Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Esther Praw - May 22, 1983

Life in Opatów Ghetto

When the war broke out um, of course we didn't believe it, was going to be two days or three days and the Germans would give in, you know. We were hiding in a, in a basement, because the night when the war started was bombing and you know, burning and all, and they, and they came in, the Germans. Same day. They burn houses where I lived, close, very close. They didn't burn mine where I live, an apartment, and uh, we couldn't believe our eyes because we're young, and I was never interested in my life to--I learned history, in Polish, Polish history, but whatever I learned, I never learned that it's so terrible because years ago it was a war. It wasn't any bombs, they just fight between each other with guns or whatever and each bomb when it fall down it was just unbelievable the noise and the fear of it and the glass on the windows start to break, you know. So then uh, after a week or two, they make us to put on bands, it's stars. The Jewish people--everyday was something else for the Jewish people. The Jewish people have to go and clean toilet, they took us out from the houses and, okay, this wasn't the worst thing, but uh, they start to tell us, you know, that it's going to be worse, and we still didn't believe it.

You were still in your town of Opatów at that time?

Yeah. Yes.

How big a town was it?

Very small. I don't remember the population, but it was small.

And you described um, an apartment? You lived in an apartment?

Yeah, we lived in an apartment, yeah. One room apartment, you know. And then one day the German came, and they said that I have to go to work, because they have the addresses of the people they were looking for. And I worked for them in the factory, and it wasn't so bad, because at least, because they start to ration. And we didn't--it was very bad with our food. Because I worked for them, they gave me more potatoes, or wood to make the house warm, but I did share with people, too, for the ??? and then, after they closed up the factory, I worked for a German. He was working in a, in a, like today you would call it um, where you go to ask for work. At the special place, when you don't have a job, you go there. How you call that?

Like an employment agency?

Yeah. So he, he was a horrible man. When you took off the hat, he beat you up on the street, "You are not my friend, why you do it?" When you didn't, he did the same thing, "Why you don't have respect?" I worked for him and my mother used to ask me, "How can you work for him?" And uh, you know how they are. Everybody has their own person, they can be Jewish or not, and when you help you clean his house which is another job didn't say. It didn't bother me. And uh, then I work, I don't remember days, how long I work, they chased us out from the apartment and give us a smaller, because the Jewish people had to have one place to live, there, in the city, you couldn't live all over. And you have um, curfew until six o'clock or so. But I have a paper that I could be longer but I still didn't want to take chances because sometimes before you--they ask you for the paper, I had to have the band on my arm, they would kill me. So I, I ??? just away. And uh, then it start all the time it was worse, you know. The food and killing. They brought people from different town, and it was an uncle of mine, and they took them like, like cows, or, you know, in a place, and they kill them all. And every day was different killing, you know. Anything, anything you did, right away, killed. Killed, kill--I'm going to mention that now again, kill, um--a friend of mine, what I worked with me, with him, I don't recall if I work, if this was--this was after I stopped working in the factory, but I used to work with him. He said to me the only way what we have a chance to survive, let's go take a chance, because this was between life and death, the chance that he took, to go to another town, because Jewish people couldn't leave town, except they have a paper that something very important the German need you, or... So I told my mother, my mother--and I don't recall if my mother was against it, I don't think so, but my mother didn't believe that this is going to happen, even he saw--she saw what's happening but she didn't believe it. So me and him and another few people that I don't remember who they are, we took a chance, we took off our bands, and we went into a truck. The truck was a closed truck with uh, you know, like, material on it, or canvas, whatever, and we went to a town, the name was Starachowice. Because over there was a factory for ammunition and we only--he had in mind, he said that this might save us, that we can go into work.

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