Survivor STORY

Maria (Mania) grew up in Krakow, Poland, and was forced to live in the Krakow ghetto. She survived Plaszow, Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Litchtwerden labor camp. She and her sister, Sonja Gajtler Beckman, were the only members of her family to survive the war. Maria married Herman Dziewinski and came to Atlanta with him and their daughter, Erna, in 1950.

But this day, this particular day, I will never forget, we were lined up and the German said to us "Frauen zu sint frei." You know, that's, "The woman, women you are free, you can go where you want to." And we were afraid to leave. And the bullets were going, you know, over our head. And we came to the gate and we went back. We went to the gate, we tried to open the gate slowly, you know, but it took time, took few days and we left, all of us left, and we went to Poland back.

Judaism and Jewishness

Personally, I didn't want to be Jewish. Personally, I felt I'm not going to marry a Jew. And when I marry a Jew, because that's what - I found my husband, which I seen, met him in camp, I say, "My children will not have any religion. Let them pick up their own religion. I don't want to put this on them." Of course, when we came to United States, I joined the synagogue right away. Well, the organization sent me to synagogue. But whatever I said I did just the opposite. I say, "I don't want to marry a Jew, I don't want my children marry a Jew. It's time that we start somewhere." So my friends argue with me, "You know, the third generation they took." I say, "Yes, but the generation has to start somewhere, so will be mine will be first." You know. Like now I have already great grandchild. That would be third generation, you know.

What was your reason for wanting to turn away from Jewishness?
What caused? Through what I went through because I was Jewish. I was a good citizen of Poland. I loved Poland. I speak perfect Polish 'til today. I loved - everything was good, and they hate me so much just because I was Jewish and that's why I felt that it's time. I don't want my children to go through what I went. So that's how I felt. And my friends always laugh, that's why my children marry Jewish.

Racism and Race Relations

Well, the one incident what I have here was, that's when the segregation came, the integration came, you know. A man came to my store and he say, "I came here to kill you. I heard the Jew robbing my people and you, and I came here to kill you." And I look around. It was me and my butcher and him. And my butcher was a black man and right away he went in back of the thing, and suddenly I'm here with him and he takes the gun and he say, "I came here to kill you." And I said to him, such, and he was, something you could see, that his eyes, that he's not normal on top of it. And I said to him, "Such a good looking man like you came to kill me? I thought that you came to make a date with me." And he got like that. He jump. And he said, "Would you have a date with me?" I said, "Sure." I say, "Listen. You know, I'm a married woman. When you're going to call me, my husband will kill me. Give me your telephone number and I call you." So he gave me a telephone number, and I gave to a friend, to a policeman, black policeman. I didn't want to make issue because you live there, you make living from them, you know. So, I didn't want a big... you know. So I ask him personally to go to him and he went and he say, "Don't ever show up in this store, because her husband find out, he beat her up and he would kill you, her husband, so don't you show up." And that was the end of the story. But you have to, I seen, was me and him. The butcher left. He wasn't worried if he kills me. This time, was so much hate, you know, and that's what I said, you have to be street smart, you have to, right away, the situation.

But I tell you what happened In Florida. I went on a bus, and of course I have my short sleeve. And a young man, a young man see this number. And he says to me, "Oh, I know. Where did you get the number?" I say, "It's my telephone number from home." And there were so many people on the bus I really wouldn't discuss it. He said, "Oh no, I know, you were in camp," and he start to talk about it to the people on the bus, how... and he was blessing me and thanking me and this. I was flabbergasted. I didn't know, because I thought that a young man, like this, he might, the way he looked, that he might...but visa versa, he was very very touched by this number and very impressed.

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Maria Dziewinski