David P. Boder Interviews Lena Kuechler; September 8, 1946; Bellevue, France

  • David Boder: [In English] Paris. September the 8th. Paris. September the 8th, 1946. Paris, September the 8th, 1946. In a suburb of Paris, Bellevue. A children's home of the OPEJ. Spool number 114. The interviewee is Miss Lena Kuechler, 34 years old, who is the leader of a group of children which she brought in the number of sixty together with twelve adults, from Poland.
  • David Boder: [In German] And so, Miss Kuechler, would you tell us again what your name is, where you were born, and what education you had?
  • Lena Kuechler: [In Yiddish] I was born in Wieliczka near Cracow. It is fourteen kilometers from Cracow. I studied at the university in Cracow. At the Jagiello University I studied...
  • David Boder: At which university?
  • Lena Kuechler: Jagiello University.
  • David Boder: Jagiello University.
  • Lena Kuechler: This is an extremely old university.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: Dating from the 14th century. There I specialized in education and psychology. I am a Magister [master's degree] in psychology. Before the war I taught in a school, in a Jewish school, in Biepitz [Bielsko] for seven years. And then during the war I fought in Warsaw.
  • David Boder: Now then, wait a bit. Who were your parents, Miss Kuechler?
  • Lena Kuechler: My father was...his name is Elias Kuechler, and my mother Sarah nee Brenner.
  • David Boder: Yes. Brenner?
  • Lena Kuechler: Brenner, yes.
  • David Boder: Go on. Where are your parents?
  • Lena Kuechler: My parents died. My mother died three months before the war, and my father was killed by the Germans.
  • David Boder: What does it mean, 'killed'?
  • Lena Kuechler: He was...he was killed in '42'. He was sick in bed. They entered the room, and they...they shot him in bed.
  • David Boder: Right in Cracow. And where were...
  • Lena Kuechler: It was in Wieliczka.
  • David Boder: In Wieliczka. And where were you?
  • Lena Kuechler: I was in the same...I was in the first year [ of the war] in Lemberg.
  • David Boder: Aha. But I wanted to know who saw it, that the Germans had killed your father.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. With my father was only my sister. She, alas, has also fallen. She fell seven days before the liberation.
  • David Boder: Who...
  • Lena Kuechler: This was seen by an old Polish woman who was a house-maid in our home.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: She saw it.
  • David Boder: Who was it, the Germans or the Ukrainians? Who was it?
  • Lena Kuechler: They were Germans. It was a...a Gestapo.
  • David Boder: A Gestapo.
  • Lena Kuechler: That was during an action in Wieliczka, that famous action.
  • David Boder: And so? And so the death of your father was seen by a Polish woman who was working in your house?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: This Polish woman is still living now. She is in Wieliczka, and she can always repeat [verify] it.
  • David Boder: Yes. Where were you at that time?
  • Lena Kuechler: I was at that time in Warsaw together with my husband.
  • David Boder: Aha. You were married.
  • Lena Kuechler: I was married, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: But I was not living together with my husband, because I look like a Jewess.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And my husband looked less like a Jew.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: We were both living on so-called Aryan papers. That is, he as a Pole, and I as a Polish woman. We lived separately.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what did you do then? What were you doing at that time?
  • Lena Kuechler: In Warsaw I had it very hard. I...
  • David Boder: And so you were still in Vilnica, or what is the name of it?
  • Lena Kuechler: Wieliczka.
  • David Boder: You were in Wieliczka. And where did you go to from Wieliczka?
  • Lena Kuechler: From Wieliczka I went to War-...to Warsaw.
  • David Boder: Yes? What did you do there?
  • Lena Kuechler: And in Warsaw I wanted...I wanted...I already had other papers, true? [you understand? -- Aryan papers. And there...
  • David Boder: Yes? Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: And there I wanted somehow to maintain myself. I was in very bad circumstances. I had no money. I had to earn in order to live. But it was very, very...I could not go out on the street at all. At every turn there blackmail awaited me. I was blackmailed already ten times.
  • David Boder: Now what do you call...what do you call 'blackmail'?
  • Lena Kuechler: [A chuckle.] I wanted to tell you about one small incident, how...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...how the first blackmail happened.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And so I was working in a factory near the Ghetto...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...as an ordinary woman worker. At four o'clock I would go home. In this factory there were still very many Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: They came there from the Ghetto to the Aryan side. And there we worked together.
  • David Boder: That was permitted, for the Jews to come.
  • Lena Kuechler: Jews would come under an escort.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: Always with a Gestapo man...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...they would come. He would stand [watch] near these Jews, and in the evening they would return to the Ghetto. I was returning to my apartment in the city, and there someone accosted me on the street. He was a Pole. He told me I was a Jewess. He did not know that for sure, but by my appearance, and he [allegedly] recognizes me. And he demanded money or else he will, as it is said, report me to the Gestapo.
  • David Boder: Yes, he will denounce you.
  • Lena Kuechler: He will denounce me to the Gestapo. I did not know these things yet, but nevertheless I did not lose my courage. I told [him] it is not true, that he lies, and if he wants to take me to the Gestapo it is going to be the reverse. I shall take him. And I called a Polish policeman and challenged [complained to] him that I am not left in peace and so forth, that....And the Polish policeman asked him for his...him for his...
  • David Boder: Demanded his papers?
  • Lena Kuechler: Demanded from him his papers and from me my birth certificate and so forth. He asked me many question, but here at this instant I disgraced myself. When he asked me the names of my parents I had forgotten the name of my father. [Giggling]
  • David Boder: The name of your false father.
  • Lena Kuechler: Your...of my false father. Because they were not my true parents, my real parents. But in spite of all that, I said I am no Jewess and I will not stand for blackmail, that this man wants only to make money. And I did not give him anything. Then I had...he let me go. The policeman did not know what to do with both of us. He said that we can....He wrote down our addresses, true? And then he told us we should go. He will further...
  • David Boder: Investigate.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...investigate this thing. But then the same hour I changed my apartment. This was a very hard thing, to find a new apartment, true? But then on the street...for a few days I was on the street, till the next blackmail. [Chuckle.]
  • David Boder: Nu, you say you were on the street. Were you on the street at night?
  • Lena Kuechler: I was also at night on the streets. [Chuckle.]
  • David Boder: Yes. But it was forbidden to go out at night.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. But I would go [where] there was...What is it called? I would be in the electric [streetcar]. I would be at the railroad station.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: So...I would...
  • David Boder: There were people walking about at night.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes.
  • David Boder: And so go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: Once...I was living in Warsaw on the street Nowogrodzka 5 with a Polish family.
  • David Boder: Did they know that you are Jewish?
  • Lena Kuechler: Nobody knew that I was Jewish. If they would have known, they would not have taken a Jewess. Quite on the contrary.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: They were no...They were afraid first of all, and then they did not like the Jews. They did not help the Jews. And so I was...I was working then at Julius Main, in the central office as bookkeeper. It took courage to work there, because it was a German company. But I had to have something to live on, and....Then I thought there I would be 'covered' [protected], true?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And so I went to sleep about twelve o'clock at night. I see...I hear various voices, and there is light, and a Gestapo policeman is standing near me with the revolver and says, 'Hands up.' And so in the nightshirt...
  • David Boder: Speak slower.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...he led me to a room, and there were assembled all who lived in that house and.... They were looking for someone. And they searched everybody separately. The Gestapo policeman came over to me, and he said right away to me, 'You are surely a Jewess.'
  • David Boder: [Adjusting the equipment.] And so go on. What happened then?
  • Lena Kuechler: Then....It was of no avail. He said to me I should get dressed, one, two. He took nobody from the house but me.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And four men took me. They led me to the Gestapo, to the famous Allee Szucha. If one got in there, he did not come out any more. At that time I did not yet have any poison on me.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: And that was very hard on me, because if I had had the poison, then I would not have been afraid any more. I am not afraid of death. I never was. I just did not want them to torture me there. And if I had had some poison, I would have taken it there so that they would not come to torment me there.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: And so I thought death is always better than to be there. I should... weep [?] there, and they should look on at my suffering. It was at night. Four were leading me. Two.... I was walking in the middle. Two fat policemen, Gestapo men, were walking in front and two behind, all with the bayonets, with the bayonets ready. I was walking through the street. It was all the same to me. I was not afraid. I...I was just thinking, what shall I do, what shall I do. If I had a revolver then I would shoot all of them. Let them shoot me then. It was all the same to me. Then we came to the Allee Szucha. There already was the gate. I knew this, if I go in I will never come out. I looked around [?]. Two went in, and then I was to go in.
  • David Boder: What does it mean, 'two'?
  • Lena Kuechler: The two who walked in front of me. Two policemen.
  • David Boder: Policemen, yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: They had entered the gate.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: And now I was to walk in, and the two behind me. All of a sudden I turn around and I begin to run. So the two run after me. They...they shoot on all sides. I know nothing. I do not remember anything more. I know it was an...an accident, it was [in Hebrew] a miracle that they did not...
  • David Boder: [In German] A miracle.
  • Lena Kuechler: [In German] A miracle that they did not hit me.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Lena Kuechler: I heard shooting from left, from right. The...the bullets [chuckle] were...
  • David Boder: Flew by.
  • Lena Kuechler: Fl-...fl-...flew by near me, but did not touch me. And then I instantly went around the corner and ran and ran. The...the Gestapo men...the Gestapo men did not take too much trouble with me. They...they were so fat that they did not want to run after me. But they were shooting. They believed that I had perhaps been killed. And then they left. And in such a manner I remained alive.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Lena Kuechler: But this....Then there was always the same thing. I had already...I had already been compromised [exposed; known] all over Warsaw. I had already been in seven....What is it called? [In Polish] Police stations.
  • David Boder: In seven police stations?
  • Lena Kuechler: In seven police stations in various parts of Paris, and...
  • David Boder: In various...
  • Lena Kuechler: [Correction] In Warsaw. And three times I had already been in the Gestapo. This was already the third time. Yes?
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: I could not remain in Warsaw any more. I had already been compromised [exposed]. It was already quite clear to me that it could not go on this way any more. So I said I must leave Warsaw. I read advertisements in various papers. I studied them. And I found one advertisement. Someone is looking for a governess for children in the country rather far from Warsaw. I said to myself I shall go to a small place where I shall not be seen. I shall be there alone, just with children. There I shall be...
  • David Boder: Till things develop further.
  • Lena Kuechler: Until things develop further. This advertisement I...I went to this address, and I reported to this woman. She liked me very well. The only thing, she told me that she had very many candidates for this position, but she does not like these women. And then in two cases, she said, the women looked to her like Jewesses so she did not take them. And me she took. It was unpleasant for me that I have to lie to her, but yet I wanted to go on living. But then I thought that she is in no danger.
  • David Boder: Yes. And tell me...
  • Lena Kuechler: In such a manner I found a position there with a small, seven months old baby.
  • David Boder: Months? Seven months or seven years?
  • Lena Kuechler: Seven months.
  • David Boder: Then you were a nurse.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. I was a nurse to the baby. I slept with that child. I then became very fond of that child. I loved that child very much. And I was there one year with those people.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu, tell me, living like that as a Polish woman in a Polish family, didn't you have to understand the religion?
  • Lena Kuechler: It was very hard for me.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: The people kept on observing me all the time.
  • David Boder: Yes? They kept watching you.
  • Lena Kuechler: They kept watching me. I...they...I had to be so watchful of everything -- of my Polish language so that there should not appear any expressions that...that are used by Jews. I should not....What is it called?...with the hands not too much...
  • David Boder: To talk [gesticulate].
  • Lena Kuechler: [Chuckle.] To talk.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And not only that, but at every turn I had to wear a 'mask', all the...all day and all night. And in addition to all that the people...the people had no...were not sure. They...I did not quite resemble a Polish woman, but neither did I resemble a Jewess. They always had a very bad opinion of Jews and of Jewesses, that they do not work, that they do not want to work, that they are dirty, and that they have a bad appearance, that they are not very intelligent, and so forth. With me they did not find it so. I worked there very well, and I worked very clean. And they....Actually I was the best worker which they...
  • David Boder: Had. Had?
  • Lena Kuechler: ...had as a nurse. Well, that they could not imagine that a Jewess...they did not believe that a Jewess could work, and can be clean, and can be decent, and well brought up, and could behave at the table and in society. And so that saved me, true?
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: And concerning religion, I did not want to go to church. I never had done it. During all that time I never went once to church. In spite of all dangers, in spite of that, that...that in a village if one does not go to church it is always said that he certainly is an atheist or a [words not clear]. But I did not want to in spite of everything. I said I was irreligious. And there are Polish women who, too, are irreligious. And the people...some had it against me, but it was...my mistress understood, and she did not force me. She said, 'Well, yes, Miss Lena,' that was what I was called there, 'She is a good worker. It would be better if she were more religious, but, well, there is nothing to be done about it.'
  • David Boder: Yes. But tell me, did they not talk now and then among themselves about Jews? Did they not ask your opinion about Jews?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. Those people very often talked about Jews. And there were various opinions about Jews. It was actually very interesting from a psychological standpoint, what these people were saying about the Jews. And so there was a time when....The village in which I lived was not far from a famous death-camp by the name of a...
  • David Boder: Extermination camp.
  • Lena Kuechler: Extermination camp, Treblinka.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Lena Kuechler: Treblinka. I lived perhaps twenty kilometers from Treblinka. And so all the transports went there. And we met Jews who...who were already completely insane. Such poor people. I could not...I suffered so much on account of that. I had not suffered so in all my life. I had not suffered...even when they were shooting after me I did not suffer as much as when I saw these poor Jews. I did not want to go on living. It was all the same to me. Yes. But with them it varied. They did have a little pity. They said, 'Those poor Jews.' But then someone else got up and said, 'Well yes, but one cannot get rid of the Jews in any other way. They must be shot. Either they must be given complete freedom, or they must be shot.' 'And I,' said the young...eh....What is it called?...[In Polish] squire... the...eh...the...the owner of the ...he was a count.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: He said, 'I am of the opinion that it is better that the entire people be exterminated. It will save us the trouble.' Other people...
  • David Boder: Did this count frequent your house? How did the count get there...
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. That was the master of the house.
  • David Boder: Oh, you...
  • Lena Kuechler: I was in a house of a count.
  • David Boder: Oh, you were in a house of a count.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes, of a count.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. It was a...such an aristocratic Polish family. I was there.
  • David Boder: Yes. Then it was [ in German] a landlord, [in Russian] a squire.
  • Lena Kuechler: [Repeats, in German] A landlord, [in Russian] a squire.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nun.
  • Lena Kuechler: I was the governess there, true? Without pay [?].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And the count was the owner, and his sister had the child, true? - who was in my care. The sister, my mistress, was actually a friend of Jews. She said she feels sorry for the Jews. She always was sympathetic towards the Jews, but in spite of all that she said, 'But in spite of all that, the Jews are not worth that one should sympathize with them.' She said, 'They are an ungrateful element. Should we help them...should we help them now, then after the war they will all turn against us.' This was said already by the supposed friend of the Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: Already a very great friend.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Lena Kuechler: Nu, yes. And so they had various opinion of the Jews. On the whole they were all great anti-Semites. Not once was I thinking what would happen if they discover that I am Jewish.
  • David Boder: Hm. Nu, and how long did it last?
  • Lena Kuechler: I was with these people until the end of the war, until the Russians...until the Russians arrived. But then when the Russians had arrived, then their whole estate was distributed.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: Parcelled out.
  • David Boder: You were still there.
  • Lena Kuechler: I was still there.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And I...
  • David Boder: Did they remain there?
  • Lena Kuechler: Thus: The count ran away.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: But his sister, that is, my mistress...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...who I had said was a friend...who was a friend...
  • David Boder: She was better.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...who was better, yes?...she remained alone with four children. Two were her children. They were my...
  • David Boder: Wards.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...wards, and two children of relatives from Warsaw. And so she remained without anything. Everything was taken away from her. She was not even given a potato, nothing. She had nothing to live on. And I am by profession a teacher. So I founded a school in that village. I went to the commissar. None of them knew yet that I was Jewish. I...I...I asked him to help in founding there a school for the peasant children.
  • David Boder: In the castle.
  • Lena Kuechler: In the castle.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: And in such a manner I was living in the castle, because I was the director of the school.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: I was teaching there. And I asked that the woman and the four children should be permitted to live with me together in one room. And I supported these people six months. They did not have anything to live on. On my pay as teacher I supported the whole family.
  • David Boder: And so the Russians paid you.
  • Lena Kuechler: The Russians paid me. And also the children and the parents always brought something. They brought milk...
  • David Boder: The Polish.
  • Lena Kuechler: The Polish parents, the peasants. They liked me very much. And the children were progressing very well in school. There had been no school there for a few years. The children could neither read nor...
  • David Boder: Nor write.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...nor write. The older people neither. I worked very hard. And all over the village they liked me very much.
  • David Boder: But they did not know that you are Jewish.
  • Lena Kuechler: They did not know that I am Jewish.
  • David Boder: Not until the end?
  • Lena Kuechler: No. Until the end they did not know that I am Jewish, because in spite of everything these people were anti-Semites, and it would have been very, very difficult for me. I waited. I had to stay there until I could be able to go to Warsaw. Because in Warsaw my husband had remained, and my sister had remained. They were the last people who had remained there from my family. And so I wanted to go back to Warsaw and search for these people. But I have lost them [? she appears to weep].
  • David Boder: Nu, and you did not tell the sister of the count until the end that you are Jewish?
  • Lena Kuechler: No. It was thus. [Chuckle.] It was a very remarkable psychological scene. The count's sister also had her sister and her husband in Warsaw.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And I, too. But she did not know that I was married. And she did not know that I have a sister. I wanted then, when Warsaw was already...
  • David Boder: Was freed.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...was freed, I wanted to walk to Warsaw. Then there were no trains then. It was eighty kilometers to Warsaw, but in spite of all that I wanted to walk, because I had a terrible dream about my sister, that she is not alive. And so I wanted to search for her. So she said to me, 'What do you want to go to Warsaw for? I will go first, and you remain with the children. I have there my husband and my sister. You have no one to look for there.' Then I could not stand it any more, and I said, 'Yes, I have exactly the same. I also have a husband and a sister in Warsaw.' So she said, 'How come?' So I had her, 'I am Jewish.' And so then...this was already at the end. I don't know, her attitude was exactly as before. But more than once she could realize [chuckle] what kind of a girl I was, that I was not, as she said, ungrateful.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: These people did me no favor, as they did not know that I am Jewish.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: And I worked very hard and suffered much hunger with these people. And they...
  • David Boder: Why did you suffer hunger?
  • Lena Kuechler: I suffered hunger, yes.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Lena Kuechler: They...those people gave very little to eat. I was always hungry. I...I...
  • David Boder: But in a village there is enough to eat.
  • Lena Kuechler: These people...these people had....There was a....It was a....What is it called? [She searches for the word. She refers apparently to confication of cattle and provisions by the Germans.] There was not a single cow in the whole [? village or estate]. They did not have much, and still what they had [allotted to them] they also distributed in a way that they took more for themselves...
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.]
  • Lena Kuechler: ...and to the people who were in their hire they gave nothing. And so I was virtually starving. Forty-two kilos I...
  • David Boder: Weighed while you worked there.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes, at that time. Yes.
  • David Boder: And in spite of that you still supported them later?
  • Lena Kuechler: I supported them, truly supported them six months, all, the whole family, four children and the woman. Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Lena Kuechler: I supported them. And not only that, but I did arrange a lot of things for them. I saved them seventeen hectares of land.
  • David Boder: How?
  • Lena Kuechler: Because I said that it should...that it is a garden and it should not be parcelled out, it must remain for the school, for the children. And this remained theirs. And the garden and the castle now remained theirs.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: I saved that for them. And so the people did not know that I am a Jewess. After afterwards they did not...
  • David Boder: The Russians did not know?
  • Lena Kuechler: No. That...that countess...
  • David Boder: That countess.
  • Lena Kuechler: If they had known that I am Jewish, they would not have kept me. But in spite of all that I did feel obligated to help those people when they were in distress...
  • David Boder: To do something for them.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. Also in Warsaw, before I left for France, I got in touch with these people. They are now very poor. I took this woman to the...
  • David Boder: What is the count's name?
  • Lena Kuechler: Pawlowski [?] is his name.
  • David Boder: Count Pawlowski [?], yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: Count Pawlowski.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: And the woman's name by marriage is Jablonska, Halina Jablonska. I took her to the Joint, to the director of the Polish[-Jewish] Joint, Guzik, who now, alas, is not alive any more, and I told him the story. I asked him to help them. He helped them with various provisions, with clothing and so forth. And I also left them money and so forth for the children.
  • David Boder: Nu, what is the Polish Joint? The Joint is a Jewish organization.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. The Joint is an international Jewish organization.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: But in Polish...in Poland...
  • David Boder: In Poland.
  • Lena Kuechler: For every country there is...
  • David Boder: Yes, a department, yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes, there is a department.
  • David Boder: And he helped them. Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: He helped them. That director, Guzik, helped those people. He helped then many Poles who had helped the Jews during the war. The Joint would do a lot for those Poles.
  • David Boder: Aha. Go on. What did you do then in Warsaw? Did you find your sister, your husband?
  • Lena Kuechler: I, alas, found neither my husband nor my sister. With my sister it was a terrible tragedy. I searched and searched for her until I...until I found out that towards the end she was living in Lowicz...Lowicz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: And there....It is a good forty kilometers from Warsaw.
  • David Boder: Hm. Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. That is near Lodz. [Repeats in Polish] Lodz.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: And there I learned that my sister, who was twenty-three years old...she had dragged through the entire war. She had gone through so much that one cannot imagine it. She had been in the ghetto together with my father, and then she fought, and she was....I cannot tell you all that. It would be much too much to tell, how that poor child had gone through. And then she was in Warsaw. She had gone through the whole bombing. She had fought together with the Poles, together. The two of us were together. We were never going together, but we were secretly working together in the Polish underground resistance...
  • David Boder: Movement. Oh, during the...
  • Lena Kuechler: We were fighting.
  • David Boder: Now when did you fight in the resistance? When you lived with the countess?
  • Lena Kuechler: No, no.
  • David Boder: Before yet?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes, before, yes.
  • David Boder: Aha. Now let us go back to your sister.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. And so my sister was living in Lowicz. She had left Warsaw, yes? She had run away. And there in Lowicz she was living with a Polish family. And the husband suspected that she was Jewish. So he went to the Gestapo and said she is Jewish. And they came from the Gestapo and took her. They shot her seven days before the liberation. This Pole then got two kilos of sugar for her head. That was the Gestapo's reward for the Jewish...for a Jewish...Jewish head.
  • David Boder: [Pause.] How did you find it out? From whom did you find it out?
  • Lena Kuechler: I found it out accidentally. I have two...two witnesses...
  • David Boder: Two witnesses.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...two witnesses for it.
  • David Boder: Did you find that man later?
  • Lena Kuechler: That man I have...I know even the man's name. His name is Szewczyk, and he is living in Lodz, Poland. I found that man. And my brother -- I still have a brother in Poland, working in the Polish government. And so I asked him to settle this thing. I myself [word not clear]...I went to the Polish police, the present one...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...[in Polish] The Peoples Defence, and I made out an affidavit. I reported all the addresses and that they should arrest that man. I do not know how it ended, because in the meantime I left with all my children. I had to leave with the children. They were under constant threats.
  • David Boder: And so you say you left with all your children. Now will you tell me now a bit how you got hold of these children? How did you get these children? How....And so you were in Warsaw, and? Where did you begin collecting these children? How did you come to that idea?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. After having found out that my sister is not alive and my husband probably is neither alive, that he had fallen in Warsaw, I went to Cracow and Wieliczka. Wieliczka was the town where I was born. It is fourteen kilometers from Cracow. And I was looking for someone from my family still, because I still had four brothers. There I found one brother. He had come from Russia and was coming [?] to Cracow. I waited for him, and I found him.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: Now, I was very happy that I did find my brother. I am very fond of this brother. And the brother did not permit me to go back to those people there.
  • David Boder: To whom?
  • Lena Kuechler: To that countess, true?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: I should stay in Cracow and live together with him.
  • David Boder: Did you live in Warsaw with the countess?
  • Lena Kuechler: No. She had not returned then to Warsaw, the countess. She still remained in the country, yes?
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: And I had taken leave from the school, and I walked...I drove to Warsaw to look for my family.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: I returned then once again. I had not liquidated the school until another teacher was found for the school. And I went back to Cracow where I lived with my brother. In Cracow I went to the university to my professor, a professor in the university, Professor Schuman.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: He is a professor of psychology with whom I had been working all the time.
  • David Boder: Earlier.
  • Lena Kuechler: Earlier. Before the war. I finished my studies, and then I went on with scientific work. [Something may be skipped here because of a break in the wire.] He had returned from Dachau...
  • David Boder: Was he a Jew?
  • Lena Kuechler: He was not a Jew. He was a Pole.
  • David Boder: Why had he been in Dachau?
  • Lena Kuechler: Because all the Polish professors of the University of Cracow had been taken in '39 yet to Dachau, all of them.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Lena Kuechler: They [the Germans] wanted to exterminate the entire Polish intelligensia. And I came to him. I told him I lost everything and I should like to continue to work scientifically.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool...this concludes Spool 114 taken at Bellevue near Paris in the home of the OPEJ, from the director of the home, Lena Kuechler. We continue on 115.
  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 115. At Bellevue near Paris. September the 7th...[correction] September the 8th, 1946. Miss Lena Kuechler continues her report.
  • David Boder: [In German] And so you say that...I would like now to have the story of your emigration with the children. How did you collect these children? How did that all begin? Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: And so I am starting it [the story] now as I personally view it. Yes. I reported to the professor of the university. He was my old professor, Professor Schuman, and I told him I would like to go on working in psychology, that only science is left for me, I have lost everything. And so he received [?] me fabulously well. I had not even expected it. In spite of all that, all the professors were anti-Semites. About him it was also said that he is an anti-Semite, but it was not true. He received me fabulously well. He was truly glad that I am alive, that I have remained alive and...
  • David Boder: [In English] Miss Kuechler requests that she would...Miss Kuechler requests that she would want to talk Polish. [See note at end of interview.] Since that is her language in which she can talk freely without any difficulty and artificiality, I will endeavor to understand her, and we are changing now to the second part of her career on the study of the children. We are changing to the Polish language. Go ahead. [In Russian] Talk Polish.[Footnote: From here on the interview proceeds in Polish with the questions in Russian or German. The Polish translation is almost the exclusive responsibility of Mr. Bernard Wolf.]
  • Lena Kuechler: [In Polish] Good. At the university I started with my scientific work. I worked with great enthusiasm. The subject of my project dealt with the constructive [creative] abilities of children. And I myself made studies of hundreds of children. The first section of this work especially interested me. There we talked about space perception, [in German] Raumvorstellung...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...of children. [In Polish] And this work has a most profound philosophical basis! These things interested me very, very much. I was able to give a great deal of myself. I worked very hard, sixteen hours a day. The first three months I did research work. I gave a report at the university to a close circle of scientists and scholars, and the professor was completely satisfied with my report. I was able to notice it afterwards, because later on he gave me a whole series of very responsible tasks. And I was...
  • David Boder: [In Russian] What did you live on?
  • Lena Kuechler: My brother had a fairly high position in the Polish government. He was the chief of military censorship. And I was living in his home, in a large, nice home. And I ate there regularly. That I means I ate in his office. They had a refectory there. Beyond that I had no desires, I had no needs. Nothing interested me, neither money nor clothes interested me. To this day all this does not interest me.[Footnote: The interviewer recollects that she was very neatly dressed and groomed with a definite touch of French feminine standards.] I have absolutely no needs. I only have certain needs of a psychological nature. At that time I wanted to forget about the past. I wanted to work with my entire soul, so that there should not remain any time for thinking [brooding] and memories, so as able to forget everything, all that I had lost, all that I had lived through in the past. And nothing else mattered to me. And I would have remained [there]. The work that I was doing in the field of constructive ability was designated as a doctoral project. I have a master's degree in psychology, but I had not yet made my doctorate, and I would have completed it, if not for this accident. I would have completed the work, but they came to me from the Jewish Committee with an appeal to take care of the children who are returning now from various camps, from Auschwitz, whom people are bringing to the Committee, and to...and that many Jewish children have remained alive, and that they are roaming, rambling, have no roof over their heads, that something must be done for them, that I should organize a home for children, one of the first homes in Poland. Naturally I had to overcome a certain psychological conflict, because I had found a great...great scientific work. Scientific work is my dream, my ideal. It is that which I had always desired. Before the war I had not been able to do a great deal of scientific work, because I had to earn a living and I was in bad pecuniary circumstances.
  • David Boder: Wait a moment. [Adjusting this equipment.] Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: And during the war I could not work at all, and after the war, when I remained alone, without the family, without any obligations whatsoever, and I myself had no great demands, I decided to do scientific work. And now they are again tearing me away from this work.
  • David Boder: [Adjusting the equipment.] Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: I chose a middle course. I decided to organize just this [one] children's home. That means to work through the vacation, through June and July, and in August to return to my scientific work at the university. And such an agreement I made with the president of the Jewish Committee in Cracow, with Doctor Kupferberg. And then as soon as I began the work with these children I could not tear myself away from them any more. My presence...presence was indispensible in order to maintain the home, because we were struggling against tremendous difficulties. The children which we received, which were brought to the Committee ' and I was present at it from the first moment ' were in a terrible state, terrible. They were so starved, so sickly, so covered with lice, so neglected morally, physically, and intellectually, that a truly tremendous job arose before us. Moreover, we had absolutely no financial means. We had absolutely no budget for all that. The Jewish Committee had hardly any financial means at its disposal, and it was surrounded every day by crowds of various people who were returning from camps. What could be done for these people? Barely a little soup. And these people cursed us all, and we really did not have anything to give them. The Joint was not yet working in Poland. And the means which we did receive from the impoverished Polish government were minimal, completely out...out of proportion to the needs. It was necessary then.... We decided to organize a home in Zakopane. Zakopane is a resort, especially for tubercular children. Zakopane is a place situated amid mountains, a very beautiful spot, but known for its anti-Semitism yet from before the war. There we rented a very beautiful villa, and we renovated it, because it was ruined after the Germans. And there I went with the first group of children. The home had a capacity of a hundred children, and I always had the full number of children, even more. There were times when I had a hundred and seven, a hundred and ten children. In addition, they sent me older youths with sick lungs, people who had survived camps, whom...who had to be saved. There were some who were already...
  • David Boder: [Adjusting the equipment.] Repeat the last sentence.
  • Lena Kuechler: People were sent to me with sick lungs who had gone through several ' often dozens ' of camps, and whom it was necessary to save. These people I placed in Polish sanatoriums, because being seriously ill with lung diseases they could not live together with the children. But there in those sanatoriums raged a frightful hunger, and therefore we would also carry food to them every day. And usually [?] I took care of everyone. I brought them underwear. I brought them medicines. I visited them, and I can say that...that I saved the lives of several people from among those youths. Besides that, we did an enormous job with our children. It was very difficult for me to get personnel. There were absolutely no [suitable] people. There was no one. I picked out a certain group of women who had returned from the Lager Auschwitz. These women had lost everybody. They had lost their husbands. They had lost their children. I said to them a few words. I told them that if they do not have their own children to take to their hearts, these children, these children who do not have their parents, that we should become true mothers to these children, that we should not work for ourselves, that we should not work for profit, that we should not work at it like at a trade, let us truly consecrate ourselves to these children. This will be the aim of our...our lives. And indeed our entire work was one great sacrifice. Our home was not a boarding home. It was not even a children's home. It was one big family. We worked from morning till night. We were under terrible stress. I was suffering enormously. I was traveling constantly. I did not have the means to support these children. The Committee was in constant financial predicaments. They never had any money. I called on various private people, begging them for money to maintain the children. I traveled to Warsaw to the Joint. And they were not allowed to give us money. And in spite of everything, the director of the Joint, Guzik always helped me, even though 'illegally,' so as not to throw these children out in the street. Every...every...every week, every few days I was faced with an alternative of closing down the home and finding the children themselves out in the street. I did not have any idea how we would live through the next week, in such a financial strait we found ourselves. Moreover, we were surrounded by a wave of such anti-Semitism that is impossible to describe. The children could not go out on the street at all. They were hit with stones on the head. When I sent three boys to movies, other Polish boys sitting behind them were threatening them all the time to stick a knife in their backs. I could not send the children to Polish schools, because there they were so persecuted and insulted. The clerks, the officials of the supply service, did not want to give us any rations. They constantly tried to cut them down to the utmost. I really did not have anything to give the children to eat. I had to fight on all sides. Wherever I went I heard only anti-Semitic jeers. I was...I was a person hated by the Poles in Zakopane, because I was constantly defending our right. In the end I saw that the wave of anti-Semitism was growing so terribly...and not far from us there was a second children's home. It was in Wrotka, about thirty kilometers from us. In Wrotka lived children who were totally sick. It was a quarantine [preventorium?]. That children's home in Wrotka was shot up three times. Bandits, Polish reactionaries, NSZ, with the aid of the entire population...
  • David Boder: What is NSZ?
  • Lena Kuechler: NSZ [Narodowe Sily Zbrojne Polskie], Polish Peoples' Combat Force. That is a Polish organization which fights against the Polish government, and treads on the backs [bodies] of Jewish orphans, shooting at us. They attacked us and threw grenades through the windows at the children. At that time all the children...we pulled out all the children in the corridor, and there they lay all night. Three times, week after week, raids were made on this home. We had to liquidate this home. We were not able to hold on to that house. We could not endanger the lives of the children. We foresaw that this wave would shift to Zakopane, and therefore I decided to be ready for it beforehand and prepare a defense. I applied to the security authorities and to the Polish police, and I decided to organize a defense. And I organized it in the following manner. I received ten people for defense with [in German] a machine gun. That means...
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Machine guns.
  • Lena Kuechler: [In Polish] Yes. A machine gun we installed on the roof, and besides that I had an alarm siren, I had search lights, I had a telephone, I had...
  • David Boder: Like in a concentration camp.
  • Lena Kuechler: Exactly like in a concentration camp.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: And everybody had grenades and...and....What is it called?...arrangements...
  • David Boder: All sorts of arms.
  • Lena Kuechler: Various kinds of weapons in order to defend ourselves. I myself, in spite of the government having given us these soldiers....Right the first night, when they were supposed to defend us....There were two parties, that is, there were some from the militia and some from the Public Security [Police]. Then the militia got into a fight with the men from the Security Police, and they were tossing grenades at each other in my home, with the children present. Such was the defense I had. Seeing all this, I understood that they are not people on whom one can rely, and I decided to find Jews who would defend us, and I myself received a permit for weapons. I knew how to handle a revolver, and I myself would guard and defend the home. And, in fact, there was an attack on us which we repulsed. The attack began with shooting, with them coming gradually closer. They were shooting at us. We immediately repulsed the attack. We fired on all sides. We received aid. We created a lot of noise so that all of them withdrew. But similar things were happening after this victory, too. I myself was also assaulted. But I do not know exactly what the motive was, whether it was of a political nature or robbery, because...coming home once at six o'clock in the evening not far from our home it was beginning to get dark -- two persons with guns attacked and robbed me. They took away from me then a few...several thousand Zlotys.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: And they beat me up severely. I was bruised all over my body and wounded. They tied me up, threw me on the ground, and beat me up. I had no weapon on me then, or I would have defended myself. And they...those two people were armed. I suppose, however, that this attack had, like all the attacks in Poland, a twofold motive, politics and robbery, that they knew exactly who I am and...and...if it were just motivated by robbery, they would not have beaten me up so severely. The children whom I have collected come from various parts.
  • David Boder: [Adjusting the equipment.] All right.
  • Lena Kuechler: A great many come from forests, mostly the older boys and older girls. Older to me means fourteen, fourteen and fifteen year old children. The main center of the partisans was in eastern Poland. For instance, I have a boy here by the name of Nathan Schacht [see Chapter 59] who will be able to talk to you himself, who fought in the rear of the German army. He fought together with Russian partisans. He lived in the forest for two years, and he was then only eleven years old. He got a horse...I had several such boys who kept the bridle in their mouths, and in their hands revolvers, fighting on horseback. These boys, naturally, starved the same as all the soldiers. Then they made raids on...raids from the forest, put mines under bridges, blew up bridges. Then when they found out that the army...
  • David Boder: What? Now, after the war?
  • Lena Kuechler: No. It was...
  • David Boder: Oh, the partisans.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...during the war. They were partisans.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Lena Kuechler: They put mines under bridges. Then, in the forest when they knew that the army was to pass by, they would loosen up the rails, and the like. I had many such boys who had fought with the partisans. They have gone through an awful lot. Now [when the war was over] these boys were coming to the Jewish Committee [for help]. A part of the children had lived among peasants. These children have lived through...the peasants did not know that they were Jewish children. These children worked very hard there. They were shepherds, farm hands, tended cattle, horses, and did all sorts of farm jobs. They worked very hard and starved a great deal. A part of the children were hidden in various hiding places. I have children here who had been in hiding places. They sat in wardrobes. I have here a little girl who sat two and a half years in a wardrobe. A tiny child three years old, this child was completely unable to walk or talk when it came out of that wardrobe. It was completely emaciated, covered with lice. By some miracle we pulled this child out of that wardrobe, because...because the woman who kept her in that wardrobe -- it was in Warsaw -- had left the dwelling, locked the door, and did not return any more. And this child had been there already two days without food. And then we found out about it, and we pulled this child out through the window. I have children who sat in hiding places for a year or two with the legs doubled up, so that when they eventually left these hiding places they had complete atrophy of the leg muscles. They were completely unable to walk. A part of the children were hidden in Polish cloisters. But in the cloisters the children were converted, and later on the priests did not want to return these children. Only from a few orphanages where there reigned a terrible hunger, where they could not feed the children, even the Polish children, there they first of all tried to get rid of the Jewish children, and they would bring them to the Committee.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Lena Kuechler: At the beginning I was working in the Committee where these children were arriving. And more than once was I a witness to such a scene. Besides that we....At the beginning children were brought to us so, disinterestedly, because they just wanted to get rid of these children. Later on they hit upon the idea that they ought to demand money for it[Footnote: As a whole it did not appear unreasonable in those times that institutions or private parties who had hidden these children from the Nazis be reimbursed for their keep. However, it could be questioned whether such claims should be made against the Jewish charitable organizations rather than against the state. Be it as it may, the keeping of these children as pawns to secure payment cannot help but arouse indignation and can be understood only in the light of chaos and devastation which reigned at the time immediately following the armistice. Another instance of deculturation...?],that the Jews...the Jews, of course, have a lot of money. So then payment was demanded for these children. Subsequently larger payments were demanded. And then the children were even sent to extort [money] from us. That means that children were sent, and these children would demand money for their Polish guardians. They would cry all day long, nag us, threaten us, and the like, so that we should give them money.
  • David Boder: Tell me, were these cloisters convents or monasteries?
  • Lena Kuechler: It varied. Mostly the younger children were in cloisters. I can tell, for instance, the story of five children whom we call the 'Bobols.' They are....[laughing] We call them the 'Bobols.' They are marvelous children. They are from three to five years old.
  • David Boder: What does it mean?
  • Lena Kuechler: When I was in Warsaw...
  • David Boder: [In German] Tell it in German. What kind of children were they?
  • Lena Kuechler: [In German] These were children from a cloister...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...named for Andrew Bobol. [In Polish] A cloister named for Saint Andrew Bobol.
  • David Boder: Oh. [In Russian] And what did you call the children?
  • Lena Kuechler: And the children afterwards were called the 'Bobols.'
  • David Boder: Aha. Angelo Bobol.
  • Lena Kuechler: Saint Andrew Bobol. These children....While in Warsaw I found out by accident, from [about?] a certain doctor, that...that he had found some circumcized children, small children, in a certain cloister of Bobol, that it is supposed to be in the vicinity of Zakopane. However, I could not [get in touch] with this man. I could not find out who the doctor was, who said it, and where it is. I began to search for these children on my own. I went to the deacon of the church and tried to find out where in this vicinity there might be [located] an institution or cloister named after Saint Andrew Bobol. But the deacon did not tell me anything. He said he does not know. I do not know if he did not want to tell me or really did not know. In spite of that, I began to go around to all the cloisters, to all the children's homes near Zakopane, and in Zakopane itself, and in the vicinity...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...and tried to find out where there might be such an institution. And in the end I fell upon the track of such an institution. And I went there. Although I did not know any details, I told them that I had found out that here were Jewish children. These people at first did not want to admit it, but finally I was told, 'Yes, there may be here two, three small boys who had come from the Jewish ghetto.' I was told that the children were...when the ghetto was being liquidated, when the ghetto was burning, these children were found on the street. They were tiny children, infants, in a [swaddle] pillow, and these children were carried out in a rucksack, in a knapsack...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...out of the ghetto by policemen and handed over to the Budlen Institution. That was foundlings' home [Cradle] named after Father Budlen in Warsaw. And there, in that foundlings' home, these children were raised. These children had it very bad, because the conditions there were no good, the more so during the war. Later on, when Warsaw was being bombed, the home was evacuated and among...and these children were distributed all over the countryside. And these children were placed in a cloister, in a Catholic institution named after Saint Andrew Bobol, in Zakopane. This intitution made a terrible impression on me. Dirty [Word not clear. The word sounds like priests. If this be so, it characterizes the bitter cleavage between certain religious groups in Poland badly deepened by the Nazi occupation.], a crowd of tiny children [not all Jewish; see below], all shaven to the skin, all in striped suits, all dressed the same. When I came to these children I brought along with me pastries and candy. The mother superior permitted me to distribute the candy myself. When I appeared with the candy before the children, these children threw themselves at me with such violence, and screamed so frightfully, and one child...and cried. One child trampled on the other, and one pushed away the other that....These children pushed me completely against the wall, and the mother superior had to rescue me. And these were all children from two to five years old. Such small children. There were about eighty such small children, all in one room. I was in great dispair when I saw this. I understood that these children were badly starved, that they never see any candy, that this is perhaps the first time that they have seen any candy, and were...and that is why they threw themselves with such violence, and that these children are completely wild from hunger. I felt very sorry for these children. [Noise on the wire of children apparently playing in the yard.] I begged the mother superior to show me the Jewish children. She showed me these children. At first only three boys. I noticed that they were much smaller, [that they] looked even worse than the other children. The sister herself told me that she was very much surprised but the Jewish children were doubtlessly faring still worse than the others. Then she told me that she will not give me these children without a special permit from Wars-...the city authorities of Warsaw. In view of that, I sent a certain lady to Warsaw. I did not go myself, because I was supposed to leave in three days with all the children for France. We had very little time. But I gave her the address of some very good friends of mine who were to take care of securing the permit for the release of the children. This lady, without a moment of hesitation, left half an hour later for Warsaw. [Chuckle.] And the journey from us to Warsaw took her twenty-two hours in terrible conditions. Twenty-two hours there and twenty-two hours back. Two days she went without sleep, and she brought me the permit. Then I scraped together some money from private sources, and I loaded as many provisions as I could from my larder, and I drove over to them there with money, with provisions, and with this permit. The nuns were very surprised that it took so little time. They had not expected that I would receive the permit, because it was not so easy to get these things. And I arranged it, because I had many friends in the Polish government in Warsaw. And then they started to find objections. They argued that they will return them later, that the priest is against it, seeing that these children are converted, that they are already Catholic children, that we will again make Jews out of them, that....They resisted as much as they could. Then they told me that the children are dirty, that they will wash them first, that they will bathe them first, that they will comb them first. I, however, implored them to release these children immediately, because...and that we will already take care of these children, that we will wash and bathe them ourselves. However, I had brought so many gifts for [all] the children, so much food and money, and [together with] the permit...all that together...in the presence of all that they could not resist any more and finally returned the children to me. Then on sleds I brought the five children in my own arms. When I brought these five children and I showed these children to my children, the ones whom I had from before, all the children cried. Thus did these children look. All were barefoot, and this was in February, at the height of winter. And winter in Zakopane is very severe. None of them had shoes. None had coats. They were bund-...in rags, bundled up. The children all had colds. All were wetting themselves. All shaven to the skin, emaciated, just skin and bones. They constantly cried. They were terribly scared of everything. They were scared of a horse. They were scared of a dog. They were scared of a cat. They were completely scared of people. If something was said to them they would become hysterical, they would begin to scream in terror. They absolutely did not know what meat was. They had never in their lives eaten meat. They did not know what chocolate was. They did not know what candy was. They had never had anything sweet in their mouths. They did not even know how to eat these things. They only had been fed potatoes, and occasionally some mush, and black coffee. These children were two, three years old and had never been out on the street, did not go out at all, because they had no clothes, and in Zakopane the winter lasts a long time. The children were completely wild. I did not even believe that anything would become of these children. I assumed that....There were three boys and two girls. Besides that, they had scrofula and...and were sick. I feared that they would not thrive, that at least two, three would die on me. My children as well as all of us surrounded these children with utmost care. The children brought them everything they had. Apples, chocolate -- they gave them all their food. Immediately we named them the 'Bobols.' They amused them, danced, sang to them, rocked them, carried them on their hands. Everybody carried these children [around]. Unfortunately we had very little time to give these children the proper care, because we had at once to prepare for the journey to France. And this journey was very difficult and took three weeks, from Zakopane to Paris, because we crossed the Polish border illegally. And altogether we were struggling with various difficulties. [However,] these children are now no less enchanting. It is a pity....I could prove with pictures of these children....These children are chubby. One of the boys, when he came to me, weighed seven kilos. Now he weighs fifteen kilos. They are very intelligent children, very clever, and very beautiful. Everyone who comes here wants to take them from me, but I cannot give up these children. I am especially devoted [to them], and we all are devoted [to them]. These children are as if they belonged to us. They belong to the entire Jewish people. I believe that their place is in Palestine.
  • David Boder: [Adjusting the equipment.] You were talking about Palestine. Go on.
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. These children are developing beautifully with us. There are still some old maladies with which we must...which we have to liquidate here. For instance, two girls are now in a hospital. One has weak eyes, and the other one has scabs. This is the only case and a very severe one.
  • David Boder: In the hair?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Lena Kuechler: All her hair is coming out. And the boys which we have here, three boys, are thriving beautifully. Two of them are most intelligent. They are thriving beautifully. They are very handsome, and have gained very much weight, and are thriving wonderfully. Such is the history of our five children named the 'Bobols.' All of us love them very much. They are our youngest children. And they are literally our children. All these children call me mama. Although they have no conception of the word mother, still they feel that I love them very much. All in all, they have it good with us. We spoil them. They are a little spoiled, but we cannot resist their charm. All the other children feel a close attachement [to them]. They saw how these children looked once and how they look now. We observe them every day, how beautifully they are thriving with us, and that is why we are so attached to them. This is the story of five children, but each and every one of our children has such a tragic story. Each girl, each boy, every one of them has gone through all of hell. One could write volumes full and not [just] one interview in order to write the full story of the children.
  • David Boder: What plans do you have for these children? When do you think will it be possible to take them over...take them over to Palestine?
  • Lena Kuechler: Yes. All of us would like very much to go to Palestine. And it is our deep desire that all of us continue staying together, because we comprise one family. This is not a [children's] home, this is not an institution. This is one family. My feelings toward these children, toward all these children, is the same as the feeling of a mother toward her own born children. Maybe even...even deeper. I protect these children, and I will go on protecting them as long as they will be with me. Always. But I would like to be ...remain with them for ever. [Chuckle.] I would like to see them get married, to have already my own 'grand-children.' I do not have a family of my own. I have nobody here. I have only one brother who remained in Poland, but who has his own ideological work. He is a communist, but I am not. I am a Zionist. We differ in views. My entire family are these children here and this house. I would not like to be separated from them any more. The children among themselves are also very close. They love each other very much. They live like brothers and sisters. The older children pamper and play with the younger children. For instance, when we went once on an excursion to the beach and we had to walk several kilometers, the children begged that these tots, the 'Bobols,' who could not go on foot, be also taken along, so they should not remain home alone...
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Lena Kuechler: ...so they should not cry, that they will carry them. And each older boy and girl took a small child on the back. And such a procession passed through the streets [chuckle] of a small French town. People saw it and laughed. This is very moving, because it shows how close the older children are to the young, how very much they love them. Not one proof have we had which showed us that the feeling of solidarity...and mutual attachment is very strong in our children, that they all love one another very much. If sometimes they do quarrel among themselves, it is the same as a quarrel of a brother and a sister. Because this happens even in one's own family. We desire to live in Palestine. All the children desire that, and we, too, and I most of all. We have enough of wandering, enough of roaming. We do not want to be insulted any more with the name of Jew. We want to be proud of it, and we are proud of it, that we are Jews. We want to live in our own country, on our own land. We want to be citizens of our own country. We want to develop free and unimpeded. It is not important to us that the living conditions there are harder than, for instance, in France. It is not important to us that it is very difficult there now, that there is now a battle going on. We want to fight for our father-land, for our country. We long to be on our own land. We lost everything. We have no family. We have no parents. We have no children. We have no wives. The children have no parents. We long to have our own land. This is for us...our aim. The children are learning a lot of Hebrew, because they know this is their native language. And all dream about getting to Palestine. I requested that certificates be allotted to us as soon as possible. We would not want to get to Palestine by an illegal route, and we cannot that way [illegally], because we have tiny children with us with whom we cannot risk to be taken to concentration camps. Because these children have gone through enough already, and these children are none too healthy. And therefore we would like to obtain certificates. We were promised certificates as soon as possible. Unfortunately this does not depend on us but on the political situation. When the certificates will be available I hope that our party will be among the first.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Lena Kuechler: I would also like to emphasize that all my children are full orphans. There are only a few children who have found a mother or a father, but this father is either in Shanghai...
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 115 taken at Bellevue. An interview with Miss Lena Kuechler, in charge of a group of children which are about sixty [in number], which were taken out from Poland by her and some ten collaborators, and are now awaiting certification to go to Palestine. The children are from the age of three to fifteen. This concludes Spool 115, an Illinois Institute of Technology wire [recording].
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription (German) : S. Peters, P. Gaensicke
  • Transcription (Polish) : M. Holiday, I. Laskawiec
  • Transcription (Russian) :
  • English Translation : David P. Boder