Archive for Radomsko ghetto

Among the Righteous, on the passing of Marian Bereska

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Poland, refugee crisis with tags , , , , , on December 31, 2015 by Louise Steinman

IMG_6326I can’t let 2015 fade into the night without making mention of a remarkable man who passed away in a little town in central Poland on December 20, the day before the winter solstice.

I had the privilege of meeting Marian Bereska first in 2009, when he finally was willing to tell his story of how he and is mother Janina together hid five Jews from the Radomsko ghetto in their little house.

(Below: Janina Bereska with young Marian)

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For seventy years, he’d kept this story to himself. He hadn’t told his wife, his children, or any of his neighbors or friends in the town where he’d lived his entire life. In the postwar years, under Communism, secrecy about the past had become a habit. For a while it appeared that Marian Bereska would carry his secret to the grave.

IMG_6327 I will always remember that remarkable winter day in an empty hotel dining room in Radomsko, with snow falling outside the windows– when Marian met with me, his grandson Szymon (who helped persuade his grandfather that it was safe now to tell his story), my journalist friend Maciej Ziembinski, and my translator Tomasz Cebulski, to tell us his story, even sketching out the dimensions of the bunker in my little black notebook—the trapdoor in the kitchen, the second door to the potato cellar. His mother Janina was a young widow with young children (Marian was eight). They hid five people—Berek Ofman, his schoolmate Regina Epstein, her parents, and her cousin– in their bunker for two years. Young Marian procured food for the hidden guests, trading linens for bread. They came close to disaster more than once. In occupied Poland, the Nazi’s penalty for anyone found hiding Jews was death for the entire family.

where he ran Marian

When I asked Marian why he and his mother had assumed the brutal risks of harboring fugitives during the German occupation, he brushed off my query: the question had no meaning. They saw people who needed their help. They responded.

As we move into the New Year, at a time when so many around the globe and in our communities are on the move seeking safety, shelter, sustenance– it’s worth pausing to think about those like Marian and Janina Bereska who said yes to rescuing strangers, even at grave risk to themselves. Rest in peace, Marian.

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photo: Marian Bereska in 2011, Warsaw, with Leo Ofman, son of Berek Ofman, who was rescued with 4 others by Marian and his mother Janina. This was the day of the ceremony in which Marian received the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations, from Yad Vashem on behalf of his mother and himself.

The house on Rolna

Posted in Poland with tags , , , on December 19, 2010 by Louise Steinman

Back in Los Angeles in the wake of my return from Poland, I discover a strategy for jetlag. Late at night, sleep elusive, I fly to Radomsko via Google Earth, sipping tea as the glowing globe rotates on its axis and the image on my screen zooms in on the little town between Czestochowa and Lodz.

With a click of the mouse I am standing in front of the abandoned Thonet-Mundus factory, the forlorn train station, the Zamaszek Hotel where I listened to a rescuer tell me his story. Another click and I am standing in front of the house on Rolna Street, the last known address in the Radomsko ghetto for my great-aunt, Fayga Konarska Wilhelm, and her husband.

It took several visits to Radomsko over the years until I finally found someone—an old woman– at home on Rolna Street. It was in the spring of 2008. She was weeding in her garden behind the house. There was a dilapidated greenhouse and an old appletree in her yard. When my friends gently questioned her in Polish, she gestured with her weeding claw, like a bewildered bird. Her grandfather built the house, during the war it was requisitioned by the Germans, her family forced to move. Several Jewish families were billeted here. She didn’t know their names.

I glanced inside an open side door to the house. Slanted light struck the small kitchen table covered with a plastic plaid tablecloth and mottled the bare wood floor. A sink stacked with dishes was in shadow.

Rain falling in Los Angeles,  soaking our garden, the apple and orange trees behind our house in Silver Lake.  I fall asleep in the winter dark afternoon, dreaming of Poland.

The house on Rolna Street

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