When Bella Kurant was fifteen, she lived through the German bombing of Warsaw, Poland, at the beginning of WWII. After witnessing those horrors, Bella returned home to her parents in Skrzynno, seeking shelter and safety. Bella found neither shelter nor safety for six long years. In October 1942, the SS and the Einsatzgruppen liquidated the Jews of Skrzynno. Escaping her hometown, Bella began her torturous journey to freedom. She was incarcerated in many ghettos and labor camps from 1942 until her liberation in 1945: the Radom Ghetto, Szydlowiec Ghetto, WolanĂłw Labor Camp, Blizin Labor Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau for a short time, Hindenburg Labor Camp, Dora-Nordhausen Camp, and finally to the hellish Bergen-Belsen Camp with its mountains of dead bodies. In those labor camps, Bella sewed uniforms, painted signs, and welded for the Nazis. Along the way, she endured death journeys on foot and by train. Yet despite her own pain and guilt, Bella saved the lives of two especially fragile women.
When Bergen-Belsen was liberated on April 15, 1945, Bella remained there, waiting for news of surviving family members. Despite her depression, she assisted other survivors in locating their families. Best of all she fell in love at first sight with Paul Fox, a Holocaust survivor from WĹ‚ocĹ‚awek, Poland. In 1946, the couple married and immigrated to the United States, where Bella finally found shelter and safety. Their child, Elan, was born in 1948. Although coping with many difficulties, the family eventually prospered in San Francisco, opening a kosher deli and a catering business.
After Paulâ€™s death, Bella married Henry Slamovich, a Schindler Jew. Bella and Henry live in San Francisco surrounded by their loving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The life story of this gitte neshuma, beautiful soul, will be an inspiration.
Tributes to Bella i
Prologue The Horror Begins viii
Chapter 1 Skrzynno 1
Chapter 2 The Horror Continues 5
Chapter 3 A Surprise 8
Chapter 4 Murders 13
Chapter 5 Refuge? 19
Chapter 6 Attempted Rape 23
Chapter 7 Finding Mother 26
Chapter 8 Shelter 31
Chapter 9 Seeking Help 38
Chapter 10 Finding Radom 40
Chapter 11 Inside Radom Ghetto 46
Chapter 12 Henry 51
Chapter 13 Reunion 53
Chapter 14 Szydlowiec 56
Chapter 15 Back at Radom 60
Chapter 16 WolanĂłw 64
Chapter 17 Fever 70
Chapter 18 The Bunker 76
Chapter 19 Blood-red Highways 84
Chapter 20 On the Wagons 87
Chapter 21 Blizin 92
Chapter 22 Little Bella 101
Chapter 23 The Rats 109
Chapter 24 Word of Family 112
Chapter 25 Cattle Car 121
Chapter 26 Auschwitz-Birkenau 126
Chapter 27 Hindenburg Camp 137
Chapter 28 Welding 146
Chapter 29 Examination 160
Chapter 30 Burned and More 164
Chapter 31 Sauerkraut Juice 176
Chapter 32 Air Raids 191
Chapter 33 Death March 193
Chapter 34 A Respite in Hell 201
Chapter 35 An Endless Journey 205
Chapter 36 Dora-Nordhausen 217
Chapter 37 Bergen-Belsen 226
Chapter 38 The Day of Liberation 249
Chapter 39 Return to Life 257
Chapter 40 Moving On 266
Chapter 41 A Job 273
Chapter 42 Love at First Sight 282
Chapter 43 A Cousin 301
Chapter 44 Sightseeing 312
Chapter 45 Competition for Paul 320
Chapter 46 My British cousin 325
Chapter 47 Zeilsheim 328
Chapter 48 Emigrating 331
Chapter 49 San Francisco 335
Chapter 50 No More Rosie Welders 339
Chapter 51 Paul Arrives 341
Chapter 52 Sanitarium 344
Appendix Henry Slamovichâ€™s Story 350
Bellaâ€™s Train Journey 379
Kurant Family Tree 386
Works Cited 391
I was the fourth child of eight and had quite a happy childhood. We lived in a small town, Skrzynno, thirty-two kilometers (twenty miles) east of a bigger city, Radom, Poland.
My father, Abram Kurant, made a living farming. My mother, Ita Leah (nee Zoman) was a homemaker who looked after her children: Chaim, David, Itcha, Bella, Aba (who died in 1938), Moishe (died at 6 months), Miriam, and Chana. Chaim, David, and Itcha were from my fatherâ€™s first marriage; their mother had died. The younger siblings and I were from the second marriage.
My maternal grandmother, dear Bracha Zoman, lived with us. I never knew my grandfathers; they passed away before I was born. My maternal grandfatherâ€™s name was Aba Zoman. My paternal grandfatherâ€™s name was Itcke Kurant; my paternal grandmotherâ€™s name was Laja Abrac. My mother had two sisters and one brother; my father, five sisters and brothers. I belonged to a large family, lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Most of my family was slaughtered during the Holocaust. I survived with guilt. I felt, Why me? Why was I alive? For many
years I suffered with these feelings. I had to make up my mind to go on living and remember all my loved ones, never to forget. I was determined to be watchful so that it would never happen again.
My memories of my childhood are very happy ones. Our tiny town was primitive. It had no electricity, no running water, and no inside toilets. We lived in a house with two rooms and a kitchen, with a long hall. There was also space to store wood. We had a large, deep cellar for storage for potatoes during the winter; in summer, it was a cool place for dairy and other foods. We had stables for cows and a horse, sheep and chickens as well as a silo for grains.
We were not rich. Yet we had enough to eat. We had a farm and grew or slaughtered everything that we consumed: potatoes, beets, beans, rye and wheat for flour, barley, and canola for oil. What we ate was picked fresh every day or we used the meat right away. There was no refrigeration. We made our own oil and flour. We also grew cabbage and onions. We made our own butter, cottage cheese, and yogurt. In the summer we went into the woods to pick mushrooms and berries. We knew what ones were poisonous.
The food was always fresh. We made the butter in a churn, a wooden container that had a stick with a round disk made out of wood. We had to pump this up and down until the butter separated from the buttermilk. In the morning my mother and grandmother cooked breakfast: potatoes garnished with butter and dill when it was in season and a borscht made from a BrĂ¤u (beer) starter, water, cabbage, and sour cream. They cooked on a wood stove that my father stocked up for the season. My three brothers chopped the wood which they stacked in piles near the house.
After breakfast my father went to three markets a week to buy and sell cattle and grain. We went to school. The school was one room for a class of about twenty to thirty children. This was a public school for grades one to seven. In Skrzynno there was no gymnasium, which is a combination of high school and junior college. A student had to be rich and privileged to go off to a big city to attend gymnasium. After we came home from school, we helped out with the housework and did homework.
We dressed simply. There were no luxuries or luxurious times. There was no TV or radio. I remember as children we had to invent our own games and make our own toys to play with. There was always something to play with, even with buttons, pebbles, or pieces of wood. We invented games. We made our own dolls from sawdust and pieces of wood and made whistles from young willow branches. We were never bored.
When I was old enough to start school, things changed. We had to study hard even in the lower grades knowing that we, like the majority of children, would have only a public grammar school education. In the seven grades we had to learn writing, reading, mathematics, history, geography, art, music, and gymnastics. This would be the only education that most of us would get. There was only a very small Jewish community in our townâ€”only about thirty-five families. We had no Jewish education for the girls. The boys used to go to cheder to learn Hebrew and prepare for their bar mitzvahs. Although national secondary education had been established in the 1920s, the depression of the 1930s decreased school attendance. Very few could afford to send their children even to gymnasium, not to mention university. We had to learn as much as possible in the seven years, enough to last us for a lifetime.
I was one of the fortunate ones. I was sent to Warsaw to go to gymnasium. In Warsaw, I had to stay with one of our relatives, so I could be protected. I stayed for only one year, until the war brought everything to an end. Under the German occupation, all Jewish children were excluded from all schools. There was no form of education of any kind for us, except underground schools.
While all this was going through my mind, I mostly worried about my beloved parents. If wondered if I would find them healthy, but more so I worried if they were still alive because during all those weeks we had been cut off from each other. They did not know anything about me and vice versa. The closer I got to my home town, the greater my anxiety. I was very much afraid not to find them there waiting for me. I needed their love and affection so badly after my horrifying experiences.