The Suknik and Zmidek family

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The connection between the Suknik and Zmidek families is very strong. Moszek first marriage to Sora Sprinca bore five children that included two sisters Mariem and Rajzla.

Sora Sprinca died in 1880, and some time later Moszek married Ita Laja Suknik (nee Dzura) who bore him a daughter Sura Ryfka.

Ita Laja had previously been married to Izrael Suknik, and they had two sons Josek and Dawid.Josek married Mariem and Dawid married Rajzla.

Thus the family was linked through three marriages.  At some point during the 1890s sections of the Zmidek and Suknik families left Chmielnik for Warsaw.

1899 Marriage Certificate of Josek Suknik and Miriem Zmidek

Translation

Akta 63. This happened in the city of Chmielnik on the 3rd / 15th of December in the year 1899 at four o’clock in the afternoon.

We announce that, in the presence of witnesses Berek Pachoł, thirty four years old, and Motel Kossowski, 64 years old, both synagogue attendants residing in the city of Chmielnik, on this day a religious marriage was contracted between Josek Suknik, a bachelor, 25 years old, son of the late Izrael and the living Itla Łaja née Dziura, he resides with his mother in the city of Chmielnik; and between Maria Żmidek, a maiden, 23 years old, daughter of the living Moszek and the late Szprinca née Gabrysz, she resides with her father in the city of Chmielnik.

This marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local Synagogue on Sabbath days, to wit: on the 4th (16th), the 11th (23rd) and the18th (13th) of November in the current year. Consent to enter in marriage by mother of the groom and father of the bride was given orally.

The newlyweds declared that they have made no prenuptial agreement. The religious marriage ceremony was performed by Rabbi Abram Icyk Sylman.

This record, after it was read, was signed by us and the parties present. Parents and the newlyweds are illiterate. Civil Registrar, Mayor [signature illegible]

What follows is a history of the Suknik and related family mixing in the Testimony written by Cesia Suknik in 1979 and other details provided by family members and archive material



Early Years

I was born on the 27th of September 1902 in Warsaw.

According to the Russian Law my parents needed to make a special request  for a birth certificate from Warsaw which was very expensive.

It was cheaper to register our births  in Chmielnik , where my parents used to live, which is  what is written on the certificates.

I was the first girl to arrive  in the family after 3 boys. (Cesia would most probably have known nothing of her 2 older siblings, Sura Mindla and Izrael Jukel, who died before she was born).

We were living in an attic and as I looked out , I couldn´t see anything that was that was happening. I remember I was jealous of a girl living next door who could look out of her window and see the children playing downstairs.  

Our living space in the attic consisted simply of two rooms and a kitchen. My parents sublet one of the rooms to a dressmaker who made  underwear and dresses.

One day, my parents went out,  and left me with the dressmaker. I was alone and decided to go out and look for other children to play with, the son of a cousin was living in a building in front of our house. His name was “Cholke” and was the same ages as me. We played “ being married”. I was, of course the bride, and he was the groom. In the dressmaker´s room I found pieces of tissue with which I dressed myself up. We made a pedestal for me and the bridesmaids.

I was so happy playing this game that even today (77 years old in 1979) that I still feel the happiness I had at the time.

 

An official translation of Cesia´s birth certificate that she needed in Belgium later in her life.

At the time, it was a very hot summer, and after sunset  my mother (Mariem) went for a walk around the square with one of her friends.

I was fascinated because we were walking straight, but we somehow returned to the place where we started. I remember that I was wondering how this was possible. I started to have trouble sleeping because this was disturbing me.
My mother saw that I couldn’t  asleep as I was sleeping in the same bed  with her.She started to worry about my nightmares and finally she decided to call a fletcher (?).The mystery was solved and the man explained to me the reason.  The unsettlement stopped.

Tova and Ester

When I was 4 years old (more or less) my mother gave birth to twin girls. The blond one was called Tova, and the dark haired girl was named Ester.Late I saw how they were opposites.

Tova was very slim and took part in dancing and sports. Ester on the otherhand was fat and socialized with boys from a very early age.

I do not remember much of my brothers. Two of them were blond, and the third dark haired.

Symcha was a salesman in a feather shop for quilts. Meir was apprenticed to a clockmaker. Szyja was working in a mens clothing shop. Most evenings he went out to Dance halls. This is how he met his future mistress, Mrs Nasielsky,  and her husband a dance instructor.


When I was 9 years old, my mother told me she was illiterate, but she did not want the same for her children, and so I went to school. At that time Poland was occupied by Russia, and I was taught to read and write in Russian and learnt Russian grammar.

My father was a blacharz (tinsmith) . His job was to fill holes in enamel pots, by diluting a metal with a soldering iron. He could also replace the bottoms of pots and pans.  

He covered the pot or pan with a sheet of metal that could be folded. However my father´s job alone could not feed a family of 6 children so my mother had to start working.

At the time we were living in an apartment on the ground floor which consisted of a large family room, a kitchen with a cooker for preparing chales ( Yiddish for chabbat halot) and biscuits for Shabbat.

My father installed his “workshop” in the kitchen under the window.

My mother started a business to try to earn some money in the “Bazaar Zwarda, 1”.  

[ It was also known as Bazaar Icek Borowski or Bazar Icka Borowskiego ]

She prepared a soup, made with noodles and milk.

When the first batch of soup was sold she came back with the (empty) kettle to pick up the next one.

My job was to keep an eye on the soup  whilst it was boiling. She sometimes sold biscuits she was preparing in the oven.

She earned good money but she had to work a lot.


Bazar Icka Borowskiego between Pańska 22 and Twarda 1

The most beautiful  day at home was the Shabbat.

Friday evening, my mother and my father washed themselves “well” and we ate fish with the ‘chales’. My father and my brothers sang Canticles (Hymns) .

On Saturday, my father used to take me for a walk along the  Vistula.I could see the boats carrying produce  like apples. I loved the Vistula.

Later, when  I was very active in the communist party, after work, I used to go and wind down by walking along the Vistula.

When I returned to Poland in 1949, the first thing I did, was run to see it again.


The house in the back of the photo is Twarda 1

Photos of the Bazaar from Jim boa Today

World War 1 arrived. I finished going to school as they were all closed. War was really there and with it, antisemitism. And hunger. Even before the war, I didn’t eat that much. My mother was worried about what I was eating. But I wasn’t ill, just  thin.

To earn a bit of money, my mother decided to make some kind of biscuits using  potatoes as a main ingredient .Four years later the war ended the Russian occupation and Poland became an independent country.  Schools reopened and I went back in school but this time learning in Polish and at the age of 15, I finally finished Primary School.

 

1909 - April 1st - Ita Laja (Yuta Lea) , Cesia´s step - grandmother, died aged 68.

Buried at Okopowa Cemetery Warsaw

With the armistice signed in 1917 between Russia and Germany, schools reopened and I went back in school but this time, (learning)  in Polish. At the age of 15, I finally finished Primary School.

Teenage Years

My mother encouraged me to learn to be a tailor, and so arrange for me to become an apprentice to a dressmaker. I had to learn the trade whilst working for no pay for 6 months. The truth was that I didn´t learn anything during those months because I did everything but dressmaking.

I took the children of the employer to school and brought them home at midday, helping them with their homework, buying material for the dressmaking etc.
I didn´t want my mother to be upset, so I told her nothing about what was going on. My mother went to my employer at the end of the 6 month period to get payment for my work, but declared that as I had not learnt anything she was not obliged to pay me.   

Postcard of Krolewska Street from before World War II

I saw an advert looking for a ´helper´ in a tailors shop.

It was a tailors shop for ladies at 47 Krolewska street  belonging to a Mrs Manne.

It was the most fashionable shop in all of Warsaw.

I went there and was asked to make a pair of sleeves.

How I managed to succeed I do not know, but I was hired.

 

After the war the trade unions became very powerful. We fought to get wage increases.

As a member of the “ Clothes Trade Union” I helped organize strikes in the shop I was working in.

We succeeded and got a pay rise, but my boss who knew that I was responsible made life difficult for me and I had no choice but to resign.

I then went to work in little shops until I finally found full time work in 9 Lezno Street, and remained there until I left for Belgium in 1929.

ul. Leszno Warszawa / Lezno Street Warsaw 1912

Political activities (1920s)

When I was 18 years old, I weighed 48kgs, was fit and a qualified worker earning 40 zlotys a week. It was a good wage which you could live comfortably on. At 20 I was elected secretary of our “ Work Commission”. I also joined the tailors union and became a member of the Bundist Socialist Youth called Tsukunft which meant “future”. I was also still very involved in the Trade Union organizing “supporters”, having won the right to gather once a month as the Bundist group in the Trade Union meeting room.

I was a supporter and  helped create an organization called the “Kombund” which was one of many at the time that included the Communist Party and the Communist Youth.

After a period of time the Kombund was integrated into the Communist Party.  I very quickly became active in the Communist youth, at first responsible for the “Pioniers”

At the age of 22 I officially became a member of the Communist Party.

It was in the party that I met my future husband Natan Rozenblum, who was a member of the “ Tailor-made for men” Commission. When we talked we imagined being able to travel and discover countries other than Poland.

During this period the KomBund and Communist Party were very strong , but illegal.

One day we had to deliver a huge amount of books to Lublin. I volunteered even though I was told it would be dangerous and had to be careful as Lublim was full of provocateurs.I accepted the risk, memorized the address (too dangerous to write it down), packed the books in a suitcase, and brought along two other suitcases to give the impression I was going on holiday.I arrived in the evening and asked the man who received me if I could stay the night.

He said it was too dangerous and could be arrested, so I took the train back to Warsaw.

Naftali (Natan) Rozenblum

On another occasion I went to visit a comrade in jail. During the visit a prison warden monitored everything we said and gave to each other.I had a very important document I had to give to him. I held it between my fingers, and somehow with shaking hands managed to pass it to him.

When I returned to Poland in 1949 I went to visit this comrade. he was working in the Foreign Office, but was not permitted to meet with me as I was coming from a capitalist country. It saddened me because I precisely wanted to come back to “my” Socialist country.

Late 1920s.

In all of Cesia's documents relating to the visa for Belgium (see below) she is recorded as living at Ulica Twarda 14 Warsaw.

In this photo of the street below number 14 would be far at the back on the left hand side. This was the same address given by Cesia's brother Meir and their cousin Szmul Lament for their bag factory.

1928 & 29 Moving to Belgium

I had a brother in Belgium, Szjya. He had left Poland because he did not want to do his army service.

I sent him a letter to tell him I wanted to come to Belgium and asked if he could do anything to help me. His mistress Mrs. Nasielsky made an official request for me to come as a maid.

 



Szyja

Translation of the letter

I the undersigned, Simon Nasielski, fur trader , established in Brussels, rue de Bouchers No. 71, married and father of two children, occupy all the building at said address, declare to engage as a servant for a duration of two consecutive years and at a salary of 300 francs per month plus food and board in my house, the nomanee Curtla SUKNIK, born in Warsaw in 1902 and currently living there at Twarda No. 14.

I promise to pay her all the expenses of her journey from Warsaw to Brussels and in the case that she does not like it here I will pay her all the costs, whatever they are, to return to Poland.
It is because of the shortage of maids here that I am engaging the aforesaid under the conditions mentioned.

Brussels 7th December 1928

I quickly got a passport and a visa and came to Brussels in July 1929. Natan came 3 months later on a renewable 2 month visa.

My brother wanted to talk about me having a religious marriage with a Rabbi, but I refused. The next day he kicked me out of the house and we were forced to live in a Hotel in the same street. We were soon so disappointed to see that all our dreams of travel were utopian and childish. There were lots of Poles living in Brussels at the time, mostly trying to earn a living  illegally.

Cesia

Natan, studio portrait, 1929, Warsaw


We got married on the 3rd January 1931 in Laeken (a suburb of Brussels). I had invited my brother but he did he did not show up.

 

I began working with a Jewish tailor, working on the final stages of  coats. Natan also started work.

We then found our first real apartment and went to meet other Polish Jews.

I was not very happy working there , so as soon as I could learn a few french words I began to work in one of the most famous tailors in Brussels.

Natan was also working, but often he was without work moving from one job to another. We had a gas stove, a table, a cupboard and even a bed for two.

 

At the age of 29 I became pregnant and gave birth to a boy on 26th July 1931. We names him Karl in memory of Karl Liebknecht a communist hero assassinated dramatically during the revolutionary Insurrection in 1918 in Germany.

Just before the birth, my brother Mayer came in Belgium looking for work. Mayer wanted to work together  with Szyja but Szyja’s mistress objected. Mayer eventually returned to Poland where he had a difficult life. Here I want to note  that Mayer died in the Warsaw ghetto but his son, Isaac, was one of the fighters in  the ghetto Uprising. His name is written in the Golden Book of the Memorial (of the Ghetto).

After giving birth I stopped going out to work and decided to work on my own again at home making coats and dresses for women. Natan bought be a mirror at an auction, which I still have today (1979). If it could speak I wonder how many stories it could tell.

I took a great deal of care with Karl especially with his food,  taking specialist advice and attending medical consultations for newly born children. He was beautiful, with dark skin and was developing normally.
We were poor and often I did not eat and was hungry.   For Karl´s trusseau I borrowed 20 Belgian francs from a neighbour with which I bought two shirts, nappies and a little bed.

When he was 3 years old he went to a kindergarten, but in those days there was no dinner given to the children at lunchtime, so I had to collect him, bring him home, feed him and then return him to school at 4pm.

1935 Visit to Poland

When Kark was 4 years old we decided I would make a trip to Poland with the hope that I could live again in Warsaw.

When we arrived in Warsaw we were met by my brother Mayer. He welcomed us very warmly and his son, Moniek (
Moszes) who was to die in the Warsaw ghetto from typhus] took a lot of photos.

The photo above was taken in Łazienki Park, Warsaw .
From left to right: Cesia's brother Mayer, his sons Cewek & Yitzak, Cecia's son Karol, Cesia & two as yet unknown.


I made contact with former comrades of the Communist Party who explained that the situation was very bad in Poland. Poverty was everywhere, unemployment was high amongst the workers and many had emigrated. 

[On returning to Belgium] we  moved house and settled in Rue Gaucheret, 70 in Schaerbeek where we lived until World War 2

Natan went to the auctions to find furniture.

He found a big table we could work on. It was so big we had to get it in through the window.

We also bought a manikin  and with a sewing machine our little shop was set up. There was also a bedroom and kitchen, and so with our 4 room apartment we could start working seriously.

Often Natan worked at home doing piecework. I couldn’t live  like others women have rest when I wanted to.

Very often, as soon as  Karol was in bed, I had to start to work again.

 

 

Naftali and Karol 1930s

Naftali, Karol and Cesia 1930s

Cesia and Karol 1930s

1937 August 4th Police Report: Naftali was a member of a communist group that was under surveillance by the security police

World War II - Belgium

1940 May 28 German occupation of Belgium 

The Jewish population at the time was between 70 000 and 75,000 out of a population of 8 million>


1940 October
a series of anti-Jewish laws were put in place

Curtlas registration  in the Jewish Register of Belgium
Registration in this municipal register was obliged for all Jewish men, women and children older than 15 who were living in Belgium from December 1940 onwards. The names of younger children were only added to their parents’ entry. The reproduction rights  belong to the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels.

 

The membership forms of the Association des Juifs en Belgique ( Jewish Association of Belgium)

Registration by this so called “Jewish Council” was obliged for all Jewish families living in Belgium from the spring of 1942 onwards. The reproduction rights of these images belong to the Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Society in Brussels.

Communists were being executed or put into forced labour and Jews were being deported to the extermination camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald and the others. 

In the beginning Jews had to wear the yellow star. Some Belgian fraternized with Jews. But very soon, it was obvious that in order to save their own  lives, Jews had to go into hiding. 

We worked to hide children amongst the Belgian population and in Catholic institutions. Karl went into hiding in Wallonia where he was safe, then we thought about ourselves.

[Notes from Karl's son David]

Cesia & Natan's  son Karl  spent a lot of time hidden in a Christian school : the "College de Notre Dame de Bon Secours" in Binche. Binche is close to Charleroi, central city in the Walloon region where the Resistance was very active. Natan was connected to resistance movement that also very active in this area

As with a lot of jewish boys during the WWII,  Karl was converted to christianity, officially to get  better protection by being christian and not jewish . My father was and remained angry to have been "forced" converted. I have still in my documents, his prayers book (Missal) and a photo of him posing for his "great Communion". 

He remained in Ecaussines, Havelange, Francorchamps, Jolimont, Morlanwez. But there was also many "allers- retours" in- between places where he was hidden. Cesia did manage to visit him at times during the war.

Cesia (left) at some point during the war

One comrade from the Communist Party, Michel, found us an illegal place where we could hide.  

It was a small apartment with a large kitchen with two windows and a tiny bedroom also with two windows.

But in front of the bedroom, there was a ‘Rexist’ café and in front of the kitchen, the other house was full of German soldiers. 

On the entrance door, not all the names were written on the doorbell.

Michel provided us with an old double bed and we also had a small wardrobe, a kitchen table and a cooker, with gas and electricity provided by the owner.

Everywhere Jews were in hiding and the Belgian Communist Party was declared illegal. 

As soon as the Germans went for the Communists, the Party imploded with virtually no-one to organize the propaganda or illegal activities.


Content for New div Tag Goes Here

Natan worked with Prof. Perelman collecting and distributing money to the people in hiding.

One day I said to Natan that I wanted to work for the Communist Party, but he was deeply opposed to the idea and reminded me that I was a mother of a child.

I answered that a child has the same  need of a mother as of a father. I also said I would rather be caught as a Communist than as a Jew.

We organized a committee of the communist party in Schaerbeek and distributed tasks to members.

I was in contact with a factory called  “InterBrabant”. As I was the oldest member of the group I was given the code name “Clara Zetkin” referring to a woman who opened the session of the German Reichstag in 1932 just before Hitler’s accession.

I often had to jump from the tramway because I thought that people from the Gestapo were staring at me.

Chaim and Fela Perelman

Naftali April 1944 to March 1945

On April 3rd, 1944 Natan was caught by the Gestapo, betrayed by traitor known as "Fat Jaques". He was immediately sent to the Dossin Barraks in Mechelin which was the detention and deportation camp , mainly for Jews and Roma, out of Belgium to the concentration camps.

The following day he was on a transport to Auschwitz and arrived at some point before the 8th April. He stayed in Auschwitz until October 19th, after which he was moved to the main Gross-Rosen Camp, most probably during the time of the death marches January 1945.

Naftali was moved one more time to Buchenwald on February 11th 1945.

March 2nd 1945, Naftali was sent to the camp hospital. On the 16th March he died, according to the records, from heart weakness due to bronchitis and flu.

For more details including deportation and camp records download / view this files

I had to invent lies to avoid the questions from the neighbours who were asking what happened to my husband. I had to find a lot of inner strength to cope. I invented a story that he was at the hospital after he became ill at work. 

I realized that if I had told the truth, there would have been rumors and in the end I would probably have been arrested.

I was so convincing that a neighbour brought me an egg  to give to my husband.

People from my building were talking to German soldiers from window to window. The soldiers very soon realized that no one from the 3rd floor joined in.

 One day, a German soldier knocked at the door and entered my apartment pretending that a paper belonging to him had flown to my window ledge. I explained with my hands that I didn’t understand german. I showed him that the windows of the kitchen couldn’t be opened but that he could go to the kitchen. I waited until he explained  to his colleague that the paper had probably flow away elsewhere.. 

I heard after the war that the soldier had tried to get information from the other occupants of the building  about Jews who may be hiding. 

I think the fact that I kept so calm caused him to doubt as to whether I could be a Jew in hiding or not . When the Germans left the apartment, I lay on my bed in shock, unable to move.


After the War

With the end of the war I was once again able to meet with  all my communist comrades I had not seen for the duration of the war. However it soon became apparent that the Communists did not want Jews in their ranks any more. I was so angry by this attitude that I left the party and threw my membership card at the face of the section leader.

Houses of collaborators were marked with swastikas.

At the time there was a lot of confusion and I could not be sure that Natan was still alive. I kept on receiving contradictory information, and saw everyone returning except for my husband.

I contacted the Red Cross and they told me that Natan had died. They sent me the name of the person who could confirm this. he was responsible for collecting evidence of deaths in the camps, and he confirmed that he had seen evidence that Natan had indeed died.

I could not stop crying after I received the news.I think I cried out all the tears I had. Today I do not cry anymore.

My son wanted to come back after the liberation, but there was no way I could have looked after him in the tiny apartment Natan and I had hid in during the war: Karl finally returned a year after the war was over.  

Immediately after the war I accepted to work in a workshop making jackets. I left it very soon and I started working on my own  for old clients. Thanks to the work, I managed to  earn enough to look for a new place to live and work in. It wasn’t easy for a ‘war widow’ to get an apartment. I also started to receive a pension as widow for a resistance fighter.

I found an apartment in rue Artan, 29 in Schaerbeek  with a kitchen, a little bedroom for Charles with a separate entrance and a little room for my clients with a balcony.

Charles left school and I advised him to start university as he could do so without having to pay tuition fees  (I assume because he was orphan and or child of a recognized Resistance fighter). One day, I fell  ill from nervous exhaustion and  had to go to the hospital. Charle’s life wasn’t easy. He finished his Chemistry Degree at the age of 22.

Between my nervous  breakdowns, I worked. I also  looked after my son, particularly about his clothing  as I wanted to avoid people feeling sorry for him and thinking of him as a ‘poor orphan’.

I was getting old and I decided to move from ‘rue Artan’. Charles started to work and he left home. I felt lonely. 

I got the opportunity to take over the apartment of my friends, the Gruszows where I still live today (1979)  on avenue du Diamant, 184 

I have a living-room, a bedroom, a bathroom, hall, a kitchen and gas heating. I worked until I was 65.

I have just reached my  77th year (27/09/1902) and as  I write these lines it’s more or less 50 years after arriving  in Belgium. 

My son, now working as teacher in a secondary school  is married with a gentle wife and he has a boy named David. 

I feel a bit lonely, most of my friends are dead and I’m waiting for my turn. I hope it won’t come too fast as I would like to see my grandson become a boy. 

Charles died in a diving accident on April 4th 1981. 

Cesia died in February 1982, broken by sadness

 

Last update August 2019