ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


Voices From the Attic

In the late 80s, filmmaker Debbie Goodstein went to the barn attic in Poland where her mother and 15 other family members hid from the Nazis. In this documentary, she interviews her family members about the secrets they've been keeping, and she meets the woman who hid her family for two years. This emotionally honest and ultimately uplifting film gives voice to the weight of history.

AIRED: January 28, 2020 | 0:59:54

Debbie: I try to imagine sitting in a 10-by-15-foot space

with 15 other people.

The room is hot, about 100 degrees.

There's no electricity, also no plumbing,

no lighting of any kind.

We can't bathe or brush our teeth.

We sleep on straw and go to the bathroom in pots.

Even if I could stand up under the 4-1/2-foot ceiling,

I wouldn't be allowed to

because standing and walking make noise,

and that might give us away.

In the year 1942, my mother and 15 members of her family

went into hiding from the Nazis

in an attic of a peasant's home in Poland.

My mother would never talk about this experience,

but I always knew that it must have shaped her life.

I also felt it shaping mine.

For as long as I can remember, I've had nightmares

and relived things that happened before I was born

in a place I'd never seen.

I was haunted by stories I'd never heard.

Sally: We were in total darkness,

and he took us upstairs to his attic.

He closed the trapdoor,

removed the ladder to prevent his children

from coming up there to play, as used to be their habit,

and this became our home.

We hoped for a few days, a week or two, maybe a month,

but it lasted for two years.

Debbie: Most of my friends only have to travel to Brooklyn or the Bronx

in order to learn about their mother's past.

For my cousins and for me, it was a much longer journey.

In 1987, guided my mother's oldest sister, Aunt Sally,

five of my cousins and I left New York City

for Urzejowice, Poland.

Each of us having had a mother who survived the attic

grew up wanting details about our mothers' pasts

in order to make sense of the bits and pieces

of stories we had heard

and to understand their full impact on our own lives.

Aunt Sally, along with her husband, Kenny,

was ready to face the fears

and take us back to the town where she was born,

back to meet the woman who hid our family over 40 years ago,

back to the attic.

Sally: For a very long time,

I never knew how to fine-tune my past to my children.

I try to, if they ask me a question about what happened,

I try to be very poised in answering it.

I try not to let them see how painful a subject it is,

but I don't think I'm fooling anybody.

It's a terribly painful subject.

Sheryl: I've never heard the whole story

from start to finish from my mother,

because my mother finds it difficult to talk about,

and I think that going back is kind of a confrontation

with the whole thing that I haven't been able

to bring myself to have.

Gwyn: I have this desire to fill in some of the gaps that exist

in my picture of what my mother's childhood was like.

It's all just a great mystery to me.

Jack: You know, we always thought of ourselves as Jews

and not so much as Poles, but I have real roots in Poland.

I mean, my mother lived in Poland for 13 years.

That's a long time.

Leslie: I was talking to a friend, and that friend said to me,

"What can you tell your children about where you're from,

about where your mother is from?"

And I thought, "I can't really tell them anything

except for the hour of stories that I could pass down,"

and I thought, "I could go,

and this whole story could come to life."

Debbie: There were always many secrets.

It wasn't until I was 10 years old

that I heard that two people had died in the attic,

my mother's aunt and cousin.

It wasn't until I was 18 years old

that I first heard that my mother and aunts

had a younger sister before the war.

Her death was never talked about.

Reluctant to revive these and other memories,

my mother and her middle sister backed out of the trip

only weeks before they were supposed to leave with us

for Poland.

My own sister had never planned to go at all.

I don't need to dig up all sorts of things

that could cause me unhappiness.

I'm a little concerned about

waking up memories and feelings that I have.

None of our mothers have gotten over it.

None of the kids have gotten over it.

They're all suffering with it,

and I think that they should figure out

what the problems are and get over it here

rather than trying to look for answers back in the attic.

Woman: Getting excited now.

There is only one church in that town,

and once we're in front of the church, I'll know everything.

If he finds the church, then I've got it.

Woman: ♪ Believe in

-Is this this what we -- -There's the church!

There it is, I bet, Ma!

Off to the right?

That's the church. That's the church.

If you get in front of that, I'm home.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Debbie: In 1939, there were approximately 3.3 million Jews

living in Poland.

The Jews in towns like Urzejowice

represented only a fraction

of the entire Jewish population of Poland at that time.

There are no histories written about the Jews of Urzejowice

and other towns like it, no folk legends,

no tales of atrocity, either,

no memorials, nothing that my cousins and I

could ever have studied to learn our history.

The rest of the world never had any reason to notice

Urzejowice and towns like it then or now.

And before the war,

there probably no more than 50 Jewish people

among the town's 150 residents.

Today, there are none.

Sally: In 1939, the Nazis came into Poland,

and I was old enough to start school.

And my mother got me all prettied up for school

with my starched dress

and my hankie pinned and all that.

And I went to school,

where a very handsome, dashing assistant principal

told us that today,

he was going to tell us a story about birds.

There were seven birds who flew around gathering food,

and they were dying one by one.

And when he got all through with the story,

he said, "Who can go to the board

and summarize this story arithmetically?"

And I raised my hand. I was the only hand in class

who raised -- that went up,

and I went to the board, and I wrote,

"Seven minus five equals two,"

and he said, "That's right!"

with all the indignation he could muster,

with such anger.

And I was so bewildered,

because my uncle had taught me these things.

And when I got it right,

I used to be hugged and kissed and rewarded.

And here there was such malice.

And I walked back to my seat very upset,

and I could feel the anger coming from everyone in class.

How many people were there in your class?

I don't remember how many, but it was a classroom

full of little kids, and they were all upset --

Were there any Jewish kids in the class?

No. I was the only Jewish child in class.


And as I sat in my seat very upset,

I thought to myself, "I'm not coming back here again.

I'll tell my mommy I don't want to go back."

Did you know you were the only Jewish kid then?

Like, were you aware of Jewish and not Jewish?

I think I did. I think I did, yes.

I think so.

And then as I was leaving school that day,

I got a letter to give to my mother,

and the letter said that I may not come back to school anymore

because I'm Jewish, and Jewish children

are not allowed in school. Wow.

I think we're approaching my house.

Which one, on the right? The red roof I think is the --

Really? Yes, I think so.

I think that that house has not been changed.

Excited? Yeah, very.

Woman: Yeah? Are you nervous, Mommy?

-Get off the road. -Stay on the sidewalk.

I'm not nervous. I am --

Excited, there's a difference.

That nervous excitement.

Do you remember things?

Do you recognize anything?

I don't --

How about the field to the left?

I remember this.

You see, when I looked out of my window,

this is what I saw.

Really? Yes.

You mean the window from where you hid?

From my house. Oh, from your house?

Woman: You mean it's around here somewhere?

Somewhere here is my house.

I was thinking maybe this house over here.

Which one? With the red roof, I think.

-That's where you lived? -She's not sure.

Leslie, I told you you wouldn't be impressed.

My grandfather believed

that the Germans are people

who are civilized, who are intelligent,

who are fair-minded, who are Christian,

who will not harm those who do not merit harm.

And when my father tried very hard to persuade Grandpa

to run away with us,

Grandpa called my father foolish and ridiculous.

And I was siding with Grandpa,

because if we did what my father suggested,

I had to leave my comfortable home,

and if we did what Grandpa suggested, I could stay at home,

and this is really what I wanted to do.

I know, but I think this was my house.

Ma, I don't think anyone lives here at all.

I don't think so, either, but I think it was my house.

I really do.

When I looked out these windows,

I saw people going to church,

and they turned the corner.

Debbie: What was it like to grow up in a town like this,

to play on streets like these?

Were my mother's, my aunts' and my uncles' childhoods

as different from my own as they appear to have been?

They were, at least at first,

innocent of the horrors that the future would bring.

As for my cousins and for me,

we were brought into the world more suspicious and cynical

than they, knowing intimately what can happen.

As children, some of us remember always looking for quick exits

and hiding places, often fearing without reason

that our own safety was in jeopardy

and that tragedy would strike again.

We all understood when some of our relatives

who'd survived the attic

preferred to stay far away from Poland,

the place where their youthful innocence had been betrayed.

Norman: My memories are that we had a happy house,

brothers and sisters, a happy family.

And our parents were very proud of us,

and of course we were proud of them,

and it was a happy home.

I, for sure, was too young to think

about what's going to happen.

Maybe my older brothers or my parents

were afraid for the future,

but I -- as a kid, I didn't think about that.

I was only about 5 years old, I think 5 or 6 years old,

and I knew that there was something very tragic happening,

but I don't think that I was ready to comprehend.

Sally: In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland,

I was 5 years old.

My experiences with the Nazis who invaded our town

are not particularly upsetting.

Our town was a small town

that had no accommodations for soldiers,

so the invaders needed housing,

and three of them came to live with us.

They were very, very nice people.

The one I remember most

was Mr. Arnold.

I have very happy recollections of Mr. Arnold.

He used to sit in the house a great deal and read

and wait for my father impatiently

to return home from his business activities,

and then the two of them would play chess.

And I do believe that those chess games

were very fortuitous,

because I think that my father learned

that this war was unlike any other war from Mr. Arnold.

As the edicts against Jews came out,

my father was evaluating them

with Mr. Arnold's eyes,

in a way.

Mr. Arnold conveyed certain warnings.

He made my father suspicious of what was going on.

The edict that made a great deal of difference in our lives

was the one that said,

"All Jews must come to the railroad station

at a certain time on a certain date,"

and this is the one where my father said,

"We cannot obey."

And I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt

that he took that stance

because of what Mr. Arnold had taught him.

I was, in a way, saved by a German officer.

Debbie: Auschwitz was only one hour away

from my family's hometown.

I first learned this fact in Poland, and yet as a child,

I'd often had nightmares that I was there or on my way.

My sister left summer camp

because she was reminded of Auschwitz,

and my cousin was afraid

to ride the New York City subway for a time

because she was reminded of death trains.

Being there felt in some strange way like being back.

Tour guide: Auschwitz number one and Auschwitz number two

are maintained as museums open to the public.

And now I will show you the exhibition

about the crimes committed at Auschwitz.

The number of prisoners in this camp

fluctuated between 13,000 to 16,000

in 1942, 28,000,

but in Birkenau, 90,000 to 100,000 prisoners.

75% to 80%

were sent immediately to the gas chambers.

They told them that they would be allowed to take a bath.

They gave them even soap and towels,

after which they were herded into a second underground vault

resembling a bathroom.

Into this room, about 2,000 people would be led.

After the door had been firmly closed, within 20 minutes,

all people trapped inside suffocated.

Sally: We didn't know the extent of what was happening

to the rest of the Jews.

But because of the warnings that Mr. Arnold conveyed to us,

my father warned the rest of the Jews in our community

that showing up at the railroad station is risking one's life,

so no one except for my grandfather showed up

at that station on that day.


Uh... [ Speaking Jewish ]

Interpreter: Excuse me, do you remember the war?

I am Jewish.

My father was Leibisch Engelberg.

Where can we find someone who might remember our family?

[ Man speaking Polish ]

Interpreter: Around the bend in the road.

[ Man continues speaking Polish ]

There was a road to the left and a store on the right.

Stay on that road, and you'll come to the town.

[ Sally speaking Polish ]

Interpreter: Excuse me, can you help us?

Do you remember Tsivia Engelberg?

I'm her oldest daughter.

[ Conversing in Polish ] Her daughter?

Oh, my God.

Yeah. Yeah.

I remember you as a little girl.

[ Laughs ] She remembers.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Interpreter: Do you remember when the Nazis came

and we had to leave the town?

Of course, of course.

I also remember a song you used to sing.

She remembers a song I always used to sing.

[ Laughs ]

-Which song? -What song?

[ Speaking Polish ]

Interpreter: Can you tell us the words?

In the middle of a village, in the corner of a barn.

Ends with, "The Engelberg girls

will yet do a dance."

[ Laughs ]


See, I remember this neighbor very well.

[ Laughter ]

Boy: Heil Hitler.

Woman: That boy just said, "Heil Hitler" to me.

Did you hear that? That boy just said,

-"Heil Hitler" to me. -Where?

-Behind my left shoulder. -Is that what he said?

-Forget it. -Yeah.

Woman #2: Ignore it.

Debbie: The children who delivered this Nazi greeting

probably had parents or grandparents who were children

when Hitler conceived of the Final Solution.

It seemed that some of these children

had inherited a hatred of us

the way we inherited a fear of them.

Although this was one isolated incident,

it made me wonder how my family must have felt

when whole nations turned against them.

Sally: A war moves on, and life had changed completely.

We became pariahs in a way.

I mean, the Jews always stuck out.

As I read, I see that I --

But I wasn't aware of sticking out.

Now I became aware of my situation,

and I became very much aware of my --

of what I thought was my inferiority.

I really believed for years

that I was a very inferior human being.

And I think that my sense of morality

is different than most people's.

I, for example, think it is less immoral

to steal than it is to be hungry.

I think that self-defense --

If you're afraid of dying, you have a right to kill.

And I know that that is not the way everybody else thinks,

but my morality was developed in a different world

with different rules,

and I live by that.

Debbie: As the story unfolded before us, we began to understand

where we had inherited our perceptions of the world.

It was beginning to make sense

that we who had been given so much

could still go through life

driven by feelings of inferiority and defiance.

Sally: It was now a crime for anyone to assist Jews,

so no one was willing to do that.

One night, it was early fall 1942,

and we bundled together whatever we could.

And I, being the oldest child in the family,

was given a little bundle to carry,

and my mother and father carried the little children.

And we went into the fields, and in the fields,

what we did was dig holes in the newly harvested grains,

and we got into those holes.

And the idea was to come out at night

and live on whatever nature provided in those fields.

Debbie: With Nazi soldiers searching all around for them

and the other Jews of the town, my family spent three months

running through forests and fields,

all the time hoping to find a safer place to hide.

Sally: The idea was to get in here,

pull out all the insides.

See, when you pull out these insides, this still stands up.

And we, like, made a house in there, and we got in there,

and then we pulled this towards us,

and we were supposed to sit that way quietly all day

because all around came farmers to work.

But the kids didn't want to stay in there,

so we crept out little by little.

And before you know it,

we joined in the middle somewhere.

And before you know it, we use this at night to sleep,

and by day, we were really out here in the middle.

And the farmers saw us and pretended not to.

So this was my house.

You have to understand that the Nazis knew

that in this town, the Jews did not show up.

Where were they? They were searching all around.

And these farmers, some had family

who worked for the Germans

and were finding out things,

and they were giving us this information.

They also began to share with us their food.

As they sat down in the fields to rest and eat,

they would give us some of their food and so on.

And as I look back, I am constantly wondering,

"What is it that caused peasants in Poland

to betray the Jews in such large numbers,

and why weren't we betrayed?"

The only rational answer I can think of

is the fact that we had --

between us, we had four and three children,

seven little children.

And my feeling is, on a rational level,

that little children soften the heart,

and, therefore, they didn't betray us.

I have a very vivid recollection of my father

arguing with my uncle Naftali, his younger brother,

who said, "You need me to go and help you

because your children are little,

and they need to be carried." And my father said,

"I insist that you take flight on your own,

that you do what the other people without children

in our village are doing,

so that someone will be saved in our family

and will be able to tell the story of what happened to us."

And each time I tell my story,

I feel that I'm doing what my Uncle Naftali was intended to do

but didn't live to do it.

Debbie: We had never known exactly what happened to Uncle Naftali

until we sought out the man who witnessed his murder.

[ Speaking Polish ]

Sally: They made a search for Jews.

[ Speaking Polish ]

From here to the little water -- body of water that --

[ Speaking Polish ]

They had soldiers every few --

Man: Few yards, from that point to that point,

searching all --

And they searched from place to place

till they reached over that place.

[ Speaking Polish ]

There was a 2-meter area

that you could cross over that water.

And Uncle Naftali crept into that hole,

and he covered himself up.

And the leeches began to bite him.

And he got out of that secret place.

And --

And he moved about 300 meters

to a dry place, and there was a heap of hay,

and he got into that heap of hay.

[ Woman speaking Polish ]

Okay, the young man --

The Nazis asked a young man named Antek

to remove some of the hay,

so he removed just a little bit from the top,

so the Nazi yelled, "More!"

and they saw my uncle.

He said that...

Antek suffered for a long time from the fact

that he was the one to uncover my uncle

for them to kill.

Sally: That's a menorah, isn't it?

These are the Jewish gravestones.

We're walking on them.

-You're kidding. -No, walk on the grass.

They were stones, so they used it to walk on.

It's easier than to walk on grass.

Here, here, look. Here's Hebrew writing.

Woman: Yeah, I see Hebrew writing on a lot of them.


This one is readable.

[ Speaks Hebrew ] ...something.

Debbie: We searched the remnants

of the Jewish cemetery of Urzejowice

looking for a stone to confirm the death

of my mother and my aunt's baby sister.

I learned her name in Poland.

They had called her Feige before the war.

She'd grown too sick to survive in hiding

and had been brought to a church in an effort to save her life.

No one would ever talk about Feige.

Why had her existence been kept such a secret?

Why had she never been mourned?

Even in Poland, I was afraid to ask.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

She remembers my little sister.

Man: Do they have any idea where the child was buried?

[ Conversing in Polish ]

In the Catholic cemetery.

Does she think there was a stone put there to identify?

[ Conversing in Polish ]

The tradition is that such little children,

you would put in a family grave, like, with the grandparents,

so it's very rarely you make a grave --

separate grave for such a little child,

like a few months.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Interpreter: My parents never spoke about my little sister.

They didn't know that we remembered her.

Yes, they didn't want to leave such bad memories

to their children.

Debbie: We continued to discover this past

that our parents had tried to forget.

Now we were literally retracing our mother's steps,

following the path they walked that night to the attic.

Sally: Among those farmers who helped us

when we were hiding in the fields

was a man with whom my mother had spent her youth.

And my mother dared

to ask him to give us shelter,

and he naturally refused.

It was the only sensible thing to do,

to refuse.

And my mother persisted.

He used to return and visit,

and my mother persisted in her pleas,

and then one day he said to my mother, "Look," he said,

"You must stop asking me because you know I can't do it.

I have a wife and children that I must think of first,

and my wife is absolutely petrified at the very idea.

I mustn't even bring it out with her."

This gave my mother the clue that he would be willing,

but his wife was the obstacle.

So she came upon a new idea,

and her new idea was to promise his wife

all the jewelry and furs

that she and her sister-in-law had and whatever money we had.

In other words, bribery became an issue here, and one day --

one night, the man came back, and he said to my mother,

"Okay. My wife is willing to chance it,

providing you turn over to her all your jewelry and furs,

particularly your fur coat."

We had some money.

We gave it to them, yeah, some jewelry,

-and, like -- -Suits.

We gave them all kind of clothing, nice one.

Like, we had the -- Who had the --

It's -- Your grandmother had a beautiful ring,

diamond ring, engagement ring.

We gave it away for a sack of potatoes.

In the deep, dark night without any light at all,

just the stars, we held hands,

and we walked to his home

where he quietly took us all

upstairs to his attic.

And he closed the trapdoor.

He removed the ladder,

which his kids used to use to go up there to play.

Now they couldn't go up there anymore.

He had prepared for us large pots to use as toilet,

and we were intended to stay there, again,

a day or two, a week or two,

maybe a month.

It turned out to be a stay of two years.

They thought this is going to take a few weeks.

In meantime, this took two years.

The woman, this Mrs. Grocholska, had a nervous breakdown.

She called us all kind of names.

Then it was a year, a year and a half, and he was --

were very, very mean became, you know?

He became very mean, and, well, I didn't blame him, also,

because, you know, it was involved

with his life,

with children, with his wife and everything.

We kept totally silent at all times

so that we would not betray our presence up there.

And the only contact we had was with the farmer at night

when he would bring up whatever he could

for provisions for the next day,

and he would empty our toilets,

pots that he had provided us with toilets,

and he would bring us the newspaper.

And then they wanted we should go away from them.

I went downstairs to him, and I said,

"Stasia, you must stay with us like this," you know?

"You started. You must finish.

Not 'You go and I go.' You started.

I am paying for this, and you forget about,

or you get me a --"

Pay. We did what -- We had to pay a lot.

From beginning, we gave him whatever we had.

We gave them everything.

It was three families.

Everybody gave him what they had.

Sally: My mother comes from a very large family,

and some of her brothers had been shot.

Her two sisters were killed,

but some in her family were still alive.

My mother begged the farmer to bring them to us.

He eventually brought them, and they joined with us,

and he now had six of us,

five of my uncle's family is 11,

and five brothers.

He now had 16 in a little, tiny attic.

Debbie: Of the 16 members of my family that were hidden,

13 survived,

and because of what this one family did,

60 people are alive today.

It's here. Yeah?

Sally: Pani Grocholska? Interpreter: Mrs. Grocholska?

Do you know who I am?

Your daughter wrote that we were coming from America?

She wrote.

Do you know who I am?

Now I do.

[ Speaking Polish, voice breaking ]

You survived.

It was difficult, but we survived.

I brought my family to meet you.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Come in, come in.

Do you still work at your age?

Yes, but it is difficult.

How do you feel?


I was just in the field.

Come into the house.

This is the lady.

Interpreter: I am Tsivia's oldest daughter.

This is my husband.

This is my daughter.

Hiding somewhere over there is my son.

And you remember Yitzhak?

Yitzhak? Yes.

Those are his two granddaughters.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Oh, yeah, she's got to comb her hair.

[ Laughter ]

Man: She has to comb her hair for the pictures now.

[ Laughter ]

She also likes to look nice in the pictures.

[ Speaking Polish ]

Woman: Tell her that we think she's beautiful.

Interpreter: My children say to tell you you're beautiful.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Now is harvesting time, so I've been working in the fields,

and that's why I'm dressed like this.

Man: And she is about to help them on the fields, too,

so that's why she's not dressed properly

and she will excuse herself for that.

[ Speaking Polish ]

Interpreter: Also, I turned 80 in July.

80 years on the 2nd of July,

so she's 80 now.

Interpreter: You will have many more healthy years.

And how's your Uncle Norman?

-Norman. -Norman?

Oh, my gosh!

He's wonderful!

Interpreter: Norman is doing just fine,

and he remembers you very well.

He's the only one who wrote to me.

He was the first to write her.

That's because his wife knows how to write in Polish.

And you, you're Polish people.

You write nothing to me.

[ Laughing, speaking Polish ]

When I was a girl, the Jews weren't allowed

to go to school in Poland, so I never learned to write.

Ah, that was that time.

She knows it by heart -- [ Speaking indistinctly ]

Actually, I wrote to Norman that it was only by God's grace

that you survived.

Only through God's grace he survived.

Can we see the attic now?

Sally: Do you see?

This was the great source of light.

This is where my father used to read the paper, right here,

and each of us had a crack here,

and from this crack, we watched the world.

That's all we saw.

Norman: It was -- In the summer, was unbearable hot.

It was unbearable. The kids were laying with open mouths,

without water, without anything.

Sally: We whispered. We didn't talk.

We whispered.

I would beg for water.

I would say, "I don't care about food.

I just want some water."

Norman: And in the cold, when we got up,

we were covered with snow in the winter,

completely covered with snow.

Rita: I remember scrounging for crumbs in the straw.

Sally: My father suspected that he wasn't going to make it,

and he charged me with the responsibility

of taking care of our family.

Norman: Your grandfather had a little boy.

He died from hunger, and then your grandmother --

your grandmother couldn't take it anymore.

Rita: I know it was on a Friday evening.

She looked at everybody and then just laid down and died.

I just remember shaking.

Sally: It became very clear that my little sister

was not going to be able to survive much longer,

and her cries had to be stifled

because she didn't understand danger

and that she wasn't allowed to make a sound.

And my mother wrapped her up and took her down

and planted her on a church doorstep,

and our hope was that she was surviving the war

in the care of some people who may have picked her up.

She didn't survive.

[ Voice breaking ] Nonny spent all her days and nights

crying in the attic.

Silently, tears just flowed down her face.

[ Crying ] I think it had much to do...

...with the baby she had to abandon.

She never, never, never talked about it,

and neither did Grandpa.

They each suffered separately and never shared the pain,

I think to spare us the knowledge.

I think they thought we didn't remember,

but we all did remember,

and we only shared it with each other

after both of them were dead,

when we couldn't help them with it anymore.

[ Sobbing ]

I'm sorry.

[ Sobbing ]

Interpreter: My children have always wanted to know what went on up here.

Now they see so much.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Yeah, she says, "Now you see it authentically,

not just by others' visions,

but you see an authentic version of what went on."

[ Conversing in Polish ]

Interpreter: My children would like to ask you some questions.

Man: Too much, too much.

-Too much? -Too much already.

Woman: Why did you bring this family into your home to begin with?

[ Woman translating to Polish ]

Interpreter: This is a simple matter, because our people

didn't understand the consequences of their actions.

Those who had a good heart took in another person

to prevent their death.

Woman #2: When our family was up in the attic,

did you ever suspect there was anyone up there?

[ People conversing in Polish ]

Interpreter: Yes. And --

We weren't curious.

We didn't talk about it.

We only said to our father, "There's somebody up there.

We hear voices."

Had we been more curious, we would have put an end to it.

Even now that everything is over,

I don't like to talk about it with my neighbors

because something terrible might happen.

It is still as it was before, a secret.

Debbie: We went to Poland feeling ambivalent

towards the Polish people.

We knew that many had not helped the Jews during the war

and that even our saviors' motives

were not entirely selfless.

But the fact remained that these people risked their own lives

and the lives of their children to save our family,

and for that alone, we are forever grateful.

Sally: I remember very clearly the day we were freed.

The man came upstairs, and he said to us,

"You're free. You can go."

And we tried to descend the steps from the attic,

but we couldn't go.

Our legs wouldn't carry us.

So he took each one of us in his arms down the ladder,

put us on the ground, and said,

"You must get away from my house.

No one must ever know that I hid you."

Interpreter: I remember you were this big

when you came out of your hiding place.

We were very pale.

Yes, you couldn't walk.

See? She remembers how we returned.

[ Speaking Polish ]

She says, "You couldn't walk."

Woman: You couldn't walk. She was bending over!

Oh, my goodness!

[ Speaking Polish ]

Interpreter: You suffered a lot.

You went through a lot,

but now you are doing very well for yourself.

[ Conversing in Polish ]

It was very hard, and I remember when we came home

after hiding from the Nazis, you all helped us.

Thank you.

Debbie: In 1945, the war ended.

All across Europe, the few survivors

were emerging from camps, coming out of hiding,

and making their way back to the world of the living.

Sally: After liberation, when we discovered

what had happened to the rest of the Jews,

we realized that our experience

was typical of what Jews were going through.

The only thing is that we were luckier.

We survived.

And there was a time when I wondered

if Jews would not be wiser

to un-Jew themselves, if you will.

I don't know how you call it.

But I thought to myself, "Why are the Jewish people

suffering so much? For what reason?"

And it took a long time for me to realize

that this is our way

of defending the human right to be what one is.

I paid for it once, and who knows --

I might have to pay again,

but that's what life demands of us.

After liberation, when we returned home

and discovered nobody else was returning home,

we became terribly upset by that.

The whole world had changed for us.

There was nothing and nobody we cared for anymore.

We thought we would come back to a normal situation.

We thought, "Wait till we tell them what we lived through!

They won't believe it!

They won't believe that we lived through such a life."

And we came back, and there was no one to tell anything to.

-No one to tell. -No, they were all missing.

They were gone.

But three months after we returned home,

one evening, there was a knock on the door.

And my father opened the door,

and three Polish men came into our house.

-People you knew? -No, we did not know them.

They came from a different town.

And they made a little speech,

and in this speech, they told us

that they did not want any Jews in Poland,

that Poland is for the Polish people only,

that Jews are not wanted, that we should go to Palestine,

and that if we were still here when they came back,

they would kill us.

And we knew they would, because they shot once

past my mother to make their point.

Debbie: At the end of our stay,

when we returned to the same home

that our parents were forced to leave 40 years ago,

we found a swastika.

Woman: There's a swastika on the house.

They can't even draw one.

Yeah. Notice it's misshaped.



The swastika hadn't been left over from the 1940s.

It was newly drawn.

The hatred hadn't disappeared with the Jews of Poland.

It was still alive,

a hand-me-down from generations gone by.

It haunts their children the same way our parents' guilt

for having been among the few to survive continues to haunt us.

Sally: When we first landed in the United States,

I made a conscious vow to myself that what was past was past

and that I wasn't going to refer to it in any way again.

And in order to succeed at that, I managed to lose my accent

and to sound as native as possible

so that no one would notice that I had a hidden past

that I didn't want to talk about.

And then I became a young mother,

and I felt that this was not the right way to go about things.

I felt, "Your children have a right to know the past,

all of your past,"

and I didn't feel comfortable hiding it.

I often would walk out of the room

with my eyes tearing when the children were there.

And I knew that they noticed,

and I didn't know how to explain it

because I was keeping a secret.

The woman that was crying on the sofa today

is not the woman that raised me when I was a small child.

My mother was not like that.

My mother really tried to keep me and my brothers shielded

from these things.

I think that all children identify with their parents,

and when you're identifying with a parent

that's gone through such an incredible emotional trauma,

it would be hard not to be affected.

Well, I do want to protect them.

I do want everything to be good and nice and wonderful for them.

I also happen to know that not knowing the truth is not good,

so I am of two minds when it comes to my own children,

and I don't know which is the best path to follow.

And it is for that reason

that having them with me in Poland was very --

It relieved me of this anxiety

about them not knowing the truth.

Now they knew.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ People speaking in Polish ]

Woman: It's very special for us to be here,

not only because you've been so warm

and welcoming and hospitable,

but because we owe your grandparents such a great debt,

because without what they have done,

we wouldn't be here at all,

and we'd like to thank you all very, very much,

and we toast you,

and there's a place for all of you in Heaven.



Debbie: According to the history books,

the Holocaust ended in 1945 along with the war,

but for the survivors, in many ways, it never ended.

Despite their silence, or as a result of it,

it even managed to make its way into the next generation.

I would like to say that this visit

put all the disturbing feelings to rest,

but it didn't. It couldn't have.

But having been to Poland, we all have, I think,

a little more understanding and control.

I don't have to live in an imaginary attic.

I've been to the real one and left it,

and when the time comes,

I will tell my children my family story.

Hopefully they'll never feel the negative effects

of that generation's tragedy,

but instead will be inspired by their strength and courage.





















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