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Browsing Through Birke's An Exhibit by Szifra Birke

Fleeing Poland
World War II began in September of 1939, when the German army invaded the western half of Poland, the home of almost two-million Jews.  They were forced to move into ghettos surrounded by walls and barbed wire.  Conditions were deplorable.  When Germany invaded, the Jews in Poland believed only young men, who would be impressed into hard labor, were in danger.  Sally's parents sent her oldest brother, Moishe Aaron, to Russia for safety.  Before long, they thought they had acted too hastily.  They missed their son dreadfully, and wanted him home.

     Accompanied by Nathan, a business associate of her father, Sally was sent to Russia to retrieve her brother.  Moishe Aaron eventually left Russia, but Nathan, intuitively certain that some disaster awaited them in Poland, refused to let Sally return.  He told her that he had "signed them up to work" in the Russian coal mines of Siberia, and that if she tried to cross the border back to Poland she would be killed.  Sally believed him and out of a sense of morality and necessity, Sally and Nathan exchanged vows less than two months later.

     They remained in Russia from 1939 until the war ended in 1945, having received little news of the war's atrocities.  Sally gave birth to two sons during that time, but with food, warmth and medical attention being almost non-existent, death took them both.

     They returned to Poland, expecting to reunite with their families, but what they found was almost unspeakable.  Nathan's mother and four sisters, their husbands and children, Sally's mother and father, Moishe Aaron, her other brother and a sister, their aunts, uncles, neighbors and friends were all murdered.  Sally's only sister, Lusia, who gave her food rations to her mother, had starved to death in the Lodz ghetto.

     Sally went to her home and, looking in the window, saw that the cupboards her father, Lazar, had made to hold their clothes and shoes were now being used by total strangers.  The building's janitor told her "...all went to the ghetto.  None came back."

     Though penniless, Nathan chose not to reclaim his business holdings: his apartment buildings, restaurants, and a meat factory.  Unable to endure the sights of such a different world, they left immediately and eventually came to Lowell via Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, Paris and New York.