Ziemak (Szuprycinska), Stefania
Chelmza (Poland), Grudziadz, Buchenwald, Coburg, Peissenberg, Rochlitz, Schwarzwalde, Siegen
Mrs. Ziemak, nee Szuprycinska, born in Chelmza, moved shortly after her birth to Grudziadz, Poland, a nearby town located approximately 100 miles south of Gdansk. Grudziadz was a garrison town of about 30,000 military personnel and 30,000 civilians including a Jewish population. Her father had died before her birth so she was raised by her mother and her maternal grandparents. The family was Roman Catholic. She had no siblings. However, after her mother remarried 9 years later, she acquired some step-brothers. She attended public school followed by three years in a private business school. There she sat next to a Jewish girl, Regina Erdman. She doesn’t know what happened to her.
Since the area where she lived was part of Germany prior to World War I, her mother was schooled-in and spoke fluent German. From her mother, and in school, Mrs. Ziemak learned German and became very proficient in it.
German military forces occupied Grudziadz shortly after the start of World War II and set up an Arbeitsamt (Labor Office) for making work assignments for the town’s young people. Most were shipped out for labor elsewhere, but Mrs. Ziemak was placed with a local flower and seed producer where she worked for the next four years, mostly in sales and in the offices doing bookkeeping. As food shortages, occurred the company changed from growing flowers to growing vegetables.
Mrs. Ziemak does not know what happened to the Jewish population of Grudziadz. She claims that initially many left, possibly attempting to flee to the Soviet zone and after that, they gradually disappeared. She witnessed one incident that happened shortly after the onset of the German occupation, wherein some Germans took a small Jewish boy, approximately four-years-old, and stuffed him alive into a sewer hole and then covered it with a manhole cover. She was so sickened by the incident that she fainted.
She also witnessed the execution by shooting, of 12 town administrative officers including the mayor. Other than the aforementioned she was not witness to other brutalities or anti-Jewish measures.
After her job with the flower/vegetable growers she worked for the local administrative office. When she refused to use the “Heil Hitler” greeting form, she was arrested in 1944 and sent to the Schwarzwalde labor camp located near Torun in Poland. Her mother was previously arrested for speaking Polish since it was known by the ethnic German population that she had full command of the German language. She was sent to a prison and released after about one year.
The Schwarzwalde camp was classified as a Civilian Workers Camp, and had about 1,500 men; Latvians and others, none of them Jews, who were involved in digging fortifications as a deterrent against the advancing Soviet Army. The inmates of the camp were housed in basic barracks and slept on straw on the floor. The barracks were guarded, but not surrounded by any enclosure. The inmates were required to wear a small identification patch with the letter “P” on their clothing. A photo was shown.
Mrs. Ziemak was assigned to the kitchen with 15 other females to prepare food for the camp inmates. Not suited for kitchen work, she was reassigned to the kitchen administration because she spoke German. She was housed in private accommodations, not guarded, but under restrictions against movement. She stated that she was treated well, as were the men in the camp, and there was always adequate food for all.
As Soviet troops were nearing the camp, inmates including the kitchen staff were forced to march to a location at which they and others who were also brought there were loaded into a railroad boxcar. Mrs. Ziemak was in a locked boxcar with other women, no men. There were no food, water, or toilet facilities in the car. After two days, movement stopped and the train was left standing on a railroad siding with everyone remaining in the locked boxcars. Eventually German soldiers from a stranded train transporting tanks opened the boxcar and released the occupants. By then, seven women had died. The soldiers revived and fed her. The location where the trains were abandoned was near Berlin.
Together with her kitchen administrator from the Schwarzwalde camp, a half- Czech, half-German girl, they managed to reach the town in Czechoslvakia where the administrator’s mother lived which was still under German control. The train trip took eleven days without food, and only snow for water. There she received shelter and food. Someone in the town exposed her identity and again she had to report to a labor office. This time she was assigned to a garage where she did office and bookkeeping work.
Near the war’s end, as the Russian forces were approaching, Mrs. Ziemak joined a general exodus toward the American zone. After an initial rejection, she was allowed entry and was sent to the displaced persons camp (DP camp) at Rochlitz, near Leipzig. Because of her knowledge of German and Polish, as well as some English, she was utilized by the camp’s administration in the running of the camp. Just prior to the location of the camp being ceded to the Soviets, the inmates were sent to the former Buchenwald concentration camp, northwest of Weimar, then being used as a transit camp for DPs. They arrived there about two weeks after the war’s end. Many dead bodies were still unburied and other facilities of this infamous Nazi camp were still intact and observed by Mrs. Ziemak, e.g. the crematorium, barracks, and torture places.
After a few days at Buchenwald, Mrs. Ziemak, because of her language capabilities, was assigned to lead a group of displaced persons to the DP camp for Poles at Peissenberg, southwest of Munich near Weilheim. After that she was also at the DP camps at Coburg, near Bad Kissingen and, Siegen, east of Cologne as an administrator. Various experiences in and with these camps are described during the interview.
Subsequently, Mrs. Ziemak, worked for UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association) and then for IRO (International Refugee Organization). Various documents were shown.
Mrs. Ziemak married a U. S. immigration officer stationed in Europe, Walter Ziemak. His tour of service at an end, they came to the United States in June, 1956. They have two children; daughter Janet who was born in Hamburg, Germany, and son Richard.
Interview and Synopsis by: Hans Weinmann
Date of Interview: May 24, 2005
Length of Interview: 1 hour 43 minutes