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Dark Memories

By: Becky Seitel
Survivor: Hirsch, Aisic

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest Jewish ghetto established under Nazi occupation. In the three years it existed, starvation, disease, and deportations to concentration camps and extermination camps decreased the population of the ghetto from an estimated 450,000 to 37,000.

Aisic Hirsch was the only member of his family to survive the Warsaw Ghetto. After his younger brother, Samuel, and his grandmother died in the ghetto, Aisic’s mother arranged for his escape. She discovered guards could be paid to look the other way as the organization “Save the Children” helped children flee the ghetto.

“I didn’t want to leave my mother, but she told me, ‘Only one of us is going to live, and it’s going to be you.’ She arranged for me to slip out at night with a group of children. I never saw my mother again.”

But getting out of the ghetto was only the beginning. Even though some guards could be paid to turn their backs as children escaped, others were waiting on the outside to catch them and turn them in for a reward. Aisic made it past the guards and chose to separate himself from the others in order to attract less attention.

Familiar with the route back home, he walked at night and hid during the day. After three days, he reached the home of a family friend and asked for help. Unable to take him in for fear of German retaliation against his family, the man directed Aisic to hide in the nearby cemetery … the same cemetery where Aisic’s father had been buried the previous year. The man told him he would send food by his son every other day. At the cemetery, Aisic found shelter in a small cave – a frightening hiding place among thick weeds and broken tombstones.

Aisic’s suspicion of the man’s son began when he no longer looked Aisic in the eyes when he brought the food. Suspicion turned into fear, and Aisic started hiding in a tree on the days he expected the boy.

“One day at dusk, as I sat high on a tree branch, I saw him approaching with German soldiers. I had been turned in for a reward. Guns drawn, the soldiers approached my hiding place and began to shoot inside. Then, they pierced inside the cave with bayonets. They left without even checking to see if I was dead or alive.

“The memory of that night is never far from my thoughts. I recall the feeling of hunger, having no one to turn to for comfort, and the uncertainty of where I would go. I was a frightened ten-year-old boy, a little boy alone in the dark.