It was three in the morning when my cell phone vibrated against my nightstand, alerting me to an incoming email. The noise pulled me from a sound sleep and I groggily reached over and glanced at my phone. The name flashing across the screen had me sitting straight up in bed. It was Stanislaw’s daughter, Marta. It had been so long since Professor Grabowski had emailed her that I’d given up hope she would respond.
Now, I knew the man was dead obviously but even now the day I discovered the details behind Stanislaw’s death is clearly etched in my brain. It was a sunny Saturday morning in Southern California and, in my desperation to find any new piece of information regarding him, I sat on my couch once again scrolling through old posts on the Auschwitz Facebook page. Suddenly, there was the one detail that had eluded me and it had been hiding in plain sight the entire time.
While I have always been fascinated with World War Two, prior to this my professional writing experience had been music related. I did not go to Poland looking for a story and I’d certainly never pieced together a persons life in such a way. Now, I found myself consumed by the process. Each new piece of information was vital, no matter how small, but many false leads, dead ends, and disappointments would precede each one. And, it seemed like each time one question was answered there would be ten more to replace it. What was abundantly clear to me was, while the death toll from the Holocaust was an overwhelmingly large number it wasn’t until I delved deeper into that number and individualized it that I felt the full weight of the tragedy.
From April 24th to May 27th, 1942 Stanislaw was imprisoned at Auschwitz but no one knows exactly what occurred during this time and we probably never will. In their hurry to hide the atrocities they committed, the Nazi’s destroyed the majority of the documents from the death camp. According to my guide at Auschwitz only 5% of the documents kept by the Nazi’s still exist.
After the raid the prisoners were sent to Krakow’s Montelupich Prison. Named for the street on which it sits, Montelupich Prison to this day is recognized as one of the most terrible Nazi prisons in all of occupied Poland.
From 1940 – 1942 Edward Kubalski does not mention Stanislaw but based on the photographs that accompanied the journal, and were credited to Stanislaw, while Edward Kubalski kept track of events in his journal, Stanislaw was also documenting the Nazi occupation of Krakow with his camera. He took pictures of Polish food lines, Nazi propaganda, of structural damage from the war, and the destruction of Polish monuments. His father stated in his journal that,
“It is important for the world to know what the Nazi’s did in Poland. They did not just murder Poles; they sought to erase our entire history and culture.”
While I impatiently waited for Marta’s response I continued to consume every word in the Journal. This was an account of an impersonal nature where Edward Kubalski speaks of food rations, curfews, and round-ups. He says,
“Men are afraid of arrests. They will not sleep at home and sometimes sleep in the office. In almost every family there has been some grief or tragedy. Someone nearest disappeared was imprisoned, killed, or exiled. There are always nerves and anticipation over the continuing terror.“
I didn’t get my first solid lead on Stanislaw until a week after I’d returned to Los Angeles. By this time I’d been able to narrow down his parents name and that of his wife. Where I was unable to find any pertinent information regarding Stanislaw, his mother, or his wife; his father was a different story.
It is estimated that eleven million lives were lost during the Holocaust. Six million of those victims were Polish citizens. Of that six million, half were gentile Poles while the other half were Jewish. What is not widely acknowledged is, just as with the Jewish community, the mass murder of the Polish people, both Gentile and Jew, was systematically planned by the Nazi’s. On August 22nd, 1939, in a speech to his commanders, Adolph Hitler told them to kill…
The day after visiting Auschwitz I would spend the afternoon seeking out the last remnants of the Kraków Ghetto Wall. Just standing in front of the short stretch of 12ft gray wall was a sobering experience. Across the top are a series of arches the Nazi’s purposefully shaped like tombstones to signify the people inside the ghetto would not make it out alive.