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Rabbi Roswaski

Rabbi Rozwaski’s Personal Story of Defiance: How He Survived the Holocaust.

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

After hiding in a secret pit in the basement of his ghetto home, Rabbi  Rozwaski  lived for 3 years as a child in the Russian  forest  before  becoming one of only 1000  orphans that the Canadian Jewish Congress managed to sponsor into Canada at the end of world War 11.

[Editor’s note: Rabbi Rozwaski’s riveting personal survival story  set out below as told to me originally  in an  intrerview April 24, 2009. It was the first time  he had the story to the media, and at one point in the interview he had to stop because it was so terribly painful for him to continue. ]

Rabbi Chaim Rozwaski, who was born in the town  of  Zdiencol, Poland,  remembers the day when he, as  a boy of only 6 years of age, last saw his father.

“There was an order [by The Germans requiring] all the men of  the village to come to the market place and bring food for 3 days…My father  went to the market place, which was like a square, but he walked into a trap. The square was surrounded by German [Vermacht] soldiers and they took 120 people and put them on a truck -including my father and his brother- and they were taken to the next town and killed a day or two later.”

Soon after his father, who had sold agricultural products for a living, was killed, Rabbi Rozwaski, his mother, and two sisters moved into the Zdiencol ghetto and lived with his uncle and aunt.

 On “the 13th of Iyar, 1942”  Rabbi Roswaski’s mother was killed, while his life was spared:

‘About 500 people were killed that day,…we were walking in a trench and we heard people being shot …a German car came down with officers… suddenly, some people would be sent to the right [and some would be sent straight]…My mother was numb  [and appeared weak and she was sent straight]…my  uncle took us with him as his children, to the right..They let him go because hey worked in the lumber yard.”

Rabbi Rozwaski returned to live in the same house in the ghetto with his uncle’s family, and  the family decided “to dig a hole in the wall in the basement of the house,” which became like a large pit.

 Outside the house, they made it look like a vegetable garden, and inside the basement “we made  kind of a false door and placed shelves in front and jars with preserves.”

Rabbi Rozwaski recalls that the day after his family  finished making their secret pit, the Germans “surrounded the whole ghetto” and exterminated everyone in it.

“We [my family] remained in the hiding place…We were choking for air sometimes…We’d open the place to breathe..and then we heard people approaching.”

A Polish neighbor who had helped build the pit came with German soldiers to show the soldiers where the Roswaski family had hid their valuables, which were stored in one part of the pit.   The neighbor jumped in the pit and showed the Germans the valuables, all the while not knowing that the family was there.

Rabbi Rozwaski lived with his family members in the secret pit for two days.

“My Aunt’s sister had a baby in there [the secret pit]…She had to take the baby out to change it..but when she was outside she heard someone approaching…”

The young mother scrambled back into the pit, leaving the baby behind as she didn’t have time to bring it inside with her.  Moments later, when she re-emerged from the pit, “the baby wasn’t there.”

Rabbi Rozwaski left the decimated ghetto and hid in the forest for three years, where he “dug hiding places” about “20 kilometres from where the people in the movie Defiance lived.”

At age 10, Rabbi Rozwaski went to Poland, then joined Youth Aliya, made his way illegally from Poland to Czechoslovakia, and then went to Germany.

“But when  I got  to Germany, it wasn’t possible to go to Palestine…No one allowed us to come in…Canadian Jewish congress received permission to bring 1000 orphans to Canada…I was in the first group with my older sister…I got to Winnipeg when I was 12 years old…I never had a Bar-Mitzvah,”  he says.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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