“Dad looked out of the window and said that the Germans will finally lose and Hitler will die, but we will hear of it only when someone shouts it into our graves. And now I sit here, in Auschwitz, in my block. The Russians are knocking at the gates.” The memories of Reiza (Shoshana) Klingberg, later Cohen, who was my mother-in-law. She survived Auschwitz, where she stayed, not because of being Jewish.
In 1942, her father said: “The Jews are suffering so much, yet they usually know to get along so well that if no one on these trains sent a letter or gave a sign of life, they are all dead. In what way, how – I do not know.” His words, along with letters from her friends, describing the shipments and hunger, combined with the rumors in the Jewish community, brought Reiza to the understanding that the meaning of the German occupation was death to Jews everywhere. She decided that if she is doomed to die, she would die a fighter, brave and worthy.
She didn’t belong to any Jewish organization. On the contrary, she came from an orthodox Hassidic home. Her grandfather was Shem Klingberg, Kabbalist and Admor of Zaloshitz, a mastermind in the Kabbalah who wrote a commentary on the “Zohar.” When the Nazis reached Krakow, Shoshana and her family fled to a small town, Kosice, considered safer. As a graduate of “Beth Jacob Seminary” Shoshana managed a small school. As she was determined to become a fighter, she went back to Krakow with her family’s blessing and the aid of one of her former students. She was astonished to find her beloved hometown; the beautiful open city had become a ghetto surrounded by a wall.
Reiza joined the Jewish resistance in the ghetto, HeHalutz HaLohem (“The Fighting Pioneer”), and her primary role was as a contact woman to the operations officer Abraham Leibovitz named Laban. She faked an ID by the name Maria Kalina and her “Aryan” appearance: blonde, tall and erect, with blue eyes, legitimized her and helped her in her going in and out of the ghetto while smuggling information, food, and even people. The height of the underground activities was on 22 December 1942, as they conducted multiple attacks on the Nazis. The most famous is the attack performed at “Ziganeria” coffeehouse, where the Nazi officers loved to spend their time drinking.
Reiza was responsible for gathering the fighters after the attack and leading them to a secret meeting place. They never got there as two of their members, who became squealers, gave them away, and the Gestapo raided the site. Twelve people were captured and taken to “Pomorska,” the Gestapo headquarters, and later transferred to Ontlopi prison, notorious for its conditions. The Germans interrogated her repeatedly about her hooking up with Jews since she is Christian. They did not accept her explanations that she was Jewish. She tried to convince them that she was Jewish in the hope of being sent to the camp where her family members were. After a harsh questioning, she was transferred, along with four other political prisoners, to Auschwitz, where she stayed till the liberation.
The Soviets liberated the Auschwitz camp on 27.1.1945. A date that became an International Memorial Day for the Holocaust. The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews alongside 33 million civilians and 24 million soldiers. The day after her release, thirty-four years later, Rieza celebrated the birth of her eldest grandchild. She completed her victory over the Nazis by raising a family, though she did not have any graves to yell into to tell her father that Hitler was dead and Nazi Germany lost the war.
The last word: “So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” Deuteronomy, 30:19.