Fela Szymkowicz

"Don’t give up hope; believe in Hashem, (word for G-d in Hebrew).  Be a good Jew, help whoever needs help.  When anyone ever needed anything I was there to help them.  That’s how people are supposed to be. "

Name at birth
Fela (Fayga) Granek
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Krzepice, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Wolf, Tailor
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Rochel Wein, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, first two died when they were born, Ephraim, Fela (Faygeleh), Shoshana (Rushka), Rivka
How many in entire extended family?
Large extended family. My father had five brothers and they all had large families. My mother had two brothers and three sisters; they were all married and had children. Most lived in Czestochowa, we didn’t see them too often. In our town, only person who had a car was the doctor.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Nobody, just me. That's why I never changed my name, if someone would maybe recognize my family name, but it never happened.
When the war broke out I was 11 years old.  On September 1, 1939, the first bomb fell into the Shul (Synagogue) and it made a big hole, the whole building went down.  This was 5 AM, our house was shaking, and it was very near the Shul.  Soon, the German soldiers came.  
Right away they shot a lot of Jewish people. We went down to the basement to hide. The Germans used to pop into a house and if they saw a man they would grab them and take them out.  They used to make the men hold their hands up for days and nights facing a wall.  Some were shot right there and then.  They did such horrible things right away.  We lived like this for two years until they came to take us away.  
They would see a Jewish house with a Mezuzah (a small case with a scroll from the Bible in it on Jewish homes).  My father and brother were in the basement.  They kept going to each of the houses; they didn’t take the Polish people, just the Jewish people.  
They came in and took my father and brother away.  Life was never the same.  You can’t even imagine what it was like if you didn’t go through it.  
Every second was scary, because they were there to kill you.  My father and brother came back.  Every time they walked passed our house we were scared.  They had those heavy boots and they walked with such madness that you were scared.  We went down to the basement.  If they didn’t come in you were grateful.  You could feel they were there.
It was horrible, but the word horrible does not describe it.  It was like a Gehennim, it was hell.
They came by and said one person has to go from each house, they preferred the father but if not him, then someone else.  My father and brother were in the basement.  If they took them, they could kill them; they could do whatever they wanted with you.  
They took me because they couldn’t find anyone else.  They put all of us who they took, one person from each house, on a truck.  My mother and my friend’s mother said to us, stay together, be friends, be like sisters.  We stayed together the whole time; we slept together in the same bed.  I think it was luck. My friend’s name is Hela Klug who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.  Every time she was starving, I would share my food with her.  
They took us to the first concentration camp, Dunkeltal, in Czechoslovakia where we worked in a Spinnerei, (weaving factory).  From a large spool that went through water, we wove a coarse thread that would then go for further processing.  Every spool had 120 smaller spools and it they had to be always filled with thread.  In Dunkeltal, most people had a machine.  I was there from 1942 for one year.  
We were transferred to another camp, Oberaltstadt also in Czechoslovakia.  They needed more workers; we listened to what they wanted because we had no say, same kind of work.   We had to walk to work in wooden shoes.  Can you imagine in the winter time when it’s cold and snowy out what it was like?  We were there until we were liberated.  The second camp was worse, the longer it lasted, the less food they used to give us.  In the beginning they gave us some bread everyday, then only once a week.  You tried to have it last a whole week, but if you’re hungry, it’s hard to do.  
If your work wasn’t perfect they would kill you.  You had to work at a machine or be a helper.  There were many girls who couldn’t work; they were too skinny or sick.  They then disappeared, you never saw them again.  This happened quite often.  You had to get up even if you were very sick.  They counted you; they had to find out where everyone was.  We were starving.  We were awoken at 1 AM by our own particular whistle sound. There were 200 girls in each room.  We were given our soup which was water with a white color, a little bit of flour which was added.  We were counted after eating and afterwards we walked to work which started at 2:30 AM.   
The morning food is all we had to go on for the whole day.  We had to work 16 hours a day.  We got bread for the week, it was up to us to save a piece to last, but how could you if you were starving.  There were hundreds and hundreds of girls; they would disappear if they couldn’t work. They were sent away.
We were working day after day, no clothes, we never changed clothes, it had a Jewish star on the front and a Jewish star on the back so if we ran away, they would find us.  They counted us every morning and G-d forbid if someone was missing or if they made a mistake, it was bad.  You were always afraid that you shouldn’t be next.  I wasn’t so big; it’s amazing what your mind could do.  I didn’t have my parents, I didn’t have my family but I knew I had to work to survive.   
And that was considered a good camp because they needed us to work, to do the spools, they paid us with the food, it was really sad.  We starved for three years.  We missed our families, our freedom but you still worked, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here tomorrow.  We were starving and always thought about food.  When you got up you were hungry, you went to bed you were hungry.  When it’s Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day, Day of Atonement) you can eat afterwards, it’s one day, golly.  We were always hungry.
I think it was May 5, 1945, this is when I celebrate my birthday, it’s my liberation day.  
I don’t know how long it took to get back home, it took months, all the cities were bombed, the train lines were broken, we sat on the train, we got food from the Russians and the Americans.  
First the Russians liberated us but we were scared of them because they were not refined people.  We, the women, would all sit behind the door so they couldn’t open it because we were scared of them.  The Americans came, they gave us their candy bars and whatever they had, they gave us.  It was such a difference between the Americans and the Russians.
Months after liberation, we came back home. Then the real problems began.  We saw that our families had disappeared.  No one came back.  Then it still wasn’t so great, we were living on the street, the Poles were looking still to kill us.  They killed many Jews.  When I joined a kibbutz (in Poland), they killed a friend of mine, Bluma.  They killed a lot of us.  
I was home maybe one and a half days and then I left.  I went to my house; a Polish family that I knew was living in it.  They said, “You’re still alive, I thought they killed all of the Jews.  Get out Jew before I kill you.”   
My friend and I stayed at someone’s house.  My friend found a cousin and stayed with them.  I entered the kibbutz in Czestochowa where there were more Jews.  It was a religious kibbutz; I had a bed and food, it was better than being on the street with no place.  It was scary living on the street.  It was not safe from the Poles, they were killing Jews.
I became very sick and went to a hospital in Czestochowa.  This man used to come to the kibbutz, I danced and sang in spite of everything, I was happy; I couldn’t sit and cry all the time.  This man came to the kibbutz and asked the Madriach, the director of the kibbutz, where’s the girl with the red hair who dances all the time.  He told him that she’s very sick and in the hospital.  
At the hospital, they had no pity on a Jew.  This man came to see me at the kibbutz; he would watch me at the dances but he would never participate.  I needed penicillin, but it had just come out in 1945.  He went to the head doctor and asked him for a prescription for penicillin.  The doctor said penicillin is impossible to get but he asked the doctor just for the prescription anyway.  The doctor apparently humored him and gave him a prescription.  The man came with the penicillin the next day.  He said to the doctor, this is only to go to the girl, not anyone else.  
I married that man because he saved my life.  Wolf Symkowicz and I were married on October 18, 1947 by a rabbi in a Displaced Person’s (DP) camp in Germany.
We were on our way to go to Israel but we had papers that were not real.   We were arrested and went to jail in Czechoslovakia.  A rabbi came and bailed us out.  We were stuck in a DP camp for nine months.  We registered to go to America knowing it would take a long time.  One month later, we’re on a boat to America with people who had been waiting for two years.    
We settled in South Bend, Indiana because they needed tailors there.   
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
What DP Camp were you after the war?
Where did you go after being liberated?
Back home and then later to the United States
Where did you settle?
South Bend, Indiana
How is it that you came to Michigan?
I moved to Oak Park, Michigan in 2010 as my health has been declining. My daughter wanted me to be near to her.
When and where were you married?
October 18, 1947 in a DP camp in Germany
Wolf Symkowicz, Tailor
Marvin, lawyer Ruthie Allon, homemaker Michael, engineer
Twelve grandchild and two great-grandchildren
What do you think helped you to survive?
It was bashert (fate). You can’t explain it any other way. There is no other explanation.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Don’t give up hope; believe in Hashem, (word for G-d in Hebrew).  Be a good Jew, help whoever needs help.  When anyone ever needed anything I was there to help them.  That’s how people are supposed to be. 
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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