Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Home Sweet Hayarkon Street

December 13, 2008, evening.

After a full and thrilling day, I had one more stop to make. I learned that after my father was hired by a construction company in Israel, we moved from the Jaffa rooftop to an apartment on the beach in Tel Aviv. Uncle Ziggy and my grandparents continued to live on the roof.

My newly discovered cousin, Moishe Halperin, drew me a map to where the apartment had been. (Moishe's memory is incredible, only surpassed by his warmth.)

The cab drove me around the dark blocks til we found it. Deserted and out-of-place in its setting, the house sat just behind the US Embassy. Moishe remembered that the wood floors had beautiful rosette inlays. I strained for a whiff of memory - high ceilings? fresh flowers?

Afterward, I walked the easy distance to the wide beach. I took in the distinctive smell of the Mediterranean, the soft tan sand, the slow black waves rolling in. Here was where Peter the Giant Schnauzer vanished. Here was where my parents walked every day with him, then without him. Here was where I played and began my ife-long romance with salt water.

I struggled with the urge to take off my clothes and plunge in, settling instead for a handful of sand to take back with me.

Yoram weighs in:
Dear Roma

It's always a pleasure to hear from you and follow your amazing quest. I know this house in Hayarkon St. - it is very special... Everything here is back to normal (till next time.)

I know the house in Hayarkon St. only from the outside, since I have passed there many times. Actually I spent long hours in this neighborhood looking for a building shown in the background of a picture of my Grandparents (he was Kammerman from Przemysl). The picture was taken in 1947 near "your" house (it is number 88) and near "London Garden" of Moishe's sketch.

Read you last post in David's Blog - very inspiring. Looking forward reading and seeing you again.
Dear Yoram,
Great to hear from you. I'm glad everyone is a bit safer there. What more do you know about the history of the house on Hayarkon? We were there in '51. I'd love to hear about it. Moishe only remembered that we lived on the 2nd floor (and the highly decorated floors).

I feel a strange pull to go back...

love, Roma

Monday, February 9, 2009

David Wajnapel - and my father?

I met with David Wajnapel's son Stanley yesterday. David was an inmate doctor at Blizyn and Auschwitz concentration camps and lost his whole family in his home town of Radom. After surviving the Gleiwitz death march, he ended up in the Stuttgart Displaced Persons camp (where Stanley was born), and was hired by the JDC as Chief Doctor for all the DP camps in Wittenberg and Baden.

Here's a portion of David's IMT Nuremberg testimony from the invaluable H.E.A.R.T. Holocaust Research site:
On 21st March 1943, there took place throughout the whole district the so-called 'action against the intelligentsia', which action, as I know, was decided upon in an SS and Police Leaders' meeting in Radom. In Radom alone about 200 people were shot at that time; among others, my parents, my brother and his nine-month-old child met their deaths.

On 9th November of the same year all Jewish children up to 12 years of age as well as the old and sick were gathered from Radom and from camps situated near Radom, and shot in the Biala Street in Radom. Both SS officers and other ranks participatedin this. From March 1943, I stayed 18 months in Blizyn Camp.

Drawing by David Wajnapel

The camp was entirely under the SS and the Radom Police Chief's control. Its commandant was Untersturmf├╝hrer Paul Nell. The guards were composed of SS privates and non- commissioned officers. The foremen were Waffen-SS-men who had been wounded at the front. Both behaved in an inhuman manner by beating and ill-treating us. Shootings of people were frequent occurrences.

Originally sentences were passed by the SS and Police Leader, later on by the camp commandant. The SS other ranks knew very well about the bloody deeds which were committed by the SS in Poland, in particular they told me personally about mass murders of Jews in Majdanek (Aktion Erntefest), in November 1943). This fact was no secret. It was common knowledge among the civil population as well as among the lowest-ranking SS men.

When the camp was taken over by the Majdanek concentration camp, new guards were sent to our camp, but there was no difference between them and the previous ones. In July 1944, the whole camp, including myself, was sent to Auschwitz camp, which could be entered only by SS-men. The conditions of this camp are well known. I escaped during the evacuation of this camp into Germany. On the way, the SS escort machine gunned exhausted prisoners and later on the rest of the marching column. Several hundred people were killed at that time.

David's son, Dr. Stanley Wainapel, now Director of Rehabilitative Medicine at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, kindly gave me a copy of his father's book, "From Death Row to Freedom," which I read last night.

I had discovered a few weeks ago that David Wajnapel was a close friend of one of my father's closest friends, Stan Fraydas, who was born in Radom. My father and Stan were close before the war, and saw each other regularly into the 1980's. Similarly, David and Stan saw each other in New York for many years.

L to R: Mary, Miriam Fraydas, Stan Fraydas, John and Roma

David Wajnapel died in 1988, so I contacted David's son to find out -- did David also know my father? How, when and where might they have met? So far as I knew my father never lived in Radom, and had not been in those camps.

The book provided a plausible answer. In about 1925 David Wajnapel went to Warsaw, where my father was living, to go to Warsaw Medical School, and stayed there for about 6 years. For David, those years were 18-24, and for my father, 16-22. In the last chapter of the book, David mentions with gratitude the kindness of old friends rediscovered in New York City when he arrived in 1948. One of those friends was Stan Fraydas, not named, but described clearly. Stan, David states, was actually a distant relative, and had been his friend and roommate in Warsaw when David was a medical student.

From some of the stories from that period David recounts, women figured prominently in his life-style. Jakub Cytryn fit right in.