Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Tola Gilbert - July 25, 1983


The following is an interview with Mrs. Tola Gilbert in her home in West Bloomfield, Michigan on the morning of July 25, 1983. Donna Miller is the interviewer.

Could you tell me your name and where you were born?

I am Tola Gilbert. I was born in Poland.

Could you tell me the name of your community?

Sosnowiec. It was uh, very close to the German border.

And can you tell me something about your life before the war began?

Yes uh, we were seven children. My parents uh, had a business. And uh, mostly we were raised by a maid since my parents were uh, busy in the store. Uh, we had a very happy life. Uh, as a matter of fact, my father used to say uh, that especially about me that all I know is to run around and sing all day long, which I really did. Uh, I was very lively. I had one brother only with whom I was very close. And it was a very happy and content life. I had no obligations at uh, until the war broke out. Uh, and uh, of course we felt already the anti-Semitism, uh... Sometimes, sometimes uh, uh, our, our store was boycotted. At other times the name of my father was in the newspaper. Uh, and it said there that uh, this and this Polish prominent family is buying from a Jew. Uh, on the--by the airport and uh, mostly in the--not airport really, the station. We didn't have an airport, I'm sorry. Uh, were big signs, not attending to Jewish hands or uh, you should spend your money in your own stores, not, not, not in Jewish stores. Uh, through the streets uh, in the last couple years we should see, we saw the brown uniforms with the Hakenkreuz uh, marching through the streets. Uh, Jews were spit upon, burnt. You would go in a fur coat in a movie, it happened in our hometown and they would burn holes. The wife sitting there, they would threw something at you which you didn't even know and it would burn your fur coat. Things like that did happen. And we felt that uh, since Hitler took over Germany it was felt very, very much in Poland especially in the towns close to the German border. And then in 1939 on, on September the war broke out. And uh, the first Friday and on Sunday the German Army was already in our hometown. At that time we did evacuate. And uh, our whole family--I had a, a married sister with a little baby and she went with us. The trains we took were--fourteen kilometer it took the train to go a day and a night. And uh, the second day a neighbor of ours whose family was on the train came to see, he heard that the trains are still standing fourteen kilometers away, he came to see his family. And my brother who was at that time very young, he was twelve uh, said that he's going home. And my mother said, "What are you going to do home? Nobody's there." He says, "Oh yeah, the maid is there." And my mother said, "But we are all here and I don't want you to go." So he went at that time, they were giving rations to all the people on the train. And I said, you want to go for the bread and I will go for the milk because we had a baby, my sister's baby. And he went for the bread, brought the bread, I brought the milk. And my mother was sitting in a closed wagon and we were sitting in a open one and uh, in other words, we were divided for women and children, they gave clothes in case it rains or the sun was burning, it was very hot, it was summer. And uh, naturally uh, at that time my brother just went with our neighbor without telling anybody. And by the trai...by the time we looked around he was gone. What happened to him, he was--he came home and the maid was not home. The house was locked, so he went to an uncle of mine who was very religious. Normally he didn't go there because he was not that religious. And uh, my aunt was serving the dinner and he said--and she--naturally, she asked him to have dinner with them. But they didn't even have time to consume their dinner when they heard the Germans. They came in and they called all the males without difference of age, they should come out. And naturally my uncle, my cousin--two of my cousins and another cousin of my uncle's and my brother came out. They took them to a field. They put them in a row and they threw at them hand grenades. And they all got killed. This was the beginning for us. He was the only son of my mother. We were six girls and one son. And I don't have to tell you how my parents took it.

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