Survivor testimony from Poland
15 July 1997
Janina Sadowska, 77, was interviewed by the ERRC on June 8, 1997, in Dębica, southern Poland. She survived the Second World War the way many other Roma did: keeping a low pro file, hiding in the woods, not staying in any one place too long.
During the war, we hid in the forests near Kielce and Radom. We stayed in groups of five to ten families. If there had been too many of us, we would not have been able to hide. During the war, we didn’t live in wagons yet. We lived in tents. In those times, you had to be able to pack and leave very quickly. If the place was good, we would stay longer, sometimes for as long as one and a half months. But if a place was bad, we would leave immediately the following day.
In winter, we would stay with villagers. When the Germans came to catch us, we would escape to the forests again. It was very hard, but many Poles helped us. They lei us stay in their houses and gave us food in exchange for a blouse or a scarf. Some of them would give us food for free. Many of us died during the war though: from our group, there were people who were caught by the Germans and taken to the camps.
They came one afternoon. Kids were playing and we women were preparing a meal. They surrounded the whole area and attacked us from all sides. All the men were forced to lie down with their faces to the ground. Then the Germans made them form a line and took them away. We never saw these men again. Later we learned that they had been taken to Iłza, then to the Arison in Starachowice, and then, finally, to the camp in Oświęcim (Auschwitz).
Later that day, they returned with cars and took the women and children too. They were German soldiers, but there were also Polish policemen among them. There were more German soldiers than Polish policemen but you couldn’t count them because you weren’t supposed to look at them. But I remember that there were a lot of them: at least three or four vans full of men in uniform. They took us somewhere to a house and ordered us to walk in a line around in circles in front of the house while they shot off their guns into the air. Then, after a while, one of them suddenly shouted, “Now, run away!” And we did.
From that day on, our group became almost entirely women and children. My husband was the only man left with us. He managed to escape from the Germans when they first came to take away the men. I didn’t know that he had managed to hide and that he wasn’t taken like the other men were, but later my mother-in-law found him in Radom. She had become convinced that he was still alive, even though we had seen all the men taken away. It turned out she was right in fact: he had escaped and run to Radom because we had family there. It took my mother-in-law two weeks to find him. I couldn’t go to look for him because I had a small child to take care of. I was only twenty years old at that time.
Soon we were reunited and we survived by hiding for the rest of the war. We hid in the forests and we stayed in small groups. After the war, some of the women married again. They waited for some time after the war, but then they realised that their husbands had died and that they had to find new men to take care of their families.
Many Roma in Poland were killed during the war. It was very hard for us, but the worst thing that could happen to you during the war was to be caught by the Ukrainians. They were even more cruel than the Germans. If you were caught by Ukrainians, you could be sure that you wouldn’t survive. We were lucky not to be found and caught by them. They would never have let women and children go.