Mu­se­um­ben­e­fits­from a well-hid­den story

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY - BY JOSH JACK­MAN

HE­LEN TAICHNER hid from the Nazis for five months and 20 days in a three-foot wide coal cel­lar in Poland, sleep­ing on card­board amid the smell of mice and the bucket she used as a toi­let. But she sur­vived and went on to set­tle in Manch­ester.

Now some of her few pos­ses­sions from that time are be­ing do­nated to the Manch­ester Jewish Mu­seum by her daugh­ter, Judy Wertheimer, for the mu­seum’sOb­jec­tAp­peal,whichis­be­ing launched on Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day.

Mrs Wertheimer ex­plained this week that her mother, who died in 1993, was helped by two non-Jewish maids who hid her in their em­ployer’s toi­let and cel­lar in Lvov. Mrs Taichner spent pe­ri­ods of 1941 and 1943 in hid­ing.

Dur­ing the for­mer, when she was with her first hus­band, she gave birth to a child who died of mal­nu­tri­tion.

“In June of 1943 they went into hid­ing again and de­cided to sep­a­rate for an in­creased chance of sur­vival, but she never saw him again. He was a doc­tor, help­ing in­jured sol­diers. He was with the re­sis­tance and his end came when he was out on a mis­sion. We never found how he died.”

When Mrs Taichner sensed she was no longer wel­come at the fam­ily she was stay­ing with, help came from an un­ex­pected quar­ter.

“T h i s G e r - man woman, Do­nat­ing:Judy Wertheimer Bar­bara, was look­ing in a shop win­dow and my mother started talk­ing to her. She gave my mother some food and said she could hide at the judge’s place where she worked [the judge never found out].

“She wanted my mother to prom­ise that if she sur­vived the war she’d be­come a Chris­tian. I don’t know how my mother re­acted t o t h a t b u t she didn’t be­come a Chris­tian.”

But Mrs Ta i c h n e r did have to dress as a Chris­tian to go out­side, even vis­it­ing the lo­cal Catholic church to make her dis­guise more be­liev­able.

“She went out to church in the morn­ing so she looked like she wasn’t Jewish. She was given a missal [prayer book] which I still have, she had rosary beads and she was taught how to pray. Then she went back in through the cel­lar at night.”

Mrs Wertheimer added that dur­ing a Pol­ish win­ter, her mo-ther “laid un­der a sheet of pa­per all day, never s n e e z e d , n e v e r c o u g h e d ” . A t night, Bar­bara brought her soup or a hot drink but never spoke to her se­cret guest in case any­one was lis­ten­ing.

“Apart from the dis­com­fort, the dan­ger was con­stant. At any mo­ment, she could have been dis­cov­ered by other ser­vants in the build­ing.”

Once a week, she went out­side to empty her bucket and buy some bread while Bar­bara and an­other maid, Jad­wiga, stood guard. Jad­wiga made her the dress she wore to church. Mrs Taichner wrote in her di­ary: “How I wasn’t caught the way I looked, I’ll never know. I had patches and lice in my socks.”

She left Poland for Manch­ester in the win­ter of 1946, stay­ing with cousins.

Mrs Wertheimer said her mother’s ex­pe­ri­ence had im­pacted on her own up­bring­ing. “I was aware that I had a dif­fer­ent sort of life to all the chil­dren I was at school with. It didn’t need to be spo­ken about. It was al­ways there in lit­tle things. For ex­am­ple, you had to fin­ish ev­ery scrap on your plate — you were not al­lowed to leave any­thing at all.”

Yet her mother did not tell her about her wartime ex­pe­ri­ences un­til shortly be­fore­herdeath.“She­had­been­brought up in a very af­flu­ent house­hold near War­saw and given a nice education. Sud­denly she had to look af­ter her­self, hide and sur­vive. She was an ex­tra­or­di­nary lady to sur­vive like she did.”

Mrs Wertheimer has do­nated her mother’s Chris­tian prayer book, the dress she wore to church and shoe stretch­ers (used to hide gold) to the mu­seum, which is seek­ing items of Jewish rel­e­vance to boost its col­lec­tion.


Shewent tochurch soshe looked­likeshe wasn’t Jewish. She­hadrosary bead­sand­was taught­to­pray

He­len Taichner with se­cond hus­band, Henry; the dress made for her when she was in hid­ing and the shoe stretch­ers she used to con­ceal gold A strik­ing im­age from Lost Faces, an ex­hi­bi­tion in­spired by the fam­ily his­tory of Leeds artist David Black, which runs at the Univer­sity of Hud­der­s­field’s cre­ative arts build­ing un­til Fe­bru­ary 4. Mr Black’s father, Eu­gene, was the only mem­ber of his fam­ily to sur­vive Auschwitz

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