“Death Cars.” Halina Aszkenazy-Engelhardt’s Account

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fot. Joanna Król / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN

“They made us march slowly to the Umschlagplatz and packed us to  those carriages.. The death cars. There was no space to move,  no air to breathe. Only two small windows. We stood there, people were fainting, weeping, defecating… And it was such a sunny, cloudless day. I almost fainted,” recalls Halina Aszkanazy-Engelhardt.

“A man had a diamond ring and wanted to trade it with the Poles for a bottle of water. They were afraid, nobody wanted to take the ring.. Eventually, one - apparently more courageous than the others - brought a big bottle and got the ring”.

She was there with her mother and cousin Celina. When the night fell, the train started to move again. It was heading towards Majdanek.

“All of a sudden, one of the girls says: «Listen, I‘ve been to a train like this and jumped out, I’ll show you how to squeeze through that tiny window». They let her  through, she jumped out, it worked. Now, people started queuing to jump. My mum says: «Go with Celina, go to father Kubacki. Maybe I’ll jump out too, I don’t know, I’m afraid». Celina jumps out, I jump out after her. My mum embraces me for the last time, stands behind me and pushes me out. «Remember - the basilica, father Kubacki, take the number five tram and get off at the last stop». These were my mum’s last words that I remembered”.

In the forest she met Celina and two other girls. Local people gave them money so they could get to Warsaw. On their way back, Germans searched through the train and pulled the Jewish girls out. They did not take Halina.

“I walk up to the window and see my friends and Celina… And Celina shouts: «I want to live! I want to live! Let me live! I want to live!» She gets away but they grab her again. The train starts off. I am alone. On the way  to Warsaw. Profoundly lonesome. Celina is gone. She stayed there. Those Germans caught her, they surely murdered her there, on the spot. My mum stayed on the train to Majdanek. I am alone, riding. The basilica, father Kubacki, number five tram, last stop…”

Halina Aszkenazy-Engelhardt was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto during the uprising in April 1943. Having jumped out of the train, she found her way to the Basilica of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Warsaw Praga district. She was provided help by, amongst others, Polish clergymen: father Michał Kubacki and sister Bernadetta. Halina participated in the Warsaw Uprising, and she was subsequently taken to forced labor in Germany. She emigrated to Israel several years after the war.

“I have verywarm feelings towards Poland, it is my first homeland,” she says.

Interview and editing: Klara Jackl.

From the of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews oral history collection. Interview conducted on 20 April 2014.