Morecki: A Holocaust Survivor's Story, Part Two
By Nina Morecki and Craig
note from Craig von Buseck:
This is part two of an open letter
written by Nina Morecki, a Holocaust survivor from Lvov, Poland. This
letter was written with the hope that you and your children, and your children's
children "will know what happened and never allow it to happen again."
a slide show of Nina in Israel
The Mouth of the Lion
I wandered through the forest eating leaves and drinking from streams, always hungry and cold, not knowing where I was going. Eventually I met up with members of the Polish Underground. After a short time, during which I was hidden and allowed to somewhat recover, the Underground sent me to the city of Dni Propetrosk, deep in a German-occupied part of Russia. My forged documents allowed me to work in the mail room of a German agency. I was right for the role: I looked young and innocent, not at all like a "secret agent." My new name was Maria Kvasigoch, and my papers said I was a Catholic Pole.
In the course of my duties, I had access to official Nazi stamps, and whenever I had the chance I used them to help forge travel papers for Underground members. It was a very dangerous job, but I didn't care. I risked all for the Resistance -- it was one of the few things left in my life. At last I had a purpose. I spoke Polish and enough Russian and German to be a valuable asset. For a while I aroused no suspicion.
By this time, I had learned that all of Europe, including France, was under Nazi control. My feelings of despair were growing. Everything I had come to know in my life had either been destroyed or had turned against me. Yet somewhere deep inside I didn't want to give up hope.
By the winter of 1944, there was an increasing amount of chaos among Germany's Nazi forces. But that was not entirely good. With order slipping out of their fingers, they became increasingly suspicious. While working in the mail room, I had the feeling that one of my Polish coworkers, Henrick, who was in charge of personnel, was Jewish, too, as was, I thought, his girlfriend, Danusha, who also worked in the same organization.
One morning, Henrick was arrested. By noon a frantic Danusha was at my desk begging me to help her get away. So that she wouldn't make a scene, I took her to the station where she leapt onto a train that was just pulling out. I returned to the office, and luckily no one had noticed my absence. By the end of the day, however, it had become clear to everyone that Danusha was missing. Since I was a fellow Pole, I was asked about her disappearance. I was now under suspicion.
I was in an amazingly dangerous situation. One day I was arrested and brought in for interrogation. Fear is not the right word for what I felt. It went on every day for a week or more. I tried to convince my interrogators that just because we were all Polish was not a reason for Henrick and Danusha to confide in me. Eventually, my supervisor intervened and said he really needed me back at work and would take responsibility for me -- so I was released.
My supervisor was more protective of me than ever after the interrogation. I could see he felt that he had saved an innocent girl from harm. In fact, he told me that I reminded him of his daughter. At one moment I felt so close to him that I nearly confided that I was Jewish. But despite his kind attitude, something was driving me to get away, even if it meant being in a worse situation somewhere else. Escape was all I could think about. We were close to the Romanian border, and I decided to flee. The German guards and officials would be very drunk. I slipped away unnoticed in the dark of the night to the train station, trying to look inconspicuous. I waited for a train on the deserted platform covered in deep snow. To my horror, when a train pulled in, it was full of uniformed Nazi soldiers! Can you imagine? A small Jewish girl, alone, about to step onto a train filled with hundreds of armed soldiers whose main purpose was to kill Jews. But what could I have done at this point? To run away would have caused suspicion. I ordered myself to be strong.
An officer stepped off the train and asked me what a young girl was doing there alone in the middle of the night. I came up with the story of how I was trying to get to my "aunt" who was on her deathbed that very night. My fate lay entirely in his hands. After a long moment he urged me on board. He had me sit next to him, where he assured me he would personally see me safely to my "aunts" door. My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to get out of the dangerous situation. By the time the train reached my aunt's town across the Romanian border, I had a plan. As promised he walked with me, and at one point I said to him, "What would happen to my reputation if my family saw me arriving with a handsome officer in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve?" He laughed and walked back to his companions.
In Romania I wandered for a while, becoming increasingly starved, dirty, and cold. Terrible bombing was going on as the Soviet army tried to push the Germans back. Eventually, the Russians occupied the city I was in and set up a temporary hospital facility. I wanted to get a job there, but I had no identification papers. I roughly forged some documents and turned in my application. Of course my false papers were almost immediately discovered. They wanted to know who I really was. What should I tell them? Should I be Nina Gritz the Jew or Maria Kvasigoch the Pole? Which one would be safer? I chose the truth. They didn't believe me! I couldn't believe I was in the position of trying to convince someone of what I really was -- a Jew!
Someone told me that the head of the hospital was a Jewish doctor, a major. I told her my story. A strange expression came over her face and she stared blankly at me. Terrified, knowing that my fate lay in her next words, I tried to stay strong. She said she didn't believe me, but rather than send me to Siberia I would be assigned to a military hospital near the Russian front, where I would be constantly watched. I was overjoyed.
My "home" was a stable with the worst living conditions. My "bed" was a pile of hay that reeked of animal excrement, and the lice were so bad I finally decided it was preferable to live on the streets and in the fields, amidst constant bombing. But anything was better than being under Nazi control.
During this time, I met a young Polish man who was handsome and strong. Despite my being half-starved, sick, exhausted, and war-weary, Josef and I connected. After a few days together, he was sent to the front in Berlin as a Russian soldier. I begged him to take me with him. I was very angry when he said it was impossible. I was still mad when we parted, but he promised to find me if either of us survived the war.
Soon after, the hospital where I was working was bombed -- completely destroyed. Thankfully, I had been off work at the time, but other nurses and doctors and many patients were killed or wounded. Those of us who were left quickly set up temporary facilities, but the bombing worsened, and more and more soldiers were brought in. The doctors and nurses and I worked around the clock treating the wounded. This went on for several months. As the Russian front moved, we moved with them, each time bringing me a little closer to my homeland. I was yearning more and more for my family. I was sure some must have survived, as I had. If only I could get to Lvov! Then one night I could wait no longer. I left on the only transportation there was -- a cattle train.
I stayed on that train for many days, maybe months: I lost all track of time. Finally, I had lost all hope. I was completely alone. One day I was roused by a threatening voice.
"Get up! What are you doing here?"
There before me was a hunched and withered old man staring at me with a lantern and walking stick as if he were Lucifer himself. Here I was -- I had been riding the rails for weeks, stealing food where I could and eating leaves when there was nothing else. I had been bombed, shot at, driven away, starved, and beaten. I had faced foes so great and powers so vast that I could not comprehend them all. There was no way I was going to be intimidated by this old man.
"I am trying to go home." My voice sounded strange. How many days had it been since I had spoken to another person?
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I am a Jew," I replied.
His face softened, and he looked down at me with pity in his eyes. He gave me a little piece of bread and some directions.
I continued on and eventually made my way to my beloved hometown of Lvov, only to find it in ruins. Nothing was left of my childhood, not a person, place, or thing. I searched for a year. I felt so angry with the Polish people who had survived when my people hadn't. And I felt angry with myself. Whey did I deserve to be the one to survive?
I went to another town after hearing about some organizations there were set up for finding loved ones. One night, I answered a knock at the door where I was staying and was astounded to see Josef smiling down at me. He had searched for me for a year. Our reunion was a happy one.
We began our journey together. It took us to various parts of war-torn Europe, including spending a couple of years in a displaced-persons camp in Austria, where I was treated for scarlet fever, meningitis, and a myriad of other health problems as a result of the war. Life went on. We made our way to the United States. With hard work, we eventually built a new life and raised a family. We were together for the next 42 years, until my dear Josef's death in 1988.
And so, dear young people, as I am writing this letter to you, it occurs to me that perhaps its message is why I am still here. I am an elderly woman with just these memories to share. The pain of the Holocaust and losing my entire family to it is still with me every hour of every day. Many young students I speak with know nothing or very little about it. Incredibly, I have met some who didn't believe it ever took place. In a few years, there won't be any Holocaust survivors to tell you their stories first hand, including me. My hope is that this letter will speak for me into the future.
Read Part One of Nina's Story
a slide show of Nina in Israel
from Tour Israel with CBN.com
von Buseck is Ministries Director of CBN.com. Send
him your comments on this article. More from Craig on CBN.com.
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