Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Tola Gilbert - July 25, 1983

Jewish Life in Sosnowiec

Um, can you tell me anything about the Jewish community in Sosnowiec? Was it...

Well, I tell you, since I was so young uh, I can only tell you that I belonged to an organization which was Hanoar Hazioni, a Zionistic organization. And I learned quite a bit there. Uh, the youth was much more interested in Jewish life as time wore out and the more we were pressed by the anti-Semitism the more we were leaning toward Jews, toward Zionist uh, toward usual groups. Uh, I gained an awful lot being in that organization. We used to talk about like books. I remember we used to, we gave a play once of uh, Ibsen's book. Uh, I don't know the name of it in English, but I would translate it [short pause] Enemy of People. In Polish it was Wróg Ludu. Uh, we used to make judgments. Like, I remember a judgment about Joseph from Egypt, the judgment of the brothers who sold him. Uh, we used to sing and uh, to dance and we have the leaders were most, most of them were more educated. They used to go either to a high school, some even the higher uh, like the leader I know he went to the university.

What was his name, do you remember?

I remember, he is in Israel. His name is David Manela. He was the leader of our organization, of Hanoar Hazioni of Sosnowiec. And then we used to go the summertime, I was once only to camp from the organization and we had to learn the Moses alphabet and we had to learn some Hebrew. And we used to sing Hebrew songs. I remember the, the Polish uh, scouts stole our plaque, which was a tremendous dishonor being there on vacation, you know. And uh, this was in the mountains also and we had to go back and steal it back, our plaque. And everything was done like in groups, you know, like three four and uh, we would uh, use the Moses alphabet. And uh, it was very stressed to us that Israel is very important and we felt that it is.

Sure, sure. In the town of Sosnowiec was there much interaction between the Jewish community and the Gentile community?

Well, I tell you, it depends where you live. Like, there was a section of our town where Jews only lived. Most of them, the Gentiles were uh, not the Jewish. I lived in a mixed neighborhood. Uh, as a matter of fact, of fact, I had even Polish girlfriends. But I tell you, I used to hide out in their houses when the Germans were going around and looking for young people to take to concentration camps. But I tell you a story that I lived through that hurts me and I will remember as long as I live too, not that I can forget anything really. Uh, it was one day in a little room...

[interruption in interview]

...and they were so little that they looked like midgets and one day the Germans came for them because the Germans were, see, whatever they were doing they were doing in parts. Like first they were taking old people, then they were taking sick people, then they were taking young people; everything in stages. So at that time they came for these two old little people and they were so poor that the whole apartment house, the people who lived in it, were supporting them. Because they had no income whatsoever, not that we had during the war, but we somehow managed. We had some money, they didn't have anything; they were very poor. And they took them out and I remember the man and the woman carried a little sack on their back with their belongings. The sack was very long, but only on the end of the sack were a few things you could see. And when they brought them out, the Polish people that we know that used to be our customers were standing around and clapping. And I will never forgive them for that. Uh, what else can I tell you? People did suffer. Before the war Poland was--the Polish people were anti-Semitic. They definitely were. Uh, as a matter of fact, they could have helped many, many more people. It's true that they risked their lives by doing so, it's very true. But yet it's proven that in other lands much more--look what happened in Holland. [telephone rings] The king when they asked to put on stars, the king

[interruption in interview]

Uh, where did...

You were talking about the king.

Yeah, so the king put on the stars and, and uh, all the other people did so they wouldn't know who's Jewish and who isn't. But uh, the Poles did not cooperate with us at all. And as you know probably from the Warsaw ghetto, even then they didn't. These people in the Warsaw Ghetto, this we find out uh, after the war, could have done so much more. They were condemned anyhow.

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