Days of Revolt: From the Ghetto to Auschwitz (2/5)
In Part 2 of this episode of Telesur’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges interviews Holocaust survivor Lola Mozes. Lola recounts her harrowing experience living in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Source: dor0523ep41lmozes1.mp3 (30:09.90) Server: Basecamp.
CHRIS HEDGES, TRNN: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt.
Today, we’re going to look at the nature of human evil as seen through the Holocaust, which took the lives of 12 million people, including 6 million Jews, many of them children, women, the elderly. And with me to discuss the rise of one of the most horrific campaigns of mass murder in the 20th century is Lola Mozes, who grew up in Poland, although grew up in a household that spoke German, was moved to a ghetto and then finally, towards the end of the war with her mother, into Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Thank you, Lola.
So, I want to begin–
LOLA MOZES: –My pleasure, thank you for being here.–
HEDGES: –With that moment. Your father ran a small grocery store. You were, probably middle class, would be? I mean, [crosstalk] you weren’t poor, anyway.
Yes. No. [crosstalk] No.
HEDGES: [interceding] –And–
MOZES: Maybe lower middle [crosstalk] class, [inaud.]–
HEDGES: [interceding]–I remember you saying your father was quite a snappy dress, always dressed in spats–
HEDGES: –And German suits.
MOZES: Yes. Yes.
HEDGES: And you, at that time, were what, seven, eight, right around there, years old? [crosstalk] And were at–
MOZES: [interceding]–From birth until the war I was still nine years.
HEDGES: And the rumblings of disintegration, I remember you speaking about Hitler’s voice on the radio, growing anti-Semitism among your Polish classmates. Talk a little bit about the first time you became aware, as a child, that the world around you was changing.
MOZES: I’m not really aware at that point until the wartime about the world changing, because since they were, since my memory, first memories, there was always anti-Semitism, and I mentioned, once I was accused of killing Jesus and at that time I have been [crosstalk] nothing, [inaud.] Jesus–
HEDGES: [interceding]–And your brother, your brother Oskar was beaten up as a boy.
MOZES: He was beaten up. So, we were used to it. Nevertheless, we lived sort of peacefully with our neighbors who were only non-Jewish, mainly Catholic, the religion of Poland.
HEDGES: And you didn’t live in the Jewish section?
MOZES: No. No, we did not. As a matter of fact, we lived among coal miners and steel workers. That’s where–
HEDGES: –But I do remember you saying that, you know, you did remember your parents listening to Hitler’s voice on the radio, and you sensed that something was not right.
MOZES: His voice was scary. His voice was scary. We were thrown out of the house, so we would be disturbed because they were listening. What he was saying, I don’t know, because I couldn’t hear, I could hear his voice, and everybody knows his voice. As a matter of fact, he was the best speaker of the century, I think. And so, I did not feel changes. Anti-Semitism was there all the time. We lived with it happily. Let me put it that way. And, on Sundays my mother made sure that we were dressed because people went to church, so if we went outside we should look nice and be quiet, be respectful, and we were.
Our neighbors were pretty nice. Only kids used to taunt me, and sometimes with, my father had the store, so of course, the store had candy, so I would, they would make me steal candies, and they were mostly poorer, a little poorer. I don’t know, Polish people somehow would live poorer.
MOZES: –And, so–
HEDGES: –The upheaval in your life really began in September 1939, the Germans invade Poland and you attempt to flee to Russia.
MOZES: Yes. So, we left, actually, before the war started, and at that time we did not expect war. We went to Bochnia where my aunt lived. She had one family–
HEDGES: –And you went in a horse-drawn carriage.
MOZES: Not at that point. At that one we took a train, a passenger train. We were very well dressed, beautifully dressed, and we went for vacation for the summer. That must have been end of school, May, May, June, probably something like that, and we spent our time by my aunt as we did almost every year. We were not rich enough to be sent to camps or to the spas, so we went to my aunt because the air was fresher there and there was more space. There was [crosstalk] a little garden–
HEDGES: [interceding]–So, when did you flee to Russia? When was that? Was that–
MOZES: –And then, the minute the war started, when my parents came they took–
HEDGES: –To your aunt’s house–
MOZES: –To my aunt’s house, Bochnia, they took the last available car that was willing to get them out, and whatever they were able to put into that car, and my uncle, my parents and my uncle, whatever they put in, which wasn’t much, and they left everything–
HEDGES: –But you had your Shabbat candelabra–
MOZES: –The candelabra, right. That she took in the car, my mother took in the car, so that’s why she had it, and some silverware that she did–
HEDGES: –And you attempt to go to Russia, and you talk about coming upon a bridge.
MOZES: And it was, then we, at one point, not the ride up, maybe a week later, whatever, my father said that between the two evils, between Hitler and Stalin, he would choose Stalin. Apparently the speeches that he heard, apparently Hitler was already promising what he’ll do to Jews, so I would imagine that’s what swayed him, because he was not a lover of Stalin. I think, first of all, they had to do with Russia was the war, so he didn’t have very good memories, but he said it would be better, so we, he had some money on him, whatever he would have at home, which wasn’t much, but he bought a little, broken-down wagon a very old horse.
And we just drove, and we drove too far–
HEDGES: –With many other refugees–
MOZES: –Many refugees. Then even Polish were running away from Germans. And the army was running away. So, it was disorder. It was a, I called it a Polish word, balagan. Everything was like a boiling kettle.
HEDGES: Right. And you speak, you’re nine years old now?
MOZES: I’m nine, right.
HEDGES: So, talk about the incident, the bridge incident.
MOZES: And then, in our way, in our travels, we came upon a bridge, a small bridge, but they said that the bridge was bombed, but we had to go ahead. There was half of it, like, maybe not quite even a half was still solid. It was still [there]. So, somehow my uncle was the only one that knew how to do, it was with the horse, and he got the wagon through that part that was sturdy enough, and we walked. We had to walk, and during that time they were not bombing, but they were shooting, and you could see like stars going, like swords crossing. That’s how the bullets were coming, and you saw like it was beautiful, beautiful blue sky, and you saw like little lights, flashlight, which, in a child’s mind, it was beautiful and frightening, and we went.
So, under the bridge there was that gaping hole, broken up, and the horses do not peacefully. People, there were dead people, people dying, and somehow we didn’t hear it. We heard the drone of the planes, which, the German planes had, like, the very heavy drone. Bombers. And, so, the horses trying to get up and they were really hurt, they were like, open, the insides were, and it frightened me.
HEDGES: And this was the first time you’d seen anything like this.
MOZES: That was the first time that I’d ever seen, and of course I was afraid, because the travels, as a child you have such feel over some, at night, you hear, as a child, ghost stories, and, but there is a mother and a father, and we even had someone that would help out at home, so she would tell us all this ghost stories. But, there were someone to keep us calm and quiet, so that was okay, you know? It’s just a story, a ghost. But here, you drove through the night. You heard owls through the forest.
It was scary, so it was, I remember a deep fear which sort of enters your [guts.] It, like, holds your gut, and then on that bridge I didn’t know where my father was. My uncle was just leading that poor horse. I was standing next to my mother, so we were sort of dispersed, and it was terribly, terribly scary. And, but somehow, we got through the bridge.
HEDGES: You don’t make it into Russia. You end up in the ghetto. Which ghetto?
MOZES: We went back to it, yes, because also, we went on a truck and we were not, they wanted payment for it.
HEDGES: Right, so you can’t get into Russia–
MOZES: –And, so, we can’t. So then, I have no recollection how we got back.
HEDGES: You got back to your aunt’s.
MOZES: Right. Then, at that point my father, by that point the Germans were already in the [part]. The were in, they were out. Sometimes they were the Germans, sometimes they were the Russians. They still didn’t divide Poland quite, well. So, he decided that if we can’t go to Russia we might as well go back, but this is a total blank in my mind. [crosstalk, inaud.]–
HEDGES: [interceding] Let’s talk about, they build the ghetto gradually. They first–
HEDGES: –They first quarantine you to a certain part of town. Eventually the walls go up.
MOZES: Right. At first we had, we lived with my uncle little while, but not too long because there were too many people, and then we rented one room from a Polish family. As a matter of fact, the Gestapo was right across the street from us, and we were careful, but we still walked around. We had whatever we had, our thing, and then they decided to put into the, which was originally the Jewish, where most Jews used to live, and they put us all in that spot. We had to move, but there were some people that could live outside, and, again, we rented out about three kilometers, from my aunt, from the ghetto.
HEDGES: But eventually you’re forced into the ghetto. [crosstalk] Everyone is in the ghetto.
MOZES: [interceding] And then they told us, yes.
HEDGES: –You were sewing socks, was it, and gloves, was that?
MOZES: That was in the factory, but first I learned to learned to make gloves–
HEDGES: –I see.–
MOZES: –And I made money, and they opened up a school. They made a little school for more or less privileged children [crosstalk] and I got into that school.
HEDGES: [interjecting] And at one point the governor general of Poland, the German Hans Frank, comes, and he was wearing gloves that you had made.
MOZES: –I’d made. They told me that in the factory where we worked, the foreman came over, he said, these are special, because we made socks for the army, just socks.
HEDGES: But you should describe that they would send socks back from the Russian front.
MOZES: Right, and most of them were washed, when we got them were washed, so the bottom part were cut away and just the rest was added by hand, so the tops were whole, but once in a while some socks came from Russian front and they were bloody and people found toes in them, so it was–
HEDGES: –So when Hans–
MOZES: –It was scary, but it compares to later on. You know, if you compare it’s, that was paradise in comparison, so when he told me we need a pair of gloves and he said, you can measure my hand, about my hand, and I made a pair of glove, and one day a commission came. I didn’t know who Frank was, but he came with a whole entourage and four men who came to my, to our table, there were long tables where we sat with a bulb hanging and we knit.
My mother was next to me, some other women, and he brought them over to our table and Frank wore the gloves, grey gloves, grey, woolen gloves, and he smiled and he shook my hand. He said that the gloves fit perfectly, keep me very warm, and they’re, it’s wonderful and I thank you for them.
It was like a big deal. He was human and humane and nice. He was fatherly.
HEDGES: And years later, actually just a few years ago, you found out that he had been executed at Nuremberg, and what was your reaction?
MOZES: I cried hysterically. I cried the way you see someone crippled, an invalid, and you cry inside, why? Why did God make them so? Why is it happening to them? And I felt, why couldn’t he be as nice as that moment when I met him? And the thought of him shaking my hand one time and hanging, it just, somehow my body, my mind revolted against that and I cried hysterically and I called an organization and they sent me a psychiatrist which couldn’t, she couldn’t help, because–
HEDGES: –Let me, your brother Oskar and your father are killed in the ghetto. At that point they’re doing transports out of the ghetto, taking people to death camps. Your father built a bunker underground and at night would go out and look for food, and one night he didn’t come back.
MOZES: No. He was taking us from one place to the part of the ghetto that was already cleaned. The older people were thinned out, so they made, each time the ghetto was made smaller, and so he felt, once we’ll be able to hide in the empty houses maybe we will find some peasant that would hide us out, or we would somehow hold on.
So, he took, there was my aunt with two daughters and we were four, my brother and myself with my parents, [inaud.] and two cousins. So we could not, he didn’t want to make it conspicuous so he took just my aunt with her daughter, the younger daughter, my mother and myself, and put us in a basement. He said, I’ll be back with the rest of them. And he was somehow always very capable. He managed, somehow. He was thinking how to get out of it, how to maybe run away, how to–There was, supposedly there was an uprising in the Bochnia ghetto. I don’t remember it. I remember people being–
HEDGES: –He doesn’t come back, and [crosstalk] then you’re with your mother and you hear a sound.
MOZES: And we were in that basement, and then we had to move to another basement because that was not safe, and one day, one morning, early morning, there was a sound. To me it was like someone taking a stick against a fence, tap, tap, tap–
MOZES: –Like, going. And I didn’t know what it is, and somehow my mother held me to her and there was a tiny, tiny little window in that basement, like, on top. And there was a man in the next house hiding in the attic, so somehow we were able to see him through that little window to the attic, and he showed shooting, but at that point I did not realize that it was my father.
HEDGES: And the psalm.
MOZES: And then I heard that prayer, that–
HEDGES: –Shema Yisrael–
MOZES: –That last prayer, yes–
HEDGES: –That they were singing.
MOZES: Yes. And they kept shooting all the time. First the quick, and I don’t remember any screams. I just remember that chant wasn’t a song. It was like a chant, and then we smelled something in the air and I remember that man, he was an older man, showed a match, like you light a match. They were burning the bodies.
MOZES: –But at that time I did not realize it was my father and my brother and the rest. I didn’t want to realize, I think.
HEDGES: Right. And eventually the ghetto is reduced and there is a skeleton crew of about a hundred people in which you and your mother are a part in terms of the cleanup.
HEDGES: And your mother find’s your brother’s shirt in
MOZES: –Right. They found us in that basement. They were looking, Germans were always looking for people in hiding, and they found us, and we were supposed to be shot, but before, there was something going on. Three people ran away and they were looking for them. Someone in the ghetto that had in with the command, and he somehow spoke to him, Müller, he’s the commandant of the ghetto, was Müller. I don’t remember his first name. I knew him.
And so, we waited. We stood around, and my mother, we were ready. We knew that we are going to be shot, because [inaud.] was found, and my mother told me how heaven, how beautiful heaven is. We’ll get to see the relatives and the grandfather, whatever. She made it very pretty, the angels and God sitting on throne and whatever, and she held me very close, and then somebody came. That person told the commandant, instead of reporting to Frank, to Krakow, that he lost three people, which wouldn’t sit well with them. How did you let anybody escape? He said, put the three people into the hundred. You’ll have your hundred people. And so he listened to him. And I was, they didn’t shoot me.
HEDGES: And you were sorting clothes, your mother was sorting clothes.
MOZES: My mother was sorting clothes. As she was sorting–
HEDGES: –These were clothes that, after the Jews had been taken in transports, these, they were going through all the possessions that had been left behind.
MOZES: Right. There was, in my aunt’s house, became a laundry. They had to wash. The Germans would not accept dirty, Jewish clothes. Jewish clothes, yes, but not dirty. So they had to be washed, and then there was one big room where they were sorting it, putting it into bundles. My mother found our tablecloth, that whatever she had, anything, and then she found my brother’s, because I remember that she was, I walked in and she was, she had tears. She never let me see her cry, but she had tears, and I saw the shirt and it was cut, because apparently he did not strip naked, and because they made people strip naked. Apparently he did not. Whoever did not, they cut away the clothes and, but, they still shipped it to Germany, so she found that cut shirt of my brother, right.
HEDGES: Right. Thank you.
And thank you for watching Days of Revolt. Join me for part two next time with Lola Moses, where we talk about Auschwitz.
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