Jewish Families on the Brink of War

Suddenly the Skies Darkened

Farewell Dedication from Łódź

"I wanted to write something beautiful But for that I need a poet
So I'll say something good
I wish you much luck in everything you do"

Jula Piotrkowski wrote these words to her boyfriend Eliash before he left Łódź, Poland in February 1939 and immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).  Eliash asked Jula to join him, but she declined, knowing that this would be frowned upon by her religious family.  On parting, Jula gave him her portrait and this dedication.

Rafael Piotrkowski was a successful textiles merchant and a member of the Community Committee in Łódź.  He and his wife Esther-Rakhel had eight children: Sonia-Shaina, twins  Fela-Faige  and Jula-Devora, Hela-Chaya, Leib-Yehezkel , Wolf-Yitzhak , Szaja and Chava. The family led an observant Jewish lifestyle, and was financially comfortable.  Unbeknownst to her family, Jula was active in the local Zionist youth movement.

Before the war broke out, Sonia married Shmuel Ernst, and in 1933, their son Leibush-David was born.

On 9 September 1939, Łódź was occupied.  A few days later, Rafael was warned by a German acquaintance that he was about to be arrested. He left the city together with his son Leib, and they travelled to Warsaw.  In April 1940, Esther and the children were forced to leave their house and to move into the ghetto together with all of Łódź's Jews. In the months that followed, Rafael succeeded in smuggling Esther and some of his children from the ghetto by paying to have them taken out and brought to Warsaw.  Sonia, Fela, Jula, Hela and Szaja stayed in the ghetto, and using his connections, Rafael managed to organize a job for Hela in the ghetto.  On Passover 1941, Hela risked her life to visit her family in Warsaw.  After the holiday, she returned to Łódź to be with her younger brother. 

Two of Rafael's daughters, Fela and Jula got married in the ghetto, and they each had a child.  Fela's husband was Berel Zimen, but the names of Jula's husband and the two children are unknown. 

From time to time, Hela received letters in the Łódź ghetto from her family in Warsaw.  The last letter arrived in the summer of 1942.

Hela managed to safeguard her brother Szaja until August 1944. By then, her sisters and their children had already been deported from the ghetto. On 29 August, Hela and Szaja were deported to Auschwitz.  They passed the selection and were registered as camp inmates.  Hela was sent to work on a farm.  She was transferred to the Stutthof camp, and was forced on a death march in January 1945.  Hela was one of the few prisoners who survived the march and were liberated by the Red Army on 10 March 1945 near Danzig.  Szaja was sent from Auschwitz to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, from there to Buchenwald, and then, on 20 March 1945 to Bergen-Belsen, where he perished about a month before the end of the war.

Hela was plagued by guilt her whole life about the loss of her younger brother Szaja.  In her testimony she relates that he hid in the ghetto when it was being liquidated, and she was the one who persuaded him to come with her when they were being deported.  "Maybe", wondered Hela, "If I hadn't come to get him, he could have survived in the ghetto until the Russians arrived.  He had food and a place to live."

After the liberation, Hela returned to Łódź and discovered that her parents, her brothers and sisters, two of her brothers-in-law and her nephews had all been murdered.  The only family member to survive was Fela's husband, Berel Zimen.  Hela met labor camp survivor Yitzhak Minz in Łódź, and they got married there and had a daughter, Esther.  In 1949, the family immigrated to Israel.  A year later, Hela met Eliash, Jula's boyfriend.  Before he passed away, Eliash gave Hela the autograph book that Jula had made him, and a photograph of him with Jula and Fela.  This photo, and the portrait of Jula are the only two pictures of the Piotrkowski family that remain. 

In 1957, Hela Piotrkowski Minz submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of her parents Esther-Rakhel and Rafael, and in 1995, she submitted Pages in memory of her sisters, her brothers  and other relatives.  In 2012, Hela's daughter Esther Reshef gave Yad Vashem the autograph book displayed here, as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" project.