Krakow or Cracow, Poland's stately capital, founded by Prince Krak in 1038, was for centuries a royal city and home of Polish rulers. Today it still ranks as a tourist attraction. During World War II the Nazis, yimach shemam, were fastidious about not damaging this urdeutsche stadt or ancient German town. The Rama cemetery, the best-surviving Renaissance Jewish graveyard in Europe, dating from 1553, was largely spared and contains the tomb of Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the RAMA). Unfortunately, the Nazis did not extend any such consideration to the town's 65,000 Jews (the largest community in Poland for almost 700 years) and killed 55,000 of them.
Chaim Zvi Taub was born in Cracow in 1904 to a prosperous family of Belzer Chassidim, a sect still distinguished by their traditional garb of knee breeches. He and his mother ran a fabric store in an upscale part of town. In 1940 Taub had the foresight to hide a significant portion of the family valuables - including two Torah Scrolls, Judaica items, Holy Books, rolls of fabric and some light machinery - behind a brick wall that he constructed especially for this purpose at the far end of his store.
Following the Nazi invasion, Taub was relocated to ghetto Cracow, where he was sent out for labor. In 1942 he was transferred to Stalowa-Wola, north of Cracow, a slave-labor camp established by Hermann Goering, Hitler's yimach shemam, deputy. A non-Jewish friend often came and smuggled him bread through the fence, saving him from starvation. In August 1944 Taub spent a month in Plaschow. In September 1944 he was transferred to Goerlitz in Silesia, to be liberated by the Russians in May 1945.
Taub's wife and four children had perished in the death camp of Belzec. Now at 41, the lines of suffering already etched onto his face, Taub returned to Cracow to see what remained of his shattered life. He found his only surviving brother via the Jewish community center, and also discovered his future wife, Zofia Buchbaum, whom he married in 1946. His store had been taken over by a large Polish family. Rising to the challenge of recouping his property, the slightly-built man hired a wagon driver with horse and buggy and a policeman, and promised to recompense them well. They stood in readiness while he confronted the startled proprietors. He calmly told them that he had come to recover some possessions. Then, to their consternation he brought in a sledgehammer, broke down the wall and deftly removed all his valuables. He was then able to start over in business.
Zofia Buchbaum Taub was the sole survivor of her family. Ten years younger than Chaim Zvi, she assisted in the business with her administrative and accounting skills.
Her teenage brother, a Radomske Chassid, and her mother Malka were killed during a roundup in the Plaschow ghetto.
She too began the war years in ghetto Cracow, working mainly on the Aryan side. As of Pesach 1943 her base was Plaschow death camp, where she was sent out to work in the salt mines of Wieliczka, a small village 20 kilometers south of Cracow. (Originally, the Nazis planned to construct a war plant in the depths of this old, tunneled mine, but salt corroded the machinery parts. Curiously the salt mines of Wieliczka, with their less-than-humane history, now gets star billing as a tourist site.)
During her years as a slave laborer and camp inmate, Zofia's distinction was that she took great care to observe kashrut. I asked in wonderment how she managed this feat in those bitter times. It meant surviving mainly on potatoes and bread. Zofia was a very strong believer. Her motto was Am Yisrael Chai - the People of Israel Live. Her faith and optimism enabled her to keep going in desperate circumstances.
During her time in Plaschow she confronted the fearsome commandant Amon Goeth, when trying unsuccessfully to get a work permit for her mother. In October 1944 when Plaschow was erased, she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There she endured Josef Mengele's daily selections for the crematoria. She was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, and in January 1945, participated in a death march to an airplane factory near Leipzig. After the ordeal of marching 30 kilometers a day in the snow, with a rapidly dwindling number of other skeletal figures, Zofia was liberated by the U.S. Army.
The Taubs stayed in Poland until 1951, when they immigrated to Israel via Italy with their small daughter and son. As the greedy Communist regime was unfavorable to private business, it was time to move on. Carefully packed inside their few suitcases were the two Torah scrolls and family Judaica items that had survived the war.
Chaim Zvi, now aged 46, had to start his life over again. He entrusted his Torah scrolls to the Gerer Steibl in Tel-Aviv, his new home. He spoke little to his children about the painful past. He built a small garment factory in Herzliya and lived an honorable life until his passing in 1985. His wife outlived him by 12 years.
His son Shlomo married and moved to Ra'anana. In the late 1980's he saw that the congregation in Tel-Aviv was dwindling and retrieved the Torah scrolls. Although they are at least 100 years old, one of them is in good condition and is in regular use by our congregation.
Zofia would often recall that Chaim Zvi's family owned various properties in Cracow, besides the store. In the late 1980's she was surprised to receive letters from Cracow municipality regarding payments needed for repairs on buildings owned by the Taubs. Windows were broken; roofs leaked. The address given was unfamiliar. Enquiries subsequently revealed that the street had changed names.
Shlomo's sense of justice was affronted by the fact that the township had collected rent on the two buildings for 45 years or more. In time, with the help of a Polish lawyer, he began a determined quest to regain ownership of the properties. He eventually succeeded, which gave him the impetus to found a company to retrieve confiscated Jewish property in Poland and nearby lands. He knows that the current window of opportunity is limited, since Holocaust survivors are elderly and fast disappearing. For this reason, I would suggest that readers use "the Jewish grapevine" to tell their friends or relatives, who may have documentation on property ownership in Poland or Czechoslovakia, that Shlomo's service exists! (Information on Legacy can be found at www.polishlegacy.4t.com; phone 972-9-7713811 or fax 972-9-7743495).
It is clear, however, that the Taubs' legacy to their children goes beyond bricks and mortar on alien soil. The fact that they held fast to Torah values in desperate circumstances should inspire all their descendants.
First published in The Jewish Press (Link)
In these tales, the truth and authenticity are to be found in the details that show these people were not just statistics. They were ordinary folk leading unassuming lives when the terror of the Holocaust descended upon them.
Written by Susan de la Fuente
Contact info: sdlfsusan at yahoo dot com
Written by Susan de la Fuente
Contact info: sdlfsusan at yahoo dot com