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: Halina Kornblum (nee Sztarkman), b. 30.01.1933 in Warsaw;

Subject of the interview: Halina Sztarkman;

Father's name: Noah Sztarkman, b. in Końskie;  

Mother’s name: Anna Balter, b. in Warsaw.

Date of the interview: 18.3.2008.

 

Halina Kornblum’s (nee Sztarkman) parents Noah Sztarkman and Anna Balter most likely met through a matchmaking arrangement. Halina’s father originally came from a small town by the name of Końskie. Her mother came from Warsaw. Halina was an only child.

Halina’s mother originated from an ultra orthodox rabbinical family, although they were not Hassidic in the later generations. Halina is a descendant of the “Baal Shem Tov” (founder of the Hassidic movement). Halina’s maternal grandmother Chana Balter always covered her hair with a “Sheitel” (wig) and was very religious. Even during the time she lived in the ghetto, she gave her wig in twice a week to be combed. She was an elegant woman. Halina’s maternal grandfather Jacob Balter was a well known banker in Warsaw. Halina was told that he was the only banker with a beard permitted to enter the stock market. There was some form of discrimination toward Jews at the time. In the 1929 stock market crash grandfather Jacob Balter lost a lot of money. When Halina was born in 1933, he had already died. He died of an appendix inflammation. Grandmother Chana lost all of her assets after her husband died.

Chana Balter was actually Halina’s mother’s stepmother. Since Halina's grandmother died during childbirth, her father remarried his niece, but she acted as a mother in all aspects.

Halina’s mother had an older brother, Moshe Balter who was a religious man and lived in Siedlce. Halina did not get to know him. Nor did she get to know her paternal grandparents, the Sztarkmans, since they also lived far away. All she knows about them is that they owned a wood sawmill and that grandfather Jacob Sztarkman owned a house. After WW2, Halina’s mother traveled to Końskie to transfer the house so it would be under Halina’s name. It is possible that they also owned a soap and detergents shop.

Halina’s mother was initially engaged to someone she did not love and was able to break the arrangement and marry Halina’s father. Halina’s mother, Anna Balter, grew up in a religious environment. Anna had four brothers and four sisters. The eldest brother Moshe (mentioned above),

Anna who came after him, Felix who was married and had a son named Akuś (Jacob) who was a year and a half younger than Halina. After him was Pola who was married to Henryk Winer, but they had no children. After them came the single siblings: Bronia, Josek, Sonia, Berek and the youngest Halina.

In many religious families it was common to send the boys to study at “Yeshiva” where they would receive a rabbinical certification. Uncle Felix Balter received such a certificate, but never actually practiced being a Rabbi. He worked as a banker. The daughters on the other hand were sent to Polish non-Jewish girls schools. It was no coincidence: the parents did not want their daughters to befriend and bring home Jewish secular friends. They also imagined that their daughters in accordance with the atmosphere at the time, would not become too friendly with their Polish Christian classmates. Halina’s mother Anna only attended elementary school although her younger sisters studied at the Jewish high school.

Most of Halina’s maternal aunts and uncles were blond and had “Polish looks” except for Bronia and Berek who were dark.

Halina’s aunts all spoke fluent Polish, at mother-tongue level. Her uncles on the other hand had poor Polish language skills and had a strong Jewish accent. Grandmother Chana Balter spoke a perfect Polish and made sure her daughters all spoke correct Polish. Halina believes that if the 2nd World War had not occurred, the degree of assimilation into Polish culture would have been much stronger.

Halina and her mother were extremely attached to grandmother Chana. Halina did not agree to attend kindergarten. She insisted on going to her grandmother’s house instead. It was much more interesting for her there than at kindergarten. Laundry was fascinating; it was a complex procedure in those days. A laundry woman would come and do the laundry over an entire week. There were always people around the house and Halina was more attracted to older people at the time. Children's games did not interest her at all.

All of the holidays were celebrated at the grandmother’s home. For Pessach the kitchen surfaces were covered with some kind of metal. The dishes were washed. There was no cooking done on the Sabbath. The atmosphere was very warm and loving in the family. During meals people would transfer food from plate to plate and once hot chicken soup splashed on Halina’s forehead. She had a scar from it for many years. There was always action in grandmother Chana’s house.

Halina lived with her father and mother in a separate house. Halina’s father, Noah Sztarkman headed a department in the factory “Mushkat & Turner” at Wolska Street 60 [Parowa Fabryka Cykorii „Muszkat i Thorner”]. The factory had a chocolate department and a noodle department and another one which Halina can not remember. Her father was in charge of the noodle department. He used to bring home pieces of chocolate for Halina’s mother who liked it very much. Halina’s father spent most of his time outside the house and she only saw him at weekends when he would sometimes take her to the zoo. Halina spent a lot of time with her grandmother and uncle Felix and his son Akuś who refused to eat when she was around, so they used to hide Halina in another room and tell him she was not in the house to get him to eat.

Halina’s parents were not affiliated with any political party and they had no connections with Palestine. Halina never even heard about Palestine when she was growing up. The entire family was in Poland except for one relative that emigrated to Australia. Halina’s paternal uncle Pinchas who lived in Lodz came once to visit the family in Warsaw, so Halina had the chance to meet him. Another paternal uncle might have been a Communist and fled to Russia.

Halina is unaware of any relationship her family had with non-Jews. Her aunt Pola and husband Henryk Winer [Wiener] worked for the Jewish National Fund and they might have had some sort of contact with non-Jews. Pola was very pedantic and Halina was afraid to visit her in her house.

Prior to WW2 Halina never heard anything about anti-Semitism or pogroms. There was a tendency toward Poland in her family. Her maternal uncle Josek was supposed to join the Polish army but the family did something to prevent it.

In the summers the family would rent a vacation house in one of the villages in the Warsaw vicinity. The working men would join their families at the weekends. Halina remembers going to “Michalin”. The first Hebrew word she learnt was on one of these summer vacations. Akuś' parents were discussing whether to give him meat. They spoke about the word meat in Hebrew “Basar”. Halina saw that they gave him meat which was how she figured out the meaning of the word “Basar” in Hebrew.

Shortly before the outbreak of the 2nd World War, grandmother Chana lived on the corner of Żelazna 47 and Prosta. An important factory was located opposite her house. It was the “Norblin” factory that allegedly manufactured metal. Everyone knew that weapons were also being manufactured there. The tension between Germany and Poland was very high at the time. There were rumors that German spies were walking around the factory. Halina would go out on the balcony to look for these “spies”. At the entrance gates to the living complexes, small firing openings were made in order to protect the inhabitants. Some people who could afford it, bought gas masks. Halina remembers the masks her grandmother bought. Food was also being accumulated and stored. The preparation for war began.

With the outbreak of WW2, Halina’s father was drafted into the Polish army and soon became captive by the Germans. He was a prisoner of war until March of 1940 when he was released to go back to the ghetto (the Polish non-Jew captives were not released). Halina and her mother went to live with the grandmother. After six weeks of bombardment of Warsaw, they moved once again with grandmother to uncle Felix who lived at Sienna Street 84. The house was destroyed during the bombings. When they sat in the cellar an old man named Icie Meir insisted on sitting as close as possible to Halina’s mother because she was an ancestor of the “Baal Shem Tov”. The street was heavily bombed. There were two types of bombs. One caused destruction and the other started fires. Warsaw was burning. It smelled like burnt bricks after the Germans entered. A part of Warsaw was destroyed and Warsaw was occupied. Halina’s mother turned old in a very short period of time. There was hunger in Warsaw, it was cold and there was nothing to heat the houses with.

Halina stayed in the ghetto until February 1943. Her father lost his job. The factory was taken over by the Germans. He started to sell “Pilotka” hats and socks in the streets. Halina did not experience hunger in the ghetto, but the family did not have a lot of money. Her mother made cakes out of carrots, the basic supplies were gone. The bread was made out of non-processed wheat grains. There was only “Ersatz” coffee made out of burnt grain; there was shortage of sugar so saccharine was used instead. Food was given out only to people who had jobs in exchange for their food stamps.

For her sixth birthday Halina received a “Waterman” pen and pencil set from grandmother Chana. Her financial situation was probably quite good if she could afford such a gift in 1939. Halina was supposed to start elementary school that year but because of the war she was unable to do so. Instead she spent time studying at home with her aunt. She managed to accomplish four years of school in the ghetto. Halina started going to an underground Jewish school on Grzybowska Street for a while. Halina and her parents lived on Grzybowska Street in the same apartment they had lived prior to the establishment of the ghetto. Her grandmother however was forced to move three times due to the changes in the ghetto's boundaries. Several people joined Halina’s family in their apartment.

In the spring of 1942 prior to the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans established two public parks in the ghetto. Together with several other children Halina had to give a dance performance for the Germans. She had a papier-mâché dress in pink and light blue. She danced barefoot after it rained and became sick after the performance. The second park was supposed to open on Franciszkańska Street in the area of the Great Ghetto. Representatives from Halina’s school came over to try and convince her to come and perform for the Germans although she was ill. Her parents did not let her leave the house.

On July 22, 1942, the day the “Akcja” began, Halina’s mother left the house to get some supplies. She returned and told her husband that all the stores were shut and many Ukrainian and Lithuanian soldiers were roaming the streets. The Ukrainian and Lithuanian soldiers were considered to be worse than the Germans in terms of executing orders. Halina’s father went out to check what was going on. He never returned. He was 42 years old at the time and was taken to a roundup place at “Zelazna 102” ( 103 – ed. note – JFikus) from where he was sent to the work camp “Rembertów” on the outskirts of Warsaw. He was able to smuggle a note to Halina’s mother asking her to send him a jacket. Obviously it was impossible to send him anything. Later on Halina and her mother met someone that was in “Rembertów” who told them the conditions there were not so bad. However, Halina had a disturbing dream in December 1943, where she saw her father writing in his diary “and now they come to execute me”. Halina had never dreamt about her father before or after. She did not tell her mother about the dream. She became very sick after the dream and could not get out of bed.

After Halina’s father was taken, she and her mother with her maternal aunt Halina and grandmother moved in with aunt Pola on Twarda Street. One day aunt Pola and aunt Bronia disappeared. They were probably taken to Treblinka in the September 1942 “Akcja”.

Aunt Sonia Balter was studying in Lvov when the 2nd World War broke out, so she immediately fled to Russia. After the war, she returned to Poland. She was the only sibling to survive the Holocaust.

Uncle Josek Balter ran away to Krzemieniec, but Sonia heard he was killed by the Germans there.

Aunt Bronia married a man by the name of Lolek (who was brave) in the ghetto.

Uncle Berek, who was about nineteen years old when the war broke out, was probably shot in Warsaw by the Germans on the street.

Only Felix and his wife and two children remained in the ghetto. His wife also had a married sister. They both came from a rich family: the Zilberzan family. Halina’s grandmother Chana and Aunt Halina were also still alive. The roundups of Jews in the ghetto became more and more massive. The Germans with the “Judenrat” police would surround a building and call all the people to report to the courtyard from where they were transferred to the “Umschlagplatz”. In aunt Pola’s apartment there was a hiding niche, in which Halina and her mother hid behind a closet. Halina’s grandmother joined them there after a while. Once Germans came to search and they opened the closet. Halina was terrified and she thought they could hear her heartbeat. They switched to a hiding place in the cellar where they were found and transferred to the “Umschlagplatz” with aunt Halina and grandmother Balter. Aunt Halina saw someone she knew who was working for the “Judenrat”. She jumped on him and hugged him. He was able to get her and grandmother Balter off the wagon but not Halina and her mother. Suddenly straight ahead a young woman who was walking with a “mess-tin” in her came over to the wagon where Halina and her mother were sitting and asked the guards if she could swop with Halina and her mother. Somehow the guards agreed and Halina and her mother were miraculously saved. Halina’s mother gave her her wedding ring as a token of appreciation. When they returned to the apartment grandmother showed them a small capsule of poison and said she would have taken it if they had not returned. She would not let the Germans take her alive and planned to swallow the capsule if she had to. Eventually she was taken along with uncle Felix’s wife and children on the train. The Germans permitted uncle Felix to stay behind.

Uncle Felix, thanks to his contacts was able to take Halina and her mother to the “Schultz” factory where he was working at the time. Halina and her mother hid in the factory. Once during a Selekcja at the factory, a Jewish Judenrat policeman saw them. Luckily it was their former neighbor, Kirschenbaum, whom Halina’s mother had helped at the beginning of the war. The Kirschenbaum family lost their home in the bombing of Warsaw. Halina’s mother invited them to stay with her in her apartment. He offered to take Halina over to stay with him and his family for two weeks in the Judenrat’s workers compound, so she went home with him. She bought some bread in the workers special shop to bring to her mother. Since Halina and the daughter of Kirschenbaum were almost the same age and looked alike she was able to use her certificate and go through the ghetto quite freely. Twice a week Halina would take food to her mother. The certificate was taken away from her when Kirschenbaum realized that if she was caught his daughter would not have a certificate, so he did not allow Halina to use it anymore. Halina asked for the cover of the certificate, so that the Germans would think she had a certificate inside. He agreed and she once again set off to deliver food to her mother. When she reached the street a blockade was in place. Halina could not run, since she would immediately be shot. She decided to proceed with confidence. She crossed both street blockades. The Germans must have been in total shock since they just looked at her.

At a certain point in January 1943 when it became evident the ghetto was to be liquidated, uncle Felix decided to move to the Aryan side. He took Halina and her mother and his sister Halina with the family of his business partner, Srebrnik, to a hiding apartment organized by the Pole Antoni Brzozowski through aunt Halina who was an underground fighter at the time. She was also active in the HaShomer HaZair movement. Once she even gave Halina a gun to smuggle into the ghetto. The apartment they lived in on the Aryan side was not that secure. It was on the ground floor. Aunt Halina would leave in the morning and the rest of them stayed inside. Halina and the two Srebrnik children sat underneath a table all day. Halina’s mother and Mrs. Srebrnik hid in the kitchen.

Uncle Felix and Mr. Srebrnik sat in the living room behind a special curtain. On Pessach uncle Felix decided to return to the ghetto. He could no longer stand being in hiding. Aunt Halina went into the ghetto as well in order to join the Jewish Uprising where she was killed. She knew what she was getting into since she had new sandals and said she would not need them for long. Uncle Felix was caught and sent to Majdanek from where he managed to send a note to his partner asking for ransom money, but Srebrnik probably wanted to keep the money for himself. At least he did not expel Halina and her mother from their hiding place.

When the Russians arrived in Warsaw on January 18th, 1945, Halina and her mother were in Nowe Górce, about four km from Warsaw. They secretly left the place since the Pole who was hiding them did not want his neighbors to find out he was helping Jews. Thirteen Jews were hiding at his place. One of them, Ania, was killed by Poles who took her off a train after the end of the 2nd World War.

Warsaw was in ruins, except for Praga where beds could be found in some apartments. Halina met a former school teacher assistant from the ghetto who told her about a children home being built in “Otwock”. The Jewish Joint organization bought a building which was formerly a hotel and gathered Jewish children from monasteries and other hiding places. There were also children hiding in cemeteries. Halina met her future husband Dov Kornblum in the children home in Otwock. Halina spent a year and a half there. It was a beautiful area. She started to study, she heard music, went to concerts, read books, saw theater plays. One of the teachers there was a former opera singer, Mrs. Szeroszewska [it was probably Izabella Szereszewska]. Social life was very important then. The children filled in the study gaps that were caused by the war. They walked to school in lines holding hands. The children were stoned by the Poles on the way to school. That was the first time Halina experienced anti-Semitic acts against her personally. After the Kielce pogrom in 1946 heavy security was set up around the children. In the meantime, Halina’s mother lived in various places in Warsaw. She tried to make a living out of selling small packets of black pepper she reassembled from a larger bag she got after waiting in line for hours. She did not have a profession. Every week she came to visit Halina in Otwock. She would sleep on a chair at the Jewish committee office in Praga on Sundays until the morning when she got on the train. She would bring Halina a piece of cake or a sandwich which Halina shared with her orphaned friends in the evening.

Halina’s mother was able to locate some relatives from Chełm. They were wealthy and had an apartment in Szczecin. They decided to move to Germany and offered Halina’s mother and sister Sonia their apartment in Szczecin. Halina and her mother lived in Szczecin from 1946 until 1950 when they both immigrated to Israel. Halina attended a teachers’ seminary in Szczecin. During that time she did not experience any sort of hostility from her non-Jewish classmates. On the contrary, her school director, Bolesław Sadaj called her in to his office after he heard she wanted to leave Poland. He warned her of the difficult life in Israel and promised to help her get into a University in Poland if she stayed. Halina even had a Polish classmate who was flirting with her and said he would follow her to Israel. When she left Poland she was only allowed to take a few possessions with her. ( a few dresses for example). She went to the tax director to complain about the policy but he could not change it. Although Halina’s mother did not want to go to Israel, she was persuaded by Halina. The relatives from Chełm helped Halina’s mother find a job in a Laundromat in Israel. Halina spent 8 months on Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel. She was humiliated and treated badly. The kibbutz children ate in a separate dining room from the Holocaust survivors. Halina decided to leave the kibbutz and had to take her bed and mattress to “Machane-Israel” where her mother was living. She somehow managed to move without the help of the kibbutz.

In 1955 Halina married Dov Kornblum and they lived in Ramat-Gan. Together they have two married daughters and five grandchildren.

In 1988 when Halina returned for the first time to Poland since she had left, she was afraid to tell people she was Jewish.

 

 

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