Krulik's story
Hugo's story
Rose K's story
Abraham's story
Salek's story
Rose D's story
Roman's story
Pinchas' story

Abraham's story

Abraham was 13 when the war began. He often spent time in the workshop run by his father and uncle. 'Later, in the camps, that helped to save me: I would pretend I was a skilled worker.' But he was only 4 when his aunt and baby cousin said goodbye: they were going to join another uncle abroad, to get away from poverty and anti-Semitism.

Abraham's father was an important man in the community: a local councillor and the Jewish representative in the departments of welfare and trade. There was a Polish army barracks up the road, and 200 of the soldiers there were Jewish; each year Abraham's father negotiated for these men to have leave during the annual religious ceremonies of Passover.

Abraham went to the Jewish school and studied Hebrew and the Jewish religion every day. After classes he played with his friends - Jews and non-Jews together - in the street or on the improvised football ground near the river. Boys from the local Catholic school often threw stones and taunted the Jewish boys. 'We'd try to defend ourselves, but were most often the losers: there were so many more of them.' All the same, 'until 1939 we got on well with our non-Jewish neighbours and they respected us. After the war began I can't truthfully say that this was still the case.'

Like all the Jews in Poland, Abraham and his family were forced to live in separate ghettos, first in their home town and then in another. After two years of struggling to survive in the ghetto, Abraham and his father were sent to a local labour camp: 'I was forced to work producing bullets for the German war effort' - against his own country. His mother was killed at Treblinka.

Then Abraham was transferred to a labour camp in Germany. Several thousand Jews worked here, first building their own barracks to live in and then on the factory line, assembling anti-tank rifles. It was at this camp that Abraham's lessons in his father's workshop came in useful, and he was lucky enough to get work outside the camp, doing repairs to the SS men's living quarters. The Germans treated him well, and once when he fell into wet concrete he was rescued, given 2 days off and extra food. This second camp as a whole was more humane than the first: 'there were no selections, or executions, or crematoriums, but there was still fear from whippings, disease and starvation - and no medicine. I had an infected thumbnail, and it had to be pulled off by a Dutch prisoner who was a doctor, using ordinary pliers.'

After the war Abraham was one of the lucky few who managed to make his way home. He also found his father, who had also managed to survive several deportations and concentration camps. But his father urged Abraham to leave and try to get to Britain, maybe find his long-lost aunt. On Abraham's first day in England, 'I thought I was in heaven, there were white sheets on the bed and there was white bread to eat.'

But after six years of horrifying experiences it was hard to acclimatise. 'I found it difficult to eat with a knife and fork: we only had spoons in the camps, or ate with our fingers. We were quite wild, too. We weren't used to proper social behaviour. And we were especially difficult where food was concerned. We would pass the food along the tables, underneath so that the plates were hidden, and pile several helpings onto one plate. Then we'd complain that some of us hadn't had any food. It was also faster to shovel the food into our mouths with spoons.

'At the local cinema only one or two of us would pay. The rest would sneak in while the cashier wasn't looking. We demanded more pocket money, and bicycles, and we were noisy and badly behaved if we didn't get them at once.

'In fact we were treated very patiently, and began to realise that we had to learn to live in this new society. In the camps we'd been treated like animals, and now we had begun to behave like animals and had to be rehabilitated. In the camps it was a case of the survival of the fittest. But now we started to respect the doctors and people looking after us. So we didn't, after all, turn into criminals or psychopaths.'

Abraham was given help to find his aunt Esther, and in November 1945 he met her at Euston station in London. 'I cannot to this day speak about my emotions - when I saw her running towards me on the platform - but I will never forget it.'

Now Abraham wanted to be within reach both of his new friends and his aunt. He was also 'desperate to learn English'. He managed to persuade the Jewish Refugee Committee to fix all this for him, and moved into a London hostel. 'I always felt very relaxed in England, not always looking over my shoulder for fear of verbal or physical abuse as I did when a child, or fear of beatings or death as a teenager in the camps. For the first time I felt free and unafraid, and gave in to my two new obsessions: food, and learning English.'

Despite his new feelings of safety, Abraham found life difficult. In time he had to leave the hostel to find a permanent home, and he could not adapt to any of the jobs he found. At last he became an apprentice in the fur trade, and later became a furrier himself, with his own business and a partner who was an old friend from the days in the ghetto. In 1951 he married his cousin, the baby girl to whom he'd said goodbye when he was 4 years old. They had two sons. Abraham has no regrets about settling in the UK. 'I was given the opportunity to have a family and make a contribution to this country.'

One of the acknowledged crimes of genocide is inflicting mental as well as physical harm on members of the victimised group. Once someone treats you as less than human, you can find yourself actually becoming less human because of it. People's self-respect is easy to harm. On top of that, the life of a victim is filled with fear. How can self-respect be preserved? How can victimisation (and demonisation) be resisted?



  P E A C E  P L E D G E  U N I O N  1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.
  phone  +44 (0)20 7424 9444  fax: +44 (0)20 7482 6390     CONTACT US