BARBARA MAKUCH: One day in the jail infirmary where I was treated for the beatings, I met a lady with underground connections. The wife of a prominent person in the Polish government-in-exile, she had somehow learned that there were political prisoners in this place, and had come especially to meet me, to try to help me. When I told her my story she said, "Okay, write this in a letter and I will get it out for you." I couldn't send it to my mother and sister in Sandomierz because I had told the Germans everybody was dead. So although it was for my sister Hanka, the letter was sent to my cousin's address, to let my family know where I had finished my life.
I didn't write that I was in jail, only that I was in Lublin. I told them not to look for me because I was near the end and this would be my last letter. Afterwards Hanka told me when she got my letter she was so scared she didn't say anything to our mother for two whole days. But then she told her everything, and said, "I'm going to Lublin to find Basha." And she did.
Hanka came by herself to Lublin and started making enquiries about me at all the German offices. It was not a smart thing to do, but she was only fifteen years old, and not so clever about these matters. After a whole day of going round from one place to another, somebody told her to try the jail. At the jail she asked a guard if there was someone there answering to my description. He was a lonely guy, so he said okay, he would take a look for her. He came back and said, "Yes, she is here." "May I see her?" He said no. God help us that we didn't meet then because she was in the jail at exactly the time when I was being tortured. I was downstairs and she was upstairs. If we had met by chance in the corridor she would probably have yelled to me, "Barbara! What are you doing here? It's a mistake!" giving away my whole story, and be jailed herself. I had told them she was dead.
Instead, Hanka went away, returning later with a small package to leave for me. She packed up things I would know: her sweater, some stockings--the sweater I knew for sure--some bread, a piece of sugar, and butter. I recognized her handwriting on the wrapping paper and knew that she had been there and that now Halina would know where I was too; they would take precautions for their safety. Indeed, Hanka went straight from Lublin to Lvov to tell Halina about finding me in the Lublin jail. Then Halina immediately warned everyone in the organization, and they all moved to new quarters, to new addresses. I had not known every person in the group, but in Lvov alone I knew perhaps twenty-two people who were involved.
I was so relieved to realize that Halina would be warned and maybe everything would be okay for her; for myself I never expected to leave that place. Never.
After my arrest, my sister and Slawek continued to work for Zegota, but Halina became more and more nervous and afraid. She always carried poison with her because she could not be sure what she might say if she was tortured. Thank God the Germans took me and not her, because if they had caught her she would be dead. Somehow I managed to stay alive.
After one month, they took me in handcuffs from the Lublin jail to Lvov. It was not until much later that I learned why, but it seems that at exactly the same time they caught me on the train, they also caught an entire resistance group in Lvov--not connected to Zegota: it was A.K.A., which means "Underground Soldiers." About thirty people were captured together at a meeting. The Germans couldn't figure out if I was connected with them, so I was brought to Lvov.
PRISON: Our train stopped at the big central station in Lvov; people were lined up as usual on the platform to meet the passengers. As we stepped down, the first person I saw was a young man I recognized from our organization; of course, he had come to meet someone else. He knew from Halina that I was in the Lublin jail, but he didn't know anything about my transfer to Lvov. Nobody knew. When he looked at me, I put my hand up to my head, to show him I was handcuffed. My German guards didn't notice. It was their first time in Lvov, and they were so confused they had to ask me for directions! All day that young man from Zegota followed us until at last he saw us go into Loncki, a very large, dangerous, infamous prison, where many thousands of lives went down.
I was put in isolation, in a very small cell. The interrogations and beatings stopped.
The week of my name day--in Poland we celebrate name days, rather than birthdays, and I was going to be twenty--I received a beautiful little letter from Halina and Slawek. Somebody threw it into my cell. We called these letters grypsy. You used a very small piece of paper and rolled it up like a cigarette. Right away I recognized the handwriting, "My dear," she wrote, "we are so proud of you. Because of you we are all safe. We owe our organization to your strength. Thank you very much. We kiss you. Be good. Be brave." I was very touched and encouraged to receive this message. I had already been in their hands a whole month and no one else was arrested. The stories and names I had told them were completely false. Hope existed.
And now I knew for sure they knew I was in this jail, and I saw it was possible to have some kind of communication. This is how we did it. The prison didn't do any washing, but a charitable organization arranged it so that every week or two I could send out a small package of dirty laundry to my family, and receive a few clean clothes back.
A real letter was impossible, so instead I pulled a little thread from a small place in the hem of my chemise, wrote a few very small words right on the cloth, and after sewing it up again with the same piece of thread, sent the chemise with the laundry. It could only be two or three words, not a real letter. When the clean laundry came back, or whenever somebody brought me anything, I always looked for a hidden little piece of paper; it was the only way to correspond. I knew Halina was receiving these messages because one day I asked for a certain ointment for some trouble I was having with my hand, and in the next package that came to me, the ointment was there. I never asked her how she discovered the message.
Still, I am amazed that I survived. There were moments when I felt I was already dead. No fresh air, no windows, only a very small piece of sky. I was completely alone in that cell for six weeks: it was the hardest test.
One day, sitting on the floor as usual, I heard someone in the next cell. Whoever was on the other side heard me too. We discovered that the wall had bricks made with a hole in the middle of each one; the entire wall between us was built with this type of brick. With a spoon I dug out the mortar from the hole in one of the bricks on my side, and she did the same from her side. Pretty soon we had made a little hole in the wall, and could just barely see each other.
"Now show me your nose."
"Show me your eye."
"Now, some more."
"What color is your hair?"
Her name was Eva. She told me her whole story and I told her mine. We promised each other that if one of us left Loncki prison, we would tell somebody the story of the other one. She was part of the A.K.A. group of thirty arrested in Lvov the day I was taken to Lublin jail. She told me the Germans had already hung six of the men from lamp posts in the street.
Eva had studied German and spoke the language beautifully. One time when she was taken down to an interrogation, she told the Germans she was a professor of the German language. They started laughing, saying it was impossible. They had beaten her badly, and she was completely black. "When the Germans started laughing at me saying, 'No Eva, this is impossible, you don't know German,' I was in so much pain, I began to recite German poetry," she told me. You never know how you will react. If somebody had asked me what I would do if that had happened to me, I could not have said. It's very hard to prepare yourself.
A week passed. Then, in the early morning darkness someone opened her door. "Get out!" I heard through the hole. Then it was completely quiet. Previously when she went for an interview with the Germans, she would knock on the wall later and tell me about it. But this day and the next it was completely quiet. There was a very nice German guard who knew her--he didn't know about our talking. When he opened the small window in my cell door to give me food, he told me she was in the cellar and he didn't think she would come back. The next day she didn't return. The third day he told me they had killed her and another girl who I didn't know.
I had promised her I would pray if she died, but I couldn't do it. I can't even pray today, I absolutely cannot. From that moment on I became very depressed. There was a small toilet and wash basin in the cell, but I stopped washing myself. I stopped sleeping. I even stopped eating for a few weeks. I laid down on the floor and couldn't even go to the door to take my soup. I completely lost the strength to live. I felt that in a little while my life would end.
Maybe my mother was thinking especially strongly about me that day--she told me later she thought about me everyday--because all at once I thought, "Wait. Am I going to let myself die here on the floor? No, not so easily. No." Suddenly I recognized that what I was doing was stupid. The Germans hadn't killed me, I was killing myself.
I tore a piece of cloth from my dress, took some water from the toilet and started to clean the cell, inch by inch, inch by inch. I was so weak, but I cleaned anyway, hour after hour, day after day--the floor, the walls--and when I finished I started all over again. This was very good exercise for me. After several weeks, somehow, my strength came back. Later, after I was transferred to another cell with companions, I saw how strong I was inside, and then I understood that the person most dangerous to me was myself.
DOCTOR MEISEL: One day my German guard told me about a well-known doctor being held in the prison. When he said the name, I recognized who he was: a world famous microbiologist who had discovered the vaccine for typhus. Halina had worked for his family in Lvov. He knew about my family and I knew about him, although we had never met. Dr. Meisel and his wife were in this same prison because they were Jews and the Germans wanted him to work for them. They were being kept in the basement, in a wet place. Everyone in this jail was sick, and for the doctor it was an especially terrible place; his morale was poor. The guard told me he was very close to breaking down. I made a package for him of half the medicine and ointment the prison doctor had given me for my injuries, along with what I had in the way of extra warm clothes. Maybe there was also a piece of bread from my ration, too. I asked the guard if he would deliver it to Dr. Meisel. A few days later the guard told me that Dr. Meisel was taken somewhere else and I forgot all about this incident.
After the war I was in Cracow visiting a close friend when she told me that Dr. Meisel, who she knew, also happened to be in town. I told her I would be very glad to meet him. A few hours later he arrived at her apartment with several students. When I answered the door, he knelt down before me, this older man, kissed my hand and said, "Please, I want to thank you. You were the first person who gave me help when I badly needed it. You saved my life." It turned out that from the jail he had been taken to a concentration camp, and somehow he had survived. Of course I felt happy that I had been able to help him at that terrible time, but still, I was somewhat astonished and deeply moved by his touching gesture. He was a gentleman.
While I was in the Lvov prison, Slawek was working on my case, reporting my situation to people high up in Zegota, and they in turn were trying everything possible to save me, even giving bribes to various Germans. Finally, they had some success. Instead of execution, I was sent to Ravensbruck, the biggest concentration camp exclusively for women. It was the best they could do. At least there I had some hope of remaining alive.