Aferiat, Sophia (Spiwak)
Slomniki (Poland), Krakow, Montelupich
Mrs. Sophia Aferiat was born in Slomniki, a little town, near Krakow, Poland in 1936. She was the sixth of seven children raised in an orthodox family. Her father sold milk.
Mrs. Aferiat was four years old when the Germans entered her city and began taking the Jews away in trucks. She, with her mother and two siblings, escaped into a field. Her mother left her sisters with a farmer and Mrs. Aferiat went with her mother to Krakow. Her brothers, Avram and Vrumek were left at home, were shot and killed by the Nazis. She didn’t know their ages and no photographs remain.
A farmer put her sister Esther and sister Helena on a train and they were never seen again. Her older sister, Atola, was caught by the Germans and put on a train and shipped to Auschwitz.
Her father died in 1940 of a strep throat. The farmer kept Mrs. Aferiat in a barn where her mother would wash her and her clothes. They were there for a few months.
Next Mrs. Aferiat and her mother lived in the ghetto with thirteen people in one room. Her mother could get out and find bread because she looked Gentile. Eventually they escaped and slept under a bridge but were caught and returned. In 1943, the Ghetto was liquidated. Again, she escaped with her mother and now hid in an attic. Next they were sent to Montelupich in the Krakow labor camp, where her mother sewed bags for potatoes. They were given dirty watery soup to eat.
One night, Mrs. Aferiat saw a piece of cake on the table. The Germans said that she could have it if she admitted being Jewish. She didn’t and went back to the cellar.
Her mother had a Polish ID card with the Polish name of Pikarska. She eventually sold the card. Her mother’s hair turned white overnight when she heard that her two sons had been killed. They showered once a week and then were sent on a thirty mile walk. Mrs. Aferiat asked a German for a cigarette and sold it for a piece of bread. She was then six years old, hungry and cold.
All the Jews, including eighteen children from Montelupich were put on trucks to Plaszow Concentration Camp. It was closed by then, and Mrs. Aferiat and her mother were trucked back to Montelupich after her mother said that they were Polish. Many of the others were shot while entering the trucks.
Eventually they were freed, but had no home nor money. They wandered from house to house until an old man took them in. When the Russians arrived, they gave Mrs. Aferiat a piece of bread, which represented freedom. They stayed for a few months.
Through the Red Cross, one of her sisters was found in 1946. She went back to her hometown, which was now all Gentiles. Mrs. Aferiat said she was robbed of her childhood and is frightened of her nightmares.
Mrs. Aferiat’s sister became Polish and Mrs. Aferiat went to Israel by herself where she met her husband. She married and had one child on a Kibbutz. Her sister died of cancer at the age of thirty-nine, leaving both her children for their mother to care for. Shortly afterward, her mother died as well. They are both buried in a Polish cemetery. Mrs. Aferiat visits their graves with crosses on them every few years.
Mrs. Aferiat came to the United States in 1966. Her child was then seven. She began to work in a factory for her second cousin and went to hairdressing school where she met her second husband, a Lebanese Arab hairdresser. They opened a shop called JewRab. She has sent her son to the best schools and he has graduated from Columbia University.
During the war, one of her sisters (the surviving one), jumped from the train and was taken in by a farmer. She was seventeen and beautiful, thirteen years older than Mrs. Aferiat. She raised her children Polish Catholic and they don’t want to hear about their background.
Mrs. Aferiat said that on the Jewish holidays, she’s heartbroken. When she went to Majdanek many years after the war and saw the ovens at Majdanek, she cried and said “that could be her family.”
Interviewer: Rene Lichtman