I KNOW THAT GOD SAVED ME
Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Artur Dreifinger – a Jew saved in Poland during the war occupation
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - What do you remember about the war the most?
ARTURO DREIFINGER: - When I was seven years old, the Warsaw uprising broke out. After its failure, when Warsaw got bombarded, I was hiding with my mum in a cellar. Suddenly the Germans appeared and rushed us away onto streets. Children under 10 were supposed to stand outside and children over 10 were to turn round to the wall. Their fathers too. After a second all those men and boys were shot dead.
Did you have any brothers or sisters?
No. It was only me and my mum from whom I was separated. That day I was alone in the world. From death place where people had been shot dead, I was taken to the Red Cross organization whose headquarter was two hundred meters further. From there somebody put me into a car and took away to Italy nearby Warsaw. I was left there alone. I did not know where to go, I had nothing to eat. It was night. I was sitting on the street and crying. One person passed by me, then another one and were asking me why I was crying. I did not know what to say, and I was saying that I had no mother, that I had lost her, that I was alone and had nowhere to go. Some people took me their home. I had a chubby face and it was helpful to me, as people were often afraid to take skinny children their home for fear of illnesses. I was at that home maybe one day and the next day I was taken another home. I was told: ‘Tadzik, you must go now’. I used to ask: Why?, not understanding anything.
What did people answer you?
‘You know why’ – they were saying. They were afraid to say straightforward: ‘Because you are a Jew’. And it was how I was going home from home. I heard various things, like: ‘When you do not go from here, we will be killed, me, my wife, children – and you. You must go. And do not tell anyone that you were here. You have some underwear, some food and go’. And it was so every night, every day. One day somebody took me to Pruszków. I felt well there and was treated like a son. I was taken from there to Częstochowa.
And was it when you met Fr. Marchewka?
Yes, but not at once. When I arrived, I was awaited by: a man who was about 30 years old, a woman and a little girl, maybe at my age. The woman, with whom I arrived, gave me to that man and went away without a word. And we went home. At home there was another boy at my age. Next morning a priest arrived at that home, and, as it turned out later, it was Fr. Antoni Marchewka. ‘You are Tadzik, aren’t you?’ – he asked.
Yes. My name was changed. At the time of the war occupation my mum decided that my name would be Tadeusz Stenawka.
The priest took me to a small room where he lived. There was one bed, a toilet, a ladder and a table. The priest told me not to go out into the street or to the balcony. So, I was sitting inside for the whole day, waiting for him. The priest used to leave home in the morning and come back in the evening. One day he took me to the church. Since then I used to go with him there every day. One day he gave me a white gown – surplice which was needed when it was necessary to use incense.
- But you did not stay longer at Fr. Marchewka…
- No. A day came when the priest told me: ‘Tadzik, we must go’. I remember that morning even now. It was still dark, it was raining and there were no people in the street. We went to Cracow. The priest took me to a big house in which there were small ladders and there were a lot of children at the age of 4 – 15 years old. I was given food, but also older children came and took my food. I was very afraid then….In the gate the priest told me to pray every day to God. I know that God saved me. The priest took me hand and kissed it. He was crying. He left me with those children and went away. I had never seen him again.
- Your stay in Cracow turned out to be beneficial, as your mother found you there….
- Yes. I lived in that house for about 10 – 15 days, I do not remember exactly. One day I heard my surname: ‘Stenawka, Stenawka’. I was taken with other three boys to another orphanage near Cracow. I was there till the end of the war. I was planting potatoes when I heard somebody shouting that the war had ended. I thought: what does it mean that the war ended? What will happen to me now, what will I do, where will I go?
Big Russian tanks arrived and every day somebody of Russian officers came to the orphanage to adopt a child. He only wrote on a small piece of paper where he lived and what his name was and went away with a child. Some people wanted to adopt me twice or three times, but I did not want to. I said that I wanted to live in the orphanage, although it was not easy life, we ate only black bread and sometimes a little white cheese.
Finally, the memorable day came. The girl who was guarding us, called: ‘Tadzik, come here, somebody is asking about you’. Who can ask about me? – I was wondering. After all I was alone, without my father or mother…I was afraid to go, I only thought that somebody wanted to adopt me. But she came to me again, saying: ‘Tadzik, somebody wants to see you’. I followed her and saw a young woman. I was looking at her, asking myself, who that woman was. When she came up to me, I wanted to run away. But that woman called: ‘Artuś!’ I felt strange, but it sounded in my head that my name was Tadzik. She took my hand, kissing it, and said: ‘You remember? It is me!’. I did not remember and I did not want to recall it. I was afraid. Only when did I touch her head, hair with my face, I smelled our home…It was my mother! I was shocked.
Where did you go with your mother then?
To Praque. My mum used to write letters to Russia every night, as my father was in the Russian army. She sent 100 letters to various towns. After some time our father arrived, having escaped from Russia. I do not remember how long we were in Praque. Later we left for Paris. My mum had her brother in Argentina who had been there since 1927. He invited us there, bought us tickets for ship cruise. From Bordeuax we sailed to Brazil. Some people there wanted us to stay there. But my mum wanted to move on to go to her brother. We flew to Argentina from Brazil by plane and then we went to Mendoza by train where I have lived till now.
Why have you arrived in Poland now?
In order to get to know the life story of Fr. Antoni Marchewka better, as well as mine. I am not the youngest any longer, my memory is getting blurred, but I would like to save those events from forgetfulness. I am preparing a book on it. I think that it will be my important testimony and it will contribute to breaking some historic stereotypes. After all, a lot of Poles put their life at risk in order to save Jews…
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 11/2018 (18 III 2018)