The everyday life of Jews in hiding
For Jews in hiding on the “Aryan side” in occupied Poland, what did their daily lives look like? How did they meet their needs, such as breathing, nutrition and sanitation, whilst in hiding-places? Why was snoring dangerous and why did illness and impending death give them a feeling of guilt? Were sex, menstruation, pregnancy or abortion mentioned in the accounts of those who were saved? Read the article by Joanna Król-Komła about the everyday lives of Jews in hiding, based on, among other sources, interviews from the oral history collection of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This text is part of the Jews in Hiding on the “Aryan Side” section in which we discuss this context of the Holocaust in details in many aspects
Table of contents
- Learning to walk. The health of hiding Jews after leaving hideouts ⇩
- It was reeking from the hole. Physiological needs of Jews in hiding ⇩
- Heavenly potatoes. Food of hiding Jews ⇩
- Sitting on a woman for two hours. Breathing and snoring as dangers while hiding ⇩
- Compact the package and bury the body. Death in a hideout and a hidden burial ⇩
- Something embarrassing, something nice. Sex in hiding places, as well as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion ⇩
Everyday activities related to satisfying basic human physiological needs, such as breathing, defecating, eating, are hardly the subject of public debate, neither in Poland nor probably in any other country. They are all the more so ignored when it comes to the events of the past, especially those taking place in a context as dramatic as the fate of Jews trying to save their lives in Poland – a country occupied by the Third Reich and a site where the German Nazis were implementing their plan to exterminate all Jews in Europe.
The issues most frequently discussed in the public sphere are the attitudes of Polish people towards their Jewish neighbours, the heroism of people helping Jews, and the complex geopolitical situation in which Poland found itself during World War II. The debate often focuses on the broader political context and leaves no room for talking about the minutiae of everyday life. And yet – paradoxically – it was in fact everyday life which to a large extent determined who would survive and who would not. This gap in the public debate is of course filled to some extent by researchers, especially those dealing with social history, cultural anthropology, or literary history, as well as museologists collecting historical objects and testimonies.
When looking at museum items displayed at exhibitions or accessible online, including oral history interviews which have been intensively collected in newly established cultural institutions in Poland, we can use a little empathy and cognitive patience to discover what is hidden, ignored, omitted, sometimes even concealed in public discussions. It is in these moments of revelation that we realise the horror of the fate which befell the Jews in hiding, as well as the Poles helping them. The horror of this situation was accurately described by Marianna Wachowiec, Righteous Among the Nations, resident of Jakówka in Podlaskie Province, in an interview for POLIN Museum:
“You can hide a sack of grain somewhere […] But how do you hide a human being? It is necessary for them to breathe, to defecate, and to be provided with food.”
The health of hiding Jews after leaving hideouts
I shall start from the ending, that is from the moment of Poland's liberation from German invaders. In the oral history collection of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we have over a dozen accounts discussing these events – testimonies about the Soviet Union's offensive on the Eastern Front in 1944. There is also one exceptionally moving object related to this historical moment – a modest-looking visiting ticket displayed at the beginning of the Post-War Gallery in the Core Exhibition of POLIN Museum. It was the attic calendar of Celina Glücksberg, who was hiding in Lutsk. Right next to the gallery there is a wall filled with registration cards of surviving Jews who reported to the Central Committee of Polish Jews to testify about their survival.
The attic calendar measures 9.8 × 5.5 cm and is filled with grey lines crossed with red lines – this is how Celina counted the weeks spent in hiding. When there was no room left, she erased the lines and started the count anew. The last notes were made in March 1944, when the Russians entered Lutsk. For the Jews in hiding, this was a breakthrough moment, as they were finally able to leave their hideouts. The deadly threat of extermination was chased off, although the predicament of the Jewish community in Poland just after the war was still quite precarious. It is hard to image the feelings accompanying this moment of leaving darkness and returning to light. Where were the Jews emerging from? From wardrobes, lockers, attics, barns, cowsheds, dugouts, cellars, graves, straw stacks, tree trunks, God knows what other places. They were often coming out into the light after many months of lying down or keeping a twisted, constrained position. Can we imagine today what it was like to hide in a curled position for days on end in some dark cellar? Maybe children have more imagination than adults, because they still play hide and seek. However, the hiding known from childhood, which has a pleasant thrill of adrenaline, is something completely different from adult people having to hide for months and years when war is raging outside.
From among the aforementioned accounts about the offensive of the Soviet troops on the Eastern Front, I will mention one that provides an exceptionally straightforward description of the situation of Jews in hiding who, once stripped of humanity, were later struggling to regain it. It is the account of Irena Senderska-Rzońca (POLIN Museum, 2014). For more than a year, her family gave shelter in Borysław (Ukr. Borislav) to the three-member Bander family – Eliasz and Regina with their son Miron. Irena Senderska-Rzońca's father, Józef Krzyształowski, worked as a taxi driver. Eliasz Bandera was a physician. Before the war, Józef had probably been one of Eliasz’s patients, or Eliasz one of Józef’s clients. During the day, the members of the Jewish family had to hide in a narrow part of the attic, where they could only lie down. They also hid in the dovecot. Józef Krzyształowski’s wife, Helena née Kryć, did her best to provide alimentation for both families, for example by exchanging various goods for food. Their daughter Irena was responsible for bringing buckets with food for the Bandera family and taking out buckets with faeces. In August 1944, the Bandera family was finally able to leave the hideout. Irena Senderska-Rzońca recalled:
“And these Jews were so terribly afraid of those Russians. They didn't want to leave. My father went to them, he says: ‘Get out, tell them you survived here.’ ‘But he has a gun, he has a rifle, he can shoot me.' It was pure anxiety. They didn't come out. Those Russians withdrew and it was only my mother who managed to pull the child out [of the hideout]. Regina, the mother, came after the child, and he [Eliasz] stayed […] lying in the attic for a few more days.”.
After several days of persuading Eliasz to come out and bringing him better-quality food (because it was finally possible), Krzyształowski managed to convince him that he could leave the hideout. This is what he looked like:
“[…] he came downstairs, leaned against the door of that cupboard. I remember him leaning, very dishevelled, with the jacket torn at the elbows. Elbows dirty, worn […] his bare knees and the torn trousers […] and he was standing there not knowing whether he could or could not walk […].”
Irena Senderska-Rzońca tells the story in a compassionate and yet lively manner and paints a picture of a human being in a truly deplorable condition. Eliasz's body, confined to one position for months, cannot get used to the new living conditions. The adult male is not even sure whether he can walk. He is like a little child learning to take his first steps. Eliasz crawls out of his hiding place to assume an upright posture. It is worth noting the reaction of Józef Krzyształowski, as described by Irena Senderska-Rzońca: “[…] my father entered the apartment and carried on a hanger… shirt, jacket and trousers. And so he looked at him and says to him ‘Eliasz,’ he says, ‘You’re the doctor and I am the chauffeur, so you take this suit.’ And gave his last suit to him.”
And thus, by giving him the suit, Józef Krzyształowski helped Eliasz Bandera restore his human dignity.
Physiological needs of Jews in hiding
Almost all accounts about Jews hiding in the countryside mention how their physiological needs had to be limited to three basic processes: breathing, defecation, and eating. Without them, life cannot be sustained. Buckets provided by people who sheltered Jews have since become a symbol of defecation and provision of food during the Holocaust, as in the account of aforementioned Irena Senderska-Rzońca:
“And it was carried in that bucket. You put a pot of soup inside. You had to bring them some water for bathing and take out the excretions. So I was going to and fro with this bucket all the time.”
It should be noted that this “going to and fro” also involved risk. Irena Senderska-Rzońca recalls a nosy neighbour who asked her why she was so frequently lugging a bucket around. The most intimate experiences of hiding, such as defecation, are mentioned only in passing in the accounts included in the POLIN Museum collection, as is the case for all other topics considered embarrassing, such as menstruation or sex, to which we will come back later. The only exception are detailed descriptions of elaborate mechanisms in the form of hidden toilets. One such contraption was built by the families Feiler and the Grosman, who were sheltered by the Chucherko family in Nowa Góra near Kraków. As it was described by Leopold Chucherko, Righteous Among the Nations (POLIN Museum, 2009):
“And, madam, they dug out a sort of an adit […] And there they relieved themselves into a bucket, and then poured it down the tunnel. […] My brother devised a handle that made the bucket tilt and the contents spilt out. So it came back up clean. [..] But one thing we couldn't eliminate. It was reeking from the hole… if you threw someone in, he would die within five minutes.”
Despite the evasive impersonal forms ("a handle made the bucket tilt," “the contents spilt out,” “it was reeking from the hole”), this description is quite thought-provoking: five people, women and men, hiding in in a very limited space had to overcome the feeling of shame and defecate in the presence of others. For the two and a half years they spent in the hideout, they were constantly accompanied by the unpleasant smell of their faeces. On the one hand, the stench scared away nosy people, on the other, it posed a threat – it could arouse suspicion whether it was due to Jews in hiding. It is worth mentioning that despite such conditions, there was sexual intercourse in the hideout: the couple had a son while living there.
There was also another important issue associated with physiological needs in hideouts: the limited possibility of satisfying them, restricted only in specific time intervals. Sławomir Michalski (POLIN Museum, 2011) recounted how Albert (Jakub) Szewejkowski, who needed to hide in his house in Piastów near Warsaw due to his "bad appearance," would go out of the window into the garden at two in the morning “to relieve himself”: “And otherwise he sat squatting behind this armchair all the time. For a period of, I don’t know, two or three months.”.
Food of hiding Jews
What did people eat while hiding? This depended on their wealth, the standard of living of the people helping them, and the condition of the market. The POLIN Museum collection holds many accounts of rescuers or their children which include descriptions of efforts to obtain food. Young Rysiek Ciszewski from Stanisławów (POLIN Museum, 2010) would cycle around the city to buy food from various different places, because his mother, Janina Ciszewska, was sheltering 11 people. Buying large amounts of food in a single store could have raised suspicions. In times of crisis, Helena Krzyształowska would cook nettle and white goosefoot soup to feed both families – the rescuers and those in hiding. In addition, they kept a goat (and therefore had milk) and pigeons in the homestead.
“We ate warm, steaming potatoes. They had a heavenly taste and scent,”, recalled Mira Ledowski (POLIN Museum, 2015) when discussing her first meeting with Antonina Działoszyńska, thanks to whom she and her mother survived the war.
“One day, she brought a cup of milk. And she divided that milk: half for her children, half for me. My mother, a teacher, could not stand it and asked: ‘But why are you dividing it like that? There are three children.’ ‘Yes, but your daughter is so pale.’ Of course she was pale, because she had been sitting underground," continued Mira Ledowski.
The descriptions of the poverty that many Jews and Poles who helped them suffered are very poignant. Karolina Dzięciołowska, author and documentalist working at POLIN Museum, thus described the life of the Sikoń family: “The rescuers and those in hiding were terribly poor. The yields from one hectare plot – cereals, potatoes, cabbage – were insufficient. The Sikoń family were helped by their neighbours, sometimes they would steal chickens, or pick berries from the forest in the summer. Anna, who did farm work for a German living in the village, would steal whatever she could. The Jews helped on the farm, but they tried to be inconspicuous.”.
Józef and Lucyna Finks with their two children gave shelter to the six-person Grinberg family in Czekanów near Sokołów Podlaski. Sara Gliksman née Grinberg recalls (POLIN Museum, 2011) that it was difficult to get bread, because most people in the countryside baked their own and did not buy it. Józef Fink baked his bread together with a local priest and had to hide the fact that he needed some additional loaves. Usually the type of food itself was not as important as the fact that every meal was accompanied by fear of exposing the hideout.
Breathing and snoring as dangers while hiding
At times, this fear took a dramatic turn, especially when it came to satisfying the need most crucial to sustaining life – breathing. The theme of difficulties in breathing appears in numerous accounts of rescuers and those in hiding, especially in the context of moments of direct danger.
Helena Sobkowiak-Ojak (POLIN Museum, 2009) gave shelter in Czortków near Tarnopol (nowadays Ternopil, Ukraine) to two Jewish doctors, Baruch Milch and Jakub Weinles. Their hideout had the dimensions of 3.5 × 1.5 m and was ventilated through a hole in the ground, covered with mesh and grass. In April 1944, when staff members of the retreating German troops stopped at the Ojaks’ house, their horses trampled the vent. Weinles and Milch made a hole in the wall to reach the basement adjacent to the hideout, as it was the only way to avoid suffocation. They stayed in the hideout without help for eight days – the Ojak family were ordered by the Germans to leave the house.
Aforementioned Sara Gliksman had a similar experience. The Germans, retreating from the Soviet offensive, seized the house of the Fink family that had been sheltering her and rushed them away. Sarah's father took active steps to save his family:
“Six down there and nothing… […] my dad made a hole [in the wall of the hideout] and six of us took turns. I remember coming and inhaling the air, exhaling it and waiting for my turn again. Mrs Fink would come to us because the hens were left behind and she had to come feed them. She knew about the hole, so she would throw us some cucumber, a bottle of water, some short letter describing what was going on, because it's a terrible thing when you don't know what’s happening.”
The Grinberg family survived the following six or seven days like that. Sara Gliksman recalls that through the same opening in the hideout, she and her family watched the Russians who finally came with the advancing Eastern Front. Seeing the world through a small hole or a crack is, of course, another characteristic theme of the stories of Jews hiding on the "Aryan side." In the light seeping through the boards of the barn where she was hiding, Sara Gliksman mended socks and repaired tights. She alternately read books from the local library and mended her stockings in that very light. She became a true master of the craft. Years later, after emigrating to Israel, she could still expertly mend her stockings.
Recurring in many accounts is also the theme of snoring, which could be dangerous for the people in hiding. Symcha Binem Motyl Do moich ewentualnych czytelników. Wspomnienia z czasu wojny (Warsaw 2011) recalls a situation when the snorers she was hiding with needed to be awakened with jerks and fist punches. Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikow in her book Strategie przetrwania. Żydzi po aryjskiej stronie Warszawy [Strategies of Survival. Jews on the Aryan Side of Warsaw] (Warsaw 2014) recalls the memories of physician Anna Meroz, who tied herself with strings to the other people in hiding: “Once I heard snoring, I would pull the string tied to Sewek's hand, who would in turn pull the string tied to Stanisław's leg.”
Tauba Zylbersztajn, her brother Fiszel, and Alter Katz from Tykocin were hiding in various places in Podlasie, including a barn in the village of Baranowo (probably Broniszewo) near Tykocin. At some point, a battalion of the German army retreating from the eastern front stayed the night in the barn. Tauba Zylbersztajn described this event in Księga Pamięci Tykocina (Sefer Tiktin, Tel Aviv 1959, translated by S. Rose, T. Markiewicz):
“Hundreds of German soldiers made themselves comfortable on the wheat, with three of us underneath, holding our breaths. We did not dare move a finger and lay motionless under the wheat all day and night. Eventually my brother fell asleep from exhaustion. The Germans heard his snoring and caught him […] they found a pitchfork and started looking for the rest.”
Justyna Cękalska (POLIN Museum, 2015) hid Israel Melamed and Izrael Fogelgarn in her house in Lublin. For safety reasons, she trained the dog to warn her if the Jews in hiding were too loud, including if they started snoring.
As with everything else, there were two sides to fear – the side of the people in hiding and of those hiding them. Klara Jackl, co-creator of the oral history collection at POLIN Museum, cites a macabre recollection of Jadwiga Jóźwik from Warsaw (POLIN Museum, 2009), who was giving shelter to Lea Lew in her house. During a search, she almost strangled the Jewish woman while trying to protect her.
“Three big Krauts are standing there. O Holy Mary! I closed the door in their face. I ran here. I immediately let them [the Jews] out through the kitchen door. And they hid. And I wrapped the mother in a quilt and put her into a couch. And I sat on top of her. I talked and laughed until they started to wag their fingers at me, but my heart was pounding out of my chest. They left after two hours. Can you imagine sitting for two hours in fear, on top of a woman?”
Unfortunately, we do not have an account of this situation from Leia Lew herself. The woman, born in 1860, was of an advanced age at the time of war, and we do not know if she managed to give a post-war testimony. When the other members of the Jewish family returned to the apartment, they were "pale as ghosts" from fear.
Death in a hideout and a hidden burial
The word "macabre" is not an exaggeration when we discuss another important topic related to the everyday life of hiding Jews: their death and burial. Since they died in hiding, they could not be legally buried. The only people who had a chance for a dignified burial – although often clashing with their identity and religion – were people using "Aryan papers," who were buried under a false identity, as Catholics (see Janina Goldhar's 2019 account about her grandmother's death in Warsaw). It was a different matter for those who died in hiding, literally "below the surface."
Aforementioned Leopold Chucherko described how Izaak Szaja, who died in hiding, was buried under the pantry where the hideout was located. The others had to keep on living with the awareness that there was the body of their companion underneath. Jews in hiding were buried in secret, at night, without ceremony, often in unmarked graves. From the account of Anna Pasek née Sikoń (POLIN Museum, 2009):
“Gienia had a serious lung disease. She got a severe pulmonary haemorrhage. I remember her asking: ‘What are you going to do with me?’ This was the end. She died. They had to bury her somehow. In the bushes. Not at the cemetery, because who would do it? Only in the bushes.".
At the time of her death, Genowefa Brandel-Buchbinder, who was hiding with the Sikoń family, was 30 years old and had a fiancé fighting in a partisan unit. A photo of her has been preserved in the collection of Anda Rottenberg, a copy of which is held at POLIN Museum: a young woman with her hair in a bun. Genowefa suffered from tuberculosis, there was a shortage of medications, and in addition, due to the intrusion of one of the neighbours into the Sikoń family house, she was forced to flee to the yard wearing only her shirt. It was cold. She caught a bug. She was dying knowing that her body would be troublesome to those giving her help and to the others in hiding. As described by Anna Pasek's brother, Stanisław Miczyński, in an account submitted to the Jewish Historical Institute (reference number 349/2515): "there was no other way than to compact the package and bury her body under the cover of night.". Anna Pasek:
“After the war, the bones were moved to the cemetery. Unfortunately, the flesh had already fallen off. […] She was a very good girl. Gieńka. Calm, good.”
Let us note the choice of words in describing the decomposition of the body. "The flesh had fallen off.” Only the skeleton remained of Genowefa Brandel-Buchbinder. Not only was her body buried in secret and without proper ritual, but even after the burial it continued to be an object of observation, excavation, transfer, and discussions. It was mute, deprived of its autonomy and individuality, stripped of the mystery of life and death. It became cumbersome, stiff matter that had to be put into a "package" and secretly buried in the bushes. Nonetheless, Genowefa's body was still exhumed and buried in a cemetery after the war. Meanwhile, the Polish soil holds numerous remains of people like Genowefa who still rest in anonymous graves. In their house in Szczytniki (Miechów District), the parents of Piotr Kopeć (POLIN Museum, 2018) hid fugitives from the ghetto in Proszowice: Mirla Medman, her daughter Małka (Mala Gastfriend), and Mirla's sister Rejzel Izraelewicz. He thus describes the illness and death of Rejzel:
“She fell ill […] with pneumonia. You couldn’t go to a doctor in Proszowice, neither could you bring a doctor home. She died. […] Dad buried [her] in our field. Trees are growing over her, nobody rummages or digs there. There is such a custom with Jews: it is forbidden to displace the bones of the deceased.".
Sex in hiding places, as well as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion
The interviews from the collection of POLIN Museum only mention topics such as sex or menstruation in a hideout in passing, and that only if they mention them at all. The case is similar with the accounts kept by USC Shoah Foundation. The search for these terms in the institution’s rich database only renders 35 results.
In the accounts discussing menstruation, the interviewees often describe the feeling of shame, as well as lack of knowledge about the development of a young body and refusal of the adults to explain the process: “father did not talk about it,", " mother never told us about it.". A characteristic recurring motif in the testimonies are pieces of cloth used as sanitary napkins, secretly hung out to dry in the hideouts. Chana Gitalis recalls (USC Shoah Foundation, call no. 2851):
“We only had two small rags [lit. shmatas]. We needed them. When they were bloody, we urinated on them to wash them and put them under our… [the interviewee points to her hips] to let them dry.”
Betty Gold (USC Shoah Foundation, call no. 2316) recalls how she got her first period while staying in a hideout (a dugout in a forest near Zofiówka in Volhynia). She was sleeping right next to her father and bled over him. She thought her father had been killed by someone:
“I got hysterical. I started screaming and crying. My mother and cousin took me under a tree. There was a puddle and they washed me in it. And they told me about the birds and the bees. They explained to me what it was and what had changed.”
There are no testimonies mentioning masturbation in hiding. However, there are accounts of sex, pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth. The theme of strangling Jewish babies right after their birth features prominently in sources (and the literature and films produced on the subject), especially when the child was delivered in a hideout of a larger group of people. A new-born increased the risk of being exposed, primarily due to its crying, so the despairing parents would often be pressured into strangling their own baby. Aforementioned Mira Ledowska described how her new-born brother died during a round-up in the Lviv ghetto:
“We went up there, covered ourselves with hay, and were told not to cough, talk, etc. […] we were not allowed to move or hug our mother or father, because it was dramatic, dangerous […] when we were going down, my brother was already dead. Well… what happened is what is shown in the movie In Darkness. I don't know if my father or mother did it, but there was a danger that all people would die because of the infant.”
What is characteristic in the interviewee's account is that she does not directly say what happened. The strangling of her brother by his parents is described by referring to a scene from Agnieszka Holland's film. We can only speculate why she refused to directly describe it. Maybe saying it outright would be too destructive?
The description of childbirth included in the book Szczęście posiadać dom pod ziemią... Losy kobiet ocalałych z Zagłady w okolicach Dąbrowy Tarnowskiej [How Lucky to Own a House Underground… Female Survivor of the Holocaust from the Area of Dąbrowa Tarnowska] (Warsaw 2016), edited by Jan Grabowski, is truly frightening. Chaja Rosenblatt recalled the birth of her child in a stable in a village near Radomyśl, in 1944. She gave birth among cows and a horse, on straw, without any bedding. Immediately coming to mind is a parallel with the New Testament:
“Above my head there were a few hanging branches with domestic fowl sitting on them, occasionally defecating on me. […] I had no right to scream or even grunt, because the neighbour could come to the shared backyard and hear me. My pains lasted forever, but what almost drove me insane was the moral suffering. […] After eight hours of pain, around midnight, the baby was born. An ordinary peasant woman was my midwife, my husband was next to me, and old scissors were used to cut the [umbilical] cord.”
Chaja's husband, Abraham, wrapped the child in pillows and placed it near the home of a peasant who had recently lost his son. According to Chaja Rosenblatt's account, her child was baptised, adopted by the new family, and survived the war.
The collection of POLIN Museum also includes one account of concealed childbirth (the account of Sławomir Michalski, 2011). The new-born boy was welcomed with joy by the people in hiding, and it was obvious to the Michalski family that the child would stay at their home with his parents. The boy survived the war, but his father, Albert (Jakub) Szwejkowski, who was unable to ever leave the hideout due to his “bad appearance,” was constantly making sure that the baby’s cry would not expose them. The situation became especially tense when a group of Germans looking for accommodation temporarily moved to the Michalskis’ house. As Sławomir Michalski recalled: “He would squat behind the armchair all day and keep his hand on the child's mouth so that it wouldn't cry, because Germans were in the kitchen.”
Many oral history sources mention abortions performed on women (e.g. in the forest partisan unit of the Bielski brothers, there was a doctor responsible for such procedures, see the account of Sonia Bielski from the Shoah Foundation, call no. 23579), as well as abandoning Jewish children or – featuring in numerous testimonies – handing them over to Polish guardians (see. virtual exhibition Kochanej mamósi na pamiątkę. O dzieciach żydowskich ocalonych z Zagłady [To Mummy Dearest as a Memento. Jewish Children Saved from the Holocaust]).
Reports on sexual intercourse in hiding differ depending on the author of the testimony and the circumstances of the act itself. A few years ago, the readers of the aforementioned book Szczęście posiadać dom pod ziemią... were shocked by the wartime journal entries of Molly Appelbaum (Melania Weissenberg). In 1942, she and her family found shelter on the farm of Wiktor Wójcik, who lived near Dąbrowa Tarnowska. Both Molly Appelbaum and her cousin Helena had sexual relations with Wiktor Wójcik, which they called lutanie ("soldering"). The editor of the book explained: The act of ‘soldering’ was not only an encouragement for the peasant to make further sacrifices, but also broke the terrible monotony of living underground.” Reading Molly's journal, one can reach the conclusion that the relations with Wiktor Wójcik were her and Helena’s sexual initiation. Her notes also reveal a picture of young women fascinated by sex.
Unwanted sex and sexual violence appear in many diaries, journals, and non-fiction works, such as Hanna Krall’s Ta z Hamburga [The One from Hamburg] (published in 1991). In the story described by Krall, a kind of “rescue triangle” has developed: the husband is helping his Jewish friend, who becomes pregnant with him, while his wife tries to convince her neighbours that it is her who is pregnant. The girl born from this relationship, later an adult woman, experiences great mental suffering and cannot define her own identity.
POLIN Museum’s oral history collection does not include any descriptions of intercourse, let alone sexual violence – the collected accounts focus on selfless help extended to Jews, as they are mainly testimonies of Polish Righteous Among the Nations or people whom they saved. Naturally, there must have been sex (and love!) in hiding, and erotic relations surely served as a form of spending time in a hideout, relieving stress, or just expressing tenderness – otherwise there would be no descriptions of pregnancies and births of Jewish children in hiding. In her account for USC Shoah Foundation (call no. 9254), Susan Gold (Szoszana Geller) recalls a sexual act she witnessed in a hideout near Podhorce (nowadays in Ukraine):
“There were two young people in the bunker, my cousin and his girlfriend, both around 20 years old. And that was my first experience… I remember hearing them make love, some kind of intimacy. And I remember it as something nice, something related to life, opposite to death.”
Such descriptions of sex – I would venture to say healthy, affirmative – are, however, rather rare. The topic of intimacy evoked embarrassment and much ambivalence in most people giving post-war accounts.
Joanna Król-Komła, cooperation: Krzysztof Bielawski, Klara Jackl, ed. Mateusz Szczepaniak, October 2021
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I would like to thank Krzysztof Bielawski for his help and performing search queries in the collections of USC Shoah Foundation and in written sources. The discovered material greatly aided me with writing the sections about menstruation, pregnancy, sex, snoring in hideouts.
Thanks to Klara Jackl's search queries in the POLIN Museum collection, I was able to cite, among others, Jadwiga Jóźwik's account of Lea Lew hiding in the couch. I want to thank Klara for reading the text and giving me valuable suggestions on the selection of sources.
Some of the accounts cited in the text can also be found in the article Nagie ciało. O ukrywaniu Żydów w relacjach polskich Ratujących na podstawie kolekcji historii mówionej Muzeum POLIN [Naked Body. On Hiding Jews in the Accounts of Polish Rescuers, Based on POLIN Museum's Oral History Collection] , which we wrote with Klara Jackl for the Jewish Historical Institute (expected publication, edited by Professor Anna Landau-Czajka, in 2022).
- Strategies for the survival of jews on the “aryan side” »
- Hiding Places of Jews in occupied Poland »
- Jews hiding in cities »
- Jews hiding in the countryside »
- Jews hiding in cemeteries »
- Cupboard as a vestige of the Holocaust in Polish culture »
- Preserved hideouts of Jews in Poland »
- Architecture of hideouts from the times of the Holocaust: »
- Archiwum USC Shoah Foundation, Relacja Soni Bielski, No. 23579; Relacja Chany Gitalis, No. 2851; Relacja Betty Gold, No. 2316; Relacja Susan Gold (Szoszany Geller), No. 9254.
- Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, Dokumenty Stanisława Miczyńskiego, No. 349/2515.
- H. Krall, Ta z Hamburga, [w:] tejże, Taniec na cudzym weselu, Polska Oficyna Wydawnicza „BGW”, Warszawa 1993.
- S.B. Motyl, Do moich ewentualnych czytelników. Wspomnienia z czasu wojny, ed. i wstęp A. Haska, Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Warszawa 2011.
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