Sometimes Stefanie Jurman of Port Washington would tell parts of her story "apropos of something." Then her friends would ask her, "Why don't you write this down?'" She would answer, "I am not a writer." Stephanie lived through the horrific events that followed the Nazis conquest of Warsaw over 66 years ago when she was 11 years old.
She just finished typing her 28-page survivor story, which she will distribute to her friends and family. But the classes of students who visit the Holocaust Tolerance and Memorial Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove also hear her tell shorter versions of her story of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and her miraculous rescue by a Polish woman. Stephanie also talks to students all over the country via a video feed at the Holocaust Center.
Stefanie says while she is not a joiner, she started volunteering this March to talk to classes of students regularly, at least once a week and usually more. She stands in front of groups of students without notes, speaking directly for about 40 minutes and then answers their questions. "I like to look at people," she says. Evident to all who hear her speak is her natural ability to tell a story, which also explains her popularity as a speaker at the Holocaust Center. She was a teacher of French and math for many years, which may partly explain her uncanny speaking talent.
Stefanie feels motivated to finally talk about her experiences, because she thinks she is doing something worthwhile. She read an announcement in the Port Washington News asking for survivors to volunteer at the Holocaust Tolerance Center in Glen Cove. She said to herself, "Maybe I should tell people what many of us went through. I should do something so genocide wouldn't happen again."
Included here is her summary of her story:
"When thinking about the Holocaust, I am inclined to believe that my survival was due in great part to a number of several, unexplained lucky chances and coincidences. But in addition to those, there were three people without whom I certainly would not have made it. Each one of these people played a different role at different times and dealt with different events.
"First, there was my mother. From the beginning, she made sure that she was never separated from me in the Ghetto. She took care of me, sheltered me and protected me whenever and wherever there was danger facing us, and always looked for a way to escape when we needed to run or to hide. She held my hand and pulled me up the stairs, climbed the gutters to attics or to roofs of buildings or dragged me behind her and pushed me down, squeezing me into some narrow spaces in crowded, smelly basements and covered me with a number of old, dirty, abandoned objects of all sorts. At the time, I never thought about how she was able to do all of it, but today, I am amazed by all that force and determination that drove her to do the impossible. Without her, I would have certainly perished in the Ghetto. My mother died in my house over 20 years ago, in 1983. She was 83 years old.
"Then, there was my uncle Mietek. He saved me and my mother from the Umschlagplatz by urging us to run to the waiting truck regardless of danger. Later he forced us to leave the Ghetto and provided us with a group of workers with whom we were able to pass through the gate. We would have both died if we had done what my mother wanted and stayed in the Ghetto with her family. Mietek died in Berlin a short time after the war ended. He was sitting in a parked car waiting for his girlfriend, when an American jeep hit the back of the car he was sitting in. He was taken to a local hospital but lasted only a few days. Mietek is buried in a Jewish Cemetery in Berlin.
"And finally, there was Irena Kucharzak. She took upon herself the responsibility for my survival after we left the Ghetto. She rescued us from Leon's apartment and took care of every problem that arose when I was living under an assumed name as a Christian. She looked for, and was able to find, safe places for me to live in, and guided and helped me in each dangerous situation that faced me. She was willing to risk her life and her family's lives, to save us both, my mother and me. Irena was able to visit us in the States and spend the summer with us. We took her for trips, showed her famous and interesting sights and treated her like a member of our family. She died in the late '70s in Poland of a heart problem. She is buried in Wawer. . . .
"For a long time, I was urged by my friends to write my story, but I always procrastinated. I was concerned that after so many years much had already escaped my memory, that I wouldn't remember the chronology of events, and that, since I am not a writer, my style would not be good enough. I still have these concerns, but I did it anyway, and now that it is done, I cannot believe how easy it was and how much satisfaction I have derived from doing it. Everything fell into place. Not only did I remember the events clearly, but also the feelings that accompanied them. Hopefully, my children and my grandchildren will find it worthwhile to read my story, because it is primarily for them that I wrote it. I also hope that some of my friends, especially the ones that urged me to write this, will find the time, the interest and the inclination to learn some of the things about my past that I have never talked about."