A universe of beauty, mystery and wonder

A universe of beauty, mystery and wonder

Friday, August 19, 2016

SIGI AND HANKA, A LOVE STORY - They met in a Nazi concentration camp, fell in love, and married two weeks later when the camp was liberated by the Russians - They are still madly in love 72 years later and have several great-grandchildren

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  • The following is a story of love and resilience.  Sigi and Hanka were the only ones left in their families, having lost just about everyone to the Nazi killing machine. 
  • They met when Sigi, right, went into the women's barracks at the camp - he saw Hanka's eyes from across the room and was instantly in love
    But one day in December 1944 they happened to meet at the concentration camp of Czestochowa, in Poland, talked for a couple of hours, and fell in love. 
  • When the camp was liberated a few days later, they got married, moved to Israel, had a couple of daughters, and a home filled with love.
  • Like other traumatized Holocaust survivors Sigi and Hanka found it impossible to talk about their experiences during the war.
  • It was not until their 50th anniversary that their two daughters found out the truth. 
  • It took that long for Sigi and Hanka to tell their stories and articulate their feelings of loss and grief in front of their children.
  • This silence about their past has been very common among Holocaust survivors. 
  • They couldn't make sense out of so much personal tragedy, and they also wanted their kids to have normal childhoods.   
  • What is remarkable about Jews - who have suffered from discrimination, persecution, torture, massacres and genocide for 2000 years - is their determination to overcome their pain and succeed as parents and in their work lives. 
  • Jews who fled the Russian pogroms in the late 19th century and early 20th century lived in New York in abject poverty, but they made sure their children got an education.    The same for those who had to restart their lives from scratch after the Holocaust.
  • They did not feel entitled to anything , but appreciated the opportunity to better their lives.   They did not riot, they did not go on a killing spree out of  "frustration" or revenge, as Muslim migrants do these days.    Jews kept their personal pain private, got on with life, raised good families, and became productive, patriotic citizens. 
Sigi and Hanka's love story. 

'I was a skeleton... but when our eyes met I was struck by lightning': Couple fell in love in a Nazi concentration camp - but kept the truth a secret from their family for 50 years.
Their love is so strong that it has helped them cope with their individual tragedies and the nightmares that have plagued them for decades.  
Hanka, left, and Sigi Siegreich, right, have been in love since they met in Czestochowa camp in Poland on New Year's Eve 1944Sigi says that he and his wife, who are now great-grandparents, have lived life together as one being.

Sigi and Hanka Siegreich, 92 and 91 respectively, kept their personal story a secret from their children.
“We grew up surrounded by so much love and we knew they had met in the war but we were definitely surprised by the circumstances,” said Evelyne, the couple’s eldest daughter. 
“We knew they had some kind of dark secret somewhere, we saw how much they loved us and each other but knew it was strange that we didn’t have grandparents, it was just the four of us. 
"We asked them why we didn’t have other but they just never wanted to talk about it and would just say they were lost in the war.”
Sigi and Hanka first met on New Year’s Eve in 1944, inside the Czestochowa concentration camp in Poland. Men and women were typically banned from speaking at the camp, but that night, the guards allowed them to spend time together.
Sigi recalled looking like a “skeleton” after years of incarceration in the camp, but he said that when he first saw his future wife, “I was struck by lightning. I just knew right then that she was the one. I still get the same feeling when I look at her now. Always, she is beautiful.” 

Continue reading and see more pictures of Sigi, Hanka, their daughters, and family portraits from before the war.

The couple had two children after they were freed from the camp, Evelyne, right, and Aviva
Hanka and her daughters

Sigi still looks at his wife Hanka the same as he first did and constantly reminds her and their daughters of how beautiful he thinks she is

Sigi said he didn't go to the barracks looking for anything romantic because he was a 'skeleton' after living in the camp for years.

Before the boys were taken back to the their own barracks Sigi kissed Hanka on the cheek – a promise that he would see her again.

Though they had spent less than two hours together, they were married 17 days later, mere hours after the camp was liberated by the Red Army.
They then moved to Israel.  They went on to have two daughters – their eldest Evelyne was the first baby to be born to Holocaust survivors in Czestochowa – just a year after the pair were married.

The couple, pictured here in the 70s, married after knowing each other for 17 days
Sigi and Hanka in the 1970s

In 1971 they immigrated to Australia with their two daughters. 
Evelyne said the horrors of the Holocaust still haunt her parents, who lost hundreds of relatives in World War II, including their own mothers and fathers.
She recounted, “Mum still cries in her sleep every night — and dad always has terrible nightmares. He was gifted with a photographic memory but it is a blessing and a curse because he can remember the horrors so clearly.”
She added that her parents maintain a strong love for each other even after all these years. 
“He still looks at mum the same way. He will ring me in the morning and say, ‘Look at your mum, she is so beautiful, there is not a drop of makeup on her skin and look how beautiful she is.'”
Sig - pictured here - had never had to fend for himself and had servants to do everything for him until he was 15 and the war tore his family apart

 Sigi as a child.

Sigi is now 92, his wife is 91 and they are much more open about their life inside the concentration camp and what they lost in the war. 

When fighting broke out Hanka was just 14 – she and her 12-year-old sister were captured and thrown on a train to the camp. 
They would never see the rest of their family again. Sigi, who came from an extremely wealthy family was 15 when he was separated from his family. 
As a well-to-do boy he had never had to fend for himself or even polish his own shoes.
Sigi, left before the war, had an older sister who managed to escape the conflict before it started. They were from a very wealthy family
Sigi, left before the war, had an older sister who managed to escape the conflict before it started. They were from a very wealthy family
His sister managed to escape before fighting started. But others weren't so lucky and 169 of his family members were 'exterminated' including his parents and grandparents. 
Sigi managed to stay alive through a series of 'miracles' and endeavoured to sabotage the enemy when they forced him to work in the munitions factory by 'making the bullets too small'. 
By the time the enemy caught on to this trick Sigi had met Hanka. He went into hiding and she risked her life to bring him pieces of bread and a blanket to help him keep warm. 
In those short seventeen days she even lost her tooth trying to protect him, she had been crying because she was worried about him but was caught so told guards she had a toothache. 
Their family and friends were never told how they came to fall in love, until it was revealed at their 50th wedding anniversary, pictured
Hanka and Sigi celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
Now they've been married for more than 70 years.
At their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, Sigi gave a speech in which he spoke of the first time he saw Hanka’s “beautiful brown eyes peering from the top of a bunk.”
He said he and his wife, who are now great-grandparents, have lived life together as one being. Sigi called Hanka, “a part of my makeup, like my arm she will always be a part of me.”
The couple only had each other when the war ended - after losing hundreds of relatives including their parents
The couple plan to be buried side-by-side when they die, in plots marked with a message for their lost family members, according to the Daily Mail. The message welcomes the souls of those “exterminated” in the Holocaust to “rest with them.”

The couple moved to Israel from Poland and in 1971 came to Australia with both of their daughters, by that time Evelyne was married




A brief summary of the history of the Czestochowa concentration camp

The pair met from inside the cold walls of Czestochowa  camp in Poland

The pair met from inside the cold walls of Czestochowa camp in Poland


The synagogue
before the war
Polish city located about 124 miles (200 km) southeast of Warsaw. When World War II broke out, 28,500 Jews lived in the city.
German Occupation
The Germans entered Czestochowa on Sunday, September 3, 1939, and persecution of its Jews began at once. More than 300 Jews were killed on the following day, which became known as "Bloody Monday."

On September 16, a Judenrat (Jewish Council) was formed, headed by Leon Kopinski. Confiscation of Jewish property, beatings and degradation went on incessantly.

In August 1940, 1,000 young Jews were rounded up and sent to the Ciechanow forced-labor camps; very few survived. 

        The roundup of Jews at Czestochowa.
The Founding of the Ghetto and the First Deportations
A ghetto was established on April 9, 1941, by order of the city commissioner, SS-Brigadefuehrer Dr. Richard Wendler, in the eastern, old part of the city. The ghetto was sealed off on August 23. Some 20,000 Jews from other cities (Lodz, Plock, Krakow) and villages were sent to the Czestochowa Ghetto, which eventually held more than 48,000 persons.

In May 1942, the Germans seized and killed Jewish social, cultural, and political activists. Between September 22 and October 8, 1942, a total of 39,000 Jews were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. Elderly people in the home for the aged and the children in the orphanage were killed on the spot. About 2,000 Jews managed to escape or to hide in the city. 

        The deportation of the Czestochowa Jews
The Small Ghetto
After the deportations, the northeastern part of the ghetto, called the "small ghetto," held some 5,000 able-bodied Jews with skills or professions. On September 2, a privately owned German munitions factory, belonging to the Hasag network, was established in the suburb of Stradom. Three thousand Jews from Poland, Germany, and Austria passed through this labor camp until it was closed on January 16, 1945, because of a typhoid epidemic. The surviving inmates were deported to an unknown destination.
Forced Labor (Hasag)
In June 1943, the Hasag Rakow steel mill was opened, in which 500-1,000 Jews from Slovakia and Poland were exploited. It was closed on January 16, 1945, and the workers were sent to the Buchenwald and Ravensbruck camps. The largest camp in the Czestochowa area was Hasag Pelzery, which functioned from June 1943 until January 16, 1945.

This was a munitions factory employing, at any given time, about 5,000 Jews from Poland, Germany, Austria, and Bohemia. Finally, there were an average of 3,000 Jews working in the munitions factories of Warta and Czestochowianka.
Armed Resistance
In December 1942, the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization; ZOB) created a resistance unit in Czestochowa, with some 300 participants. They maintained contact with the Warsaw center. In January 1943, this group, under the leadership of Mendel Fiszelwicz, offered armed resistance to a German Aktion. During the clash, 251 Jews were killed; the rest were deported to Radomsko and from there to Treblinka.
The reprisals that followed included the murder of 127 of the Jewish intelligentsia, and 250 children and elderly people. In addition to this resistance group, there were two relatively large partisan units, who were killed by Polish rightist partisans, and several small units that joined the leftist partisans. On June 25, 1943, another ZOB group tried to resist the liberation of the small ghetto.
Liberation and Aftermath
When the Soviet army liberated the city, there were some 5,000 Jews in the area. In June 1946, 2,167 Jews were living in Czestochowa. After the Kielce pogrom on July 4, many of them joined the Beriha for Palestine.

Copyright © 2016 Yad Vashem. The World Holocaust Remembrance Center




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