be together as a family. So my mother was able to get a work as a German farm hand. They needed laborers in Germany. And uh, she and I went to Germany.

Where in Germany?

Uh, Durnholz, it's near Vienna.

It's in Austria.

Austria, mm--hm.

Durnholz. And uh, and they assumed she was Polish, a Polish essentially slave laborer.


And she had blue eyes like yours?

Yeah and she had blonde hair. And she also spoke fluent German. Fluent.

What did your father do?

My father was a lawyer. He uh, graduated uh, the university in--around 1936.

And your mother?

And my mother was a bookkeeper.

Right, you said that.


Um, but what had she told you about the war? I assume you can't remember very much, do you remember anything at all from the war years?

Well, it gets sort of confused from what she's told me and you know, uh, if I can remember anything. But I feel like I can't...

So what has she told you?

remember. So uh, uh, sh...what has she told me. She, she considers the fact that, that surviving with a child is like a miracle because she knew women that left their children in front of the church door and left, you know. Or, or uh, you know, gave their children away. But she was determined that she was not going to give me away. That she wasn't going to go into the ghetto. In fact, uh, she and my dad uh, made a pact that they were going to take their uh, armbands off. And, you know, a...that the fact that they could get forged papers that, that helped somewhat.

So they at first wore ar...wore the armband.

Yeah, at first they did wear armbands.

Uh, but she never got--she wasn't in a ghetto you said. Your father must have been in a ghetto if he was in Krakow.

Uh, he left Krakow though.

Oh, before the ghetto.

Before the ghetto, yeah.

Okay, um...

And went to Stanis...Stanisławów.

So what were the circumstances under which um, she wound up being a laborer? Do you know how that happened?

Um, I guess they--my mother went to the uh, church, because I guess they come with trucks regularly with bullhorns and they gather the people who want to work in Germany as laborers. And she went there with me and she was uh, went on the truck and um, um, she had a lot of difficulty in Germany ta...trying to take care of me as an infant and doing hard labor because she had to keep on running to see how I was doing, diapering me, trying to uh, calm me down. And she went from job to job because they uh, told her she wasn't uh, able to perform her job. And, and she, she was very lucky that um, this woman at the last moment--because she, she at, at some point she was going to go back to Poland because she didn't know what to do 'cause she was floundering around, she went from job to job and this uh, woman told her--who, who wasn't married--that she would take care of me and, and my mother would continue working like um, maybe uh, thirty miles away.

This was a German woman--Austrian.

This was a German woman, mm--hm.

And, and that's what happened? She--for the, the remainder of the war?

Well um, there came, there came a point that the woman who took care of me didn't want my mother to come and visit anymore because she wanted to keep me for her own because she wasn't married and I guess she wanted a child. Oh and, and I guess they get an extra ration if you have a child.

Yeah. And so uh, my mother begged for one more visit. And um, she ran away with me. This was towards the end of the war. And she got involved with the bombing of Dresden because she, as she was running the bombs were coming. And she-- thought that she, this was the end. I mean, she's so close to the end of the war, but uh, she was able to um, survive that too.

She was in Dresden at the time.

Mm--hm, in Dresden.

Did this woman know you were Jewish? Or she was Jewish?

Might have suspected, might have suspected.

Because that might have been another motive for wanting to keep you. So she ran off with you to Dresden. Do you have, do you have any recollections at this point of anything that happened to you?

The only, the only thing that I actually get a physical emotion about is uh, trains you know, the sound of trains.

You remember that.




Were you and your mother ever on one of those trains?

Um, I think so. I keep--I, I do have sort of a vision of us on the train.

A box car?


A regular train.

A regular train.

Probably going from one city to another.


Um, and your father at this time was, was where? Also in hiding?

Well, he was a Polish uh, he was like uh, a, a laborer too in Poland. I think, I think he was in Poland.

With false papers.

With false papers yeah, and he uh, he was telling me of a incident where um, they--the, the Germans came to inspect the Poles to see if there's any Jews there. And they had a--they told them to pull their pants down to see who was circumcised and just as they were getting to him there was some sort of a commotion in the camp and uh, they never got to him. [laughs]

Uh, you said your mother was thinking about going back to Poland. Did she know what was going on there? Had she heard anything?

Uh, uh, yes.

But she still would have gone back?

Yeah, because she didn't--she was at a loss in Germany and she thought maybe there was somebody there.

And she was still pretending to be uh, uh, Aryan as well.


Um, did she tell you about any other close calls? I mean, there was the bombing of Dresden uh, which is, which is more than enough for one person. But anything else that she...


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