Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Tola Gilbert - July 25, 1983

Start of War

Did you--do you remember your family talking at all? Was there any thought that the war was coming?

Oh, definitely. I knew about it. Not the only family, we knew. But you know I remember myself saying, war doesn't make a difference. It's already like Hitler would be here, it's so bad with the, with the anti-Semitism. Of course, and I didn't imagine anything uh, like we got.

Once the Germans entered your town in September, what happened immediately after? Did things change immediately for you?

Immediately. First of all, I remember when they came in, they burned our shul, which was something really beautiful. This was the main shul.

Was it on Dekerte Street?

Dekerte, yes. It was so pretty. I assume, I don't know, but I am quite sure that uh, Italian artists were working on it.

[interruption in interview]

I'm sure that Italian artists were working on it. I remember the drapes. There were no drapes, but they were made by like plaster, you know, by artists. I always think of uh, Michelangelo where I think of these, and they looked just like drapes. It was just beautiful. The ceiling was painted, the beautiful chandeliers. My father uh, was praying in a little shul, but this was the main shul of our city. And they would go in and do. As they came in to houses were taking out men and other houses just like my brother. They, they killed these people. They, they were burning uh, houses and people and killing. It was terrible, it was just terrible. And then there were no rations yet, so you have, have, have to go and stay by the bakery sometimes the whole day and you come, came home with nothing. There was no food. Uh, we were not allowed to leave the houses until six o'clock in the morning and you had to be in the house by seven in, in the evening. Uh, like we would go for bread, I would have to go. I had to leave five o'clock no matter what they did. And sometimes they were shooting too. But if I would go six o'clock, I could just as well forget about bread. And I was the representative because I was the oldest.

What did, did your business remain open?

At that time, no. But later on when they gave us rations, they opened our store. Uh, when we came home there was nothing left in the store. Our maid got herself a boyfriend and they stole everything.

Did you have a large extended family living in Sosnowiec? Were your aunts and uncles living...

Yes, yes. I had a very big family. And from that family in Sosnowiec, if you believe it, I have two cousins left. I had uh, let me tell you how many aunts. I have to count.

[interruption in interview]

My father had four brothers living with families, with children uh, and three sisters with children. Uh, from the whole, from this whole family are only two cousins left. One lives in Australia and one lives in Israel. My mother's family lived in the neighboring town in Będzin, and they were a big family. They were uh, eight children and from this family uh, we are left four of, four of us--three of my sisters uh, and three of my cousins from this big family. They all were married, they all had children.

Did your family ever talk at all about leaving Poland before the war broke out?

My father always wanted. He wanted so badly. My grandfather died here in the United States and is buried here. He came three times to Poland back, but he couldn't live anymore in Poland. And my grandmother did not want to leave Poland because she had married children. My father, I think from talking to him uh, he never forgave my grandmother for that. Although this was not his mother, this was my mother's mother. The reason my grandfather I am told by my uncle who also lived most of his life here, he came here when he was sixteen and my uncle was telling us that my grandfather left Poland because somebody left some uh, communist books in his store without his knowledge. And when they found the books in his store they wanted to arrest him. So he had to leave Poland. Later he couldn't live anymore in Poland. He just got used to the life in America and he wanted to bring over uh, too bad I don't have a picture of my grandfather, my sister has it. He was already a modern man. When he was living in Poland, he was very religious, but evidently life in America changed him to a certain degree and he's wearing already a hard, hard hat and the uh, coat with a fur. You know...


...he looked completely different.

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