The Children Accuse - The Testimony of Eryk Holder
In recent years, testimonies, diaries and memoirs of Holocaust victims (those who perished and those who survived) have gained belated recognition as essential (not auxiliary) data for historical reconstruction. Early postwar children's recollections, such as this testimony by Eryk Holder, shed light on individual children's experiences as well as on children's viewpoints and self-reflections formed after they had emerged from the conditions of war and genocide. They show how the children themselves conceived, remembered, and reflected on all constant change in their young lives.
In his three-page testimony, Eryk Holder, who was born in 1937 into a comfortable middle-class family, describes in detail how his life dramatically changed as a result of the Nazi German occupation of Stanisławów, Eastern Poland, in the summer of 1941. His testimony gives insights into the gradual disintegration of a Jewish family as a result of brutal German policies of ghettoization. Eryk's testimony also sheds light on a child's life in hiding on the Aryan side. Thus, it is a document that allows a historian to fully reconstruct the rich and varied mosaic of relations between Jewish children and Christian Polish families during and immediately after the war.
This source is a part of the Jewish Children & the Holocaust teaching module.
1. ERYK HOLDER
Born 1937 in Stanisławów
(Statement taken by Dr Dawid Haupt, Przemyśl)
My father was an engineer at the power station in Stanisławów. Before the war my parents lived in their own house on Wysockiego Street in Stanisławów. My father worked and things were fine at home. When the Germans came my parents had to leave the house and we moved in with my grandfather and grandmother. Then things got worse but we did not go hungry, and father was still working at the power station and also trading. Mother was a cleaner at the railway generating station. I remember how one day the police took us from the flat and led us to the Jewish cemetery. When we go there there were hundreds of Jews, and more and more of them kept arriving. There were men, women and children. At one place in the cemetery there was a huge grave. The people who were standing nearest the grave had to undress and walk up to it, and one of the Germans shot them from behind. I saw that with my own eyes. The children were not shot but were thrown into the grave alive. At the cemetery my mother somehow got lost in the crowd and ended up at the front, close to where they were shooting people. So Mama was just about to get undressed to be killed, but since it was already late in the evening everyone who had not been shot was ordered to go home. We finally met up with Mama at the cemetery in the evening and we went home with grandmother (I do not remember whether grandfather was also there).
When the ghetto was formed in Stanisławów we moved to Śnieżna Street. Mama was taken while she was at work and put on a transport. On the way she jumped out of the train and broke her leg. Then she was taken to a work-camp, and soon after she was put on another transport. I never saw her again. Not long after that they shot my grandmother; I do not remember now whether it was then that they shot grandfather, or whether it had been earlier at the cemetery.
When they shot grandmother we had to leave Śnieżna Street and we moved in with a lady in the ghetto. My father went on working at the railway and brought home food home, and the lady cooked for us and did our laundry.
This did not last long. They began transporting Jews out of the ghetto again. It was at that time that my father took me with him one day as he left the ghetto on his way to work. He told me to walk a few steps behind him. When we were near the railway a man came up to me, took me by the hand and led me to my 'aunt'. I knew this man was Mr Łopatyński, because my father had told me at home that he would hide me. In the evening my father came to see my 'aunt', who was Mr Łopatyński's sister, and spent a few days with me. Father gave Mr Łopatyński all our things and our money and grandfather's, and showed him the place where he had buried some gold.
While I was at this aunt's, Mr Łopatyński built a hiding place in his garden, and when had finished it he took me to his house and hid me there. He made a wooden cot there. There was also a big opening with a grate in the hide-out, but there was no glass in it. I was not allowed to go near the opening, as children played in the garden and they would have noticed me. I knew that no one should know I was in the hide-out. Mr Łopatyński's children did not know about me either. I spent the summer and the winter there, and the next summer, until the Soviets drove the German's out. It was not bad in the hide-out. Mr Łopatyński or his wife brought me food a few times a day. I ate the same things they did. Sometimes they gave me a bath, but only when their children were not home. In the winter, I lay under the quilt all day. I don't remember whether I was cold. I was only ill once – I caught a chill.
I never went up to the opening in the hide-out, though I could hear the children playing in the garden; and I always remember that no one should see me. I was not afraid to be alone in the hide-out, and I never cried. But I missed my mother and father very much.
After the first few days, my father moved from aunt's flat to some barracks were Jews were living. For some time he continued to work on the railway. One day Mr Łopatyński came home from work and said that Germans had shot my father. They had been rounding up Jews from work to take to the cemetery; my father started to run away, and a German spotted him and shot him dead. When the Soviet army drove the Germans out of Stanisławów, Mr Łopatyński took me from the hide-out to his flat, and a week later handed me over to the Hellmans, a Jewish family who had survived. When the Hellmans left Stanisławów they took me with them and put me into a Jewish nursery in Przemyśl. I am all right here, because there are other children here with me. I am now in the first year at school.
I had no brothers and sisters. While I was at Mr Łopatyński's sister's I played with her son Ryś. Ryś loved me and never did me any harm.
My aunt taught me to say my prayers, ‘Our Father' and 'Hail Mary'. I knew that I was a Jewish boy and that because of that the Germans wanted to kill me.
(Archive of the CJHC, statement no. 889/II)
Hochberg-Mariańska, Maria and Noe Grüss, eds. The Children Accuse. Translated by Bill Johnston. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1996, 117–19.