Historical events leading up to the Shoah and its aftermath are perhaps understood best through personal narratives. The Holocaust Learning Center has collected well over 20 stories from WJC members whose families’ experiences can be found in our Library. Below is an abbreviated entry by Abby Tolchinsky:
Briefly, my father, late aunt, and grandparents fled for the woods as roundups began in Zhulkiev, which was a center of Jewish life in Poland. About 200 of Lvov’s Jews survived, from a peak of about 200,000.
My grandfather ran a small dry goods store. Grandpa Abraham calculated that hiding in the woods was a better fate than the roundups might afford. So he reached out to Jan Lukowski, a humble farmer and long time customer. For a year, my grandmother and aunt lived in the Lukowskis’ barn, while my father and grandfather lived in the forest. When rumors of hidden Jews spread, the foursome spent the next two years hiding by day and moving around at night, while the Lukowski family provided whatever nourishment they could.
On one occasion, the group were chased by farmers who received bread and other such rewards for turning in Jews, and they dispersed, running in terror. My father found himself near the Lukowski’s home. He begged for just a day of shelter, promising to turn himself into the authorities if his family didn’t come and find him. Jan dug a hole and covered dad, then about 11, with hay. Dad recalls vividly, a child’s arm reaching in and handing him a canteen of sour milk. That hand belonged to Mela, their daughter, just two years dad’s junior. The two never spoke. They never laid eyes on each other. Luckily, his parents showed up the next day.
After the war, the family spent several years in a DP camp in Munich, finally making their way to Brooklyn. Dad never returned to Poland.
Over the years, Mela and dad began corresponding. They exchanged long letters in Polish, enjoyed a few long distance phone calls, sent birthday cards, and sent each other gifts. Upon the Schechter trip to Poland, Mela and my father arranged for their grandchildren to meet.