Dr. Joseph Jaksy
Doctors often have to take extraordinary measures to save lives. But what if those measures included putting your own life on the line. Dr. Jaksy was a urologist in Bratislava, Slovakia. In November 1940, Slovakia joined the Axis and was the first Axis partner to agree to deport its Jewish residents to Nazi labor and concentration camps. Dr. Jaksy was the personal physician to the founder of the Slovak People's Party, the fascist regime that ruled Slovakia during World War II. He used his position of power to organize rescue efforts that saved at least 25 Jews from deportation to camps. During the war, Dr. Jaksy treated many "sick" patients whose only illness was that they were on the Nazi deportation list. Dr. Jaksy sheltered them in his wards, once even pretending to give a man an operation so he could safely escape from the Germans. With a group of friends, he devised a plan that included: finding shelter, providing money, food, and medical care, forging identification papers and falsifying medical records; and helping people get out of the country. He was never arrested, although his involvement with the resistance was suspected. He stayed in Slovakia after the war, but left in 1948, fearing persecution by the new communist regime. Dr. Jaksy made a new home in the United States, and was honored by Israel and the State of New York shortly before his death in 1991. "What I did," he wrote, "I did in my role as a doctor and out of my feelings as a human being."
Roman Haar was born in the Free City of Danzig, where his father Salo worked as a salesman. Roman's mother, Ema, converted to Judaism before she married his father. Roman had a half-brother, Joachim Frietsche, from his mother's first marriage. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. In December, the Nazis ordered all foreign-born Jews to leave Danzig. Joachim, who was Christian, stayed and moved in with his grandparents.
Roman and his parents moved to Salo's hometown of Rzeszow, Poland. In 1941, all Jewish people in Rzeszow, including Salo and Roman were forced into a ghetto. Ema said she was German and stayed to work as a cleaning woman for the people who took over the Haar's apartment. Roman got smuggled out of the ghetto and sent to his mother. Eventually, the Jewish people in the ghetto were sent to the concentration camp Belzec. Roman's family was killed there. To save her son's life, Ema claimed that Salo was not Roman's real father, and that he was fully German. The German authorities rejected her claim. Ema was told that Roman had to enter the Jewish quarter immediately. Instead, for a year and a half, Roman hid in the apartment where she worked. In May 1944, Ema took Roman to Danzig, where her father lived. A local policeman saw Ema and remembered that she was Jewish, but since the war was close to ending, he did not arrest them. Roman was liberated in Danzig by the Russians in 1945. After a few years in a displaced persons camp, they started a new life in the United States.
Ita Grynbaum and her eight brothers and sisters lived in a small, busy, one-story house in the town of Starachowice, Poland. The family had a tailor shop in the house. Ita's mother and father often traded their work for firewood and food for the family. Ita helped her mother with chores around the house.
In June 1939, Ita's father came home from synagogue and went to bed. He was obviously not well, and Ita's older brother Chuna ran to get the doctor. But by the time they returned, Ita's father had died. Ita's mother and older siblings kept the tailor shop running. Later that year, German troops took over the town. Ita had to work at a nearby factory. In October 1942, she was forced to join the other Jewish people in town in the marketplace. Then, she and others who were considered strong enough were sent to a labor camp nearby. Ita was put to work serving food to the Polish workers. When the deadly disease typhus struck the camp, Ita became ill. She was sent to the barracks for sick prisoners. Her brother Chuna visited her daily, often bringing her rags to pad her painful bedsores. With no medicine or doctors for the sick prisoners, Ita died of her illness after three months. She was 17 years old.
Dorotka was the youngest of three children in a Jewish family. Her father was the director of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in Warsaw and worked for a popular newspaper. An avid Zionist, he had traveled to Palestine.
1933-39: My father established a soup kitchen in Warsaw for Jewish refugees who had fled from Germany. In September 1939 I was supposed to begin first grade when war broke out. My father escaped to Vilna with other Jewish leaders. People were suffering, but I didn't understand why. I was content with my playmates and my dolls.
1940-44: After my father brought us to Vilna, the Germans killed him and deported me, my mother and sister to the Stutthof camp. My mother died slowly of hunger. When my sister and I were sent to be gassed, a German saved me, saying, "Look at this rotten Jewish child; she has such beautiful eyes." My sister waved so I wouldn't follow her. When the Soviets neared Stutthof, two Germans with machine guns shot everyone in my barracks. Lying sick on my tummy and weighing just 40 pounds, I felt the sting of two bullets in my back.
Dorotka was found unconscious in her bunk two hours later when the camp was liberated by Soviet troops on May 9, 1945. She emigrated to Israel in 1952. (Copyright by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council)
Simon Gelbart learned to survive against the odds from an early age. The youngest of 13 children, his father died when he was only seven years old, and his mother died soon after that. When his aunts and uncles refused to care for him, Simon was left a homeless orphan. He lived on the streets until he was 15. Then he became an apprentice to Zisha Nitka, a shoemaker who lived in Kalisz. He became an expert shoemaker and eventually married Zisha's daughter, Sura Rivka.
Simon and Sura had two sons, Israel David and Haim. After the start of World War II, the Jews of Kalisz were forced to move. Simon packed up his shoemaker's tools and hid coins in the heels of their shoes. They were deported to a Siberian Labor camp. Although Simon was frail and unhealthy, he was assigned to chop and haul lumber. On the first day, he failed to meet his quota and was sent to prison for six months.
In 1942, the family was sent to a collective farm near the Volga River. Haim died from starvation. He was seven years old. Israel David survived because of the generosity of a Russian woman, Pashinka Bravina. She took the boy into her home and fed him bread and milk for eighteen months. They were allowed to return to Poland in 1946, but fled to West Germany because of the danger of anti-Semitism. Simon dreamed of moving to Israel and setting up a shoemaking factory. He was denied a visa, and so instead the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1951.
Joseph Gani grew up in a small village by the shores of the Ionian Sea in Greece. While his father worked in his small textile shop, Joseph went to public school, studied the Jewish religion, and played the sports he loved so much—soccer and baseball.
In 1941, the Germans invaded Greece. Jewish people like Joseph had lived in Greece for over a thousand years, but all the Jewish people in Joseph's area were rounded up in March 1944, and sent to the concentration camp Auschwitz, in Poland. Just a teenager, Joseph should have still been playing sports with his friends on the seashore.
Instead, as part of the Sonderkommando, a work unit at Birkenau, Joseph had to carry the corpses of fellow Jewish people out of the gas chamber where they had been gassed to death to the crematoria where their bodies would be burned. In October of the same year, some Sonderkommando workers revolted. They disarmed the guards of the Shutzstaffel (SS) and blew up one of the crematoria. Soon, other workers joined in the fight. Joseph Gani was killed standing up to the Nazis in October 1944. He was 18 years old.
Jakob Frenkiel grew up as one of seven sons of a cap maker in Gabin, Poland. His religious Jewish family lived in a one-room apartment near the synagogue. When the Germans reached the town in 1939, they set the synagogue and the homes around it on fire. Then they rounded up all the Jewish men in the marketplace.
In 1941, Jakob was sent to a labor camp with a group of men. A year later, they were sent to the concentration camp Auschwitz. When Jakob and his brother Chaim were lined up with children and old people, Jakob wondered what would happen to them. Another prisoner pointed to the chimneys. "Tomorrow the smoke will be from you," he told Jakob. The prisoner explained that if Jakob and his brother could get a number tattooed on their arms, they would be put to work instead of killed. Jakob and Chaim sneaked away and lined up with the men getting tattoos.
Jakob was imprisoned in Auschwitz for 17 months, then forced to march to camps in Germany. He was liberated in April, 1945, near Austria. Later that year, he emigrated to the United States.
Thirteen-year-old Moishe Felman was just about to begin a new year of school when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Moishe's town of Sokolow Podlaski was bombed as troops entered the town. They set fire to the main synagogue and confiscated the grain business Moishe's parents ran.
Over the next two years, Jewish families like Moishe's had to live with more and more restrictions. They had to wear a Jewish star on their clothing. They had to move to an area called the ghetto, a part of the city where Jewish people were forced to live. In 1941, on Yom Kippur, one of the most important holy days of the Jewish year, the Germans began to round up people in the ghetto. Those who fought back or hid were shot. Moishe, his mother, and sister had to join their neighbors as all the Jewish people were crammed into the boxcar of a train. The train took them to the Treblinka extermination camp. Moishe was gassed to death there shortly after he arrived. He was 16 years old.
Yehuda “Yulik” Dubner
When Yehuda Dubner was a boy in Lodz, Poland, he and his younger brother Israel sang in the choir at their synagogue. Their parents worked in a textile business. Shortly after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, persecution of the Jews began. Jewish people were arrested or taken for forced labor. The Dubner family was driven out of their home and into the Lodz ghetto, which Jews were forbidden to leave. Within a year, Yehuda and his father died from starvation.
In 1944, the Nazis cleared the ghetto. Yehuda’s brother Israel and his mother were shipped to the concentration camp Auschwitz. They were separated as soon as they arrived. Israel never saw his mother again.
At Auschwitz, Israel worked carrying bricks and slept on a wooden bed. After a month, he was transferred to another camp, Kaufering. There he caught the deadly typhoid fever, but he still reported for work cleaning the homes of Germans. American soldiers liberated Israel from the camp in 1945. He eventually married, had three daughters and again sang in a synagogue, this time as a cantor.
In March 1943, Wlodimierz Daniluk and his family heard a knock on the door of their home in Solniczki. Standing on the other side was a starving, shivering man named Paitiell Lopata. He asked for some food. Wlodimierz and his wife, Anna, did not have a lot to share. They were a poor farming family, but they gave Paitiell food and shelter. When Paitiell returned to the ghetto in the village of Bialystok, he told other Jewish friends about the family. Soon, the Daniluks were hiding four Jewish men in their home. Wlodzimierz began to worry. What would happen to his family if these men were discovered? His oldest daughter, Luba, argued that the penalty for hiding one Jewish person was the same as hiding four. Paitiell and the others stayed until July 1944, when the Red Army liberated eastern parts of Poland.
Tragically, even after the Nazis were defeated, the family and their guests were not safe. In May 1945 when the war was finally over, the Daniluks invited the Jewish men and some guests to a party to celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany. In the middle of the party, a group of armed Polish Nationalist right-wing thugs broke into the house. They were angry that the Daniluks had given shelter to Jewish people during the war. They murdered seven people, including Wlodzimierz, Luba and some of the Jewish survivors. Two small children died when the thugs burned down the house.