Lila Wien

MOTL 2004

Shalom, my name is Lila Wien. I was born in Warsaw in 1937.

My mother Esther Bromberg was a Chemistry student at the University of Warsaw and my father Max Menachem Bromberg was linguistics student.

Both were expelled from the University a short time before the War when all Jews were thrown out.

During the course of the War, Jews were forced to move to the ghetto and thus we left our nice and lovely apartment and moved to the ghetto to a small and dingy apartment. My parents learnt hair dressing from someone in the ghetto and after that they rented a shop and opened a hair salon. During the day they worked in this salon and at night a group of Jews in the ghetto, including my father, would meet there and engage in social work to help Jews in the ghetto. My parents managed to keep food supplies through contacts outside the ghetto who would smuggle it in exchange for money.

After the hunger intensified and disease began to spread my mother decided to flee. She took her identity papers that our Polish helper had left behind at the start of the War and replaced it with her own photo.

My mother had an Aryan appearance. She had blue eyes and blonde hair which enabled her to escape routine checks and other problems. My father decided to remain behind in spite of my mother’s request because he felt that if he stayed he could help in the ghetto. One night, my father’s brothers moved my mother from rooftop to rooftop till we reached the building that was closest to the ghetto wall. They then returned inside.

A woman with a suitcase and a young child in her hands was standing there and everything was silent with a burnt smell. We didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a small van appeared and stopped alongside us. Two people emerged and told my mother to get in quickly. My mother was frightened but the people took her belongings, placed her inside and asked her where she wished to go. My mother, who didn’t see a lot of options, asked them to take her to the nearest railway station. They dropped my mother and me off at the central station and disappeared. My mother believed that they were angels who were sent from heaven above.

We travelled to a small village were a woman lived who promised to look after my mother in times of difficulty. We lived with her briefly and after a few days we rented a small apartment of our own. After a while, people became suspicious and began to ask questions so my mother decided to move to another village. And so, over a number of years, we moved from city to city. My mother would work as a hairdresser and I would stay at home with a ‘helper’. Because of my Jewish appearance, red hair and brown eyes, and because my mother was considered not to be married, she was frightened that people would think she had tried to save a Jewish child and catch us, so she didn’t allow me to leave home. The only place I was permitted to go to was the church. Every Sunday my mother would take me to church in the belief that this would help conceal my identity. I used to wear a large hat in order to cover my air and I had to always look down.

My father, who meanwhile remained in the ghetto, joined a group of resistance fighters and my mother had since told me that he worked with (Mordechai) Anielewicz. Since my father was a translator by profession and knew more than six languages, he became a ‘letter writer’ for the group and wrote a number of letters to resistance fighters and partisans outside the ghetto asking for aid and weapons.

My mother and father corresponded through letters and when the situation was less dangerous, my mother would go to the ghetto from time to time and smuggle food in. At a certain stage, the correspondence stopped, perhaps because my father decided it was too dangerous to smuggle mail at a time when any person suspected of maintaining contact with Jews was shot on the spot. Perhaps my father had run out of money to bribe people.

My mother would get rid of the letters so as to avoid our being caught by chance but she did keep my father’s last letter which was written in Polish and has recently been translated into English.

When the Russians invaded Poland, my mother and I hid in underground bunkers and when the Germans were defeated, we moved to a Displaced Persons camp for Jews. My mother looked in hope for my father and even returned to the area of the ghetto but all she found there was desolation. The fate of my father was never known and my mother remarried and moved to Uruguay.