"It was burning around", testify the survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising

Death, terror, hunger

"It was burning around", testify the survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising

Death, terror, hunger... 80 years after the Warsaw ghetto uprising, two survivors in their nineties continue to tell of the fate that the German Nazis had in store for them.

Krystyna Budnicka, née Kuczer, 90, remembers the moment of the uprising well: "I felt it was burning around me."

"We felt the heat of the walls that we couldn't touch (...) like in a bread oven," she told AFP in Warsaw, the city where she still lives.

The Warsaw ghetto was created by the Germans a year after the invasion of Poland in 1939.

On a little over three square kilometers, the Nazis crowded up to 450,000 Jews, to exterminate them by starvation and disease, or deport them to the death camp of Treblinka, 80 kilometers east of Warsaw .

On April 19, 1943, a few hundred Jewish fighters attacked the Nazis, preferring to die with weapons in hand rather than take the path to the gas chambers.

At the start of the uprising, some 50,000 civilians were still hiding in cellars and bunkers.

The Germans suppressed the insurrection and set fire to the whole neighborhood.

When the insurrection broke out, Mrs. Budnicka was ten years old and had already been living for several months in a bunker built by her brothers under her building in the heart of the ghetto. His entire family of ten, along with others, hid there hoping to survive the German terror.

"I felt weak, helpless, beaten down, overwhelmed by torpor, she recalls, as if everything was happening outside of me. I was hugging my mother, I was scared, I was hungry, I I was weak, it was above all hunger that made me weak (…) Nothing depended on me".

When the revolt began, Halina Birenbaum was also living with her family in a bunker "with the hope that the war would end and that we would get out".

She was stuck underground for three weeks "with just water, sugar and a little jam," said the 93-year-old woman who now lives in Israel.

"We were tight and we had to keep silent, we smelled the smoke because the Germans were burning the ghetto, street after street", she recalls.

"This revolt was suicide, we couldn't win but we had to hurt them" (to the Nazis), insists Ms. Birenbaum.

Eventually, his family was exposed and had to flee the bunker.

On the surface "there was nothing left of the ghetto", she underlines.

Sent with her family to the Majdanek camp, she was later transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, then to the Ravensbrück camp.

Mrs. Budnicka escaped from the bunker through the sewers. Weakened and unable to walk, her parents, accompanied by her sister, remained there forever.

"Mom told me to continue (...) I consider this as her will meaning that I must continue, and live", she says again.

Coming out of the sewers, she was exhausted with fatigue and hunger. "I had to learn to walk again, because I remained underground for eight months" without moving, she recalls.

His entire closest family perished in the Holocaust. "I didn't cry them, because I have no more tears," she says.

For years, the two women have testified to their fate, especially to young people.

"At the end of the war, I remember saying to myself that after what had just happened, it had no right to start again, that the world learned something", indicates Ms. Budnicka, "but very quickly it turned out that so."

"No child in the world deserves such a fate (...) Why did I have to go through all this? Because a guy like Hitler was not happy for a Jewish child to live and he imagined that he had to be killed", she protests, "but I continue to live, to her great displeasure".

Since 1986, Ms. Birenbaum has been traveling to the site of the former Auschwitz camp. On April 18, she will take part in the March of the Living, organized for years, in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.

"It is important to tell and to say that war and hatred of others poison everything", she insists, "I tell young people that life is above everything, every day, every minute, every moment counts, we must keep hope, fight to live, to be free".

17/04/2023 09:40:21 - Warsaw (AFP) © 2023 AFP