May 21, 2024

The Courage of Edek: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story

The Courage of Edek: A Holocaust Survivor's Story
From the terror of Treblinka to a new life in London, Edek’s story is one of resilience and hope. [supplied].

Edek was thirteen years old, still a child and not yet a man, when the Nazis stormed his family’s apartment building and removed them onto a cold winter street. 

Blind terror filled Edek’s head, unsure of what lay ahead as his family marched down the street towards the train station; only fear surrounded his mind as other people joined the long walk to the train. Nobody had any idea of the atrocities waiting for them at their final destination.

Panic and screams filled the street as the soldiers brandished their guns in the air, occasionally firing shots to control the crowds, which only resulted in more fear and anxiety. As they boarded the train like cattle herded into crates, Edek clung to his mother tightly, with his two sisters and older brother shielding the family as much as they could.

The family had no fixed religion; his mother was born catholic, and his father was Jewish by birth; neither religion did the family follow, although the association was sufficient to be labelled Jewish as biologically dangerous.

The carriages were cold and cramped with over a hundred people pressed into capacity, some of the faces Edek knew from school and the neighbourhood, some were strangers, and all were displaying the same desperate dread and horror of what lay ahead of them. 

As the train pulled out of the station, peering through the crack in the door, Edek could see the bleak, cold countryside glide past like a slow-motion movie of uncertainty.

The train finally came to a standstill, the doors were flung open, and soldiers appeared and pulled everyone out of the carriages; the new home was Treblinka; for some, this would be their last home.

Edek was petrified but determined he would survive whatever ordeals lay ahead. Immediately Nazi soldiers separated him from his family; no amount of pleading and screaming to remain together worked. Soldiers led Edek into another room, taking his small leather case and bundling Edek into a cold, dark hut that would be home for the foreseeable future.

This would be the last time he would see his elder sister Katarzyna; she was eight months pregnant and was never seen or heard of again, never knowing if he had a niece or nephew and if they had lived or died before or after birth. This memory remained with Edek for the rest of his life.

Edek was alone, for all intents and purposes, and even more determined than ever to survive this ordeal, whatever that meant and whatever he had to do to survive. The days and weeks ahead were endured by scavenging for food and avoiding the soldiers as much as possible.

Keeping eyes and ears open at all times ensured his protection against the unknown. Endurance was about survival and using his wits and common sense to keep him safe and alive. Being hungry and feeling cold had to be tolerated; he did this by blocking out his emotions.

The time came for Edek to leave his childhood behind and step up and become a man.

One evening, just as the guards changed their shifts, Edek quickly found the small hole in the fence, avoiding the searchlight by seconds, crawling through and running as fast as he had ever done into the dark woods.

Unaware of his surroundings, he ran towards the sounds of a train in the distance. The train pulled out of the station with an unknown destination, although he knew it was heading north towards Russia.

Clinging to the lower level of the carriage, he held tight as the train gained speed in freezing conditions for over 22 hours, surviving only on the ice, eventually falling to the track below when the train came to a halt, luckily in Russia.

From there, Edek joined the Russian air troops; at the tender age of fourteen, he stood six feet tall and passed for eighteen.

The rest is history, he bravely tells me; after the war, he discovered his mother and sister Regina had somehow survived and were re-united after their repatriation to Poland.

When Edek escaped, he had no time to think about his actions about what could have happened to him and how he could have been recaptured, shot, or even killed; it was all about survival.

Years later, Edek found a new life and family in London with his beloved Catrina and three daughters, but never forgot the atrocities the Nazis had bestowed upon him and his family.

The time spent in Treblinka was a testament to the strength and determination of a young boy who was forced to become a man and survived to tell the story for future generations and to live his life in freedom.

Edek’s story is one of countless accounts from the survivors of the concentration camps during WWII.

He bore the scars and lifetime torment of his experiences, and although he lived to tell his tale, the memories crowd his mind with pain and anguish. The memories of Treblinka that Edek carries with him are unimaginable and haunting.

The nightmares and tyranny must have left a deepening impact on his soul. It’s important to show reverence and respect towards the survivors of such atrocities and to acknowledge the pain and trauma that they have endured.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that these events are never forgotten; we can then educate future generations on how to be compassionate and work towards creating a more peaceful and humane world.

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  1. This story needs to be published, like others written by Michael. Short, true and succinct, just what folks like. I love reading them and always look forward to the next one.

  2. Incredibly moving and powerful story Michael. It demonstrates the power of the human spirit to prevail under the most cruel and inhumane circumstances. We are so lucky to live in the time we are living, previous generations endured unimaginable hardships. We can never forget the hardships they overcame and the sacrifices they made so we can live well and prosper.

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