Note: This story contains disturbing details. I’m reminded of a meme that goes something like this… “History isn’t yours to be offended over. It is precisely that, history. If you find yourself offended, that’s a good thing. It means that you’re very unlikely to repeat that history.”
Names have been changed and the memoir details have been paraphrased to keep the house’s address from all the wrong people.
Eliana and Asher
This was the home of Eliana and her husband Asher. Asher was born in Krakow, Poland in 1909. Eliana was born in Złoczów in 1921. Eliana lost her mother at the age of 16 and from that point on she became the primary household cook and cleaner. One year later a man showed up at her father’s house seeking a place to stay for the night. That man turned out to be Asher. She made him a bowl of chicken soup and that was the beginning of their future.
Poland was invaded on September 1, 1939 marking the start of the Second World War. During the war, Eliana’s older brother was taken away to a camp in Russia and was never seen again.
By 1941, the couple were married and expecting their first child. Eliana felt that despite the tumultuous times they were living in, that it was the will of God that she was going to have this child. Their house had suffered damage from bombing but to repair the house meant being seen. To make matters worse, some of their friends and neighbours had already tried robbing items from the house.
One day the family was sitting in their house, cold and hungry when they heard a knock on the door. They opened it expecting to find Nazi soldiers but instead found two young boys with sticks. The boys demanded that the men of the house follow them. Eliana’s younger brother was allowed to remain at home to care for her.
Asher was led by the two boys to a location where he was to be executed. While on the way, a German soldier unaware that he was a Jew, stopped him to ask if he knew where he could get his radio repaired. The town had two people who were radio technicians. Asher got into the car with the German soldier and took him to where he could have his radio repaired. It happened that both technicians had already been taken from their homes and were going to be killed.
Asher persuaded the soldier to take him to the execution spot so that the two technicians could be found. The German soldier urgently wanted his radio repaired and so he did just that. As a result of this intervention, two young men were saved, the radio repaired and Asher was brought home afterwards. While this took place over the course of two hours, to Eliana it felt like a lifetime.
Eliana’s husband had been saved from execution but her father had also been taken away by the Germans. Her father had been pushed into a grave and was waiting for his turn to be shot. He prayed to God for a miracle and a miracle did happen. A big rainstorm suddenly appeared and the German soldiers left. A neighbour touched his arm and told him that the killers had fled. Asher made his way back home.
Eliana’s husband and father survived but the family lost their uncles and cousins,
There was a mass grave at the top of a nearby hill. The town’s people were unsure if or when they’d be murdered. Some of them formed a special organization to help the Germans in hopes that their lives would be spared. They turned on their fellow neighbours. The Germans would try to get what they needed from the group, and if goods weren’t delivered on time or in full, the next morning trucks would arrive to take away as many Jewish people as could be found.
Asher worked as a dentist and fortunately still had many friends in the community. In return for his dentistry services, food would be smuggled into the house.
Eliana’s son was born in 1942 but it wasn’t a joyful occasion. Instead, people asked her what was the point in being born if you were only going to die. One week later a man arrived early in the morning under the cover of darkness to perform the circumcision. The family hoped that perhaps their lives might be spared because of having a baby.
Six months went by. One evening there was a mass killing in the town. The entire town was surrounded. Eliana dressed up like a country girl and fled with her husband. They walked through the eerily quiet night hoping that nobody would stop to question them. They walked to where a Ukrainian woman lived, hoping that they might be able to stay in the barn for the night. Suddenly they found themselves under searchlights. At the same time the searchlights found the family, the family fell into a ditch that was in front of them. The Germans lost sight of the family.
They returned to their home the next day and found that many more innocent people had been killed.
For months the family sat by their radio listening for news hoping that freedom had arrived. Sadly, freedom was nowhere to found. The Germans were running low on bullets so they began using gas chambers. Another method used was electrocution.
One morning the family heard strange voices outside. Eliana’s father and brother went to hide in a secret spot they’d built and insisted that she also come in with the baby. What if the baby began crying though, the lives of the entire family were at risk?
She decided to take a chance and escape to a nearby Christian neighbour. The Germans didn’t search a Christian house as frequently as a Jewish house. Asher was sent to the next-door house to ask for permission for them to stay there. The neighbours were willing to risk certain death than to turn the family in. As soon as the family was inside the neighbour’s house, they looked out the window to see Germans were in the backyard where the couple had been just moments ago.
The neighbour hid Eliana and the baby behind a dresser and put Asher in a closet. There was a knock on the door. Their lives were now in the hands of God. While the Germans searched the house, Eliana hid shaking and trembling. She made faces at her baby who responded by smiling. Their lives depended on the child remaining quiet. Those that were found inside Eliana’s house were taken away, while Eliana, Asher, her father and brother were safely hidden next door.
By the time Eliana’s baby was one year old, the Germans gathered up all of the Jews and put confined them to a section of the town enclosed with barbed wire. This allowed the Germans to finish off the Jews whenever they wanted as well as force them to work in slave camps.
Asher began looking for someone who would take the family into their house and hide them there until the end of the war. He found one woman offered to take the family in, where she was living with her elderly father. The woman was reluctant to take the entire family (father, brother), only Eliana, Asher and the child.
(Note: I’m not certain if this was in the barbed wire confined part of town. This part confused me.)
The elderly man liked the family, but seemed to be fearful of his own daughter. He allowed Eliana’s father and brother to stay in the house provided that they remain hidden from his daughter. Things seemed quite peaceful in the new house.
A few weeks later they noticed people cutting down trees from the nearby forest. There was a knock at the door and two German soldiers informed the man that there was going to be some shooting and that it wasn’t safe for him to remain in the house.
The man fled taking only his jacket and dog. In the barn was a hiding spot in the ground, large enough for five people to hide in. The family hid out in the grave-like shelter and tried to hear what was going on.
Finally, Asher couldn’t take it anymore. He crawled out to peer through the cracks in the barn. A half mile away the Germans had dug out a mass grave site. The remaining townspeople were brought in on trucks, undressed and then lined up beside the grave. One by one they were shot in the back of the head, falling on top of one another.
This went on for several days, day and night. The family prayed that they’d be spared from the terror outside. Unbeknownst to them, the daughter of the old man had already hatched a plan. She informed the German soldiers of the hidden Jewish family.
German soldiers were on their way through the village. They stopped to ask a farm boy how to get to the home. The boy offered to take the solders to the home. There happened to be another farmer in the village with the same last name so when the soldiers arrived, they searched the wrong house.
Asher and Eliana decided to go return to their house back in the town. They walked through the night and arrived at their former home. They knocked lightly at the window and woke up the man who was now living there. Early next morning his wife came down to ask where they’d come from and why. The woman was afraid for her life but seemed to take pity on the family with young child.
(Edit: I’m not certain who was living in their former home or why. Perhaps non-Jewish occupants from the now barbed wire enclosed housing)
The man went to the market to try to sell his coat in exchange for some bread. When he returned, unsuccessful, Eliana and Asher offered him their possessions in exchange for allowing them to stay.
Twenty-two months passed. The Russians were bombing the area and the people were fleeing to the country rather than stay in the dangerous town. Asher and Eliana remained in the dark cellar of their former house. They heard the Germans upstairs, who were now using the house to treat wounded soldiers. They were so close to being free, if the baby would just remain quiet.
They were five people in total living on one piece of bread and water in the dark cellar. They didn’t know whether it was day or night.
After three years they were able to walk out to freedom. The family was quite fortunate as there were no other families in town. Men were without wives, vice-versa and children were without parents. The town of 15,000 people was reduced to approximately 100.
Their child whispered for a long period of time because he’d never learned how to speak out loud.
In 1945 the family welcomed their second child, a girl. In 1947 the family arrived at a refugee camp in Austria. They chose to start a new life in Canada where they had some relatives. They arrived in Canada on July 28, 1948.
In 1968 Asher built the family home, a home which remained in the family to this day. It has three bedrooms and five bathrooms. The most striking feature of the house of course is it’s unaltered interior retro look.
Asher passed away in 2006. Since that time, Eliana lived with the assistance of personal support workers. I have no information on what their occupations were once they were living in Canada. I believe Eliana was a stay-at-home mother. She passed away in 2022.
Between 6 million and 11 million people were killed during World War II.
Personal note: We attempted to explore this house once, it was locked and so we walked away. Another explorer wanted in so badly, he pried the door. Information for this story was taken from Eliana’s memoirs and a video memorial. All research by TWP.
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