Jewish Families on the Brink of War

Suddenly the Skies Darkened

Diary from Occupied Warsaw

"The problem we face in September 1939 is how to find bread. After standing in line in vain for five hours at bakeries and confectionery stores, we returned home with two heads of cabbage, each costing one zloty. Yesterday, human heads were cheaper…. Bread is not the only thing which is lacking… We stand and wait in line despite the bombardments, because a place in the line is as precious as life itself."

Mira Zabludowski wrote these words on 18 September 1939 in a diary she kept during the first months of occupation in Warsaw.  Mira came to visit her parents and was caught in the eye of the storm.  In late November 1939, she managed to leave Poland and return to her home in Haifa.  Her parents were murdered in the Holocaust.

Dr. Simcha-Simek Zabludowski, a lawyer and legal scholar, and his wife Elisheva née Kronstein lived in an apartment building that spread over an entire block at number 7 Miodowa Street in Warsaw.  The whole building belonged to the family, and Simcha's parents, brothers and sisters and their families all lived there.  Simcha's father, Zvi Hirsch Gregory Zabludowski inherited the building, known as "Chopin House".  The family led an observant Jewish lifestyle, and many of its members were Zionists.

Simcha and Elisheva had three children:  Gina (b. 1912), Mira (b. 1915) and Immanuel (b. 1918).  All three immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) in the 1930s.  Gina married Yohanan Osterreicher (later Ortar), and she took him to Warsaw to meet her parents in 1936. In the spring of 1937, before the birth of Gina and Yohanan's daughter Ada, Simcha and Elisheva came to Eretz Israel for a visit, and returned home at the end of the summer.  In the fall of 1938, Gina visited her parents in Warsaw with Ada.  She brought "certificates" (immigration permits) for her parents, but all her efforts to bring her parents to Eretz Israel were fruitless.  "We can't drop everything and immigrate to Eretz Israel," said Elisheva, "How will we live there and manage without speaking the language? Life in Eretz Israel is hard, and not suited to us, and the cultural and social life there is lacklustre in comparison to Warsaw."

In the summer of 1939, Mira travelled to Warsaw to visit her parents together with her aunt, Fela Zabludowski (wife of Hayman, Simcha's brother) and Fela's son Alexander. 

On 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked Poland, and within a few days, Warsaw was under siege.  Fela, Alexander and Mira, who all had Eretz Israel passports, wanted to leave Warsaw.  This time too, Simcha and Elisheva refused to leave their home.  "The war will end," they said, "And life will resume as normal, like after World War I." Fela and Alexander left first.  They managed to flee Poland, and boarded a ship back to Eretz Israel on 19 September 1939.  Mira remained.

During the months that Mira was living in occupied Warsaw, she wrote a detailed diary in Polish, 56 pages long.  She typed it using a typewriter she borrowed from a neighbor.  Shortly afterwards, the neighbor's apartment was reduced to rubble in the bombing.  The Zabludowski's home was also damaged, but remained standing. 

On 17 October, Mira wrote:

"Ritual slaughter is absolutely forbidden.  The Jews, anxious for what awaits them, barely go into the streets.  The men fear being beaten and seized for forced labor, and stay at home.  The women, who have to take responsibility for water, food, and meagre money supplies, look like creatures on the edge of the abyss.  The emaciated children gathered from the destroyed Jewish neighborhoods wear rags.  They testify to the desperation of the hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews.  Terror hovers over Polish Jewry… Masses of people are leaving the city.  Posters hang in the streets calling on all those who have relatives or livelihood options in the periphery to leave Warsaw, as it will be impossible to repair the building damage before the winter and there is no solution for the food shortages."

Mira managed to leave Poland in late November, never imagining that she would not see her parents again.  Mira's friend Manya Kerner tried to persuade Elisheva to leave Warsaw.  Elisheva refused, saying repeatedly: "There is no difference between Stalin and Hitler." Simcha passed away in July 1940, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.  Elisheva was caught in the ghetto together with two of her nieces, and the three were murdered, presumably in Treblinka. 

Gina and Yohanan had two more daughters, Dafna and Elisheva, named after Gina's mother.  Mira married David Arnon, a soldier in the Jewish Brigade. She became secretary to Vera Weizmann, wife of Israeli President Chaim Weizmann.  Afterwards, she worked in the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo, where she learned Japanese, and on her return to Israel, she forged ties with members of the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv.  Mira was the director of "Beit Yad Lebanim" in Holon, cultivated young artists, and assisted in the establishment of the Holon Chamber Orchestra.  In addition to her professional interests, Mira translated poetry and literature into Polish.  In 1978, she was fatally injured by a car while crossing the road in Raanana. 

Immanuel married Hannah and they had a son, Uri and a daughter, Nitza.  Uri became a pilot in the Israel Air Force, and eventually changed his family name to Sivan.  In February 2019, Prof. Uri Sivan, grandson of Simcha and Elisheva Zabludowksi, was appointed President of the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa. 

In 1956, Gina Ortar submitted a Page of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her mother Elisheva.

In 1988 Gina's husband Yohanan donated the diary of his sister-in-law Mira Arnon, to Yad Vashem. In 2019, Gina and Yohanan's daughter Ada Smid and Ilan Oren, grandson of Hayman  and Fela Zabludowksi and son of Alexander, donated the family photographs displayed here.