I had a brother Leo, five years older who I never knew. I was smuggled out of the Srodula Ghetto when I was a baby, seven months old. My Polish Catholic parents were Josef and Stanislawa Laczkowski whom had two children, a daughter Wanda, 18 and son Jurek, 17.
My parents were neighbors in an apartment building in Sosnowiec with a Polish Catholic family, Josef and Stanislawa Laczkowski. After the Germans invaded, my family was to be relocated to the Srodula Ghetto. My father talked with Mr. Laczkowski, about giving me, their seven month old daughter, to his family for safekeeping for just a few months. They agreed. Mrs. Laczkowski, obtained a Star of David. She walked into the ghetto as a “Jew” wearing a Star of David, without a child and walked out of the ghetto as a gentile with a child. My parents and my brother Leo, tragically, did not survive the Holocaust.
I lived with the Laczkowski’s in an attic of the apartment building and became a part of their family. All was well until 1945 when the building caretaker, a Volksdeutsche German in cahoots with the Germans, pointed out Stanislawa Laczkowski, the 40 year old woman with a baby, to the SS. Mr. and Mrs. Laczkowski were arrested for harboring a Jewish child and also for listening to the radio; I was taken into custody too. They separated Stanislawa and I from Josef Laczkowski. They interrogation started. Stanislawa fought like a tigress and was adamant about my identity as her granddaughter, the illegitimate child of her daughter Wanda. The Germans eventually believed her and after one month of heavy interrogation, Stanislawa and I were released. Josef, however, was sent to Mauthausen where he died of typhus only seven weeks before war ended. I was only three years old then. I remember playing a paper game during that time while in a cell called, “Heaven and Hell.” After the war ended, their daughter and son came back.
I remember my Polish mother being very strong and determined. She was a fighter and a survivor. She was very strict, but also very loving. She herself lost her mother at a very young age and had a hard life. At a young age, she married Josef Laczkowski and had two children. After the war she became a widow and had to provide for her children with me being her child too. She was not a healthy woman and was overweight. She and I always slept together, I held her very close at night, I was always afraid she might die of a heart attack.
In 1949, I needed to go to school but I had a Jewish birth certificate. I was baptized before the age of 7 and became a Catholic. I was formally adopted as Miroslawa (Mary/Miriam) Laczkowski. My parents and my brother, it was assumed, all perished in the Holocaust.
The neighborhood children taunted me because I was Jewish. Anti-Semitism was hidden because it was banned under the communist regime in Poland. The neighbors were quiet, but they were telling their children about my true identity as a Jew. The family was looked down upon and took a lot of abuse from their neighbors.
For a very short while I stayed at a Jewish orphanage during the week and came home to my mother on weekends. This gave her time to go to work to provide for her family.
That did not work out and my mother changed her mind. She came to take me home permanently only to find out that I was gone. I was taken by a strange Jewish man who was smuggling me out at the request of the Jewish Orphanage to go to Israel. We were caught on the Czech border in Zebrzydowice by the UB (Polish equivalent of the KBG) and I was returned home.
Earlier, in 1945, two men came to my house who said they were my uncles. As it turned out, they actually were my uncles. My mother would not give me away. She said, “I don't know you, I've been waiting for her parents to come back." The uncles never came back and never kept in touch.
Later the Lubavitcher Rebbe was sending emissaries throughout Europe to look for displaced Jewish children. My uncles came forward with an address and the name of the family I was staying with. In school, I was constantly, derisively being called a Jew by kids from the neighborhood. Whenever I came home crying, my Polish mother would say, “You are beautiful, you have dark hair and blue eyes, you look like a gypsy and they are all jealous. Do not worry; tell them not to bother you." They knew I looked different but my Polish mother was not ready to tell me the truth.
At age 14, 15, something in my heart didn't feel right. In 1956-1958, Jewish people started leaving Poland. My Polish mother was afraid that I might be kidnapped again and she felt vulnerable. She told me the truth about my background. I was relieved; the knot in my heart went away as I found out the truth. I suspected that I was Jewish, I was afraid of the changes but I felt relieved knowing the truth. At that point I knew that I had no future in Poland and that I would eventually have to leave.
As I found out I was Jewish, I felt proud. I was always a leader in school, singing, playing guitar, and winning contests reciting poetry but I now I felt even prouder knowing my true identity. I became close to other Jews living in Sosnowiec, Poland.
On my 18th birthday, two men came to our home; one American and one Polish, the Polish one was the interpreter. Mr. Hirsch, the American, told me that I had family in America (two uncles and an aunt.). He wanted to take me to America to be with them and other Jewish people. I saw no future in Poland, not getting married to someone Jewish, not having children.
I realized that I truly had to leave. In July, 1961, I left Poland with my mother to Belgium. She had questions and worries and so she came with me to Belgium because it was difficult at that time to get visas to come to the United States. We came to Antwerp, Belgium where I learned about Hasidic Judaism. I studied with the chief rabbi of Antwerp, Rabbi Chaim Kreizwirth. For few months I waited for a visa to USA as an exchange student to attend Stern College in New York. I separated with my Polish mother in Antwerp. She left for Poland and I for New York. I came to New York and stayed with my uncles and the religious community. I attended Stern College in New York. I later came to Detroit where my aunt lived. I met my future husband, Fred Ferber, at a Holocaust survivor dinner dance in Detroit. There was initial opposition by my religious community as he was a Conservative Jew. As they got to know him and love him, and religious assurances were made, permission was granted by both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Squarer Rebbe in New York for our marriage.