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Testimony of Teresa Różycka



Journal and reminiscences of Teresa Różycka (age 10)

                      The Rising, Zieleniak and Pruszków

     I spent the occupation in Warsaw. We lived on Mochnacki Street then, next to Narutowicz Sq. From the windows you could see St. Jacob's Church and the surroundings in front of the main entrance.
     When the Rising broke out, we (mother, my sister Marycha and I) were at home. Father had left for Mokotów and was unable to make it back. I was ten at the time. Just a few days later there was constant talk about what is going on in the streets, that women are being raped, then killed, that one house or another is burning. Our house was full of those fleeing the neighbourhood. For example, a Ukrainian woman arrived with her son. She spoke Polish well, he even better.  Kamiński soldiers (Ukrainians or Russians in the Wehrmacht service, called Vlasoviec) struck on the 10th of August. My mother opened the door, the others were afraid. They forced all of us out to the adjacent streets. One of the soldiers took a liking to my fifteen year old sister and started to caress her and talk tenderly. My mother gave her a rosary in tears. "Let the Mother of God rescue my daughter!"  I reacted violently: "Mum, he's a good person, he won't do anything bad to her"!  My eyes met his. He repeated: "A good person!"  Continually looking at me, he let Marycha go and walked off.  Yes, Mary used me to rescue my sister. We were led to the famous Zieleniak on Grójecka Street. We marched a long way, surrounded by guards, there were many killed women along the way. At Zieleniak my mother took steps to protect us.  She disfigured all the young neighbour women, making them look like ugly old bags. When one of the soldiers came up she called over the Ukrainian neighbour and asked him: "Distract him and he'll move on".  The next day we marched under German guards to Pruszków. Along the way, old women lay dying, they didn't have the strength to keep walking. One of them was our neighbour's mother, but the Germans made sure that no one could give her water. Pruszków - a huge hall, people packed in tight. We spent one night here. Mother, in order to get something to eat, borrowed a pot from a friend and promised to give the valued thing back as soon as she fed the children. In searching for the soup cauldron, she ran into a sister- a nurse, who offered to transport us immediately to Milanówek. Mother ran to give back the pot, but when she returned the nurse was gone, because she took another woman with children. In this situation my mother decided to search for a way out of the camp on her own.  We walked along the rail tracks.  It was said that the Germans are taking people by train to Łódź, we found a freight train full of people hoping to get to Łódź. We got on. Several hours later the Germans started to close the car doors, the train started moving. When we passed Łódź, the men in our our car tore off boards from the walls, but only a few jumped off.

              At the Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps

     Sunday 13 IX 1944. They took all the men.  It was at the concentration camp in Buchenwald. It was an intense experience for me, since there was a father with a three year old daughter in our car. He had to give her up to a woman that was a stranger. We stood there the entire day. 
After a trip in cattle cars - we were taken on 15 IX to the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. At night, more or less at midnight, the train stopped. Everyone got off. It was dark, the only light came from the stars. We were led down a road with forest on either side. We went through many fences. Finally they led us to canvas huts. They ordered us to lay down there, on the straw. The first night I even slept very well. The next nights were difficult. It as hard and cold on the straw remnants, despite the summer nights.  The lice ... the sheer number of them, that bit terribly.  Scratching was no help, it just made the skin itch even more, it was all a nightmare.  They gave us coffee in the morning. Mother served it with bread. We met there, Janka, Mrs. Pieniążkowa and Mrs. Białobrzeska (neighbours from our house brought in the same transport; Pieniązkowa died in the camp, Janka and Białobrzeska - survived). Later, we searched for several hours for a place to wash up. We washed ourselves thoroughly, and mother washed our clothing a bit. The wash room - was a trough with smelly water running through it.  The worst thing for me was the toilet, or cesspool, over which two slimy logs were mounted; it took place on one of them. I wasn't capable of using it. On the second day they started to count and segregate us (assemblies started).  Single women and women with children were separated. They also separated mothers with children up to age 10. The weather was beautiful and warm. In the evening the prisoners sent us a message not to be afraid, that we won't die, they're not going to gas us, since the crematorium was broken. I took this in without joy, I had the feeling it would be better to die than to live in such conditions, even for a few hours. Several horrible days later the women with children were led out. Adults were kept in the camp. Luckily my sister and I were treated as children. They led us back to the rails. Rail cars, regular passenger ones, we were supposed to leave at five (17:00), but it turned it that we'd leave at six in the morning. We had to sleep outside. I saw a live bat for the first time. We left in the morning on 18 IX.

                        Slave market and labour camp in Holzminden

     18 IX Friday. We didn't get off until 12:00 at night, Marysia was sick. It was at the station in Kreisenen.  The led us to some movie house where we slept. In the morning we received the longed for milk and bread. They gathered us up to the Kreisenen town square and bauers [German farmers] chose women like slaves, those who knew how to milk cows, who looked strong, or with not too many children. One came up to us, he didn't think too long, but my sister was sick, she had a high fever (diphtheria!), so he gave up. When the slave market was finished, we were brought to the train again.  That's how we came to Holzminden, where my mother and sister were assigned work in a plywood factory, and I was left with the children in the barracks. The first thing that my mother did was to send a few letters to family and friends.
     I was in and out of the hospital constantly, first I got infected with diphtheria from Marysia, later I had stomach problems. I spent a lot of time in the hospital bed. At one point I felt so bad, next to me there were twins, sick with scarlet fever, I was strictly prohibited to go near them, but I broke this order, since one of them was crying and wanted something to drink, or their bedding had to be fixed, and I thought that I was in better shape than they were, so I had to help them out. The fact I didn't get infected with scarlet fever, that I survived, I now believe to be a great miracle and care of the Mother of God.
     When I wasn't lying in the hospital, the children living with me in the barracks picked on me, I wasn't driven enough, too inadequate.  But I came up with a great idea: my bargaining chip became stories. When one of the children did something for me, as an award I would say: "I'll tell you a story about a princess locked up in a tower." And when I started to tell the story, all the children would come around and they really did listen with attention and desire.  For every favour a concession, for example for giving me a place in the kitchen I'd place a pot to cook soup, or for making me something good, I'd make up a tale. The more valuable the concession the more interesting the story, with a witch, knights, or a queen.
     Mother had a lot of authority in the barracks, because she organised the collective sharing of bread. Our room in the barracks was allocated one and a half loaves of bread and we received this in two pieces. Mother proposed slicing the bread, she laid out enough portions for the number of people and everyone checked whether the pieces were evenly divided and which are the smallest and which are the largest and only when everyone acknowledged there were no differences, mother pointed to some portion with the knife and a given child with his or her eyes closed would say to whom the designated portion belongs. And this became a great ceremony, everyone wanted to participate, evaluate the size, even decide which child would speak, who would get the piece of bread. So only in our barracks was there no arguing over the sharing of bread.
     We were permitted to walk around the city streets after work hours. Once I went with my mother and Marycha, and a German officer approached us (now I know that aviators wore such uniforms), beckoned me to come with his finger and he called out - Komm! Horror stricken and enormously apprehensive, hardly expecting anything good, I went up to him, and he handed me a monthly ration card for butter and milk, that the German offers received. This deed redeemed all enemies in my eyes, because I understood just how many of them suffered from the atrocities of war. I wasn't able to make much use of the card because the block leader took it away from me. A Czech woman, under the pretext that she would buy these things for me, because they wouldn't give me anything, and later she brought me a cake, "because her cat drank up the milk she bought". Nevertheless, I recollect the devotion of this German with enormous gratitude.


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  The project is implemented by the Museum of Warsaw in cooperation with the State Archives of City of Warsaw, and the Niedersachsische Gedenkstatten Foundation