In the end, the silence, and the burden of history, were too much to bear.
So when an inquisitive niece began asking him about the war years, Marian Rosenbloom finally opened up about his harrowing Holocaust experiences and about how, on a cold January day in 1943, when he was 13, he simply walked out of the Warsaw Ghetto in hopes of surviving the Nazis.
“It was too painful,” Rosenbloom, 83, of upstate Schenectady, said of his wartime experiences and his decades-long silence. “I wasn’t the only one. We just decided not to talk about it. I’m talking about practically our entire circle of people from Poland. I never even discussed it with my sister.” Or with his wife.
But when his niece, Susan Rostan, a resident of Woodbury, L.I., “started asking me questions, I couldn’t deny her the facts,” Rosenbloom said.
That was five years ago, and the facts emerged slowly, recollections culled from a long-ago life.
Rostan, who was then 60, became so enthralled that she wrote it all down and had it self-published. Called, “Digging: Lifting the Memorable From Within the Unthinkable,” it will be released later this month, not long after this week’s 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
“I read the book and every sentence is true,” Rosenbloom said. “It doesn’t ease the pain to talk about it. The pain exists; it never leaves us.”
But he and his circle of friends also wanted desperately to move on.
“It was the kind of thing you forget about,” Rosenbloom said. “We wanted to talk about apartments, jobs and income — anything else was open for discussion. But this was a thing of the past and it was too difficult to talk about it.”
“I can’t tell you if it was rational or not,” Rosenbloom continued. He said he knew many people who didn’t apply for benefits from Germany because they didn’t want to talk about it. “One of my doctors, a survivor with an office in Manhattan, didn’t want anything to do with it and even refused to sign a paper I needed to apply for a particular German fund. I had to get another doctor to sign it.”
Rosenbloom’s wife, Carol, 79, who was born in Brooklyn, said the Manhattan doctor also refused to apply for his own German benefits.
“I know of several other people who did the same thing,” she said. “One woman who was in a camp and had marks on her arm said she was not interested in getting a pension. She said the Germans didn’t make the process easy, that they put you through the ringer, and that she didn’t want to deal with that anymore.”
Rosenbloom pointed out that one survivor, a prominent dentist, abandoned his religion because of the searing memories.
“He said he wanted nothing to do with Judaism. He never went to synagogue because he didn’t want to be reminded of it. And yet he came from an Orthodox family. He said to me, ‘Even my children don’t know I’m Jewish.’”
He said the man, who had once lived next door and “was like family when he came to visit 10 or 15 years ago” has broken off all contact.
“It’s because I remind him of the past,” Rosenbloom explained. “He was very well educated in the United States, but he said he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to experience it again. Once is enough — once is too much.”
Rabbi Michael Barenbaum, a Holocaust historian and former deputy director of the Presidents Commission on the Holocaust, said such behavior is not unusual.
“There are still plenty of survivors who can’t go there,” he said of the Holocaust. “And repression is sometimes a good thing because it allows you time to heal.”
Rosenbloom said he that until he broke his silence five years ago, he never discussed his Holocaust experiences with his wife, whom he married in 1957.
“I knew he was a survivor but I didn’t know any details,” she said. “I knew there were losses in his family because he came from a big family. I knew he was in the Warsaw Ghetto and that he escaped by walking out. But it was all very vague — there was never any detail in terms of his experiences in the ghetto and of getting out of the ghetto. All I knew is that someone helped him escape.”
Along with the questions posed by his niece, Rosenbloom said other factors made him open up and reveal his wartime experiences. “Historical reasons,” he said, “so that the world should know, so that it shouldn’t happen again.”
He said he was disturbed also by Holocaust deniers, by the “dentist who denied his Judaism and even married a non-Jew,” and that he feared “a new generation wouldn’t know about it.”
Asked if his decision to talk about the war years had prompted his sister and other survivors from Poland to also speak, he replied: “Unfortunately, they are not around to talk about it. Practically all are now gone, having passed away. They went to their graves without ever talking about it, and that’s why I believe a book like Susan’s is of historical value. At least my story will be known. It’s not just family history, it is what truly happened.”
In the book, Rosenbloom described how he walked out of the Warsaw Ghetto on a cold Jan. 17, 1943, at the age of 13. He had been living in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939. He had a twin brother and three older brothers, three of whom were with their mother outside the ghetto by the time of Rosenbloom’s escape. Their father escaped with their oldest brother and the two survived the war in Russia. Only his sister remained with him in the ghetto. His mother, twin brother and two other brothers were killed during the war; his sister escaped the ghetto shortly before the uprising.
He said it was his sister who helped him escape by convincing a Jewish electrician in the ghetto to take him along when he was asked by the Nazis to repair a light pole just outside the ghetto walls. As the two approached the gate, a German officer stopped them and asked the electrician, “Who is he?”
“He’s my helper,” the electrician replied.
Once outside the gate, the electrician walked to the light pole and Rosenbloom said, “I just kept walking.”
It was dusk and as he walked, night fell.
Rosenbloom said he went directly to the home of an acquaintance of his father, where he remained for about six weeks until a neighbor spotted him and notified the Gestapo.
As the Gestapo was putting the two into a car, a trolley car passed and Rosenbloom jumped aboard. He jumped off minutes later when he saw two women look at him and mouth the word “Jew.” He then managed to reach the home of a non-Jew outside of Warsaw, where he spent the rest of the war hiding with three other Jews in the man’s attic. He said they paid the man for their lodging and food with gold Russian coins.
Rostan said that after hearing her uncle’s story, she conducted a search to learn what happened to the man arrested with her uncle by the Gestapo. She said she learned the man, Stanislaw Drabich, was executed. This year, with her uncle’s testimony, he was recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, as a Righteous Gentile.
Barenbaum said that as each day goes by, “more and more survivors die and those who have not yet spoken must understand that this is their last shot. Some will take advantage of it and some still don’t want to go there. I think we have to respect both decisions.”