Stanley Faull: Story of My Childhood

My name is Stanley Faull. I was born Salek Falinower on 29th October 1929 in Warsaw. I lived in Twarda Street, Warsaw with my parents – Naftali & Rachel (nee Frydman) Falinower. I had an older brother and sister. My elder brother Gerald (Chiel Zalman Falinower) was five years older than me and my sister, Henia Falinower, seven years older than me.

The first ten years of my life were spent with my family. We were a very close, happy family, with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins living nearby. Many of the family lived in the same street in which my maternal grandparents had a delicatessen shop, which ceased doing business in about 1935. My mother had two brothers who emigrated to England in 1911 & 1920 respectively, and three sisters, who remained close to us in Warsaw, where they married and lived with their families.

My father had three brothers and two sisters. The brothers had very different professions: one was a Talmud scholar, one a manufacturer of brass stair rods and the other was a watch-maker. His brothers and sisters were all married with families and lived in the same vicinity as us. My father ran an inherited family metal foundry and engineering business, which his family had owned and operated for some seven generations in Warsaw. He was also the warden of the Synagogue Nozyka, which was only a few yards away from our home, and which still exists. I remember going to my brother’s barmitzvah there in 1937. We lived in a large apartment, with a resident maid. We three children all went to private schools and enjoyed holidays at villas owned by the family at Miedzeszyn and Otwosk.

When my uncle travelled from England to visit his ailing mother in Warsaw in 1933, he saw the condition of the family business and suggested that it would be beneficial for my brother to go to England, receive a British education and obtain engineering and metallurgical qualifications. Consequently, in 1937, after his barmitzvah, I remember going to the central railway station in Warsaw to wave him goodbye when he left for England. It was my father’s wish that I too should go to England to be educated as soon as I was old enough – i.e. after my anticipated barmitzvah in 1942. However, the war intervened and I neither had a barmitzvah nor went to England for my education. The plan that Gerald and I would one day be able to improve and modernise the family business by using up-to-date British technology, and run it together, would unfortunately never materialise.

Life was relatively normal for me until just before my tenth birthday in September 1939 when the Nazi Germany war machine invaded Poland. Warsaw was heavily bombed, our home and my father’s factory were completely destroyed and we had to move in with relatives in a nearby street. Life for me was never to be normal again.
We lived in extremely cramped conditions in the confines of the Warsaw ghetto until the time of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. The conditions were unbearable – overcrowding, severe shortage of basic foods, illness, no medical care and people dying of starvation. The Germans offered free transport to work camps in the east and a free loaf of bread for each family when they reported to the railway station. This was a big incentive. Over 100 members of my family succumbed to the temptation and were transported to the death camps created by the Germans, never to be seen again. My father was, however, a great optimist and was of the opinion that the war would soon be over. Therefore, we remained in hiding, our lives in constant danger.

In 1942 my sister, then aged just 19, joined a resistance fighting group, against our parents’ wishes. We never saw her or heard from her again. In 1943, during the weeks before the ghetto uprising, I remember there being great confusion and turmoil – buildings were ablaze and being demolished by the Germans in order to flush out the last Jews remaining in hiding and resisting capture. There was smoke, machine-gun fire, screams all around us, with dead and dying men, women and children all around us.

At this point my family became separated. The bunker in which we were hiding was ablaze and there was chaos everywhere, Together with a group of young resistance fighters, my mother and I were taken by the Germans as “prisoners-of-war”, rather than simply as Jews. We were sent to Majdanek, where we were separated, my mother being in the women’s camp and I was with the men. We were unable to meet. I never saw her again. Up to this time I had always been protected by my parents. I was just 13.

In Majdanek there were mainly Russian prisoners-of-war, Hungarian and German political prisoners, together with Jews from a multitude of countries. I was initially put to work carrying stones from one part of the camp to another. Then I was put to work in the kitchen, which saved me from starvation. At this time, there was a cousin of mine Marysia Balbin, 11 years older than me, in the women’s camp. On several occasions, I was able to steal some bread and smuggle it to her in the women’s camp. Before the war she had worked as a secretary/book-keeper in my uncle’s office at Ulice Prozna.
However, food became increasingly scarce and the Russian armies were now advancing towards us from the east. There were frequent ‘selections’. At these random ‘selections’ the weak, the sick and anyone else whose face did not fit, were sent to the gas chambers by the Germans.

In the winter of 1943, as a registered metal-worker, I was selected to go with a group of workers sent as slave-laborers to Skarzysko Kamienna. This was an ammunition factory run by German foremen. Work was on a 24 hour shift basis; it was a very harsh and cruel regime. Due to a shortage of oil, hot soapy water was used to lubricate the presses making various metal parts. I worked as a ‘soap boy’, boiling the soap and distributing the liquid to the presses. I worked directly under the orders of the chief engineer, a middle-aged German. He ate his meals in his office and I had to clean up the office afterwards. He used to leave me food (bread, cheese and German sausage) and warm clothes (woollen pullovers and woollen socks), all of which were luxuries. It was largely due to his kindness that I survived when deaths were occurring all around me due to overwork, cold, starvation and disease, especially typhus.

My cousin Marysia was also sent from Majdanek to Skarzysko Kamienna and survived the war. After a period in a displaced persons camp in Italy, she settled in Israel, married and had two daughters and seven grandchildren. Apart from my brother in England, she and I were the only ones out of a large family to survive.

In late 1944, when the Russian armies were rapidly advancing, the remaining Jewish slave-labourers were sent west by lorry to Buchenwald. On arrival, I contracted pneumonia. I was saved by a fellow prisoner, a French Jewish professor, who nursed me back to health without any medication, as none was available to us. It was midwinter – subzero temperatures. I worked as a member of a work party clearing roads in Weimar City, which were blocked and damaged as a result of night-time allied air-raids.

On one occasion a German civilian – a retired first world war general – came and took me and three other Jews to his home. The SS officer in charge of our guards saluted him. He deliberately chose four Jews from the work party – clearly identified by the Star of David on our clothes – despite the efforts of the SS officer to get him to select non-Jewish Poles. At his home he and his wife fed us hot baked potatoes – he said it was all they had. On the walls we saw photographs of his three sons all in military uniform and about the same ages as us. The frames were draped in black as they had all been killed on the Russian front. He and his wife told us about them in tears.

In March 1945 the Germans sent about 1,300 of us by train to Theresienstadt. We were put into open cattle-trucks in freezing conditions, without food or water, not knowing where we were being sent. This journey was undoubtedly my most horrific experience. Only a small minority of us survived this horrendous journey, which lasted about two weeks. In my truck, more than half the prisoners were dead on arrival. At this point a miracle occurred. Suddenly all our SS guards disappeared. We were left to fend for ourselves and lived on grass for four or five days until liberated by the Russian Red Army in May 1945.

At the end of the war, I was 15 and both my family and my childhood had been taken away from me.

The Russian civil administration then took charge over the next few weeks, and we gradually got used to eating normal food again. However, due to the sudden change in diet, many of my friends died from over-eating rich food too quickly. Most of my group wanted to go to Palestine but that was not possible at that time and so some returned to their homes in Poland. Having family in England, I wanted to go there.

The Russians would not let anyone over 16 out of the country because they wanted them for military service. In August 1945 – when I was two months short of my 16th birthday – I was flown to England with about 350 other boys and girls in a British bomber aircraft, as part of the first group of children admitted by the British Government. Our travel had been arranged by the Central British Fund (now World Jewish Relief). On arrival, we were taken by coach to Windermere.

There I was reunited with my brother, whom I had last seen when he left Warsaw in 1937, some eight years previously. From the outbreak of war he had served in the Free Polish air force. He was a sergeant-pilot flying Lancaster bombers. I was then taken from Windermere by my family in England, and sent to a boarding-school to catch up on five years of lost education. Later I joined the family metal business in England.

In 1954, I married Dian Calo, the daughter of a Hatton Garden diamond merchant, at Brighton Middle Street Synagogue and we subsequently settled in Hove, East Sussex. We have three sons, Steven, Maurice and Ashley; two went up to Cambridge University, graduating with honours in Economics and Law respectively, and the other one graduated with a Law degree from London University and subsequently obtained an MBA from Kingston. Their professions are as diverse as my father’s three brothers: one being a Chartered Surveyor, one a Chartered Accountant and the other a businessman running a television company. My wife and I now also have three grandsons (Matthew, Harrison and MacKenzie) and a granddaughter, Emily.

I feel very fortunate that, from the time I lost the protection provided by my parents, I have survived, by dint of sheer good luck, some very terrible years.

Posted in Testimonies.