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Mr. Robbie Waisman speaking to our delegation (Coast to Coast) at Birkenau



by Channah Greenfield, April 25, 2014

On April 20th, 2012, my Coast to Coast delegation of the March of the Living entered into Skarzysko Kamienna, a town, in Poland with Robert Waisman, who was one of only four or five Jewish children from this town who survived the Holocaust. This was the first time he had returned to his hometown. Prior to World War II, there were approximately 4,000 Jewish people living in Skarzysko, of which 1,400 were Jewish children under the ages of fifteen.


Robert (Robbie) Waisman (birth name: Romek Wajsman) was born on February 2nd, 1931 in the town and grew up at 69 Trzeciego Maja. His father, Chil, was in the haberdashery business, and was a tailor, while his mother, Rivka, stayed home to take care of him and his four older brothers (Chaim, Motel, Moishe, and Abram) and older sister (Leah). Robbie was the beloved 'baby' of the family, and remembered the warmth and affection that stemmed from the love and adoration his parents had for each other. They did not have a rich life, but there was always food on the table and happiness in their home.


 In 1937, out of 19,000 inhabitants, approximately 4,000 were Jewish. Robbie attended public school and remembered that the mix of Jews and gentiles was generally positive. This soon changed. There was some talk of leaving Poland within the Waisman family, but nothing ever came of it. Robbie's family believed in a civilized world and felt confident that the war would end quickly.


Anti-Semitism was a topic often discussed in Robbie's home, but Robbie believed that if anything should happen or should the Germans invade, he would be safe, because his family would be there to take care of him.


On Sunday, September 7th, 1939, a beautiful, sunny day, all of Robbie's previous conceptions were shattered; bombs fell in Skarzysko. A few days later, the Germans marched into Poland and Skarzysko. The Skarzysko Jewish ghetto was established, and Robbie's father, brothers and sister, all went to work in the ammunitions factory. Robbie's mother and father paid off a Polish farmer in the country to hide him. After about a month of loneliness Robbie left the farm without a word, walked the entire way back to Skarzysko, and smuggled himself into the ghetto.

Robbie's leaving the farm that day saved his life. Soon after he left, under Nazi proclamation anyone harbouring a Jewish child brought them to the Nazis in exchange for flour or sugar. To Robbie's knowledge, not a single Jewish child in hiding in Skarzysko survived.


Rumors of the Skarzysko ghetto being liquidated circulated, so Robbie was smuggled out to an abandoned farm by his brother Chaim. Days later Chaim returned and brought him to their father and other brother Abram, who were in a work camp. Once there, Robbie worked in a paint shop. He learned quickly and worked well, which earned him respect and also an extra ration many times.


Robbie's brother Abram soon contracted typhoid in the camp; just as he was recovering he was picked out and loaded onto a truck with many others, and driven out into the forest. The truck came back empty. Robbie knew his mother was sent to Treblinka, and he had also lost Abram. Robbie's father had witnessed Chaim's death, but Robbie was unaware of Chaim's and his mother's deaths. Robbie's father passed on soon after Abram. To this day Robbie does not know the circumstances under which his father's death occurred.


The older inmates in the camp used to discuss their belief in survivors living in paradise after the war. During these conversations Robbie would think about how much he wanted to survive and live in that paradise.


On April 11th, 1945, Robbie was liberated from Buchenwald (the final camp he had been sent to). He was then fourteen and had been stripped of everything.


While living in France, Robbie discovered his sister, Leah, had survived. They were the only two survivors of their family of eight. He continued his education there and attempted to come to terms with the horror he had seen over the past few years.


As with the majority of surviving Jews, Robbie eventually decided to turn his back on Europe and to continue his life in Canada. He arrived in Canada at the end of 1949.Robbie married Gloria Lyons in 1958, and their children Arlaina and Howard were born in the 1960's and Robbie is now a proud grandparent as well.


I, along with everyone else in the March of the Living Coast to Coast delegation, was fortunate enough to witness Robbie's return to his hometown Skarazysko for the first time since the war. We saw the apartment that Robbie's family was forced into in the ghetto. We couldn't go in, as only the survivors on the trip did. Robbie couldn't find his childhood home though; he said the streets had changed too much. Then we continued to a small field/yard in a square with other buildings surrounding it. Robbie started to cry here, as this was where the synagogue that his family attended used to be. We were all standing in circles surrounding him, and I was in the closest circle to him. We all held each other and began to sing songs of prayer, like the Mourners' Kaddish, and Lecha Dodi...Then Marriette (one of our other survivors) let go of Robbie, held his hand and told him to say to his parents, us (the future generation), and the whole world (since there was a camera crew filming), that he had survived. That 'the baby' had survived and come home.This was the first time I truly cried on the March of the Living.


The 2012 March of the Living was a life changing trip for me. It affected my views, my thoughts, and the way I want to live my life. But most of all, it gave me an appreciation for everything I was blessed to have, especially my family, and my home. I cannot even begin to imagine going through what Robbie had to. Robbie, the March of the Living, and the other survivors, Mariette and Fanny, all gave me an immense appreciation for my life.


Robbie Waisman was a role model for everyone on the March of the Living, specifically the Coast to Coast delegation, myself included. Not only did he survive, but he made a life for himself beyond the Holocaust, and he continues to teach people all around the world of the horrors the Jewish people were subjected to. Robbie brought the history of our people to life- so that it was no longer merely a section of a history textbook, or the subject of a movie. This is the most important thing for Holocaust survivors to do. They, and those of us who were fortunate enough to hear their stories, must educate the greater population in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After our survivors are no longer here to tell their stories, this responsibility falls to us, the listeners. In listening to the stories of the horrors that those before us faced, we become witnesses.  We, as witnesses have the responsibility to be pro- active and ensure that no human being will ever have to endure what Robbie was subjected to.

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