Authors: Krystyna Chiger,Daniel Paisner
A Life in
with Daniel Paisner
ST. MARTIN’S PRESS
THE GIRL IN THE GREEN SWEATER
. Copyright © 2008 by Kristine Keren. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Design by Kathryn Parise
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Chiger, Krystyna, 1935–
The girl in the green sweater : a life in Holocaust’s shadow / Krystyna Chiger with Daniel Paisner.—1st ed.
1. Chiger, Krystyna, 1935– 2. Jews—Ukraine—L’viv—Biography. 3. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Ukraine—L’viv—Personal narratives. 4. Jewish children in the Holocaust—Ukraine—L’viv—Biography. 5. L’viv (Ukraine)—Biography. I. Paisner, Daniel. II. Title.
First Edition: October 2008
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated to my parents, Paulina and Ignacy Chiger . . .
may their memories be for a blessing. . . .
t is not an easy thing, to tell the story of a difficult life. I have been fortunate to have many talented professionals help me to tell mine. At St. Martin’s Press, Nichole Argyres has been a very thorough, very talented, and very enthusiastic editor. Her assistant, Kylah McNeill, has also been very helpful. I appreciate all of their assistance and their many kindnesses, and that of their many fine colleagues at the publishing house. Most of all, I am grateful that they have chosen to help me share my story.
I would also like to thank John Silbersack, my literary agent at Trident Media Group, for believing in this project and strongly supporting it.
Also, I am extremely grateful to my collaborator, Dan Paisner, for his passion, his patience, and his understanding. We spent many long hours together working on this book, going over some very emotional, very painful material, and his encouragement was very important. I do not think I could have told this story so well without his help.
Together, Dan and I would like to thank Rabbi Lee Friedlander, of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Plandome, New York, for his careful reading of the manuscript and his many insightful comments.
Personally, I am grateful to my family—to my husband, Marian, for his constant love and support, as well as to our children, Doron and Roger, and their spouses, Michele and Jennifer, for their incredible encouragement. I also wish to thank my two grandsons, Jonathan and Daniel, for their genuine interest in my childhood stories, and for asking endless questions and waiting for answers which to them seemed always unbelievable. It is through the telling and retelling of my family’s struggle that I have been able to keep these memories alive. This is important. In many ways, it is because of my grandchildren that I was moved to write this book. I am the last survivor of our group of survivors and I recognize that it is my responsibility to tell what happened. If I do not tell it, who will? If I do not remember it, who will? If the stories of our time in the sewer leave this earth untold it will be easier for future generations to suggest that the Holocaust is a myth, that it never happened.
Thank you as well to my many friends who supported me in this very emotional and difficult task. They, too, helped me to nurture
these unhappy memories over the years, by asking me to share them, and recognizing that there were times when I could not.
I also want to acknowledge the caring people at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., for their deep interest in my family’s story of survival, and for taking such extreme good care of my precious green sweater that survived together with me for fourteen months in such horrible conditions. In addition, I am very grateful to the curators at the Imperial War Museum in London for permanently exhibiting my family’s story there. Thank you as well to the individuals at the Shoah Foundation, under the leadership of Steven Spielberg, for their tireless efforts in establishing a living, breathing visual and audio library of Holocaust survival stories; I am honored that my family’s story is included in this important archive, and that it is being made available for teaching programs around the world.
Lastly, I am especially grateful to Dr. Mordecai Paldiel of the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, for his essential research, and for his role in sharing my story with future generations.
Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.
In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth. He settled in Heaven and assigned the Earth to the people. And on the Earth, this happened. . . .
—Ignacy Chiger, from the introduction to
his unpublished memoir,
World in Gloom
YES, I REMEMBER
T IS A FUNNY THING, MEMORY
. It is a trick we play on ourselves, to keep connected to who we were, what we thought, how we lived. It is fractured, like a dream that returns in bits and pieces. It is the answer to forgetting.
I remember—the bits and pieces and the entire cloth. My father used to tell me I had a mind like a trap. “Krzysha will know,” he would say. “Krzysha remembers.” He called me Krzysha. Everyone else called me Krysha, and the difference was everything.
Yes, I remember. If I saw something, heard something, experienced something, I put it away for later, someplace where I could reach for it and call it back to mind. It was all filed away, the stories of my life bundled for safekeeping. Even now, when most of the people I remember are gone, they are here for me like they
never left. Like what happened so many years ago happened yesterday instead.
My memories come to me in Polish. I think in Polish, dream in Polish, remember in Polish. Then it passes through Hebrew and somehow comes out in English. I do not know how this works, but this is how it is. Sometimes it has to go through German and Yiddish before I am able to tell it or understand it. All these thoughts. All these moments. All these sights and sounds and smells—tiny, fractured pieces, fighting for my attention, calling me to make sense of the whole. My memories of my family’s struggle during the Second World War are the memories of a child, reinforced over a lifetime. They are my memories first, and then on top I have put my father’s memory, and my mother’s, and even my baby brother’s. To these I have added the reflections of others who shared our ordeal, along with the histories I have read. I might have been only a child, but what I saw, what I heard, what I experienced, has been reconsidered many, many times, and it is the accumulation of memories that now survive.
Yes, I remember what it was like to be a small girl in Lvov, a vibrant city of six hundred thousand. People called it “Little Vienna.” It was a city of winding cobblestone streets that reached to majestic churches and open courtyards bursting with colorful flowers and lovely fountains. It was mostly Polish, with a great many Jews and Ukrainians as well—one hundred and fifty thousand Jews in all before the war. It was the place of my growing up, a childhood of privilege and hope cut short by ignorance and intolerance. It was where our lives were transformed, first by the Soviet occupation that threatened our freedom and later by the German occupation that threatened our lives. It was where everything went from sweetness and light to desperation and darkness.
I remember our French pinscher, Pushek, his coat the color and feel of soft snow. We called him Pushek because he was soft, like a goose with down feathers. My father brought him home the day my younger brother, Pawel, was born, and he was a special gift. He was with us for two years, all through the Soviet occupation, but when the Germans came we had to give him up. We could not have his barking give us away. My mother brought him to stay with a woman who lived just beyond the city. She did this without telling me, because she knew it would make me cry. It was my first real loss of the war, and of course I cried. Two days later, we heard a scratching on our door. It was Pushek! He came back! All the way from the edge of town, maybe five miles, but that only meant we had to return him to the woman and that I would cry all over again.