Israel (Krulik) Wilder
MY FATHER I s r a e l Wilder was born 11 years before the outbreak of t he Second World War in Piotrkow which then had a population of around 55,000, about half of whom were Jewish. His father, Lajb, who sold hosiery in the town’s market, was active in the Bund, a socialist political movement.
On September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, the family tried to escape to the East. but the Germam army caught up with them at Radom, just 140km away. In November, they were moved into Poland’s first Jewish ghetto.
My father, aged 11, earned money smuggling cigarettes into the ghetto, then selling them on the streets. One day a Gestapo officer with a large black alsatian grabbed him, and told him to run. His speedy retreat earned him the nicknamed Krulik, Polish for “rabbit’’. His father worked in the Hortensja glass factory and also made the obligatory yellow Jewish armbands.
In August 1942, my father, along with his lifelong friend, Ben Helfgott, who, like him became a joint founder of the 45 Aid Society, began working in the same glass factory. But within two months most of the town’s Jews were sent to the death camps. Krulik’s mother Chaja and his older sister Basia, died in Treblinka.
In a series of lucky escapes, my father and grandfather evaded the ensuing reign of terror in which Jews were killed randomly and brutally. In November 1944, with the Russian advance from the East, the Germans closed the factories. Lajb and my father were sent to work in the ammunition factory at Chestochowa, but they were soon transported to Buchenwald.
Krulik was paralysed with fear by the horrors that he saw there. He stole food to keep him and Lajb alive, until Lajb was sent to a concentration camp nearby. In March 1945, he realised that the skeletal figure lying on the Appel Platz was his father. He managed to smuggle some food to him but the Germans soon moved the younger inmates on, refusing to let him take his father with him. He had no choice but to leave his father to perish in Buchenwald.
He was marched to the train station and loaded onto a freezing cattle truck with a few thousand others. Every morning they threw the dead out, making room for the living. It took four weeks to arrive at Terezin (Theresienstadt), in Czechoslovakia. On May 8, 1945, they were liberated by the Russians. Hospitalised with typhus, my father experienced Czech generosity, receiving the long denied food, warmth and friendship .
In June 1945 the British Home Office offered to bring in a thousand teenage Holocaust orphans. Only 732 could be found: a few girls and 300 children from Terezin. The girls had found it harder to survive the death camps, and, bound together by their experiences, they called themselves ‘ The Boys’.
In a hostel near Windermere, Krulik was given the luxury of his own room, a bed and blankets. At meals the children stuffed f ood i nt o t hei r pockets – unable to believe more meals would follow. The resumption of a normal life and education helped them slowly recuperate from years of slavery and sadism.
Krulik started an apprenticeship in watchmaking in Glasgow, but in 1948 he decided to fight for Israel in the War of Independence. Together with several friends he clandestinely made the journey first to Marseilles, and then by boat to Israel, where he was sent to the front and he saw action.
But his destiny was England, where he found a job as a watchmaker, starting his own watch repair business in 1951. In 1952 he met my mother, Gloria Leigh, and a year later they married. By 1960 they had three sons – Paul, Simon and Martin. Eventually he opened his own business in Hatton Garden.
In 1963 he jointly founded the 45 Aid Society, a charity run for and by The Boys. Its aim was to relieve the poverty of members, and their families, and to provide scholarships where needed. He served for several years as chairman and also as treasurer. He acted as MC for many years at its annual fundraising ball.
Krulik made two pilgrimages to Piotrkow, in 1983, and 1993. After the war, reaction to Holocaust experiences was one of disbelief or shock. But in 1993, the film Shindler’s List was released and Krulik felt the world was finally hearing what had happened. He spent hours being recorded by the Spielberg Holocaust Archive. He spoke in schools and was interviewed on television and radio. In 1996 Martin Gilbert’s book, The Boys told the story of the 732 children who came to Britain in 1946. Krulik met Princess Diana and every British Prime Minister since and including Margaret Thatcher.
Despite its terrible beginning, my father’s life was a full and happy one. He had friends all over the world, was always cheerful and would talk to everyone he met. A member of the Diamond Bourse for many years, he would take an hour to walk along Hatton Garden greeting everyone he knew. As a testament to a well-lived life, more than 200 people attended his funeral..
Krulik Wilder is survived by his wife Gloria, his sons Paul, Simon and Martin, daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.
Krulik Wilder: one of the boys