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The Pelta Story – Return to Poland 1945 (Chapter 13)

personal family photo
Pelta Family Home #42 Pilsudskiego in Konskie (front)

Grandpa Leon (Lejbus Pelta) wanted to escape from Russia with the Polish army and go to Tanganyika (Tanzania) in Africa with his brother Izek Pelta. He was told he can only join as a civilian and convert to Catholicism. In this manner he would be able to get into the Polish army and leave Russia. In the end he refused to join, because he was a Jew and he did not want to leave his wife and child behind. His brother Itche (Isaac) Pelta however, converted to Catholicism (on paper and temporarily left his wife Sarah to join Anders’ Polish Army. The Soviets wanted men to fight with the Russians against the Nazis.

My grandparents heard that people were going home and that the end of the war was near. They were very anxious to return “home” to Poland. They had to pay money to get documentation in order not to be shipped en-mass with others on freight trains. They heard news that whoever is a Polish citizen can go back to their country. The deposit to get valid travel permits was called commnaderofka. With this document one could travel on a passenger train. They bought illegal documents to travel on a passenger train instead of a freight train. If caught, they would be sent to a Soviet jail.

There were stories from soldiers that these freight trains were being bombed and thus dangerous. The Polish people were exploding the freight trains with the Jews returning home, NOT the Germans!  Therefore, they knew the safest way home was on a passenger and not a freight train.

Later on, Sarah Pelta, her sister in-law, wanted to re-connect with her husband Izek Pelta, who joined Anders’ Polish army. She was bragging too much on the train. She bragged to those around her that she bought some nice things to bring to her husband and that her husband was in England with diamonds and jewelry. There were a few other Jewish families on the train. There was always someone who informs against another to the Soviet authorities. Just the utterance of one suspicious word and the whole train could get arrested and sent to jail.

Many of the people on the train were Jewelers and wealthy people from Poland; this information was reported about them to the Russian NKVD.  Szyfra Pelta was reported to the NKVD for being a “Capitalist Subversive”; meaning that she did not approve of the oppressive Soviet Communist economic system. My Grandparents were removed from the train with her sister in-law Sarah and sent to jail, since this accusation was a capital offence. For some reason, only Sarah Pelta was sent to a Russian jail for one year; until amnesty was granted.

After Grandma and Grandpa were freed, they decided not return to this specific train, since it was too risky. They boarded a different train and eventually arriving at their desired destination.

Every inch of Russia, has Polish Jewish bodies that are buried in that soil. Entire families died of starvation and disease, because of the maltreatment of the Russians. Ironically, the USA assisted the Russians in a major way during the war.  If the USA did not help the Soviets to fight the Nazis, then Russia would have been wiped out by the Germans, according to Nikita Krushchev (former leader of the Soviet Union). The USA Lend-Lease program saved Russia from Germany in many ways by sending military assistance including basic necessities like blankets, food, oil and military hardware like ships, trucks and ammunition. Russia received the equivalent of $700 billion in supplies from the USA.

 

Poland June 1945

My Grandparents decided to travel in the direction of Lodz, a major city in Poland which is not very far from Tomazow. Grandma Szyfra’s mother had an extensive Hirschberg family in Lodz, prior to the war. Szyfra wanted to show her mother (who she naively thought was alive in Tomazow), her new child. , Yaakov Berish Pelta was five months old at this time. They were very anxious to return home.

On the way to Lodz Poland, they were temporarily joined with another family. They stopped over in Baranovichi to find out what happened to her sister Szayna Freida and her husband Yosec and their two children.

When they arrived in Baranovichi they entire city was a pile of rubble. It was completely destroyed and in ruins. Very few cottages were left. Everything was burned. Her cousin was killed, nobody was left. She found a few surviving Jews and one of them told her the fate of her sister. After they parted and went to Siberia, her sister gave birth to another child.  Her second child was a girl was named Cecelia.

Grandma learned from the locals, that her sister Szayna was killed.  One day while she was walking on the sidewalk of Baranovichi, holding her baby Cecelia and walking with her daughter; all three of them were shot dead by the Germans. Her husband, Yosec Jurkiewicz, was a handsome looking man, eventually ran away to join the partisans and was never heard from again.

They were now located in Baranovichi without any money. All their funds were spent on the on the train and travel documents.  Lejbus collapsed in frustration; he did not know what to do next. Until now that had money. Everywhere they went Leon was able to make business as an expert custom tailor and earn a few pieces of bread or cash. Even Stalin’s people from Moscow for used Lejbus Pelta as their personal tailor. They brought their own good quality and expensive cloth, travelled long distances, just for Lejbus Pelta’s custom tailoring.

My Grandfather, Yehuda Leib Pelta subsequently got infected with typhus. While he was ill and feverish, he continued to work as tailor and make clothing for his customers. This is what he did along their journey home to Poland.

In one of the towns that they travelled through, the locals manufactured Danish and Swiss style cheese. So Leon was paid in cheese for his services. Grandma efficiently bartered with the cheese to get money and lodging.

Along the way of all her travels, Szyfra learned to speak around seven languages: basic Hebrew from childhood, Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian, later on Swedish and English.

 The Pelta’s Return to KonskieFor the Last Time

My Grandparents returned to Konskie several times; the home-town of the Pelta family. There were no surviving Jews that they met; they all seemed to be wiped out as far as they knew.

The Pelta’s lived in Konskie for generations at well known furriers and tailors. According to my Grandfather, our family was originally Sephardim from Cordova Spain. After the war, the Pelta family property was still there. Grandpa’s family heirlooms were in the house which included silver, gold, Judaica, jewelry. They were hidden in the basement and walls of their home (the Poles knew this). Lejbus was fearful, because the rumor was that a Polish man, also a tailor, as living in his family home. My Grandfather was scared that he could possibly get killed if he attempted to retrieve his family’s valuables; maybe it was already stolen by the Poles?

The Pelta’s were part of the ancient Jewish community in Końskie dating back to the 16th century. The pre-World War II Jewish population of Końskie (known as Koinsk during the Russian occupation or Kinsk in Yiddish – קינצק / קינסק) comprised 60% of the total population of the town or about 6,500 persons as of September 1939.

The German army entered the town on September 6, 1939. On October 31, 1942 and November 7, 1942, the Germans carried out an Aktion in which almost the entire Jewish population was deported to the Treblinka death camp. After the war the Jewish community in Konskie was never rebuilt.

Today, a humble plaque fixed to house commemorating 22 Jews shot there by the Germans in September 1939 is the only visible trace of the once deeply rooted community, which could trace its roots back to at least the 16th century. Of all the Jews living in Konskie at the beginning of the war, some 275 in total survived the Shoah (96% of the Jews were effectively murdered). My Grandfather Lejbus Pelta and his brother Izek were part of the surviving 4%.

After arriving in Poland in 1945, Grandpa Leon went to his home located at #42 Pilsudskiego in Konskie; in order to assess whether it was safe to return. However, he discovered Mr. Majchrowicz, a non-Jewish Polish tailor, had moved into his family home. This included the Pelta tailor shop. Mr. Majchrowicz refused to let my Grandfather remove any personal possessions. However, Mr. Majchrowicz allowed Lejbus to retrieve some reams of his tailor fabric from the Pelta’s tailor shop.

My Grandfather was threatened that if he did not sign legal papers removing his name from the Pelta property in Konskie, than the Polish squatter threatened to kill him. A gang of Poles armed with axes eventually chased Grandpa Leon (Lejbus) out of Kinsk. Polish murder of Jewish survivors returning home was rampant with no consequences. This history is illegal to publish in Poland today. Countless Polish people stole Jewish homes and property.

Grandpa Leon asked for help from some others and offered to split to value of the findings 50/50. Everyone he contacted was scared to take a chance and he never attempted again to retrieve his family’s valuables.

Many Jews who survived the war and returned to their homes in Poland were summarily murdered by the local Polish people (not Nazis or Germans, but Catholic Poles). Lejbus Pelta never returned to Konskie again. No Pelta, from my family, will ever return to that country whose ground is soaked in innocent Jewish blood!

We received a report a in 2007, that of the Mr. Majchrowicz daughter Joanna Majchrowicz was living in our family home. She rents out most of it to collect the rent. Some of our possessions are purportedly still our home in Konskie. Our family valuables (silver kiddish cups and candlesticks), which were hidden by my grandfather at the beginning of the war, were probably discovered in a false wall in the basement in the 1970s by Mr. Majchrowicz. Not surprisingly, they refused any communication with our family.

 Return to Tomazow

Szyfra and Lejbus then returned to Tomazow. All of the Jews were gone. No one was found alive. She could not enter her own apartment located at #5 Handlowa Street. She was looking for family items like pictures. Grandma Szyfra received a picture of her mother just before she was murdered in a concentration camp, probably Treblinka.

My Grandmother had no access to her own home; it was boarded up by the local Poles. They Jews were removed from the buildings and the buildings were sealed. If she so desired, she could have remained in Tomazow, but she refused to stay in a city and walk on the bloody sidewalks where her Jewish family and friends were slaughtered by the German and Polish people. This is why, to this day I refused to let my oldest daughter Avigayil Sarah, when she was 19 years old, to go on a class trip to the Jewish blood-soaked ground of Poland. They killed my family members and stole our property. Now I need to pay their Polish grandchildren to see how their relatives murdered my people?

 Pelta’s In Lodz 1945-1946

The Germans renamed Lodz , Lichtenstadt to make it a city only for Germans. Szyfra’s mothers family, the Hirschberg’s in Lodz were all murdered. My Grandparents  went to live in Lodz, in an apartment owned by a Szmul Pelta, from June 1945 to August 1946. They slept on the floor since the owned no furniture. It was a large city and thus considered a safer place for Jews to live, away from the Polish gangs of murderers. Nonetheless, during the one year that my Grandparents lived in Lodz, there were many pogroms.

Jews were urged to move to the bigger cities; it was felt that in the cities they would be more secure since the overwhelming majority of attacks occurred in villages and small towns of central Poland. However, rumors of blood libels made their way to the cities as well.

In the meantime, they tried to restart their lives in the post World War II reality. They had very limited choices of where to live. There was an option to go to Eretz Yisrael. However it had limited immigration to Jews under the British Mandate of Palestine; before, during and even after the Holocaust. Grandpa Leon heard that the living conditions in British Palestine was abysmal. In addition, with so many Jewish tailors around, income was hard to come by.

For one year, three times a week Grandma Szyfra received anti-anxiety injections from the local doctor. This was her treatment for PTSD. She felt that she was not able to cope with her new reality and survive.

Through the Red Cross, Grandma Szyfra tracked down her brother Icek Jurkiewicz. At the end the war, he was working as a slave laborer in the coal mines of England. At the conclusion of the war, he was freed by the British and eventually re-united with his sisters (Grandma Szyfra and Tosia) in Stockholm Sweden.

 

The Kielce Pogrom July 1946

The Kielce pogrom was an outbreak of violence and cold blooded murder toward the Jewish community of surviving refugees in the city of KielcePoland on the 4th of July 1946. It was carried out in cold blood by Polish soldiers, Police officers, and Polish civilians.

The Kielce Pogrom has been recognized as a catalyst for the flight from Poland of most the remaining Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust; including Szyfra and Lejbus Pelta.  All over Poland, after the war ended, thousands of Jews murdered on their way home after surviving Shoah.

After liberation from the forced labor and concentration camps, Jewish survivors emerged and looked for places to go. Somehow, some Jews managed to remain alive in the inferno against all odds. Many decided to go back to their prewar homes, but in some places, especially in Eastern Europe, Jews met with severe outbursts of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence. This seems ironic: if anything, there should have been sympathy for these people who had lost everything – their homes, years of their lives, and in many cases, their entire families – especially after the raw facts of the Holocaust were known.

Instead, returning Polish Jews encountered an anti-Semitism that was terrible in its fury and brutality. The most shocking such episode was the Kielce pogrom – a violent attack in July 1946 by Polish residents of Kielce against survivors who had returned, in which forty-two Jews were murdered. The Kielce pogrom became a turning point for Holocaust survivors; it was for them the ultimate proof that no hope remained for rebuilding Jewish life in Poland. The pogrom sounded an internal alarm: during the months that followed it, survivors fled from Eastern Europe any way they could.  Approximately 1,000 Jews per month left Poland between July 1945 and June 1946. Immediately after the pogrom the numbers spiked dramatically: in July 1946, almost 20,000 fled; in August 1946 that number swelled to 30,000. In September 1946, 12,000 Jews left Poland.

Yet, the murder of Jews in Kielce, as monstrous and harrowing a crime as it was not the only story of murder in the post-war period in Poland. As many as 2,000 Jews may have been murdered after the war, by Poles.  Kielce, however, was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Kielce reflected the stark betrayal of a Jewish community that was trying to reestablish itself, at a time when it should have received compassion and sympathy from its neighbors. Those who had survived the Holocaust only to experience murder at the hands of their own countrymen could not bear this additional tragedy.

At the time of the Kielce Pogrom, some Poles came to my Grandparents apartment and banged on the door demanding “the Jewish man!”  Grandpa Leon jumped off the balcony and fled.  Whereas, Grandma Szyfra, actually opened the front the door while holding her child (my father) and told them,

My husband is not here“.

They believed her. My brother Mordechai, asked her why she endangered herself and my father’s lives? She said

“I don’t know.  They would not stop banging on the door and they threatened to bang it down!”

Lejbus  came back the next day.  After that event, my  Grandmother decided to flee Poland forever and escape to Sweden.  My Grandfather was not convinced that it was time the leave their home country. Szyfra then told him,

 “You can stay if you want.  But , I am leaving with our son to Sweden!”

In the end Lejbus agreed to go to Stockholm Sweden, since they advertised their willingness to give refuge to the surviving Jews after the Kielche Pogrom. To their surprise and horror, even in Stockholm, Neo-Nazis had meetings in their building so they eventually moved to Taby Sweden.

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. Received Rabbinical ordination in 1997. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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