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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                      MARIA DZIEWINSKI
INTERVIEWERS:              JOHN KENT
                                           RUTH EINSTEIN
LOCATION:                       ATLANTA, GEORGIA
DATE:                                2001

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Maria Geitler was one of three children born to a Jewish family in Krakow, Poland. As a youth, she enjoyed a comfortable life and socialized in Zionist organizations.

After World War II began, Maria was sent to Wielicza, Poland to clean up what was left after the Jewish population in the town had been deported. When Maria returned to the Krakow ghetto, her parents and brother had disappeared. Maria was later sent to the Plaszow concentration camp, where she repaired German army uniforms in a workshop. As the Russian army advanced into Poland in the fall of 1944, Maria and her sister were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In November 1944, they were sent with 300 women to the Lichtenwerden labor camp (in present day Czech Republic). Maria spent the rest of the war in Lichtenwerden, working alongside locals in a truck factory.

After the Russian army liberated Maria and her sister in May 1945, they returned to Krakow. In Krakow, Maria was reunited with Herman Dziewinski, whom she had met in Plaszow. The couple soon married. Maria, Herman, and his two surviving brothers and their wives soon decided to flee anti-Jewish violence in Soviet-occupied Poland. They crossed Czechoslovakia into American-occupied Germany. They settled in Wurrmansquick near the Eggenfelden Displaced Persons camp. Herman and Maria soon welcomed their first child.

In 1949, Herman, Maria and their daughter immigrated to the United States. With the assistance of Jewish organizations, lodging was found for the family in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, Herman soon went to work at a grocery store. Within two years, he and Maria had saved enough to purchase their own grocery store. Two more daughters were born in Atlanta and the young family soon bought a house. Maria continued to work alongside Herman in the grocery store. Within a few years, Herman’s brothers and their families had also joined them. Herman passed away in 1997.

Scope of Interview:

Maria describes the comfortable life she enjoyed as a child in Krakow. She gives an overview of her experiences as a forced laborer in Wielicza, the Krakow ghetto, and Lichtenwerden. Maria chronicles what life in the Plaszow concentration camp was like. She talks about how the locals did not know what was happening to Jews in the Lichtenwerden labor camp. Maia tells about her liberation and return to Krakow. She explains how she and her sister marred after the war. Maria recounts the difficulties she and her husband faced when they crossed into American-occupied Germany and the reception of locals in Wurrmansquick. She reflects on her perspective of Palestine as a young adult and on what being Jewish means to her as an adult. Maria explains how she and her husband and daughter left Germany for the United States and ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. She shares how difficult it was to adjust to their new life in America. She describes the segregation she encountered in the South as well as how thankful she was for what she had. Maria talks about working and raising her children. She recalls the relationships she formed with other survivors and immigrants as well as how Americans responded to her. Maria discusses why she decided to begin sharing her story. She credits a sense of humor and street smarts with her ability to survive throughout life. Maria recalls her reaction to the violence she witnessed in Plaszow. She considers the role her own compliance has played in her survival. Maria explains the role of Judaism in her life in America. She recounts how stories of survival were shared at home and among her social group. She talks about the differences she has observed between Israeli and American Jews. Maria talks about her hopes for the future, what she hopes can b learned from her story and why she feels it is important for Israelis and Jewish people to stand up for themselves.

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