Markus (Mordechai) Hirsch Eichenholz, son of Chaskel Feniger and Gitel Eichenholz, was born in Brzesko on March 13, 1889. His father came from Nowy Wisnicz, and his mother’s family lived in Brzesko at least for 3 generations. Chaskel Feniger (1864-1910) and Gittel Eichenholz (1866-1927) never got legally married, that’s why their children had their mother’s last name. (It was often the case in Galicia – young Jewish couples got married only in the presence of rabbi as marriage registration by the state costed money which they simply didn’t have. Sometimes they would get legally married later, when their material situation improved. After that comments would be added to birth records of their children, and based on that children were allowed to take their father’s last name.
Markus Hirsch was the eldest of 8 children born berween 1889-1905. He had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. The family was not particularly well-off. They didn’t own any property, rather rented some rooms, moving from house to house – according to birth recordfs of their children, all of them were born in different houses. But they stayed together, being helped by mother of Gittel Eichenholz, Sara. Gittel’s father Markus Eichenholz died early, when she was about 5. And Gittel’s eldest son received name after his deceased grandfather.
Scheindel Rywa Flug, daughter of Chaim Wolf Lerner (1850-1927) and Genendel Flug (1850-1919) was born in Nowy Wisnicz on February 13, 1887. She was one of 10 siblings, 7 sisters and 3 brothers, all born in Nowy Wiśnicz.
On April 30, 1913. Markus Hirsch Eichenholz got married to Scheindel Rywa Flug in Wisnicz in the presence of rabbi Naftali Rubin. He was tailor journeyman at the time. Young couple decided to live in Brzesko. In less than 2 years their first son Chaskel was born. 6 more children followed, but 2 boys died before receiving the name:
– Chaskel, born 1915
– Hudes Debora, born 1918
– Israel Jakob, born 1920
– Szyja, born 1925
– Male baby, born and died in 1926
– Male baby, born and died in 1930
– Chaim Wolf, born 1931
Only 2 children of Markus Hirsch Eichenholz and Scheindel Rywa Flug survived the Holocaust. Hudes Debora, Chaim Wolf and their mother Scheindel Rywa perished in Auschwitz, and Israel Jakob was murdered in Szebnie concentration camp. At least 5 siblings of Scheindel Rywa also perished in Auschwitz together with their families.
Several years after the war Chaskel Eichenholz emigrated to Israel and his younger brother Szyja – to the United States. They got married and had children in their respective countries. Their descendants still live in the US and in Israel and come to Brzesko, the hometown of their ancestors.
Luckily, we can learn a lot about the life of this family from the testimony of Szyja (Sidney) Eichenholz recorded in 1997 by the USC Shoah Foundation. Mr Eichenholz shared about the life of his famlily before the war; their war-time experiences and the story of his survival due to being included in Oscar Schindler list. Below is the partial transcript of the testimony.
Testimony od Szyja (Sidney) Eichenholz, Brooklyn, NY, USA, June 25, 1997 (transcription of videorecording, USC Shoah Foundation)
I was born in Brzesko Słotwina on January 20, 1925. About 400-450 Jewish families lived in Brzesko at the time. I would say, about 80% of them were religious. Brzesko was a small town, but you could buy everything you needed. My father, Markus (Mordechai) Hirsch Eichenholz was born in Brzesko, and mother came from Wisnicz. We didn’t have a house, we were tenants, lived in one room. My eldest brother Chaskel was born in 1915. I don’t remember it myself, but he told me, that up to 1929, when the crash came, we were well off – we had a store with clothes for men.
In 1929 it became very difficult. My father was advised to declare bankruptcy. But he was a very religious and honest person. He paid all debts, but ever since we really struggled financially.
We were 5 siblings, 4 brothers and a sister. We lived at Łazienna street (now Pushkina – A.B.), rented one room from Chaskel Niederman, paid 10 złotych a month. Parents and 5 children, all lived in one room. There was no water in the house, we had to go to the well for water for cooking, washing, everything. Luckily, the well was not so far away.
My mother had 4 sisters living in Leipzig, and one of them sent her son David to stay with us, so there were 8 of us living together. But that sister helped us, sent clothes. At night we would put mattrasses on the floor so that to sleep. In winter it was so cold- frost would stay on the windows for several months. We didn’t have enough wood to heat our room
We spoke Yiddish at home. Friday morning father came home with some money. Mother baked challah, went to the market to buy a chicken and then to a Jewish butcher. Father came back from shul, we would sit at the table, eat challah, a piece of fish, chicken, chulent. What was in chulent? – Potatoes and some fat. We were very happyt. We forgot about everything else on Shabes.
We were very poor. How we earned living? – In 1931-32 father started going to villages around Brzesko to buy milk and later sold it in the town. He would get up very early, leave house at 5 am, observe peasants milk their cows and buy milk from them. He earned just enough to buy some basic food for us.
My mother, Scheindel Flug, had 6 sisters and 3 brothers. Her father was a teacher, he taught Tora to Jewish boys. Her mother passed away early, so grandfather lived with us. His name was Chaim Hirsch. He decided to live with his favourite daughter – his 4 daughters lived in Leipzig, but 3 others in Poland, and he chose my mother.
My father’s father passed away very young, I never met him.
Around 1934 my elder brother Chaskel started turning away from religion. There was no future for us. You couldn’t study without money. He left home, went to Kraków looking for job, then went to the army. I remained in the house with a sister and 2 brothers. It was very difficult for my father to accept Chaskel’s choice.
My sister Hadasa born in 1918. She was helping mother a lot. She didn’t marry before the war. She met someone in 1941 whom she wanted to marry, but it never happened, she was murdered.
I first went to Polish school, finished 4 grades. We learned to read and write. When I was 10, the rabbi – we lived near him – told my father that I should quit school. Boys and girls studied at that school together, and rabbi said, it wasn’t good for me to continue studying there. In 1935 I started going to cheder.
In December 1937 father came home and started speaking in such a strange way. We understood that something bad was happening. Dr Weisberg came and said, that father had a stroke and we had to take him to the hospital in Kraków. My mother went to our Rabbi. Wielopole rabbi, Lipschitz, had many followers. When my father got sick, the Rabbi asked one of his followers in Kraków, and he helped us, paid for the hospital.
My oldest brother Chaskel was in the army in Lemberg, but he was given 3 days off and went to the hospital in Kraków so that to see father. When they met, father made it clear that he wanted to come back home. On January 2, 1938 he was brought to Brzesko. It was very cold, lots of snow everywhere. My father was unconscious. On Wednesday my mother said: „Let us go to the cemetery to pray by the grave of my father.” When we came back, mother told father: „We prayed for you”. He reacted to these words, he wanted to cry. At 6 in the morning he died.
My brother had to go back to Lemberg, he couldn’t stay for the funeral. But many people came. It was January 6, 1938.
Until this day I feel bad that I couldn’t put matzeva on my father’s grave. At the time we didn’t have money. There was only a piece of concrete on his grave. And later, after the war, when I tried to find his grave, I couldn’t.
There were 4 of us kids left at home. I had my Bar Mitzva right after my father’s death, but I hardly remember anything, we were concerned about my father. We didn’t even have money to buy tfilin, I put tfilin of my father.
My mother, Scheindel, was crying for an entire year. But we had to earn money. At 5 in the morning we would go to those peasants in different villages to buy milk. We were freezing, we didn’t have any gloves. My sister helped my mother, and my elder brother Chaskel as well when he came back from the army.
Six months after my father had passed away, I went to Bobov yeshiva, and from there I was sent to study in Biecz. It was organized so that each day I would eat in a different place, with a different Jewish family. I studied in Biecz for 5 months, together with 3 other Jewish boys from different towns.
In 1938 my mother’s sisters were deported from Leipzig, they came to Brzesko. Chane, mother of David who stayed with us, left in 1938 to Israel. But first she came to our town, gave us some money.
My father had one sister in Germany, Chaja Eichenholz. She married there, had kids, she also came back, all to our town. In 1938 it was already difficult. Most Jewish people couldn’t make a living. There were many antisemites, they put those slogans, „Nie kupuj u Żyda” – „Don’t buy from Jews”. There were no pogroms in Brzesko. But, for example, on Christmas, December 25, we wouldn’t go out, we were afraid.
In August 1939 I returned home from Biecz. By that time my elder brother Chaskel was in Brzesko, he came back from the army. War broke out on Friday, September 1. And already on Sunday there was such a panic.
I had 2 older brothers. My mother told them: „Please, leave.” All young men left eastwards. And I remained with my mother, sister and younger brother.
Two days later panic became unbearable, so mother said to me: „Please, go also.” Our landlord also wanted to go, so I joined him. When I was leaving, my mother gave me 5 złotych, that was everythong she had, she was left with nothing. But I didn’t touch the money.
We reached Dąbrowa, walked all the way, few people together: this Niederman and several other people. I had with me only tfilin and food for one day. While we walked, German planes were shooting at us from machine guns, we could see faces of pilots. Germans were already everywhere, so we returned to our town. Then my two older brothers also came back.
I cut off my payus. In 1939 Jews cut off their payus themselves, because otherwise Germans would do it. We still organized religious services, but shuls wsere closed. We had minjan, prayed, studied Torah together.
In 1940 it was kind of quiet. Jews were forced to wear bands with magendovid, but otherwise nothing too bad happened. Some Jews who had gone to Russia, came back to our town in 1940. It seemed not that bad.There was a curfew, you couldn’t go out after 9 pm. But we still went to the villages every morning to buy milk so that to sell it later in Brzesko. In 1940 you could still buy everything in the town if only you had money,
In February-March 1942, Germans started taking boys to work. Also my brother Jakob was taken to a camp, but then escaped and came back. And my brother Chaskel, because he had served in the army, was picked up for Jewish police in the town. He had to make sure that all Jews wore bands with magendovid and didn’t go out after 9 pm. It was not a desirable job, but he was picked up, he had to do it.
In 1941, each month it was becoming worse. But I still studied Torah with other boys.
In the beginning of 1942 actions started. Germans would kill whoever they met. In June Germans came suddenly, shot many people. Jews were also put in trucks, and later we learned that there was gas in those trucks, people were gassed.
Not far from Brzesko, in Czchów, they opened a camp. I went there in April or May 1942. And in June they made a ghetto in out town. People started making bunkers so that to hide. We had no toilets at home, only outside. My brother together with another person cleaned the entire hole under that toilet. And that hole became a hiding place. It was a small place, but 15 people could hide there.
The following day after Rosh HaShana, in September 1942, Germans circled the whole ghetto and my family hid in that hole. All Jews were taken to Bełżec. I was in Czchów at the time, my brother Chaskel later told me all of that, he survived the war.
25 members of Jewish police remained in the town so that to collect items that were left, whatever was left in the houses. At night Chaskel took our whole family – mother, sister, 2 brothers – and few other people to Bochnia, where ghetto still existed. My brother sent me message to Czchów, that everybody was OK, and he sent me some money so that I would buy some food.
Jewish police remained in Brzesko till December 1942. But my brother escaped earlier. He paid a Polish woman and got Aryan papers. He stayed with that lady. He was helping Jews from Bochnia to escape from ghetto, get to Hungary.
At some point Germans learnt that there was a man living outside of ghetto who was helping Jews. They took my sister to gestapo so that to to find out where he lived, but she wouldn’t tell. They beat her and brought to the wagons, from where Jews were taken to camp. Her boyfriend – he survived – saw it.
I was in Czchów camp at the time. I was there with an elder cousin, Jakob Gottselig. Germans treated us OK there. We were not beaten, received some soup and bread. I was there till October 1943. And in September we got the news that Bochnia ghetto was liquidated, all Jews were sent to Auschwitz. I remember, i was crying. My entire family was gone. And Jakob was shot in Szebnia camp.
One day we woke up and saw SS around. We were put on trucks and brought to a different camp, in Mielec. There was a big concentration camp there, I got a tatoo on my arm, 2 letters: KL. It was very bad there. We starved.
I always prayed, whatever I remembered by heart. But it was impossible to keep track of time – Shabos, Holy days.
In June 1944 we were put in cattle wagons, we were supposed to be taken to Auschwitz, but we were sent to Wieliczka instead, to a camp there. 200 people, we worked in the mine. Amon Goeth from Płaszów camp in Kraków came there, there was selection. My cousin Jakob Gottselig, who was together with me, told me to say that I was a skilled worker, but I didn’t. He – a skilled worker – was selected, sent to Flusburg in Germany and perished there. I remained in Wieliczka.
One day they took all of us to Płaszów. I was healthy at the time. Around Rosh HaShana 1944 I became part of a special team of prisoners called Ausgrabenkommando, there were about 60 of us. Every day we would go to Hujowa Górka, where we had to dig out dead bodies. We put them on platforms, put gasoline on the pile and burn them. Germans were killing people for several years there. We burned at least several thousand bodies – we were doing it for 6 weeks, only night shifts. It was horrible, I still have dreams about it. And that smell… (Hujowa Górka is a place near the site of Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, where in summer-autumn 1944 the bodies of around ten thousand previously murdered Jews were exhumed and incinerated, to hide the evidence of the crime – from an article in Wikipedia)
On October 14 we were called, put in cattle wagons and brought to Gross Rosen. Horrible place. We were told to undress and remained naked for entire night. Then we were brought to barracks, given new clothing and wooden shoes.
During the morning appeal I heard: „Szyja Eichenholz!” I later learnt that we were already on Schindler’s list. 700 men and 300 women. How Idid I get on Schindler’s list? – It’s an act of God. I heard about Schindler for the first time there. Mainly there were rich Jews from Kraków on that list. But all of us now had hope. (Son of Szyja Eichenholz, Israel Eichenholz, told me that his father never learned of the circumstances surrounding his being selected for Schindler’s list. He – and his family – firmly believed that it was the devine act of God that saved him. After Szyja’s death his son came across the story of Henryk Eichenholz who lived in Kraków before the war. Per Henryk’s testimony, he was in charge of a tailor shop that provided custom suits for Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth. He was issued a special permit to leave the ghetto and travel to Wawel castle to take measurements and deliver finished suits. Due to this close relationship, he expected to be placed on Schindler’s list, but he wasn’t, and it’s Szyja Eichenholz who was placed in the „Eichenholz” slot included on Schindler’s list. Luckily, Henryk – who might have been cousin of Szyja – also survived the war. A.B.)
It took us about a day to get to Brunnlitz in Czechoslowakia from Gross Rosen. There were only some buildings, we made the camp ourselves – fence, wire around. I worked outside and saw Schindler many times. 2 weeks before the end of the war Schindler called us. He said, he was sorry that he couldn’t do more, he didn’t have more means. We loved this man. He saved over 1000 people.
I came back to Kraków in 1945. I didn’t expect to see anyone, but my oldest brother was there. He had left Poland, went to Hungary by foot, was freed in March and came back to Kraków. I lived with him in 1945.
I went back to my town, Brzesko. Nothing left, everything gone. When I came, there were already 2 or 3 Jews who came back from the camps. I went to see where we lived – Poles were already living there. I kept crying. I was in Brzesko only for 2 days, couldn’t stay there. I went back to Kraków, lived there at Plac Zgody with my brother Chaskel.
In 1946 I went to Germany, and in 1948 – to Paris. I came to Paris together with Samuel Bransdorfer. Bobowa rabbi sent us papers that we need to come to the US as his students, but I got tuberculosis and in the ambassy they didn’t give me a visa. I came to the US only in 1950, had 20 USD with me. Samuel had been there already for a year, and it’s through him that I met Chane Ruda, to whom I got engaged. We married one year later.
My elder brother Chaskel was in Israel then. When I started working, I sent 10 USD to him every month.
I never qustioned existence of Hashem, even in camps. When I was a child we lived near shul. Wielopole rabbi, rabbi Lipschitz, was a great man. When I was 13, I said kadish over my father in his shul together with his minjan every day for a year. And every Friday he gave me 1 złoty.
Through all the years in the camps, I believed that there is Hashem in the world. The rabbi put that seed in me that hold me all these years. If I didn’t have this faith, I wouldn’t have survived. When you don’t believe, there is no aim in life.’
Szyja (Sidney) Eichenholz died on June 16, 2013 in the United States surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. According to his son Israel, „He was a most remarkable man! Being able to restart his shattered life after moving entirely alone, penniless to the US is in itself a remarkable testament.Combining that with his sterling character, perseverance and dedication to family is the benchmark that we strive to live up to.”
Descendants of Szyja Eichenholz sometimes come to Brzesko and have been supporting our projects on commemoration of Brzesko Jews for over 4 years.
Son and daughter of Chaskel Eichenholz live in Israel and joined March of Remembrance in Brzesko in 2017.
Four matzevot of of the members of Eichenholz clan survived at the Brzesko Jewish cemetery, they are being renovated.