The Szymański family

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"Mum bought me a cross on a gold chain so that I'd look right" – the story of the Szymański family

Fela Raviv lived in Łódż, at 6 Dolna Street, together with her parents Mojżesz Haberman and Regina (Rifka, nee Moro, her family came from Radom), as well as her two siblings – her older sister Haja (born 1930) and younger brother Icchak (born 1934). Her father ran a weaving workshop in their apartment, making scarves. Both Yiddish and Polish were spoken at home. Thanks to her sister who learned Polish at school, Fela spoke Polish very well.

When the Germans entered Łódż, the family lost their means to make a living. They were transported to Kraków, where Regina gave birth to another child – a daughter Hana (Hanka). The Haberman family attempted to move to Regina's family in Radom, but there was not enough room for them there. So they travelled to a village near Kazimierz Mały, to a farm owned by other relatives of Regina's.

After some time, they again found themselves in Radom – in a small ghetto, established at the beginning of April 1941, in the poorest part of the city. Arround 8,000 Jews were moved into the ghetto, where hunger and a typhus epidemic prevailed. Faced with this hunger, her parents and, later, Fela and her older sister, began sneaking out of the ghetto to exchange everyday articles for food. Fela's sister's dark hair often resulted in the girls being chased away, with dogs being set after them. So, soon after, Fela began walking to local villages on her own.

In an interview given to POLIN Museum in 2015, Fela Raviv recalls, "I was eight years old and I would walk from village to village. Mum bought me a cross on a gold chain so that I'd look right. I could easily speak Polish. I was accepted well everywhere and given food to eat". She would introduce herself as Weronka Mickiewicz, an orphan from Poznań.

In August 1942, on one such expedition, Fela stayed the night at the home of the Szymański family. The following day, the Szymański couple, upon returning from town where they were traders, told the girl that the Radom ghetto had been liquidated. Using the pretext of selling milk and cream, Fela headed to Radom. "I went to the ghetto there. There was nothing left – not a trace. Everything had been ruined. I found no one".

In fact, on 4th and 5th August 1942, the so-called "small ghetto" on Glinice in Radom had been liquidated and its residents had been transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka. Jews from the "big ghetto" were sent to Treblinka between 16th and 18th August 1942. Among those murdered were Fela's parents and siblings.

The girl returned to the Szymański family and remained with them. She helped them on the farm and in grazing the cows. She was not enrolled in the school because that required a church register certificate. She taught the village children Polish and arithmetic. Fearing for the safety of her carers, Fela left the Szymański family in the summer of 1944. As "Zofia Mickiewicz", she later lived in another village and then, after the War ended and again changing her name to "Władysława", she lived in Kąty Wrocławskie.  

Fela continued to conceal the fact that she was Jewish. In Wrocław, she encountered other Jews who, having guessed that she was Jewish, took her into their home. However, Fela was afraid to return to her Jewish identity. "I still hadn't thought to do that. I said that I didn't want to do it while the War still raged".

Fela married Zvi Urbańczyk, who had survived the War in the Soviet Union and was active in a cell of Hashomer Hatzair. In the beginning, they lived in Wrocław, where Zvi worked as a school administrator. They later moved to Warsaw, where he worked in the Israeli Embassy. In 1950, they left Poland for Israel and changed their surname to "Raviv". Fela raised a daughter and son, and worked in a bank.

In 1990, she returned to Poland and sought out the Szymański family. Since then, she has remained in close contact with them. She visits them, helps them financially and has invited their children and grandchildren to Israel.