Rena Wallach Bernstein

Rena Wallach Bernstein: Saved in the Forests of Poland

Bernstein.Photo.A1.WEBBernstein.Photo.A2.WEB“On the day before the transfer of the Jews from Lesko to the Zaslaw Concentration Camp, two unknown women came to our house and took me away. My parents, Natan and Jafa Wallach, stood aside as these strangers grabbed and carried me, crying and fighting, into the street. My parents stood sobbing on the doorstep as these women took me, still screaming, through the town to a dirt road that led into a dark, heavily wooded forest just beyond the town’s streets. They walked all afternoon, the two women taking turns carrying me, despite all my protests.”

They took her deep into the forest of Bezmiechowa to a “small, decaying hut, and lived in a tiny room with one small window”. For the next two years she pined for her parents, was alone, but the forest had for her “a haunting beauty that remains” with her. She imagined her parents were beyond two huge tree trunks watching, protecting her. This kept her calm and secure and she spent her days wandering through the woods, eating wild strawberries and lying on the ground watching the clouds, only coming back to the hut to sleep.

Rena, Mother, Stasia and Magda on their first day together.

Rena, Mother, Stasia and Magda on their first day together.

Janek Konkol, patrolled the forest for the Nazis, and he cared for Rena. His brother, Stefan, pressured him to take Rena into the forest and kill her, because if the Nazis found out he was hiding a Jew, they would kill him. She heard Janek question, “But what if her parents come for her?” The response was that they would not. Rena heard these conversations.

After the liberation of Lesko, Rena’s parents came to the forest to be reunited. Of the Jewish community which numbered about 30,000 before the war, there were only about 80 survivors and Rena was the only child survivor.

 

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