People as prey: Being hunted down by the Nazis

Chapter 23

By JOYCE APSEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2000


Anne Frank wrote in her diary about feeling lucky compared to most people because she was hiding in an annex with her family in Nazi-occupied Holland. She also at times was terrified, "being hunted like slaves of long ago."

Indeed, Anne Frank and the others hiding in the annex were in an unusual circumstance, being able to stay in one place so long and staying together as a family with daily contact with their helpers.

Each individual's story in hiding is different, but Janina, Anne and millions of people fleeing the Nazis and their persecution and extermination policy all were constantly fearful of discovery, betrayal and arrest.

Janina Bauman lived in Poland and was 13 years old, one year older than Anne Frank, when World War II broke out in 1939. While the Nazi occupiers of Holland initially tried to befriend the Dutch populace in 1940, in Poland the Nazi occupation was brutal to Poles and Jews from the outset.

Janina and her family, along with millions of other Jews and Poles, were trapped by the German Army's capture of Poland. During and after the invasion, around 120,000 Jews were killed as fighters in the Polish army, through air bombings and as targets of the Nazi mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen). Poles, especially Polish intellectuals, were targets of the German Army during the brutal early months of the war.

Janina, along with her sister Sophie and her mother, were forced to leave their home and lived in terrible conditions, confined in a small space with hundreds of thousands of other Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

In July 1942 the Nazis began evacuating the ghetto and, by historian Yehuda Bauer's estimate, transported 300,000 Jews to their deaths at Treblinka. The Bauman sisters and mother were among those who were not caught and spent the next two years hiding and moving from place to place.

Jewish resistance to the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto culminated in April 1943 with armed rebellion. Except for those who hid or escaped through sewers or other means, the Nazis responded by turning the ghetto into rubble and deporting or killing anyone left. In these excerpts from Anne Frank: A History for Today, Janina Bauman remembers:

"We went into hiding. For six months we hid in dark, wet cellars, in dusty attics, in the spaces behind heavy furniture, in ruins and under piles of rubble. The ghetto grew smaller and smaller, our situation more and more dangerous.

"We escaped from the trap. It was terribly dangerous. Jews who were found outside the ghetto were killed, as were Poles who helped or hid Jews. People who betrayed a Jew in hiding were given a handsome reward.

"We were on the run for two years. All sorts of people risked their lives and the lives of their families to save us, including a drug addict, a prostitute, an occultist and a priest. And every time we would have to leave because someone threatened to betray us. So we encountered cruel and corrupt people as well as very brave and honest people. My life was saved by Poles, not once but over and over again."

Why did people help? Individuals had a variety of motives, including a sense of caring and altruism, religious conviction and even the fact that some were being paid.

As did most people in hiding, Janina and her family had to move constantly. Betrayal was common because people wanted to collect the reward offered for Jews, or they were acting out of a sense of duty or because they were anti-Semitic and worked with the Nazis.

Janina Bauman continued to live in Poland until 1968. After a series of anti-Semitic attacks she emigrated to England and wrote a book about her life called Winter in the Morning. She says people need to understand how complex history is, that some Poles helped and others betrayed, that "It's extremely important to me that the world know that history is not just a matter of black and white."

Next: "Today I can say it: "gassed'."

Dr. Joyce Apsel lectures nationally on Anne Frank, genocide and human rights. She teaches at New York University. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.

On exhibit

"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin, Jr., the Sembler Family and the state of Florida.

Teaching the teachers

Hannah Pick Goslar, friend and classmate of Anne Frank, will speak at the Florida Holocaust Museum as part of an Educators' Evening March 22 from 5-9 p.m.

The evening is designed to introduce educators to the museum and its teaching resources and includes a tour the Anne Frank exhibit, food and drink, door prizes and a play about Anne Frank and her friend Peter, performed by high school students.

Courtesy buses will run to and from the museum from Countryside High School, Azalea Middle School and Lakewood High School. Bus reservations must be made by Tuesday by calling 588-6058.

For more information and to RSVP, call the museum at (727) 820-0100.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.