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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Role of Blackmailers

John Rinde, Holocaust Survivor

At any rate, one—and you see, there were Polish people, as I said before, who would make it a sport to turn Jews, like us, to the authorities. Some did it just for the fun of it; some did it for financial gain. If they found out you were Jewish they would blackmail you, you know, until you had no more money, and then they would turn you in. Well, this was very prevalent, particularly in Warsaw, but happened everywhere. Well, one of our cousins got caught in this kind of scheme, and she was living in downtown Lublin, and my aunt would always ask my father to stop by and see how she's doing. Well, damn it, timing was bad and he walked in on them while she was being blackmailed, and those guys says, "Ah, we have another pigeon." And they took him home to our home and they, you know, blackmailed us. And it happened, I think, three times. It got so bad that, you know, we were running out of stuff to give him. And there were air raids, so people were building trenches, you know, to hide when the bombs come. So we had trenches built in our backyard, and the men were prepared to kill those bastards if they came another time and bury them in the trenches. Luckily, it didn't come to that. But the final time they came, there was no—we weren't home, I mean, my parents and I and us; the kids weren't there. And they came and they took everything they could, you know: linens, clothes, whatever they could carry off. They didn't have cars in those days, so whatever they could carry in their hands they took.

And we had a signal, you know: there was a little kind of an opening in the attic wall, and if they put something, an object, in there, it meant that there was problem, don't walk into the house. And my parents were coming back to the house with invited guests, together with the boss and all. And there was that stuff in the door, in the window, and he didn't see it. So they coming, they coming, and the uncle up top there is getting panicky. He stuck his whole hand out. (laughs) And finally, finally my father saw it and he said, "Okay, guys, we can't go in; we’re having a problem." He talked to the boss and the boss made up some story, because the boss was being blackmailed by the communists for other reasons. So, he says, "Oh, he's having the same communist problems I'm having. We can't go in."

And so he walks in, and the blackmailers locked everybody up in the cellar, except for him in the attic, and closed the doors with a piece of wire and told them to stay there. So, my father says, "All right, come on out." He says, "I can't get out. They told us to stay." He says, "What, are they going to come back and do something to you? If they send the Gestapo, they will find you whether you are there or not. Get out." So anyway, we regrouped. Luckily, my father was able to manage to get some more, you know, allotment coupons so we could replace some of the things. You know, everything had value: used shirts, used shoes, used anything. Everything had value on the black market. So, you know, getting that kind of stuff out of people was like getting money.

What I forgot to mention is when we lived in Lvov under the Germans, the German officers had, you know, chutzpah, to come into a Jewish person’s apartment and look around and say, "Oh, I like this, I'll take that. I'll take that." Go through your drawers, look at your clothes, and say, "Oh, yeah, that's a nice shirt. I'll take that." And they came with an aide, you know, enlisted the soldiers and said, "Carry that off." They’re like—they would walk to a store and take whatever they wanted. It was unbelievable. I mean, you just had no rights, no nothing. Whatever they liked, they took. You know, when my mother was getting the false papers, she needed money to pay the forger, and she didn't have any money so she had to go and sell a diamond ring. And she had to go to Warsaw, apparently, to find a seller—I mean, a buyer.