05.04.2022 | Redaktor

02. Mundek and Cyla Strauber

Mundek (Chaim Jakub) Strauber, son of the merchant Israel Ber Strauber and Estera née Bruck, was born on November 3, 1908 in Dolina (now in Ukraine, before the war in the Tarnopol Province in Poland). The family moved to Brzesko, where Mundek attended secondary school in 1920-1927. He was listed in the documents as Chaim Jakub, but all his acquaintances and friends knew him as Mundek. After completing high school, he continued his studies at the Faculty of Law at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and after graduation, he returned to Brzesko as a lawer.

High school record of Chaim Strauber, 1926/27. He had the highest marks in history, geography, physics, mathematics and religion – “based on rabbi’s certificate, very good at learning religion”. The original of this record is kept in the archives of the Brzesko high school.

When he was tutoring high school students in mathematics, Mundek fell in love with Cyla (Tsila), who was five years younger than him. Cyla’s father, Chaim Krauter, was the owner of a bookshop and a printing house in Brzesko.

Advertisement of Chaim Krauter’s printing house and bookstore in the “Economic Guide of the Kielce, Krakow and Silesia Voivodeships” for 1938; image comes from the website https://genealogyindexer.org/ Similar advertisement could be found as early as 1912 in the “Industrial and commercial index of the kingdom of Galicia”.

The Krauter family had lived in Brzesko for at least several generations. The matzevah of Cyla’s grandfather, merchant Mojżesz Krauter (1829-1903) has survived at the Brzesko Jewish cemetery.

Matzeva of Mojżesz Krauter, son of Isaak and Doba, at the Brzesko Jewish cemetery.
“He studied the Torah and delved into it day and night…
Guided his sons to keep the Torah of God all his life…
God will bind his soul in the bundle of life
A heavenly army will take him to Heaven…”

Chaim and Lea Krauter were Orthodox Jews. Cyla (Ciża) was the youngest of their children. She was born in Brzesko on March 14, 1913; parents named the daughter after her great-grandmother, Cyla (Ciża) Rosenblut. Like many other Brzesko Jews, Cyla also studied in a secondary school, where she met Janina Kaczmarowska.

High school record of Cyla Krauter, 1929/30. The original of this record is kept in the archives of the Brzesko high school.

The girls soon became friends. Many years later, Mrs. Kaczmarowska (1914-2017) shared about her friend, her family, about the love and tragic death of Cyla and Mundek:

“I had such a friend at school, Cyla Krauter. She was so beautiful, with long light curly hair. She came from a very orthodox house, even the housekeeper was Jewish. Her father had a bookstore and a printing house. I often visited them at home. I remember, once it was Saturday evening – after the Sabbath, it happened before the war. A table, challah, 9-arm candlestick, old Krauter stands in front of the table in his Talit (prayer shawl). (I think it happened during Hanukkah, festival of lights, that’s why there was a hanukkiah on the table – a 9-arm candlestick. A.B.)

– Sorry to disturb you. I see, you are praying.

– No. But even if I prayed, we can pray together, we have one decalogue. Do you remember?

I recited all 10 commandments.

– And as a Jew, am I your neighbour?

– Of course. That’s how I was taught at home – we have one God.

– For your mother, father – I know I’m a neighbour. And for your brother?

Around that time my brother Leopold  joined this nationalistic organization, All-Polish Youth. Once in school, several boys were called to the headmaster, and from his office – to the city mayor. He told them: “Jews pay taxes the same way we do, they cannot be discriminated. (The boys were supposed to put up posters “Don’t buy from a Jew.”) If you still want to belong to this organization, I’ll tell the headmaster, you’ll be expelled and won’t be able to get to any school. “

All the boys promised they would back off. My brother kept his promise. Later he worked in Radziwiłłów on the Polish-Ukrainian border. He had a Jewish friend who saved my brother, He learned that the NKVD was to take Poles to Siberia and told my brother about it. Poldek managed to escape and survive Soviet occupation.

Janina Kaczmarowska in Brzesko, 1938. Photo from the family archive of Mrs Kaczmarowska.

And Cyla did not survive the war. She had a fiancée, Mundek Strauber. They were such a beautiful couple. Mundek’s mother converted to Catholicism, so when Cyla fell in love with him, her parents refused to agree to their wedding. It was only after the death of Cyla’s mother in 1938 that they could get married. Mundek was so handsome and clever. He taught us maths while we were still at high school. He later became a lawyer. And Cyła has always been so elegant. Her older sister lived with her husband in Vienna, she often sent Cyla different clothes. I remember how she walked through Brzesko in such a black fur coat. And the hat was also black.

Mundek (Chaim Jakub) Strauber. Photo from the „Chronicles of the town of Brzesko” by Jan Burlikowski. We couldn’t find any photo of Cyla.

Both of them were shot.  It happened in Brzesko, not far from Uszwica river. I don’t remember, whether it was in 1940 or 1941. They went somewhere together. They saw Germans and started running away. Mundek was killed immediately, but Cyla didn’t see it, she kept running. She was hit about 50 m away, right by the river. I was walking when a  friend called me: “Have you seen Cyla?” I ran to Uszwica and heard such a strange sound. Right away I saw my Cyla. The bullet hit her throat. When she tried to breathe, pink bubbles came out of that hole in her throat. It was so scary.

I ran to her brother-in-law, he brought people, took Cyla to the Jewish hospital, it was in the building of the synagogue at Berka  Jóselewicza street. She lived for several more days. When I came to her, she was still conscious, she kept asking me about Mundek. And I lied to her. I said Mundek was waiting for her. She just needs to recover as soon as possible. I held her hand when she died.

According to Mrs. Kaczmarowska’s testimony, that’s where Jewish hospital was located during the war. Hasidic synagogue at Berka Joselewicza street. Photo taken by Schaje Weiss in 1929. © Charles Weiss Jr

During the funeral, I met her friend – a brightly dressed Jewish woman. She was in a beige jacket, bright skirt. I was surprised, it is inappropriate clothing for such an occasion. But she replied: “We are happy that Cyla died in such a way – in bed, surrounded by her family. Who knows what will happen to us”

They were buried together, not far from the cemetery gate, on the left next to the wall. There was only such an simple concrete slab, no monument on the grave. Several years later I tried to find their grave, but everything was so overgrown with grass that I found nothing. Maybe you can do it?

Only Mundek’s sister Lonka survived the war. She  converted to Catholicism, and during the war she was hiding in the presbytery of priest Opoka in Wierzchosławice.

That time in the hospital, when I was visiting Cyla, an old Jewish woman called me, she was yellow as a lemon. She asked me if I was Jewish. I said no, I’m Polish, I just came to visit my friend. She was surprised – “I haven’t seen Poles in this hospital yet”. And then she took my hand and blessed me: “You will live long life.” She was right, I’m still alive. Already 102 years. Sometimes I recall that blessing. ” (From the testimony by Janina Kaczmarowska recorded by Anna Brzyska in May 2016.)

Janina Kaczmarowska in Brzesko, 2016

In 2017, with the help of Mr. Aleksander Schwarz from the Central Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries, we could locate the grave of Mundek and Cyla Strauber. A wooden matzevah with a simple plaque was placed on it.

The grave of Strauber spouses, 2017

Due to several archival documents we could complete the story shared by Mrs Kaczmarowska. Cyla’s mother, Lea Krauter nee Muller, died in Brzesko on June 30, 1939 (and not in 1938, as Mrs Kaczmarowska remembered); she had diabetes.

On June 8, 1941, Cyla Krauter and Chaim Jakub (Mundek) Strauber got married in Brzesko in the presence of rabbi Chaim Teitelbaum. Most likely they didn’t have any special celebration — the Jews were being severely persecuted at that time, even if the Brzesko ghetto was not yet sealed. They were probably murdered several months after their marriage, during one of the actions in the Brzesko ghetto in 1942. At least in front of God, they were husband and wife.

And Mrs Kaczmarowska, having been blessed by that old Jewish woman, lived till 103 and a half. Just a few days before her death, we talked, I showed her photos of the new monument on the mass grave of Brzesko Jews and that wooden matzeva of Mundek and Cyla. We could commemorate these places solely due to Mrs Kaczmarowska’s testimonies. She was so happy.

Zdjęcie 10. Tego zdjęcia na razie nie ma, zostawić puste miejsce

The monument on the grave of the Strauber spouses was erected in 2022 by the Forgotten Foundation and the voluntary association Memory and Dialogue: Common History with the financial support of The Matzevah Foundation

May their memory be an eternal blessing.

© Anna Brzyska, 2022