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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives




DATE:                      JANUARY 11, 1996

Pola Bienstock (Arbiser) was born in Drohobycz, Poland (now Ukraine). Her parents were Israel and Sara Bienstock. She had a sister Irene (now Frisch) and a brother, Ludwik.  Her father was originally from Germany and was a furrier. The family was upper middle class and prosperous. When the war started her father was called up into the Polish army, but he returned after Poland fell. The Germans occupied Drohobycz briefly before turning it over to the Russians. Life under the Russians was difficult, as her father was a "capitalist" and was therefore suspect.

When the Germans returned in June 1941, they allowed the local Poles and Ukrainians a free hand for three days, during which time they murdered nearly 400 Jews. As a series of Aktions swept through Drohobycz, decimating the Jewish population and deporting them to Belzec death camp, Pola and her family hid in various places including in the clock tower of City Hall, where they watched the Aktion as it progressed and they saw the killing of Jews in the streets. The Bienstock family had a devoted housekeeper, a Polish gentile, named Frania Sobkowa, who was virtually a member of their family. When the ghetto was set up in September 1942, Frania insisted that Sara "give her the children" to hide. (Ludwik died at the age of 13 from pneumonia just before the war). Frania took Irene with her back to her small two-bedroom apartment and later took in Sara and Pola as well. There, all three of them had to stay completely quiet for nearly two years. Frania worked for the local Gestapo and brought them home food, which she shared with them equally, although it was rarely enough. Israel had been taken for forced labor and eventually survived a series of camps, being liberated at Flossenbiirg.

When the Russians liberated Drohobycz the family emerged to find that the neighbors were far from happy to see they had survived. Their home was now being lived in by a Ukrainian man who was frightened that she wanted the home back. However, the Bienstocks did not want their home back and moved into a home with other Jews because they were frightened to live separately. Her mother sold items on the black market to keep them alive throughout a long and brutal winter. Sara, Pola and Irene left Drohobycz one year later and rode on a freight train west, hoping to find a way to Palestine. Miraculously, her father, Israel, had returned to find they were still alive but had left and he followed them, catching up to them as they traveled by train.

They settled in Legnica (which had been in Germany but was now in Poland) until they got papers for the new state of Israel. They took a ship for Haifa. They asked Frania if she wanted to go with them, but Frania elected to remain in Poland. Israel also returned to Germany (he had been born there) settling in Frankfurt. Her mother died in Frankfurt in 1956. She was 58 but the experiences of the war had aged her prematurely.

In Israel, Pola studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually getting a master's degree in Medical Science with an emphasis on microbiology and biochemistry. In Tel Aviv she met Sam Arbiser, an engineer, and they married. After living for 10 years in Israel they immigrated to the United States, settling in Atlanta, Georgia. Pola and Sam have a daughter, Sheri, and a son, Jack, an oncologist. Throughout the remainder of Frania's life (she died in 1977), Pola and Irene supported her and a loving relationship continues between the two families. Pola died on January 16, 2014.

Scope of Interview:
Pola introduces her family at the time World War II began. She details her family’s relationship with their Polish maid/nanny. Pola describes the two years spent in hiding and liberation. Pola outlines her family’s post-war experiences and move to Israel. She reflects upon her experiences in the United States compared to her years spent in Israel. 

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