David P. Boder Interviews Rachel Gurmanova; August 17, 1946; Paris, France



Rachel Gurmanova was a committed woman of the political left, and that made a world of dfference in determining her fate. She avoided stipulating her politics in the interview, but internal evidence suggests that she was at least close to the Polish Communist party, in which Jews were disproportionately represented. This gave her intimate contacts among non-Jewish Poles in Warsaw, friends who saved her life by spiriting her out of the ghetto on the eve of the 1943 revolt, after which she "passed" as a non-Jew. Previous to that she had avoided deportation by making herself useful to the Warsaw ghetto administration and, indirectly, the Germans. Since 1921 she had been secretary of the Polish ORT, the vocational training organization founded in Russia in 1880. Since the Germans needed skilled Jewish workers, the ORT was one of the few prewar Jewish institutions preserved under German rule. And yet, her position was no absolute shield from deportation as her description of a close call makes plain. Trapped by chance in a public square during a raid, she exploited confusion and a ruse thrown out by a friend to melt into the crowd of onlookers.

Beyond providing valuable information about the ORT's work in the ghetto, Gurmanova intelligently comments on several other aspects of ghetto life: the work she was forced to do for the German Trusteeship Office, which collected and organized the movable property of Jews who had been deported or killed; Nazi manipulation of the Jews' psychological vulnerability; and the courthouse forming part of the ghetto wall in which Jews and non-Jews might still make precarious contacts. She also makes it clear that without official corruption and the money to exploit it, her story would have ended quite differently.

Rachel Gurmanova exposed her personal grief reluctantly and only after gentle prodding. Apparently she lost most of her family, including her mother and her son; she never mentioned her husband. Unable to begin again in Warsaw after the war, she moved to Łódź and threw herself into rebuilding the ORT. Technically she was not a displaced person. She was visiting Paris as a delegate to a world ORT convention when interviewed in August 1946, and she was clearly determined to return to Poland and reestablish Jewish life there.

From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu