Kochanowska (Kohn), Kristina

Kochanowska (Kohn), Kristina

Warsaw (Poland)

Kristina Kochanowska was born Kristina Kohn in 1933 in Warsaw, Poland. Kochanowska describes her early life as very happy and her family as well to do. She was an only child. She describes her family as average observant Jews, celebrating Sabbath and Jewish holidays.  Her father ran a wholesale business and was a member of the Council of Warsaw (he was the only Jewish member). Her father also ran unsuccessfully for Parliament. Her mother, in June 1939, passed the bar examination; unfortunately, she wasn’t able to practice law because soon after the war started. Kochanowska lived in downtown Warsaw where she had a German governess and knew how to speak German; it was her first language. She recalls her childhood as a very pleasant time in her life. In 1939 when the war began, Kochanowska was six and half years old. She remembers a specific instance where she was given a gas mask. Her father’s brother, her uncle, had a van and many members of her family decided to use the van to get out of Warsaw. Their destination was Romania. Kochanowska and her family never reached Romania but instead went from city to city until 1941, when they decided to go back home.

In November 1941, Kochanowska and her family entered the Warsaw ghetto because there was “nowhere else to go.” Shortly after entering the ghetto, Kochanowska turned nine. She recalls the malnutrition on a daily basis, as well as the numerous diseases such as typhoid and dysentery. Yet, her family was able to do fairly well in the ghetto because they still had many possessions from before the war (such as jewelry) with which to bargain. In May 1942, Kochanowska’s father died of consumption but she states there was no time to grieve because liquidation was upon them. Liquidation she recalls as “the biggest hell on earth.”  Luckily, her mother was able to secure a job for herself, manufacturing German uniforms.  It was a way to postpone deportation. Kochanowska remembers going to work with her mother because her mother was afraid to leave her home by herself, seeing as how children were often susceptible to random selections by the Germans. One day in August 1942, Kochanowska remembers Germans coming into the factory where her mother was working.  Her mother pushed her under a pile of uniforms, but the Germans found her. They made two lines: one for life, one for death. Kochanowska was taken to the right for death while her mother was taken to the left for life. Her mother exclaimed “That’s my daughter!” and went to the right to be with her daughter. They were then taken outside and marched to the Umschlagplatz. Her mother approached a supervisor of the Jewish police and he saved them by taking them away from the Umschlagplatz.

Six weeks later, when there was another selection, Kochanowski hid in a closet for two nights and wasn’t caught. Soon after, Kochanowska and her mother spent fifteen months with her aunt and small cousin. It was during this time with her relatives, that her mother found out about Treblinka from a newspaper and began crying.  In the summer of 1944, Kochanowska knew the front was coming. So, all four of them waited five days in the bushes for the Russians.  When they realized it would be a while before the Russians came, they went outside Warsaw, traveling from town to town. Kochanowska became separated from her aunt and cousin at this time. She still remembers in 1945 when Russian tanks liberated the Jews. After liberation, Kochanowska and her mother went back to their old apartment in Warsaw and stayed there until 1968 when they came to America. Kochanowska’s aunt and cousin also survived. She lives in Michigan with her husband and she has a son in Chicago.

Interview Information:
Date: April 28, 1993
Interviewer: Feannie Lieberman
Length: 55 minutes
Format: Video recording