Jerome, Lola Sara Strochlitz
Czeladź, Poland; Parschnitz, Czechoslovakia; Będzin, Poland; Munich, Germany
Lola Sara Strochlitz was born in Czeladź, Poland on November 10, 1925 to Chil and Ruchel Strochlitz. She came from a happy, close, religious family and was the middle child of five children – Hershel, Regina, Lola, Matel, and Itcha – the only one that survived the Holocaust. Her father was a businessman and sold feed for cows and horses.
On September 3, 1939, the Germans came to Poland and right away they were looking for the Jews. Ruchel, the three girls, and their youngest brother were sent to one room in the ghetto. “If you were outside on the street and they noticed you, right away they took you out and sent you away to places that they were killing and hanging Jews. They gave us yellow stars to wear on our clothing.
“My oldest brother Hershel left for Romania because ‘I don’t want Hitler to kill me.’ My mother received a postcard from him, saying that he found a Jewish family that was poor with a few kids. They took him in and he was chopping wood for them so they had heat in the house. After the war came, I didn’t know anymore what happened to him and he didn’t know what happened to me. Maybe hopefully he survived.
“My dad was sent away to a camp; he went to feed the horse and he never came home.” Chil Strochlitz and his cousin Efraim Strochlitz were both in Buchenwald concentration camp; Chil did not survive.
On February 15, 1940, “Two German men came to our house and they chose me from the children. They grabbed me by my shoulder and said, ‘You come with us.’ and my mother started to cry, ‘Where are you taking her?’ They pushed her away and wouldn’t tell her. She was afraid of what they were going to do with me; and it was bashert I am here. Nobody survived from my family. I believe in bashert, if it is meant to be it’s going to happen.”
“There were about 150 girls, 30-35 from my city; the rest from Będzin. Some of them were my girlfriends, including Fela Schichter, Fella Gliatman, Regina (Anesman) Gitler, and Fella Anismann. They took us on a cattle train for hours and hours, through the night. We were tired and cold and hungry and there is nobody that feels sorry for us. They brought us to a camp in the Sudeten Mountains 300 km away, in Parschnitz, Czechoslovakia.” The camp was located in the Aloys Haase factory, was a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen, and was one of the first camps before Auschwitz.
“It was an old factory and they fixed it up with bunkbeds, tables, and chairs. Downstairs they fixed up a kitchen. At 4:30 in the morning, the lagerführerin (the camp leader, Else Hawlik), came in; ‘Girls, get up! It’s time to get up, 4:30.’ Dress, wash up, and then go down, stay in the line and wait for your lunch so you can take it with you to work, There was soup, more water than anything else; they didn’t bother to wash the potatoes, just cut them up the way they were with the dirt; and a slice of dark bread, like clay…. We walked five kilometers one way to the factory; and another 5 kilometers back to the camp. The factory was a wollspinnerei, where we made spools of thread. It was a big machine, wet and smelly. My hands got so ruined because there was no cream to put on them. Every girl had a machine and I took care of my machine. The spools were rolling and rolling and when a thread broke, you had to fix it. That was going on and on and on, day in and day out, for 4 ½ years. The Germans were always watching if the Jewish girls are doing a good job or trying to just sneak away…. We wondered if we are ever going to come out from here.
“Compared to other places, I was lucky. Not just that I survived, but that the lagerführerin saved my life. That was a miracle really. Sometimes you think they are all our enemies and you always find a good person…. When I was growing up at home, every child had to have a profession, and I learned to be a dressmaker. I did such a good job sewing by hand that when people asked ‘where did you get a machine,’ I said ‘my hands were the machine.’ We would have Sundays off and you could sew…. I had a pair of silver Singer scissors, that I still have. One day, the scissors fell down on my foot and it started to swell up. The camp doctor, Abba Abush, was a Jewish man from Będzin, and he knew that I was Jewish; we were talking Yiddish. And he says, ‘I will take care of you.’ There was no medication. All they had was a tube of black gel, Ichthyol, that was used for everything no matter how sick you were. It did nothing, so, I developed blood poison. That’s all I needed.
“They put me in the little hospital with a few beds. The doctor cut the wound open. There was no thread to put stitches in; he just left it open and wrapped it up with a little gauze. I was limping around and I was jumping on one foot…. But I was in real danger because every three weeks the Germans came to check whoever was sick. After three weeks, if you won’t be able to go back to work, they send you away to Auschwitz. So, I was in really bad shape.
“The lagerführerin was like an angel to me, like bashert for me to survive. This German lady, beautiful woman, elegant, from 150 girls, somehow, she took a liking to me. I thought what does she see in me? But, if she likes me, that’s good. She lived in a beautiful home in the backyard of the old factory. Every Sunday, it was her holiday, but she came into the kitchen and was watching if everything is okay and was the one giving out the soup with a piece of bread. If the soup was too thin, she made them put more to make it thicker. The bread was like glue; it doesn’t look like there is any flour in this bread, but you get used to it and when you are hungry you will eat anything…. Sunday was a little different, a little better. There were mashed potatoes; there was a vegetable.
“It was the third week and I was lying in bed on a little straw mattress in this hospital. She comes and tells me, ‘Lola, they are coming in again to check.’ And she changed the date. Instead of three weeks, she changed the time on my chart to the first week. Can you imagine? She took a risk of her life because they would say ‘How come you are here and trying to be so nice to the Jews?’ And she took a chance with her life to save me. I said my god, this is not normal somehow; a German woman should be so nice to me. So, she took on her all that to save me. I just couldn’t believe it. And that was special for me that I survived the camp.
“I was jumping around for a long, long time. It was already close to a year and I was still limping. I was afraid that limp shouldn’t just stay with me forever, but after a year or year and a half it started getting better.” At the same time, Lola kept walking from the camp to the factory and back, 5 kilometers each way with a bad foot. “There was a long lane of 150 or more girls, but there were four of us; me, my girlfriend, and two more girls that made one row. I was tired, jumping on one foot, and skinny and worn out, and they felt sorry for me, so they said, ‘Lola, you hold onto two of us and we are going to try to walk so you don’t have to use your foot.’ Like they were going to drag me, they are going to carry me, unreal.
“The Red Army came and the war ended on May 9, 1945. As young girls, we were hiding underneath the bed because we were a little afraid of the Russians, but they came in and played the harmonica and danced. They were good guys. They brought us food, after all these years of hunger, we were afraid to eat because our stomachs were so empty.
“We were told we could leave the camp. But where do you go; a few hundred miles from where you came from, with no transportation, no nothing. Every place was bombarded by the Germans.” Until her mother was sent away to Auschwitz in 1943, “She was allowed to send me a postcard once a month and I was allowed to give her an answer once a month. After that, we never got mail from anybody, nothing, so we never knew who survived and who didn’t. I wanted to go home to Poland and see if maybe somebody from my family, my relatives survived.
“I was afraid, I was still young, so I went with a friend of mine from the camp, Fela Schichter; we got so close it felt like two sisters. The Russians offered us a ride to come with them. They used their horse and buggy, however, we did not know where we are going and where they would be taking us. But we wanted to go back to the place we lived. And we were hoping that somebody from my family survived. It wasn’t easy to get there. But we made it there a little by street car and a lot of walking. We were tired like the dogs, but we did not give up until we got to Czeladź and found out nobody survived. Not one Jew. I am the only one…. I heard that they burned down the shul. That’s what they were waiting for – to get rid of the Jews and there should be no sign they existed down there.
“The Poles were very anti-Semitic to us Jews. I know we don’t have too many good friends, but they were very bad. And they were happy to see us taken to the camps and the Jews died and they were very happy with that…. When I came back, we went to the building where we lived all those years, where most of the kids were born, where the kids grew up. They wouldn’t recognize me because it has been so many years and I was skin and bone. I introduced myself. I said that we lived here. We were five children; we all grew up here. Maybe you won’t recognize me now, but I know who you are…. So, I knock on the door and I’m coming in. I start to cry because I had lived there all these years and I remembered my parents, my family. I remembered that Cherska was their name. And I say, ‘You know who I am and that we lived here all these years. Do you remember my parents and the rest of the family? And nobody survived.’ You know what she told me? ‘If nobody survived, how come you’re still here?’ Imagine that was my greeting from our good friends…. When she said ‘what are you doing here,’ I took the glass of milk she had given me and smashed it on the wall and ran out, left the door open, and cried so much. You lived with them all of your life, and that’s how they hate us. That’s the hatred they show like this.
“We decided to go to Będzin, a Jewish city before the war; there was about 75% Jews. It was 3 kilometers. There were no cars, so you walked, no matter how far it was. So, we went to Będzin and it was a kibbutz. The windows were open, and we could hear the Jewish girls and boys singing the Hebrew songs. Oh my god, it looks so nice and familiar, but we are not here to stay.”
After being liberated from their respective camps, Lola met up with her relatives – first cousins Lola Gutkind and Lola Cukierman and Aunt Rose Kawon, her mother’s sister – who were slave labor at Gebruder Walzel textile factory, another Parschnitz sub-camp. Lola Strochlitz lived with her Aunt Rose and Rose’s husband Ted Burstyn in Munich, Germany. They introduced her to a faraway relative, Itcha Jerosolimski. Itcha was also a survivor, the only survivor from five kids, and had moved to Freising, Germany after the war. Lola and Itcha married September 3, 1946.
Their relatives, the Burstyns (Sam and Frances), had come to Canada in 1938, with their family and bought a farm in Essex, where they grew wheat and corn, and made dill pickles. “Like my aunt used to say, Canada is a goldene medina, but you have to work really hard to make a living.” The Burstyns sponsored Lola and Itcha (Irven) who, with Rose and Ted Burstyn, went on the same ship to Canada. Lola and Irven changed their name to Jerome when they came into Canada. They raised their five sons there – Martin, Harry, Leonard, Raymond, and Allan.
For a few years, Lola had nightmares every night, “like the Germans are chasing me, and I am running; but in your dream, when you run, you stay in one place, like they’re coming closer and closer, and you just don’t move somehow. And then I’m waking up, so scary, you think it’s just still happening…. I was very, very sad and very upset for all those years. But what are you going to do? Life goes on and I knew if I’m going to take it real hard, get myself sick, I won’t bring them back…. Then when you have a family, you concentrate on your family, you’re busy and they’re growing up and sending them to school and making five lunched in the morning, I was a busy lady.”
Lola has eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. She is one of the last living witnesses. “I am thankful to God that I’m here to tell my story, so the young generation should know what happened and that it should never happen again, never again. Nobody should go through the horror and all the hardship we went through, nobody…. I just believe that it is meant to be, because this is really something that I got to spend some time in here and tell some of my stories.”
Date of Interview: November 10, 2016
Length of Interview: 66:46 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus