I know that it was God who saved me
Msgr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Arturo Dreifinger, a Jew who was saved in Poland during the Nazi occupation.
An extraordinary guest visited the editorial board of 'Niedziela' - Mr Arturo Dreifinger, an Argentinean of Jewish background. During World War II it was Fr Antoni Marchewka, later editor-in-chief of 'Niedziela', who saved Mr. Dreifinder (now 70 years old) when he was a boy. Mr Dreifinger has arrived in Poland to follow the footsteps of his childhood.
He is also collecting materials for his book. Dear Readers, if you could share any information about Fr Antoni Marchewka or Tadeusz Stenawka (Dreifinger's nickname during the war) concerning the period of World War II, please contact 'Niedziela'.
FR IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: - What do you remember best from the war?
ARTURO DREIFINGER: - When I was seven the Warsaw Uprising broke out. After its fall and the bombardment of Warsaw my mother and I found shelter in a basement for twenty days. Suddenly, the Germans appeared and made us all leave our shelter. Children under 10 were to stand facing the street and those over 10 were to face the walls of the buildings. So were their fathers. After a second all those men and boys were shot.
- Did you have any brothers and sisters?
- No, I did not. I was only with my mother and I was separated from her. On that day I was left alone in the world. From the place of the shooting some people took me to the Red Cross, which was just two hundred meters away. There somebody put me in a car and took to Wlochy near Warsaw. I was alone there. I did not know where to go and did not have anything to eat. It was dark. I was sitting in the street and crying. One person passed by, and another one, asking why I was crying. I did not know what to answer. I said I did not have mother, I lost her, and I was by myself and had nowhere to go. Some people took me to their house. I had a chubby face and it was providential because people often were afraid of taking emaciated kids thinking they were ill. I was perhaps one day in that house and the next day I was taken to another. They simple said, 'Tadzik, you must go'. I asked why, not understanding anything.
- What did people answer?
- 'You know why', they said. They were afraid of speaking straight, 'Because you are Jewish'. And then I went from home to home. I heard various things, 'If you do not leave they will kill me, my wife, children and you. You must go. And do not tell anyone that you were here. Have some underwear, food and go'. And that was every day. One day someone took me to Pruszkow. I felt very well there, they treated me as their son. From there I was taken to Czestochowa.
- And it was then that you met Fr Marchewka?
- Yes, I did, but not at once. When I arrived there some people waited for me: some 30-year-old man, a woman and a girl who could be of my age. The woman who had brought me there gave me to that man and left without saying anything. And we went home. There I met a boy who was my age. The next day a priest came and it turned out that it was Fr Antoni Marchewka. He asked, 'Are you Tadzik?'
- Yes, my first name was changed. During the occupation my mother decided that I would be called Tadeusz Stenawka. The priest took me to a small room. There were a bed, a toilet, a ladder and a table in the room. The priest told me not to go out and approached the balcony. So I stayed all day inside the room and waited for him. The priest left in the morning and came back in the evening. One day he took me to the church. From that day I went to the church with him every day. Some day he gave me a white robe, a surplice, which was needed to bring the incense.
- But you did not stay long with Fr Marchewka...
- No, I did not. The day came when the priest said, 'Tadzik, we must go'. I still remember that morning. It was dark, raining and no people in the street. We went to Krakow. The priest took me to a large house, where there were little ladders and numerous children, at the age of 4-15. I was given some food, but older kids came and took the food from me. I was scared... In the gate the priest told me to pray to Lord God every day. I know that it was God that saved me. The priest took my hand and kissed it. He was weeping. He left me with those children and went away. I did not see him afterwards.
- Your stay in Krakow brought about your rescue. Your mother found you...
- Yes, she did. I lived about 10-15 days in the house, I do not remember exactly. One day I heard my surname: 'Stenawka, Stenawka'. I and three other boys of my age were moved to another orphanage near Krakow. I stayed there till the end of the war. I was just planting potatoes when I heard someone shouting that the war was over. I thought what it meant that the war was over. 'What will happen to me? What am I going to do? Where will I go?'
Big Russian tanks came and every day one of the Russian officers came to the orphanage to adopt a child. He wrote on a small piece of paper where he lived and what his name was and he left with a child. People wanted to adopt me two or three times but I did not want it. I said I wanted to live in the orphanage although it was hard to stay there. We ate only black bread and sometimes a little cottage cheese.
At last the memorable day came. The girl who looked after us shouted, 'Tadzik, come here. Someone is asking about you'. Who can ask about me? I was wondering. After all, I was by myself, without father and mother... I was afraid to go and I thought that somebody wanted to adopt me. But she came and said again, 'Tadzik, someone wants to see you'. I followed that girl and saw a young woman. I looked at her and asked myself who the woman was. When she approached me I wanted to run away. But that woman cried, 'Artus!' I felt strange but the name Tadzik sounded in my head. She held my hand, kissed me and said, 'Do you remember? It is me!' I did not remember her and did not want to recollect. I was scared. Only when did my face touch her head, her hair, I felt the smell of home... It was my mother. I was shocked.
- Where did you go with your mother then?
- To Prague. My mother wrote letters to Russia every day since my father was in the Russian army. She must have sent 100 letters to various cities. After some time my father reached us. He ran away from Russia. I do not remember how long we stayed in Prague. Then we went to Paris. My mother had a brother in Argentina. He had stayed there since 1927. He invited us and bought tickets. From Bordeaux we went by ship to Brazil. We could stay in Brazil but my mother wanted to go further, to her brother. We flew from Brazil to Argentina and then took a train to Mendoza where I have been living until today.
- Why did you come to Poland?
- To get to know the story of Fr Marchewka better and to get to know my story better. I am not young any longer, my memories are fading away, and I would like to rescue these events from oblivion. I am working on a book about these events. I think it will be an important testimony and will contribute to changing certain historical stereotypes. Many Poles risked their lives to save Jews...