Survivor Profiles: Ida Paluch Kersz
My greatest hope is that the world will come back to the way it was, better even.
Ida Paluch Kersz
Ida Paluch was born on May 3, 1939 in Sosnowiec, Poland. Soon after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, Ida, her mother, her twin brother, and her older sister were put into the Sosnowiec ghetto. Ida’s father, Heim, did not join the family in the ghetto because he had enlisted into the Polish army right after the war broke out. However, while in Russia, he was captured by the Germans and forced to work in a coal mine. Due to the tremendous amount of stress and fear from living in the ghetto, Ida’s mom committed suicide when Ida was only three years old.
After her mother’s death, Ida and her siblings were left under the care of their aunt, Rugia. However, one night Rugia was able to smuggle Ida out of the Ghetto with the help of a Christian Polish man, Mr. William. Rugia and Mr. William had been business associates for many years, and when all the Jews in Sosnowiec were ordered to reside in a ghetto, he went looking for Rugia. He eventually spotted Rugia with Ida behind the wired fence that acted as a barrier between the ghetto and the rest of the town. He agreed to take Ida only on the condition that Ida never see her family again. Rugia agreed, and Ida was smuggled through the wire fence and taken to Transdehova, his hometown.
In Transdehova, Ida treated Mr. William and his wife like they were her biological parents. Mr. Wiliam explained to his wife that Ida was Jewish, but they agreed to keep that aspect of Ida’s identity a secret from their family and neighbors. They even came up with the story that Ida was born out-of-wedlock and hidden in a village with relatives, but now that the couple was married, they brought Ida back to live with them. Ida would go on to spend most of her childhood completely unaware of her Jewish background. Her adoptive parents would go on to christen her at a Church and had even changed her name to Irene.
Although Ida had escaped the ghetto and the concentration camps, violence and hardship continued to follow her. One night, Ida’s adoptive mother received a message that Ida’s adoptive father had been shot by the Gestapo. The family was told that he had been illegally selling merchandise. However, later as an adult, Ida would find out that he was a partisan and was caught smuggling ammunition.
After the death of her adopted father, Ida and her adoptive mother struggled financially. They frequently had to sell tobacco, cigarettes, and alcohol on trains to support themselves. At one point, they were even caught by the Gestapo and taken to a government facility. However, they were eventually released within a few short hours and after being given a warning.
As the war came to an end, the surviving Jews of Transdehova returned to the town. During this same time, Ida’s biological father had returned from Russia and was looking for Ida after he was told she was his only surviving child. He eventually did find Ida, with the help of a local synagogue, but Ida wanted nothing to do with her father. In fact, Ida had grown to become afraid of Jewish people. Her fear was very much due to the influence of anti-Semitism in the town and the rampant anti-Jewish propaganda that continued to plague Europe even after the war.
In order to see Ida without scaring her, Ida’s father had to pretend to be Catholic. He even wore a cross when he was around her. Eventually, Ida was forced to leave with her father. She resented her father for quite a while for making her leave, but this resentment would soon pass as she began to interact with other Jewish children and engage with her Jewish identity.
In 1957, Ida and her father immigrated to Israel. It was there that Ida lived on a Kibbutz, a communal farm, where she learned Hebrew and met other Jews from all over the world. After leaving the Kibbutz, Ida would move to Tel Aviv and met her soon-to-be husband, Mr. Stein, who was a photographer. The couple soon married, had a daughter, and then finally immigrated to Chicago.
Ida’s life in Chicago was peaceful, but she yearend for her biological family. She especially missed her twin brother, Adam, and she wanted to find out what happened to him. One day, a former classmate reached out to Ida with an article that had a photo of a man standing in front of a synagogue in Warsaw. Her classmate believed that this man was Adam. Upon receiving the article, Ida immediately reached out to her aunt in San Francisco to see if she had any photos of her brother. After comparing the man in the article to a photo her aunt had, Ida became convinced that her brother was alive.
Ida then proceeded to contact the author of the article, who not only confirmed that the man in the photo was a Holocaust survivor, but the author also gave Ida a phone number to contact him. When Ida finally contacted the man in the photo, it took quite a while to even convince him that he might have a sister. The two agreed that they should meet, and on April 28, 1995, Ida returned to Poland. After reuniting and going over more family photos, they two became convinced they were siblings. The twins had been separated for 52 years, but they finally found each other.
Learn More:Coffee with a survivor facebook live session UNVEILED MEMORIES: TWINS REUNITED AFTER THE HOLOCAUST, BY IDA PALUCH-KERSZ Chicago Tribune story
Photo credits: John Pregulman