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Shofar FTP Archive File: places/poland/zamosc/press/sunday-times.950129

Archive/File: people/k/krepinska.helena/press/sunday-

Last-Modified: 1997/03/31
Source: Sunday Times (Perth) [Sunday Liftout], January 29,
1995 (Pg. 1-2)
(Reproduced by permission of the author)

The woman from Auschwitz-Birkenau

* Friday was the 50th. Anniversary of the liberation of the
notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. _Sunday
Times_ reporter Joe Poprzeczny, with his wife, has visited
35 archives in Poland, Germany, England, Israel and the
United States, to investigate a wartime population-cleansing
action in Poland's Zamosc region which meant villages were
settled by Germans. As well as researching nazi motives for
the action, he has focused on how it affected one Polish

[Photographs;  "Then Helena's horror in Auschwitz - head
shaven, reduced to a number and tattooed to make it

[Photograph; "Life in the village before the Germans came in
1942 - Helena Krepinska, Zofia Weclawik and in the front,
grandmother Anna Weclawik and granddaughter Zofia."]

They came in the early hours of the morning, screaming
"raus", "raus" - the German word for, "get out".

Militarised German police units kicked and banged doors of
all the cottages in the picturesque Polish village of
Skierbieszow (pronounced, Skee-er-bee-eh-shoov).

The sleepy residents were told they had 20 minutes to pack a
few rudimentary possessions and assemble in the village

Anyone resisting would be shot. Many were.

It was November 28, 1942, and the worst fears of the
villagers had come true.

For Helena Krepinska, who was a 25-year-old wife and mother,
it was to be the beginning of two years of hell, hunger and

From Skierbieszow's village square, Helena and her husband,
Janek, her 18-month-old daughter, Zofia, and mother Anna
Weclawik, were taken to a transit camp in the market town of
Zamosc, 17km away.

Some of Skierbieszow's residents, as well as those in other
nearby villages, were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau
concentration camp which, by late 1942, was a fully-
operational killing and labor centre.

In the transit camp they were racially examined for any
"valuable ethnic features".

All failed to impress the SS examiners and the three adults
were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the nazis' most
notorious concentration camps, on one of three trainloads of
Poles dispatched there in December, 1942.

Helena was not allowed to take her 18-month-old daughter.
Zofia was forcibly taken from her and her daughter's fate
was to remain a mystery until after the war.

Rumors had been rife for about a year that everyone in the
Zamosc region would be expelled to make room for ethnic
Germans from Romania and Yugoslavia.

Helena was just one of 100,000 Polish villages expelled from
her home by the nazis over an eight-month period beginning
on the fateful November morning.

All up, 300 villages were "cleansed" of their Polish
inhabitants in what was one of the biggest such wartime

About 1700, including a few hundred children, were sent to

Others were sent to Majdanek, another concentration camp and
still others would end up in Germany as forced labor.

A small number, mainly the elderly and the very young, were
scattered all over Poland.

A still smaller number, mainly young men, escaped to nearby
forests where they joined growing partisan groups that
launched a struggle against the region's incoming ethnic
Germans who had taken over their land and property.

None of the Poles saw rhyme or reason for their fate.

For the nazis, however, it was all part of a grand plan.

The Zamosc region is 150km south-east of Warsaw.

After the Germans overran Poland in 1939 it was ruled by
Odilo Globocnik, the SS police chief and a favorite of the
head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.

As well as being a vehement Austrian anti-Semite, Globocnik
had a strange fascination with archaelogy.

Throughout 1940 and 1941, when he was building four huge
killing centres - Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor and Belzec -
to eliminate Polish and European Jews, he secretly directed
special SS academic teams to conduct histoical and racial
research around Zamosc.

By early 1941 they had convinced him that this part of
Poland had been settled by ancient Germanic tribes thousands
of years earlier.

They were also able to point to a subsequent tiny migration
of Germans in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Despite the fact that most of the Germans were assimilated
into the Polish community by 1941 - like the Germans of
South Australia's Barossa Valley - Globocnik and Himmler
felt justified claiming Zamosc as German territory.

In mid-1941 Himmler, the architect of the Jewish holocaust
and Auschwitz, visited Globocnik and the two decided Zamosc
would become a major German administrative centre and its
nearby villages would be settled by ethnic Germans.
[Continued Page 2]

[Headline] She survived the holocaust terror [Photograph;
"In Perth, a million miles from the nightmare of the past,
Helena today with her grandchildren - Mark, Matthew and

The details of Himmler's General Plan Ost, or Eastern Plan,
were never revealed during the war and only came to light
indirectly during one of the lesser-known Nuremberg Trials
conducted by the US Army in 1946 and 1947.

To this day the plan is still largely ignored by western
historians and certainly it was never put into practice on
anything like the scale of the Holocaust.

Hitler's defeats on the Eastern Front meant it never could

But there is no doubt that had Hitler won the war, it would
have been.

The plan called for the progressive expulsion of tens of
millions of Slavs, followed by their racial examination to
cull "lost German blood" from within their ranks.

Those deemed racially inferior would become the nucleus of a
vast population of slave labor to be placed at the beck and
call of their ethnic German masters.

The "cleansing" of the Zamosc region's 300 villages was to
be the model for the plan which envisaged the Germanisation
of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and the Baltic States,
to possibly as far as the Ural Mountains.

Each of Globocnik's targeted villages was first surrounded
in the early hours by armed units of 200 to 300 German

Shortly after sun-up the units closed in and woke the
sleeping villages with cow bells, barking dogs, shouting and
other loud noises.

Anyone who resisted the round-up or tried to escape was
killed on the spot.

Outside each village. horsedrawn wagons were assembled to
take the captured peasants and their families to a transit
camp for racial classification by SS teams working for the
vast bureaucratic machine called the Main Race and
Resettlement Office.

These teams ranked villagers according to whether they
possessed various designated physical features. The ideal
were those seen as inherently *~Aryan" such as blond hair
and blue eyes.
If a villager possessed these features they would be
"offered" the chance to be "re-Germanised". If not, they
were destined for another fate, either Auschwitz, labor in
the Reich, or simply  expulsion from the region.

As soon as the last villager was removed from his home,
other SS units moved into the village and, with the help of
conscripted labor, made it ready for its new &*owners",
families of ethnic Germans brought from camps elsewhere in

Very few of these Germans came from Germany. Most were from
Romania and Yugoslavia or other parts of Poland.

By late l942, when Helena Krepinska was forcibly removed
from her home, Poland was home to nearly a million ethnic
Germans who had been transferred by Berlin from parts of
eastern and southern Europe.

Himmler, in his capacity as Reich Commissioner for the
Strengthening Germandom, was responsible for the movement
and welfare of these ethnic Germans who had settled beyond
the Reich's borders before 1939.

These ' lost Germans" were to be consolidated in what the
nazis called strong-polnts.
The Zamosc region was to be the first such strong-point.

Once Poles were removed. ethnic Germans were allocated
houses farmlets, agricultural equipment and stock.

SS men then moved in with other nazi groups such as
teachers and medical personnel to begin reGermanising the
new settlers many of whom had forgotten the German language
and Gerrnan customs.

German schools and community centres were created with the
intention of promoting Germanness among the settlers whose
mission it was to Germanise the region.

The fate of the Poles was to be culled and to work.

Once each Polish village community reached a transit camp.
they were racially assessed.
Because both adult Krepinskis and Helena's mother did not
meet the racial criteria for Germanisation they were sent
to Auschwitz.

One horrific aspect of Zamosc's "cleansing" action was that
children were forcibly taken from parents whi]e they were
in transit camps and sent separately by train to various
parts of occupied Poland.

Children with desired racial features were taken off to
orphanages to be Germanised.

According to the Polish historian. Professor Zygmunt
Mankowski: "In particularly cruel
conditions Polish children were caught and about 7000

Some of the trains were accidently opened by suspicious
Poles and the dead and dying children, often In the care of
elderly Polish women, were found.

Many such child-laden trains reached Warsaw and surrounding
towns, and carriages were opened by railway workers and

Such incidents often resulted in the discovery of childen
who had  frozen to death. But in some cases children were

This was the case with 18-month-old Zofia Krepinska, who
was taken with a group of other children from a train to a
school south of Warsaw and from there adopted by a widow,
Mrs Stanislawa Kowalska.

Helena reached Auschwitz-Birkenau on December 13, 1942, and
spent two months in the women's section. which is just
south of the famous railway entrance so often reproduced
after the war, before being moved to a sub-camp. one of
about 40 linked to Auschwitz, called Babice, 6km north of
the killing centre.

Babice was a cleared village inside a barbed-wired compound
where about 500 women were held.

It was home for Helena until September 1944 when Auschwitz-
Birkenau was starting to
be cleared of internees because of the advancing Red Army.
During that time she worked around the mam Auschwitz camp.

Teams of women were employed as field workers cultivating
potatoes and beetroot. Others dug drains to help overcome
the boggy conditions around the camp.

Before Helena was moved to Babice she saw her husband one
last time through the barbed wire.

She vividly recalls how red-faced he was, which indicated
to her that he was extremely ill. About this time another
inmate told her that her mother had died.

Her overriding memory of Babice was the constant hunger,
cold and tight supervision by uniformed German female

The daily ration was black bread, a rye soup, and an
imitation tea.

Work in the fields was supervised by Ukrainian guards under
German direction.

During the first two months she  was inside Auschwitz-
Birkenau, the main killing centre. she saw Jews directed to
the camp's infamous crematoriums but her dominant memory of
the holocaust was the smell of burnt bodies from the camp's

Two winters and two summers later -- in September 1944 --
when the Red Arrny was still four months away from
liberating the camp, she and her fellow prisoners in Babice
sub-camp were taken to the main Auschwitz camp to be

But instead of facing the same fate as 1.5 million others,
she and the Babice women were put on a train and railed
across the Reich to France where they were placed under the
jurisdiction of a subcamp of the horrific Natzweiler
concentration camp called Ebingen.

Germany desperately needed munitions workers and Helena and
the other Babice women were "drafted" to boost production.

But the plant, on the outskirts of Thionville in German-
controlled French Lorraine, was near the western front by
late 1944.

Helena and her fellow prisoners worked for only a day or so
before the Germans evacuated them because of the advancing

They were marched off on foot and, at one point at dusk,
their column was strafed by Allied aircraft.
Helena and several others managed to run into a nearby wood
where, in the confusion, they were left by the German units
guarding them.

The group she was with hid out in the disused French
Maginot Line for several weeks, eating raw potatoes Iying
in the fields and  getting some help from a Ukrainian farm

Later she and the others moved into the nearby village of
Kemplich where each became a housekeeper or farm laborer.

General George Patton's famous Third Army was rapidly
moving eastwards towards the Rhine, so at the end of the
war Helena found herself on the western side of what was
soon to be called the Iron Curtain .

Soon after the war she wrote to the priest at Skierbieszow
to contact her sister, also called Zofia, who had evaded
capture on the night of November 27-28, 1942, because she
was away from her home in the village.

Unknown to Helena, her sister had accidently met a woman in
early 1943 whose mother had acted as baby Zofia's guardian
on the train and who had handed her over to Mrs Kowalska.

Helena had been quick-witted enough in the transit camp
before Zofia was taken from her to attach a note on
cardboard and string around her daughter's neck that bore
the child's name.

Several months' later, the elderly woman met her own
daughter and said she had cared for Krepinska's child and
left the baby in the care of Mrs Kowalska.

Helena's sister travelled to this town and maintained
contact with her niece and Mrs Kowalska for the rest of the

Soon after the war Helena remarried.

Her second husband was a Polish forced laborer who had
spent two years in Kemplich.

After Patton's army repelled the Germans, the couple, with
hundreds of thousands of other refugees, were taken to a
United Nations refugee camp in Western Germany where they
stayed until migrating to WA in March 1950.

Because the Cold War had split Europe, Zofia could not join
her mother in Germany.

But the two maintained contact by mail and parcels
regularly left Australia for Poland with items that were
considered basic in the west but luxuries in socialist

When Solidarity emerged, Zofia, her husband, and daughter,
decided Poland was not an ideal place to live and Helena
and her family sponsored them to migrate to Perth.

Zofia was finallv re-united with her mother, almost 40
years after being snatched from her as a baby.

Why do I know all this?

Because Helena Krepinska, now Helena Poprzeczny, is my

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