David P. Boder Interviews Roma Tcharnabroda; September 24, 1946; München, Germany



Roma Tcharnabroda lost both her husband and her legs in the Holocaust. A Polish Jew married to a Jewish physician in Kielce, she accompanied him as a nurse's aid when he was called up by the Polish army at the time of the German invasion. They ended up at L'viv in the Soviet zone of occupation and encountered the Germans for the first time when L'viv fell in June 1941. There they lived through the devastating pogroms carried out by local anti-Semites, both Polish and Ukrainian, who believed a Nazi story that bodies found at the city's NKVD (the Soviet secret police) jail were the victims of "Jewish Bolsheviks.” Evidently both she and her husband managed to escape from a forced labor camp at L'viv, but Roma's husband fades from her story until their final separation in 1943, when she was sent to Majdanek. Quite possibly the painful memory of his loss explains her self-centered narrative; later she affirms that until 1943 they were always together.

Polish friends warned Tcharnabroda that the Germans were sending the Jews to crematoria, prompting her to seek the anonymity of Warsaw, passing as an "Aryan" with forged papers. Like so many Jews in her situation, she was betrayed by hostile Poles and sent into the ghetto, where she worked gathering Jewish belongings for delivery to the Germans. At this point in her story Boder asked her to skip ahead to her time in the camps. He was pressed for time and had heard about the Warsaw ghetto from other survivors.

Tcharnabroda was deported to Majdanek from Warsaw shortly before the ghetto rose in revolt. She has some instructive things to say about women's physiological responses to overwork and undernourishment and about the disposal of bodies at Majdanek. Without a doubt her most moving anecdote is of the Majdanek women's standing tribute to a comrade hanged by the Germans, an act of courage and defiance in the face of SS guards. At some point late in 1943 Roma was sent to work in munitions factories in western Poland and then, as the Russians drew near, to the infamous women's concentration camp Ravensbrück, north of Berlin. Her feet became frozen just prior to the final evacuation to Bavaria at the end of the Third Reich, and her American liberators had to amputate both legs below the knee.

The German Museum in Munich, where Tcharnabroda gave her interview, was then the site of a UNRRA college where she was studying pharmacy and waiting for permission to enter the United States. Cheerful and feisty, the thirty-year-old refugee had mastered new artificial limbs.

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