David Bruce: Holocaust Stories

The Catholic family of Maria “Marysia” Andzelm hid Jews during the Holocaust, saving two lives. They did this even though Maria, at age 13, realized about the Nazis, “If they’re willing to kill Jews, they’re willing to kill people who hide Jews.” For a while after Germany invaded Poland, Jews who were hiding in the woods knocked on the door of the Andzelms’ home in Poland, begging for food. Although food was sometimes insufficient in their own home, the Andzelms gave away some of what they had. The Andzelms then began to hide two Jewish men in a hideout they built in their barn, although they had seen people’s corpses hanging in the street; on their corpses were signs saying, “FOR HIDING A JEW.” The hideout was hardly comfortable: farm animals’ urine and manure leaked into the hideout, and fleas infested the straw. Maria was able to get books for the two men in the hideout to help them forget the uncomfortable conditions for a while. To convince the person from whom she had borrowed the books that she had read them, Maria memorized something about each book. After the Holocaust ended, one of the hidden Jews, Moses Kershenbaum, married Maria. (The other hidden Jew was Srulik Schwarzfort.) Maria and her family had some frightening times with the Nazis. Once some Nazis came to take Maria away to help in the war effort, but Maria had jumped in bed and she pretended to be ill with a contagious disease, so the Nazis left her alone. Asked why Maria and her family had risked their lives to hide him and another Jew, Moses replied, “They are angels. You seldom find people like that.” Maria and her parents are Righteous Among the Nations, and their names are inscribed on the Wall of Honor.

During the Holocaust, Ruth Jacobsen was a hidden Jewish child in Holland. She spoke Dutch well and had blue eyes, and in some of the families she lived with she was allowed to go outside. Her parents, however, from whom she was separated, but very occasionally could visit, were not so fortunate. They had to stay indoors, and often knowledge of their existence was hidden from the children of the families they lived with so that the children would not accidentally reveal that Jews were hiding in their house. In one house, the attic her parents were hiding in was located above the room where the young children, who did not know of their existence, slept. Once, the young children heard noises coming from the attic, and so their mother invented the boogieman. When the children were naughty, she would tell them that the boogieman would come to get them unless they were good. She would then use the handle of a broom to hit the ceiling, and Ruth’s parents would stamp their feet on the floor. Following the end of the war, Ruth was reunited with her parents, but none of them had much clothing. Ruth attended a Catholic school, and the nuns wanted her to wear socks, but she had no socks. Therefore, the nuns had each student bring a ball of cotton yarn—in any color whatsoever—to school, and the nuns knitted multi-colored socks for young Ruth, who wrote as an adult, “The socks really stood out, and I loved them. After hiding for so long, standing out made me feel good. I was visible again.”

In Lvov, Ukraine, Luncia Gamzer hid in the home of a Gentile woman named Mrs. Szczygiel and her parents hid in the home of a Gentile man named Mr. Ojak during the Holocaust, but hiding Jews was dangerous. A Gentile who was found to be hiding Jews could end dead. This led to much tension among many of the Gentiles who were hiding Jews. Sometimes, the Gentiles had their own children whom they worried about. What would happen to the children if the parents were killed by the Nazis? Mrs. Szczygiel and her family worried about this because she was hiding Luncia. Even after her family decided—after narrowly being caught—that hiding Luncia was too dangerous, Mrs. Szczygiel kept on hiding her from the Nazis—and this time, from her husband and children. Unfortunately, one of her daughters discovered that Luncia was still being hidden in their home. Therefore, Mrs. Szczygiel took Luncia to the man who was hiding her parents and told him, “We can’t keep her any longer. You have to take her.” Mr. Ojak was completely surprised—he had no idea that he would be asked to hide another Jew. He hesitated a long time, and then he said, “She can stay. If I’m caught, it’s the same death for me whether I’m hiding two Jews or three.” Luncia had a joyous reunion with her parents. After surviving the Holocaust, the Gamzers came to live in the United States, where Luncia changed her name to Ruth and married a Holocaust survivor named Jack Gruener.

Markus Reich and his friend Stefan Schreiber escaped from a Nazi forced-labor camp that was under construction outside Tarnow, Poland, simply by picking up a heavy board when no guards were around and carrying it on their shoulders out of the camp. They kept on carrying the heavy board for more than 36 miles in bitter winter weather to their hometown: Bochnia. When they came to bridges, they found them guarded by Nazi soldiers, but the Nazis assumed that they were Polish workers and let them pass. In Bochnia, they parted and went to their own homes. Markus’ family had thought that he was dead, and they celebrated his return by making potato pancakes—a true celebration because food was so scarce.

Leo Baeck engaged in resistance during the Holocaust. The Nazis in Germany ordered the Jews to hand over all their silver, including religious objects made of silver. Unwilling to do this, Mr. Baeck took all his family silver, went to Hamburg, rowed to the middle of the Elbe River and dumped all of the silver overboard. One day, the Gestapo ordered him to appear at their headquarters on the Sabbath. He told them, “I’m not in the habit of showing up in an office on Saturday. On the Sabbath, I go to services.” He ended up in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, but survived the Holocaust.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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