With the permission of
the author, we print some excerpts from a chapter of Zev Kedem’s book with
the working title of Love in The Holocaust. The story of his
survival as a child in the Holocaust is grippingly informative. Well under
the age allowed by the Nazis, and through six death camps (one twice), Zev’s
survival can be described as “miraculous.” One purpose is for our knowledge
and enlightenment today. Besides this book, Zev is avidly writing on
subjects of human behavior and the Bible.
By Zev Kedem
This work is copyrighted and can be reproduced
only by the consent of the author.
Instead of remaining
safely under the hospital bed, I spent nights playing with my Prince under
the barracks floor. On hearing me approach the whelp got excited and licked
my face as I slid under the building. As Prince grew, so did danger to our
rare friendship. Regretfully, I realized that the lively young Prince could
no longer remain under the building. To remain alive, I must give up my
best friend. If discovered under the clinic, the fast growing pup would be
the death of my mother and Dr. Gross.
At the factory work
bench my productivity suffered. I wanted to keep the dog yet worried lest
my Prince make a noise and was discovered in my absence. The worries were
like the tyranny of the camouflage gang. Lev urged me to be rid of the dog
and I dreamed of a dark cave, to hide with my friend until war’s end.
The dark cave reminded
me of the good times when I escaped the Ghetto and walked the streets of
Krakow in search of food. I was young and still knew little fear of Nazis.
Chris Josephson (left -
an "Ephraimite") and Zev Kedem (right - From Judah)
A friendly man invited
me into his home outside the Ghetto. A hint of chocolate was enough for me
to follow him without much concern. At the entrance to the building, the man
looked carefully around; when satisfied no one was about, we entered the
building and crept up stone stairs. Seeing no one in the stairwell, the man
unlocked several locks in a reinforced metal door and led me past heavy
curtains into a room to become swallowed by complete darkness. Strangely I
was not afraid of the dark. Was this the safe dim cave I had dreamed about,
to hide until the end of the war?
The blinds were drawn
and heavy curtains prevented the least chink of light penetrating the
darkness. Ponderously the man bolted the door, then fumbled around until a
match illuminated the room. He lit a candle and invited me to sit in a large
When the strange
gentleman disappeared into the kitchen I looked around the spacious
apartment. After the crowded austerity of our Ghetto abode, his room felt
like a vast museum. The walls were covered with beautiful paintings; the
largest one dramatically covered the entire wall. In the corners stood
sculptures and impressive busts on pedestals. The bookshelves were laden
with gold embossed tomes and the sideboard with crystal bowls, vases and
family photographs. The elegant carved black-wood paneled furniture reminded
me of my grandfather’s once gracious home. Leather couches and armchairs
stood at the edges of an elaborately designed Persian carpet. In the center
stood a low Mahogany coffee table with a chessboard and large beautifully
carved ivory figures ready to do battle.
The man reappeared
holding a delicate porcelain dish decorated with a golden dragon. It was
full of assorted, beautifully wrapped chocolates. As he made his offering
he bent over and whispered in my ear.
“Unfortunately we must
remain very quiet. Do you play chess?”
I knew the basic moves
of the game but had no idea of strategy or how to win.
“At your age I was
considered a master – but don’t worry we will have a fine game.”
Though very curious as
to the identity of the kind man, and why he lived in eerie darkness, I
understood the need for silence and asked no questions. With the tempting
chocolates near, I was ready to play chess until the very last bonbon had
At the beginning of the
second game the master seemed to intentionally forfeit a pawn. Puzzled, I
pointed out the mistake but he smiled, leaning forward, he whispered.
“Don’t worry. I want to
teach you the Ruiz-Lopez gambit. By forfeiting the pawn early in the game I
strengthen my strategic position and all being well, improve my chance of
winning the game.”
It did not take long
for the master to prove his point. On winning he offered another delicious
chocolate to keep his young protégé content.
This odd game and its
lesson remained with me during tedious hours at work, when the mind wanders
and hands, with little conscious direction, produced piles of brushes for
the German war effort.
After months in camp, a
child is accustomed to the likelihood of dying while the mind returns to
search for new ways to improve the quality of life and survival, seeking
opportunities to get food, save energy, how to edge-out competition for a
less exhausting work and ultimately, how to survive Nazi parasitization.
At work, imagination
made hours fly, wove bits of information and experiences together until they
crossed paths. One such flight of fantasy was that Prince and I escaped to
hide in a dark, elegant cave where my chess-playing host awaited us with a
selection of delicious chocolates. In the fantasy Prince using the
Ruiz-Lopez gambit, vanquishes the dogged opposition to defeat the best
German guard dogs.
and the Ruiz-Lopez gambit offered a new winning strategy. To sacrifice a
pawn early in the game seemed dangerous and against odds, but sometimes the
strategy won the game. If the gambit offered a little more freedom and to
rid me of the camouflage gang, then any risk to win the game was worthwhile.
Painting by Ava Hegedish,
who in 1939 watched ships reach Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, and anchor in the
middle of the river when the passengers were not allowed to disembark
because they were Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. They were
being sent down the Danube to perish in the Black Sea. Painting while in
hiding, Ava intentionally bathed her “ghost ship” in sunlight to create a
contrast with the dark reality of what she had seen.
Long before the Ghetto
residents reached Plaszow concentration camp the Nazis confiscated all their
worldly possessions, homes, clothes valuables, their paintings and jewelry.
They were systematically parasitized only because they were defenseless and
born as Jews. New camp arrivals were stripped naked for delousing and were
searched for smuggled diamonds hidden in their body cavities. If parasitized
prisoners were lucky, they received in the showers ice-cold water, not the
lethal Cyclone B gas. The Nazis Holocaust culture left nothing to the
prisoner, not family, children, freedom, not even his name. The captive was
only allowed to speak to a German when specifically ordered to do so. If
inadvertently the captive dared to use his name that announced his Jewish
origins instead of the dehumanizing camp number, if he was lucky, he was
beaten within an inch of his life.
The captives worked in
stone quarries, road construction, building and diverse war production under
brutal German whips. At work, prisoners knew that the starvation rations
would not keep them alive for more than two months. The camps were cut off
from information of the outside world. There was not place to escape. The
German armies controlled Poland and the surrounding countries. If a prisoner
was given shelter or was helped, anywhere in Europe, the rare gesture
endangered the host’s family.
I noticed that for
weeks the same Germans were on duty at the camp. They had a fixed routine
that reduced danger of my capture.
Lord Goeth encouraged
his Nazi officers to apply ruthless discipline. The young SS-Untersturmfuhrer
roamed the camp bristling in uniformed authority. Being young he was a loose
canon capable of random cruelty and killing. Yet to me, from behind the
hospital shutters, he appeared as a pimply youth far from home and mother,
though still capable of official murder. Most important, he kept to a strict
routine each morning.
If only this young
Nazi, like the German truck driver from Katowitz, would turn a blind eye to
the existence of a nine-year-old on his way to work, I might be rid of the
obnoxious camouflage gang. But to turn a blind eye, he must first see me,
and with his SS training he was more likely to first shoot and perhaps ask
questions later – unless....
I wove reality and
fantasy together, adjusted different scenarios until a crazy idea
materialized: how to be rid of my nasty protectors, save my Prince from
electrocution and protect my mother and Dr. Gross by using the Ruiz-Lopez
gambit strategy. It was not clear whether Prince, or I, were to be the
Only once had I met
face to face with an SS-man at the brush factory during the first year in
the camp. It still seemed extraordinary to be alive. Encouraged by the
first success and youthful zeal, I decided to try again. This time, to a
confrontation at my own initiative, despite the Untersturmfuhrer standing
orders to kill young children in the camp.
Next morning, outside
the clinic, as usual I waited for the camouflage gang to appear. The SS-man
approached on his usual inspection route. From the distance he seemed in a
relatively relaxed mood. The impudence of the gambit obscured my usual
fears. Years of training by the Holocaust culture made me indifferent to
danger and the risk of my own choosing was scary but also exciting.
As the German
bore-down, the camouflage gang appeared and nervously wanted to depart for
work. Instead of camouflage, I stepped out of their circle and headed for
the approaching German, enjoying their consternation and my audacity.
The road emptied of
prisoners when the SS-man stalked. As the showdown neared, trusting in
chutzpah, competent spoken German and the Ruiz-Lopez gambit, I did not hide.
The gang moved off to work expecting to hear shots fired.
friendliest smile I approached the SS officer and ignored orders forbidding
prisoners to speak first to a German.
“Isn’t it a pleasant
morning, Her Obersturmfuhrer? I have found an injured puppy. He must be
saved from getting electrocuted again. Will you take him back?”
“We have been looking
“He is safe. I will
bring him to you.”
The SS-man took my
Prince with a rope tied around his neck. Then remembering his duty:
“Do you work in camp?
“In the brush factory.
I make more brushes than any one in the workshop. I am the best brush maker
in camp and being small, eat very little. Now I must run before I get into
trouble at work”.
I sprinted off without
looking back. Expecting to feel a bullet between my shoulder blades. Still
alive, I jumped for joy as I scampered to work. At the same time I was sad
to give up my Prince as the gambit. The consolation was that Prince would
get better food than we, the camp inmates.
This was my second
encounter with the SS since my arrival in the camp more than a year earlier.
I was still alive. My survival chances had improved considerably. Should
this SS-man see me again as a small but productive worker, likely he would
not shoot. I had no intention of mentioning the incident to my mother.
The Ruiz-Lopez strategy
proved itself. I was free to cross the camp alone, free of the gang of
The gambit made me
think about the secretive chess teacher. Was he still among the hiding Jews
in Krakow? or had he been massacred with the many others on the sacrificial
Months later, on the
wintry death-march from Auschwitz, I was to meet the fully-grown Prince
again, my old friend with the white star on his forehead.