She spoke softly, her English fragmented by a crisp Polish accent as she told of her torn youth. Sorrow blanketed the audience, the impact of her words bringing shock, anger and a few tears. She spoke with purpose, her words calm but filled with horrific visions of cruel injustices. Her message – remember the atrocities of our past to prevent the injustices of our future.
Wanda Wolosky, one of a few remaining holocaust survivors, visited the wing April 11 to share with unit members the stories of her childhood as a Jewish girl in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
“One day I woke up, there were planes flying over the city and bombs falling down,” said Wolosky. “Through the window I could see people yelling, screaming and running. I didn’t know what was going on, but the war had started. The bombing lasted a whole month and most of the bombs targeted the Jewish section of the city,” she said.
The onset of the war changed Wolosky’s life forever. Her life once filled by family and childhood play was replaced by one filled with loss, death, fear, hunger and the desperate need to simply survive.
“Survival, you learn it very quickly and at a very young age because you see what’s happening,” said Wolosky. “In war situations you aren’t a child anymore, you grow up and you become an adult. One day I went to the wall, I could hear the shooting and with all of my heart I wanted to be over there, to help, to fight. I was eight,” she said.
The average daily calorie intake for people in the Warsaw ghetto was 184 calories, said Wolosky. Families survived on a single loaf of bread, or soup that was lucky to contain a potato peel.
“If you walked the streets there were children laying, begging,” said Wolosky. “Some didn’t even have the strength to pick up their arms to beg, they were skin and bones.” Death was everywhere, it got to the point where no one paid any attention to the bodies because it was a daily occurrence, she said.
Survival for Wolosky and her mother meant becoming smugglers to keep from starving. They escaped the ghetto through basements, holes in the wall and even the sewer to exchange whatever they could for food to bring home to their family, said Wolosky. If they had been caught, however, it would have cost them their life, she said.
“When you came back, you would have to hide the food,” said Wolosky. One day she returned to the ghetto, smuggling part of a pig under her coat when a German soldier put his hand on her shoulder. “I was sweating with every pore in my body because I was so afraid. Getting caught would have meant a bullet in the head,” she said.
She never knew if one wrong step would mean her death, but she continued fighting for survival, “Life was the only motivation,” said Wolosky. “I wanted to live. I wanted to survive. I wanted to see tomorrow.”
Wolosky’s fight continued until Poland was liberated by Russia at the end of the war. Since Russia was a communist country, Wolosky and her mother requested to travel to Israel. Two years later their request was granted and they departed for Israel.
“For the first time in my life I felt free,” said Wolosky.
For most of her life Wolosky didn’t want to speak about her experiences in Poland, trying to forget. Six years ago she began telling her story because of the many people who don’t believe the Holocaust ever happened, she said.
“You have to carry on our stories,” said Wolosky. “You’re the ones who can stop injustice. If you see it, speak up. You live in a free country where you can say whatever you want to. So many people died, it’s enough,” she said.
Although Wolosky lost so much at the hands of others, she keeps her conscience and heart free of hatred and blame, she said.
“I’m not blaming, but I’m not forgetting,” said Wolosky.