Excerpts from Rosner Blay, A. (1998) Sister, Sister, Sydney, Hale & Iremonger pp 106 - 138

Janka: For many years after the war we were asked, “Why did you Jews go to your death like sheep to the slaughter?” This generalisation wasn’t true, as history has revealed. …we were not sheep being led to the slaughter; we didn’t, and couldn’t, believe that eventually everybody would be killed by the Germans. Hope is an amazing thing. We hoped to survive, and refused to ‘die with dignity’ in our thousands. How could other people know of our high hopes, nourished daily by fantastic and optimistic rumours? We had a wild instinct for survival and knew we had to play for time. We were ignorant and lived on hope.

There was some resistance organised in the ghetto. The Jewish Combat Organisation (ZOB), which had been strong in Kraków, was made up mainly of youth-club members. They had their own underground newspaper and were helped by the small Polish communist resistance movement known as the People’s Guard. The major Polish resistance movement, the Home Army or AK, was unfriendly to Jews, and in any case was weak in the Kraków region. The ZOB derailed a military train in
Sisters Hela & Janka Weiss (Haubenstock)
August 1942, not by blowing it up but simply by unbolting the rails. Then in December 1942 they bombed a coffee-house, ‘Cyganerja’, frequented by German officers,and killed 11 of them as well as severely injuring many more. They launched this attack anonymously, so as not to endanger the population of the ghetto. (After the war, the proud Poles placed a commemorative plaque on this building, stating that the attack had been carried out by the Polish underground).

The Jewish resistance was active for about eight months in 1942 - 43. A man I knew, an electrician called Scheinwitz, had a hidden radio that he listened to. I also had a handsome friend who ran away from the ghetto and joined up with the resistance forces. Some news reached us but it was generally bad. I never heard from him again.

There were three lines I later saw scratched into a wall at Auschwitz:

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.

That’s how I felt too. Despite the suffering and pain, the deprivation and torment, I somehow managed to maintain a positive attitude.

Hela: The remarkable thing was that people kept their sense of humour, albeit grotesque, amidst the most appalling and unspeakable atrocities. We were always singing and telling vulgar jokes about our predicament. Macabre humour about death and bodies cropped up everywhere. There was a dreadful song about Hujowa Górka, the hill where the executions took place, and what went on between the bodies there after dark. Another song which the whole camp knew was sung to the tune of the trumpet call played by Wilek, Poldek’s brother, every evening.

It’s already nine o’clock All the camp is going to sleep The latrines are locked up now You’re no longer allowed to shit.

Toward the end, friends used to farewell each other saying: “Soon we shall meet on a shelf as two cakes of soap.” It was as if only by confronting the worst horrors imaginable, and then making jokes about them, could we survive the daily threats to our existence.

(The sisters of the book’s title, Hela and Janka, survived the war and immigrated to Australia in December 1949.)