Alina Trachman Kentof
My mother, Rina, and I are survivors of the Holocaust. When Krakow, Poland was invaded by the Nazis, I was only a little girl. My mother hid me in a monastery, then had to smuggle me out near the end of the war. Together we fled through Europe and escaped to Palestine where we witnessed the birth of the state of Israel.
The barbed wire around Auschwitz still stands today as a grim reminder that there was no escape from death.
Alina stands on the outskirts of Auschwitz. Her father, Isaack Trachman, was on his way here fifty years ago. He and several others jumped from the S.S. truck and were gunned down by the Nazis. She has one memory of her father; she is only three-years-old, bouncing on his knee. She has only two pictures of him. No tombstone. Nothing. Alina Kentof now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she is a teacher and Holocaust educator.
Antoni Piotrowski, a Righteous Gentile from Krakow, Poland, helped save Alina during the Holocaust, when she was three-years-old. During a recent trip to Poland, Alina visited Antoni's daughter. Together, they looked through old photographs to piece together a world forgotten. My mother's first and only memory of her father, Isaak Trachman, is a happy one. She is two years old and he is bouncing her on his knees. She remembers his red hair and glasses. My mother has one photo of him, a group picture, where he appears as a small speck, a father she never had a chance to know.
As told by daughter, Tali K. Whiteley
He and his brothers were deported by truck in the early 1940s. A woman in the truck states she witnessed my grandfather and my great uncles being shot as they tried to escape from the truck, which was turning the bend on the outskirts of Auschwitz. They knew where they were going and they risked their lives to escape. Gunshots. The woman states the SS fired at the ten men who escaped, firing openly into the wood in which they ran. Then, they hounded the area until they found them and hung them from the trees to serve as a lesson to the others that escaping death was futile.
Still, my mother has not lost hope, wondering if possibly the man shot and hung in the forest was not her father, Isaak Trachman, but someone else, mistaken for him. Could he still be alive, she still wonders. She still searches. In the 1970s, she discovered that a man by the same name was living in New York. The man's description was even similar to her father. She wrote him a letter, but received the response,"I'm sorry, but I am not your father."
When my mother discovered the possibilities of searching the Internet for someone else who might be able to tell her more about her father, she held hope again, but discovered nothing. Isaack Trachman, and those who knew him, had simply vanished.
My mother survived because my grandmother was able to buy false papers, allowing them to live in the Aryan part of Krakow. These papers labeled them as Polish Catholics. My grandmother had my mother educated in a monestary so that she would be familiar with Catholic customs and prayers, an education that would later prove to save both of their lives.
One day, as they were walking down the street, an SS guard approached them and asked my grandmother, "Where are your papers?" Trembling, my grandmother handed over the papers. The fake documents were not of great quality. They were good enough to pass, but someone with a trained eye would surely know they were false papers. This SS guard was growing suspicious.
"You're a Jew, he said, grabbing her.
My grandmother shook her head, "No, we are Polish Catholics," he argued.
"If you are, let me hear a Catholic prayer," he stated.
My grandmother did not know the prayers. But my mother did. "Don't ask me to recite them," my grandmother told him. "Why don't you ask her?" she asked, pointing at my mother, who at the time, was four years old.
The SS looked down at my mother, then demanded her to recite the prayer.
My mother glared at him then kicked him full-force in the shin. "How dare you ask me to recite the holy prayer on the street without the statue of the Virgin Mary before me!" she yelled.
The SS officer, taken aback by her religious convictions, apologized repeatedly. "I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Let me help you cross the street."
My grandmother and mother continued down the steet to the small apartment on the Aryan side where they were living. When they were safely inside the apartment, my grandmother shut the door, leaned against it, and fainted.
Following the war, my grandmother, having lost her husband in the Holocaust, remarried and started a new life in Israel with her five-year-old daughter, Alina, and her new husband, a friend of the family, Shlomo Schweizer. They have been together for fifty years and now have three daughters and six grandchildren. Shlomo Schweizer is the only grandfather I ever had, the only father my mother really remembers having.
As told by grandaughter, Tali K. Whiteley
One year ago, my grandparents came from Israel to visit during Passover. Around the Passover table, at a time when Jews celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt, my grandfather told us the following story:
In the concentration camp, I had a friend. We worked together in the factory within the camp. Our commander was an SS man who had a dog named Rex. Every day, the dog would bite our heels as we worked. He was a terribly mean dog.
One day, my friend and I were talking quietly as we worked. I told him, "What I would do for meat. A meal with meat. A steak."
My friend smiled. Looking around, he said, "You want meat? I'll get you meat. Tonight."
Sure enough, my friend came through, giving me a steak wrapped in newspaper. That night, we had the most delicious meal. It had been months since I had had a decent meal. The meat tasted extra sweet and juicy, having not had any in so long. I asked my friend, "How did you manage to smuggle this in? Where did you get this meat?"
My friend did not respond.
The following day, we had the usual roll call. Our SS commander walked up and down the rows frantically. "Rex! Rex!" he cried, searching for his dear dog.
My friend only smiled. It was then that I realized I had eaten Rex, the SS commander's dog.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.