My name is Rena Quint, a Holocaust survivor.
I was born December 18, 1935 in Piotrkow, Poland, and my name was Freida Lichtenstein. My parents, Sara and Yitzchak, had lived in Piotrkow for a long time.
My mother came from a large family, they came from a town nearby, and my father was born in Piotrkow.
There are so many nights that I try very hard to stay awake to remember what my mother looked like. What my father looked like, what my brothers looked like, what we did together.
They Gave Me Life- The Story of Rena Quint Holocaust Survivor
I try so hard to see their faces. To look at my children and my grandchildren and see if I can find their faces in them.
Wish I could remember more. I try so hard to remember, but maybe I’m afraid of remembering. Would like to remember the good times don’t remember the bad times. But I know once the war started, everything was bad.
Because I really have managed to forget so much of my life at that point and start a whole new life. I wish I could remember, but I’m glad that I’m not living in the past.
I had two brothers, two older brothers. One was Yossi and one was David. And my name at that time was Fredzia or Fraidl. I was the youngest, I was the baby.
My parents were married in Piotrkow by a very famous rabbi. His name was Rabbi Meir Shapiro. He left Piotrkow to go to Lublin where he built a place called Chachmei Lublin.
When he left, Rabbi Lau took over and he became the rabbi in our home town. He was in The Great Synagogue, but there were many other little shtiblachs and synagogues all around.
My mother was way ahead of her time because she owned a store, a paint store, and my father, apparently, she had put him into business because she had given him two sewing machines.
He became a tailor, but it wasn’t just a tailor for one person, what was one of the gentlemen tailors, where he made suits for many different people.
One of the things that I do remember is the cholent that my mother made. She had a big pot where she put meat, beans, barley and potatoes, and my brothers David and Yossi would put me on a sled.
It seemed to me that it was snowing a lot in Piotrkow, and they would pull me to the bakery. Where there were many people who brought pots with cholent in it, and they would bake there all night.
Then on Shabbat afternoon, people would go and get them back and bring them to the house where the aroma, the smell was really the smell of Shabbat.
And I’m sure there must have been lots of company. We lived in the house with four stories, and we had many, many cousins and uncles and neighbors who were like family, and everybody shared cholent together, and we sang together.
And unfortunately, many of those things stopped, and I don’t remember the melodies. When I hear melodies, very often I think: Were these the songs we sang?
Rena Quint – a Polish Holocaust survivor – remembers…
I don’t remember what my mother or my father or my brothers looked like. Don’t remember very much about my early childhood. The war started when I was three-and-a-half years old.
The war broke out. Germans came into Piotrkow. Everybody was going, scurrying. Nobody knew what was going on.
Planes were coming overhead, tanks were coming in, the German army came in full speed. The Polish army was not prepared for any of this.
People were trying to run into different towns, but it didn’t help very much, because the Germans soon entered those other towns. Many of the people, including my family and my aunts and cousins, all ran down into the basement.
The basement was filled with food, especially potatoes and other things that were left there just in case something like that happened. You can smell the potatoes down there, people came down, it was very cold.
There were dead horses, there were dead dogs, there were dead people, all lying in the gutters. Everybody was just hurrying all around. There was tension that was going through, everybody knew the war had started, life changed.
Right away, the first ghetto that was organized when the Nazis came in was Piotrkow. Barbed wire fences were set up all around, and people could not get out of the ghetto.
There wasn’t enough food. People tried to save things beforehand, it was just before Rosh Hashana, but Rabbi Lau told people not to go because it was dangerous to go out in the street. So people started their own minyanim, their own prayer places, in the places they lived on.
At one point, the ghetto got very crowded. People in surrounding towns and villages, little shtetlekh, could not live there.
First in surrounding neighborhoods and then another little town and they moved in, and our house became very, very crowded. People who could not get a place to live lived in the mikvah or in the synagogue, people lived out on the streets.
People tried to help each other. Children couldn’t go to school, so they started schools in homes in smaller neighborhoods where my brothers went to school to learn, like a cheder.
At one point, the Germans came, and they took people who were young enough, able-bodied people, like men and women, like my father and my uncle, to slave labor factories. My father and my uncle were taken to the glass factory, where they worked.
They were taken and they started a smaller ghetto over there. I remained in the house with my mother and my brothers.
I think my mother was able to trade a fur coat or shoes or other valuables that she had, if you call those valuables. Maybe jewelry for food, so we did not starve, but many people did, and typhus was rampant, and many people died of that, it was a very contagious disease also. The hospitals were not accessible, so people stayed in their home.
One night in the middle of the night, there was banging out, “Raus, raus, schnell, schnell,” and Germans came in, and they had everybody coming down.
“You can take whatever you want, you’ve got five minutes to leave the house.”
What would you take? Everybody took whatever they could. Some people took photographs, thinking they were going to come back.
Some took their jewelry thinking they could sell things for it. Others took food, blankets, their babies and their own mothers.
And we had to run down the stairs. We had to run down very, very quickly, soldiers were yelling and batting people over their heads with their sticks and with their guns.
Many people fell and other people fell on top of them until we got out into the big square. From there, we were beaten and we were herded like animals until we got to the synagogue just a few blocks away.
I’m sure as a little girl, I was six years old at this point, I must have been holding on tightly to my mother and she to me and to my brothers.
There was a door in the back of the synagogue, and on the other side of the door there was a man, and I believe he was my uncle, but I have no proof of that, and he beckoned to me and he told me to run.
Maybe my mother pushed me, maybe God pushed me. I don’t know where I got the nerve, the courage, but I ran out.
How does a little girl leave her mother? It is impossible. It’s just not natural for a little girl to leave her mother or her mother to leave her.
Somehow or other I ran out, the soldiers easily could have hit me over the head, could have shot me, could have pushed me back. Maybe they didn’t see me, because there was such pandemonium.
There was such chaos, there was such fear and such crying. I don’t know how it was possible, but I ran out.
That was the last time I saw my mother and my brothers. I ran out from that door, they stayed, and they were taken to Treblinka, which was one of the extermination camps in Poland.
This man, who I think was with my father, what was he supposed to be doing with me. What could he possibly do with a little six-year-old girl?
First, he hid me, and then he took me to my father, who was working in the glass factory in Hortensia. When we got there, my father kissed me and he hugged me, and then he had to hide me.
Girls were useless; boys under the age of 10 weren’t worth very much either, but boys over the age of 10 could work. So my father said that I was a boy of 10.
How does a little girl of six become a boy of 10? He cut my hair; as a tailor, I guess he had skill of doing that.
The tailor found some old clothes to put on me. He gave me a new name. Instead of my name being Fredzia or Fraidl, it was now Froyim.
I learned how to speak Polish in the gender of the male. In English, we don’t have that problem, but in Polish, boys and girls speak differently. Grammar is different. I had to learn to do that.
I had to learn to be very careful when I had to go to the bathroom. My father said to try to keep out of the way as much as possible.
The men helped me, many of the men knew that I didn’t belong there, but they helped me in every way. If somebody of importance came in, they tried to hide me.
In the night time when they were in barracks, I slept next to my father and to my uncle, but one night, apparently, somebody came in.
I was under a blanket, maybe was under the blanket of my uncle or another man, I was fast asleep and was moving around. I didn’t mean to be moving around, but after the soldier left, this man took me and shook me, and said,
“You were told to be still, you were told not to move, and you were moving around, you could have endangered all of us.”
And to this day, I’m so sorry that I didn’t realize what I was doing. I tried very hard not to sleep completely in case somebody would come in, that I would not move under somebody’s blanket.
I worked very hard in the glass factory, everybody worked very hard. There were children there, and we were like water carriers.
We had a pail with a ladle and we were supposed to bring it to the workers. The workers, many of them had had like a mask over them, it was very hot, and the ovens in the glass factory worked all the time, and we brought water for men to drink.
I don’t think the Germans cared about being thirsty, but if you wouldn’t, if you wouldn’t drink and you would faint, you wouldn’t work, and their whole purpose was for you to work.
More than anything, I remember that factories. There were these big German Shepherd dogs, and every time one of the soldiers decided to have some fun or he decided to teach us a lesson.
He would sic one of those dogs into a group of people, and whoever was the poor person who became the culprit and he had a bite out of his arm. If you couldn’t lift your arm, they would shoot you.
If it got infected, there was no medicine, there were no bandages. Too bad. People were dying of those dog bites.
You never forget the dog bites. No matter how much people tell you don’t be afraid of this big dog, the fear of those dogs never leaves you.
I was in the factory with my father and with my uncle, and they tried very hard to keep me away from everything. We worked very hard, but one day they decided they didn’t want any Jews left in Poland.
Again, there was one of these actions where people came in, and again, we had to get ready and go into a place called the Umschlagplatz, where they had cattle cars waiting.
I went with the men, and we were again being pushed and shoved until we got into those cattle cars. Eighty to a hundred people were put into those cattle cars.
There was nothing to eat there, there was nothing to drink, and there was one pail, which was used for the bathroom. Men, women and children use that pail.
It was cold, it was freezing cold, it seems to me it was always cold, there was always snow around.
Finally, we crossed over from the border, from the Polish to the German border. The doors were flung open and we had to jump down from those cattle cars.
The Germans came, and with megaphones, with bullhorns, they made an announcement that we were being taken to camps, men on one side, women on the other. My father now realized he had a problem.
Holocaust survivor Rena Quint’s journey
I was a boy in a man’s camp, but when you go into the concentration camp or whatever where we were going to be sent, everybody knew that you’d have to get undressed.
I don’t think the Germans cared about you being clean, even though we were full of lice and fleas and sicknesses and dirt and smells. But they knew that you’d have to get undressed to go into the showers.
If I’d get undressed, my father knew that they would see I’m not one of the men, and they would kill me. They would also kill him and anybody who tried to help us.
When we jumped off the train, he looked around, and he saw a woman who had come from one of the other factories, one of the slave labor camps, and he asked if she would keep an eye on me. He had some pictures.
He gave me those pictures and he said,
“Look at the pictures and see it’s a mother and father and three children, two boys and a girl,” that was one of my brothers and I, and he said,
“The war is going to be over right away. Very soon, the war will be over,” and he will meet me in our hometown in Piotrkow.
He promised to meet me. Fathers are supposed to keep their promises. My father didn’t keep his promise.
I found a train schedule where he was sent to Buchenwald. ent with my new mother. I don’t remember what she looked like, don’t remember her name, but I know that she saved my life, and I went with her. That was the last time I saw my father, but I had a new mother.
When we finally got to Bergen-Belsen, and so many of the people had either been shot or just fell and died along the way.
We were brought into a big room, and we were told, just the way my father had predicted, to get undressed. The Germans wanted you to get dressed, firstly because we were so filthy, so smelly, so disgusting after those terrible days in the cattle cars.
They wanted you to get washed so that they wouldn’t be around such terrible filth. But the other thing is that if you had anything, they could confiscate everything that you had, and they could give you some old dress or uniform or something like that.
We had to get undressed. My father had given me some pictures. Those pictures were important. I was holding them in my hand.
One of the soldiers saw that I was holding. Maybe he thought it was money or valuables or a diamond. He pried open my hand.
ust have been very disappointed, because they were just pictures of a family, of a mother and father and three children. He tore them up and threw the way.
To him, it meant nothing. To me, it would have meant an awful lot, because then if I had any pictures, I would have known what my mother and my father and brothers looked like, and I don’t.
When we came out of the showers, the freezing cold showers, and this woman dared to steal a black coat that somebody else had left there. We were shivering, because we were cold, we were scared, we were humiliated.
She stole a black coat. She could have been killed for doing such a dastardly thing, but she kept the coat around the two of us.
The warmth of the coat and the body heat from the two of us, I think kept us alive.
Even though she didn’t give birth to me, she gave me life at that point. I was with this new woman I don’t know how long I was with her, because suddenly, she disappeared.
One day I was very sick with typhus, it was smelly, it was disgusting inside the barracks, and I found myself somehow or other sleeping or being outside.
I don’t know if I was by myself or if somebody took me. I was lying around with bodies, and something happened that day that never happened before.
The soldiers came in, soldiers wearing different uniforms, soldiers acting very kind, soldiers who were throwing up. Nazi soldiers never threw up, but these were British soldiers.
They came in and they made an announcement in a strange language which must have been English, saying,
“You’re free. You’re free, ihr seid frei. You can do anything you want. We are the British Army.
We have brought you food, medical help, you’re free.”
What do I want to do? I don’t have a mother, I don’t have a father.
I can’t move. Typhus is the kind of sickness where you can’t see, and you can’t hear and have like vertigo.
Everything is flying. I was about nine years old at this point. Many people died, I did not. God meant for me to live.
Before I was adopted in the United States, the adoption laws require that there’s nobody in the biological family that wants the child. Nobody wanted me because there was nobody left alive to look after me.
My adopted parents looked very hard, and found a woman in Sweden who knew my family.
She told them of what happened, not to look for them. But when I used to walk through the streets and if I would see somebody who looks familiar, I’d say:
Could that possibly be my father or my brothers?
I can’t imagine what my mother looked like at all. None of those people have turned out to be blood relatives.
I went through elementary school, I went through high school. They sent me to a public high school,ut I went out of the neighborhood because I had had Hebrew in this private school.
So I was able to get ahead first because I was so behind as far as my age. And then I went on to Brooklyn College.
Very lucky, because I was popular. I always liked people.
I was able to make friends very easily, maybe that’s how I got so many mothers. Maybe they just needed me as much as I needed them.
People said that a woman lost a child, maybe she took me as her child. I don’t know the reasons, but I always had people around me who were good to me.
I was married March 15, 1959. In September of the following year, we had our first daughter.
Two years later we had another daughter, two years after that another daughter, and then a son.
When I speak to groups, and now I speak to many groups of different people.
I feel very strongly that what I end up with very much now is that we have to laugh as much as we can. We have to love as much as we can, and we have to make sure that Israel is safe and free.
This is our country, and that anybody who needs a place to come back to, can have a place to be.
We have an important role. Survivors are dying out. So people who I speak to, I sort of find that I’m asking them to be our ambassadors, to speak and make sure that other people will be remembered.
I feel very strongly that anybody who wants to hear about the Holocaust, it is my obligation to tell them.
I always think of my mother on her last trip to Treblinka, when I ran out of the synagogue and she and David and Yossi went.
Rena Quint’s Holocaust memories…
What was she thinking on that last trip? Did my mother think about what happened to her little girl?
I hope she looks down from Heaven now to see that the little girl she left at the age of six became a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, and life has continued.