The Left ones
Words of Paul Felenbok and Wlodka Blit-Robertson
collected by David Lescot
Paul (Paweł) Felenbok Nelly and Włodka with their mother,
at the center, their aunt Pola and the grand parents Blit.
Staging David Lescot
Transcription of French interview : Jacqueline Szobad
Transcription and traduction of english interview : Claudette Krynk
Lights : Laïs Foulc
With Marie Desgranges and Antoine Mathieu
A production of Compagnie du Kaïros on the occasion of
70ème anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto uprising
Au Monfort Théâtre – Paris the 9th of april 2013 and in march 2014
Contact administration and diffusion :
Véronique Felenbok – email@example.com - +33 6 61 78 24 16
Press and public relations :
Olivier Saksik - firstname.lastname@example.org - +33 6 73 80 99 23
« The last memory of the camps is the Jewish memory, for the simple reason that there were deported children.» Jorge Semprùn, extract from Une tombe au creux des nuages.
On April 19, 2013, will be celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, after which it was destroyed.
As of today in France, it hardly remains 10 persons who have lived in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Paul Felenbok is one of these survivors, he was 7 years old in April 1943. His parents were taken away, during one of those many changes of hiding places to which the Jews of Poland were forced, then were deported and murdered short time later. He survived to it, and after having stayed in a children home in Helenuwek, near Lodz, his elder brother managed to send him to France where he grew up in the children homes of “Union des Juifs pour la Résistance et l’Ent’raide” and then started a family and took up a scientific career, for which nothing predestined him.
Paul Felenbok is now 77, he is living in Clamart with his wife Betty. He has got two daughters and five grand-children. He is a retired astrophysicist.
His cousin Wlodka Blit-Robertson’s course has begun in the Warsaw Ghetto, as well.
Shortly before the uprising, she managed to escape from it with her twin sister Nelly, by climbing the surrounding wall thanks to a ladder. She was 12. Her father, connected to the Bund, the Jewish Socialist Organization, had already reached Russia. Her mother remained in the Ghetto to look after the rest of the family, and was exterminated by the Nazis. Wlodka, separated from her sister, remained hidden until the end of the war in Polish peasants’ families, until she could join her father again in London.
Today, she is still living there, with her husband from whom she got three children.
Paul Felenbok and Wlodka Blit-Robertson are the live witnesses to a story they are wishing today to transmit, because they never did it before.
Their testimony, which is a singular story of two children during the war and then the construction of their lives in the after-war Europe, we received it by the most simple existing way: by speaking with them whose memories, through force of circumstance, remained extraordinarily precise and accurate.
We decided to let their crossed testimonies be heard, to bring them on the scene, in a device relieved of any spectacular effect, any staging, or any pathetic protocol.
Two actors, a man and a woman, one questioning, and the other one answering, one after one.
It will be theatre, because the witnesses word will be carried by actors, but a theatre-document, without any rewriting nor artifice, a theatre very close to the testimony.
My testimony against forgetting
I left the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943, I was 7 years old; I left Poland in May 1946.
Since then, I have recalled my past only with people amongst those close to me, until April 19th, 2012. At that date, my testimony has been read aloud at the Shoah Memorial in Paris..
I wish this testimony to be now under wider spreading and that it could be introduced in France and overall in Warsaw, in April 2013, on the celebration of the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising 70th anniversary.
Which development of thoughts have led me from this long silence to this mission of memory that I posed to myself?
I had a brother, by 12 years older than me, who was, until his death last year, the single guardian of our family memory and of our survival story, offering the reliability of his adult status. I have always wished to go back to Warsaw with my brother, the only one capable to find back the marks of our adversities on that Polish land. During several years, my efforts to bring my brother to the places of our past remained vain. In 1993, he was 69 and I got the feeling that our time left was short. On that year, we succeeded to go to Warsaw, in family, for the 50th anniversary of Ghetto uprising.
This has been the beginning of the split in our defenses.
My brother made an interview that gave birth to a text that, at his request, was exclusively spread among our families. I have also written a small text that remained in the private domain. Then, at the opportunity of the 60th anniversary of uprising, I have told part of my story, almost by surprise, to TV5 Monde, which put it on the website. Since then, the normal process for one of the youngest survivors of the Ghetto, was to see it through and to materialize this testimony for the 70th anniversary of Ghetto uprising, in Warsaw. I think time has come to settle down to this task. In 10 years from now, even the youngest survivors will be too old to do this travel.
One of my first cousin which was in the ghetto with me and who is living in London, has a crossed story with mine. I wish to associate her to my testimony because our courses are very different.
Wlodka Blit-Robertson just got 80years, she is married and got three children and six grandchildren, she has worked as radiographer. Her presence at Warsaw in 2013 is already under question mark. It would be the same case for me, with greater reasons, in 2023…
Extracts of Paul Felenbok’s testimony
I was born June 20, 1936 in Warsaw, at 8 Leszno Street, a street described at length in “The Pianist.” I arrived in a family of artisans who already had a twelve-year-old son. My father was from a very religious family, which he left as an adolescent, and became a jeweler’s apprentice. He apparently was talented, and he left Poland for Germany and Austria to hone his skills, returning to Warsaw in 1920.
For a time, he was head of the trade union of Jewish jewelers in Warsaw, and he worked with two employees. It’s very likely that his skill as a jeweler greatly contributed to our survival. I recently learned that he made gold belt buckles for my brother’s and my belts but deliberately dulled the metal, to help us survive in case we were separated. And that’s what happened.
Our family lived as one large clan, with my maternal grandparents, my uncles, aunts and cousins. I have two first cousins with whom I’m particularly close and with whom I spent some time in the ghetto. Today, one lives in New York and the other in London.
I remember playing games and riding a bike in the courtyard of our house there, as well as the booths we built for Sukkot.
I remember the bombing of Warsaw by the Germans. Across from our house there was a post office, perhaps the main post office building, which was destroyed in one of the bombings. All of the paper from the post office was blown onto our gate, which was red-hot from the fires, and which we were unable to open. I also remember the Polish cavalry, crushed beneath the bombs, whose disemboweled horses lay across the entryway to our home. I think that vision is one of the oldest to stay etched in my memory. I remember the stocks of food in bags piled along the hallway leading to my father’s workshop, but I don’t know from when that memory dates. (…)
We left the ghetto through the sewers a few days before the uprising. My grandparents stayed because their physical condition left them no chance of survival given our means for escape. My parents left them stocks of food, thinking the war would soon be over and we could come back for them.
We were guided through the sewers by a sinister-looking group of armed smugglers , say honorable gagsters. The image of our group moving forward through the obscurity, our path lit by the guides’ dim lamps, left a strong impression on me. To find ourselves underground with no way of situating ourselves, to walk along sewers full of filth and refuse, was especially frightening and was surely perilous. Any wrong step could have been fatal.
I can’t say how long it lasted. At the time I wasn’t unhappy to be able to move about and see something other than the walls of a bedroom.
Since that time, I have seen the movie “Sewer” by Andrzej Wajda, and it is consistent with my memories – the escape into the Polish zone, fearing the unknown, not knowing if we would be captured by a German patrol just as we were exiting or if we would be given up by a passing Polish person.
My maternal uncle Léon planned and organized our escape. He and his wife were meant to be the last to take our route. Unfortunately, the Germans discovered the network in the Aryan zone, flooded the sewers and injected the sewers with poisonous gasses, cutting off any possibility for escape. Léon and his wife disappeared into the darkness of the Holocaust. (…)
Extract ofWlodka Blit Robertson’s testimony
Surviving in Warsaw – My wartime experience
(…)As soon as the Germans occupied Warsaw, they began issuing anti-Jewish laws. I remember being chased by gangs of Polish hooligans organized by the Germans. A high brick wall topped with barbed wire was constructed around a quarter of Warsaw which became the Ghetto. We had to move there. My mother's family, my grandparents, aunts and uncles and two cousins, already lived in that part of Warsaw, and we moved in with them. My father's parents found a room in another part of the Ghetto.
Conditions in the Ghetto were appalling - random shootings, beatings, hostage-taking, typhus, overcrowding, homelessness, people dead from hunger in the streets. Hungry children used to snatch parcels from passers-by and immediately stuff the contents in their mouths, hoping that it was food. But there were also secret self-help committees, secret schools, secret libraries, synagogues and clandestine political organizations. My mother was in charge of one of the few soup kitchens for starving children. There I saw many of my school-friends swollen from hunger. My sister and I and our cousins spent most days playing with other children in our courtyard. (…)
My mother's family was still together. As the Ghetto was emptied, we moved to other abandoned apartments and our uncles and grandfather built other bunkers. My father's parents and sister had already been taken away to be murdered. Because of my parents' connection with the Jewish underground organization ZOB through Poale Zion and the Bund, Michal Klepfisz, who was a Bundist courier on the Aryan side (outside the Ghetto) found a Polish Catholic family who for payment agreed to shelter my sister and myself in their home at great risk to themselves.
At night we were smuggled out of the Ghetto, climbing a ladder over the Ghetto wall. The policemen and Ukrainian soldiers were bribed. Other people were smuggling food and arms at the same time. We were dressed in double clothes and told that we now had new documents and new names and were never to mention to anyone who we really were. The decision that we should leave the Ghetto was taken so quickly that I cannot remember saying goodbye properly to my family.
(…)When the Russian soldiers finally arrived, I thought I was the only Jew left in Poland apart from Wladka. For some weeks no one came, and I felt completely helpless. The Serafin family and I eventually set out that winter to walk back to the ruins of Warsaw. My only footwear was a pair of torn sandals. We found a habitable room but, without proper shoes, I could not go out. At the same time, my sister Nelly came back to Warsaw from another village. She was still with Mrs Dubiel and together they found a Jewish committee set up to help survivors. There she recognized Wladka, and soon another underground Jewish courier, Ala Margolis (wife of Marek Edelman, one of the surviving leaders of the Ghetto uprising), came to look forme.
So I was reunited with my sister, and later — miraculously -with my two young cousins. I did not know that they had escaped from the Ghetto through the sewers just a few days before the liquidation of the Ghetto. In 1946, aged 14, my sister and I came to London to join our father. It felt strange to meet him again after those terrible six years. Strangely, we hardly talked about what happened.