Pilcowitz, Rose

Pilcowitz, Rose

Czestochowa (Poland), Hasag

Rose was born in 1929 in Czestochowa, Poland.
She had two brothers, Shlomo, born in 1919 and Alex, born in 1924.  Her sister, Faye was born in 1921.

Her grandfather was Nathan Orbach and father was Naftale. Her mother’s name was Berta Haskill.

Rose was the youngest in her family, but all were lost during the war.  She found her mother in Auschwitz, barely alive.

Everything changed in 1939.  She lived at home in Poland and led a sheltered life.  Her family was well-to-do because her father was very successful, owning factories that supplied the iron for the railways.
Rose was the family “princess.”

Life was fun and she was very spoiled.  The family had many servants: housekeeper, maids, laundresses and nannies. There were 32 thousand Jews in their town and Rose went to a private Jewish school. Her city was very anti-Semitic even before the war.  She said the Poles hated them.  She had no gentile friends.  Even the staff at home was Jewish except for the laundress.

Her parents spoke Yiddish to each other.  Her father was very philanthropic and her mother was a homemaker.  Her grandfather was also orthodox, keeping kosher and on Friday night, they would go to synagogue, her father bringing home the underprivileged Jews for the Shabbos meals.

Her brother went to Holland to study medicine.

In September of 1939, the Germans entered her city.  They went to Janow, to her grandfather’s ranch which was huge as he was well-to-do.  The brothers became separated and her mother became hysterical.  There was a big panic.  They stayed at the ranch one week and returned to find the brothers at home.  They hoped that everything would return to normal.

They had never heard of Hitler.

Rose was home when the Nazis came.  After one week of occupation, there was “Bloody Monday,” when 300 Jews were taken to the marketplace and shot for no reason.  The Germans took her father’s factories and warehouses. Yet in 1940, they were still at home, but no longer going to school.  They were also still eating well and no one was scared.

In 1940, the Germans forced Jews to wear yellow stars and megaphones on cars made announcements about additional regulations for Jews. They were no longer allowed to leave the area (which became a ghetto) and barbed wire enclosed the area.  The Orbachs took two additional families into their home.

At this time, children were being slaughtered and so her father gave her away because she was too young to work.  Her parents, brothers and sister were sent to work in ammunition factories while she was hidden.  The Gestapo took over the ghetto where there were Jewish and German guards.

She was in the ghetto for seven months when her dad told her she had to go, because she was too small to stay.  She packed up her dolls to get ready while her father was bribing people with his connections.  He took Rose through a tunnel and they kissed goodbye.  She was hidden in a Polish family’s basement for a few months.

Although there were two children in the hours (teenagers who were bribed so they wouldn’t talk), she was lonely and felt abandoned by her parents.  One day, the Poles packed her in a sack and took her back to her parents, afraid that they would get caught.

The camp was made smaller and they heard about exterminations from the Jewish escapees from Treblinka.  There were three work camps in her city that made ammunition. They were removed from their apartment, chosen at random and watched their sister being killed in front of them.

Soon afterward, the ghetto was demolished and her father bribed the guards to allow some people out of the building to go to a work camp, the parents leaving their children to die.

One night at about 1 a.m., her brother, who was part of the Jewish police, arrived with gold rings.  He threw her in a sack and took her to camp, throwing her over the gate with bullets flying.  The Germans threw her sister’s body on a truck with other corpses.

She was now at Hasag, the work camp.  Her parents were there and she was the youngest prisoner, she was being kept hidden and fed.  Eventually, her parents were taken away, but her brother found food for her and forced her to eat.  When she asked for her parents, she was beaten with a rubber hose.  Her parents were sent to Auschwitz and Rose never saw them again.

In 1942, she only got one soup and one slice of bread per day.  She and seventy other girls, all with typhus, were in a barrack.  Jewish nurses removed those who lived.  She was then fourteen and had typhus.  They all slept on one deck or shelf with one thin blanket.  There was no bathing or soap.  Rose saw brothers killing each other from starvation.

She said she grew up very rapidly.  Although one brother was still there, she never saw him.  He was sent away and tried to escape but was killed shortly before the liberation.

The work camp became a concentration camp and all food was taken away.  They had to wear striped uniforms and line up for hours in freezing weather to be counted.  Because she was ill, she looked older than she was.  She watched as people died and wasn’t conscious of the day, time or year.  She built friendships with her barrack mates who were doing their best to keep her alive.

On her birthday, January 17, 1945, she stood in line for twelve hours when someone saw a dead German guard at the gate.  The Russians began rushing in and they were taken to be washed.

A Jewish community was forming and lists of the dead were coming in daily.  Her other brother had been working with intelligence but was killed.  At the time of the liberation, she still had one brother, but had no will to live.

She went back to her family apartment with a cousin.  She found that a Polish family was living there and the only furnishings and art that remained was a portrait of her mother dressed as a gypsy.  A Russian soldier threw out the Poles and she moved in.  She tried to find her mother, with a Jewish committee giving her money to do so.  The Russians gave her food, clothes for her trip and she left, taking nothing, to catch the train.  The ride should have been four hours but took five days and nights.

She got to the camp, but the Russian guards said that no one was left. She showed them her Red Cross card and eventually found her mother, alive, in the hospital.  She walked in and told her mother she was taking her home.  A captain gave her tickets for a passenger train.

First, she sold her house (the family owned building) and made a few thousand dollars, enough to get her to Germany.  She attended school there and spoke German.  Her mother became more ill, now losing her vision and underwent five surgeries.  Although her mother was very ill and had a brain tumor, she didn’t want to join her family, four brothers and two sisters in Israel because Rose would have to go into the army.  So, the two of them came to the U.S. in 1950, where her mother died two weeks later.

In America, Rose was overwhelmed: her mother had died and she couldn’t speak English.  She found a job as a suit cutter and met her husband in New York, who is also a survivor.  He lived in Detroit where she moved and went to beauty school, Virginia Farrell, taking a 1,200 hour course, and got a job at Rudolf’s in the David Whitney building in downtown Detroit. She remembers doing both Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabor’s hair.

Rose became a successful instructor and then opened her own beauty school, the Northeast Beauty College.  Her husband sold household furniture.  She has a one son, Robert Kane, who is married to Phyllis and Rose has three grand children.

Interview information:
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Date: 5/24/94
Length: 1:37