Bibiana Szulc Ach

* 1932  

  • "How were you able to cope with these terrible experiences of your childhood?” - “For quite some time, I had nightmares. Then I went to this grammar school for girls, so it would just go away somehow. But we didn't talk about it. No one ever talked about how she would survive the occupation, the war; they wouldn't talk about this, they wouldn't go back. No one would. We wouldn't talk about it at school, we wouldn't talk about this at home or else.” - “Even after ten, or fifteen years maybe?” - “Maybe later there were those fragments, but just tiny bits. Nowadays, people would talk about that. And me, I also wrote my memoirs to be published in those books in Polish, when people would already talk about it.” - “And why would no one talk about it? Would you like to talk about it at some time, for example, but there was no one to talk to?” - “No, I wouldn't. As there was so much cruelty in those memories... As I told you, I had nightmares for quite a long time. Then it would just go away.” - “And did you feel hate at all?” - “No, no at all.”

  • “And on the next day, they would take mothers away and there were just children left. And they would put us in Block No. 16. According to our age, more or less. There were seven of us in this bunk I had been living in. There was just this straw mattress, yet there was no straw in it. There was just this dust of sorts. And all we had was this blanket. During the day, you were supposed to sit on it, and at night, you were supposed to sleep under it. There were seven of us, sleeping under a single blanket, but we had to sleep on the side, otherwise we wouldn't manage to sleep at all. Those children were quite small, maybe younger than I was, but all we could do was to sleep on our side. And those bedbugs, that was just crazy. They would suck our blood all night long. In the morning there was a roll call. In Auschwitz, there were roll calls at 5 AM and then there was the other one, in the evening, at 6 PM. You would have to go out and stand in rows by five, as that was easier for them, for those Germans. Otherwise, we had to stay in our block. And we couldn't even walk around. All we could do was to sit, all hunched up.”

  • “As we came to the ramp, it was just horrible! They would open the carriage and you would hear these overseers yelling, those kapos, as we would call them, they were German, and they were totally drunk most of the time. Then there were those horrible dogs and those rubber clubs they would use to beat us. 'Schnell, schnell, schnell!' And there were older women among us, grandmas in fact, and they would just fall, as they couldn't keep the pace. So these dogs would attack them, they would bite them, it was just horrible. They would lead us away from the ramp. And the ugly thing to see were these fences that were electrified, and also those floodlights. Those fences were so high, those watchtowers were ten meters tall. It was just terrible! They would gather us and then the selection would start. Men to one side, women and children to the other side.”

  • “They would drive us in front of this bathhouse of sorts. And my mother knew, many of them knew, that this was the end, because that was how the Jews were being exterminated. You would have to strip naked, leave all your things behind and enter the bathhouse. We thought that we would be gassed by that poison and we would be drugged in a way. But something had happened for some reason. As the Russians were getting near. There was alarm, they would turn the lights off and there was no gas or anything. We were standing there on the concrete floor, there was nothing coming out of the showers. We kept sitting there till morning. Then the morning came. We had to leave our things in front of the bathhouse. So we had to get them, so they could write it all down. So we would put it in sacks, and there were many Poles already – they were prisoners as well – and they would put down your name and list all your possessions. So everyone had this sack where she would put all the jewelry, watches, IDs, gold, money and stuff. Then we would go back to the bathhouse and they would turn on the water for us.”

  • “There were these minor chores. Every time, we would just clean something. As this supervisor wanted everything to be just nice, so we would have to scrub all those bricks all the time, so they would be red and shiny. It was quite idiotic. But that's not important... But once, we were pulling this cart, this six wheel cart, with corpses on it. So we would just transport the dead. There might be fourteen of us, so we could move this cart. We would grab them by their legs and by their hands and we would throw them to another block where the dead bodies were. I remember there were rats jumping from below those bodies. That was just horrible! When I close my eyes, I can still see it.”

  • "Everyone said that we shouldn't go to Warsaw, that the city was in ruins. So my mother decided that we would get off the train at Pabiance near Lodz. As my father's mother and his sister had been living there. So we went to see them. It was on May 8th, or May 9th maybe, as there were flags just everywhere. And as we went from the railroad station to this house where they had been living, there were flags everywhere, as the war was over.” - “What was it like to meet your grandmother and your aunt?” - “They didn't recognize us. My mother was just flesh and bones. I had been there just one before the war, and I was a four-year old.” - “So you didn't know much about them?” - “No. As after that, there was the Reich. Warsaw had been a part of this General Government, together with Krakow, and you just couldn't enter the Reich if you wanted to. So I just wouldn't see them.”

  • “Later we continued quite slowly, as there were troubles with the Russians, as they were raping people. And they wanted to rape us as well. They wanted to rape me. And my mother would yell that I was still a child, so they would leave me alone. It was quite unpleasant. The Russians didn't know who we were. So we just went towards Warsaw. We had to walk, as there was no other way. And we came to this small town, there were white flags everywhere, they surrendered, and we ended up standing in front of a house of sorts. And all of a sudden, all the flags just disappeared, then this German approached on a motorbike, then there were more of them and they started shooting and the local Germans – it was some kind of farm or something like that. They would let us stand in the front and they were shooting at the Russians from the cover. We were unharmed, as this took just a while, as the Russians had superiority, and after a while... So we just went on and on. And the night came. Then we stayed with some Germans. There was this mother with two daughters, they were both grown up, so she was just terrified. She had some potatoes, so she would prepare some for us, as even Germans didn't have much to eat.”

  • “We went back to Warsaw, and the Warsaw Uprising started on 1 August in resistance to everything fascist. I just wanted to mention one thing that I had witnessed at the secret lessons: what the Germans would do is that they’d drive out with a lorry covered with tarpaulin - those were called shacks - and they’d catch people in the street. They chucked everyone they got their hands on into the car. And then they shot the people. So I witnessed - there were five of us at the secret lessons - that the Germans came up while we had a break, we were playing some games. Our teacher had gone to the kitchen and was drinking tea with the mum of one of our colleagues, and they brought out the people they’d caught from the prison and shot them. They stood them facing the wall, shot them all, blood all over the place. They put up a notice with the names of those they’d killed, they took the bodies away, the blood remained. I saw that. In the street, opposite the house where we were. Dreadful! Those were the first kind of moments. Besides that there was the constant bombing of Warsaw from the eastern side. I don’t know about the western side. It was terrible. The bombing wasn’t every day, but it was several times a month. The Germans raged like crazy because the resistance was pretty strong.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, Dům národnostních menšin, 23.11.2017

    duration: 01:42:21
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 12.01.2018

    duration: 02:11:42
    media recorded in project 10 pamětníků Prahy 10
  • 3

    Praha, 15.12.2018

    duration: 01:27:40
    media recorded in project 10 pamětníků Prahy 10
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Warsaw, the city that rose from the dead

A portrait
A portrait
photo: Průkazka pamětnice

Bibiana Szulc was born on December 5th, 1932 as the last of seven daughters of Jan Szucl, a polish visual artist. After Poland had been invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939, four of her elder sisters joined the national resistance army (Armija Krajowa). Her father died in the first days of the war, being killed as a civil defence serviceman. Her mother with her three remaining daughters stayed in Warsaw. The uprising of August 1st, 1944 had been suppressed by the Germans, despite fierce resistance from the rebels; even when the fighting was still going on, the Germans started ‘depopulating’ the city. Mrs. Szulc and her three daughters departed for Auschwitz with the first transport on August 12th. In the camp, her two sisters were sent to a women’s camp, while Bibiana, being a twelve-years-old, stayed with her mother. Her older sisters were taken to work in the arms factory in Meuselwitz. She and her mother were transported to Berlin on January 17th, 1945, and were reportedly used as human shields and also as a workforce detailed to clean the streets of the city destroyed by bombing. During the last days of the war, a group of Poles, including Bibiana and her mother, embarked on a perilous journey back to Poland. After the war, Bibiana studied architecture and married her Czech colleague. She moved to Prague and got a job as an architect. In 1991, she joined the Association of Poles living in Czechoslovakia and has been working as its secretary.