From the Testimony of Krystyna Chirowski (Chigier)
My father learned that the Lwow ghetto would be liquidated at midnight, so we hid in the basement of a shack. We went down and hid in the afternoon, after mother came back from work, because we were expecting a large scale massacre. I was seven and my brother Pawlek was three years old. From the cellar we went to the Poltva river, where we walked straight ahead until we found a tunnel. The tunnel was very wet and dark. When I got in, I was so scared that I shivered all over. I was very quiet, only asking father again and again if we still had far to go. There were stones in the tunnel with yellow worms crawling on them. We put all our belongings on the stones and sat down on them. Our situation was very bad. Water dripped from the walls and the stench was unbearable. I saw big, brown rats running next to us like chicken. At first I was terrified, but afterwards I got used to it. Pawlek wasn’t scared at all.
I was lying on mother’s lap and Pawlek on father’s knees. This lasted five weeks – day and night. We couldn’t move, nor get up. There were another 20 people with us. From the first day on, the Polish sewer maintenance people would bring us food: black bread and margarine. They treated us very well. They feared someone would notice them, and therefore would come through a different opening every time. I remember their names….
Father would bring water in a jar that he would hold between his teeth, because he had to move along the tunnel bent down. I felt very bad. I wasn’t permitted to talk loudly. I only whispered in mother’s ear. I dreamt that the war would end, so that I could go out into the world. Mostly I missed the sun, fresh air and flowers. I once asked our friends to bring some flowers. I wanted very much to see a dog and a horse. Pawlek missed the birds. But I didn’t tell mother, because she had other worries.
When it rained in summer, the rain penetrated into the tunnel. When people flushed their toilets, there would be a lot of water in our tunnel. Then we would have to lean against the walls so that the water wouldn’t pour on us. Pawlek was a small child – three years old – and he often cried. Mother was very nervous because she was afraid someone would hear us and we would be found out. Once one of the men who hid with us became so angry with Pawlek that he threatened him with a gun. But it was to no avail, because Pawlek only cried louder.
After five weeks we were discovered by other sewer maintenance people who had come to clean the tunnels….We had to run away. While we were running in the main tunnel we didn’t know where we were going, but we then met the tunnel workers who would bring us food. They were surprised and asked where we were going. Father told them everything. They took us to a side tunnel and told us to wait there during the night. They promised to find us a different hideout the following day.
They returned in the morning, and led us away….
The new tunnel was much better. There was more place and we slept on benches that father had built from boards he had found in the tunnel. There were four benches. I would sleep with father and another man. It was narrow and uncomfortable; I was squished like a herring in a barrel. Mother slept with Pawlek and another woman. We had one oil lamp that was alight day and night. The rats would eat our bread and father would chase them away with a stick so that they would run away. Pawlek would feed the rats as if they were chicken and threw bread crumbs and potatoes at them. The rats would come near and make noises. One woman cooked soup and coffee, and mother would dish it out to everybody, so I wasn’t hungry. Pawlek got used to it all and had completely stopped crying. An old woman with white hair and a bent back got sick and died. Another woman gave birth to a baby, but it died so they threw him into the Poltva. Two young women took turns and would do the cleaning. The oil lamp was lit all the time and I didn’t know if it was day or night. But I think it was daytime when the maintenance men would come. When it rained the water seeped into our hideout through the pipe. Through this pipe we could see a part of the grille and some light. Sometimes I saw a ray of sun, but it was very week.
Once I went into that pipe to look at the world, but I could see nothing. I felt a little fresh air. I missed the sun and the air so badly that it cannot be described in words. I heard the cars above our heads; I heard people and sounds of laughter and children playing. And I thought so often how happy I would be if only I could play with them. Once I heard a child cry and tell his mother that he wanted to sleep.
I became sick with hepatitis, so mother said. Pawlek got it from me and became very hoarse. One of the sewer men brought him eggs which he had to carry in his mouth – he was holding our food in his hands and had to enter our place crawling on all fours….
This is how we stayed for 14 months, and our sewer workers helped us all that time. When we had no money, they brought us food for free.
At the end we heard sirens and the noise of cannons. I was very scared, although I knew that our liberators, the Russians, were close by. One day we heard strong knocking on the sewer grille – it was our workers who were signalling that the war was over.
We went for several minutes along the pipe, and then tore open the cover and the sewer workers helped us out. We were such a terrible sight that we didn’t look like children. People felt sorry for us and a lady bought us something. I was very happy when I saw the sun, the flowers and the people. I was so happy. Only Pawlek cried and wanted to return to the sewer, because he wasn’t used to the light and was afraid of the people.