I was born Edward Mersyk in Warsaw, Poland in 1939. My parents, Stefania and Marek were both lawyers in Warsaw. We lived in a Jewish part of Warsaw in a home at Nowolipki 13. This street became part of the Warsaw Ghetto when it was organized.
My parents met in the Law Department of Warsaw University. There, Law was a noble profession. My paternal grandparents were very progressive, and they sent their daughters to private schools. They went on to University and both became Lawyers.
My cousin Krystina’s father was a wealthy man. He had a car and a private chauffeur. He owned a sugar refinery. In 1936, he built a building in the Jewish section of Warsaw that was not destroyed in the war and still exits today. Krystina had a German nanny who taught her the language fluently, and consequently my aunt also learned German.
When the tides began to turn in Warsaw, their family moved to Lvov. When things began to get bad there too, they returned to Warsaw. Their home had been confiscated, so they moved in with us. There were two more families that moved into our apartment with us at a later date. My uncle died in 1942 from disease and starvation.
When the ghetto was formed, both my parents found jobs in the “workshops” there. I would spend time with my maternal grandfather, and during one of those times, we were captured in an “action” (random roundup of Jews for deportation).
My grandfather was beaten by German soldiers and we were taken to the Umschlagplatz for deportation to Treblinka. My father found out about what had happened to us and was able to bribe a Jewish policeman to help me escape.
I was one of a very few people to escape from deportation there. My grandfather could not be saved. He was deported to Treblinka and perished there. All of my father’s family died in the ghetto or in Treblinka.
After the Umschlagplatz incident, my father decided that we would leave our home in the Warsaw ghetto at any price. He was able to find a room in an apartment building on Grojecka Street. The building was partially damaged, and a room had to be rebuilt for our family.
I was smuggled there, hidden in a backpack, to this building in the non-Jewish section of Warsaw. This was on the outskirts of Warsaw. My father looked Jewish, but my mother and I did not.
He did not want to cause us problems, so he decided to join the underground. His handler came to the house to tell him they needed to take his winter coat for his use later. They took the coat then they reported him to the Gestapo. He was taken away and we never heard from him again. After the war I was unable to find any information about him.
While hiding in the Aryan part of Warsaw at Grojecka 104, I would watch the comings and goings of the people on the street outside our window. When the Germans would come to take people away I would also watch.
On one of these occasions I saw some people taken away from the building kiddy-corner to ours. It is very possible that one of people taken away was Emmanuel Ringelblum, the famous Warsaw Ghetto historian.
My mother and I were joined my aunt and cousin and began hiding together. My mother and aunt decided that if they were going to die, it would be together. My cousin Krystina looked Jewish and could never leave the apartment.
I would go out with my mother sometime when she and my aunt would purchase baked goods in the city and sell them on the outskirts to make some money. My mother was able to get some falsified papers with different names on them.
We used different papers at different times, and when on one of trips away from home I was asked my name, I could only answer my first name, since I didn’t know which last name we were currently using. The name Malinowski was one of those names that we used.
On one of her trips out, my mother was approached by a man from the Zegota organization that helped Jews. He helped us with money and food. He gave us the first chicken I had ever eaten.
Shortly after the beginning of the Warsaw uprising in August of 1944, the building in which we were hiding began to house the headquarters of RONA (Russian National Liberation Agency), which was a renegade brigade of the SS. They were mostly criminal and vicious.
We ran into the basement of our building. We were on one side of the basement, the rest of occupants of this building were on the other. The RONA threw hand grenades into the basement and they went off on the other side. We escaped to the gardens surrounding the building we lived in. We were discovered and nearly shot on the spot. Through unusual circumstances, German soldiers intervened and saved our lives. We were spared; the rest of people of this building were killed.
We were subsequently taken to a transitional camp in Pruszkow. We escaped this camp and spent the rest of the occupation hiding in different communities surrounding Warsaw. We continued to use the different names on our falsified documents. We lived in constant fear, and my mother did not return to our family name (Mersyk) even after the war.
Warsaw was liberated on January 17, 1945. My mother and aunt returned to Warsaw on January 19, 1945 and went back to see what was left. The building my uncle built in 1936 was still standing, but their apartment was occupied. They were able to get one of the small apartments in the building. There was nothing in it. The apartment manager put a “Franklin” type of stove in it and boarded up the broken windows.
My mother continued to stay in this building until I was married. My mother sent me to school when I was 5 years old, two years earlier than children normally went to school. I had to walk the equivalent of two miles to go there every day.
After the war ended, life in Warsaw was completely destroyed. In 1946, we had the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, but my mother was unable to face being separated from her sister, and the unknown in a foreign country.
My mother sacrificed and worked at up to three institutions to make sure I could go to school, music school, then to medical school. After finishing medical school, I specialized in cardiology and was employed by the medical school.
In 1968, the difficult political situation forced me and my family to leave Poland. I was married with a child at that point and decided to come to the United States. The eight of us left together, my mother, her sister, my cousin Krystina, who was now also a doctor, with her husband and child along with my family. HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) offered to move us to Detroit, and we decided to come here.
Presently, I’m a cardiologist, my wife is a dermatologist. Our daughter graduated from the University of Michigan’s Interflex program (combined college and medical school), and is now a retina surgeon. She has a son, whom she named after my murdered Father – Mark!