Sabina: In the Eye of the Storm
Author: Bella Kuligowska Zucker
About the Book: In September 1939, Bella was a carefree teenager living in Serock, Poland when the German army struck. She was rounded up with her friends and family and sent to a series of grim Jewish ghettos. As loved ones were separated and lost through the war years, Bella survived by changing her identity. After stealing the birth certificate of a Catholic girl five years her senior, she became Sabina Mazurek. Then she went into the eye of the storm, Germany, where she believed she might be safest. Sabina is her story.
About the Author:Bella Kuligowska was born in Serock, Poland in 1925. Her family included her parents and five brothers; everyone worked in her parents’ bicycle business. After the war, she tried to find her missing family members. She discovered she was the lone survivor.
Bella met her husband Herman Zucker in Poland after the war. They emigrated to the US in 1951 with their oldest daughter and settled in Chicago, Illinois. Bella spent many years perfecting her English and writing skills to record this memoir. Bella passed away in 2007.
In 1940, Poland was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews. In Serock, Bella’s hometown, the Jews had been forcefully moved to a ghetto, where they lived with scant resources in crowded conditions. Bella’s parents wanted to protect their family, as their future became more uncertain every day, and arranged for Bella to escape.
One afternoon that spring, my father came home with a stranger. My mother was sewing a shirt for papa by hand, and I was knitting a sweater from the material left over from the unraveled flour bags. Since curfew was coming, Abraham, Joseph, and Wygdor were all in the room too.
“Mr. Wisniewski, this is my daughter, Bella.” My father spoke these words in Polish. Mr. Wisniewski nodded and looked me up and down like a customer about to make an expensive purchase.
“Bella, say something to Mr. Wisniewski,” my father urged.
I was still unsure of what was happening, but I did my father’s bidding. “Hello, Mr. Wisniewski,” I said uncomfortably, getting up from my seat on the cold hearth of the fireplace. “How do you do?”
The man turned to my papa. “Fine. The girl looks ok, and she speaks Polish well.”
“Papa?” I whispered, almost ready to cry. “What is going on?”
My father explained that Mr. Wisniewski was a forester who lived not far from the ghetto and also owned a farm. With his help, I could escape by going to work for him. Mr. Wisniewski had come to check that I looked Polish enough and that I did not have a strong Yiddish accent.
“Mr. Wisniewski will have documents made for you,” my father said. “He believes you can pass as a Christian on the other side. You must try to live as they do. Be a good girl. Don’t be scared, darling.”
I shook with a mix of anticipation and fear. I could not imagine shedding my identity like this, becoming a Christian, practically overnight. How could anyone do that?
Then I thought of someone who had done such a transformation – Lonka, the rabbi’s daughter from Serock, who had eloped with her Christian boyfriend on the eve of Yom Kippur. What a calamity it had been! The rabbi’s only child. She’d converted to Christianity and ran off on the holiest night of the year, Kol Nidrei.
Suddenly, her story was inspiration.
“I will do it,” I said. And I thought of a new name for myself. I would add a simple “Isa” to the start of my first name to make it sounds more Polish: Isabella Kuligowska. That’s who I would become while with the forester. But I promised myself and my family that I would never forget who I really was.
Excerpted from SABINA: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM Copyright © 2018 by Bella Kuligowska Zucker. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
**Thank you Saichek Publicity for providing the excerpt and copies for review!!**