(Part 1 of 2 parts)


A little girl smiles at the camera, marking her first day of school.

It’s a fleeting smile, covering a multitude of fear and uncertainty. At 80 years-old, Dorothea Szczesniak of Dyberry Township, remembers that little girl and those feelings. It’s her at age six — a Holocaust survivor.


“I remember I could not go to a regular, public school; I had to go to a Jewish school. It was 1935 when I started first grade,” she said. “You had to wear the Star of David. You had the Hitler youth who were chasing you with stones. You were a target to be hurt."


A little girl smiles at the camera, marking her first day of school.


It’s a fleeting smile, covering a multitude of fear and uncertainty. At 80 years-old, Dorothea Szczesniak of Dyberry Township, remembers that little girl and those feelings. It’s her at age six — a Holocaust survivor.


“I remember I could not go to a regular, public school; I had to go to a Jewish school. It was 1935 when I started first grade,” she said. “You had to wear the Star of David. You had the Hitler youth who were chasing you with stones. You were a target to be hurt ...I could run faster than they could throw. They couldn’t throw too far, thank God,” she says. “You tried to cover the Star of David, so they wouldn’t see it.


“I remember that our father was going to teach my sister and I how to ice skate, because where we lived, across was a big park and it would become an ice-skating rink. And then there was a big sign: ‘Jew forbidden.’ Benches, movies, you name it. So, you lived in that fear and humiliation, too.


“When it started, I was six years-old. When we fled from Germany, I was 9. It was in 1938. I had no childhood. I had no youth. As a child, because I had my parents and I had my grandparents, I had my Uncle, family, I still felt safe like a child would. But the moment I lost my parents (Karl and Berta Weiss), that was it.”


Dorothea’s family fled Germany in 1938. Had they stayed, they’d have been killed. “We sneaked into Belgium illegally. We were not rich. We had no money. And we had no papers,” she said. They fled only with what they could carry. “You had to run for your life,” she said. 


The Belgian people were wonderful and welcoming, Dorothea remembers. But their reprieve was short lived. “That lasted just a year. Then, we had the German invasion ...You have to realize ...young people were afraid, whether they were Jewish or not, to be on the street, because the Germans would pick up all the young people and ship them to Germany to work in the war factories that were bombed by the allies.”


“An elderly woman, whom we had befriended because we used to live in the same apartment house that she did, she found two rooms in the house where she lived. She asked the landlord there if we could be in hiding there, and he said yes. So, my parents had the room downstairs, the big room, and my sister (Daisey) and I had the small room right next to our friend’s apartment.


 “And one morning the Gestapo came. And they had already taken our parents and they said, ‘You wait here.’ And they came upstairs. And they just opened the door. And they started speaking German to my sister and I,” she said. Though she knew German, Dorothea pretended not to understand. It was then that their friend opened her door, saying, “These are my grandchildren. I take care of them because my daughter is working. And they are late for school.” They hadn’t been to school since the German invasion. But their school bags were there, so the neighbor grabbed them, placed them in their hands and pushed them out the door. ‘And the Nazis believed them. We walked out, looked at our parents, took the trolley car and went to a friend’s house where we stayed one week before my sister could be placed in hiding with one family and I was placed in hiding with another family,” Dorothea said. Though living in the same community, the young sisters were now separated. Dorothea,13, was taken in by Michael and Tanya Schugalte, a kindly couple, who’d lost a child; while her sister, 11, was moved from family to family.  


That’s the last time they saw their parents. “They died in Auschwitz,” she said. They were sent to Maline, Belgium, a temporary holding area, before being put on a “death train” to Auschwitz in Poland, “an extermination camp. That’s where they put Jews in the gas chambers.”
A small museum was erected in Maline. “When I went to visit my sister six years ago, right before she died, she waited until I came to take me there. And sure enough, the name of our parents were on the book there ...The number of the transport. It was very moving,” she said.


“And then, through the Red Cross when the war was over, I got more information, how long they lived,” she said. The Gestapo took them on March 15. According to information from the Red Cross, her mom died two months later, in May. Her dad lived until November. “They would make you work until you dropped dead. And if you were ill or anything like this, they shoot you right away,” she said. “My father was 39. My mother was 43.”


She has a beautiful black and white photo of her parents, on their wedding day —two smiling people very much in love. She is grateful to have the beloved treasure.    

            
As she talks, Dorothea says she’s laid to rest bitter memories. “I don’t live in it anymore. I’m not going to let the Nazis destroy my life twice, because you only hurt yourself when you’re bitter. But I tell you honestly, I started to live when I came to America (in 1953 at age 24).”       
“My father always wanted to come to America, I have fulfilled his dream,” she said.
[Watch for part 2 in tomorrow’s edition.- Editor]