Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel.
Testimony # 03/4504 Cassette # 033C/720
Name: Bertha Braunhut
Date of Birth: 1922 in Bielsko Biala, Poland
Present address: 18 Beney Moshe St., Tel-Aviv, Israel
Interviewer: Michelle Mond
Date of testimony: N/A
Testimony's language of origin: English.
The following is the recorded testimony by a holocaust survivor - Bertha Braunhut. In this testimony the witness tells about her life in Poland during the second world war. The outbreak of the war in Bielsko Biala, the escape to Krakow and then to Bochnia. The establishment of ghetto Bochnia, the work and dwelling conditions. The ghetto commander, attempt to keep traditional life, hiding place in the ghetto. Deportation to Szebnie labor camp, The conditions in Szebnie and deportation to Auschwitz. The language of origin is English however the witness' thoughts are racing in her mind and consequently it presents some difficulties when several thoughts are being described simultaneously. In addition whenever you see a ........ within the testimony it represents an unclear portion of the tape or a pause. Some footnotes were added for clarification. The part of the testimony following is the one that deals with ghetto Bochnia or aspects related to this subject.
|Partial testimony (pages
12 to 37)
Interviewer: Do you know when that was? Approximately.
Interviewer: You had to leave because you arrived in Krakow ....
|and live in Krakow. I mean in Bochnia. And we moved to Bochnia.
We rented there a room in somebody's house.
Interviewer: Was your mother back with you?
Interviewer: How did you manage in Bochnia?
|while we were in Bochnia, before the ghetto was established, his
brother (the father's brother) made a contact with some underground and he
was sending moneys and things for the underground. And my father would go,
that was to Krakow and he did it with freight trains, not conductors but
they have people that work on the trains, whatever they do there, and those
people would bring the stuff and my father would deliver it and he was denounced.
And he would come home like on Friday or Thursday and then go back and that
was in his aunt's apartment. When he came back to Krakow like Sunday morning,
in the afternoon he was back home, he said, I'm going into hiding. I saw
the apartment ransacked and the aunt wasn't there which means she was enlisted.
You have to go into Krakow and try to get this aunt out of jail. That was
in 1940. I was 18 years old but I still felt very inadequate in everything.
I thought I'm all grown up and doing things. First of all, I knew she wouldn't
eat in jail so I would bring every day kosher food for her and I would try
to make contact with people that had contacts with people that had contacts
into the jail or to the Gestapo to get my aunt out. I don't know, I can't
remember times but it must have taken a few weeks and one day I came to the
jail with the food and somebody whispers to my ear, they are looking for
you. I don't know how they were looking for me. They must have described
me. Because I came daily. So that day she didn't get the food. I went back
to that family I had, that lived outside of Krakow. It was called Plaszow.
Later in Plaszow, there was also a camp there. And they lived like one story
high. I came back and I told them what happened and all of a sudden I hear
German voices in the corridor. Not thinking twice I jumped out the window
and they were after me. I jumped out the window and that must have been
Sukkot5 because there was a Sukka6 and I went behind
the Sukka and there was an opening and I went out into the street. And that
after a few hours I came back and they told me, indeed they came and asked
for you. I went back to Bochnia and I had a contact. My father, I didn't
know where my father was hiding.
Interviewer: But your brothers and sisters?
Interviewer: Who was your father in the underground, who was
|thought and the way my father acted and what my father thought.
Anyway, I told him what had transpired and then he gave, there was apparently
plenty of money around because I kept on getting money to try to make some
more contacts. First of all he said, we have to leave this apartment in Bochnia
because it will be very easy to trace us to Bochnia. So we went to Wisnicz.
I rented a horse and buggy, rented a room in Wisnicz. I left the two children,
my sister and my brother in Wisnicz and I made out of myself, I bought myself
glasses, see through glasses because I didn't need any, put on some make-up,
got a hat. I tried to make myself not to be recognizable. I don't know if
I succeeded very well but that's how I had to go back to Krakow and try to
get that aunt out of jail. I guessed the whole thing with whatever they were
doing, must have fallen apart because my father never talked to me about
it. Most important thing on his mind was to get that aunt out of jail. So
somebody gave me a contact I should go there and I should go there on Friday
evening, the Orthodox people. And one person was pointed out to me in the
street that he is working with the Nazis. When I go Friday evening into the
house to talk about the release of that aunt, I see that man that was pointed
to me in the street. You know in a streimal7 . Since I couldn't
make anything out of it, I ran again. I ran down those two flights of stairs
like a bolt of lightning and then whoever gave me this contact, I contacted
again and I said, I don't know what to make out of it? I just don't know
what to make of it. He was pointed out to me in the street as somebody not
to be trusted and from that other person I was sent to him to the house that
he will negotiate the deal and he was very Orthodox but since I didn't know
what to do, I ran. So, then I was given a different contact and I paid him
money. I did get my aunt out of jail and not that it helped that much because
she was sent off with her son afterwards, I don't even know to which camp
and this Orthodox man that to me were (was) like two different people, wound
up later in Bochnia ghetto and then once ..... Whenever I saw him in Bochnia
ghetto, when I saw him once, I'm going to the other side of the street. I
wasn't sure. I didn't know but I saw him later in Auschwitz, in Birkenau.
We were coming from work and he was from the other side. He was not to be
recognized. He was all beaten up, his face beaten up. But he recognized me
and he called out my name and I looked up and I didn't know who he was. He
said, you don't recognize me? And then I recognized his voice. So he must
have been 'beseder'8 , I suppose but sometimes that people weren't
beseder wound up like that as well. They wound up even dead not only in camp.
I don't know if you want to have it that detailed. If you want to have these
kind of details.
Interviewer: No, it is interesting. So you are in Wisnicz now?
|Interviewer: Do you know when that was?
Bertha: That must have been a few months before the ghetto was established. The ghetto was established in April '41. So that could have been somewhere in January, February. It was bitter cold. I remember because of the incidents of what I wore, what I didn't wear, I can remember more or less the season of the year than the date. And then the ghetto was established. Again there were problems.
Interviewer: Where were the Jews brought to, when the ghetto
was established from where?
Interviewer: Do you remember any specific reaction of the non-Jews,
the Gentiles of the area when the ghetto was established?
Interviewer: Sort of a trade relationship between the ghetto
Interviewer: Could you describe the life in the ghetto?
|working, there were mainly younger people and everybody would go
out to work. And then there was 'ratzia'9 . That's what I tried
to explain. They called this an 'outsidlung'.
Interviewer: What did you worked (work) at?
|he is afraid because they went with the bullhorn and saying everybody
come out of your hiding places. Nothing is going to happened to you. You
are going to get transported to a working place and we are going to search
the houses and you are going to be shot.
Interviewer: When was this?
Interviewer: Who was the lady that you were hiding with?
Interviewer: Was he involved in any type of activity, possibly
Interviewer: Can you describe the conditions?
|where to stay. She had a trunk made out of straw, a straw trunk.
And she said, I have only this trunk and I'll sleep on it. So it was my father
and my brother. They slept in one bed. We had a sofa that pulled out, my
sister and I. The little boy, Shorush slept in a buggy and my aunt was sleeping
on that straw trunk. Since we didn't get any heating, somebody invented but
what we were able to get is saw dust. And somebody invented a stove for saw
dust. By the way, I read an article what they do now in Africa, they use
saw dust and all kind of stuff that would be thrown away otherwise and the
way they describe it is built on this principle, the way they build it in
the ghetto. I found it in Newsweek last week. This would be the heating and
on this we would also cook. That was about 40 centimeter across, round. It
wasn't good. It wasn't comfortable. It wasn't, I can't say, not human, but
it was subhuman. There was no bathroom, no washroom facilities. The toilet
was outside. And everybody was, the two families that lived, had to go through
our, there was absolutely no privacy, at no time at all. How did we do it?
There was a public bathhouse. I think that's what we used for once a week
or twice a week and then we did the best that we could. We weren't the cleanest
people in the world at that time. I don't think it really mattered that much.
But if you had money and you had things that you could sell, we didn't suffer
any hunger so far. So we are already now in '42. I haven't suffered one day
of hunger yet. I had all the things that I needed. We had soap. We had food.
We had candles to light Friday evening. We had all the things we needed because
for money, even though times were bad, money, there was everything available,
everything. I think even champagne if one wanted. I would make dough. We
would buy the flour from the people that would bring and I would bake the
dough and there was one day a week that people could bring the dough to the
bakery and he would bake the bread for you and we would have for the whole
week bread. I learned to do an awful lot of things. So did my sister and
I had signs here (points to hands) how I would cut, you had to light the
sawdust was very difficult and you had to have special kind of wood. It is
called keen. I don't know if it is a German word or a Yiddish word or in
what language it is but it is a special kind of wood which burns very fast
and this would burn and sort of hold the flame to light the sawdust because
sawdust doesn't burn so easily. I guess when it catches the flame, it burns
ok, but until and this was very very expensive. You would buy them in small
bunches. So you made very little thin sticks out of it like toothpicks and
I would cut. I'm sure you can see. That's the sign of my experiment and here
I have one that I was chopping wood. There are the small scars. The scars
in my soul and my mind are different. You wanted me to describe. I think
that's about how it was.
Interviewer: And were you Orthodox?
|dare to say it. I did ask him, tell me. He said, after the war.
So I don't know. I didn't have the chance. And he was taken with that little
boy during the second 'aksia'12 , during the third one actually
because the second one was different again. Then it was again normal life.
I was sick one day. I fainted during the night. Sholush was crying. He used
to call my father that was his uncle bruder13 because his mother
always said, Sholush - ve gents de bruder14 . So my father was
not his uncle but his bruder and everybody had their nickname. He cried at
night or wanted something and he would call me. I would always tell him stories
about our house and we had still pictures from the house and the family and
I would show them to him and tell him how it was. And he related to me the
best. So he would call me and I get up and did whatever I had to do and I
fainted and the next day I went to the doctor and he gave me a note to stay.
Not to have to go to work but I had the note and Sholush was with me but
it was a working camp. Even though it was a ghetto, it had a 'lagerfuhrer'.
It was treated like a, lager15 is camp, like a camp because we
had lagerfuhrer. Lagerfuhrer is the camp leader because we were marching
out, our part of the ghetto, we were marching out every day to work and we
had to march.
Interviewer: Who was the camp leader?
|looked the other way. We went through the fence. We didn't go through
the regular entry. We went through a hole in the fence. I went to the doctor.
I employed a woman to bring the child to Krakow to the gate of the ghetto.
That was this Sholush. But she said, I would do that for that kind of money
but you have to put him to sleep. He doesn't know me. So I went to the doctor
and he gave me something and we drugged the child and the child was crying
all the way. He didn't sleep and they picked her up in Krakow and took her
at the Gestapo. That woman. We did manage to get away from Bochnia
Interviewer: Were there any other police? You said there were
Jewish police. Besides the German were there any other non-Jews that weren't
Interviewer: How did you get across, you said? How did you get
Interviewer: So you were inside Krakow.
|second. That was in November of '42 and then when we came back we
still lived in the same place.
Interviewer: Where did you come back to?
Interviewer: Did you know that at the time?
Interviewer: What was their attitude towards the Jews?
Interviewer: From Bochnia, where were you sent from Bochnia?
|Bertha: Well, after the second 'ratzia' we lived in Bochnia
till September '43 which is almost a year and Sholush was with us. He was
by that time already three and a half and he understood a lot and he, children
knew about munitzion, and munitzion lagger. Munitzion means ammunition. But
we still were working different shifts and he was with us all the time in
the working and after that we came, had any problems. He (Oberstrumfuhrer
Muller) didn't come into the apartment again. But there was a new law that
came out that they divided the working ghetto again into two. Male and female.
Just for the nighttime. In other words, during the daytime you could see
your family and at night, so, there were two women, two sisters. Her name
was Yetti. Unfortunately she committed suicide about four years ago. But
she all along had a lot of problems. As a matter of fact, her daughter taped
a session with me. She wanted to know everything about her mother. We were
friendly. She suffered an awful lot. Yetti and her sister Gazella were put
into our place and my father and my brother had to go into the place there
until one early morning in September with the bullhorns again. They were
going, everybody on the 'Appellplatz'20 . 'Appellplatz' that's
the big place where you gathered. That's when my father divided ... I guess
he must have known that that's going to be the end because whatever money
we had in Jewelry he would give everybody a little bit in case you can save
yourself whatever. And we would go on the 'Appellplatz' and sit there. I
think more than a day. And then, I don't know who it was but it was one of
the big guys. He was so handsome looking and so aristocratic looking. It
is almost unbelievable how people with looks and manners like that could
be killers. We were sitting there and everybody was speculating and
philosophizing what's going to happen, what's going to be. We were seeing
by the next morning - we sat there through the night - by the next morning
they came and that's the first time we knew about having these expulsions
I think you can call it. Take the people and here we were the first time,
we came across where they started to segregate. Now, we didn't know what
(selected group) was good, what was not good but rumors, always rumors. This
one is good. This one is not good. This one will go to camp. This one will
not go to camp. This one will go to Auschwitz. This one will be sent to another
camp. Rumors flying. I don't know whether they were spread with a purpose
or they just were born out or maybe somebody really had real inside information.
Anyway, my father was sent to one side and the child was sent to another
such side and my brother and my sister and I were sent to a different side.
I went to get the child. I ran. They made like groups. It was a big, enormous
place outside. I went to get the child. Then I was sent to a different place
when I had the Child (people with children were labeled disposable). And
my father came to get the child and said, I'm going to get the child because
where I am we are going to be sent to death and you haven't got a chance
with the child anyway. And he took the child.
Interviewer: Your father knew that?
|were in a different side. And then the SS started. We were lined
up five abreast and then the SS started to go line by line and they caught
a man with his child in a book sac hiding. They took them away. And something
else that he (the SS man) said to my sister when he (she) was running after
my father. You'll go there where he (your father) goes and die but you're
going to work first for us. So we knew already that that's for sure. That
this transport we'll never see and we are going to a working camp, for how
long, we don't know. And that's how we wound up in Szebnie and that was in
September 1943. Szebnie, we had a 'laggerfuhrer'. His name was Bjemick. He
was also a killer. Bjemick is actually a very Polish name. And they had the
guards were being Ukrainian. They had, I think, like navy blue uniforms with
green lapels. The attitude was horrible. I think when we were there about
two months. I think in November. It was after Yom Kippur21 because
Yom Kippur, they killed that one man there and it was such a beautiful sunset
and I was thinking about Jews all over the world. Fast now and start to eat
and start to fast. Light the candles. Now it is Yom Kippur. We knew for some
reason, there is always somebody that knew what Chag22 it was
somewhere. And the quietness of this 'Appellplatz' and the sunset was
breathtaking and this man hanging with his arms behind him, already out of
his sockets mounting, shoot me, shoot me. Take me out of my misery. And they
kept on digging a hole under his feet so he won't have any support. And we
had to stand there and look at it and listen. And finally he (the lagerfuhrer)
did tell them. He told one of his aides or one of his inmates, I don't remember,
to cut him (the prisoner) down and he did shoot him. He said, that he tried
to attack. I mean Bjemick, the camp leader, the 'lagerfuhrer'. I don't know.
He wasn't a camp leader. If you say a camp leader, it sound too nice. This
'lagerfuhrer', he said that he was trying to attack him and this man claimed,
all I wanted is to ask something. Ask for a transfer of work. That was one
incident. And there was another incident where they shot 10
people23 . Before they shot them but before that I have to backtrack.
My mind is racing ahead of me. After being there less than a month, maybe
a few weeks, I was working, again, in a sewing capacity somewhere in a sewing
Interviewer: Were you with your sister?
Interviewer: Can you describe the camp?
|a self-contained camp as well as the work that we did for the outside.
Whatever we had to do. And again, the center there was a big 'Appellplatz'.
They called it 'Appellplatz'. I don't know any other name for it.
Interviewer: A plaza?
Interviewer: How did you get from Bochnia?
Interviewer: And can you describe that journey?
Interviewer: You were going to mention about the search.