David P. Boder Interviews Bella Zgnilek; August 4, 1946; Paris, France

var transcription = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] This is Spool 22nd. I am interviewing Miss Bella Zgnilek, who lives here in the home for adults on Rue de Patin number 9. Today is Sunday, July 4th. Paris. Now, Bella . . . May I call you by your first name?

Bella Zgnilek

All right?

David Boder

All right, Bella. Tell me, what are you doing now in Paris? [This interview proceeds in English unless otherwise indicated.]

Bella Zgnilek

I am working now with the American Joint.

David Boder

Yes. Speak slower. You are working for the Joint Distribution Committee?

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

Yes. And what are you doing for them?

Bella Zgnilek

I am in bookkeeping for them.

David Boder

You are doing office work in the English language?

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

And where did you learn English?

Bella Zgnilek

In school.

David Boder

At school where?

Bella Zgnilek

Poland.

David Boder

In what city?

Bella Zgnilek

Sosnowiec.

David Boder

All right. Now, Bella, I want you to tell me right from the start what happened. Where were you when the Germans came to Poland? And then tell me what happened. Don't tell me much what happened to other people, just to you or your family. Go ahead.

Bella Zgnilek

In the beginni- . . . in the beginning, when the Germans came inâit was maybe two months afterâmy brother was out [word not clear] in the town [at] five minutes past seven, and the law was that we had to be on the street only till seven o'clock. The Germans picked him up and then shot him in the night.

David Boder

Your brother?

Bella Zgnilek

My brother.

David Boder

What for did they shoot him?

Bella Zgnilek

Because he . . . there was a law that they have to be . . . people have to be only on the street till si- . . . till seven o'clock.

David Boder

So it was for infringement of curfew.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

All right. Tell me, how large was your family? Who were your family?

Bella Zgnilek

Mother, brother, sister, brother-in-law, children.

David Boder

And where was your father?

Bella Zgnilek

Dead.

David Boder

Your father died.

Bella Zgnilek

Aha.

David Boder

How many children were you in your family, in your own?

Bella Zgnilek

Four. Four.

David Boder

Did you have older brothers and older sisters?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. A married brother, married sister.

David Boder

Yes. And then did you have younger brothers and sisters?

Bella Zgnilek

A younger brother, two years older than me.

David Boder

An older brother . . . than you.

Bella Zgnilek

Older than me.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

And he was shot.

David Boder

Yes. And you were the youngest in the family?

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

You were the youngest in the family. All right. We will now continue telling. Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

And after, my brother was sent to the camp, working.

David Boder

Which brother?

Bella Zgnilek

My oldest brother.

David Boder

The married brother.

Bella Zgnilek

The married brother. And he left his wife and his child home.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, after a while, it was a . . . the German picked up all the Jews on one big place, and they made a segregation.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

And young people they sent to concentration camp, and older people . . . [correction, pertaining to the young people] to working camps, and older people to Auschwitz.

David Boder

Yes. Tell me, how was that? How did they announce that all the Jews should come together? Was that what they called Aussiedlung [expulsion, deportation]?

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

Then they issued an order that all the Jews assemble [?] in one place, and one day there [?] was the segregation. They took the young people to different camps, working camps, older people to Aussiedlung.

David Boder

To Auschwitz.

Bella Zgnilek

To Auschwitz.

David Boder

And what happened to those other people?

Bella Zgnilek

What happened to them? They were sent to gas and killed.

David Boder

How did you know that?

Bella Zgnilek

Because when I have been in the camp, I have been working there at the beginning . . .

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

. . . after they sent us into a concentration camp. There were the SS women and a terrible [word not clear], but before, when we were in working camp, there came some girls, young girls, from Auschwitz also for work, and they told us everything.

David Boder

What did they tell you?

Bella Zgnilek

That they pick up people just from the train, because there are too many to send them to camp. So they pick them just from the train and send them to gas. They didn't tell them that they are sending to kill, but to the bath.

David Boder

Yes, to a bath. And then?

Bella Zgnilek

To a bath. And then they closed . . . shut all the doors, and they gassed them.

David Boder

Yes. And then?

Bella Zgnilek

And then?

David Boder

They . . .

Bella Zgnilek

So they killed all the Jews.

David Boder

Aha. There were only Jews among them. So, when you came together that . . . that morning to the . . . to the plaza, so what happened to your family then? Were you separated from your family?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Who . . .

Bella Zgnilek

My sister, my brother-in-law with their [?] child, they were freed for the moment and sent back to the town. My mother was sent to Aussiedlung, and me they took to [the] working camp.

David Boder

Yes. Did you ever hear anything afterwards from your mother?

Bella Zgnilek

No, nothing. And my sister was sent to Aussiedlung, also to Auschwitz, in half a year later.

David Boder

Half a year later.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Well, she was with your brother and their child. What happened . . .

Bella Zgnilek

My brother was sent also to the concentration camp before.

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

Before me. To a working camp. And I was sent later, after, together with my mother. But my mother to Auschwitz, and me to a camp. And my sister was for the moment free.

David Boder

All right. Now what do you know? What happened to your brother?

Bella Zgnilek

I don't know anything.

David Boder

You don't know anything. What happened to your sister?

Bella Zgnilek

I don't know.

David Boder

You don't know. Did you try to find them?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, yes. I was in different committees and gave the name of [words not clear].

David Boder

Yes. But they are not . . .

Bella Zgnilek

I didn't get any news from anybody of them.

David Boder

All right. [Pause.] Now, and you were there.

Bella Zgnilek

Grossrosen outside detail.

David Boder

And what was that?

Bella Zgnilek

Hm. I have been working in the factory.

David Boder

In a factory.

Bella Zgnilek

Beginning.

David Boder

Yes. All right. Could you describe me a full day in [pause] . . . Go on. Tell me, what have you been doing? Describe the whole day. You have been working in a factory.

Bella Zgnilek

In a fac- . . . in the beginning I have been working in a factory, but as I talk and . . .

David Boder

Slower.

Bella Zgnilek

. . . as I talk and type German, they choose me for the office.

David Boder

Oh! You type and you talk German.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Well, tell me, Bella, what kind of an education did you get, anyway?

Bella Zgnilek

Commercial school.

David Boder

Did you graduate from it?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

How old are you now?

Bella Zgnilek

Twenty-two.

David Boder

You are twenty-two. And when they . . . and when they took you, how old were you?

Bella Zgnilek

Eighteen.

David Boder

Eighteen. And you were through with the school?

Bella Zgnilek

Not quite through.

David Boder

Yes. But you were nearly through with . . .

Bella Zgnilek

Nearly.

David Boder

. . . through with the commercial school.

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

All right. So you knew how to type German, and they took you into the office.

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

All right. So tell me, how was it? In the morning, when did you get up?

Bella Zgnilek

Seven o'clock in the morning.

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

When I was working in the factory I had . . . I had to get up four o'clock in the morning.

David Boder

How would they wake you?

Bella Zgnilek

[In German] Oh, by the eldest of the Jews. He would say in German, 'Get up.'

David Boder

Get up. The eldest of the Jews would say that.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Yes. Did you sleep women and men separately?

Bella Zgnilek

[In English] We have been all women.

David Boder

Only women in the barrack.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

All right. So at . . . you would get up at four o'clock in the morning. And then what would come . . .

Bella Zgnilek

And then I went to work.

David Boder

Well, would they count you before?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. It was a Zaehlappell [count appell].

David Boder

A Zaehlappell.

Bella Zgnilek

They took out all . . . all to the court.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

And they made a Zaehlappell.

David Boder

They counted. Did they . . .

Bella Zgnilek

They counted all of us.

David Boder

And suppose somebody wasn't there?

Bella Zgnilek

It never was in our camp.

David Boder

Why?

Bella Zgnilek

It would be very . . . very bad. They would kill different . . . other girls.

David Boder

Oh! They would kill other girls?

Bella Zgnilek

Of course.

David Boder

Did that happen?

Bella Zgnilek

In different camps, yes.

David Boder

But not in yours.

Bella Zgnilek

No, because everybody has been in the camp.

David Boder

Aha. All right. And then, after the Zaehlappell, would they give you something to eat?

Bella Zgnilek

No, not before . . . at four o' clock in the morning nothing, but at nine o'clock.

David Boder

At nine o'clock. Where? Where did you eat?

Bella Zgnilek

They brought some soup to the factory.

David Boder

They brought some soup to the factory. And did they stop working? Did they stop the machines?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. For twenty minutes.

David Boder

And they would give you something . . .

Bella Zgnilek

It was different. Sometimes when the director was in a good mood, he stopped. If not, we had to eat and work.

David Boder

Aha. Yes. And what were you working . . . what [kind of] factory was it?

Bella Zgnilek

Flax yarn spinnery.

David Boder

Oh, flax yarn spinnery . . .

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

In what city was that?

Bella Zgnilek

In Gabersdorf.

David Boder

Gabersdorf.

Bella Zgnilek

A village.

David Boder

A village Gabersdorf. Flax yarn spinnery. You were spinning flax.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

What were they making there of that yarn?

Bella Zgnilek

For uniforms.

David Boder

For uniforms.

Bella Zgnilek

For soldier uniforms.

David Boder

All right. Then, how late would you work?

Bella Zgnilek

Twelve hours.

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

And after, fourteen hours.

David Boder

Fourteen hours a day.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Would they bring you something to eat in between?

Bella Zgnilek

Twelve o'clock again soup.

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

And that was all.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

But weekly we got some bread and some margarine.

David Boder

Some margarine. Now tell me this. What were you eating your soup with? Did you have your plates? Did you have your spoons?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, we got just a plate and a spoon, yes.

David Boder

They gave it to you, or you had your own? What was it?

Bella Zgnilek

It was in the beginning that we got it from home.

David Boder

Aha.

Bella Zgnilek

And they didn't take it away from us. But they took away all our clothes.

David Boder

They took away your clothes.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

And what did they do with your clothes?

Bella Zgnilek

We had it from home brought. When we came to the camp we brought with us [our] clothes. But they took it away from us.

David Boder

Aha. All right.

Bella Zgnilek

They left us only two things.

David Boder

Yes? All right. You were through with work at what time in the evening?

Bella Zgnilek

It depends on the shift.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

Sometimes twelve o'clock at night, sometimes four o'clock in the afternoon.

David Boder

You were in the morning shift?

Bella Zgnilek

Different. One week in one . . .

David Boder

The other week in the other.

Bella Zgnilek

Other.

David Boder

All right. So at four o'clock when you were through with your shift, what would you do then?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, then we had other work. We had to dig [?] potatoes. We had to do . . .

David Boder

In the field?

Bella Zgnilek

In the cellar [?]. In the field.

David Boder

Yes? And?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh well, we had . . . and we had to take turns . . .

David Boder

What is that?

Bella Zgnilek

It was called du jour. To clean the barracks.

David Boder

To clean the barracks. Yes? And then what time did you . . . Did you have some books to read?

Bella Zgnilek

No.

David Boder

No.

Bella Zgnilek

We weren't allowed to.

David Boder

Were you allowed to get together to talk to each other, to sing?

Bella Zgnilek

It depends. If the SS Frau was in a very good mood, maybe sometimes yes. But the . . . I remember once we have been singing in our room, and then the SS Frau, she came to our room, and she said to me, 'Such noise,' and she started to [?] strike everybody, so that it never happened again.

David Boder

What did she strike you with? [Pause.] With the hand?

Bella Zgnilek

With the hand, yes.

David Boder

Where, in your face?

Bella Zgnilek

In [the] face.

David Boder

Yes. Now tell me this. Do you remember any of the songs that were made in the camp?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Can you sing a song?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh,

David Boder

You can sing in a very low voice. The main thing we want, the words very clear. You understand? The melody does . . . just go on and try one. We will see how it comes out.

Bella Zgnilek

I'll just sing a little bit of the end.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

This is the end, because before was [words not clear].

Bella Zgnilek

[Recites in German] Und die Deutschen, die verfluchten Schweine, / die bekommen noch von uns gebroch'ne Beine. / Und wir mÃssen selber sehn, / wie alle Deutschen schnell kaputt gehen.

David Boder

[In English] Well, why don't you want to sing the first part?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh. [Words not clear] too much.

David Boder

Well, go ahead. Do it. Perhaps you can do it now. We want to preserve that material. We don't want that material lost. It is very important that we preserve that material. Start the first part. Just hum a little bit with the words. Go ahead.

Bella Zgnilek

[In German] Vor den Baracken in Gabersdorf / steht ein Gitter um den Hof / und die MÃdels traurig wissen, / drauÃen tut die Freiheit glitzen. / Ade Sudentenland!

David Boder

[In English] Bella will now recite the first and last verse of a poem that she has written in camp. The rest she will give me later in typed form, and we can preserve it together with the record. Go ahead.

Bella Zgnilek

[In Polish] Moje Miasto: [Tylko niektÃre zdania są wyrażne] . . . piękny, majowy . . . płacze bolesne . . .pociąg . . . tam moji drodzy zostali . . . a miasto . . . oderwali . . . piękny, majowy . . . już przemineło . . . i tylko po nocach . . . to miasto mi się śni . . .

David Boder

[In English] Well, that was very good. Bella, you will give me the whole thing typed out in Polish and then a free English translation. Good? [Footnote: Unfortunately I did not obtain the promised material in written form. I may have left Paris without seeing her again. âD.P.B.]

Bella Zgnilek

All right.

David Boder

All right. Now tell me what happened then after the . . . you were through with . . . when you . . . from the factory work I understand you were transferred to office work.

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Now tell how things were going there.

Bella Zgnilek

Well, it was quite simple. It only was the good point that I didn't work so very hard, because the work in the factory was terrible and unhealthy. Most of the girls . . . they got ill, because it was dusty.

David Boder

All right. Now, in the office. Who were your chiefs? Who was over you? How were you working there? Were you working with Germans together?

Bella Zgnilek

[I was] not supposed to work with Germans together. And the chief was director of the factory.

David Boder

Yes? Well, how did they treat you?

Bella Zgnilek

The Germans in the factory when I walked [?] throughâall was quite indifferent to them if I am going through or not.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

But most mistreated [?] we have been by the SS women.

David Boder

What? By the SS women.

Bella Zgnilek

SS women.

David Boder

Yes? What were they doing there?

Bella Zgnilek

Striking for nothing, shaving our hair.

David Boder

Did they have your's shaved off?

Bella Zgnilek

[Pause.] Not quite, but I had shaved [cut] the hair very short.

David Boder

Aha. [Aside] she has now a nice head of black hair. All right. Nun . . . And how long did you work there, in the office?

Bella Zgnilek

Two years.

David Boder

You worked for two years there in the office.

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

Were you well all the time?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. If I wouldn't have been working in the office maybe I wouldn't be alive any more, because the factory work would be too difficult for me.

David Boder

Yes. Did they pay anything for the work?

Bella Zgnilek

Nothing.

David Boder

Well, when you needed some things, soap, or . . . did you have toothpaste?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, we didn't get anything from them. Just one little piece of soap, and we had to wash ourselves only with water.

David Boder

You washed yourself only with water.

Bella Zgnilek

And . . . Oh yes, we got one piece of soap, but that wasn't enough for the whole month.

David Boder

Aha. And how did you handle you laundry? Or did you wash your clothing?

Bella Zgnilek

[Giggles.] Everybody knows that in camp [it] wasn't so clean.

David Boder

The camp wasn't so clean. Did you have any insects there?

Bella Zgnilek

Hm.

David Boder

No? How did they manage . . . if the camp wasn't so clean, how did they manage to keep the insects away? Did you have lice?

Bella Zgnilek

It was some. We haven't been too many in one camp, so it wasn't . . . we haven't had so many lice as in camps where it was overcrowded. There was epidemic, too.

David Boder

Yes. Now tell me, so after the two years working in the office, what happened then?

Bella Zgnilek

I worked in the office till the liberation. Then came the Russians. They liberated us, and we were free.

David Boder

Oh! You worked until the liberation?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

And then . . . and you were freed. Tell me, how did you get to France?

Bella Zgnilek

We have been seven girls together . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

in camp. And we decided to come to France. We wanted to go to Palestine.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

So we decided to come to France before, to get transportation.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

And so we came . . . we managed to come to France. We tried to pass through the border.

David Boder

Which border, the Russian?

Bella Zgnilek

It was the German border.

David Boder

Yes?

Bella Zgnilek

The German border, Austrian border, and then the French.

David Boder

Yes.

Bella Zgnilek

And we came to French.

David Boder

You came to France. And how did you pay your passage?

Bella Zgnilek

Oh, we didn't pay for anything. We just came together with all people.

David Boder

Yes? And then?

Bella Zgnilek

Liberated people.

David Boder

Liberated people were what? Shipped . . . sent . . . shipped by the . . .

Bella Zgnilek

Sent by the government [word not clear].

David Boder

By railroad. You said that you wanted to go to France, and you went to France?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. It was easy for us.

David Boder

Did you have to cross the border . . . what . . . you came . . .

Bella Zgnilek

With . . . with other French people we came together.

David Boder

Aha. Nun . . . and now what do you plan to do?

Bella Zgnilek

I am waiting for transportation. I have relatives in Canada. I have relatives in Argentina, but it is very difficult for me to get over, because . . .

David Boder

And [?] why?

Bella Zgnilek

Because [there is] no transportation. I am twenty-two, and transportation is only for children till sixteen.

David Boder

Oh! You mean a transporation permit to Argentina?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes. I am not permitted to enter the country.

David Boder

Argentina? Do you have relatives in Argentina?

Bella Zgnilek

Right.

David Boder

You told me you have relatives in Chicago. Who are they?

Bella Zgnilek

No. It is just a friend, a little girl friend.

David Boder

Aha. The other girl has her relatives there.

Bella Zgnilek

That's right.

David Boder

what is the name of your girl friend?

Bella Zgnilek

Goldie Birnbaum.

David Boder

Birnbaum.

Bella Zgnilek

Right.

David Boder

Was she with you in camp?

Bella Zgnilek

No, no, no. She is in the States for . . . from before the war.

David Boder

What did you say is her first name?

Bella Zgnilek

Goldie.

David Boder

Goldie Birnbaum. Do you know her address?

Bella Zgnilek

I have it written somewhere, but I have to look for it.

David Boder

Have you written to her?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Did she reply?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

Did she send you some packages?

Bella Zgnilek

She did.

David Boder

Aha. And now you are working here in the office of the Joint?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes.

David Boder

And so that is what you are at present doing. All right, Bella, thank you very much. Can you ask your girl friend to come in?

Bella Zgnilek

I will.

David Boder

Was she with you in the same place all the time?

Bella Zgnilek

No, no. She hasn't been in a camp.

David Boder

No. Where was she?

Bella Zgnilek

Sorry, I can't tell you. I don't know. We know each other since [for] two weeks.

David Boder

All right. Will you ask her to come in?

Bella Zgnilek

Yes, I sure will.

David Boder

Thank you very much. Is there anything . . . is there anything you want to tell your own people in America from you? [Pause.] The microphone is yours. What do you think shall we tell them about all these . . . displaced people and deportees?

Bella Zgnilek

Well, I will just send them regards, and I am happy that not everybody of the Jews went through such a hell [?] as we did. [Pause.]

David Boder

Bella wants to add a few remarks in Polish. Go ahead, Bella.

Bella Zgnilek

[In Polish] [unintelligible]

David Boder

This was a kind of a postscript that I wanted to have, because it's exceedingly important to have the feelings of these young people. We notice here that she spoke in German, in English, in Polish, and when it came to express her feelings she preferred to express it in Polish. This polyglotism, or multilinguistics if we want to call it that way, represents a psychological and ethnic problem at the same time.