Holo­caust sur­vivors share their story

Central Leader - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABA­DIA

Sh­muel Rothbard was just a child when World War II started.

The Holo­caust sur­vivor shared his story with about 70 stu­dents at One­hunga High School on June 16 as part of a three-week na­tional tour of schools, univer­si­ties and com­mu­nity groups.

He and his wife Fredja, 81, were in­vited here by the NZ Friends of Is­rael As­so­ci­a­tion and the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of New Zealand.

They are giv­ing their talks as part of the fed­er­a­tion’s Holo­caust Out­reach Pro­gramme for Ed­u­ca­tion 2015.

Sh­muel, 82, re­mem­bers the day the war was an­nounced be­cause it was Septem­ber 1 – his sixth birth­day.

It would have been his first day of school and he was look­ing for­ward to mak­ing new friends.

Soon af­ter, his fam­ily were thrown out of their apart­ment in the Pol­ish town of Krakow and his fa­ther’s tex­tiles store was con­fis­cated.

The fam­ily of six was even­tu­ally sent to the Krakow Ghetto with other Jewish peo­ple in the town.

They were squeezed into a two-bed­room apart­ment with two other fam­i­lies. Soon old, young and sick peo­ple started to be taken away from the ghetto.

‘‘We were told they were trans­ported to the east for new set­tle­ment. Later we knew they were trans­ported to ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps, mostly to Auschwitz,’’ he says.

His sis­ter Ge­nia was ar­rested for her in­volve­ment in a Jewish un­der­ground or­gan­i­sa­tion.

She was put on a train headed for Auschwitz, but she jumped off and sur­vived.

In 1943 the ghetto was closed and Sh­muel’s fam­ily was rounded up.

His mother knew he would be killed so she bribed a Ukrainian po­lice­man to look the other way while he es­caped. His mother, fa­ther and sis­ter Hela were sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp.

Sh­muel sought refuge with his par­ents’ Pol­ish friend Hen­ryk Pstrusin­ski, who his sis­ter Ge­nia was also stay­ing with.

Pstrusin­ski hid the two sib­lings in his work­shop which had been boarded up by the Ger­mans.

‘‘He un­der­stood the safest place to keep Jewish peo­ple is in Ger­man prop­erty. We spent close to a year in this work­shop.’’

Pstrusin­ski then moved them to another apart­ment. To pass the time, Ge­nia taught Sh­muel to read.

‘‘She wrote on the page the al­pha­bet.

‘‘For one-and-a-half years I read ev­ery­thing I was able to find and our Pol­ish friend would bring us more books.’’

Even­tu­ally his other sis­ter Hela es­caped the camp and joined them in the apart­ment.

They were re­united with their mother at the end of the war, but his fa­ther and brother hadn’t sur­vived.

‘‘When we met my mother it re­ally was some­thing spe­cial. When I left her I was a small boy.

‘‘When I came back I was 12 and taller than my mother.’’

A year later Sh­muel left Europe for Is­rael on an illegal ship. He was cap­tured and taken to Cyprus and then to a de­ten­tion camp in Is­rael where he met Fredja.

The cou­ple has lived in the Haifa Dis­trict ever since and have three chil­dren.

One­hunga High School year 12 stu­dent Erika Soffe says hear­ing the first-hand ac­count re­ally hit home.

‘‘We’ve read letters and things in class but it’s a lot dif­fer­ent when you hear from some­one who’s ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced it.

‘‘It makes it a lot more real so you’re able to em­pathise.

‘‘The over­all story of how the fam­ily met up was amaz­ing. You wouldn’t imag­ine that would ac­tu­ally hap­pen.’’

Photo: KA­RINA ABA­DIA/FAIR­FAX NZ

Jewish cou­ple Sh­muel and Fredja Rothbard are in New Zealand telling their war sto­ries.

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