Edja Rosenzweig Darrow z"l

- a Story of Survival

Edja Rosenzweig Darrow was born in Częstochowa on 21st October 1921 into a warm and loving, family of eight children. Her very orthodox father was a skilled but very poor shoemaker and could not spare the money even for her to have a Zionist-club uniform. What he liked to do was sing. He was a cantor and a “Klezmer …. with a three-piece orchestra.”. At the age of 12, Edja left school to earn money for the family.

While growing up, she experienced the disbelief and pain from various antisemitic acts, such as pogroms around Passover. One spring evening, her brother’s throat was slit while he walked along the Aleja. He recovered, but the scar led to his early demise later when the Nazi’s selected him as “unfit”.

Her life changed after the Nazis invaded Poland and entered Częstochowa. On that “Bloody Monday”, 4th September 1939, her father was among the men mortally wounded and he died a few days later.

In April 1941, she moved in with her sister, when all Jews were forced to live iniside the ghetto (created on 9th April 1941). She became a food smuggler and regularly made her way through the sewers, forests and fields to eventually visit villages (15 kms away). She returned after dark, through a secure manhole, with fifty kilos of food. Your grandmother was my best customer,” she told me. She became reacquainted with my family, grandparents (Avraham and Hendel) and my aunts and uncles whom she had met earlier in much happier times.

During the ghetto liquidation, she was waiting with the many on the separation line, when a friendly woman advised her on how to feign illness from typhus and escape. She was German and had been expelled by the Nazis for being married to a Jew working in Germany. She explained to the “go-left/go-right” Nazi inspector that Edja was sick, probably from “typhus” and he waved her away to use the “regular” latrine at the train station. She forcibly opened the window and escaped to the recently-harvested fields. I actually didn’t have where to hide. … I was praying to G-d that the Poles people dodn’t find me… the Poles would cut my throat“.

Hunger forced her to steal from farmers’ barns. Afraid of being caught, she turned to the shops in Częstochowa. Finally, the increasingly cold nights made her seek a way to work inside the new HASAG ammunitions factory. However, she was caught and asked to step aside and at the end of an uncertain day “they [German interrogators] asked us to swear that we will work and help the Germans win the war, and after the war you will be free…”.

Her sister and child were less fortunate and were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. She met her brother-in-law and a few other friends. He protected her from the brutalities of the factory and the nearby barracks. He was first to tell here that the Russian army was approaching, a fact soon verified (when almost all the German officers, in civilian clothes, drove off to the west).

However she and a group of teenagers from HASAG had already been selected to be transported via a Nazi-guarded, regular train

… not to a hotel or for pleasure, (but to be) liquidated in the crematorium. And I was already planning. This is the chance I have to escape … All of my friends said: ‘Listen! You cannot escape. They will shoot us.'” Taking the lead, she said, “Stay with me, we are going to escape. … We’ll knock the window out.” ‘They will shoot!’ I said,’Wouldn’t you rather be killed by a bullet than give them the satisfaction, after so many years of concentration camp and beating, to let them burn you? No way! I have to live to tell the world what went down here!’ We lived like in the Dark Ages. …

So, when the train slowed at a place she recognised, she gave the command to jump, and all twelve jumped into a snowy forest amidst a hail of gun fire .

I was the last one – to make sure they (made it) out – they were so afraid! I was shot in the left leg … the bullet didn’t go in, it just hit the muscle and ripped out a piece of the flesh.

From under the snow they scavenged

.. good mushrooms. They weren’t the poison ones. And blueberries. We’ll survive on this. Making our way, we found a dead high-ranking German officer, so I took his boots and put them on. Then I took off his coat, with the big insignias and soon I hear ‘Halt! Halt! Halt!’ from a Russian soldier with a machine gun. He was accompanied by (a partisan) … and I could see that he must be a Jew, an intelligent. … He says to him in Russian, and I understood, ‘Don’t shoot. She’s not a German!’ I opened up the coat and they saw the striped dress with a number. The partisan kindly took off all the insignias, ripped off all the buttons from that coat and said, ‘You almost got killed because of the uniform. We thought you were German.” I told him as much as I could. He said, ‘We liberated the camp.’

The coat was dragging on the ground. Who cares? I was warm, for once, but also very feverish, tired and I’m sick – I did not know your aunt Ethel (who died in the camp) had typhus. And I was sitting on her bunk in HASAG during our last week and I picked up the typhus germ. … And then I collapsed from exhaustion and fever. They took me to a hospital (formerly a high school) and I was there until I recuperated. … The doctors and nurses said ‘Boy, you have some strong will. Nobody could believe that you would survive the night when we found you. You wanted to live more than anything in this world.’

She returned to Częstochowa, as did others from around Poland and Russia. She visited the former ghetto streets but none of her family had survived. She was alone again.

One day in April 1945, she was approached by disguised Israeli Haganah men “chayalim” and told where and when to gather to leave war-torn eastern Europe. The group made its way on foot, hitchhiking and by railroad, “..even as the ripped tracks were still being fixed”. To disguise the group, they told Russian and national interrogators in different cities various things.

In Hungary, we were Czechs, etc. and the guides were helping these people to find their former homes ….

I traveled from April until September, through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Austria, on the way to Italy. The Chayalim who were helping us took me to a weekly party and the group was approached by a Jewish-American GI who was curious.

When she heard that he was from New York City, she immediately switched subjects to making contact with her father’s friend from Poland, Shaul Weissgut, who had become an edical doctor in there. Shaul was to be the intermediary to find her relatives in the United States. Someone passing by had a camera and she offered to pay him to take a photo. He did it for nothing, had it processed and she wrote on the reverse side her father’s name and his address. She then turned to the GI and said ,”… (my relatives) will help me. I want to go to America.”

The soldier looks at me and he says, “I have no choice. I’m weakening and I’ll give in to you. Where would they find you? Where do they write to you, if I do find the family?” Then the GI inquired, “If I am successful, how will I contact you to follow up?”

After some discussion, the GI said he knew Rabbi Nissin of Padua (head of the Rabbinical Society in Northern Italy) and she should contact him.

After being smuggled across the border and moved around northern Italy, she made her way to Padua.

I walked into the Rabbi’s office. And I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I have a face everybody recognises me. And he says, ‘Where were you? I’m looking for you all over! I have here a telegram from your family, and a letter!’ I opened up the telegram. I still have it. You want to see it? and it said, ‘We know you are alive. Grandma Anna and Aunt Rose.’ (Note: Anna Rosenzweig & Rose Comita). Then I got the letter, ‘What happened to you? We wrote. We sent you a telegram and we didn’t hear from you.’ … I sent my name and everything to the family (in the US). Aunt Rose got affidavits for me to immigrate. And I was called to the American Consul in Genoa. Boy! The whole camp thought I’m leaving the camp in a week, a month. It took me over five years to be eligible to come here.

In Italy, I wasted away my young life. They wouldn’t let me in because I am under the Polish quota and the quota was observed. When my number comes up, then I would be able to go to America. The family wrote many letters. I have all the copies of the letters to the American Consul, to make it possible for me to immigrate. I am all alone. I am an orphan. The family got killed and I went to prison camp. I am a lonely soul. We here in America, we can support her, so she wouldn’t be a burden to the United States government. Nothing helped. President Truman gave the first law he made to let in 200,000 refugees, Jewish refugees into this country. So I was with this group to come, the first group. The first group came in December, and I came in in February, 1945. While I was in Italy, I learned the Italian language and I went to school to learn to be a nurse. Wherever it will happen, HIAS told us, learn the language. If you have no ability to learn a language, at least learn a trade. No matter where you go, you can always make a living, if you know to do something with your hands.

Submitted by:

Norman J.Zabuski

Author’s Note:

Edja was finally reunited with family, married an American Jew, and adopted a boy. She died three months after my interview with her and was buried in New Jersey. I am sorry that I did not become her friend and confidante until so many years later.

Back in 2002, it was virtually impossible to check the accuracy of 81-year old Edja’s facts. Now in 2012, I have checked many facts and note that her recollecdtions was amazingly accurate!

I had often given rides to Edja and her husband to bi-annual dinners at our cousin, Sylvia Taubenfeld’s, home in Teaneck, NJ. During one of our ride-conversations, she told me that she knew my Zabusky grandparents and uncles and aunts in Częstochowa prior to World War II and in the ghetto until it was liquidated. Here, at last, was the opportunity to learn something of my roots. I asked her and she agreed to be interviewed and recorded on the topic of my grandparents. When I began the interview, she surprisingly opened up with an overview of her youthful life in Częstochowa and her remarkable and miraculous story of survival during and after the War.

Words on a page do not convey the tenacious personality of this unique individual. Her accented voice was unfaltering, clear and rarely drifted from delivering the answer, often with humorous quips. The Edja before 1950 (her arrival in the USA) was thin, short, not well-educated, unworldly (no telephone, internet, or TV). I visited Edja in hospital in October 2002 – three months after the interview. She died a few days later.

May she rest in peace.