Renate Krakauer’s parents, William and Charlotte, lost many of their relatives and friends that day.
“They came knocking on doors and dragged all the Jews out and they took them to the Jewish cemetery, where they had dug these deep pits,” Krakauer said. “And they had people lined up, [naked]. They would line up at the edge of the pit in rows. First row, bang, bang, bang, bang, into the pit. Second row, bang, bang, bang.”
The first German act of hatred against religious and political groups during the Second World War started in the autumn of 1939. It was the Nazis’ systematic deportation and murder of Jews.
Renate Krakauer was born soon after, in March 1941, in southeastern Poland (present-day Ukraine). Her mother used to call her, her miracle baby.
“Most of the children who were born between 1939 and 1945 were killed or they starved to death or they were stabbed with a bayonet or they would be thrown into the wall,” Krakauer said.
Instead, the Germans rounded up Krakauer and her family and dumped them in a ghetto. They rapidly ran out of food and barter to get food. Krakauer’s mother knew that she had to get a job outside the ghetto. She left Renate with another woman, who had an infant.
Renate’s mother had a cousin in the ghetto, Jacob, a scrap dealer, and he dealt with Germans, who had started a recycling company.
“The German head who had been doing business with Jacob for many years, nominated his Jewish friend as his deputy,” Krakauer said.
Renate’s mother used her connection with the scrap dealer to get a job as a slave labourer. However, things got worse. One day, Renate’s mother arrived home to find the woman caring for her daughter feeding the meagre food ration to her own child.
“She didn’t blame her,” Krakauer said. “Her child was hungry too.”
Renate’s mother felt determined enough to survive that risked her own life to save her miracle baby.
“My mother slid out of the ghetto behind the broad shoulders of Jacob,” Krakauer said. “(My mother) removed her white armband with a blue star, which was very gutsy because if anyone recognized her, she would be shot. … She ran three kilometres across town,” where she left her daughter with another family.
Renate’s mother returned to the ghetto for fear she would be recognized, but her baby was safe.
“My mother was a very courageous woman,” Krakauer said, “and she saved my life.”