A passing “hello” in the hallway last week, didn’t prepare me for the conversation that followed.
He told me that Chip Reid, who is the national correspondent for CBS News, interviewed his mother, Krysia Rosenstein.
They did a feature on her discovery of family photos from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland for CBS Sunday Morning.
Later at lunch, Jeff filled me in on the story.
“Having an official camera, I was able to capture all the tragic period in the Lodz Ghetto. I did it knowing that if I were caught my family and I would be tortured and killed.” – Henryk Ross
When they entered the last room, Krysia was shocked to see the image of herself with her father and mother. She had seen photos of her family in the ghetto before, but this was the first time she saw the three together.
When the curator of the exhibit found this out, she made sure that Krysia received a copy of the photo as well as Henryk Ross’ book.
Krysia’s Lodz Ghetto Story
Jeff’s mother, Krysia, was one of only four children who survived the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.
In her words, the early days of the ghetto were hard but bearable.
She knew nothing else and the residents tried to keep things as normal as possible.
This photo (below) seems surreal when you consider where and when it was taken.
It speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.
He accrued a lot of power as he transformed the ghetto into a manufacturing centre of war supplies.
He had the mistaken belief that productivity was the key to Jewish survival beyond the Holocaust.
On September 4, 1942, on German orders, Rumkowski assembled the Jews in the ghetto.
He told the assembled they must give up their children (10 years and younger) as well as the elderly over 65.
He delivered the speech that has since been referred to as the infamous “Give Me Your Children”. (excerpt)
A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They [the Germans] are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly.
I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I’ve lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands.
In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me!
Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!
— Chaim Rumkowski, September 4, 1942
Older men and women darkened their grey hair with coffee.
Sick people dragged themselves out of bed and used makeup to brighten their faces. Children tried to hide, with their parents’ help.
Sick people dragged themselves out of bed and used makeup to brighten their faces.
On September 13, the Nazis announced that the deportation was over.
15,859 people had been packed into trains, taken to the Chelmno Extermination Camp and killed. A further 600 had been shot within the ghetto itself.
Jeff’s Grandfather, Jakob Stopnicki secretly dig bunkers throughout the ghetto where he hid his wife, Tania and child, Krysia.
They hid for nearly three years as he worked as a slave labourer.
By late 1944, the ghetto was emptied save for under 900 people who were commanded to remain and do the cleanup. Among them was Jeff’s grandfather, Jakob.
Jakob, Tania and Krysia were three of the of the 877 people that remained in Lodz when the Russian soldiers overran it in January of 1945.
This was all that was left of a peak population of 240,000.
There are as many stories as there are people.
Each person you see in the corridor or lunch room has a story that goes much deeper than their job description.
Take a minute to move past the small talk, past the automated “How are you.?” and listen.
I now have a better understanding of who Jeff is.
While not everyone will have as dramatic a story to share, we all travel our own paths.
I learned a lot about the Lodz Ghetto from Jeff’s story.
If I could share a lesson I learned from this, it’s to stay curious.
There’s a human behind each job title.
Lodz Ghetto and Henryk Ross Resources
This is the under seven-minute interview Krysia Rosenstein gives to Chip Reid on Sunday Morning News. Also interviewed was 94-year-old, Abraham Neuman who also survived Lodz ghetto.
The review of the Memory Unearthed exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario by James Adams for the Globe and Mail.
The article contains more information about Ross as well as life in the ghetto.
A detailed walk through of the exhibit that includes teacher and student resource.
The story of Jeff’s sister, Tina and her husband discover thought to be lost family heirloom – a small silver powder compact that once belonged to Tina’s grandparents, Jakob and Tania Stopnicki. Jakob gave his wife, Tania the powder compact as a gift, for which he traded his daily ration of bread.