Warning! The text retains the original spelling of surnames and place names by an Israeli researcher; in many cases it may not be correct. Fragments that could contain current personal data have been removed from the interview.

Name of interviewee: Bela Arkush-Gruszkiewice [Gruszkiewicz]

Place of birth: Lodz, Poland. Year of birth: 1926


I was born in 1926 to Rosa and Yerachmiel Gruszkiewice [Gruszkiewicz] in the city of Lodz, Poland, sister of Yosef (1920) and Ester (1933). Father had a shoes shop and mother helped him with the business. My parents’ house was lively, cultural and full of joy. My parents were young people, when they perished during the Holocaust. Father was 46 years old and mother only 36.

From my father’s side I had grandparents and from my mother’s side I had a grandmother and an aunt with four sons. The family used to travel on Saturday, but my mother used to light candles on Friday evenings and on Yom Kipur (Day of Atonement) the family used to fast. In our apartment we had all the modern electrical appliances, like Radio and Telephone and we also had a Polish maid, who came from the village and helped mother with the cleaning and all the house-works.

In 1937 my father fell sick and was hospitalized in the Jewish hospital. When we were coming back from a visit at the hospital, an anti-Semitic pogrom was taking place in Lodz. Hooligans came in to the tram where we traveled, and expulsed all the Jews from the tram. One of them was our neighbor and when he recognized us he cried out loudly: "These are my Jews, do not touch them.."  Then he escorted us home and so we were saved. 

When the war broke out, on September 1st 39, I was 13 years old and I had finished studying 7 grades at the elementary school. Upon the first days of the German occupation, the kidnappings of Jewish men started and they were sent to forced labor. The Polish neighbors volunteered to help the Germans and they informed on their Jewish friends and acquaintances laughing when they were hit and taken to work. When the rumors spread, that all the Jewish men, from 15 years and up will be sent to the front, they started to escape towards the border with the Soviet Union. My brother Yosef-Yozhek also ran away. When we separated, he said that he would join the Polish underground or the Russian partisans and would fight against the Germans. A short time after he left, the Germans ordered the Jews to wear the Yellow batch.

The Ghetto was established in April 1940 and was immediately surrounded by wooden planks and a barbed wire fence. We left our home within half an hour after they knocked at the door and said: Rauss – Out! It appeared that our neighbors, who were Volksdeutsche, informed on us because they wanted to take our nice apartment for themselves. Some friends arranged work for us in the Ghetto. Without work there was no food allowance. The hunger was spreading amongst the population. Children and old people were wandering around the streets begging for some food and the corpses of the dead were accumulating in the houses and over the streets.

The Actions started and the Germans gathered people without working cards and took them to unknown destination. At the beginning of 1942 everybody was working, even little children. We received very poor food-allowances, perhaps 200 grams bread per person per day, some fat and some brown sugar. I had to work and also to look after my family.

One night my father died. He had never been a fighter and I saw him dying-out day by day, in front of my eyes. Before he died he lied in bed and said to my mother: "I don't feel well". Mother asked me to bring a bottle with Valerian drops. I got up from bed, it was extremely cold. "Count 25 drops", she told me. When she gave him the medicine, he already had passed away. That cold night, I buried father with my own hands…

We remained the three of us. Mother was sick too. She and my little sister Esterke worked at a big laundry and I worked in a pharmacy. Rumors spread about an Action of little children under age 10 which was about to take place, so mother went and talked to someone closely associated to the Population-Department about issuing a certificate for my sister Esterke that she is a mature 10-year old. When the Action began we went down to present her certificate to the Germans, but it didn’t help. We were separated and they were taken away, and I was terribly worried. But somehow both of them managed to escape and we were reunited again.

When I traveled in 1993 with my daughter Bruria on a roots trip to Poland, I was asked What I remembered from the Ghetto? It was still hard for me to release memories – of that night of the Childrens’ Action, when I was on duty at the Hospital-pharmacy. The Germans went up the third-floor to the childrens’ wing and threw babies from their beds and down to the road below. There was nothing I could do. I saw a man whom I knew, who witnessed the atrocity and his hair turned white at once. Later I prepared a hideout between the ceiling and the roof-tiles where I placed bedclothes and a bottle of water. My mother and sister were hiding there during the next Actions till danger was over.

The pharmacist I worked for invited me once in a while to his house after work. His wife allowed me sometimes to take beet-heads, even cabbage- heads and bread, which was a big celebration. Till 1942 I worked at the central-hospital where the center of the Judenrat offices were also located. The Head of the Judenrat, Romakovsky [Rumkowski], also lived there and I used to go to his apartment sometimes. His brothers also lived with him, as well as other acquaintances and I used to bring over medicines. There were all kinds of smells of cooked food at the flat, indicating the people there enjoyed the luxury of food, doing so on the account of the rest of the Ghetto-Jews who had to satisfy with the leftovers. It may be that my mother, my sister and I survived only thanks to our Pharmacists friends.

In 1944 the Germans began liquidating the Ghetto and the rest of the people who still lived there. A rumor was spread that all of them are sent to work in agriculture in Bavaria, Germany. We still didnt know then about the existence of Auschwitz annihilation camp. I remember one day shouting and knocking on the door "Raus! Raus!" We arrived to the Ghetto-square. We received one bread-loaf each, right before we were shoved into a fully packed train. Then we traveled and traveled, arriving only after four days. We had no water. We relieved ourselves right where we stood since there was only one bucket over which everyone fought to use.

We reached Auschwitz. I saw barbed-wire fences, a tumult all around and Germans shouting "Get down! Get down!" I had a watch I received for my Bat-Mitzvah (a Jewish celebration for 12-year old girls) and mother noticed a young German soldier standing on the side and told me: "Give him the watch so that he let us be together". I gave it to him, but at the selection I was anyway separated from my mother and sister. Mengele stood there, commanding with his finger "Right – Left". My mother and sister went left. To me it seemed like it lasted only a second. I shouted that I want to be with them and someone told me that in five minutes we shall meet, but when I turned my head they were no longer there. German guards arrived and took us to the showers. I asked "What is that place?" and someone told me: "You arrived at a madhouse… Don’t raise your head, or else they will kill you…". I asked what about my mother and sister and they told me: "You shall not see them anymore".

They took us to dwelling-barracks, ten women on one sleeping-bench. Soon I learned that those who lied-down first on the bench got all the beating, and those who lied-down last, choked from lack of air. One day they gathered us 500 girls. Outside, not far I noticed fire and smoke going out of a chimney. Apparently we were intended for the crematorium.

I was standing in line before the gas-showers, which was getting shorter every minute. There was a daily killing-quota. I waited for my turn to die, during two consecutive days. At night they allowed us to sit. In daytime we just stood. Suddenly the Germans came and took many girls from the end of the line including myself and put us on a train. They gave us one bread-loaf each and sent us to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. They lodged me in a barrack with gypsy-women. From there I was transferred to Milhausen [Mühlhausen?]. On my way there I still believed that I would meet my mother and sister. I met a woman from Lodz and asked her about them and she replied: "You foolish girl, they are not here since long ago. Haven’t you sensed the smell at Auschwitz…?"

Milhausen [Mühlhausen?] was a labor-camp for women under the responsibility of the Wermacht men – the army. I was working at a factory manufacturing bombs and assembling airplanes. The distance from our dwelling-camp to the factory was 4 km. We walked there mainly at night in the dark so not to be seen by the local population. We received to eat food-leftovers of the German civilian-workers. We were better treated there than in Auschwitz. At that time everyone already knew the war was about to end soon. Near us was a camp of Russian prisoners-of-war and British soldiers. They used to shout from the fence, passing on to us detailed news.

From Milhausen I was transferred to Bergen-Belsen camp. This was worse than dying. No food, a lice-plague, contagious-diseases, typhus, dysentery and more. No showers, no clothes, nor blankets. I dont remember myself standing on my feet. Each morning they took out of the barracks dozens of frozen corpses. From a distance we heard the echoing sounds of the war.

On the liberation-day, while I was lying helpless on the floor at the block, I noticed they were distributing food. The responsible-woman for the block walked around and gave each a spoon of cheese and a piece of bread. Suddenly I heard shouting in Russian, English and Polish "Is there anyone here from Poland?" A dark-skinned Russian soldier entered and he took me on his arms to a yellow water-tanker and tried to water me. The water was flowing and I simply fainted. On the liberation-day I weighed 33 kg. The Russians distributed plenty of food and water on which people jumped like crazy. Hundreds and thousands of people ate and drank till they died of intestinal cramps. I was so weak then that I could put nothing in my mouth, and therefore I survived.

I was transferred to a German hospital. Each morning the nurses asked "Is she alive yet?" After recuperating a little I was transferred to Sweden to recover and rehabilitate. In Sweden I overcame my difficult physical condition, but my soul was wounded and bleeding. I studied at a nursing-school. When the table was set for dinner I filled up my plate over and over again, till one day I reached a record of eating 16 meatballs in one meal…

In Sweden I was sworn on the Bible and the Israeli flag to the Haganah organization (Jewish freedom fighters in Israel, then Palestine). In 1948 at the height of the combats of the Israeli War of Independence, a delegate from Israel- Palestine came over and told me: ”We need young boys and girls to assist in the war for the Land of Israel". Within three days we boarded the passengers ship Negba. Upon my arrival in Israel I was immediately recruited to the army.

I worked at Tel-Hashomer Hospital where I took care of the wounded. One day when I was on vacation and took the bus to Tel-Aviv, I felt that my watch disappeared. I began looking around and suddenly a soldier appeared from behind me, asking in Polish "What are you looking for?" I told him that I lost a watch, which was dear to me and he looked at me and said "I know you from somewhere. You are Yozheks sister…" I told him it was true, but according to what I had heard back in 1942, my brother Yozhek was killed as a soldier in Stalingrad. "No" the soldier replied, "He is here, fighting with the Shualey Shimshon (Samsons Foxes) military company...". I went to the Relatives Locating Office in Jaffa. They didn't give me his address so I left there my name and address. Several days later I heard a knock on my door and saw my brother standing there.

Yosef-Yozhek got married in Israel to Rivka who was born in the Old City of Jerusalem. They had three children called Varda who is named after our mother Rosa, Esterke, named after our sister, and Shmulik named after his mother’s family. In the course of time my brother changed his name to Ben-Hur. He passed away in summer of 1995 during heart surgery.

I met my husband Lolek during the War of Independence in Jerusalem, when he was injured. He had immigrated from Poland with a Certificate, in order to study at the Hebrew University. His whole family had been murdered in the Holocaust. We choused to build our house in Kibbutz Degania A, near the Tiberiades lake (Kinereth). My husband Lolek passed away in 1976. […]