The BERKOWICZ family from Bolków near Wielu?, Poland,
mother Brana & father Daniel seated in the middle, Dorka, Ruth, Berek - back row; Ester - middle row, left; Meyer - middle row, right; seated in the front - Adela,Zygmu?, Abraham; missing - Rubin who was in the Polish army (photo was contributed by David Berkowitz).
The family lived in Wielu? – Bolków village, Poland, and had 5 boys and 4 girls. The family was a very rich and prosperous. They owned a windmill, cattle and horses flock, farm, land and forests. Their house was of 4 floors. They even owned a telephone which was very rare at that time. All the villagers of Bolków worked for them. All of this was ruined and many members of the family murdered during World War II.
The father of the family was named Daniel. His father name was Abraham. Daniel died on January 1939 in Bolków Poland.
The Mother of the family, Daniel's wife, Brana, was from the nearby village of Skny??o. She was the daughter of Dawid & Adela Berkowicz (a cousin ofDaniel). She was deported during the war from Bolków to the Lututów ghetto in Poland. In August 1942 she was deported to the Chelmno extermination camp, where she was murdered.
1. The firstborn was Ruben - Jakob, who was born around 1900. He was deported from Bolków to the ?ód? ghetto. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz - Birkenau, and from there to other German forced labor camps, along with his brother Abramek. He had a wife Brucha who perished in Auschwitz. He survived. He returned to Poland after the war, he re-married there, and immigrated to Israel in the 1950's. He died in 1967, in the Six Days War.
Ruben Berkowicz in the Polish Army unifom (photo was contributed by David Berkowitz).
2. The second son was named Berek. He escaped to Russia in 1940 with his wife Helen, who passed away in Russia. He stayed there for 4 years. Then he left Russia to return to his home in Poland. He married in ?ód?, had 2 girls. He moved to Israel with his family, and after a few years left for Brazil. He passed away in the year 2000, in Brazil.
3. The first daughter and third sibling of the family was named Ruth, born in 1911. She lived in Piotrków Trybunalski. She worked for the Germans in a factory during the war. In 1944 the Germans broke into her house, a German officer shot her, and left her husband Allo Berkowicz, and her 9 year old son, named Zygmu? ("Zalman" in Yiddish), in the house, later to be deported to Auschwitz - Birkenau.
By some twist of fate, Meyer (who is Ruth's brother), worked in a documentation job "schreiber", that documented all of the incoming people into the camp, and when they were transported to the camp, Meyer found them in the list, and for the next 8 days, Meyer came in hiding to feed this beautiful and talented boy with an extra piece of bread or some soup.
On Yom Kippur, 5705 (September 26, 1944), Meyer came to feed the boy, but the boy declined, because he said to him that tomorrow the Germans will cremate all of the boys, himself included and he doesn't need the bread anymore... That night, on the eve of Yom Kippur, 2000 children were murdered, including Zygmu?. The following day, Meyer went to feed the boy, only to be faced with an empty block.
Zigmusz (Zalman), 2 years old in the photograph, perished in Auschwitz while only 9 years old, Ruth, his mother, perished, Dawid, Ester in a rare photograph befroe the war.
4. The second daughter and fourth sibling of the family was named Dwora - Dorka (Dora). She was married to Goldbart and had 2 children. She was deported with them along with her mother, Brana, to the Lututów ghetto, and along with her mother, they were all deported to their death to Chelmno.
5. The third daughter and fifth sibling, Esther, got married at the start of the war. She fled with her husbandDawid Berkowicz, her husband's father and her husband's brother to Russia. She was in Russia for many years, under severe, inhospitable circumstances, where she had 2 children.
At the end of the war, she returned to her home town in Poland, only to leave it after 2 weeks, in order to move to Germany as a middle station to their final destination of the US and is alive to this day.
Esther Berkowicz wrote a book about her war experiences and her family: Esther Berkowicz: Through Siberia with Bed & Babies: A Holocaust Survivor's Joys & Sorrows, with Maryann McLoughlin Ph.D., a project of the Holocaust Resource Center, The Richard Stokton College of New Jersey, ComteQ Communications, Margate, New Jersey 2007.
Four of the Berkowicz siblings in a photograph before the war, from left to right: Abraham, murdered by a Pole after surviving the concentration camps, only age 19; brother Rubin who served in the Polish army and survived the war, sister Adela survived under false Aryan papers and the youngest child Zalman, disappeared without traces in ghetto Lodz
6. The third son and sixth sibling of the family, Meyer, was suspected of sabotaging the family mill, and was sent to a German prison in Papenburg, at the German - Dutch border. There were no Jews in this prison, but because Meyer didn't look like a Jew, he was able to survive.
In the winter 1941 - 2, he was released from jail, and was sent to pave roads for the German army in Wielun, under extreme conditions of cold weather.
In 1942 he was deported to the Lodz ghetto, which was highly inhospitable in terms of human condition. During his 2 year "residence" in the ghetto, he worked for the Germans in order to scavenge for goods that the Jews left in their homes in the ghetto.
He also met 3 of his brothers, Ruben, Abraham, and Zalman in the ghetto, and lived with them, along with 3 other people in a 1 room flat, he also met his future wife, Esther Ankielewicz in the ghetto. In 1944, the liquidation of Lodz occurred, and Meyer left in one of the last transports to Auschwitz - Birkenau for around 3 months, where he worked as a documenter of incoming people, and then from there to Braunschweig, Germany, where he worked in a car factory until his liberation, by the US army. Still in Germany, he joined the Israeli army, and immigrated to Israel along with Esther and his daughterTzipora, in 1949 and is alive to this very day.
7. The fourth daughter and seventh sibling of the family, was named Adela, born in 1921. In 1942 she received forged Aryan documents that claimed that she was Polish, and not Jewish, as was her husband, Jakob Jablonski. They escaped to Germany in order to work there, until the liberation by the Soviet army.
8. The fourth son and eighth sibling of the family, Abram "Abramek", born in 1924. During the war he was transported to the ?ód? ghetto in 1942 till 1944, after which he was transported to Auschwitz - Birkenau for a couple of months, after which he was Germany to do slave labor in various labor camps, along with his brother Ruben. In August 1945, after liberation and surviving the Nazi concentration camps, he desired to visit his old home in Bolków and see if there remain other survivors from the family.
When he came to his house, he was greeted by a Polish man who used to be a housekeep for the Berkowitz family, and made himself the owner of the house after the family was deported. The Polish man, former worker of the Berkowicz family, greeted Abramek very warmly, because he thought that all of the family was murdered and he was the only one left.
During that night, the Polish man murdered Abramek, in order to keep the property to himself. Today, he is buried in the Jewish graveyard in ?ód?, killed at the age of 19, by Polish hands, after surviving the ghettos, Auschwitz, and other German forced labor camps
9. The fifth son and ninth sibling of the family, Zalman, was deported from Wielu? in 1942 to the ?ód? ghetto, along with Meyer, Ruben andc Abramek (Esther Ankielewicz was there as well). He remained there until 1943. One day, he was unexpectedly taken by the German army, at the young age of 14, and was never to be heard from again. There are some who claim that he was taken to Auschwitz in order to be a guinea pig in an experimental testing of the cremation technique.
This was the tragic story of the BERKOWICZ family, once a prosperous and rich family in Poland, rooted there for hundreds of years. Nothing remained from their estate, most of their sons and daughters, spouses and children murdered brutally in the German Holocaust in World War II. The few survivors created families and restored their lives in the United States and Israel.......
Testimony told by Esther, Meyer's wife, to daughter Zipi and Ada Holtzman April 2008
The third son and sixth sibling of the family, Meyer, was born on September 18th, 1918. He studied in a Yeshiva at Wielu?. During the first period of the German occupation, he was suspected of sabotaging the family windmill.
He was sentenced and put in prison for the offence to the German Reich. It was in fact an act of heroism and a very courageous personal protest against the Nazi Rule. He was then transferred to a German prison in Papenburg, at the German - Dutch border. There were no Jews in this prison, but because Meyer didn't look like a Jew, he was able to survive.
In the winter of 1941 - 42, he was released from jail, and was transferred to pave roads for the German army in a forced labor camp Ostrówek near Wielu?, under extreme conditions of cold weather and constant abuses. He was engaged in hard work of paving the road between Wroc?aw to ?ód? via Wielu? for the German army.
There were also some women in the camp, who worked even harder than the men. They were forced to carry the stones by their own bare hands, while the men hit them to the road using a big hammer. Even in cold days of less than minus 35° Celsius.
The Germans stood by and watched every step of the prisoners. They slept in horses stables, after the horses were confiscated by the Germans and shipped to Germany. Every 2 weeks they were allowed to go home to the Lututów ghetto, 14 kms distance.
One day when Meyer worked in construction, the building crushed over his body and he was badly wounded, covered by stones. The inspector, a Volksdeutche, helped him to get out of the ruins and be saved. Meyer has a scar on his face until this very day from this fall
They were there until the deportations to the death camp Che?mno lasted, around August 1942. The Jews were locked in a church in Lututów for a few days and then the final deportation to Che?mno took place. Meyer's mother and other members of the family were among the victims of the final liquidation.
Somehow Meyer escaped the deportations and transferred to Wielu?. From there he was transported to the ?ód? ghetto, where he lived under the extremely difficult human conditions. In the ?ód? ghetto were the four brothers: Ruben, Abraham, and Zalman, the little brother who was only 13 at that time.
During 2 years, Meyer worked for the Germans in order to scavenge for goods that the Jews left in their homes in the ghetto, after the deportations to the death camps. The goods were packed and shipped to Germany.
Meyer lived with his 3 brothers, Esther Ankielewicz from Lututów, his future wife, her two brothers-in-law and another person, 7 persons in a small room. They slept on the floor as no mattresses were found. There was no toilet and Esther used to climb to the attic and use a corner to relieve herself.
Thus they survived for 2 years in the ?ód? ghetto, living in one room on 21 Dol?a street. They were subjects to Actions (Aktion, akcja) every week or two, and survived them all. They tried never to stand together, so not all of them would be killed in case selected to death. Esther used to color their cheeks with her own blood so they would look healthier and pass the selections.
One night in 1943, Gestapo agents knocked on their door during the middle of the night and took Zalman, the youngest boy, and only him with them. His fate is unknown ever since.
Life in the ghetto was horrible, mainly the selections and transports of the children. Opposite their room sttod the biggest hospital in ghetto Lodz, on the name of Adam Mickiewicz. They used to watch from closed windows the tragic scenes of children brought by their own parents, as commanded by Rumkowski, to the gathering station in front of the hospital, herded and loaded to trucks which left full and returned empty, from Che?mno.
In 1944, during the liquidation of ?ód?, Meyer and the 2 husbands of Esther's sisters Rachel and Miriam, were taken to the transports ground Czarnieckiego from where they were deported in one of the last transports to Auschwitz – Birkenau. Esther asked the Germans to join this transport saying she had family members there. The factory she worked for in ?ód?, Telefunken was completely dismantled and transferred to Auschwitz. She was reunited with Meyer and her brother-in-law while already on the train.
After many hours in the train they finally arrived to Auschwitz. Upon arrival they saw the huge cloud of smoke but did not understand yet that human beings are burned there. We were separated then. Meyer remained with one of the brother-in-law. The other one, Israel Jakobowicz was taken to the gas chamber. His last words to Meyer were that he should not forget and should tell what happened to him and his people.
Meyer was taken after the selection to one of the blocks, destined for labor. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz around 3 months. He worked as a documenter of incoming people "Schreiber". He used to register the new prisoners. When he was there, no more numbers were tattooed on the arms. He one day found his little nephew Zygmu? and helped him with extra hidden portions of soup or bread.
Then one day the child told him to keep the soup for himself as he does not need it anymore, because he knew that on the following day, they were going to kill him and the other 2000 children in the children block,. And that was what happened. Zygmu? was murdered on Yom Kippur 1944. His mother Ruth was shot dead in the street of ghetto Piotrków Trybunalski. His father Allo was killed also in Auschwitz.
After 3 months in Auschwitz, Meyer was transferred to Braunschweig (sub-camp of Buchenwald), Germany, where he was a forced laborer in a car factory Büssing. This enterprise built big cars and trucks with 16 wheels. Later as the German army was retreating, Meyer and the other inmates were on the move and shifted from concentration camp to another, Lübeck and Neustadt among them. He was liberated in Neustadt.
Esther & Meyer at their wedding after the war.
After the war Meyer returned to Poland searching for survivors from his family. He found Esther among the lists of survivors in Bergen-Belsen, he took a bicycle and drove on it until Bergen-Belsen. Through the Red Cross – his arrival was announced in the camp and Meyer and Esther were reunited. They were married in Bergen-Belsen, on September 1945.
Still in Germany, he joined the Israeli army where he served later 15 years. The couple immigrated to Israel with their first-born baby Tzipora on January 9th, 1949. In Israel the second child Danny was born. He is married to Orit and they have two grown-up son Gal and daughter Tal.
Esther & Meyer with grandchildren Ori (tot he right), Tal (in the middle) and Gal (to the left) 2008.
Esther Berkowitz was born in 1916, on an estate in Poland – Mlyn Bolków. She was the middle child of nine children, five boys and four girls. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Esther and her fiancé David, married and fled east to territory occupied by the Soviet Union.
They lived in Kowel, Poland until the Soviets deported them to Siberia. During their journey, Esther gave birth to her son, Daniel, in Novosibirsk, Siberia, in September 1940. Resuming their journey the couple ended up in the Ural Mountain area until the Soviets released them in1942 and they journeyed to Kazakhstan, staying there for three years in a coal town near Tashkent until the end of the war and after the birth of their second child, Adela (Aida), in March 1946.
When Esther returned to Poland, expecting a joyous reunion with her family, she discovered that her mother, two sisters, their husbands, children, and two brothers had been murdered. Her joy turned into grief and horror.
In April 1951, Esther and David immigrated to the Unites States, eventually settling on a chicken farm in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Later they bought two properties on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, a guest house and an apartment building, which Esther managed. David opened a restaurant featuring Dave's mile-long hot dogs. Esther is now retired, active in AMIT and the Sisterhood of her synagogue. She enjoys her family, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This memoir, Through Siberia with bed and Babies, A Holocaust Survivor's Joys and Sorrows, will add immeasurably to readers' knowledge of the Holocaust. In addition they will be inspired by Esther's life journey, her courage and resilience.
Dawid Berkowicz of blessed memory, in the Polish Army uniform
(photo was contributed by David Berkowitz)
Through Siberia with Bed & Babies a Holocaust Survivor's Joys & Sorrows
The Eleven of Us
Eighty kilometers from ?ód? Poland, is the town of Wielu?. Near Wielu? my father had an estate-Mlyn Bolk6w, about ten acres in size. On our estate was a flour mill that had been started by my father. My two oldest brothers helped him and we had a mechanic and other people working in the mill. We had horses and cows. My mother had a family helping her in our house. Our house was very comfortable — we had eight rooms with all the conveniences, hot and cold running water, very unusual at this time.
My parents, Daniel and Brahna, had met each other through matchmakers. My father was a gentle man; I never heard him raise his voice with the children. Of course, my mother is the one who had to raise us as father spent a lot of time with the mill and other business.
My parents were very religious — not orthodox with side curls (payos) but religious and traditional. I had a loving and an organized family. It had to be because my parents had nine children, Rubin, Berek —brothers — then Ruth and Dora, then in 1916 I was born right in the middle, followed by Meyer, Adela, Abraham, and Zelman. My sisters, Ruth andDora, helped my mother in the house and with the children.
I had finished shool. In those years that meant a girl had gone a little bit to the gymnasium (high school). I had gone to Wielu? for my schooling — to the Hebrew and Polish school and had graduated. Then I went to a school and learned to sew lingerie so I could sew at home and later for my family.
From 1933 to 1939 life had been very tough. Already there was Anti-Semitism. We had heard about Kristallnacht in Germany (November 9 and 10, 1938) from my sister Ruth's brother-in-law. Ruth had married a man named Ali Berkowitz, who had a brother living in Berlin.
This brother had a hat factory. The brother's wife had been Miss Berlin; she was a real beauty. However, as soon as Hitler came to power, they were thrown out of Germany because they were Jews who had come originally from Poland.
They were expelled with only the clothes on their backs. Ruth and her child, Zygmu?, with her husband, Ali, went to Zbaszyn and picked up Ali's brother and his family, who had been wealthy but had now lost everything. Zbaszyn, a Polish border town, was used as a refugee camp between November 1938 and August1939 for the thousands of Polish citizens expelled from Germany. "Many were taken in by friends and family in Poland [or] aided by Polish Jewish communities. Others managed to leave the country" (Shoah Resource Center).
In the midst of this trouble, my father became very ill. He went to the hospital to a private room, and as the middle child, I went to take care of him. Dr. Prentki treated him; however, the diagnosis was wrong. At first my father said he felt like a new man. Then he became even sicker and after a few days they sent him to isolation.
He passed away on January 30, 1939, at only fifty-four years old. My father was loved and respected. Many people in our community went to his funeral. They said that because he had died a natural death there would be upheavals in the world, but he would be spared them, for he had been so lucky all his life.
I was engaged to be married to David Berkowitz, but after my father's death I had to wait a year to be married; this was the traditional Jewish observance. When the Germans attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, David, age 26 years, was drafted into the Polish army. Within two weeks the Germans and the Soviets had overrun Poland; the Germans coming from the west, the Soviets from the east-in a pincer movement.
Poland was then split between Hitler and Stalin. My fiancé was in the east, beyond the new Soviet border. David had met up with his brother, Sam (Schmuel), in Kowel, Poland. After the defeat of the Polish army, in a couple of weeks, Sam and David decided to return to Wielu?.
When David and his brother came back, the people who were running the estate after my father's death told them that the Gestapo had taken my mother and all the children to be finger-printed to the town of Czarno?yl for the deportations.
So David went to find us, ten kilometers away at the office of the Gestapo. The Gestapo was very organized. They also finger-printed David. After they had our information, they let us go home. On the way home, David said, "This is our chance to leave. Tonight we need to pack everything on our bodies. We'll pretend we are going to the neighbors."
My mother did not think this was a good idea. We were only engaged. She would not let me go until I was married. So my mother, my brother Berek withHelen, his new wife, David's father, Henoch, and I decided to travel to David's brother's home in ?ód?, Poland, where David and I could be married.
That evening I could not go to sleep. I thought about my beautiful family: my beloved brothers and sisters, my dear mother, and our comfortable home. Now we had to leave, to go as if we were naked with only the clothes we could wear.
When we left, they were crying because we were going away. We were crying because we were leaving them. We cried also because we were going into the unknown!
So we first went to ?ód? where my fiancé had a brother with a wife and family. My father-in-law and my mother made sure that we married before we left for the east. The wedding had to be secret because we were not supposed to be in ?ód?. My father-in-law found a rabbi who married us in the fall of 1939. My mother returned to Wielu?. Our honeymoon was running away-to the east, to the unknown!
Chapter 8 (Returning from the Soviet Union to Poland after the War)
Joy to Sorrow
In ?ód? we found my sister, Adela, her husband, Jacob Jablonski, and their little girl, Rena. Adela had survived in Germany as a maid on a German estate where Nazis lived. Her "Aryan" papers had been made by a Polish family, Micholyczyk, a wonderful family. Many times they visited my sister in Israel. They were made "Righteous among the Nations" at Yad Vashem.
Before they got their "Aryan" papers they spent three nights and days in high grown corn stalks until the papers were ready and they could travel to Germany. Many Polish people did the same thing looking for work in Germany.
I asked about my mother and the rest of my family. I found this out about my mother from witnesses who had survived. One of these was Estusia (Esther) Ankielewicz from Lututów, who later married Meyer my brother.
My mother was arrested a couple of times. The Germans accused her of hiding the leather belts that were used on machines in the mill and the factory. Somehow my sister, Ruth, who was living in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, with her husband Alloand child Zigmusz, found out and came back to Bolków to get my mother out of prison.
Then the Germans made a ghetto in Lututów, a small city, about ten kilometers from home where my mother was put with Dora, my sister and her two babies.
Dora's husband, Abraham Goldbart, was deported to Chelmno (Kulmhof, Poland, first extermination camp in Poland, operated by gas vans) not far away, a death camp where they didn't have barracks. Later my motherBrana, sister Dora, and her two children were rounded up and put into a church and from the church deported to Chelmno Death Camp where they were murdered.
Ruth, who had very light hair, looked Polish, wasn't taken to the ghetto. She was hidden with a Polish family. Later she was discovered and shot by the Nazis (one of my friends told me this after the war). They shot her in the street.
This beautiful woman!
Then Ruth's husband, Allo, and beautiful son, Zygmu?("Zalman" in Yiddish), were together and later in 1944 were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The child, Zygmu?, had curls like Shirley Temple. Whenever I walked out with him people would stop and admire him. He was a smart boy; he could play chess when he was five years old.
My brother Meyer was in Auschwitz in 1944 and where he worked he saw the lists of the arrivals. He learned that Ruth's husband, Ali, was in Auschwitz. Also Zygmu?, about nine years old, had come in a children's transport. Zygmu? was in Birkenau, the death camp, in a block with about 2000 children.
Every day Meyer brought Zygmu?some extra soup or bread. On the last day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Meyer again took a portion of soup over to Birkenau. The chimneys there were working day and night. Meyer went with the soup trying to get to the child. As it happened, Zygmu? was standing behind the wire fence looking out and they saw each other.
When my brother tried to give him the watery soup, Zygmu? said, "No, no, Uncle. I don't want the soup today. I heard that they will take all the children to the crematorium. For me it is too late." The child showed Meyer the crematoria chimneys that were spewing smoke and ash.
He said, "Soup will be wasted on me." Zygmu? was only nine at this time.The murder of Zygmu? affects me more than any other I can not talk about him without crying. This is why I have found it impossible to talk with school children. I don't want to make them sad seeing me crying.
The next day Meyer heard so many cries. When Meyer went back, the block was empty Zygmu? was gone. His father, Allo, was never seen again.
So I found out about my family. Meyer with Rubin, Abraham, and Zelman had been in the big ghetto in ?ód? from 1942 to 1944, before all but Zelman were deported to Auschwitz.
The ?ód? Ghetto, 120 kilometers southwest of Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, was established in February of 1940. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed-wire, and conditions in the ghetto were horrendous.
The Germans had established a number of factories in the ghetto (by 1942 there were almost 100 factories inside the ghetto), and Jews were forced to labor in these factories, receiving only meager food rations from their employers; the SS received the wages the companies would have paid them (USHMM). My four brothers worked every day in these factories for the Nazis.
One night during one of the periodic round-ups, three policemen came for Zelman during the razzia (roundup). They took him out of his bed. We never saw him again.
When the ?ód? Ghetto was liquidated in the spring of 1944, Meyer was sent to Auschwitz. By this time ?ód?, with about 75,000 Jews, was the last remaining ghetto in Poland. Jews were told that they were being transported to work camps in Germany, but instead in August 1944 all survivors of the ?ód? ghetto were transported south, 177 kilometers, to Oswiecim, Poland, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Meyer was one of those transported in 1944.
From Auschwitz Meyer had been deported on a death march to Germany from which he almost did not survive. One day longer and he would have died. He was very weak when he arrived at the factory that used him as slave labor.
It was a factory that made special buses — Büssing in Branschweig, Germany. He worked there for five or six months until in 1945 he was liberated by the Russians. Meyer was then taken to Lübec to the hospital to recuperate. When he felt stronger, he went to Bergen-Belsen to find Estusia. We met up with Meyer and Estusia later in Mosburg, Germany.
Meyer, Estusia, Esther, David - Post War II, Zipora, Danny and Aida, seated