AN INTERVIEW TO FANIA KRAWCZYK FROM SHERESHEV, AUSCHWITZ SURVIVOR
Interviewed by Pia-Kristina Svenhard in Sweden
(Interviewer´s note: What you have first is a translation of Fanny´s answers in 1945, and then my story built on our interviews. I have added some of the suggestions of spellings from Leah Watson. The spellings I use are the ones Fanny wrote in 1945, when it was Poland. I usually try to be true to the original writing. So I write Fanny´s spelling first-slash- Leah´s suggestion)
Fania was born in Shereshev, then Poland. School: 6 years in Hebrew school.
Occupation: Seamstress. Religion: Jewish.
Fania K. from Szereszow/Shereshev lived in the ghetto in Pruzana from September 1942 until January 1943, when she was sent to Auschwitz because she was Jewish.
Did you know, before you were taken, that the Germans sent innocent people to concentration camps?
I knew that the Germans brought innocent people to death.
In that case, how did you find out? (Radio, rumours?)
I found out through people in the ghetto that had managed to escape. In Brenogora/Bronnya Gora, not far from Bereza Kartuska/Kartuska. Bereza was a grave with all the Jews from Polosie.
How did the people in your city or village react when people were taken away?
"Some of the citizens were indifferent, while others showed compassion, and then others, not only plundered our possessions, but also helped the SS and Gestapo to catch the people that had hidden themselves, by pointing out their hiding places, that the Germans would not have found, because they didn´t know the area."
At what places were you held in captivity and during what times were the said captivities?
Fania was in the ghetto in Pruzana from September 1942, until the end of January 1943, and there after in Auschwitz from February 1st 1943, until January 29th 1945. Later she was in Ravensbrück and in Malchow (Translator´s note: a sub-camp to Ravensbrück).
"We had a terrible journey. We were forced to walk to Leslau. If anyone could not walk, she was shot. In Leslau we were packed into open wagons, stinking, half filled with snow. We were 120 in the wagon. We travelled for three days without food. In the beginning of February we arrived in Ravensbrück. Here we were placed in tents, 1600 people. The stay in Ravensbrück lasted for three weeks, and then we were sent on a transport to Malchow.
Can you with some examples, estimate how many people died in the camp?
"In Birkenau we arrived together with 300 other women. Forty-five survived. The others fell victim to the selections. One transport came with 180 German Jewesses. After three days none of them were alive. Of a transport with 1 500 Greek women, 15 survived et cetera."
Have you seen a gas chamber and in that case where?
"I saw the crematoriums that were next to our camp. They belched out fire from the chimney constantly. I saw the storehouses for the clothes. After the arrival (of the transports (note from 1945)), there was a gas chamber for disinfection of the clothes. 200 Jewish men who worked by the crematoriums were taken there. Out of fear that they would resist (the Germans (note from 1945)), they were told they would get other clothes, and would be sent to other work in Germany in a work camp. Instead of giving them clothes, they shut them in, and after a few minutes, their dead bodies were taken out and were brought to the crematorium to be burnt."
Have you personally been beaten?
"During a certain period in the winter of 1943, we were given "extra rest", every Sunday. We were being awakened every morning at three o clock, (instead of normally four o clock).
We stood until 8 in the morning. After 8 we were forced to carry sand in our coats. In order for us to carry a lot, our coats were turned and buttoned on the back. German female prisoners poured the sand. Of course each and everyone of them tried to pour as much as possible. Thus loaded thusly we had to run fast to a given place about 250 meters away. And above us stood guards with dogs.
If any one of us were late, the dogs were set upon her, and our bodies were often bitten. Still to day I have marks and scars of the being bitten. If anyone of us could not run so fast, she was beaten by the female guards with batons of rubber, on the head, in the back, anywhere. If anyone wasn´t strong enough or fell, or was not to their liking, Rapportführer Tauber and SS-doctor Mengele, hooked a cane around the neck of the victims, and pulled them into Block 25, the Death Block. During a Sunday they could catch 500 women. In the following week they were gassed and taken to the crematorium. "
What was the worst experience for you?
"My worst experience was the separation from my parents, who were taken to be gassed, and the separation from my sister that lived with me for six weeks in the camp. "
Did the stay in the camps give you only unpleasant experiences, or were there any "bright" moments?
"Among the bright moments during my stay in the camps were the bombardments of our factory, a leather factory, because I thought that that death was the only one that could hit us, apart from the gas. We prayed for as long bombardments as possible."
Describe shortly how you were liberated and what impression the liberation made on you.
"I did not believe it was true. (Actually she writes: I did not believe my self.)In Auschwitz the Red cross cars would take people to be gassed."
What punishment would you suggest, if you were to decide what would be done to your tormentors?
"If it was in my power, I would do the same to them, burn the family, and I would not allow that they in the last minute would bring a little water to the only surviving sister. Exterminate them as they exterminated the Polish Jews. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
Are you longing for your home country?
"I long for my home country."
What would you wish for your future?
"To find those of my close relatives that have survived, and finally find some peace."
How many of your close relatives were alive at the outbreak of the war?
"When the war broke out the family consisted of 6 people, me included."
How many of them do you know are dead?
"I am the only one left, no one is alive."
How many of them have died in work- or concentration camp, to your knowledge?
"One sister in the camp, the others went straight from the wagons to the crematorium. "
I found Fania, now Fanny K. in Sweden. She lived a few blocks from me. She was the first person I interviewed, and when I asked her to tell me about her family, she burst in to tears. I did not know what to do, should I turn off the tape recorder or let it roll? After a while she had composed her self and we could continue.
Fanny moved between now and then in very high speed, and I have tried to put some kind of chronological order to the interview.
- My name is Fanny. I was born in – it was Poland before – White Russia/Belarus, in Szereszow, 18 kilometres from Pruzana. My mothers name was Bobel, she was called Jenny...My fathers name was Fiszel. Then I had a sister called Judith, and one called Leja.
- And your brother?
- His name was Judel. He was 13 years old when he arrived in Auschwitz.
The family had a little farm, and they had a horse, a cow and hens. In the wintertime her father made shingles to cover the roofs to protect them from rain. Her mother took are of the household, but sometimes worked in her sisters bakery.
The house was both a stable and a home. In the wintertime they didn´t have to go out to feed the animals, they just crossed the hall.
- And then we had a earthen basement and our own well on the property. Towards the middle of the 30s we got electricity, but only a few hours.
Electricity meant that they had an electric bulb, with a long cord that they carried from room to room. It was a rather hazardous thing to do, since it started burning every time there was a short-circuit. At 12 o clock the electricity was turned off.
The family had no radio, and only the doctor and the pharmacist that had a radio, so in connection with the outbreak of the war, everybody stood outside their windows and listened to the news.
The family was rather well off, but they were not rich. They did not have to starve, said Fanny.
- We had our own potatoes, bread. We had milk, eggs, turkey, things like that. We had cucumbers that we preserved and sunk in to the well, and when we picked them out in the wintertime, they were always fresh and good. And we picked mushrooms but we didn´t preserve them, but dried them. Dried the blueberries. We didn´t need to buy very much. It was another world.
In connection with the Sabbath, on Friday you placed the dishes in a big oven that you walled in, since you can´t cook on Saturday according to Jewish tradition. Even the neighbours would come and place their dishes in the big oven, and they often paid with firewood. On Saturday morning you made tea out of the water that had boiled on top of the oven and after the Sabbath Fanny´s grandmother would pick up the coal from the oven, and sell them to the tailor who used them in his iron. That way she earned some money.
Fanny shared her bed with her grandmother. She died of cancer one day when Fanny was at home alone. She died on the same day and at the same time, as Fanny´s grandfather, who had died ten years earlier.
- Then, when I grew older I had my own room, where I had my sewing machine and...We had four rooms and a kitchen. In one room there were only flowers. You put in double windows in the winters, and you put cotton wool between the windows, and some green. And the roof you painted every ear...whitewash the walls. ..The floor you hand scrubbed all the time. We had an outhouse. It was another standard. The children should have seen what it was like...It was a completely different world.
The family spoke several languages, Yiddish, Polish, Russian and even Hebrew. Fanny spent 6 years in the Hebrew school.
- The books we had to buy our selves. At that time we were three or four pupils sharing one book, so you had to run to each other and get the books. Some had their classes in the mornings, others in the afternoon. There were no free school meals either.
- What did you want to become?
- I had no thought of "becoming" something – I became a seamstress. When I was 13 I started working. There was nothing else to do for a girl. The parents thought it was good to have a profession, if the war came.
Fanny was trained by the seamstress of the village, which in fact meant that she worked for free, took care of her children and cleaned the house on Friday. But the seamstress was very good, and Fanny got so much in tip when she delivered clothes, that she eventually could buy her own sewing machine. But after a year, when she was about to start to get paid, the seamstress took another apprentice, who was treated the same way.
The family lived next to a synagogue, so close that a horse and carriage could barely pass between the buildings. I wondered if she came from a religious family.
- It was more ordinary, nothing excessive. We celebrated Shabbat/Sabbath, (Pias note Fanny uses the Yiddish word when she speaks) we had religious days. We had the synagogue next to us; we could never do anything that wasn´t permitted on the Shabbat.
- Because other people saw it?
- You didn´t want to...You respected others.
In Szereszow the Jews lived in the centre, and the Christians in the outskirts of the shtetl. Fanny said that her family never had any problems due to them. One of Fanny´s aunts lived 100 kilometres from Szereszow, and she used to visit her and her cousins.
- It was very pleasant. We were at all Christian weddings. Before the wedding the youth gathered to bake a mint cake, so everybody joined in and also sang and danced. And then in connection with the wedding, you travelled with horse and carriage and had a chest that you drummed on, so that people would give wedding-presents. It was a tradition. It was very fun for me. I spent a lot of time at my aunts.
Fanny´s cousins joined the partisans during the war, and for the longest time she hoped that at least one of them would have survived, but none came back.
- How was your father?
- Very kind...When someone came and was hungry...You know, at that time there were people who begged for food, it was their profession. It doesn´t exist in Sweden, but they walked from city to city. On Friday evening my father used to come in, and he walked back and forth, back and forth. "How many are they?" my mother used to say. My father could not sit down and eat, if he knew that there was someone without food. My mother used to say: "I can take one or two, but not 5-6 at the time." "Yes, but then we can eat something else." If someone came that was hungry, he would rise up and say "Sit down and eat". My mother was angry many times, she thought there should be a limit to everything.
- Where did he get it from?
- He had become like that, he could give away everything. He had had a very sad childhood. His mother died in childbirth, and then his father remarried, and they had eleven or twelve children, so he was really raised like in the old days. He used to talk about how many they were, he had to do everything, he had to steal potatoes from the ground – they gave him nothing to eat. So he had a very sad childhood. Then he married my mother and then they lived their own life.
But it wasn´t easy for Fanny´s father to receive help him self. When Germans came, the Jews from Szereszow were taken to Ukraine, where they were kept in a synagogue, but Fanny and her family were offered a place to stay with a family they knew from before. In the morning, when the father was praying, a man came in and gave him a bucket of potatoes, so they would have something to eat.
- And my father...I see him in front of me. He said: "It is very hard for me to receive. I have given a lot, but...the most important thing is that one can help others." I see it in front of me...
My father, he always said. "Don´t save money in the bank. There are Bolsheviks, Cossacks and there are Poles. But, one thing children, if you can help someone, you should do it, you´ll always get it back. "And I have had difficulties many times, but there is always someone who helps – I don´t know how it happens.
- How was your mother?
- She came from another kind of home. She was good, but she was not always happy that father could give everything away, while the children didn´t have food. Fanny laughed a little at her mother and father.
I wondered if Fanny remembers what they looked like, and she started crying again.
- I see them, in all situations.
- Do you dream about them sometimes?
- Yes, it wasn´t long ago since I talked with my mother...it was like she was standing there. It was a beautiful dream. My parents would not be alive to day, but one would have wanted a sister. It has been such a long time, and you would imagine that it would be over by now, but it isn´t. When you had a family and children and work...you lived in another way. But when you grow older...
- It comes back?
There were about 1 500-1 600 Jews in Szereszow. Out of these only five women and a few men survived. Fanny is the only female survivor living in Sweden; the others live in the US.
- When did the persecution start, how did you understand that something was about to happen?
- Well, it was the war. We did not know what was going on in Germany. We didn´t know anything about the destruction of the Jews.
On September 1st 1939, when World War II started they escaped into the forest – they were going to hide from the Germans. Fanny said it was laughable to think that they could hide - there was no place to hide. This time the Germans only passed by, after having executed ten young Jews. They were forced to dig their own grave, and then they were shot. In a little autobiography Fanny has written that the families had to bury their own children. Then Germans left and the area was under Russian rule until June 1941.
When Germans came back they forced all the Jews out in the square, and forced the doctor, the pharmacist and a rabbi to undress, and then they had to run naked through the village. They destroyed synagogues, tore up the Torah Scrolls, went to houses and destroyed them, and showed a lot of cruelty. They were worst to the children.
- Then they woke us up in the middle of the night, they said we were to be counted. In ones nightgown, maybe grabbed a dress – we never came home again. Trucks arrived. Women and children on the trucks, the men had to run on the side. The ones that couldn´t handle it were shot. There were dead people lining the road. They took us to Ukraine.
Ukraine has been mentioned before, and the family decided to run away from there to the ghetto in Pruzana, where they had relatives and friends. To take that risk, was to challenge death. They walked during night time, through marshland and forest. It took them three days and nights, but then they were reunited. Fanny later managed to make it back to Szereszow, and saw that their house was gone.
- My mother was devastated. Then father said that there will always be a place to stay, so many people have died, so we´ll find a place to stay.
Before they were sent to Ukraine, that sensed that something was about to happen, so they gave some of their possessions to a Polish man.
- We thought he should take our horse and our cow and some things. The rest we don´t know who took., but he took the valuables, our land, everything. Then he came in to the ghetto in Pruzhany once a week to sell things. I would not have recognized him, but the horse recognized us, and started to neigh, and we went up the horse to pat him. The Polish man would not say hello to us. "But you can give us some potatoes", I said, "They are ours." He laughed at me straight to my face. Then I said to him: "This war will not last for ever, we will settle our accounts. " I know some people that would have been scared had we returned home. If they are alive, I don´t know.
Would she still look him up?
- No, I don´t now if he lives or not, but it is barred by the statue of limitations. But the Poles were not G-d´s best children, they unfortunately helped Germans..
Fanny had permission, so she could work outside the ghetto and get food to the family. She worked at a photographer´s place and was paid in sugar, butter and bread. Since she was scared to lose these items if she went in through the regular way to the ghetto, she tried to get in when it was dark. She was met by her parents who lifted up the barbed wire so she could creep under, but a Jewish Police caught them and took everything away from her.
- I said to him, "I will forget the Germans, but I will never forget you, and if I survive, we will settle this." Later he came to the US, and when he heard I was alive he got scared and changed his name and moved, and no one knows where he is the poor fellow. I would never have hurt him. You can´t revenge everything, but it hurt.
Fanny had an offer to be saved from persecution. It was a priest who suggested she could move to his sister who lived far away in Poland, and live as a Christian.
She told her mother about the offer, and she started crying and said that this was a fate that you would not wish upon your worst enemy, to get married and have children and that they should be forced to change their religion and their identity, but if Fanny could save her self that way, it would be the best thing she could do.
- But I didn´t and I am glad I didn´t. I would never have forgiven my self if I had. I was with my parents until the end.
- When you came to Auschwitz...Did you know where you came to?
- No...They drove us in trains that you take cattle in, and several people died along the way. When we arrived we were separated. They were standing with a truncheon, hitting right and left. One of my sisters went with my mother, and my brother left with my father. My brother came running back with a photo, and he said: "Here is a picture. They are going to kill us." They knew what would happen. At the same time they cut our hair and burned/tattooed our forearms with numbers. I have a very weak memory of...some things have just disappeared.
- Did you have a chance to say goodbye to your parents.
- Fanny shook her head.
- You thought they would come to another camp.
- We didn´t know, not until we came to Auschwitz and I saw the crematorium. I lived next to it.
- But did you understand what was going on?
- You saw everything. There were people there and they told you. "They burn, it is a crematorium." Then you saw what it was. You didn´t want to believe it, you thought it was a dream. You reacted in a strange kind of way...but unfortunately.. you never saw the sky, only smoke. I was there 3-4 times, and said I wanted to go, but they told me to leave.
- I don´t understand.
- I wanted to die, I couldn´t cope any longer. My fingers were swollen, I had rashes all over, I couldn´t walk. No shoes, no clothes, nothing, like a rag doll, and diarrhea and rats and everything, you couldn´t cope. It was the only way to get away from it. I was there three or four times. (Block 25)
- And they didn´t want you?
- No, it was...packed, they said come back next week. "Mensch, geh weg!"
- That is strange.
- Yes, it is, it was odd; I also think it is strange.
Fanny goes on to tell about her life in Auschwitz. She gives an account about the people in Block 25, waiting for execution. She tells about her sister´s death. Executions she saw, for example the attempt to execute Mala Zimetbaum., a young Jewish girl who ran away with Polish man Edvard Galinski. They were caught and were both to be executed. He almost managed to hang him self, before they had chance to hang him, and she cut her wrists in front of everyone that was told to watch her execution. Martin Gilbert writes about them. There are different stories about how Mala finally died, and that has been used on revisionist-web pages.
She tells about how she was saved. Her time in Sweden, and what as become of her life. She married a Swedish man, and both of them worked sewing at the Opera house in Stockholm.
They had three children, but the first child, a girl, died at birth.
Their sons have studied and gotten married, and the grandchildren study - one is a medical doctor, (who was working at the hospital when Fanny was sick) and one is a lawyer to be, and three of the other grandchildren study in England and Scotland. So…
Eventually Fanny got some reparations from Germany and bought a small summer place, where she felt at home. The family lived in a one room apartment in Stockholm until sons moved out. Fanny still lives there.
She has never returned to Szereszow.
- Would you like to return?
- I don´t know. She started crying again.
- Do you think you would you find some peace of mind if you did?
- No...the only thing you think about is that the children should see where I was born, where I grew up...We all look for our roots; this is where I lived, here lived my aunt, my grandfather, this is where our school was – if it is still there – I don´t know.
She talked about the atmosphere there, the people...all is gone.
As the only survivor, she owns a lot of houses there, her grandfathers, the aunts...and the land. She still dreams about all the people. One day she said dreamt about the family being out in the forest picking mushrooms, and another time her mother stood in the room, another time both parents, they didn´t look sad.
- I was about to talk to them, I didn´t know where I was.
She talks in the interview about her life as a survivor, what it has meant to her children, to have a mother that is constantly worried that she will lose them.
In connection with the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, in 1995, she became very sick. I was warned by her children that she screamed a lot, and I came up to the ward and found an almost unconscious Fanny calling in Yiddish for her mother. For a while her survival was in jeopardy, but she made it, and is still here, eleven years later.
In the summer of 2003 I visited Szereszow. Fanny had asked me to take photos of the Hebrew school and the graveyard.
It turned out that much was changed. All the synagogues were gone, they were destroyed by Germans, the old churches had been destroyed by the Russians, and the Hebrew school that was used by German soldiers, was burnt down by mistake, when they heated up the place too much in the cold winter.
The graveyard was not taken care of at all.
But I was very happy to be there, as I have lived with Szereszow for so many years, through my friendship with Fanny, and I took a lot of photos, that are on the web page of PURS.
I don´t know if I did her any favours by doing this. It was a big disappointment to her. She hardly recognized anything on the photos, but for an old monument, not far from where her own house had been.
But she also said that it was a relief for her. I had, through the guide found out that everyone that had returned after the war was dead, so there was no one to talk to, no one to return to. All is gone, she never has to return.
She passed away on the 17th of January 2007