Bye Bye, Daddy
by Maryla Neuman as told to Fred Amram
They’re all gone. The Nazi butchers killed them all. Tatusiu (daddy), Mamusiu (mommy), my little sister Basha, cousins, uncles, aunts – all gone.
Tatusiu was a handsome man. Not very tall. Jewish men rarely are.
My father was a very quiet man, a quiet loving man. You don’t learn much from quiet people. Only from their example.
There’s not much to say about my father, Isak Kornblum. Mother was the power of our life – of her marriage and of our upbringing. When I talk about my family, tatusiu becomes background to my strong, active and talented mother. What can I tell you about Daddy? He was gentle and he liked to read. He liked quiet. Tatusiu worked hard and he loved his two girls. And we loved him.
We always ate our evening meal together as a family. Each of us reviewed the events of our day. After supper, on warm evenings, all four of us walked together and enjoyed the fresh air. In winter Daddy took his two little girls on sleigh rides. Basha, the tomboy, was more daring than lady-like me.
Tatusiu owned a sweet shop where one could buy baked goods and ice cream, coffee and sweet drinks. Basha and I often watched Daddy at work while we enjoyed goodies from the shop – mostly ice cream. How can one not love a gentle daddy who owns a sweet shop?
My sheltered life changed when the Nazis arrived. I was 18. We Jews lived in fear and were degraded every day. I remember the armbands we were required to wear every hour and in every place – the armband with a Star of David. After about four months we were forced to live – no, to exist – in the Lwów ghetto for more than a year. Each morning I was transported to an Arbeitslager, a work camp, to make ammunition for the Germans. Eventually I was able to escape from the ghetto and, for the next six months, I lived in hiding,
Then, in the summer of 1944, time ran out for me: I was arrested with false papers. The Gestapo sent me to the Lackiego Street Prison in Lwów and I assumed that I would die there. I was 21 years old.
I was actually familiar with the Lackiego prison – but only from the outside – because our home was only a few blocks away. As a girl, I often walked past this ugly brick campus, afraid of what might jump out at me. I certainly had no interest in entering.
However, as it turned out, the situation was not as bad as I had feared. False papers and an uncertain identity meant that I was a political prisoner. The fact that I was Jewish became a secondary crime. The Germans preferred everything to be very orderly. If you didn’t have the proper papers, you became an interesting problem – perhaps a spy. Political prisoners were treated better than Jews because they might have information. Spies were valued a few notches higher than Jews.
I was in a cell with three other young women. Thick, cold, gray walls made this an unpleasant home for a claustrophobic. Our small cell held two cots which four of us used collectively. We shared stories and bemoaned the scarcity of food. There was not much to do so we slept and conserved energy.
A window near the ceiling tempted my curiosity. None of us were tall enough to see outside. Our bare cell had no chair or ladder on which to climb. I jumped up and saw a large courtyard where men were walking in a circle. I jumped again and, this time, I cut my lip as I bumped into the wall. The big gash bled and, to this day, I have a scar on my lip.
As I lay on the cement floor I told my cellmates that I had seen my father. I heard them discussing my misfortune. “The poor girl has lost her mind in the fall.”
The Gestapo had taken Tatusiu from us about a month before the rest of our family was forced into the ghetto. One evening, he simply didn’t come home from his errands. When people were hauled away we usually assumed they were shot, hanged or gassed. It had been almost two years since I had seen my Daddy and I missed him every day.
The throbbing pain and oozing blood did put doubts in my mind. Perhaps I hadn’t seen my father. When the spinning in my head slowed I pulled myself up along the wall. I eyed the window. I planned my jump. When I was ready, I leaped as high as a wounded girl could soar. For a moment, I could even hold on to the window bars. There was my daddy. I screamed, “Tatusiu, Tatusiu. ”
My comrades caught me before I hit the floor. They were sure that I was crazed. Nevertheless, they tended my wound, still bleeding – and I could feel it swelling.
Although the Lackiego Street Prison was run by the Germans, our guards were Polish and they talked to us freely. One brought the news that my father was truly in the prison, that he had heard my shouts and that he knew that I was alive. He had been in the prison since his abduction and had been assigned work that used his talent with tools. Now I was crazed again. This time with joy. What an unbelievable story. Like a miracle. By now I assumed that mamusiu and Basha were dead. But my tatusiu was alive and close by.
If only we could make contact – but it was not to be. After about two weeks, I was moved to the Montelupe Prison in Krakow. Don’t ask me why the Germans kept moving prisoners around Europe? They could have killed us more efficiently. All I know is that off I went on a truck with other women to my second prison.
Montelupe Prison was more spacious. We women prisoners lived in a poorly lit dormitory-like room and we slept on individual cots. A thin forest green blanket did not keep us warm and two small daily meals did not keep us adequately nourished. Nevertheless, we were not treated badly – considering the circumstances – and we had room to move about. We were even given opportunities to walk outdoors in the fresh air. Again, political prisoners were treated much better than Jewish prisoners even if the political inmates were Jews. There were men at Montelupe as well but we didn’t see them often.
Not quite four weeks after our arrival we were told that we would be moved again. We were ordered to march outdoors in a single file where trucks would be waiting. We didn’t know what would happen next, but we were frightened to death. Yes, death was always present. The relaxed Montelupe atmosphere suddenly became cold.
We marched down some stairs and out a door that led into the bright sunshine. We saw a German Obersturmführer, or some such high-ranking officer, standing before us as we made a neat line. The officer was tall, had a stern face and carried a peitsche, a whip. He wore a pistol in a holster on his hip and held a large drooling dog on a short leash. A line of bedraggled men marched forward and turned to face us.
There, looking at me, not six feet away was my father! Unthinking, I dashed up to the German officer; I kneeled at his feet and begged, “Please, this is my father. I have finally found him. Please, leave him with me.”
I have seen people shot for less. Disobedience was not tolerated by the Germans. “Zurück!” he shouted, ordering me to stand back in line. By now I was out of control. I touched his shiny black boots. I cried and pleaded. Now was my chance to have my tatusiu back. “Bist du verrückt?” I remember the officer shouting at me. “Are you mad?” And surely this brazen act was mad. “My father, my father,” I pleaded.
I think that he slashed me with his whip. Suddenly I found myself back in the women’s line – but surprisingly, still alive. I looked at the row of frightened men. My daddy looked thin and pale. He was crying. I could see tears roll down his face. He dared not lift his hand to wipe them. Daddy looked so utterly frightened. Frightened for himself? Frightened for his little Maryla? I’ll never know. That was the last time I saw my father.
There were ten women on our truck as we sped off to Auschwitz.