TESTIMONY: “TWO ORPHANS”
He said, “Run away, don’t remain here.”
Though Marek never heard from his mother or sisters again, someone told him that his father had been taken to the Janowska labor camp . Marek managed to find his way to the camp and from afar he watched the Nazis force the prisoners to load logs onto a train. Marek managed to identify his father among the prisoners, and met with him secretly several times, bringing food. Despite Marek’s efforts to help, Mr. Herman soon succumbed to the terrible conditions. The next time Marek came to visit, he could not find his father. He learned that the Nazi guards shot and killed Mr. Herman when they realized that he was suffering from typhus and was unable to work.
With no one left to care for but themselves, Marek and Mundzio spent their days trying different methods of making money in order to buy food. Marek managed to obtain a fake identity card, which helped. The student card had been owned by a boy named Wladimir Ilkow. Marek removed the original photograph of the boy and replaced it with his own.
Then, one day in the spring of 1943, the boys were arrested, accused of stealing from a Nazi officer. While waiting in a hallway of the station, Marek heard Mundzio being interrogated in another room and confessing to the alleged crimes. Rather than waiting for his own turn, Marek suddenly decided that he had to run away and save himself, as the last survivor of his family. After the interrogation, Mundzio was sent to forced labor . Marek never saw his brother again.
Marek now found himself completely alone, so he decided to return to his friends, the kind Italian soldiers, and hoped that they would offer him help. To his astonishment, the soldiers were indeed willing to accept him, and were even caring for some other orphans from the war-torn areas where they had traveled.
TESTIMONY: “JOINING THE ITALIANS”
“I felt like a miracle had just happened.”
Leaving Lvov in June 1943 in the care of the Italian soldiers, Marek and the other orphans boarded a train that traveled for several days, through amazing scenery, finally arriving at a military camp in the northeastern part of Italy. Marek lived with the soldiers on this base, learning Italian and adjusting to his new surroundings.
In July of 1943, Mussolini’s fascist government in Italy was overthrown, and the new government began secret negotiations with the Allies . The Italian soldiers were discharged from duty, and each orphan was adopted by one of the men on the base. Marek was adopted by a soldier named Giovanni Ferro. Together, the soldiers set out for their homes with the orphans, but along the way they were apprehended by German soldiers. The Nazis had ordered their troops to seize the country. The German soldiers placed their captives on a train. When some of the soldiers noticed that the train was heading north, towards Germany, they realized that they were now prisoners of war.
Suspecting their fate if they stayed in the hands of the Nazis, Marek decided to try to escape. He noticed that as the train passed through the stations in the villages, children approached the trains to give the soldiers food and water. Marek and his friend planned to jump from the train at the next station and blend in with the local children. Giovanni Ferro gave Marek all his money and wrote a letter to his parents asking that they provide Marek with assistance if he was able to find them in Canischio, Ferro’s hometown.
Marek and his friend managed to escape, and they were welcomed warmly by all the Italians they encountered along their way. Using the basic Italian he had learned from the soldiers, Marek described as much as he knew, carefully hiding the fact that he was Jewish. Though everyone seemed friendly, Marek still did not know if it was safe to reveal his true identity.
After traveling together for a while, Marek’s friend settled down with a family in a town called Ghemme. Marek, however, was determined to continue on to Giovanni’s hometown of Canischio. When he finally arrived there and gave Giovanni’s parents the letter their son had written, the couple wept with sorrow. Marek learned that the couple’s other son, Antonio, was also a soldier in the war, and he had disappeared. Now, the parents realized that they might never see either of their sons again.
Marek lived with the Ferro family until the mayor took interest in his story and decided to help Marek move to the city of Turin, to resume his education. In Turin, Marek was adopted by a wealthy couple, the Poggios, and entered a Catholic school.