To Catch A Jew
By George Rynecki
The following was probably the most traumatic experience I went through in the war time. In June 1943, my wife, Stella, and son, Alex, over six years old at the time, were arrested on the street in the southern district of Warsaw, Mokotow. They were dragged by the Polish police to the police station. At the same place a few weeks earlier, Stella's two nephews, one ten the other five years old, were also arrested, and disposed of to the Germans for execution. The two boys were children of my wife's two sisters, Irene and Clara. Clara's ten year old was already a mathematical genius. They were taken by the Poles with one of their fathers. No one ever heard of them again.
I was by chance sitting at Kojder's home. The telephone rang. Kojder was in the shower, so I picked up the phone. It was Stella calling from the police station. She denied being Jewish and asked to make one call to me. She claimed to bring me there and explain everything. As luck wanted, I picked up the phone. I was not far away from the station. I started to run.
It was already close to the curfew hour and there was no other way but on foot. On my way I stopped at our apartment to get a solid gold cigarette box. The box was fourteen karat and weighed two hundred grams. I had a small amount of money. I knew that money was the key, and a means to salvation. I arrived there drenched in perspiration from running and stress. I barged in and saw Alex on a bunk crying, Stella sitting next to him trying to quiet the boy.
First I had to show my papers. The policemen, there were three of them, said, "You are not involved, we can see that, but she and the kid are Jewish and we have to deliver them to the Gestapo." I started to bargain for my wife's and child's life.
I offered to meet them the next day with money. I showed them the box. It impressed them a bit. "OK, but it is not enough. And if we should let them go, there has to be a lot more money and now. No delays. Before nightfall they'll be delivered." It took more than money and time to persuade the Polish bullies.
In sheer desperation I told them in a very quiet voice, "You better do what I tell you, because in five minutes from now, if I don't show up downstairs with her and the kid, this whole complex will blow sky high. You are here surrounded by my colleagues from the Army of the People. I am not making jokes. This time you are trapped, not me."
My desperate position made an impression and in a minute or so the "transaction" was made. I had to show up the next day at noon in a local restaurant with five thousand zloty and buy them a lunch with drinks. This is how it happened. I grabbed Alex in my arms and we ran out.
The curfew was already on, and there was a chance we'd be shot on sight. We came to the apartment in one piece, and all of us in shock. It's impossible to describe this experience, and remain calm. That was a Polish national pastime: To catch a Jew and get money or deliver for a price his money to the Germans. We were nothing but chattel and, of course, God was hiding somewhere else.
Next day I did show up against the policemen's expectations. I gave them the money, and actually we became "friends." They assured me that no one will ever touch me or my little family. I must say I have never counted on this promise. My mother lived not far away from this location, and I had to go through there at least once a week. It is true that they did not bother me at all. They were positive I was an Aryan.
In reflecting on the times, I am sure we saved our lives by thinking fast and clear.
After the bitter experience with the Polish police, I felt we had to move again. We found a nice house in a fairly new development at the Fort Mokotow. It was summer 1943, the weather was beautiful, and I felt somehow more secure. I just acquired new papers, looking excellent. I think the papers were actually original. Nobody could detect the falsity of them.
One could buy anything on the black market. This is how we could survive starting with food, clothes, and down the line. Nothing could stop the black market. The Germans themselves used it to get things unavailable through ration coupons.
As long as I wouldn't say it, nobody knew me as Jewish. I believe this was my secret to survive the war. Kojder was the closest one to me, and even he didn't know or suspect. One day someone actually pointed me out as Jewish. It happened in Krakau. An official of the Hitlerjugend asked Kojder. His answer was no, and he offered to bring me to the Gestapo for examination. These things would happen with real Poles quite often.
In defiance I actually presented myself with Kojder to a higher official of the Gestapo. Believing Kojder, he asked us to come to his home one evening. We did go. He let us wait for about fifteen minutes, then let a huge German shepherd into the room. The dog sniffed for a moment then settled at my feet. I patted the animal, and it was quiet.
The German walked in introduced himself, looked me over, and said, "You are not Jewish. The dog would tear you apart if you were. He was trained to do it. Too bad some people sidetrack us with false reports. These are mostly jealous Poles and we have to check every case as it comes. I wish I haven't had the duty to do it to you. You are free to go of course." I asked the man if he could give me a letter stating my status as non-Jewish. Without hesitating, he said, "Come tomorrow to my office and you'll get one."
This little paper saved me not once in my constant travels. A bit of determination and perhaps courage paid off. We had a collection of different papers, some originals, some phonies. We used to flirt with the German secretaries in the offices, and developed a system how to steal blank letterhead, put a stamp in place of a signature, and later write all kinds of stories or recommendations for ourselves, and the needs of the hour.
It was my way to fight the war and to survive. I was successful during all the war years up to almost the end.
This article is a chapter excerpted from the new book, "Surviving Hitler in Poland: One Jew's Story"
Forced Labor © The Moshe Rynecki Virtual Museum
The author invites you to visit www.rynecki.org to see more drawings from the Moshe Rynecki gallery.
from the March 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine