Richard Haber

MOTL 2015

It is hard to see four concentration camps, especially having escaped on the way to one of them. Amazing however is how one can become superficially immune to such bestiality.

I was amazed how some of the kids took it but I was even more amazed how they supported each other. I was so amazed by their supportive, considerate and polite attitude they showed me and to the oldies in general.

I was invited for Friday night dinner and to the school ensemble In Sydney when they returned from Israel My highlight however was the unexpected Barmitzvah I had for the first time at the age of 82 years (just nearly 70 years after everybody else) after which there was dancing on the street and throwing me in the chair. How can anybody forget it!!! The warmth of the feeling I received cannot be expressed in simple words. The messages I got were all well beyond my expectations

This was an unforgettable experience I wish everybody that they would never experience any of these horrors

Richard 2015

Richard's Life Story

I was born in Krakow, Poland on 22 January, 1933 in a hospital, which is now treating  cancer patients. One week later on 30 January Hitler came to power as Chancellor of Germany

About this time there was already quite significant anti Semitism. Polish Jews who lived in Germany were thrown out of Germany by Hitler soon after he came to power and most settled in Krakow

On 1st September 1939 Germans attacked Poland. At that time I was on holidays in the mountains .Trains were overfilled with people returning home and I remember that I had to go through the window of the train to make sure of a place

On 3rd Of September two days later world war was declared and soon afterwards western part of Poland was occupied by Germans

We were sitting on stairs on the lowest part of the building during bombardment. At the back of our house there was a shed with military equipment. As we were sitting on the stairs I said to my neighbour that this shed will burn, which it did. Somebody denounced me to the police and I was called into a room with police and detectives interrogating me about  where I had heard that this shed will burn. At the age of 6 years I was suspected as a spy or at least to be in contact with one. Only because I was so young that they left me alone and did not take me to a police station

I started to go to school but within a week or so all the Jews were not allowed to go to school , so I had some lessons at home from my mother’s friend 

Soon afterwards all Jews were expelled from Krakow. My grandparents had a small factory outside Krakow so we moved there   in what was then a nearby township but is at present an outer suburb of Krakow

By 21 March 1941 all Jews had to move into Krakow ghetto. Initially we were allocated a unit for our family but soon afterwards we had to live with two or more other families in one room.

There was no schooling, so I was working as a receptionist to a doctor in the ghetto. On the weekends I collected money.  I didn’t really know what this was for but later I found out that it was to support Jewish social institutions in the ghetto

On 25 May to 8 June1941 there was first Akcja. Jews were rounded up and sent to Belzec death camp. Luckily for me families of working people were saved at that time

While in the Ghetto, in October 1941 I had an emergency appendix operation done in one of the hospitals within the Ghetto. My mother was warned that the following morning everybody in hospital will be taken away and killed, so she carried me out in the middle of the night.  Next morning literally everybody was thrown into trucks and killed presumably in Belzec

In October 1942 many Jews were rounded up again and sent to Belzec death camp, as result the number of people in the ghetto was significantly reduced

Accordingly in December 1942 the size of the ghetto was reduced. Germans didn’t have time to build a new brick wall or they knew that the ghetto will be closed so it was pointless to build a wall, so they  divided the ghetto by barbed wire into ghetto A for workers and their families and ghetto B for others

In March 1943, my mother heard that they were going to finally  close the ghetto altogether. Those that could work were to be sent to Plaszow camp and the rest, including children were to be sent to Belzec.  My mother made arrangements so that I would be able to escape under the barbed wire to Aryan part of Krakow. The next day 13 March the ghetto was liquidated. Working people were sent to Plaszow camp and all others were killed. I was worried so that day I took the tram, which went through the ghetto to see what is happening. I was 10 years and on the tram I cried as I thought that my parents would be killed and I would never see them again, but they managed to escape in time and we met up as planned at my nanny’s place.

We then lived in Wieliczka, a small town about half an hour outside Krakow, on Aryan papers.  The land lady suspected that we were Jewish but her daughter who arranged for us to live there swore to her mother that we were not Jewish

One day my mother sent me to have a haircut. On the way back some boys chased me calling me a Jew. Luckily a passerby lady told them off told them to go away. I was able to run to our house without being seen where we lived

Our friend, Henry Reiss found out that Hungary was safe for the Jews so in January 1944 we crossed the border, at night, through snow covered mountains from Poland to Slovakia. We were kept in a local synagogue for three weeks till it was arranged for us to cross the next border to Hungary in deep snow in the middle of the night. Once again I was frightened but kept going

We arrived in February 1944 in Budapest, where we had support by Polish-Hungarian  committee. We were sent as Aryans to a Polish camp in Kadarkut in Hungary

On 19 March 1944 Germans marched to Hungary and soon afterwards similar anti-Jewish persecution took place. Hungarian Jews could not believe what we told them what happened in Poland, so that they did not realise and could not accept the thought that they were sent to Auschwitz to die

While we were in Kadarkut I went to school for a short time only. We were denounced by some Poles but two other Poles went for the examination instead of us to show that they are not circumcised but next time we were not so lucky as my father and I had to go. We were taken to the police station where we were kept overnight in a prison cell and the next day we were sent to Kaposvar. This was a camp initially for Jews who were caught as prisoners of war as part of Polish army but declared by the Germans just as Jews not as POW. We were then to be sent to Auschwitz. They were marched and I was on a horse driven cart, being so young.

While we were put overnight in a shed my parents and I escaped but were nearly caught by a regular street police patrol. I was able to buy tickets at the train station, as I had learnt enough Hungarian, and we returned to Budapest. We stayed in a house with many units. Soon afterwards Russians attacked Budapest. The bomb landed in our house, but luckily did not explode. We were staying then in the basement of the house. A tall chimney nearby was hit by a bomb and the bricks fell close to us. My mother was shot by a sniper though luckily only through her head-cover.  We were liberated by the Russians in February 1945

As émigrés we were allowed to return to Poland to Krakow in cattle trains. I got sick with typhoid fever potentially fatal illness for which there was no treatment available at that time

In July 1946 soon after we returned to Poland there was a pogrom in Kielce where a number of Jews were killed. Over the next nearly three years my father took me to Paris several times while he was trying to arrange for us to go to Australia.  I went to school in Krakow for a few months, as well as in Paris to a Polish school and at another time to American school in Paris

A friend in Australia guarantied for us and we finally received a permit to come to Australia. We came on a boat which took six weeks to arrive in Sydney and went through typhoon at which time we nearly perished so we found out later

We were in a strange country at that time which was not used to migrants, therefore insisting that everybody should speak English in public.  We knew very few people and unable to speak English well

I was lucky to be accepted to a selective North Sydney Boys High School where for the first time I went to school for a continuous two years. I came first in the year in the half yearly exams in the second year, which was the final year at school. There was no other migrant in that school at that time. I got Public Exhibition for being in the first one hundred in the state (probably in first 30) as well as Commonwealth Scholarship which enabled me to finish medicine with 2nd class honours and credit at Sydney University. I married another Jewish migrant, Anna Turek, and we had three children.