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Oral history interview with Yanina Cywinska

Oral History | Accession Number: 1999.A.0122.190 | RG Number: RG-50.477.0190

Yanina Cywinska, born on October 28, 1929, describes growing up with her Ukrainian family, including her parents, Wladyslaw and Ludwika, and her older brother, Theodor; traveling a lot as a child; living mostly in and around Warsaw, Poland; attending ballet classes; being raised Catholic; her father’s Jewish friends; being taught by her parents to not look down on Jews or ever make an antisemitic comment; her father, who was a doctor and was asked by the Nazis, once they had invaded Poland, to perform some medical experiments on Jewish twins; his refusal to conduct the experiments and his subsequent imprisonment in jail for a short period; the Warsaw Ghetto, which was constructed in 1939; her father’s realization that he had a moral obligation to help the Jews and his failed attempts to get the local priest to help; her family’s participation in the underground movement; making several trips a day through tunnels and sewer lines into and out of the ghetto; carrying ammunition, jewelry, furs, medicine, and poison for the black market; witnessing executions and other violence; the various tunnels that they used to get in and out of the ghetto; being arrested and sent to a detention center; being taken out in the middle of the night with other people into the forest, where they dug ditches and then were lined up and shot; surviving the massacre because she was behind another woman, and she fell into the pit and pretended to be dead; climbing out of the pit and hiding in a haystack, where a farmer found her; reuniting with her parents at the detention center; her aunt, Stasha, paying the Gestapo to get Yanina and her brother out of the detention center; returning to her aunt’s house; being beaten and abused by her aunt for being a “Jew-lover”; her brother, who ran away; working as a servant for her aunt; ending up homeless and wandering around the streets of Warsaw for a while; staying for a few weeks with a couple she met at the detention center; reuniting with her parents at the detention center; being sent with the other prisoners to Auschwitz in cattle cars; the journey; arriving at Auschwitz; surviving a gas chamber after being revived by another inmate; being given a uniform; the shaving of her hair; being tattooed with a number; working in various places, including a factory, a kitchen, in the labs, and at the crematorium (note that it is generally thought that only men worked in the Sonderkommando doing the jobs that Yanina said she did); her methods for survival; being forced on a death march to Dachau; being liberated by American soldiers; staying in a displaced persons camp for a while, where she was sexually assaulted and impregnated by a soldier; her two abusive marriages after the war; meeting her third husband; the effects of the war on her emotionally; giving up on God; and her long recovery from her traumatic experiences.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Cywinska, Yanina
interview:  1993 February 01
interview:  1993 February 08
interview:  1993 March 08
2 videocassettes (SVHS) : sound, color ; 1/2 in..
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Jewish Family and Children's Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 20:13:11
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