“..Without your Testimony ..and those like You ..I would Not find my own words. They are for You and 6,000,000 just like You who did not Survive.” Patrick Dempsey.
Helen Garfinkel was born on September 15th. 1926 to Kalman and Sara Garfinkel in Chmielmnik, a City predominantly Jewish near Kielce on the road to Busko in Poland. Jews lived in the City as early as 1565, though closer to the Synagogue, the graveyard there shares indications that Jews were being buried there around the 13th. Century. From then on in the expansion of Jewish interests in the City took shape. By the middle of the 17th. Century, and with Jews moving into central locations, they were opening stores, shops and employing market stalls to sell their wares. This influence did not stop Pogroms being raised against them as was the case in 1656 when 150 Jews were Murdered.
By the time we are ready to visit the Jewish Community of Chmielnik, as the terms of The Holocaust began to settle about them, this was a City with some 10,000 Jews. When World War II had commenced, and the fixed idea became the annihilation of the Jews of Europe, this presence was perhaps swelling to over 14,000 Jewish People, The Jews from outlying districts, mixed with the ebb and flow of the transports and their resettlement agenda that was to follow, does not give a clear indictaion of exactly how many Jews were transitted through the City. The fact is too that few Jews of Chmielnik actually survived.
“..My mother went to her death ..in ..Treblinka gas chambers not knowing what happened to me. ..We’re ..Survivors dying out now.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun. One of those though who did survive and has relayed her ordeal to a World willing to listen was Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
There were places like Bogoria, Pinczow, Piotrkowice, Plock, Pysznica and Szydlow amongst them whose Jewish Community was expelled toward Chmielnik and then detained there. Wholly contained in the Ghetto that was created, they remained until the last voyage of their existence took them, most likely to Treblinka and destruction, unless they were otherwise Murdered. Helen had a typically happy upbringing along with her Brother’s and Sister’s, Bela, Fishel, Nathan, Rachel, Regina and Sonia in a community which did at least boast a Brewery, Candle Factory, Hospital, Iron Works, Saw Mills, Soap Factory, Tanneries and a Tool Makers. For these Jews, established in such a vibrant community, and for all those who were in residence, there was this complexity of Hitler’s intention’s to come to terms with. What was not immediately known to them was when in fact Hitler, who attacked Poland on September 1st. 1939, that 3,650,000 Polish Jews were to be totally obliterated. Nothing immediately impacted the Jews of Chmielnik until the German entry into the City on Septembe 5th. 1939 and with 70 of the City’s Jewish intelligentsia being Murdered.
These Community elders, professionals and leaders of the Community were taken to the Batei Midrash and locked inside before the building was set alight. “..We all have a right to live.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun. The German’s were learning well the ease with which to Murder Jews, and by setting them ablaze in their places of Education, Worship and Community, saving on bullets too. Immediately also, they ransacked the Jewish Community for able bodied Jews to be forced to work for the Reich in various industries across the full spectrum of duties tied to the German economy.
Then, as shootings intensified and became the order of the day, and though brutality confronted the very existence of every Jew in Chmielnik, the building and systemic nature of The Final Solution approached them only stealthily. This creeping demand to kill more and even more Jews increased on a gradual scale of sheer brutality, and right up until the very demands of the resettlement exercise began, the Jews of Chmielnik could not know the fatality of Hitler’s total intention. The Jews of Chmilenik, represnting more than 60% of the City’s population were forced into a Ghetto during March 1940. This Ghetto was placed under the tutelage of Avraham Langvald, with Moshe Pasternak as the commander of the Jewish police. At this time too, Mordechai Anielewicz, who went on to lead the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, arrived to make efforts to establlish a resitance cell within the Chmielnik Jewish Community.
Amongst the Langvald’s chosen for selection, deportation and annihilation were Chele and His Wife. His position as the Ghetto Elder did not ensure Avraham, Pola, Leah’tche or Teltse Langvald any other passage that the resettlement, more than likely to Treblinka that had been demanded of all too many Jews of Chmielnik. Amongst the Pasternak’s of Chmielnik lost to Hitler’s intentions for all the Jews of Europe are Moshe, Sarah-Esther, Chantche, Rachel’tche, Rozshk, Rachel, Sarah’tche, Golde, Freidzye, Yosef, Yitschak, Perl and Their Children, Yosl, Blime, Velvel, His Wife and Their Children, Eliezer, His Wife and Their Children, Leibish and His Wife, Hershl, Tsvia, Moniek, Yechezkel, Feigl, Sarah, Beile, Chana, Leibish, Mi, Meir, Esther and Her Children, Leibish, Zelig and Rachel. Moshe, His Wife and Their Children did Not escape the intention of Hitler.
All this was in preparedness for what Mordechai Anielewicz became aware of, as he was increasingly convinced there was a more definite and longer term threat than random assaults and murders. With the gradual influx of Jews from the surrounding areas, which began to increase during June and July 1940, all of this was part of the reasoning then behind the consistency of movement as transports of 100’s of Chmielnik’s Jews were then sent on to forced Labour. This was in November 1940 and many of these were forced to settle in and around Biala. After a ransom was paid, a totally depleted human form of these Jews were returned to Chmielnik. Though so debilitated, many of them succumbed to Typhus and the spread of th disease grew to less containable levels.
For Helen, her Parents, Brothers, Sisters and all the Jews of Chmielnik, this was the first indicator for these Polish Jews that something untoward was being ordained. When Avraham Langvald was as the Ghetto Elder, and was replaced by Shmuel Saltzman in April 1941, this concentration effort records a moment in time that ensured for the Jewish People here that they were facing a newer threat, a seemingly less benign confrontation with an invading German force. In Chmielnik itself, and out of a burgeoning Jewish population, now exceeding 10,000, there were 104 typhus deaths during the period January to May 1941.
“..worst thing in life is starvation. You don’t think about anything ..you only think when ..piece of bread comes.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
The presence of a Hospital ensured this number was not any greater though than it is devastating to those it managed to kill. Then, when Hitler’s armies invaded Russia, June 22nd. 1941 the atmosphere of hostility toward the Jewish Community heightened. Within weeks, the arrival of a Killing Unit, EinsatzKommando 5 set about murdering 299 of the Jewish Citizens of Chmielnik. When, on September 30th. 1942, amidst the French Convoi taking French and Foreign Jews to their Deaths in Birkenau, Convoy 39 records that Adele Klarmann was one of those transported to her Death. Born in Chmielnik on October 16th. 1927, this 14 year old wee Person, does not know the fate the World sits away from. Taken from her home in Liege, France, along with her Sister Flora, who was born in Busko, they were detained in Drancy before being tansported for resettlement. In an irony of sorts, this Transport detailed some 211 Jews instead of the customary 1,000 or so and contained just 8 Children, Adele and Flora included. All of the Children, including Adele and Flora are immediately Murdered including 147 of the Adult Jews upon arrival at Birkenau on October 2nd. 1942.
Part then, of the legacy which Adele and Flora leave behind is a memory which Helen now imparts as to their place in the story of both Chmielnik and The Holocaust. Amongst those other Klarman’s lost to us are, and though Adele and Flora are Klarmann’s, these Baltche, Yitschak-Leibish, Yisrael-Ya’akov, Teibl, Golde, Rachel’tche, Chana, Abba, Roize, Feitche, Hershl, Alte, Natan, Pesl, Genendl, Zlate, Moshe, Nute, Breindl, Avraham, Yisrael, Libe, David, Elia, Hershl, His Wife and Their Children and Chame Klarman. Prior to the forced expellation of some 1,200 young Jews from the City on October 1st. 1942, Mordechai Anielewicz returned to the City to inform Chmielnik’s Jews of what Treblinka meant for All the Jews of Europe, and not just Chmielnik’s nor Warsaw’s Jews. Helen and her Sister and Brother, Sonia and Nathan were to be amongst the deported Youth of Chmielnik these deportees forced away from their former life.
Also, a further 40 able bodied and youthful Chmielnik Jews were sent to the Labour Camp near Kielce. Helen, together with a small parcel of bread, socks and other requirements Helen, her Sister Sonia and Brother Nathan, those of the Kalman and Sara’s 7 Children old enough, reported to the Town Square to await the trucks that would send them to the Camps for Forced Labor some 60 kilometres away. The sheer will power and ability to at last Survive what is incomprehensible to us, saw Helen live through 2 Labour Camps and even 5 Concentration Camps.
“..Hell is better than what I went through. Now I have a better life ..so I can do this.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
These Camps, of which are Allach, Belsen, Burgau, Chestochowa, Dachau, Skarzysko and Turkheim are those, sought to earn as much from th life of the Jews interned within their confines as the expendable nature of their very existence became increasingly obvious. On October 3rd. 1942 1,270 Jews from Bogoria, Pinczow, Piotrkowice, Pysznica and Szydlow arrived from the vicinity to be concentrated in Chmielnik prior to the great resettlement. On October 5th. 1942, an SS detachment, complimented by forces from Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine surrounded the Ghetto of Chmielnik and transported the vast majority of those Jews within Chmielnik, firstly toward Checiny and then onward to Treblinka. 500 of Chmielnik’s Jews were shot in situ, including the present Judenrate Chairman Shmuel Saltzman and enroute to their destruction many others would be shot for various excuses.
Along with some 8,000 Jews from the City, rounded up and driven towards a resettlement transport taking them to Treblinka on October 6th. 1942, were both Helen’s Parents, her Mother Sara and her Father Kalman, her younger Brother Fishel and younger Sister Rachel. Amongst the Garfinkel’s, more than likely filling this transport to extinction in Treblinka were: David with his Wife and Their Children, Leatche, David and Rachel, Leibish with his Wife and Their Children, Mordechai-Fishl with his Wife and Their Children. Also ncluded were Simcha-Yoel and His Wife, Volff and Feigl, Yehuda with his Wife and Their Children, and Yeikl, Frimetl, Shlomo and Velvel.
There were some 75 Chmielnik Jews were left behind in the Ghetto as a sonderkommando, to clear up the debris of death and destruction, to finally empty the Streets of the Murdered and bury their bodies. Returning Jews from the Forests and hiding places swelled this cleansing squad to some 700 Jews now with Leon Koralnik as an intermediary, the perfunctory Judenrate head. On November 5th. 1942 the vast majority of these Jews, some 625 of them were transported to the area of Stopnica. Once more this left a still 75 strong sonderkommando who were detailed to hide further the truth of The Final Solution that had been undertaken there.
Many of these last few Jews of Chmielnik managed to escape into hiding to Survive with their Testimony, for which we have gained incisively to this day. On November 6th. 1942, and yet again from amidst the French Convoi taking French and Foreign Jews to their Deaths in Birkenau, Convoy 42 records that both Brana and Pinkus Poper were both transported to their Death. Both were born in Chmielnik on March 30th. 1929 Brana, and March 30th. 1928 Pinkus. These 2 Jewish Children are unaware what this train journey means to them while the World is almost certain death awaits some 220 Jewish Children, Brana and Pinkus Poper included. Arrival at Birkenau on November 8th. 1942 ensures a further 773 Jews from this transport are immediately gassed, the 2 Jewish Children from Chmielnik, Brana and Pinkus Poper included.
Amongst the Poper’s of Chmielnik lost to our own Humanity are Yishayahu, Gitl, Efraim, Gutche, Reizl, Berl, Shmuel, Sheindl-Leah, Pinchas and Breindele. We must not for a moment forget to include both Brana and Pinkus who are missing from the Necrology of the City of Chmielnik. On December 20th. 1942 the Chmielnik Ghetto was finally liquidated with no more than 80 Jews left, most of whom were transferred to Sandomierz. In the modern era, and since 1973, Helen has lived in the Centre of Florida and has been an ever present source of Education for those attending the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center of Florida since 1981.
In 1992, in Helen’s first return to her Chmielnik Birthplace, this Polish Jewish Survivor was not wanted in the community there and her guide was damned for bringing back Jews to Chmielnik. It is entirely clear that the dread from the local community, of any Jews returning to reclaim anything within Poland, from what the supposed christian Poland has sought to steal, purloin and somehow own, this leaves a bitter taste upon World History.
“..Even in 5 years ..I feel a change. ..I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s ..younger generations who have an interest. ..difference is education. Education is ..difference.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
In January 2010 Helen was recognized for her contribution to the understanding of human endeavour and educational principles. She is recorded in History as a Good Neighbor Who Gives From the Heart and her warmth has adorned the pages of the Orlando Magazine. Helen gives her time freely so that students, Academics and, Historians like me, can add an extra page to the suffering endured by 6,000,000 Jews who did Not Survive. It is also a reminder to those all too few who did survive, that not all non-Jews are as they once were and from within the pages of the Testimony of those like Helen, a Survivor of The Holocaust.
“..Words cannot describe. ..For ..first time in Poland ..I feel people care about me and my story. I feel with my whole heart that they listened with their whole heart.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
In 2013 Helen, who is an Honorary member of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center of Florida, and has been these past 8 years continually adds to what We need to know. Of a later return to Poland, Helen was gifted with a reception which was astonishing for her. In 2014, upon a further visit to her former homeland, there is always the constant reminder that she is amongst very few of the 3,650,000 Jews of Poland, who lived. What does not escape the sense of good fortune, which most Survivor’s give as some form of evidence for their survival, this fact was not avalable to all too many of the Jews of Europe and particularly Poland, as the Survivor is now reminded of life itself.
“..It doesn’t bother me if ..town makes money. It is good that ..Cemetery and ..Synagogue has been restored. People should know there were 10,000 Jews here and not one Jew lives here now.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
There is a rather disquieting and burgeoning shame which Poland appears to be heaping on the Polish Jewish Survivor, their aim to make capital out of these Jews wishing to return and pay honour to their 3,000,000 Destroyed Polish Jewish Community, whilst they refuse to honour what is still owned by the Slaughtered Jews. What has not escaped notice, as with the lucrative museum that is the Auschwitz and Birkenau complex, while Poland sees fit to deny its own wrong doings against Polish Jewry during, before and even after The Holocaust. Poland is not against the huge amounts of monies flowing in to restore the Jewish past to a semblance of what was a substantial Jewish presence.
“..Look how beautiful. ..land is beautiful. Really ..it’s ..memories of my Parents that bring me back.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
More recently, Helen arrived back in Chmielnik, an honored guest, to witness the restoration of the Synagogue, built there in 1638 on land leased from the Catholic Church. The Synagogue, now renovated and scrubbed of its desecration of swastika’s and other neo-nazi graffiti, was now but a source of reference that is the only physically tangible link to the past of Judaism. For other than the Testimony of the Survivor’s, would the World of history be even aware of what Jewish Chmilnik represents. This Synagogue, this place of worship, that had stood the test of time for nearly 400 years, is now the Jewish History Museum and Cultural Centre in Chmielnik.
“..what may have started as a promotion to put Chmielnik ..in nowhere middle Poland ..on ..map has attained a higher purpose with ..tasteful and respectful use of ..Synagogue. One can find stereotypical depictions of Jews at Chmielnik’s annual festival ..puppets ..images of Jews with big noses ..counting coins. ..careful attention to preserving ..Synagogue is impressive ..painstakingly uncovering ..foundation of ..original wooden bima and peeled layer after layer of paint from ..walls to reveal ..original paintings. It’s a museum of high level. It will put Chmielnik on a higher awareness of existence.” Nadav Eshcar.
There is no irony in the fact that there are no Jews living in her former hometown of Chmielnik and Helen is well aware of this fact. There is a continuing sadness though, which both Helen and Meir Maly, as fellow Holocaust Survivor’s of Chmielnik, is what any Survivor must resolve. It is not only for these 2 Survivor’s, but any of Chmielnik’s Jewish Survivor’s whoare finding it more and more difficult to return, even for those who would wish to do so.
Amongst the Mali’s lost to the better good of us all are Feigl, Genendl, Bezalel, Gitl, Hershl, Shifra, Yoel, Hershl, His Wife and Their Children, Moshe and Yehudit, Yedidya, Reizl, Mendl, Heinoch, Manye, Yosef and His Wife, Asher, Yosef, Mendl, Gershon, Berl and Chaim.
“..A lot of people from Chmielnik they don’t want to come to Chmielnik. They lost everything. They lost everyone. They don’t want to hear about it. They started to open a new page.” Shlomo Zohari-Zonshein.
Age, infirmity and even the ghosts of a persecuted past makes Poland an unwelcome distraction for many Polish Jewish Survivor’s. Even alongside their inate survivoral ability to recover ever more physically and emotionally, they are subdued more fully from what Poland is quite capable of refuting. What Poland is ceasing to acknowledge, and of there insistence for not being any part of what is The Holocaust, any semblance of post Holocaust denial has become a distortion of the truth history cannot condone nor leave unquestioned. It is a careful balance for the Historian to confront the very integrity of The Holocaust with compassion and with an emotive accuracy that attempts to mediate what it inflicts upon the Survivor.
“..For them to see living history ..that is more enlightening ..I think they’ll always remember it. ..It takes some kind of inner strength to be able to talk about it and remember.” Pauline Korman.
In words too that Helen’s Children use to commend her life, this reinforces our own understanding of her role and persistence in our History. As a consequence of this, and for some time the Survivor reminded me, they did not need the detailing of the horror, as they constantly revisit their own terror. For me though, seeking a pathway through their emotional turmoil, it is always my feeling that while their great pain must be dealt with sensitively, the accusation of what they endured must be relayed constantly. With a huge respect to that desire, there is a demand I place upon myself, when I am simply confronting a World that should be ashamed, it is to express that accusation with the fullest vista of their pain. The evident essential in any moral education, especially here on the history of the period, and this must ensure the ethical viability of its emotional integrity. We cannot be required to remove, from the narrative of the detailed horror the Survivor brings to the fore, without distorting the truth they bring to us.
It is for us to base our understanding of learning, and that we then confront the incomprehensible nature of that hatred. What has been visited so brutally upon 6,000,000 Jewish People is a lesson we either learn from or ensure in perpetuity the same grave wrongs exacted upon a People for being, a People.
“..It’s still not easy for her. I don’t think it’s anything you can get over.” Rita Renshaw.
Also, and in acknowledging, with a horror we can barely imagine, we are reminding history and the World of what the Survivor knows first hand. This then becomes my accusation of the Intolerances shown and for a hatred that was all too clearly shown. The very fact that it was so easily complicit for those who showed any degree of Indifference to the Jewish plight, we have now begun to show 6,000,000 Jews, that they are those we add a Testimony to. Also, and while we add to the Testimony of Helen, who roundly defeated Hitler, we look to her Daughter’s, Pauline and Rita to know how this was future secured. Though Helen’s Children will have never met their Grandparents Kalman and Sara, nor the multitude of relatives they were deprived of, through Helen, they, we and History will know of them.
“..There’s a lot of Holocaust Survivors that cannot talk about it. ..I do it. I’m alive ..I talk about it and that’s all I can do.” Helen Garfinkel-Greenspun.
Always to Remember, Never to Forget.