Ludwika Szostak, Righteous Among the Nations. Warsaw, 1960s
Karolina with her future husband, shortly after arriving in Israel
Holocaust survivor Karolina Eisen (Agatstein) and Elizabeth Stradowska, great-niece of Righteous Among the Nations Zygmunt and Ludwika Szostak, next to the Wall of Honor in Yad Vashem's Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, 13 May 2013.
In late 1941, the Jews of Lwów, including Alfred Agatstein, his wife Dora and their daughter Klara, were confined in a ghetto. One day, Alfred was arrested and taken out of the ghetto. That was the last time Dora and Klara ever saw him. Dora and Klara managed to escape the ghetto and survived under false identities in Warsaw.
The name Alfred Agatstein is documented in the Book of Names, one of the 4,800,000 names of Holocaust victims that have been collected by Yad Vashem and are commemorated in this monumental installation. This is his story.
Alfred Agatstein and Dora-Dorotha née König lived in Tarnów, Poland. Alfred was a doctor of law and an advocate, and Dora, who had an MA in philosophy and history from the Jagellonian University in Krakow, was a teacher and principal of a night school for adults. They were assimilated Jews, and were financially comfortable. In 1935 their only child, Klara-Karosha, was born.
When the war broke out, even before the Germans reached Tarnów, Dora and Alfred hired a horse and cart and escaped eastward with Klara. They reached Lwów, which came under Soviet control on 20 September 1939. Alfred and Dora both found work, and Klara went to kindergarten.
On 29 June 1941, the Germans occupied Lwów, and persecution of the Jews began immediately. Dora was fired from her secretarial job, and with the help of a Ukrainian friend, she found work in a German factory. This gave her an essential employee card, on which Klara was registered too. Dora kept in touch by letter with her sisters in Tarnów, and received clothes and other items from them, which she would sell in order to buy food for her family. After a time, Alfred managed to find work in the Judenrat, as a clerk.
In late 1941, the Jews of Lwów, including Alfred, Dora and Klara, were confined in a ghetto. They lived in very cramped conditions, sharing a room with another family. One day, Alfred was arrested and taken out of the ghetto. That was the last time Dora and Klara ever saw him. Meanwhile, contact with the family in Tarnów was severed, and rumors abounded about Jews being taken out of the ghettos and loaded onto trains that returned empty. Dora continued to work in the factory; frightened to leave her in the ghetto, Dora would take Klara with her to work every day. They would arrive early in the morning before everyone else, and with the assistance of two Ukrainians at the factory, a guard and the secretary, Klara would hide under the secretary's table while her mother worked. At some stage, the guard asked Dora not to bring Klara anymore, as people had seen the child, and he feared informants. From then on, Klara stayed alone in the ghetto. During an Aktion in the ghetto, house-to-house searches were conducted, and Klara was caught and brought to the collection point on the way to the train station. Hearing about this, Dora managed to sneak into the ghetto and reunite with her daughter, but her essential worker status no longer helped her. She bribed a Ukrainian policeman to let her escape with Klara. He promised to look the other way, and she succeeded in escaping the line being marched to the train, together with her daughter.
Dora decided that they had to leave Lwów. She bought an authentic marriage certificate from a woman called Malecka Tomislawa Seweryna, and contacted a Ukrainian policeman recommended by friends. They arranged that he would accompany her on the train to Warsaw, in return for payment. On the appointed day, Dora and Klara met the policeman outside the ghetto. Before they set off, he looked at Klara and said to Dora (who was blonde and blue-eyed): "The child is small, dark, scared with big eyes… leave her in the ghetto. She will endanger us." Dora refused to leave Klara behind, and the three of them made their way to the railway station. The policeman boarded the train with them, but abandoned them before the train left the station, taking with him one of Dora's bags containing some of the only valuables she had left.
In late summer 1942, Dora and Klara reached Warsaw, posing as Poles. Dora rented a room in a small pension far from town. She managed to obtain a blank birth certificate, and filled in her daughter's details, using an assumed identity – Karolina Klara Ritzke - Malecka Tomislawa Seweryna's daughter, and a forged ID number for herself. In order that Klara's age would correspond to the marriage date on Dora's card, she made Klara one year younger, fixing her year of birth as 1936. Dora then went about preparing her seven-year-old daughter for life as a Polish child. She taught her some of the Christian prayers, and drummed it into her that they were now Poles, and that no one could know about their Jewish identity. Dora left the pension, and rented a room with an elderly Polish couple, Zygmunt and Ludwika-Lunia Szostak, who lived very frugally. She told them that her husband was a Polish officer, who had been murdered in the massacre at Katyń perpetrated by the Soviets against Polish soldiers at the beginning of the war. However, as soon as they saw Klara, the couple understood that these were two Jews, and decided to take them in. Ludwika told her family that Dora was a cousin of her husband's, while telling her husband's family that Dora was her own cousin. After a while, Dora's money ran out, and she could no longer pay the Szostaks the rent. The financial situation became dire. Ludwika and Dora sewed, and sold their wares for food. They could not afford to heat the house. In the depths of winter, Ludwika moved Dora and Klara into her own bedroom, which was a little warmer. Dora managed to find a teaching job in a convent, and shared her salary with the Szostaks. During the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, Dora and Klara were evacuated to a village in southern Poland together with the Szostaks, and the four of them survived until liberation.
After the war, Dora and Klara moved to Krakow. Dora worked for the Jewish Historical Commission, and collected testimonies from Holocaust survivors. In the course of her work, she met survivors from Lwów, and understood that Alfred had been murdered. She remarried Adam Goldberg, who had survived the war in Siberia, and they changed their family name to Dormont. Klara took on the name Karolina. In her testimony she relates:
Mother searched for a name that I would be able to remember, and which would be similar to what they called me at home – Karosha. That's how I got the name Karolina… When the war was over, I said that the name had saved my life, so I changed my name officially at the Polish Ministry of the Interior… Later, I insisted on keeping it in Israel too, when they wanted to change my name to Malka or Atara in the 1950s, … because Karolina didn’t appeal to them. I never told them why, but I refused to do so.
In 1950, Dora and Adam immigrated to Israel with Karolina.