“Dad looked out of the window and said that finally the Germans will lose and Hitler will die, but we will hear of it only when it will be shouted 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, to where she was sent, 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 of those who were sent on these trains, sent a letter or gave a sign of life, it means that they are all dead. In what way, how – I do not know.” These words along with letters from her friends, who described the shipments and hunger, combined with the rumors in the Jewish community, brought Reiza to the understanding that the meaning of the German occupation is death to Jews everywhere. She decided that if she is doomed to die, she will 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 that wrote a commentary on the “Zohar”. When the Nazis reached Krakow Shoshana and her family fled to a small town, Kosice, considered safer. Shoshana as a graduate from “Beth Jacob Seminary” managed a small school. As she was determined to become a fighter she went back to Krakow with her family blessing and the aid of one of her former students. She was astonished to find her beloved hometown; the beautiful open city has turned into a ghetto surrounded by a wall.
Reiza joined the Jewish resistance in the ghetto, HeHalutz HaLohem (“The Fighting Pioneer”) and her main 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 in drinking.
Reiza was responsible for gathering the fighters after the attack and leading them to a secret meeting place. They never got there as they were given away by two of their own members who became squealers, and the place was raided by the Gestapo. Twelve people were taken to “Pomorska”, the Gestapo headquarters, later to be sent to Ontlopi prison, which was notorious for its conditions. The Germans interrogated her repeatedly why was she hooked up with Jews since she is Christian and did not accept her explanations that she was Jewish. She tried to convince them that she was Jewish in hope to be sent to the camp where her family members were. After a rough questioning, she was transferred, along with four other political prisoners to Auschwitz, where she stayed till the liberation.
Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets in 27.1.1945. The date became an international Memorial Day for the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews were murdered, along with 33 million civilians, and 24 million soldiers. The day after her release, thirty-four years later, Rieza celebrated the birth of her eldest grandchild. Her revenge over the Germans was by raising a family. Only one thing she could do: she had no graves to yell into to tell her father that Hitler is 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.