Museumbenefitsfrom a well-hidden story
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