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A Young Holocaust Survivor from Mielec, Poland. Part of Her Family Denounced by Jews

john peczkis|Monday, June 20, 2011

Irene Eber first describes the idyllic life of herself and her family before the war. She focuses on the Jewish traditions and observances.

She then talks about how the Germans entered her native Mielec in 1939, and burned the butcher shop, synagogue, and associated libraries with the men herded inside. She smelled the odor of burning wood and burning human flesh. In very early 1942, the Mielec Jewish community was among the first to be shipped to the newly constructed death camps---in this case nearby Belzec. Other local Jews were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz


     
           

Eber owes her life to at least two Polish families who aided and hid her--Korpantowa and Orlowsky [Orlowski?]. At one point, she and several other Jews hid behind a wall while the Germans and their dogs were searching only a few feet away. The slightest noise would have doomed them.

Although she had a largely Aryan appearance, Eber feared being recognized as a fugitive Jew, not only by Poles but also by Jews. In fact, part of her family was denounced by one or more Jews, as she relates: "I learned recently that in this camp were three brothers (or was it only one?) named Kaplan, who were Gestapo informers. They were free to come and go as they pleased, using their freedom not only to betray Jews sheltered by Poles in the vicinity of Mielec, but also to give away anyone who had come into the camp illegally. I don't know if they did it to ingratiate themselves with the Germans, hoping thereby to save their own skins. Was it malice, or personal grudges against people from Mielec that they had known? Whatever the reason, it was a Kaplan who informed the Germans about the three tired fugitives in the barracks. Father, Aunt Feige, and Cousin Esther were apparently shot in the camp but not made to dig their graves. The bodies of the three were left to lie where they had fallen for all to see when they returned from their day of hard labor. Later they were buried in the forest surrounding the camp. To this day somewhere in a forest near Mielec in an unmarked grave are the remains, as are the bones of many other victims of the Kaplans and the Germans." (p. 130).

After the war, Eber was surprised to learn that she was not the only Jew from Mielec who survived the war. She effortlessly switched from a Jewish religious to partly Christian to Jewish secular identity. Parts of her book include her recollections and reflections while living in Israel. She visited Poland in 1980, and quickly observed what had changed and what had remained the same since before WWII.

The author mentions Krakow and its architecture several times. She recounts how the Flemish tapestries had been evacuated down-river during the 1939 War, taken successively to France, England, and Canada, and not returned to Poland until 1961.
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