As part of the Nazi effort, signs were erected around Polish cities and towns where Jews existed. These signs read “Jews Forbidden” in areas where their movements were restricted. Other signs read “Do Not Help Jews- To Do So Means Immediate Death.”
Signs and posters were part of a massive propaganda campaign designed to convey the idea that the Jews were the problem and that they must be eliminated.
For the time being, the Tishgartens and their Jewish friends were allowed to remain in town, but their access to school and stores was restricted. They had a curfew and had to be off the streets at 6pm each night. They wore that yellow Jewish star on their clothing so as to be easily identifiable.
Bluma and Cela Tishgarten were teenagers; their parents had carefully considered what the family would do if and when the situation got worse. One day it did. On a morning they would long remember, their mother heard gunshots. She carefully peered out the window to see Nazis marching neighbors from their homes at gunpoint. Frightened, she called to her two daughters:
Mother: “Girls…Come here NOW..I need you to listen to me carefully. The Nazis are here, and they will kill us if we don’t act quickly. …take this (she stuffs into their pockets) money and jewelry….it’s all I have…
It will help you survive, you must GO now, run out the back door into the woods and hide. Do not come back”
Bluma: “But Momma where will you go?”
Mother: “Your father and I will try to get away, but you must go now..(shouting) SAVE YOURSELVES. I love you. GO!”
She literally shoves them out of the house. (They never saw their mother again)
Crying, distraught and scared, the girls ran out the back door into the woods. They immediately saw other neighbors doing the same, but rather than join them, they decided to run away separately.
Cela: (running, looking back at her sister who lags slightly); “Hurry Bluma, we must run faster, away from danger.”
Bluma: (huffing, a bit out of breath, visibly shaken): “I have never been so frightened in my life. Where are we going to go?”
Cela: “I have an idea; I will show you.”
It was getting dark, so they made a makeshift shed from found materials and they spent their first night like this. They would constantly be “on the move” trying to hide and find food. For weeks, they would sneak into a town and beg people to give them food. That’s how they survived until….
Running and hiding from the Nazis, and moving at night from town to town, hoping someone would give them some food, became exhausting.
Cela: “Bluma, all of this running and hiding is bound to get us caught and perhaps killed.”
Bluma: “What do you think we should do?”
Later that same day, an answer came literally to them. From a distance they could hear a loudspeaker: it was a message from the Nazis: “Jews, give yourselves up now and you will not be harmed. We will take care of you. Come into town tomorrow.”
Cela: “Bluma, I’m thinking that now might be the time to surrender. Do you agree?”
Bluma (reluctantly) “I don’t know. I’m not sure. But as long as I’m with you sister, I’ll feel safe.”
The next day, they decide to give themselves up. With their hands raised high, they slowly exited the woods, entering the town and were immediately seen by the Nazis who escorted them to a large truck filled with other people. The truck drove them to a train station where they were ordered into the “cattle car” jammed with many others. The train began to move.
Bluma (to sister): “I can hardly breathe.”
Cela: “Me either. Perhaps we can try to move to that small opening near the door.” (so, they slowly try to maneuver to get to that spot)
Bluma: “Can you breathe?”
Cela: “Not very well. Let’s huddle together to stay warm.”
19-year-old Felix Goldberg wanted to survive and felt that fighting for the Polish Army would be the smartest move. For a short while he rode horseback with other Poles fighting the Germans. But they were soon overtaken and he was captured.
He spent some time in a ghetto whose conditions were tolerable. Eventually he was released and was able to travel, so he did.
Felix recalls: “Everybody had to wear that (Jewish Star) because of being Jewish. But I took a chance and took that emblem off, and I was riding (the passenger train) without it. But I was recognized. I looked very much Semitic.
And so they took me off the train and waited for the next train. But in the meantime, an SS man worked me over pretty good, socked my face, knocked out two of my teeth”, and declared: “You will go back to the Warsaw ghetto.” But Felix thought, I don’t want to go back to the Warsaw ghetto.
The Nazis put him back on a train, but this one was the “cattle car” jammed with hundreds of others.
Man (to Felix): “Where do you think this train is taking us?”
Felix:” I don’t know but I don’t plan to stay much longer. This train will certainly take us to our deaths. I want to survive.”
Felix slowly opened the train door…just enough for him to get through it and finally jumps from the moving train……rolling several times on the ground before stopping, getting up and quickly moving into a wooded area.
Eventually, after wandering for days in the woods and trying to evade capture, Felix was captured and put on a transport for Auschwitz.
Life there was horrific for Jewish prisoners. They were awakened at 4 in the morning. They marched in formation out of the barracks and stood there in the freezing weather. The Nazis counted them to make sure no one had escaped. Breakfast, if you can call it that, consisted of coffee and some soup: no bread. They could see smoke rising from the chimney of a nearby building, but Felix said no one, at the time, knew the significance.
Only the strong survived, the weak were not so lucky. Felix was assigned to the Jawarzno Coal Mine. The workers marched 2 hours there every morning. He was assigned to the coal mine elevator, which carried coal and fellow Jews up and down. The work was dangerous and often the walls of the mine collapsed, killing Jews in the process. Now, in addition to carrying coal, Felix carried bodies. The Nazis directed him to put the bodies in the back of a truck, which made its way to the crematoria.
In order to survive, Felix admitted “if you want to live, you take risks”– he sometimes stole bread and wine from guards. He was careful to hide whatever he took so that no one knew of his hiding place.
One night, upon returning to Auschwitz, they discovered that a large part of the camp had been targeted and destroyed by the Russians who had bombed the camp by air.
With fewer places to house Jews, many were put on transports. Felix Goldberg was on the move again. This time the destination was Buchenwald- the infamous concentration camp.