Anna Cheszes papers
Document | Accession Number: 2001.238.1
Contains photographs and documents relating to Anna Cheszes' experiences as a hidden child in Kowale, Poland, during the Holocaust.
- Document Creator
- Anna Cheszes
Pola Kaplan (later Anna Cheszes) was born in Białystok, Poland, in 1940, though she is not sure of the exact date. Her mother was Dora Szapiro (?) Kaplan; her father’s name is not known, but he worked as a printer. In September 1939, the Germans occupied Poland. Her parents fled Łódź for Bialystok. Not long after the Germans invaded western Poland, the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland, where Bialystok was located. In the spring of 1941, the Germans launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union and by that June, had occupied Białystok. German killing squads, assisted by the local population, launched a pogrom to eliminate the Jewish community. At least 1000 Jewish men were forced inside the great synagogue which was then set on fire and burned to the ground. Anna’s father was either killed in the fire or in Pietrasze in July when over 3000 Jewish men, the intelligentsia of the town, were marched out to a field and shot.
That August, Anna and her mother were forced into the Jewish ghetto established by the Germans in Białystok. In 1943, Dora arranged a false identity for Anna as a Christian child and planned to get her smuggled out of the ghetto. She knew a Jewish electrician from Łódź, Michał Kempinski, who had a false identity as a non-Jewish Pole and was able to travel in and out of the ghetto. In May, they bribed a German guard to look the other way and Kempinski snuck Anna out through a hole in the barbed wire fence. Kempinski was married to Helena, a Polish Christian. Helena’s brother, Tadeusz Strzelczyk, and his Jewish wife, Madzia (Michla) Jozefowicz, took in three year old Pola and decided to raise her as their own daughter. They secured false papers for the child and a friend of theirs, Stanisława Horodko, arranged to have Pola, now named Anna Strzelczyk, registered in the Christian baptism records for June 8, 1943, in Białystok and named herself Anna’s godmother.
The Kempinski’s and the Strzelczyk’s had escaped German occupied Łódź for Bialystok in the fall of 1939. They knew each other from thier hometown, Łódź, where they had all been members of a Communist group. In August 1941, Tadeusz, a non-Jewish Pole, was deported to Germany as slave labor for the Bayer factory in Lewerkusen, while Madzia, as a Jew, was forced into the Bialystok ghetto. While in the ghetto, she met a non-Jewish Pole, Stanislawa Horodko, who urged her to escape. She managed to do so in the fall of 1942. Using her sister-in-law’s baptismal certificate, she was able to get false papers identifying her as Helena Strzelczyk, the wife of a Christian working for the Third Reich who had a small child. Women with small children were generally exempt from forced labor service. She stayed in Białystok under this alias, helped by Stanisława. Stanisława also helped get Tadeusz released from the forced labor assignment by posing as his wife and telling the German authorities that she had tuberculosis and did not have long to live and needed to see her husband. Tadeusz was permitted to return to Białystok to care for his sick ‘wife’ in the spring of 1943. Stanisława did have tuberculosis and died a few months later. After they took in Anna, Madzia and Anna moved to the village of Kowale, 25 miles away, where they lived as a Christian family. They survived there until after the war when they returned to Łódź. They had a son, Marian, born on June 20, 1945. Tadeuesz eventually became police commissioner.
Anna’s mother, Dora, did not survive the war. It is believed that she was deported to Treblinka death camp during the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto in August 1943. Before Dora disappeared, she gave Michal Kempinski a gold lady’s watch to smuggle out of the ghetto and give to Anna; Michael gave the watch to Madzia. He was arrested and deported to a concentration camp after 1943, but survived and returned to Poland after the war. Madzia’s father, Hirsz Jozefowicz, died in the Łódź ghetto and her mother, Gitla, was killed in Auschwitz in November 1944. Madzia’s siblings, Brandla, Mosze, and Szmulek, also perished. Her sister, Helena, survived the war in the Soviet Union.
Anna left Poland for France in 1967. During a visit there, Madzia gave her the watch that her biological mother had entrusted to Michael Kempinski. However, she did not tell her its history. Her adoptive parents never told her that she was not their own child. Madzia died in 1972 and Tadeusz in 1977, and it was after this that Anna investigated her history and discovered details about her biological family and her childhood. She discovered some relatives on her mother’s side and found her story in a book about the Holocaust published in Poland in 1969 by someone who had been told the story by her adoptive mother, Madzia.
Anna married Simon Brinstein (10/24/1924), a printer, and also a Jewish survivor from Trembowla, Poland. They immigrated to the United States in 1970. Anna lived and worked in New York as a pharmacist until 1986 when she married Abraham Cheszes, a survivor from Grodno, Poland, and moved to Toronto, Canada. Her adoptive father, Tadeusz Strzelczyk, was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1986.
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- The papers were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Anna Cheszes in 2000.
- Conditions on Access
- No restrictions on access
- Conditions on Use
- No restrictions on use
Record last modified: 2020-07-15 09:27:48
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