(Photo by Piotr Bujnowicz)
In the course of making our documentary films, we have come across some incredible people. All of them have a story worth telling.
All of them have a lesson about life for those who will listen.All of them are making the world a better place for our children by relating their difficult experiences and sharing a wisdom which could only have been forged in the fires of adversity.
In the words of Elie Wiesel, author of Night, "I believe that one who hears a witness becomes a witness in turn. You can be an effective voice for memory."
Moshe Tirosh (Mietek Kenigswain)
(Photo by Alex Ringer)
(Translated from Hebrew by Johnathan Arnold from an interview with Alex Ringer)
I was born in 1937. We lived in Warsaw on Vilenska Street. We were a middle class family. My father had a large carpentry shop, and in addition to that, he was a boxer, and even represented Poland on the Polish National Boxing Team.
What I remember from that time period, is that the war started in September, 1939 when I was two and a half years old. In October, the Germans had already evacuated us from our homes into the Ghetto. I saw a swarm of people with suitcases, and I saw that my father and mother’s faces were very sad. That really saddened me as a child.
So my father, mother, and younger sister went to a place which later became the Ghetto. They put us into an apartment in 91 Novolivki Street -- an ugly house, unlike ours. I was always crying because I felt something very bad was happening. I didn’t know exactly what was happening.
In the Ghetto, life was more or less just going on. Really it was ‘less’ than ‘more.’
There was a supply of food and water. The Ghetto was very densely populated, however. The streets were filled with people, the apartments were filled with people. People were everywhere -- lying in hallways, entrances to buildings…
I began to feel hungry, and I kept crying to my mother, saying “I’m hungry, I’m hungry.” The Germans had stopped the supply of food to the Ghetto. We had no water apart from one or two hours a day…I don’t know. There were sights of horror – people looking like skeletons just laying in the streets.
Wagons would come around all the time, and people would just pick them up by the hands and feet and throw them on top of a piled wagon and go. All these things are engraved in my memory.
I remember one episode when we didn’t have anything to eat in our home. We did have a lot of money, because my father was financially stable. So my mother took me and went to the town market, and this is engraved deeply in my mind. In a dark corner of the market, she found a woman who sold her a quarter of a loaf of bread. The bread was hard as a stone.
My mother said to me, “Take this and chew on it slowly.” When I brought the bread to my mouth, I noticed in front of me sat an old man like my grandfather, with eyes “popping out.” I could see that his lips were eating the bread together with me. So I gave the bread to this old man, and my mother yelled at me. I told her, “Look at this grandfather. He is hungry.” This is one episode I remember well.
Things just got worse in the Ghetto.…. diseases broke out, mainly typhus. Most of the Ghetto was bed-ridden with sickness.
We also got this typhus, and my father was the one who had it the worst -- probably because he was used to working the hardest and this sickness just paralyzed him.
My mother said she needed to do something. So she put on a pair of trousers, which wasn’t acceptable back then, and at night she climbed over the wall to the Polish side, trying to find food.
In one of the neighborhoods, a few young men ganged up on her, and started to shout “Jewish woman, Jewish woman.”
She began running from them, and out of one of the alleyways came a 19 year old guy. His name was Zigmunt Pientak, and he shouted to the guys who were chasing her, “Leave her alone, she is not Jewish, she lives here.”
He said to my mother, “What are you doing?”
She said, “I don’t care about anything, I need to get food.”
So this Zigmunt Pientak, 19 years old, went to his mother, who worked in the market, and came back with potatoes and cabbage, which he gave to my mother. He then saw her back to the Ghetto.
My mother told Zigmunt where we were living, and that my father was one of the champion boxers, He was very impressed because it was a big thing back then, and -- believe me --even today it will impress Polish people.
So Zigmunt Pientak promised that he would come to the Ghetto and bring us food. And so he did. He would always bring potatoes and cabbage, and my mom would cook, and I think this was how we were saved from the typhus, There was no hygiene, but at least there was food.
Another episode – the Ghetto began to prepare for rebellion. As a child I started to notice how everything became secret and quiet. People whispered among themselves. And so I understood that something was happening, I didn’t know what exactly.
I could tell from the atmosphere that something was happening. My father was very serious. He would disappear for awhile and then come back.
One day, my father called me. He opened up my coat, tied something around my waist, closed up my coat, and said, “Moshe, go over to the other side. ‘Uncle’ will give you a candy, but don’t stop on the way.”
I so believed in my father that I went without hesitation and didn’t stop.
‘Uncle’ opened up my coat, took something from my waist, put something else on, and said, “Go to your father.”
This would happen a few times a day; and my mother would shout at my father, “What are you doing? Why are you putting the child in danger?”
He told her, “Quiet. Everyone is participating.”
Zigmunt Pientak tells about one day when he came to bring us food. My father said to him, “You need to bring weapons – a pistol or a rifle.” Zigmunt said, “It would be hard to bring a rifle. How would I walk with it?”
“So bring a pistol,” my father said.
Zigmunt bought the gun with money my father gave him and brought it to the Ghetto.
In one of the meetings with Zigmunt, my father said, “Zigmunt, look for a family that could receive us on the Polish side. I will pay whatever is needed.”
My brother Shmuel was born in 1942 under the floor. People who were hiding with us wanted to kill him, to strangle him, because he was crying. My mother didn’t have milk, and so all she gave him was a wet cloth. She didn’t sleep, and she said to my father, “I must move him to the Polish side.”
Shmuel wasn’t circumcised, so they wrote a note to put with him, with the name Staniswav Pomorski. My mother went at night over the wall. Zigmunt was waiting for her on the other side. They put him in a cushion, and placed him at the corner of the street. Then they waited and watched.
In the morning, a Polish policeman came by and saw the child, while they were standing to the side, and asked, “Whose child is this?”
No one answered. So the policeman brought the child to the Orphan’s Home for babies. They received him there, and that was that. My mother came back to us. My mom, Regina Kenigswain, gave him a safe place – a safe haven -- in order to save him.
Regina Kenigswain (Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
Zigmunt came back one day and said that there was a family living on Karankova Street, which was exactly in front of the Ghetto on the Polish side. He said that for a certain amount of money, they were willing to receive us.
My father said, “Okay, we will pay whatever is needed.”
At night, they put Stefcha, my sister who’s two years younger than me, and myself into a sack, together with another six bags containing some junk-yard stuff. Zigmunt managed to get a type of prumantka – a cart and horse. My mother and father went over the wall in the dark of night, and we traveled to Karankova Street .
(After a few weeks, the Polish landlady began to fear for her life and ordered Moshe’s family out of the house).
The Germans would kill the whole family without asking many questions, if they found that you were helping the Jews. Now, in the middle of Warsaw , in the most difficult time, we didn’t know what to do. My father said to my mother, “Let’s try the Zoo.”
We had great connections with the Zoo through Grandpa Sobol. He would sell fruits and vegetables to the Zoo.
Once again, Zigmunt Pientak assisted us. His mission was to hire a “Roshka”. A Roshka is a kind of carriage with a hood. No one wanted to drive us. Finally, someone agreed for a good sum of money, but on the condition that Zygmunt would sit at the driver’s side.
We approached Kirveza bridge, over the Wisla River . Bridges were strategic places guarded by the Germans. At the bridge, a German came out and shouted, “Halt!”
Father anticipated this and told Zygmunt to pour some vodka on the horse and the carriage. It was getting dark and it started to rain. The German smelled the vodka and said, “Polish pigs, go away!”
He took us for drunks and let us pass. The same happened on the other side of the bridge and we finally reached the zoo on the other side of the Wisla.
Antonina Zabinska who was the wife of Jan Zabinski, the zookeeper, received us -- me and my sister. This was in October or November of 1942.
Antonina Zabinski (Photo courtesy of Ryszard Zabinski)
At The Warsaw Zoo
In October or November of 1942, it was raining all the time. So the Zabinski’s brought me and my sister Stefcha to the basement of their villa. The gave my mother and father pieces of fur and allowed them to stay in the animal cages.
Ryszard Zabinski at the Warsaw Zoo today. (Photo by Piotr Bujnowicz)
I don’t remember much from our time there, but I do remember when Antonina started to wash and scrub our heads with a chemical that would make us look Aryan.
She used bleach in order to dye our heads blond. However, she scrubbed too much and we ended up with red hair. Then someone said that we came out looking like squirrels, and this became our undercover name. We were the squirrels.
We didn’t stay at the zoo for long. The Zabinski’s had a maid who was very anti-Semitic, and didn’t want the Jews to be helped. So there was always a danger that she would deliver us to the Germans.
Later on, I found out that there was a big rescue operation going on at the zoo. At the time, however, I thought we were the only ones hiding there.
Ryszard Zabinski at home in Warsaw (Photo by Piotr Bujnowicz)
I remember Rys. He was four or five years older then me. So, in 1942 I was about five years old, and he must have been about ten years old. He and his mom, Antonina, would bring us our food. We would look horrible because we always suffered from hunger.
We never went outside. We knew very well what it meant to be “underground” and we realized we had to be quiet because of the danger. I understood it very well by then.
We would just stay in the basement the whole time. We sat there quietly, and we didn’t make any noise, didn’t cry, nothing. We didn’t play, but passed the time sleeping. It was all very serious.
Moshe's temporary safe haven -- The Villa at The Warsaw Zoo (Photo by Piotr Bujnowicz)
Moshe’s childhood odyssey would lead him to southern Poland by the end of the war.
Of the 300 Jewish men, women, and children who found temporary safe haven at the Warsaw Zoo, only Dr. Roza Anzelowna and her mother did not survive the Holocaust.
They were arrested by the Gestapo in a boarding house on Widok Street.
As to why Jan Zabinski risked his life and the lives of his family to save hundreds of others in grave peril, he said,
“It was the right thing to do.”
Moshe's beloved mother Regina and father Shmuel Kenigswain in 1947.
(Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
Moshe's parents Regina Kenigswain (1945) and Shmuel Kenigswain (1946). Shmuel passed away in 1948 at the age of 41. (Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
The Kenigswain Family in 1953. (Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
Left to Right Front Row: Rachel, Arieh, Regina (mother), Stachio.
Left to Right Back Row: Moshe (Miecio), Stefa
Moshe (far left) with hero Zygmunt Pientak ( far right) and wife Vidviga Pientak(center) at Shmuel Kenigswain's gravestone (1980). (Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
Moshe and his wife Rachel in 2008 (Photo by Alex Ringer)
As further reading, the producers recommend Diane Ackerman’s book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, available at Amazon.com.
Moshe's Message To The Youth of Israel
(Photo by Alex Ringer)
We have a great thing. We have our own country, and we need to be strong and wise. We need to invest more in education.
(Photo courtesy of Moshe Tirosh)
We have people here from different cultures, and we have a wonderful Israeli culture which every person needs to put in their heart.(Photo by Alex Ringer)
We have a good and precious country, and each person should try to do good in their area. Then it will be a wonderful place for sure.
(Photo by Alex Ringer)
For the young generation – they mustn’t forget…. mustn’t forget. This is one of the reasons that we are not like other nations. We must do better than anyone else, to ensure that a thing such as this (the Holocaust) won’t come upon us again.
Moshe Tirosh Kenigswain, 2008
Holocaust survivor Claire Soria holds the birthday gift she treasures, given to her by her father who died in Auschwitz. (photo by Gary Lester)
My name is Claire Soria and I was five years old when the war started. My dad was a tailor who ran a workshop where they sewed beautiful dresses and coats.
I attended kindergarten, played with the school children, and enjoyed going to school. On weekends, we would go to the park with my cousins and my Aunt Dora. Sometimes, we would walk through the woods. We enjoyed listening to music on the record player, and everyone listened to the news on the radio.
When I was six years old, my dad gave me a sewing basket. He wrote inside, “To my daughter, Clara, on her 6th birthday. Your dad, Nathan.” My mother put pictures of her family in Poland in the sewing box, as well as pictures we took of our family.
We had a balcony where we lived, and we enjoyed watching parades. Then one day, I remember going out on the balcony and seeing and hearing the thumping of endless rows of German soldiers marching down the street. They were followed by tanks.
At that moment, my world changed.
My family was told to sew a Jewish star on their clothing. Soon after, I was forbidden to attend school. My parents went into hiding with my Aunt Dora and Uncle Bert. I was left with our neighbors, a wonderful Christian family who risked their lives by hiding me.
Lambert and Lea Sabaux changed my name to Yvette and told everyone that I was their grandchild. They tried to send me to another school, but the principal warned them that if I happened to be Jewish, I would surely be taken away. So Lambert and Lea picked me up at lunchtime, and for the next four years, I did not attend school.
By this time, Jewish people were called terrible names. It didn’t make sense why this hatred was directed toward us. I started to feel ashamed to be Jewish.
My parents still tried to visit me when they felt it was safe. However, the Gestapo discovered where my mother and Aunt Dora were hiding, and arrested them. Soon after, my dad was told to get off a bus he was riding and arrested as well. My parents were taken to Auschwitz where they lost their lives.
When I was told my parents were deported, I could not stop crying.
By then, people were getting arrested all the time. The Gestapo were arresting not just Jewish people, but also anyone who tried to hide them as well. During their raids, I was often sent away to stay with other people willing to hide me, also at great risk to their lives.
Everyone did what they had to do. When they felt it was safe, I returned home to my Christian family.
The Allies were bombing the railroads and bridges. Towards the end of the war, the German army bombed the same areas to keep arms, food, and supplies from reaching their destination.
We would hear the sirens and find a place to hide. Some people went into shelters; others went down to their cellars. We could hear the bombs, as they destroyed homes in the neighborhood. Soon, food became scarce. We were told that the German troops had to be fed.
After the war, I kept praying that my parents would survive and would return now that the war was over, but it was not meant to be. They were among the six million innocent people who were brutally murdered in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
The people who saved my life wanted me to stay with them, but they were taken to court and I was told I had to move away. I felt so alone. I loved these wonderful people who had risked their lives to save mine. I didn’t want to leave them…..
Claire's story may be seen at IMDb.com
In February, 2009, Claire discovered that her mother and two cousins were on the 20th transport train from Belgium to Auschwitz.
It was the only Nazi death train in World War II ever to be ambushed!
Incredibly, the heroic band of attackers consisted of a mere three courageous people.
They gave new meaning to the words of the Talmud:
"Anyone who saves one human life, saves an entire people."
In her gripping book about the ambush, The Twentieth Train, author Marion Schreiber tells this story of true heroism.
In the book's appendix, Claire's mother appears on a Nazi transport list as deportee # 1304: Mytnowiecki-Skrop, Sura, born 12-12-06 in Dobrzyn. Occupation: rubber coat gluer.
Asia Doliner was 17 years old when Hitler invaded Poland. "When the Germans arrived, a reign of terror began," said Asia.
Fleeing her home after the Gestapo arrested her father, Asia eventually finds herself working on a Gestapo farm. One day, she is assigned to carry a bouquet of flowers to a Gestapo officer celebrating his birthday.
"He was so appreciative," says Asia. He kept saying, "Danke schoen, danke schoen."
Minutes after presenting the bouquet, Asia spots one of her sisters lined up against a nearby wall, awaiting execution. She runs back to the officer and begs, "Please. Please. You see that girl in the trench coat with the stripes? That's my sister. Please let her go."
The officer draws his pistol and tells Asia, "If you don't run away, I'll shoot you like a dog!"
"It was the worst day of my life. I hated myself. I was thinking, I should have let them shoot me."
Arriving back at her oldest sister's home in the ghetto, Asia is still distraught. Her sister tells her, "You begged a Nazi for mercy? He would have killed you too. He wouldn't have let her go. And then I would have lost you both."
Asia's journey through hell on earth did not end there. Shortly afterwards, her oldest sister and baby disappear from their ghetto home. Asia flees to Warsaw.
After witnessing the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, Asia would eventually end up in Flossenburg and Ravensbruck concentration camps.
Then, a twist of fate would place her as a slave laborer outside of Berlin in a German munitions plant. She was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945.
(Photo courtesy SXC)
Associate Producer, Israel
In the autumn of 2006, my daughter traveled to the United States and visited the Holocaust Memorial in Boston. I gave her a special stone from our yard to guard her, and also give her a touch of our home.
Reaching the SHOAH stone monument in Boston, she felt an urge to lay the stone there in memory of the six million of our Jewish people who did not have the chance to return home after World War 2.
I am very touched by her gesture, and told her I would have done the same. After all, her great-grandparents, both from my mother's side (Marcus Family from Tarnow) and my father's side (Ringer from Krakow) were murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis.
My parents were wise enough to leave Europe in the mid-1930's and settle in Israel (Palestine then). They fought the Nazis as volunteers. My father was a mechanical engineer. He joined the British Navy and served in Alexandria as an officer, where he participated in combat operations against the Germans.
As you can see, stories of Jewish families are always bonded together, and the stories told in Deliver Us From Evil are really special ones.
(Photo by Sharon Ringer)
In his book, Refuge In Hell, author Daniel B. Silver tells the incredible story of one of the most unlikely safe havens protecting Jews during the holocaust: a Jewish hospital, operating in the open in Berlin -- Hitler's capital city.
Klaus Zwilski is one of 20 survivors interviewed for the book.
As a youngster, he recalls working in the hospital garden, raising vegetables for food. He was not allowed to attend school. or even leave the hospital grounds.
Under constant threat of deportation to a death camp, Klaus and his parents miraculously managed to survive the war in Berlin's Jewish hospital -- the Krankenhaus Der Juedischen Gemeinde on Iranischestrasse -- in the very heart of the Third Reich.
Emerging from his safe haven after the war, Klaus was the first person to celebrate a bar mitzvah in Berlin.
"I don't want the story to be forgotten, and it needs to be repeated, and people should know about it, and that it really happened.
There was such a thing as the Holocaust and it should be remembered."
- Klaus Zwilsky
Armin D. Lehmann
After WW II, I viewed documentaries, which showed the results of hate, of warfare, of systematic killings and the mass-murder of innocent people. Traumatized, I choked when I talked to my American interrogator.
He was a Jew. He did not hate me. He asked me questions and he did not question my answers. He gave me advice:
"Comprehend the evil and strive for a better world!"
I removed all racial prejudice, realizing the earth does not belong to us, but we belong to the earth. The planet outlives us. Life is a natural unfolding. If we permit life to develop free from artificial and criminal interferences, then life reveals its own meaning. Its sanctity. Most important is not what we make out of life, but what we find in it.
Review of Armin's book:
In Hitler’s Bunker is a book that promotes peace. It does NOT, in any way, promote Neo-Nazism. Mr. Lehmann wrote this book to share with others, especially the younger generations, the horrors of war , and express his hope that we can all embrace peace in our lives.
He hopes, as I do, that people can learn from what history has taught us, and promote peace and tolerance throughout the world.
A Life Dedicated To Peace and Tolerance
Armin was the subject of our film, Eyewitness To History. At ten years old, a law made it mandatory that Armin join the Hitler Youth. By 16, during the final hours of the Third Reich, he found himself assigned as Hitler's last courier.
By 17, Armin had learned of the Holocaust, and his nightmares would haunt him throughout his life. As he contemplated the Holocaust, he began to realize that Hitler had also betrayed an entire generation of German youth.
As a teenager, Armin Lehmann made a decision to dedicate the rest of his life to world peace and tolerance.
In his free e-book, Tomorrow's World, Armin offers you his hope for the world -- a hope expressed in poetry, along with illustrations by children who will inherit "tomorrow's world."
You may view a five minute video, Armin Lehmann's Ode To Peace, by clicking here.
On October 10, 2008 at 6:55 PDT, Armin transitioned from life at his home in Coos Bay, Oregon. His wife Kim and daughter Angie were with him.
He died at home as he wanted -- with dignity, the way he lived his life.
We will miss him deeply.
In 1999, a 17 year old high school student named Courtney Rice took sick on a Saturday and was dead by Monday. As one of her friends said on-camera, "young people aren't supposed to go into the hospital sick and not come out."
In talking with Courtney's mother Shirley, Gary Lester found a person deeply committed to getting the word out to the public about the link between aspirin, viral infections, and the deadly condition known as Reye's Syndrome.
Reye's Syndrome killed Shirley Rice's daughter.
Shirley could not accept the possibility that her beautiful and talented daughter might have died in vain. So she sought ways of getting information out to parents about the signs and symptoms of Reye's Syndrome, as well as the importance of an early diagnosis. In the film, she warns about the products which can trigger Reye's -- products as common in our medicine cabinets as aspirin.
The Blue Heron film project hopes to spread Shirley Rice's message far and wide. In doing so, we can hope that other young lives might be saved. Reye's Syndrome strikes suddenly and it is relentless. Within a day of entering the hospital, Courtney's brain had swollen beyond what her skull could hold. She was beyond hope almost before anyone in the hospital could even figure out what was happening.
Turning over hundred's of family photos and videos was emotionally painful for Shirley and her husband. However, both parents realized that getting the message about Reye's out to parents could save others from the type of heartache they were enduring.
In the film, a doctor and pharmacist help provide vital information about Reye's.
However, in the end, the poignant moments featuring the beautiful and talented Courtney show her from the times she was an infant in her parent's arms to her days as a maturing young woman. Courtney's life story speaks directly to the heart of the audience far more than the medical information which the film provides. As one of her friends says in the film, "if Courtney's story helps save but one young life, Courtney's legacy will be one of great love."
The film has screened at two film festivals, capturing a "Best Documentary Filmmaker" award for director Gary Lester. It has been used in hospital in-service training for nurses, and was broadcast via satellite television in Oslo, Norway.