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From Lodz to Trieste, December 1939
By Michael Librach
Copyright 2001 Michael Librach
An essay about the writer's true experiences while traveling from Lodz to Trieste during December 1939.


The German occupation of Lodz was three months old.Enough time to see what it will mean to live under the German boot. The Jews lived in fear. Our Jewish Community Councilmen, over 30 of the  most prominent men, were just taken by the Germans and shot. There has been forced labor by  captured Jews, there were beatings. The main street of the city, that cuts the town in half was forbidden for Jews to walk or even cross. All Jews were to wear a yellow armband. If caught without it, the punishment was a bullet  in the head.

I have lived at that time in my sisters apartment. One night a couple of
German officers came and just threw me out  . Fortunately there still was the family home where I could live with my mother.

My Father and my older sister were on a business trip in the USA. As the war became imminent they sent a visa and ship ticket to New York for my mother. However,the war started before the boat came into a polish harbor, and my mother was stranded in Lodz with her papers.

At one point some Germans started doing business with people who had a Polish travel passport. They would stamp it with a renewal and  and  a visa through Germany and charge a large amount of money for that. Then you had to stand in line, in the street, which for us Jews was quite risky.  I went,stood in line and obtained such extensions for both  my mother and me.

During those three months, some of my friends left Lodz going East toward the Russian Army, not necessarily to join the army, but to get out from under the Germans. That was never my plan.. Knowing that the Polish Army is being reorganized in France, a country I knew well, my dream was to be able to travel there, to fight on, to crush the Germans and come back to Lodz as the victorious young Polish Officer.

Before that could be accomplished I had to figure where can I go. I could not try to get a French visa, there were no French consulates, the war was on. Still I had to be able to show a possible investigator where I was going. At that time I was working in a bank.We had opened the doors of the bank during the occupation, but the work we were able to do was minimal.

One of the men working there with me, we shall call him Wladek, knew about my plans. He had similar papers and wanted to go with me. Wladek knew the consul of Greece in Lodz. We visited his friend. After our solemn promise that we shall never go to Greece with his visa, and again a substantial amount of money, we became two proud possessors of  Greek visas.

Thus we were ready to roll.My mother left a week before me, trying to reach Italy, and with her US visa, eventually reach this country. There were a few miracles, she did, and joined my family in Rockville Center, NY.

Wladek and I got to the train, still wearing the yellow arm bands, bought tickets to Trieste in Italy, got into a compartment. We took off our overcoats and hanged them up so as to make our yellow band invisible.

The train started moving towards a completely unknown, frightful chapter of my life.Several hours went by. We were almost at the former Polish-German border station. It was completely dark. All of Germany was under orders to put out the lights , they feared the air raids that never happened.

Suddenly, the door to the compartment opened and two quite burly and frightening German Gendarmes appeared." Your papers gentlemen". I was the spokesman, just the two of us in the compartment, I held out to them our passports, with my fingers holding them so that only the German extension showed.

" But you must have a visa to travel through Germany" he  said "Oh, no" I replied" Lodz has been integrated into the German Reich, so we do not need visas". We had those visas, ,several pages of the passport later,but they were expired. If he would just turn the pages of the passport, he would know, that I lied, and he would know that our visa through Germany was not valid I do not think that he would have been very pleased finding it out. But he stamped our extension of the passport with an entry stamp. I quickly pulled the passports from his hands and reached for a box of chocolates that I had with me. Then in a very calm voice I asked whether he knew what our connections were from Vienna to the Italian border. They didn’t know, and they left.

Several stations later, still as dark as in an Arabian night, still only the two of us in the compartment, we hear the sound of boots on the station’s platform.
The door opens....."Here they are"....
The two Gendarmes are back. I was sure that my life was over, I assure you ,I was scared plenty.One of them sat down on the bench took out what  we found out was a flashlight, turned it on his lap, where a train schedule was resting. They came to tell us about the train connection. They have found out that we have about two hours waiting time in Breslau.

" Have you any money" they asked, " we have the food stamps you have the money, why don’t  we dine together. As my Grandma would say, we needed that like a"loch in kopf".but we could not refuse.So about an hour later we found ourselves entering a restaurant in Germany, with two Gendarmes walking and raising their arm " Heil Hitler" and the two Jewish boys, very scared,not knowing what to do. The meal was not the best time I’ve ever had, but finally it ended, they took us back to the train station, and we rolled on.

Finally the Vienna station.
We asked about our connection to the Italian border. The train has just left. The next one is only tomorrow morning. One of my former girl friends married a man from Vienna and they moved to live in Argentina. She was always telling me, what wonderful people her future husband’s parents were and if I ever get to Vienna, I should visit  them. Well, that was a good thing to do. I had that address, we got into a cab and went to visit the Levys

They received us with exceptional hospitality, the Gentleman a lawyer before the war, active in the Jewish Community, looked at our papers and shook his head." the Italians will not let you in" he said. You must have a proof that you can leave Italy to get a transit visa , to get in. How do we get that????" As you don’t have a valid visa through Germany, you  are here illegally.

I will place you in a small hotel where they will not ask too many questions, then we will visit the Italian Ship line. They will wire your mother who is still in Genoa, and who has enough dollars to pay for those tickets to Pireus"

My mother who left a week before me, also visited the Levys and they contacted through some channels my Father, who send her the money. I needed $60 to save two lives. $60 were there. My Mother paid it into the Line and they gave me a receipt for it. With that in hand we should be able to get into Italy, contact the French consulate and volunteer for the Army.

On the train again. This time, near Christmas, the train was full of Italians who were returning home for the Holidays. Finally the border. Again a German comes in "Your papers,please". We were told by Mr. Levy not to tell the Italians that we are Jewish. Wladek’s name was Goldman. The German turns to him " are you Jewish" he says no. Raus,(get out) shouts the German.

He takes us off the train and leads us to a small station office. Now the interrogation. Where are you going, why, why did you say you are not Jewish, we seem to be in hot water.

In the dark, in one corner sits a man in a rain coat, his hat down on his eyes, a regular James Bond. He turns to us: " Do you have tickets to go to Pireus" Of course, I say,proudly brandishing the precious receipt for $60, " well, he laughs, let them go, the Italians are not going to let them in, they’ll be back here tomorrow".

The train already starts rolling as we run for it. In few minutes we are out of the German hands. I say to Wladek,listen if anything happens and they make trouble we jump the train.

Well nothing happened, we arrive at Trieste still alive, sent a wire to my Dad and a week later we are again on the train to France.