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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

May 9, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Museum’s rescuer exhibit stirs memories for ‘hidden child’

By BOB FRYER


Toni Rinde with her “Aunt Koniosna,” a Polish Catholic woman who took in the toddler to avoid the Nazis. Toni Rinde with her “Aunt Koniosna,” a Polish Catholic woman who took in the toddler to avoid the Nazis. See audio file below: 

There are not too many Holocaust survivors who owe their lives to the actions of a German officer, but Toni Rinde of Largo is one of them.

That fact hit home hard during a trip to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg last month when she encountered a photo of Albert Battel, a lieutenant in the German Wehrmacht. The picture is included in an exhibit honoring rescuers during the Holocaust. When Rinde’s husband John spotted it and pointed it out to her, she says it brought forth a flood of emotions.

“He [Battel] saved my life, my parents life, my uncle and my father’s father,” Rinde said as she told the story of her survival as a “hidden child.”

Rinde was born in 1940 as Toni Igel in Przemysl, a city in southeastern Poland, about 14 months after Germans invaded the country.


German Lt. Albert Battel, who saved Rinde and her family. German Lt. Albert Battel, who saved Rinde and her family. Her family was among thousands of Jews (one estimate as high as 24,000) who were confined in the city’s Jewish ghetto when in 1942 her dad, Stanley, got word that the Gestapo was preparing an “aktion” to transport hundreds of residents to a death camp. Rinde explained that her dad, whose family had lived in the community for generations, was a gregarious man with many personal and business connections in the city with both Jews and non- Jews. While some Jews spoke only Yiddish, Stanley was educated and spoke both Polish and Yiddish and was a non-commissioned officer in the Polish army, factors that helped him win friends among non-Jews.

Though Rinde said the Germans reviled her dad and called him “a dirty Jew,” they still relied upon him to help distribute food and supplies to the troops and the ghetto, though she said the Germans allowed little food into the ghetto.


Toni Rinde Toni Rinde In his food distribution work, Stanley Igel got to know Battel, one of the few Germans who seemed friendly to him, so when Igel got word of the impending action against Jews in the ghetto, he was alarmed. “My dad mentioned that to Battel the next day when he was distributing food and Battel said ‘Don’t worry, let me see what I can do,’” Rinde said, recalling stories her dad told her.

“To make a long story short, the SS was going to cross the San River Bridge, which divided where the Germans had their headquarters and where the Jewish ghetto was. Battel sent a battalion of troops to stop the SS from crossing the river; to stop them from going to the ghetto,” she said. The SS, or Gestapo, was Nazi Germany’s secret police and at times was at odds with the Wehrmacht, Germany’s regular armed forces.


At the Florida Holocaust Museum is a panel in the exhibit “Whoever Saves a Single Life – Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” showing German Lt. Albert Battel with the narrative of his efforts to shield Jews from the Gestapo. Toni Rinde of Largo and her family were among those saved by Battel. The exhibit was organized by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. At the Florida Holocaust Museum is a panel in the exhibit “Whoever Saves a Single Life – Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” showing German Lt. Albert Battel with the narrative of his efforts to shield Jews from the Gestapo. Toni Rinde of Largo and her family were among those saved by Battel. The exhibit was organized by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. She said Battel also sent several trucks into the ghetto and pulled out about 100 Jews, including her family, to hide them in the basement of the Wehrmacht headquarters.

She, her dad, mom Lusia, uncle Martin and grandfather Getzl hid out for about two weeks. Battel brought them food every day, including an orange for her because he knew babies needed vitamins. Rinde was about 16 months old then.


Rinde with her parents, Lusia and Stanley Igel, in a photo taken in Prague, Czechoslovakia, shortly after World War II. Rinde with her parents, Lusia and Stanley Igel, in a photo taken in Prague, Czechoslovakia, shortly after World War II. Information from JewishGen, an organization dedicated to preserving records from the Holocaust, shows that Battel was investigated for his actions against the Gestapo and Adolph Hitler was made aware of the incident, but he was unpunished while in the army. Battel died in 1952. It was many years later that his actions to save Jews in the ghetto were documented. He was posthumously recognized by Israel in 1981 as a “righteous gentile” for his actions in saving Jewish lives.

Battel was not the only one who saved the life of Rinde and her family, and sadly there are some whose names she does not even know.

Not long after their stay in the basement, things settled down. Her father resumed his duties and the family, as well as some others who had fled, returned to the ghetto. But the experience was chilling enough that her dad knew he wanted to get his family out.


Toni Rinde is shown in 1993 as she visits the house where her ‘Aunt Koniosna,’ kept her safe from Nazis during the war. The aunt no longer lived there and efforts by Rinde’s parents to keep connected with her failed. Toni Rinde is shown in 1993 as she visits the house where her ‘Aunt Koniosna,’ kept her safe from Nazis during the war. The aunt no longer lived there and efforts by Rinde’s parents to keep connected with her failed. One day, while her parents were walking, pushing her in a baby carriage in an area outside the ghetto, a woman approached them. “My parents had no idea who she was but she walked up to my dad and said to him, ‘How can you take this beautiful little girl into the ghetto.’”

Rinde said her dad agreed, asking, “‘Can you help me?’ The answer was ‘yes’ and arrangements were made to meet the next day at a street corner at an allotted time and my parents were going to leave the carriage and she was going to walk by and pick up the carriage, and that was the beginning of my life as a hidden child.”


Toni Rinde is shown as a young child with “Aunt Koniosna” behind her. The aunt got a new birth certificate for Toni, changing her name to Marisha and raising her as a Catholic during the war. Toni Rinde is shown as a young child with “Aunt Koniosna” behind her. The aunt got a new birth certificate for Toni, changing her name to Marisha and raising her as a Catholic during the war. The separation was especially traumatic for her mom, making her sick and depressed, said Rinde, who was too young to recall any of it.

On one occasion her uncle Martin went to the woman who had taken Toni and asked her to wheel the baby in the carriage by the edge of the ghetto at a certain time, so Toni’s mom could see her.

“My mother stuck her head out the window and I recognized her and started screaming ‘Mommy, Mommy. Of course my mother walked away from the window right away and the woman turned the carriage right around in the other direction because if anyone heard, not only would my parents be killed, but she and her family would be killed, so that never happened again.” Rinde said.

Until the war ended, Toni lived with the woman, whom she was taught to call Aunt Koniosna. The aunt obtained a fake birth certificate from the Catholic archdiocese for Toni and her first name was changed to Marisha. Rinde said she was christened and went to a local Catholic church every Sunday. “I also went to catechism and there I learned Polish prayers which I recited every night before I went to bed.” She said her aunt taught her to pray for her parents every night.

Rinde said the cover story the aunt devised was that she had taken the baby in because her parents were working for the war effort and had been called to work in a large city where they could not keep their child with them, so she took the girl in. Also living in the home was another girl slightly older, who was a real niece of the woman.

Despite the elaborate efforts to hide her true identity, Rinde was taught to run to the back bedroom if anyone knocked at the door and to never talk to strangers.

To this day Rinde does not know the full name of the woman who took her in and protected her through the war. After the war, once she and her parents were in the United States, her parents tried to send the woman money and gifts as thanks for saving her. At the time, Poland was under Communist rule and it was years later before the family learned that none of the assistance they sent ever made it to the woman.

The same is the case for money they sent for a little non-Jewish Polish boy. The boy’s parents were publicly hanged in Przemysl when they refused to say where Rinde’s family was hiding. The couple had allowed Rinde’s parents and uncle to hide in their barn.

Once Toni was safe with “Aunt Koniosna,” her dad managed to sneak Toni’s mother and grandfather out of the ghetto hidden under hay in a horse-drawn cart. Then her dad and uncle snuck out too. After only a few days hiding in the woods, the grandfather died and Stanley and Martin Igel buried him.

Rinde said depending on the political climate, her parents and uncle at times joined other Jews who returned to the ghetto, but also spent a lot of time hiding in the woods, joining partisan fighters against Germany. They also hid in various barns and once, in hopes of getting warm and seeing their baby, they slept in the coal bin of Aunt Koniosna. She discovered them and got very angry, shooing them away and telling them they were not only endangering themselves, but her, her niece and their baby.

After the war ended, Toni’s parents returned to the woman’s home to take their baby, who was now about 4½ years old.

By this time all Toni knew as family was Aunt Koniosna and was horrified at the thought of strangers taking her away.

She says it is hard to imagine the heartbreak her parents must have felt that she did not rush into their arms, and she praised their patience, wisdom and selflessness in taking the steps they did to reclaim their child with as little trauma as possible.

She said her parents moved in with Aunt Koniosna so she could get used to them, but she still refused to cross the threshold to their bedroom. It soon became apparent living in the home with her was not helping, so they found an apartment nearby and visited her often, slowly getting her to warm up to them.

Rinde said the woman’s real niece had become “like a big sister to me … so they had the girl move into their apartment with them so I would move in with them. Otherwise I wasn’t going.

“My aunt used to cook a particular soup that I loved and my mother had to learn how to make that soup, of course, and that’s what started enticing me going back to my parents – soup.”

The process took about three months just for her to join them.

Once the family was reunited, they moved to Katowice, Poland, where Rinde’s dad helped displaced Jewish children resettle in Palestine. That ended abruptly when he found a note on his front door saying he and his family would be killed if they did not leave in 24 hours, Rinde said.

The family first went to Prague, then to Paris in hopes of winning approval to emigrate to America.

“I have to tell you that the Jewish Federation, the Joint Distribution Committee was extremely helpful to us in France,” Rinde said. “They gave us food; they gave us money; they found an apartment for us and that is why my tremendous involvement in the Federation – because they also helped my husband and his family. The same type of help was given to him. My parents and my husband’s parents were friends before the war in Przemysl. So I feel very strongly about giving back to the Jewish community.”

In 1947 the family did emigrate to America from Holland. Rinde quickly adapted. She had never been to school, could not write or speak English, so when she went to a Yeshiva Hebrew school, she was nearly 7 and put in kindergarten. Within a year she learned Hebrew, English and progressed to second grade, winning first prize as best Hebrew student in the school.

Rinde later met and married her husband, who for years practiced internal medicine in Pinellas County. They both have been heavily involved in a variety of Jewish organizations including the Jewish Federation and Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater, where a family Torah her parents hid during the war now resides in the congregation’s ark.

In 1993, as part of a delegation with the Florida Holocaust Museum, she revisited the home of Aunt Koniosna. The woman was no longer there, but when Rinde mentioned to the owner that the house seemed different and described it as she remembered it, the owner said her description was accurate, and that the house had been remodeled a few years earlier.

As a “hidden child” and one who feels it is important that future generations “never forget” the horrors of the Holocaust, she is proud to serve on the Holocaust Museum board.

Though she said she was personally moved to find the photo of Lt. Battel in the current exhibit there on Holocaust rescuers, she says it has a strong message for all.

The exhibit, “Whoever Saves a Single Life – Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” runs through June 30 at the museum, 55 Fifth Ave. S. in St. Petersburg.

Extra
Audio: 

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