In 1943, with Lvov's 150,000 Jews having been exiled, killed, or forced into ghettos and facing extermination, a group of Polish Jews daringly sought refuge in the city's sewer system. The last surviving member this group, Krystyna Chiger, shares one of the most intimate, harrowing and ultimately triumphant tales of survival to emerge from the Holocaust. The Girl in the Green Sweater is Chiger's harrowing first-person account of the fourteen months she spent with her family in the fetid, underground sewers of Lvov.
The Girl in the Green Sweater is also the story of Leopold Socha, the group's unlikely savior. A Polish Catholic and former thief, Socha risked his life to help Chiger's underground family survive, bringing them food, medicine, and supplies. A moving memoir of a desperate escape and life under unimaginable circumstances, The Girl in the Green Sweater is ultimately a tale of intimate survival, friendship, and redemption.
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KRYSTYNA CHIGER survived the Holocaust by hiding with her family in the sewers of Lvov, Poland for 14 months. A retired dentist, she lives in Long Island. DANIEL PAISNER has collaborated on many books, including the New York Times bestselling Last Man Down: A Firefighter's Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneKOPERNIKA 12 Like a princess. That is how I grew up, like a character from a storybook fable. At least, that is how I grew up for a while. I was born on October 28, 1935, at a time when Lvov was one of the most vibrant cities in Poland. It was a magical place, a Renaissance city, only it was not the best place to be a Jew. There were over 600,000 people in Lvov in the middle 1930s, including about 150,000 Jews. We were Jewish, of course, but we were not terribly religious. We observed the Sabbath. My mother, Paulina Chiger, always lit the candles. We celebrated Passover. But we did not go to temple. On the High Holidays we would go, but the rest of the year we observed at home or not at all. We would light the Yahrtzeit candles on the anniversary of a death, but we would not always say the prayers. We were Jewish by tradition more than we were Jewish by faith, yet a strong sense of Jewish identity ran through our household. That came from my mother’s side of the family. My father’s side did not believe in God. They considered themselves Jewish, so they also had that strong identity, but it was more of a heritage than a religion. They were Socialists and Communists. They were more concerned with social justice. They would not be treated like second-class citizens. In their minds, I think, the thought that all people are created equal was a way to lift the Jews to level ground. You see, even before the war, the Jewish people in Lvov were sometimes made to suffer, usually at the hands of the Ukrainians. People today, they do not talk about this. Or they do not remember. But it was so. My father told me stories about how he used to walk through certain parts of the city and Ukrainian boys would lash at him with razor blades taped to long sticks, tearing at his clothes. He said it was like a game to these boys, taunting and intimidating the Jewish men who crossed their path. This was not the only discrimination my father experienced, yet it is the example that has stayed with me. I did not know of such things as a small girl. All I knew was that we lived in a grand apartment and that I did not want for anything. I had fine clothes, wonderful toys. My maternal grandmother used to bring me souvenirs from Vienna, where she would go on buying trips for her textile business. She brought me a lovely silk robe, which I remember wearing constantly. I used to jump up and down on my parents’ bed, wearing this robe. Jumping with me was my imaginary friend, Melek. This Melek, he was my constant companion. I talked to him. He answered me. Later, when we were in the sewer, he kept me company. I do not know how I came to invent this Melek, how he got his name. It was a nonsense name, Melek. It does not mean anything in Polish. It was just a name. Melek. Together we laughed and laughed, jumping on my parents’ bed. My grandmother also brought me beautiful dolls and a spectacular dollhouse, with a kitchen and furniture. I had the whole set, all the different rooms, all the proper pieces. Today, a dollhouse like that would cost thousands of dollars. It was my most prized possession, and I would lose myself in my imagined world of that dollhouse, inventing fantastic little lives for the people who lived there. The people who lived in my dollhouse were not Jewish or Christian, Polish or Ukrainian, Russian or Hungarian. They were just people, and they were happy with their nice things, their nice furniture, their nice families. In my imagination, the dollhouse was on a charming street in Lvov, not far from our apartment at Kopernika 12, in the nicest part of the city. This was my reality corresponding to my fantasy. Our building on Kopernika Street is still there, and the street is much the same, but it is darker now, more dreary. It is different from the picture I have carried in my mind for so many years. The colors have all changed. The trees that line the street no longer appear to bloom. Or perhaps they do and I no longer see it. Maybe it is because I cannot look at the city the same way I did when I was a child, when it was filled with fine, happy things. Maybe it is because of everything that happened there, and how violently and suddenly everything was taken from my family, beginning with our apartment. We had four bedrooms, with a nice entry hall, a big dining room, a kitchen, two full bathrooms, and two entrances, one for the labor and one for our family and guests. There were wrought-iron gates opening out onto the street, balconies overlooking the street in front and the courtyard in back, and a vaulted ceiling on top of the interior stairwell, throwing light onto the entryways of each individual apartment. Absolutely, it was like my special dollhouse, like a fantasy. To me it was like a palace, because I really did feel like a princess. I was an only child for a time, so there was no place else for my parents to lavish their attentions. Everything was made especially for me. I had a nanny, who wore a starched white uniform. We had a house keeper, who wore a traditional maid’s uniform. In our china cabinet, we had a Rosenthal service set for thirty-two, though I do not recall that we ever set our dining room table for thirty-two guests. Still, I believe the contrast of how we lived before the war with how we lived later is important. I do not mean to boast, but to compare. Certainly, we lived well. My mother used to take me for my clothes to a store called Mickey Mouse. It was just the name of the store. It had nothing to do with Walt Disney, but it was a fine clothing store, and I used to stand on a very high stool while a woman pinched here and there and took my measurements to make my clothes. Like a princess, that is how it was for me. That was my life. It is hard to imagine what happened to Lvov during the Russian occupation, and how it was torn apart during German rule, but the city I remember was beautiful. There were so many exciting things to do and see, so many wonderful things to eat, so many opportunities all around. It was such a shame to see how it deteriorated, first under the Russians and then under the Germans, because it had been a place of heart and hope and happiness. Even a child could notice the transformation. There was a park down the street from our building, and I used to go there almost every day when the weather was mild. My nanny would walk me there and sit on the bench while I played with my friends. Through the open windows, in summer, you could always hear laughter and singing. We would play in a little courtyard behind our building, until it was time to go inside for supper. In winter, after a fresh snow, the streets were quiet and still and beautiful, like a postcard. Yes, I had a very good life, only I did not like my nanny very much. This was my one wrinkle. She was very strict. She never laughed. In my family, we were always laughing, always joking, so my time with my dour nanny was very serious. It was not a lot of fun. I remember that she tried to feed me constantly and that I did not want to eat, not with her. I kept the food in my cheeks and spat it out when I thought she was not looking. Perhaps I was just being rebellious, because I never gave my mother any trouble when it came to eating. Or our house keeper. Her name was Marisha, and she used to say, "Mrs. Chiger, I do not know what it is. With the nanny, she does not want to eat at all. With you, she is finished in five minutes." My parents owned a textile store called Gold Textiles on Boimow Street, one of the first Jewish streets in Lvov. Most of the merchants on the street were Jewish. There were apartments above the stores, and most of the people who lived there were Jewish, too, but everybody came to our store. Christian, Ukrainian, Russian . . . it did not matter. My parents had good customers from every background. It was a very successful store. My mother worked there full-time, which was unusual back then, but not so unusual for me. It was all I knew, so that was that. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, she also worked full-time, so I did not think anything of it. My grandparents also worked as textile merchants, and my parents’ store was like an extension of theirs. A favorite outing with my nanny was to go to my parents’ store and wait for my mother to finish her work. Oh, I loved to go to the store, with its wonderful textures and supplies and smells. Such a busy place! There were giant rolls of fabrics, and the people would come and my mother would take down the fabrics and show the customers the designs. She would spread out the material on a big table and run her hands over it, to smooth it down. Her movements were so crisp, so professional. It felt good to be among all those grown-ups, all those nice materials. I was proud of my mother, watching her work in such an important job, moving about in such an important way, helping the people to pick out their materials and to plan their alterations. Everyone was always so excited, coming to my parents’ store, because out of that visit would come so many pleasant things like draperies for their home or a new dress for a special occasion. It was a place where people were preparing to be happy. Some evenings, I would wait for my mother on the steps in front of the store. I can still remember one of my parents’ regular customers passing me on her way inside and asking me what color I liked best. She called me by my name, Krysha. This was what everybody called me, except my father, who called me Krzysha. The first was a popular diminutive of my name, Krystyna, an intimacy; the second was especially so. In Polish, you can hear the difference. I answered that I liked yellow, and when she was through with her shopping the customer passed me once again on the steps out in front and handed me a small yellow swatch of material. It was just a little something I could maybe use for my dollhouse, a little something to make me smile. In the summer, we vacationed in the Polish countryside. This was not so unusual among the Jewish families of Lvov. We rented a house with my aunt and her family. We stayed for two months each summer. My father went back to Lvov during the week, but my mother did not work the entire summer. It was a wonderful retreat. Everywhere you looked, there were yellow sunflowers. Acres and acres of brilliant yellow sun flowers. How I loved those flowers! I spent most of my time running up and down those fields, lost in my own fantasy world. I remember one day, I was asked to do some type of chore around the house, and I did not want to do it. The woman who was renting us the house scolded me and said, "If you do not listen, Baba Yaga will come and get you." Baba Yaga was like a witch, from a popular folk tale. This scared me, but still I did not listen. I neglected my chores and went outside to play. I was afraid, but I was also bold. My father’s name was Ignacy Chiger, and I do not think he enjoyed working at the store. It provided a very good living, and for this he was grateful, but if it had been up to him, he would have done something else. He was a very intelligent man, a very creative thinker. He had a PhD in philosophy and history. He could have been anything, but he attended school at a time when Jews were prohibited from certain occupations. This was the result of a government plan called numerus clausus, and it is proof that even before the Second World War, even before the Germans, life was very difficult for Polish Jews. My father would have been a doctor, but he could not study medicine. He could have gone to another country to study, but this was also difficult. It was even difficult for him to finish his studies in philosophy and history. No one would sit next to him in the lecture halls. He might never have gotten his degree were it not for a very good friend, who happened to be Ukrainian and who acted like a kind of bodyguard for my father, protecting him from the young Ukrainian hoodlums who would torment the young Jewish men. Once my father had completed his degree, starting his own business as an outgrowth of my grandparents’ business seemed like the best option available to him, and he made a great success of it. The store provided my family with a comfortable living, even if it meant my father could not pursue a life of the mind. He would be a shopkeeper, a merchant, instead of a university professor, instead of a doctor, instead of a well- known writer, and he would continue to read and learn and consider new ideas in his own way. That was just fine with him, because he had a family to support. Nothing was more important. All was right in our little corner of the world, in our little corner of Poland, until 1939. Early on in 1939, something wonderful happened, but after that something terrible happened, and the two events changed my world completely. The something wonderful was the birth of my baby brother, Pawel. We all called him Pinio. He was born on May 18, 1939. It was a church holiday, and my parents sent me out of the house with our house keeper, Marisha, as a distraction. My mother was to give birth at home, and they did not want me in the apartment with all the excitement, so Marisha took me to the park and then to the church. She was not Jewish, of course. She wanted to see the service, but I kept tugging at her arm, wanting to go home, knowing on some level that she was keeping me from something. I did not know the first thing about babies and pregnancy, but I knew my parents’ moods. I knew there was something they were not telling me. When we finally returned home, my father announced that he had a present for me, and I walked in to see my mother holding Pinio. Here is how he came to us, I thought: my mother placed several cubes of sugar on the carpet by the window, and the stork came and took the sugar and left my brother behind. For years, this was what I believed. There was another present waiting for me that afternoon— a beautiful French pinscher we called Pushek. The name loses something in the translation, but it had to do with the goose-down feathers that call to mind a fresh snowfall. Our Pushek, he was so little and so white, like a snowball. He joined the two yellow canaries we kept in a cage in our living room to give us a regular menagerie. Now, between the baby and the animals, our apartment was a whirlwind of sounds and activity. So much joyful noise! My father had brought the dog home as a distraction for me, knowing my mother would be busy with the new baby. He did not know if I would be upset about this and thought he would delight me in what ways he could. He need not have bothered, though, because Pinio was delight enough, but now I had my two new playthings to keep me busy. And then, on the morning of September 1, 1939, there came something terrible. My father took me to the window of our apartment and pointed out the German Messerschmitt planes flying overhead. He said, "Now this is the end." To jest koniec. He explained to me what was happening, how the Germans were at war, how they had already attacked the western part of Poland and were now on the outskirts of Lvov. "My Krzysha," he said with melancholy, "this is the end." I was confused. Not frightened so much, but confused. I had picked up bits and pieces of my parents’ concern about the coming war, through conversations at supper or over the newspaper. I paid attention, because I liked to know what was going on, but of course I was only a child. I was not prepared to hear the bombs. It sounded as though they were being dropped right outside our window, although in truth most of the damage was on the other side of the city. Years later, I read about the famous German-Soviet nonaggression pact, which meant that the planes over the central part of the city were mostly for sho...
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Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0312376561
Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0312376561
Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110312376561
Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0312376561