Gilbert (Zaks), Tola
Sosnowiec (Poland), Parsnitz, Oberaltstadt
Gilbert was born in a town called Sosnowiec in Poland. She remembers life in pre-war Poland as happy and contented although she states there was considerable anti-Semitism. Her parents ran a successful food importing shop and the family was very comfortable financially. She was active in Ha-No’ar ha-Ziyyoni and states that as conditions worsened in Poland, many of her friends became more active in Zionist organizations.
On September 4, 1939, the Germans entered Sosnowiec and Gilbert’s family tried to escape by taking a train to a neighboring town. The train was slow and Gilbert’s younger brother decided to stay with an uncle in Sosnowiec. That night he was killed by the Germans who ordered all males out of their homes, took them to a neighboring field, and threw hand grenades at them.
The rest of the family soon returned home as they found life no better in the surrounding countryside. She remained with her parents in the family home which was now forced to accommodate several additional families. Her father retained ownership of his store but received no money as everything was turned over to the Jewish community for distribution.
In August, 1942, the Germans ordered all Jews to report to a large soccer field to have their cards stamped. They were detained for two days and sorted into groups for deportation, return to the ghetto, or immediate extermination. Gilbert was taken to a temporary camp and from there was sent to labor camp in Parsnitz where she remained for 6 to 7 months. In February, 1943, she was transferred to another labor camp at Oberaltstadt in the Sudetenland. Her sister was there and Gilbert states that the food and physical abuse became much worse when Oberaltstadt became a concentration camp in 1943. She worked for the Kluger factory sewing sacks for use in Germany. Gilbert’s youngest sister, then nine years old, was sent to Oberaltstadt and the three sisters remained together until liberation.
Gilbert especially remembers the appeals and being forced to lie face down in the snow for long periods of time. She worked a twelve-hour shift in the factory and then came back to camp and worked in the kitchen cleaning barracks and unloading supply trucks.
On May 9, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Russian Army. Gilbert and her sisters eventually made their way home to Sosnowiec. While traveling she remembers hearing Poles express dismay at the fact that so many Jews had survived the war. Gilbert stated that she soon realized there was nothing left for her in Poland and she traveled to Germany where she stayed in various displaced persons camps until entering the United States in 1949.
Gilbert was initially quite suspicious, stating that she was unsure of her feelings regarding the Holocaust Memorial Center and further felt that she had little to tell in comparison with other survivors. She related that she has tried to tell her children about her past but they find it too painful to hear.
Date: July 25, 1983
Format: Audio recording