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By Jack Kuper
Published by McClelland & Stewart on 2019-01-15
HISTORY, BIOGRAPHY and AUTOBIOGRAPHY, RELIGION
The harrowing true story of a young boy exiled in World War II Poland, this memoir of survival has been hailed as a quintessential classic, as powerful as Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, and celebrated for its rare beauty.
Jack Kuper was only nine years old when he came home to find everyone in his family gone. The night before, Germans had come to his village in rural Poland and removed all the Jews. Now alone in the world, he has to change his name, forget his language, and abandon his religion in order to survive. Jack wanders through Nazi occupied Poland for four years, with no place to hide and no one to trust.
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THE AUTHOR Jack Kuper, born Jankele Kuperblum in 1932, spent his childhood on the run through the treacherous countryside of war-torn Poland. In 1947 he landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as one of the thousand war orphans to be brought to Canada by the Jewish Community. Kuper is an award-winning graphic artist, creative director, playwright, actor, producer and director, having worked at the Canadian Broad'cast'ing Corporation before establishing the film company Kuper Productions Ltd. Among the many plays he produced,' Sun in my Eyes? was one of the first to focus on the Holocaust in the English-speaking world. Continuously in print since it first published in 1967,' Child of the Holocaust? has been translated into multiple languages. Nearly thirty years after the publication of? Child of the Holocaust, Kuper published a sequel to the book,' After the Smoke Cleared, which won the Jewish Book Award for Holocaust Literature and was a finalist for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction, and chronicles his complex reunion with his father in the post-war years. His most recent film productions are the critically acclaimed Who Was Jerzy Kosinski'? based on Jack's friendship with the enigmatic novelist,' A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto, and? The Fear of Felix Nussbaum. Kuper's professional and personal files are housed at the Boston University Archives. Jack lives in Toronto with his wife, the former ballet dancer Terrye Lee Swadron. They have four children and thirteen grandchildren.
by jack kuper Child of the Holocaust After the Smoke Cleared
Child of the Holocaust A Jewish Child in Christian Disguise Jack Kuper
PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS EDITION, ? 2019 Copyright ? 1967 by Jack Kuper This book was first published in Canada by General Publishing Co. in 1967 All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher ? or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency ? is an infringement of the copyright law. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Kuper, Jack, author ''''''''? Child of the Holocaust / Jack Kuper. -- Penguin modern classics edition. Issued in print and electronic formats. ISBN 978-0-7352-3670-7 (softcover).--ISBN 978-0-7352-3671-4 (EPUB) ''''''''? 1.' Kuper, Jack.' 2.' Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Poland-- Personal narratives.' 3.' Jewish children in the Holocaust'Poland-- Biography.' 4.' Jewish refugees--Poland--Biography.' 5.' Autobiographies. I.' Title. D810.J4K8 2019''''''''''''''''''? 940.53'18092'''''''''''''''''''''''? C2018-903503-X ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''? C2018-903504-8 Cover image courtesy of the author Front cover design by Rachel Cooper Interior photographs courtesy of the author Printed and bound in Canada Penguin Modern Canadian Classics Penguin Random House Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company www.penguinrandomhouse.ca 1 2 3 4 5 23 22 21 20 19
In memory of my brother Josele, who perished in Sobibor at age four. The author (right) with his two-year-old brother, Josele, in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940
In total darkness, even a single small candle can shed a great light. 'jewish proverb
Introduction T he genesis of this book can be traced back to a meeting I had with a? script editor at the CBC, who upon rejecting my latest submission? lectured me on how television was an entertainment medium, and it seemed to him that I was set on changing the world. 'If you want to change the world,'? he said,' 'go and write books.' ? I cried the entire way home. But upon arrival, I went down to the basement playroom of the suburban bungalow I was living in at the time,' pulled out a? fresh pad of? yellow legal? paper and began to scribble. I was under no illusion that I had it in me to change the world.' At best, I hoped my children, grandchildren, and? generations to follow would know? how I, as a ten-year-old Jewish boy, miraculously survived Hitler's inferno on the run through the treacherous Polish countryside.
The story? poured out of me, writing itself. When occasionally I attempted to interfere with the flow,' I would be met with strong objections from the people I was writing about: they told me to mind my own business, to stay out of it and simply hold the pen. I did as I was instructed and wrote through nights, weekends, and holidays, and some five years later I mailed off the finished manuscript to my New York agent at the time. For? months I brooded over the? rejection slips he forwarded me from publishers who pointed out they already had cleared their? consciences with the publishing of Anne Frank's? The Diary of a Young Girl. And furthermore, they said the war was over and it was time to move on. I heard this now-familiar refrain from television and radio producers throughout my career as a playwright. It is a small wonder it took me? half of a decade to convince a network to merit production of my? semi-autobiographical play,' Sun in My Eyes, which is based on some? of the same events as? in the book you are presently holding. In the end, the play proved hesitant producers wrong? by receiving critical? acclaim and a favourable audience? response, resulting in several rebroadcasts around the? English-speaking world.' Although fans and critics alike marvelled at what I had gone through, admired my resilience and showered me with praise, I did not identify with the boy in the story and referred to him as my birth name,' Jankele'someone other than my present self. The past haunts me all these decades later; scenes repeat themselves in my head as if on a film loop circling in a projector. I can't believe that Jankele was once really me. In my wildest dreams I never would have imagined the words? I scrawled some fifty years ago on hundreds of sheets of paper and later deciphered and transcribed by my wife Terrye, would in time, after being rejected? by over twenty publishers, finally be embraced by the newly appointed editor at Doubleday, Sally Arteseros, who fell in love with the story and made an offer. Coincidentally, a copy of the manuscript arrived at London
xi publishers Routledge and Kegan Paul where an editor took it home intending to read it, but instead fell asleep. His wife picked it up off the night table and did not put it down until bleary eyed the next morning she said to her husband: 'If you don't publish this book, I'll divorce you.' With tireless? efforts made by my former New York agent, the late Kurt Hellmer, and my present agent here in Toronto, Beverley Slopen,' my story has crossed the world? in multiple editions and? languages, and now is recognized as a literary classic, honoured by Penguin,' on the heels of its fiftieth? anniversary. How lucky can one person be? ? Jack Kuper Toronto May 2018
Chapter One A barefoot Mrs. Helena Pejzak (front centre), daughter Genia on her left, son Stashek behind them, and two of Genia's village friends A heavy layer of mist covered the village of Kulik, disclosing a few chimneys and thatch roofs as if they were suspended in the air. I sat in the back of the wagon, clutching the bag of food, and listened to the wheels turning and the horse's trot. Mrs. Pejzak sat in the front holding the reins, her back toward me. 'Giddy up,' she called out to the horse, hitting him across the back whenever he slowed down.
The horse too could barely be seen, and it seemed as if we were sitting on a cloud being pulled by some magic force. Perhaps all this is a dream, I thought. When I wake I'll find Mrs. Pejzak and Genia gone. Every week on market day Mrs. Pejzak drove into Siedliszcze. She would sell some produce and buy a dress or pair of shoes, matches, oil, or a reel of thread. Usually Genia would accompany her and I'd be left behind to feed the pigs and the chickens, take care of the cows, and wait impatiently for their return with messages from my mother. For the first time since leaving home I was now going to see my mother. There are so many things I want to tell her. She'll be so surprised; she probably doesn't even expect me! What will she say when she unties the bundle and finds a loaf of bread, some potatoes, a small sack of flour, and three eggs? I pressed this treasure against my body and could see my mother's dark eyes beaming with pride. The same eyes weeks earlier had covered my cheeks with tears. 'He's only a child, Mrs. Pejzak. How can I let him go'? 'I'm not a child anymore,' I answered indignantly. 'I'm ten!' 'You're nine, Jankele.' My mother smiled. I lowered my head. 'Well, I'm almost ten, and don't call me Jankele; my name is Jakob.' The mist lifted, and a slow-rising sun appeared. The countryside now visible was moving away from me revealing mud houses with small windows and crooked chimneys from which black smoke rose, here and there a cowhand taking his herd to pasture, a cock waking the village. In a meadow, an old farmer was plowing. By the roadside an angry dog barked, and over the road loomed an ancient dead tree. Under it rested a stone on a crudely made grave. Buried in the cold ground beneath was my grandfather; Shie Chuen the cobbler from Pawia Street in Warsaw, but for a split second I imagined he was running behind our wagon, wearing his brown leather coat and hat with earflaps. Icicles hung from his nostrils and beard, and his worn black
boots were caked with snow. One hand held the burlap bag over his right shoulder, the other reached toward me, and he called, 'Jankele, wait! I need a ride into town.' Several times Mrs. Pejzak turned to look at me, and once, she tossed me a wink. I cracked a smile and began to sing a song Genia had taught me about an orphan named Jasio: Driving the cows to pasture, Jasio plays the flute, But what sad sounds drift, drift afar. The shepherd boy plays but in his heart there is grief. Why do you play so, Jasio? What troubles you? Is your life on this earth so unbearable? Tell, tell me. We now crossed a wooden bridge, entered the town, and were soon driving through winding narrow streets. It was unnaturally quiet; not a living creature to be seen, except a cat roaming the rooftops. Broken household articles littered the roads, and echoing through the streets was the horrible sound of uncontrolled laughter. I was stunned. Mrs. Pejzak lashed the horse, and ordered, 'Giddy up.' The horse began to gallop; the wagon jumped and shook along the cobbled road, then came to a sudden halt in the marketplace. The stalls were not there. The square was deserted, and loose pillow feathers hung in the air like snow flakes in winter. Across the square two peasants lugged a chest of drawers out of a house. Another struggled with a mattress, a third a sewing machine; a young girl wrapped in a coat pirouetted like a ballerina. An aged man, bent in half and clutching a tailor's dummy, suddenly materialized beside us. 'Praised be Jesus Christ!' said Mrs. Pejzak. And the man answered, 'For all the ages. Amen.' 'What's going on'? she asked. 'You should have been here earlier, sister. There's nothing left.' The old man's eyes slowly widened and he set the dummy down. 'In
the middle of the night, the Germans took all the Jews away. They marched them out like a herd of cattle. There isn't one left.' 'Dear Jesus!' exclaimed Mrs. Pejzak, and made the sign of the cross. For a moment, I sat paralyzed. Then I bolted off the wagon and ran. My feet pounded the cobbled road and carried me faster than I had ever imagined possible. The houses seemed to be removed from their foundations, and reclined at different angles; sometimes they appeared to sway from one side to the other and even turn upsidedown. Soon they were no more than fast-moving blurs passing in front of my eyes. Mrs. Pejzak. I've left Mrs. Pejzak. Why am I even thinking about Mrs. Pejzak? But what if she needs my help? What about Genia? Has she taken the cows to pasture? Why do I persist in thinking about these things? The small crooked window of my home was now before me. I hoped to see my little brother Josele's face in it and hear him shout, 'Mama, Mama, Jankele is home!' But the glass was shattered and no one looked out from behind the pane. Isn't it possible, I thought, that by some miracle, by some fortunate chance, by an act of God, my entire family was still inside? Perhaps they hid in the attic, or in the cellar, or under the bed. Or maybe the Germans who came to deport them took pity and spared them! It's possible. Why not? The door lay broken, torn from its hinges. That's only for appearance; I consoled myself, to make it seem that no one lives here. It's possible; in fact, it's very clever. I entered. Our two pots were still on the stove. A torn straw mattress lay on the floor, a sheet beside it. Several floorboards had been removed and, in the corner, crumpled and smudged, lay a small drawing of Tarzan swinging from a tree. Uncle Shepsel, I thought. Will I ever see him draw again? Will his voice ever again keep me spellbound for hours with tales of cowboys and Indians in a distant land called America'
'Mama!' I whispered. 'Josele, Uncle Shepsel? .' .' . don't be afraid. It's safe to come out now.' On the floor among the debris I recognized the two pieces of fur that once adorned my mother's coat pockets. I picked them up. 'Josele, Uncle Shepsel, Mama! Please come out. It's Jankele.' I must cry. Why can't I cry? I'll think of onions, or the little bird I treasured once then found dead, its head crushed between two bars of the cage. I cried then? .' .' . why can't I cry now? I must cry. What else can I think of? Quickly, something heartrending has to come to my mind? .' .' . Suddenly, I heard footsteps. Perhaps it's my mother! It's possible? .' .' . why not? No, it's probably a German coming to get me. I'll hide? .' .' . but where? No, why hide? I want to be taken with the others. I'll go willingly. I faced the door. Mrs. Pejzak's stocky figure appeared. Her eyes were wet, her head tilted to one side. She made several attempts to say something but nothing came out. She scanned the room, examining the few articles, and finally said, 'Jakob, we might as well take these.' I remained silent. 'If we don't, some thieves will.' And she gathered the total sum of what remained of our household into the sheet. She eyed the pieces of fur I was holding, but I enclosed them in my hand. 'My mother will be worried about me,' I finally said. 'She knows you're in good hands, my child,' answered Mrs. Pejzak, tying the sheet. 'How will I manage on my own'? She fell to her knees, held my face in the palms of her hands, and said, 'You're not alone. I'll look after you always.' 'There's no one left from my family.' 'You have your uncle, what's his name? .' .' . '? 'Moishe'? I reminded her. 'Oh yes, Moniek. Isn't he working for some farmer''
My Uncle Moishe! How can I find him? What if he was home visiting and was also taken away? How can I find out? Where can I look? I have to find him. My arm was pulled, and I found myself outside. More looters were now to be seen, with axes and saws, ransacking and fighting for the spoils. On the outskirts of town we saw others carrying empty burlap bags, walking briskly toward Siedliszcze. As they passed us they shouted, 'Anything left there, or did you grab everything'? Again I saw the tree, the grave, the stone; and once more my grandfather, Shie Chuen the cobbler, from Pawia Street in Warsaw, was trudging along the snow-covered road. Suddenly, out of the blinding snowstorm came three German soldiers on horseback, their faces in shadow. One drew his revolver and fired. My grandfather only wavered. The second German aimed. A bullet whistled through the air and found its target. The cobbler groaned, but still stood. The third bullet was the fatal one. The towering old man in the brown leather coat fell to the ground. The burlap bag flew through the air and out of it tumbled pieces of bread, a few frozen potatoes, and cobbler tools. 'Sing something, Kubus,' I heard Mrs. Pejzak say. 'Kubus? My name isn't Kubus'. 'It's the same as Jakob,' she answered, 'only more fitting for a little boy like you.' I turned my back to her and in choking tones began to sing: Driving the cows to pasture, Kubus plays the flute, But what sad sounds drift, drift afar. The shepherd boy plays but in his heart there is grief. Why do you play so, Kubus? What troubles you? Is your life on this earth so unbearable? Tell, tell me. And then the tears came, trickling in rivulets down my face. 'Poor boy, poor boy,' I heard Mrs. Pejzak mutter to herself. The