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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           PAULA POPOWSKI

INTERVIEWER:      ENOCH GOODFRIEND

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                      FEBRUARY 27, 1983

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Paula Kornblum was born on January 29, 1923, in Kaluszyn, Poland. She attended a Hebrew school and Polish public school. Paula had one brother and one sister. Her family shared a house with her mother’s family, which operated a flourmill her grandfather had built.

On September 11, 1939, ten days after the German invasion of Poland, the Germans occupied Kaluszyn. By 1940, the Germans had confiscated the flourmill and a Jewish ghetto was established. Paula’s family remained together in the ghetto for two years. In 1942, as the Germans prepared to liquidate the ghetto, Paula and her sister, Hanna, voluntarily went to a nearby German labor camp to avoid deportation. Her parents sewed gold coins into their dresses, disguised as fabric covered buttons. Within days, her remaining family members were deported to Treblinka or found in hiding and shot.

In November 1942, Paula and her sister slipped away from the labor camp and traveled to Warsaw. They survived by using money from the gold buttons to acquire fake identities and hiding places. When the Warsaw ghetto uprising began in the spring of 1943, Paula and her sister moved to Czestochowa, where they were able to get jobs in a glass factory and find shelter in a convent. They pretended to be Catholic until the end of the war.

When the Russians liberated Czestochowa in January 1945, Paula and her sister returned to Kaluszyn. With their home destroyed and the flourmill nationalized by the new communist government, Paula and Hanna left for Lodz. From Lodz, they arranged to be smuggled into the American zone of Berlin, Germany. From there, they settled in a displaced persons camp in Landshut, a city outside of Munich.

In Landshut, Paula met Henry (Chaim) Popowski, a fellow native of Kaluszyn. They married in 1947. In 1949, Paula, Henry, and their infant son, Mark, immigrated to the United States with the help of Paula’s distant family. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina and opened a furniture store. Three more children were born in the US. In 1955, they became US citizens. Henry passed away in 1994. Paula passed away in 2017.

Scope of Interview:

Paula introduces her family and childhood in Kaluszyn, Poland. She recalls the antisemitism she encountered as a child and how life changed when World War II began. Paula talks about restrictions put in place by the Germans and being confined to a ghetto. She explains why she and her sister volunteered to go to a labor camp. Paula recounts the liquidation of the ghetto and learning her family had been killed. She details life in the ghetto and the labor camp. Paula outlines how she and her sister escaped to Warsaw, acquired false papers, and found a place to stay with the help of friendly Poles. She relates the stress of living in hiding. Paula details the move to Czestochowa, pretending to be Catholic, and finding shelter with nuns. She reminisces about the glass factory owner who gave the sisters a job and helped them hide. Paula recalls the chaos at liberation and returning to Kaluszyn. She explains the unsuccessful attempt to reclaim the flourmill and decision to go to Lodz. Paula outlines how she then moved to Berlin, Germany and finally settled in a DP camp in Landshut. She recalls contacting her distant family and registering to go to United States. Paula discusses meeting her husband in the DP camp, marrying, and having first child. She talks about their immigration to Charleston, South Carolina. Paula shares her thoughts on reparations and how she applied to have the factory owner recognized as a Righteous Gentile.

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