Is­rael (Kru­lik) Wilder

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries - SI­MON 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

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