Then his mental depression returned. He knew none of his thoughts mattered. The only thing that mattered were Hitler’s thoughts his machinations. Binem had come to the stark and shocking conclusion that everyone he knew was now probably dead or about to be murdered. His world that consisted of his friends and associations in Radziejow no longer existed. Radziejow, that beautiful community that he grew up in was for a Jew gone forever. He was now truly alone. He knew that no matter what his future would be bring he would always be haunted by these terrible memories.
He would say to himself, “How can I think that I should survive when any Nazi that looks me in the face says that because I am a Jew then I am evil. So evil that the only solution is kill you for the sake of mankind.”
Sometimes Binem’s thoughts would drift into the realm of curiosity. He was puzzled that he never saw the husband of the Princess. Why hasn’t anyone but the Princess even approach the door? These questions triggered Binem’s self learned internal survival warning signs. “I have it too good here. It is wrong that while all the Jews are suffering, I will live over the War in such luxury.”
Unfortunately Binem’s utopian like setup didn't even last a full week. On his fourth day in the palace, disaster struck. That morning the Princess, as usual, went to the kitchen to pick out Binem’s food for the day. She now was familiar with what types of food Binem preferred. As she went about her selection, one servant became overly curious concerning the Princess now regular routine. He couldn't understand why the Princess was now coming daily to the kitchen. In the past she never was seen in the kitchen. If the Princess wanted something to eat between meals she would always send one of her servants to the kitchen. Now, she was actually walking around the prep table, picking out different foods and putting them on a tray. Even more disturbing, she carried the tray out of the kitchen without the help of a servant.
In less than an hour Binem heard the code of the three knocks yet again. This time Binem hesitated. He thought to himself, "[w]hat's going on?" Having no option of escape, he cautiously opened the door. He looked out and saw standing there with tears in her eyes, the Princess.
She entered the room in such a state of dismay that to Binem she was shouting silently "all is lost!" She was crying in such a manner that she appeared crushed, but in a dignified way.
Binem asked, "what happened?"
Binem was quite familiar with the sinking feeling of danger. It was as if one was drowning with no chance of rescue. He thought that while his definition of danger was always fatal the Princess's danger was probably no more than an inconvenience and embarrassment because of her status of being an aristocrat married to a German. But definitions and concepts didn’t matter in this situation what mattered was "tachlis", what should he do. Binem quickly came to the conclusion that he was morally obligated to ease the mind of this noble woman. Binem felt he had only two choices. First, and what would be more advantageous to himself, was to suggest that she should simply make a different arrangement for him. His second choice was to conclude that he must just get up and leave. It never entered his mind a third choice being that he simply refused to leave and just see what would happen.
As a result of Binem's growing despondency he ceased to follow his rules that had kept him alive for so long. Instead he became uncaring about life and thus became reckless. He started by returning to his home village of Radziejow during the daytime. His purpose was to find a means of ending his misery. He decided that he would not voluntarily surrender to the Nazis instead he would put himself into a position that he would inevitably be caught.
Night had fallen onto Radziejow. The streets were dark and empty. He stood on a gravel street in a residential neighborhood that he had long since forgotten. Frustrated by his failure to be caught. Binem now faced the most critical decision of his existence. He believed that it was not meant to be that the Poles of Radziejow would have him arrested. On the other hand he had completely lost his drive to survive. Feeling he was trapped without any solution to his misery save one. The taboo thought of suicide entered his mind. Binem knew that according to Jewish Law that under no circumstances did a person have G-d's permission to kill oneself. Still he remembered a few examples in Gemorah that while not endorsing the act of suicide the Rabbis showed a great deal of understanding for those that killed themselves rather then desecrating G-d's commandments. Complicating Binem's decision making process was the fact that he was so distraught that he couldn't think straight. He was on the verge of a complete mental collapse. After a few hours he finally made up his mind. He would commit suicide. But still the question remained as to where. He immediately found the answer. So in the still of the night Binem found his way to the Jewish cemetery located on the outskirts of Radziejow.
He proceeded to make his way to the graves of his mother and father. There was little light save moonlight. The magnificent grave marker that stood guard over his mother's grave was no longer there missing from the beginning of the German occupation. Binem remembered being told that it was requisitioned by the Nazis for their unholy war effort. Still Binem seemed guided to the graves. It is important to note that when my father described this event on the Spielberg video his facial expression and tears in his eyes revealed that even decades later he still has not come to terms with that night. Binem started was that the first thing he did was prostrate himself across the widths of both graves. Shimon's grave was closely placed next to Hinda's resting place of several years. Binem proceeded to talk aloud to his dead parents explaining his entire ordeal from the time of his father’s death to this very night. He informed them that he believed that he had no choice but to join them by ending his life in this very place.
With no other alternative he decided to crush the bar into pieces. He conjectured that the chemicals within the bar were deadly. When he finished transforming the bar in a more or less fine powder he swallowed the crushed materials. Binem waited and nothing happened. Then a few minutes later Binem vomit out the powder. While he felt nauseated he understood that he was still very much alive.
After realizing that he failed to accomplish his act of voluntarily taking his own life he became even more determined and tried a different method of suicide. Binem removed the flimsy piece of leather that acted as a belt to hold up his tattered trousers. He then methodically wrapped the leather strap around his neck several times pulling the strap as tight as his strength allowed. As he gasped for air he prostrated himself on top of his parents’ graves. He then closed his eyes, recited the prayer Shema and awaited death to overcome him. To his anguish nothing happened. He noticed that the belt loosened on its own accord. He tried wrapping the belt around his neck once more but again the same results occurred.
Binem said to himself in a thought of irony, "[w]hat’s happening, I cannot not even achieve one simple thing such as killing myself."
Now he was not only suffering from a near complete mental breakdown he now added to his troubles this new anguish. He was disgusted with himself because by not even being able to commit suicide he labeled himself a complete failure.
He repeated shouting at the top of his lungs. "My G-d, I can't even kill myself." Binem stood up in this lonely eerie cemetery and realized that he was no different than the dozens of tombstones. He was like a gravestone marker serving as a reminder of the dead. In his case it was the murdered Jews of Radziejow.
He was confused as to what he should do next. As he thought about his remaining of options of either killing himself or turning himself into the Nazis he heard voices that seemed to be coming from the trees in the forest next to the cemetery. He could clearly make out the sounds that formed the Yiddish words, "Gea Aveck, Gea Avek (Go Away)!" Binem wasn't sure if the voices were a figment of his imagination that formed words from the noises admitted from the wind rustling the trees or as illogicial as it sounded to him that perhaps it was a person or even a spirit ordering him to leave this place of death.
As Binem stood motionless contemplating the meaning of the message from the dead he discovered that sun was about to rise. He knew he had to act so he decided that his only option was to leave the cemetery and find a hiding place. As he began to walk he determined that suicide was not the solution. He became resolute in the concept that G-d clearly had other plans for him since the Almighty went to the trouble to send him a Bass Kol (heavenly voice) that ordered him to leave the cemetery. So he would not disappoint G-d. He was determined to let fate decided his future.
Binem thought to himself. “How could that man behave that way towards me? Has he too changed as a result of the War and became selfish and cold hearted like so many others?”
Each time he was asked something in German he repeated the words in Polish that he didn't understand. The soldier appeared to be familiar with those Polish words. Still he continued to repeat his question in German, "[w]hat are you doing here?"
Binem understood every word the soldier had said in German; still, he remained firm in his reply in Polish that he did not understand. He reasoned that if he would answer in German then it might occur to the soldier that he was a Jew. Few Polish peasants spoke German while it was known to the Germans that a good many Jews understood and spoke some German because the Yiddish language contains many German words. Nazis took offense that Jews spoke Yiddish because of two reasons. Many of the Nazi fanatics felt that Jews bastardized the German language and in their philosophy of hatred it was an insult that the pure German language would be spoken by Jews.
Binem answered, "I work on a farm."
The Pacher had a disbelieving look on his face. "A farm?” And then he added, “It’s too early to go to work on a farm."
Binem knew that the Pacher was correct. It was around 4 a.m. He had observed during his time on the run that field peasants never appeared in the fields or roads to walk to their farm jobs for at least another two hours.
So Binem had to think fast, he answered continuing speaking with a peasant type accent, "I go to milk the cows."
The Pacher again flashed his devious smile indicating that he didn’t believe it but incredulously, and to Binem's utter astonishment, the Pacher replied, "O.K., go ahead." Binem started to walk but as he took his first few steps the Pacher gave Binem a firm kick in the rear. Binem thought he did this as the prelude to beating him. But in fact it was more of a friendly kick that communicated the he should hurry along.
As Binem entered the field on the other side of the road he concluded that the Pacher had in fact recognized him.
Binem thought, "[o]f all the Germans he had met during the War he was the one I was most afraid of. But instead he was the one that let me go."
This prompted a question from me. I asked my father, "[w]ere you ever beaten up by the Germans." His answer sounded almost mystical. "I remember that once I was slapped by a Nazi while I stood in line. After he slapped me the Nazi I watched the his face turned white as if he received an electric shock."
Claus was most hospitable. He talked as if there was no war. He surprised Binem by telling him that he could stay with him as long as he wants. But he cautioned Binem that he must remain quiet for during the day German soldiers would be in this very room to having their shoes repaired. This situation didn't seem to concern Claus at all. He simply instructed Binem to remain hidden behind the curtain during the day. Binem was skeptical that this arrangement could work. Still, with no better prospects he decided to to take the chance despite the real danger.
Binem continued to be a "fly on the wall" listening to all their comments knowing that the two would kill him if they only knew that they were but a few steps away from him.
So on the fourth evening of his stay Binem told Claus, "I cannot endanger you." He then added, "[i]f I get caught you will suffer."
Claus gave a one word reply, "Nonsense."
Suddenly a thought popped up in his mind. What about Wanda. She might be able to help.
He thought to himself, [w]hat do I have to lose if I impose myself on her a second time."
She answered, "[d]on't do it! I can fix this. Come back tomorrow night and we will find a solution."
When the carriage stopped Binem looked around. He did not see the mansion. Instead the carriage was in front of a barn door. Binem noticed that this was no ordinary barn. It was the largest barn that he had ever seen. Binem thought that the barn was at least a half a kilometer long and almost a hundred meters wide. Binem understood that this would be his new home and sadly not the luxurious mansion.
The Princess remained in the carriage as Wanda's brother led him to the great barn door. Wanda’s brother explained that this was a very special barn. Since the beginning of the War this barn located at least a kilometer from the mansion was in area of the estate that was off limits to all the workers. The barn was posted as being under the auspices of the German Army. The barn’s sole content was a seemingly sea of straw. This straw was earmarked as an emergency reserve for the feeding of thousands of horses that were used by the Wehrmacht. From the beginning of the War, the standing rule to all workers on the estate was, "If you are caught entering the barn, you will be shot."Therefore, none of the workers would even go anywhere near to this barn.
However, in that version, Binem was hidden on a loft above the animals. Every morning, Wanda's brother would bring him food before the other workers arrived. Binem's main problem was dealing with the rats. The barn was infested. The rats would steal his food. They would also crawl on him whether he was asleep or awake. Still, Binem maintained it was better than being on the run. Wanda’s brother began to worry. As the rat population grew, he was afraid that it would dawn on the workers that someone was feeding them. So at this point Binem was moved to the giant barn where straw was stored. This barn was off limits to the workers. At this point the Spielberg version and my tapes matched up again.
The Princess then chimed in. She said that he could order whatever food he wanted. She then pointed to a place next a few feet away from the normal side door the barn door and told him there was clothes, a warm coat, a small lantern, and several blankets.
Wanda's brother directed Binem to a short barrel with a removable lid that was located about ten meters from the small door entrance to the barn. The barrel was half filled with finally cut straw. Wanda’s brother told him that he was to use it to evacuate his bowels. Once a week it would be removed and replaced with a new barrel. Then without exchanging any words of parting the Princess and Wanda’s brother exited by way of the small door.
The first thing Binem did was he removed his clothes that were no more than dirty rags and donned his new clothes that consisted of a flannel shirt, wool pants, and wool socks. He then put on a well constructed pair of fur lined winter boots. Finally he placed over his new clothes the heavy wool coat, the warm leather gloves and the winter hat lined with soft fur. Binem was surprised that all fit perfectly.
Now fully dressed and feeling warm as if he was sitting next to a fireplace, Binem began to walk. He walked the length of the barn and back. He thought to himself that this arrangement is even better than the one where he was in his mansion. Here he had plenty of room and did not have to worry that someone would happen upon him like the time before. He made his way back to the front of the barn and picked up the three of the blankets and then jumped into the nearest straw pile and burrowed himself into the straw. Within minutes he fell into a deep and restful sleep.
During the following days Binem developed a routine. When he woke he would wash his face and evacuate himself. Then Binem would exercise by walking the length of barn and back several times. When he felt sufficiently tired he would sit down eat the breakfast that was nightly provided for him. He then would read the reading materials provided to him that accompanied his meal delivery. As he read he realized that the world outside the barn continued to be filled with death and destruction. He, on the other hand, was living in a seemingly impenetrable fortress making him isolated and far away from the evil and violence that was all around him. One day lapsed into another and thus time passed quickly.
One night, Binem made a special request. He told Wanda’s brother that he was afraid that the reason he would susceptible to catching colds due to there being no direct sunlight entering the barn. Binem reasoned that to remain healthy he needed to supplement his diet with large quantities of garlic and onions. This type of diet was a known home remedy among the peasants of Europe, The next night and every night following along with his meals was an ample quantity of onions and garlic.
With each delivery of German papers Binem would take great pleasure when reading thinking to himself, "[h]a, it appears that things are going bad for the Germans."
He said to himself, "[t]hat’s a new one, I never had an opportunity to have a friend wearing a German uniform."
The rusty hinges on the door creaked as the German pushed the door opened. The German, with an aura of military authority, marched right into the barn. Binem looked him over. He was indeed a German officer. Binem was fixated on the SS insignia consisting of two lightning that shined by the light of the small lantern that the German carried in one arm while toting a basket in the other. The black uniform itself was very fancy compared to those that he had encountered during the course of the War. Binem’s eyes then focused on the officer’s side arm. He saw a black holster attached to a black belt with a silver buckle. Binem knew that inside the holster was Germany's preferred handgun, a Luger. He thought to himself that it really didn't matter if he was an officer or an enlisted man. As far as he was concerned, anyone who wore a German uniform on was his enemy. Anyone that wore a German uniform was out to kill him.
Binem became curious even though he was well aware of the immediate danger. For the first time he had the opportunity to speak to someone that may be willing to explain why the owner of this barn was willing to feed and protect him. Up until now all he knew was a prominent Volksdeutsche that was married to the Princess. Still Binem was very much on guard. He asked himself that "[i]f this Nazi really wanted to assure me that he had no ill intentions then why didn’t he come here with his mother, the Princess."
The German then said to Binem. "Come over, don't worry about it, I’m your friend."
He said, "[s]ee, it is not poison."
Still Binem had a great deal of respect for this Nazi’s mother, the Princess. He didn’t want to say anything that might get back to her and upset her. More urgently, he didn’t want to say anything to this German officer, his so called "new friend” that "at any moment might end up with a bullet in my head."
Binem had mixed emotions about this German officer. On one hand he was the first German soldier that actually treated him as a human being. Likewise he was not exactly a German. He was Volksdeutche. He was either drafted or volunteered to serve in the the German Army. Since he was not a native German he could only serve in the SS Corp. On the other hand, he was still a Nazi who wore a German uniform. Now that his dream of world domination was crashing down around him he would say and do anything, including chumming up to a Jew, in order to save his father.
After this astonishing meeting where a battle hardened SS officer, in essences, begged a defenseless Jew to protect his parents, Binem reflected on the significance of such a meeting. Binem concluded that what was encouraging was that this German officer spoke honestly of his projection concerning the War. With that, Binem took heart that his days of hiding were numbered. As far as protecting the parents, Binem thought to himself that he would honor his commitment to a point. That point being that he would not let such an extorted promise compromise his own ability to survive the chaos surrounding him.
Nothing seemed to change during the following weeks. Binem continued his daily routine of eating, sleeping, walking to keep himself in shape, and most of all thinking. He thought about how things were growing up, how things were when the Nazis destroyed everything, how he managed to stay alive, and how things will be once he was liberated. After a few long weeks there were actual signs that the Soviets were approaching. He watched the skies through a crack near the top of the barn wall. During the day he could see air battles raging between Russian and German planes.
About a month after Binem’s meeting with the German officer, the Princess came to the barn and told Binem that he can accompany her back to the mansion and stay in her son's bedroom. As Binem walked with her they did not exchange a word. He could hear the faint sounds of battle in the distance. He knew that this day was significant. He understood that he would not be allowed to walk in the open where all the workers could see him unless the Germans were at the very brink of losing the War in Poland.
Still, he did promise her son to help so he said to himself that he would give it his best shot. He gathered his thoughts. Quickly he understood that a German and the wife of a German to remain in Poland would soon be very dangerous. For it was forseeable that both the Poles and the Russians would target them. He then tried to what would happen if they joined the retreat. Binem remembered the first weeks of the War when Germany invaded Poland. He remembered the chaos of his experience when he and his family sets forth as a refugees.
After weighing the two alternatives, Binem answered. "I really can’t advise you if you should comply with the order. What I do know is that if you go back with the German Army, I will not be able to keep my promise to your son to try and protect your life as well as your husband's life. So if you go with the German Army, I am free from your promise. But if you stay then perhaps I can try to do something."
He thought to myself. "How can I possibly protect my protectors? I cannot even protect myself!” He now spent the majority of his waking hours contemplating this problem. No matter how hard he tried he found no answers. Finally, he decided to stop thinking about it and just wait and see what happens.
I asked my father, "[d]id you ever think about making a run towards the Russian lines?"
He would spend much of the day sitting in the main parlor reading. The Austensaken library was extensive. It included hundreds of books written in Polish and classics translated into Polish. At least once a day the Princess would ask Binem whether it would bother him if she turned on the radio to listen to the latest developments. Of course, Binem never refused. He took note that the Princess would avoid listening to the German broadcasts and instead listened only to broadcasts in Polish. Binem too would listen intently. He felt that the Polish broadcasts were probably more truthful and accurate than the news in German that continued to spew forth the filth of Nazi propaganda. In contrast, the Polish radio broadcast told mostly about the military progress of the Russian Army.
Everyone living or working on the Austensaken estate was aware that the entire German Army, in just about all sectors of the Eastern Front, was making a wholesale retreat back to the 1939 German borders. The Russian Army were systematically overrunning all of the German positions recently abandoned. When the Germans stood and fought, as per the orders of Hitler, they were obliterated by the share mass of Russia's massive manpower and devastating firepower.
Then Binem found that the War was not only not over but was still close to the Estate. Word was received that there were skirmishes being fought near Radziejow. Binem now understood that he was still in a great deal of danger. “No matter what, the Germans had time to kill Jews!”
During the night of 11 January 1945, the long period of relative quiet on the Eastern Front was suddenly broken by a massive all-consuming Russian artillery barrage that lasted for several hours. It proved to be one of the heaviest barrage experienced so far in the course of the war. The devastating hail of death dealing bombs and their shrapnel was followed by an equally huge Russian armored attack. Numerous spearheads easily penetrated the bloodied and disintegrated German front, where in most places, the withdrawal of the German forces was nothing more than a rout.
Binem slowly processed this. If being Jewish was of no account to the Russians than what possible chance did he have to fulfill his promise to Austensaken’s son that he would protect his father. In the back of Binem’s mind Binem recalled the words of Austinsaken's son who advised him to look for a Jewish soldier.
Binem had made up his mind that the best approach to find a Jewish soldier was to try and spot a Jewish face among the troops as the seemingly endless columns passed. He hiked to highway and found a position in a bend in the road that allowed him to look directly into the faces of the passing soldiers.
Binem pondered the question over and over in his mind. "Sure, I know what Polish Jews looked and dressed like but how was I to recognize a Russian Jew that did not dress as a Jew but rather he dressed like a soldiers?"
"[s]how me an Evrietchik soldier."
If that wasn't enough, The elated Jewish officer followed his words with the enthusiastic behavior of a man that just found his long lost brother. He grabbed Binem with a giant Russian bear hug and kissed him on both cheeks and hugged him for several seconds.
So Binem returned to the estate. He walked into the mansion without neither the dozens of Russian guards nor the remaining Polish servants what he was doing there. Binem finally told a soldier that he was asked to come there by an officer. The soldier, appearing completely disinterested, directed Binem to of all places, the Austinsaken ballroom.
When Binem opened the heavy highly polished wooden doors he was overcome with a feeling of amazement from what appeared before him. Sitting around a grand table that could easily seat more than thirty diners
There smiles remained as Binem was escorted to the seat of honor. Binem felt that he was in the middle of a dream.
Binem asked himself, “How can it be that such a gathering of heroes found time in their holy mission to destroy the evil Hitler, mach shemo (may his name be forever erased), to honor me, a skinny Jew from Poland?”
As impossible as it was for Binem to understand, Binem felt a sense of pride looking at these Lantzmen (fellow Jews) that were doing G-d's work to avenge the Jewish people.
As the party continued Binem observed the same servants that were employed by the Austensakens along with Russian enlisted men were now serving the Austensakens enemy, the Russians, with the very best food, whiskey, and wine. Much of these delicacies came from both the Austinsaken reserves as well as special rations provided to high ranking Russian officers.
After several courses of the finest foods were consumed accompanied by great quantities of vodka, wine and whiskey, the officer that Binem met on the road stood up and gave a short speech in fluent Yiddish, He boasted that he had won the wager he made with these fellow Jewish officers as to who would find the first Jew. As Binem listened to the words of this distinguished officer, approximately the same age as him, Binem suddenly realized that he symbolized to them, something most precious, for to these men the liberation of Jews was always competing with their sacred task of destroying the Nazi scourge. He now understood that this gathering of Jewish warriors was their way of proving to themselves that the death and destruction they thus far witnessed was both in honor of their struggle to save Mother Russia and Jews fighting valiantly to save and liberate their brethren.
The officer then turned to Binem and asked him with humility to tell of his long struggle for survival. Binem rose from his chair and began. The side banter of the officers in the room stopped and their was an eerie silence. Binem spoke to the large audience but he couldn't fail to observe that the dead silence in the room was indicative of these officers sincere quest to understand his suffering. Binem, needing no notes, orated a detailed version of his ordeal from beginning to end. The officers seemed to be transfixed on his voice for they listened so intently that not once did they interrupt. When he finished, many of these battled harden soldiers had tears swelling in their eyes, struggling to hold them back. After a brief pause the first question was asked. Binem answered as best as could. Several questions followed. The officers were especially interested about the part in Binem's story that told of the last eight months. There faces revealed a disbelief when Binem again stated that a German had hid him and as a result he was the reason that he was alive today. Many of these young Jewish officers became angry when Binem stated that his saviors owned this very mansion. He closed the questioning by stated to them that they help him to save the Austensakens.
Binem then sat down. He reflected on his speech. He felt that G-d had blessed him with a true miracle by allowing him this experience of being welcomed into Russian Headquarters to speak with such a group of high ranking Jewish officers in our common language of Yiddish.
Binem saw the irony of this event. “All this is taking place in Austinsaken's mansion where its owner had save me. This is truly incredible.”
As Binem began to speak he noticed in the background Austensaken walking around in another room. He was oblivious of the fact that Binem had returned to the mansion. And more importantly had had no inkling that his very life was being deliberated.
The dinner and mostly the drinking ended the next day. Binem decided to remain in the house. Partly to make sure that the Jewish officers didn't change their minds, but mostly because he liked staying in the Austensaken mansion. A few days later the Russian divisional command moved on. The house was replaced by a civilians made up of both Polish communist officials from the Polsh Committee for National Liberation and their enforcement police which was the early elements of the Polish NKVD (KGB).
One of the NKVD walked over to Binem. Binem could tell from his smell and slurred speech that he was near total inebriated. He yelled then in a flash was behind Binem squeezing Binem's neck. He then slammed Binem into the wall, face first. Binem was completely stunned as the officer tied Binem's hands and made him face the wall. Next to him was Austensaken, also tied up. Apparently one of the other officers had did the same to Austensaken.
Instead, when the shoemaker saw Binem walk into his shop he apparently thought that Binem was coming to get back the leather that the family entrusted to him to hide during the War. In reality, Binem did not remember that the shoemaker was holding leather for them. Binem smiled and walked up to the shoemaker. The shoemaker face turned red and without any provocation ran from his shop shouting bloody murder. Binem stood there speechless having no idea why the shoemaker reacted in such a way. Binem soon found out.
Just outside Market Square on a corner the Najmans' building on 5 Rynek Street still stood seemingly undamaged from the years of War. The building looked abandoned. The display window was covered with the same brown heavy butcher block paper that he and his brothers put up at the beginning of the War. After rattling the front door and determining that it was securely locked. They walked to the rear of the building and tried the back door. It didn't feel securely locked. So with a little bit of force they managed to open the door without damaging the lock or door.
When the two entered they were surprised that it was empty. All of the contents were gone. Binem and his friend decided that since it was empty and it was in fact owned by Binem and his family that this would be a good place for them to live. So that night they slept on the floor of the room that was once the parlor. Even though it was now empty Binem's mind-eye conjured up the contents of the house which he had spent over twenty years. Most vivid in his imagination was the image of his father faithfully studying a volume of the Talmud that he had removed from one of the many bookshelves that seemingly covered three of the four walls. All of his departed father's beloved books were either in Hebrew or Yiddish and covered only one subject, Judaica.
The group moved up to the second floor of the building where there were several bedrooms. The men occupied one of the bedroom and the women took up residence in a second bedroom. There was no furniture so they spread blankets on the floor and thus slept. Of course this arrangement was not only uncomfortable but also gave the feeling of transiency. So the group elected Binem to approach the mayor.
The Mayor was very busy man trying to bring back a semblance of normalcy in the community and at the same time comply with the hundreds of directives being issued by the occupation forces of the Soviet Union. These included both civil and military authorities.
Binem found the Mayor at the City Hall. He walked up to the Mayor and said bluntly that the Jewish returnees need some beds.
|Judge's Order Awarding the Najman Building to Binem|
Survivor George Gronjnowski chillingly remembers that after his liberation he decided to return to Radziejow. He traveled by train. Since Radziejow did not have a station he disembarked at the next stop which was Chelm. At the station Gronjnowksi found several transport wagons available to take riders to the nearby towns. George located the one designated to transport passengers and their luggage to Radziejow. As he boarded the open wagon he couldn't help but stare at the familiar face of the large Polish driver who sported a tremendous mustache.
Similarly survivor Ann Goldman Kumer tells of a her even more ominous and perilous return. Shortly after being liberated by the Russians She returned to Radziejow accompanied by her friend, Fella Feldman. Taking the transport from Chelm she was dropped off near Radziejow's Market Square. From there she walked directly to her family's house. As she walked the familiar path she hoped that despite the War there might be some pictures of her family there. When she arrived she tried the front door. The door was locked so she knocked. Soon a Pole that she recognized answered the door. That Pole was none other than a well known town criminal. As the Pole looked at Ann the criminal's equally infamous wife joined him at the entrance. Ann could not help but feel fear that was caused from the evil and angry faces of the notorious couple. The two verbally assaulted Ann as she and her friend had no idea on how to react.
The criminal occupants of her parent's house repeatedly shouted diatribes against not only her but all Jews. The husband then as if by an evil spell, produced a weathered machete. He waved it ominously at Ann.
He shouted wildly. "What do you want here? This is my house!”
Ann had only one desire. That was to escape before the anti-Semite had his way. Meanwhile the wife of this criminal was instigating her husband to escalate his verbal and menacing behavior.
Ann made one last plea. “I only want some pictures of the family.”
The man angrily answered. “Out you go from here if you know what’s good for you. You dirty Jews, out!”
From first hand experience of the last five years, she knew that there was no reasoning with these Jew haters. Both Kumer and her friend turned and fled from the doorstep, walking at a brisk pace. When they were about a block away from her house the two slowed down . As they discussed the surreal encounter, at the very house that Kumar was raised, they were confronted by a mob of several Poles. Kumer recognized one in the group. She calmed, for she remembered that he had a reputation of being friendly to the Jews before the War. That sense of safety lasted but a fleeting moment.
This “friend”menacingly pointed a pitchfork at her and barked, “Where are those Jews?”
This time Ann and her friend didn't bother with answering instead they broke into a desperate run with the blood thirsty mob following just a short distance behind. In Kumer's panic she suddenly remembered that just around the corner was a house owned by a Polish woman that long ago was the family's seamstress. She was always very friendly.
Ann and her friend turned the corner with the mob just a few seconds behind. She immediately banged on the seamstesss' door. The seamstress opened the door, and looked into Ann's panic stricken eyes. The Polish seamstress correctly accessed the situation
She stated to Ann, “Come in quickly.”
Ann spoke up with tears in her eyes. “Thank you." then added, "Please save us!”
The seamstress led the two young women into her bedroom. She told them to lay perfectly still on her bed. She then completely covered them with an elaborate over sized and thick goose down bed comforter.
Almost immediately after covering the women all three heard a loud series of raps on the door. Without the courtesy of at least waiting for the seamstress to open the door the mob forced the door open. They spotted the seamstress as she left the bedroom.
One giant Pole demanded. “Did you hear someone running?”
The seamstress replied. “No, why?”
The man shouted out “Those whore Jews came back to the city and we want them.”
The blood thirsty mob turned and exited the house.
Waiting an additional moment the seamstress then returned her bedroom and uncovered the two Jewesses. She invited the the two frightened women into her kitchen and they sat and ate some food. As they talked the seamstress' son, Bartak, who was a farmer, entered the house and came into the eating area. She told her son that he must help the two young ladies. Bartak was a nice polite man. He asked no questions but instead without hesitation he executed his mother's request. He exited the house and drove his wagon around the back. After making sure that no one was watching he instructed the two Jewish woman to sit in the bed of his wagon. Then he covered them with straw. He then drove wagon several minutes until they arrived at his farm. There he hid the two in the barn. The next day he drove the two Jewesses to the train station that was located approximately three kilometers from the farm. He bought them two train tickets. He then waited to make sure that they boarded the train safely.
Survivor Roman Rogers returned to Radziejow and remembered staying at his cousin’s house, which was most likely Binem’s building. He stated that they lived a communal life there and that he stayed with them for a few weeks. He remembered that the group had no plans but seemed to live day by day. He remembered that he was successful in bartering clothes for food. He had a significant stash of clothing, most likely given to him, when he was liberated in Germany. He stated that the others begged for food from Polish farmers.
Her mother lived in Poland. When the War broke out her mosther was a young girl age thirteen. She came from a very rich and respected family that owned a large estate. When the Germans began the wholesale slaughter of Polish Jewry during the summer of 1942, Ruth's grandmother and her aunts and uncles along with her mother hid in a specialty prepared bunker located on the estate. Sometime afterwards, Ruth's mother was by chance out on an errand for her family when the caretaker of the estate informed the Nazis of the location of the bunker. The Nazis soon arrived and, on the spot, executed all of her siblings. The caretaker was rewarded by the Nazis by making him the owner of estate. After surviving the War Ruth's mother returned to the estate but was refused entry by the caretaker. That was the last time her mother saw the estate. Sometime thereafter she left Poland and found her way to the United States.
In the 1990s, Ruth arranged permission with the Polish Government to enter the estate for the purpose of finding the remains of her ancestors. She would be allowed to exhume the remains and take them to Israel for a proper burial. With orders in hand and workers she entered the estate to find the remains of her family. Unfortunately, after much searching she concluded that the bones were nowhere to be found. She figured that likely her family's remains were removed by the caretaker as an effort to cover up all evidence of his traitorous behavior of cooperating with the Nazis. Ruth questioned the the local priest, who obviously had no sympathy for her efforts. He stated that probably the reason that she couldn't find her family's remains was that “people don't like bones on their property.”
They then discussed their other option of being drafted as police officers. Two main points were made. First, by staying in town they would be able to protect the women survivors. Second,by remaining in town they would be better able to determine whether it was feasible to reestablish their lives in Radziejow once the War ended.. The three unanimously agreed that the logical choice to stay and join the police force.
|Binem in his police uniform|
On a trip to Toronto to meet with Jewish survivors of Radziejow I asked them what the true story about my Father's service in the Polish Police?”
Binem found that his fellow police officers treated him with respect. And as long as the Police behaved in a civil manner in performance of their duties Binem enjoyed his work. But as time went on, Binem found that the atmosphere changed.
This fear proved to be unwarranted because the German troops were now subject to wholesale slaughter by the Russians. Binem and his friends rejoiced as a stood near the highway and watched seemingly endless columns of Russian troops, tanks and artillery as they advanced towards Germany. At the same time, it was told that just as many trucks were heading back with confiscated German property which was now war booty war booty for the Soviet Government and the individual soldiers.
Binem did not forget the Austensakens. He would visit them at Wanda's house where they were currently living. He would discuss the progress of the War with the Austensakens. Both Binem and Mr. Austensaken anxiously awaited the end of the War. But they did so for very different reasons. Austensaken was still hoping for a German counter attack. For Austensaken clung to the reports being broadcast on German radio that Hitler had a secret plan that would snatch victory from seemingly defeat. This was to be done by attacking the Allied forces with what the Nazi called. "wonder weapons".
Binem's assessment was that in the very near future Nazi Germany would be completly and utterly destroyed. As 1945 progressed it became clear that there that Hitler did not have the promised miracle weapons at least not in sufficient quantities to change the course of the War. The revolutionary weapons of warfare such as rocket bombs and jet airplanes were being produced in quantities that was too little and too late to turn the tide of the War. Hitler, his cadre of criminals, along with the duped citizens of Germany were heading towards a catastrophe that resulted directly from their own doing. The more the Germans fought back the more Germans were slaughtered both soldiers and civilians.
The Russian Army was conquering previously German held territory so fast that the retreating Germans were overwhelmed. At the same time the Allies that were fighting the Germans from the west meant that soon the two triumphant armies would meet.
The Russians were determined to conquer the ultimate prize, Berlin. The Russians had five main reasons for doing this. First, the capital of Nazi Germany was also the residence of the most hated man in Russia, Second, the destruction of Berlin would signal to the world that the German government no longer exists. Third, the road leading to Berlin would be be drenched in so much German blood that every German would understand that Hitler was responsible for their suffering. Forth, while Hitler tried to conquer the Soviet Unions capital, Moscow and failed, the Russians would conquer the German capital, Berlin. In doing so the Russian thirst for revenge would be, at least, partially quenched. For no country had lost as much as Russia. The Russians meant to repay the Germans in a like manner that which the Russian people experienced under Germany's invasion and occupation. Finally taking Berlin would accomplish a top priority of Stalin that of achieving the strategic goal of controlling and dominating post- war Germany.
His nightmare about the evil Germans returning proved to be pure fantasy. At this point in the War, the Germans were barely capable of putting up meaningful resistance. Even the so called fearless S.S. troops learned to be afraid as they confronted the overwhelming firepower of the Russians.
All across Germany, the Nazis were conscripting boys under sixteen years old and men over sixty to provide for a home front defenses. These children and old men were laughable to the battle harden Russian soldiers. Hitler challenged the German people stating that if the Germans lose to the Slavic people then the Slav race would prove superior to the German race. These Germans were incapable of fulfilling the impossible demands of their demi-god, Adolf Hitler.
Then only a short time later Austensaken came to terms with a future that bode ill for himself and his wife. For it was becoming abundantly clear that the Germans remaining in Poland were a minority that was to targeted to be greatly reduced if not completely eliminated in Post-World War II Poland. The Austensaken’s again turned to Binem for protection. Binem knew that his status of being a police officer was not enough to even protect himself. Austensaken also was aware of this. He probably was thinking that his wife should have picked a leader, an important Jew, to save them. Instead she had to bring into his home a skinny good-for-nothing Jew.
Binem's initial reaction was that he had to try and help Austensaken. In the back of his mind was the last time he tried to save Austensaken he almost got killed for the effort. This time he knew that he should proceed cautiously. He froze in his place as he collect his thoughts to come up with a plan of action. The overriding consideration in planning was how to keep his pledge to Austensaken's son? Finally he decided to act.
Bnem went up to one of the arresting officer who he was friendly with and asked, "[w]hat did this guy do?"
The Chief looked up and smiled at Binem as he entered the room.
Instead Binem got right to the points and said, "[t]he prisoner that was just brought in, his name is Austensaken and he helped me to live over the War. He deserves a break."
"I don't know anything about him being a Nazi. But if you say he should be treated fairly, then O.K. You are in charge of him."
So for the next several weeks Binem daily visited the German and at the same time made sure that Austensaken was provided with the necessities. As a result of Binem's humane treatment of the prisoner the other officers started treating Austensaken better most likely thinking, “[i]f a Jew can treat this man with dignity then why shouldn’t we do the same.”
The Spielberg interview differed from my interview in that Binem stated that he testified on behalf of Austensaken only by way of a written statement. In both versions, Austensaken was found guilty. However, the sentencing of the tribunal was quite lenient as a result of Binem being Austensaken's character witness. In most cases where the Volksdeutche collaborator was arrested he was killed without trial. When an actual trial would take place the typical sentence was that of being condemned to death by either hangaing or firing squad. In an unusual sentence of mercy, Austensaken received a remarkably lenient punishment. He was sentenced to exile and forfeiture of his entire estate. Exile was defined as not being able to live within three hundred miles of Radziejow.
Binem resolved his quandary by siding with the law. He maintained that individuals did not have the right to take the law into their own hands. Binem believed that anyone suspected of traitorous behavior must have a fair chance to prove his innocence. That meant in Binem’s mind that every man deserved a trial. “First give the suspect a trial and if he is guilty let the court sentence him."
Binem wanted no part of it. As this malignant hatred became more common Binem thought that there must be some justification that he was missing. He constantly asked himself, "[d]id all Volkesdeutche commit treason by in some way cooperate with Hitler and Germany during the occupation?"
Binem knew that there was nothing he could do for that poor soul laying at the bottom of the ditch. He just hoped that he would not be forced to witness such cruelty again.
Was my father's attitude unusual? John McCain in his book, Faith of My Fathers, quotes Holocaust survivor Victor Frankel, "Everything can be taken but one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one's own attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Binem smiled then asked. "What is your name?"
Binem caught the regular transport truck to Radziejow. The whole ride he couldn’t get his mind off the strange encounter.
The problem was there was no room for him not to become involved. He was faced with reality. He was in the Polish Police. The police was a type of military arm of the communists that were in power in Poland. In his heart he felt that he was in Russia's debt because through its military might he was liberated. On the other hand, The Anders Army has proven to be infiltrated with the worst elements of anti-Semitic Poles. Even their leaders were constantly using anti-Semitic diatribes as a tool to persuade their followers that the Jews and communists were one and the same. They would emphasize as proof that certain Jews held important positions in the occupying government. Binem, in trepidation, watched the actual danger level to Jews rises to the level of lethal ramifications. Thus as his situation now stood he had survived the Nazi Holocaust only to find that he was now likely in terrible danger for he and his fellow Jews were in the middle of a new shooting war.
These letters were not being sent in a vacuum. Deadly events against Jews were taking place throughout Poland. In the town of Ociency, just a few miles from Radziejow, a pogrom against the Jews took place. Members of the Anders Army entered the town and killed several Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. According to Polish historian Tadeusz Piotowski "1500-2000 victims between the years 1944 and 1947 due to general civil strife that came about with Soviet consolidation of power." Wikipedia, Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland, 1944-46.
He told Binem with a grave look on his face, “I just got the news. There is a contract out on you. Tonight they are going to kill you." Binem was taken aback then he replied. "What Should I do?"
His friend replied, "Take my advice, run."
The friends were all in agreement that they too must flee. The plan called for abandoning Radziejow and make their way to one of the displaced persons camp located on the other side of the border in Germany. All knew that crossing the border was tricky. Poland was the only country in this part of Europe that allowed Polish citizens to freely leave the country. ibid. Still the tricky part was what was the law of entering Germany. No one was quite sure whether it would be difficult to cross into Germany. Still it was worth the chance. Their final destination would be Hanover,Germany. Several of the roommates had heard that their was a Jewish refugee camp located on the grounds of the former concentration camp bearing the name Bergen Belsen. In today's terms, using highways Radziejow to Bergen Belsen is a six and one half hour drive, a distance of 422 miles. But in War Torn Europe, all knew it would take a several week journey.
It was likely that they left the next day since Binem would be soon discovered as going AWOL. That would cause a search for him. The night before each roommate packed what little belongings he or she had accumulated since liberation. When it was light the friends set out on foot towards the German border, a good two day trek away.
|Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons Camp|
This behavior resulted in a great deal of tension and turmoil. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Commander in Chief of the American Forces of occupation in Germany, was alerted to this terrible situation by President Truman who received complaints from Jewish leaders in America. These leaders received their information from Jewish relief workers assisting at the camp. Eisenhower dealt with the matter by issuing a number of orders. The most important was that the Jewish population be separated from the general camp and housed separately. The authorities administering the camp went one step further by dividing up the complex into several different ethnic camps.
|Binem sitting on window sill of his assigned barracks at Bergen Belsen|
As an aside, Yetka informed me that she had a German nanny for Michael She was a young pretty local girl. I was mildly surprised when she stated that the male bachelors living in the room, implicitly including my my father, were constantly “hitting on her”.
|Binem attends Zionist meeting at Bergen Belsen|
Binem is standing fifth on right
|Max and Harry Neuman|
|New Years card sent by Binem from Bergen Belsen - 1948|
|Travel papers from Hamburg, Germany to Ellis Island, USA|
In the visitor reception area he saw a group of people waiting. One man came up to him and presented himself as a representative from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, better known as HIAS. He told Binem in Yiddish to follow him because he was taking him to his waiting brothers. Binem scanned the crowd. Binem had never met his two older brothers; he only knew them from photographs. When the representative stopped he was standing in front of two men with great big smiles on their faces. Binem sort of recognized the faces from pictures that were sent to him. These were the two brothers that he has never met face to face. He still wasn't quite sure.
He said to himself. "If I wasn't introduced, I wouldn't even know they were my brothers."
|Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, April, 1949|
As time went on Bernice became more and more despondent. The reason was simple. Bernice, throughout her life, was very close to her mother. The sixty miles separating the two was too much. As a result, Bernice missed her dearly. After six months Bernice told Binem not that she missed her mother, rather that she hated Milwaukee. She ranted that compared to Chicago Milwaukee was no better than a "hick town". She declared that if she had to stay in Milwaukee than she must make frequent visits back to Chicago. For Bernice this lifted her spirits because the trips to Chicago were actually visits with her mother. The trips increased in frequency until a point that Bernice was visiting her mother just about every week.
Binem had to close his store at least two days a week in order to drive Bernice to Chicago. As a result the profitability of the business soon vanished. Then on one trip to Chicago during the winter Binem had a car accident. Though the damage to the vehicle was total the two were lucky. They came out of the accident without injury. Still both realized that the accident could have ended with catastrophic result.
He thought to himself. "If the King of England can give up his throne (King Emperor Edward VIII’s abdicated his throne in 1936 in order to marry divorcee American Wallis Simpson) for his love, than I can give up a store."
So Binem broke the news to Harry. Harry understood. A sign went up in the store window “Going Out of Business”. Over the next few months most of the merchandise was sold. What remained was to pack up the rest of their belongs and move to Chicago.
Binem soon learned valuable techniques in order to make a sale quickly and at the same time satisfy the fashion sa in overcoming the vanities of American women in the 1950s. But making the sale was only half the problem.
Binem was quickly confronted with the hidden reality that commission sales was a cutthroat business. Some salesmen didn't play by the rules of the store. They considered Binem a greenhorn and therefore they had a carte blanche to take advantage of him. One particular salesman went too far. He actually had a method stealing Binem's already earned commissions. He wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation.This went beyond the pale of competition to grab as many customers as possible. After not having several of his commissions credited to him but rather to the unscrupulous salesman, Binem knew he had to do something. He finally confessed the matter with my mother. He was lucky, she was definitely the right person to ask for advice with bullies. For my mother, since she was a little girl, had a reputation of being someone that no one dared to take advantage of. Her younger sister, Shirley, would tell stories about how when they were kids Bernice was her block's gang leader in their neighborhood located near Logan Park on the near north side of Chicago.
Shirley boasted about her sister. “One time she had a fight with our own brother David and broke his arm!” This was my mind boggling since we all knew Uncle David a giant of a man weighing nearly 350 pounds.
At the time Binem asked his wife's advice she was pregnant. Thus they both knew that there wasn't an option to find similar employment because Mailings was providing for health insurance.
My mother advised him. "Bullies only understand one thing, that is pain, so tomorrow at work take care of business.”
Instead of talking or smoking Binem utilized a different set of skills that he acquired years ago as a policeman in Poland. He was trained to answer violence with violence to effectively deal with Polish drunks that became rowdy. By the time Binem finished with his colleague one thing was certain, this crook would never bother my father again.
Then the customer base changed and more blacks started to shop at the store when I was selling shoes there in my teens. I enjoyed talking with them. They were mostly good and loyal customers and fairly easy to sell to. For the most part, the black customers insisted on more color and style in their footwear.
Ben then repeated his previous instructions. Bernice suddenly put two and two together and understood. She then shockingly and unexpectedly replied. "The hell I will!"
Junior, part owner and the bar’s official bouncer, asked “Mr. Ben what happened?
Ben explained the emergency in a few panic driven words. Junior was a man of action and he was anything but not junior. In fact he was a 30 year old dynamo; he was extremely large and was known as the Puerto Rican version of Hercules. He also had a reputation of being fearless. Upon hearing that AMrs. Ben@ needed help he rushed next store. The drifter didn’t know what hit him when Junior at full speed tackling him to the floor. In moments the Police arrived and handcuffed the drifter.
My father replied, "Its not so easy. Who shall I pick as my savior. Austensaken? The Princess? Wanda? Or perhaps all the poor Polish peasants that put me up sometimes for one night sometimes for more? Better yet, those who gave me the equivalent of gold, a piece of bread. These people had more at risk than the Princess.”
I could see that he himself had probably asked the question to himself several times.
He then blurted out. “I am thinking about some day to go back (to Poland).”