Klaiman (Koplowicz), Zelda
Pabianice (Poland), Lodz, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen
Klaiman, nee Koplowicz, was born in 1929 in Pabianice, Poland, a town of approximately 50,000 inhabitants about 15 kilometers southeast of Lodz. Her immediate family consisted of her parents, two younger brothers, and a grandmother. The family were conservative Jews and Klaiman attended a private Jewish school.
Although only ten years-old when Germany invaded Poland, Klaiman has vivid memories of the German army occupying her town and the restrictions and oppression that followed. She recalls distinctly how her family was forced to abandon their home on fifteen minutes notice to make it available for others being brought in the family then moved in with her grandmother. From there the family was moved to a ghetto created in her hometown of Pabianice requiring them to live in extremely crowded conditions, six to eight people in a room. In 1942 a selection process took place wherein all persons were placed in either category “A” or “B” with these letters placed on their foreheads with an indelible ink stamp. Klaiman, now 13 years old, her parents, and a younger brother were stamped “A” and shipped to the ghetto in Lodz. Her youngest brother, age 5, and her grandmother were stamped “B”. She never saw them again.
In the Lodz ghetto conditions were extremely harsh, food was very scarce, and living conditions barely tolerable. Most people were assigned to workplaces with Klaiman working in a shop making items from straw. In the summer of 1944, during the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, Klaiman and her family were sent in closed cattle cars under intolerable conditions to Auschwitz. There she was separated from her parents and her brother and confined in a barrack for about two weeks. She never saw her parents or brother again. They died in the concentration camps.
From Auschwitz Klaiman was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. From there she went to a labor camp and worked in an old salt mine. Since she is less than five feet tall, she had great difficulty in shoveling salt into the tram cars and therefore was continuously punished. Then she was sent to another labor camp and required to dig trenches, supposedly eight feet deep, for a cable installation. Again because of her short stature, she had great difficulty in performing this job and suffered for it. Klaiman was returned to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945. There she became ill with typhus and was carried to the camp hospital by a cousin who was with her. She became delirious and remembers nothing more until regaining her consciousness about two weeks after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British forces. After the liberation she was administered to by British forces.
Placed into a DP camp following the release from a hospital, she later married her husband whom she first met while in Bergen-Belsen. She was able to come to the U. S. in 1949 where her first child was born shortly after her arrival. She did not want a child to be born in Germany. Two more children were born later.
Klaiman attributes her survival to an older cousin who was together with her most of the time. It was her cousin’s constant optimism and promise of improved conditions that kept her going. She believes that her cousin, approximately ten years older, kept up her own spirits in the hopes of having a reunion with the two children who were taken away from her earlier. This did not happen.
Klaiman can not forgive or forget the Germans and the Poles and would not return, even for a visit, to her former home for that reason.
Date: December 6, 1989
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording