Before attending the first session of Bearing Witness, I found myself feeling extremely nervous.  I simply could not grasp the fact that I would be interviewing a complete stranger about the sensitive experiences of the Holocaust over a casual lunch.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  I immediately found myself drawn to an adorable lady with a bright colored blouse and sparkling earrings.  Her name is Dorothy Greenstein and after speaking with her on several occasions, this is her story. 

      Dorothy was born in Otwock, Poland on December 10, 1930.  Her father played an important role in her hometown as a rabbi, shochet, and judge.  Dorothy specifically recalls various families ringing the bell to her home in order to ask her father if the meat in their hands was slaughtered in the correct manner.  Being the youngest of ten children contained several drawbacks but Dorothy’s seven sisters and two brothers cared for her dearly. 

      Both of Dorothy’s brothers went to cheder, otherwise known as Jewish day school.  While one of her brothers followed the footsteps of his father and was ordained as a rabbi at age seventeen, Dorothy’s other brother Isaac became a plumber.  She herself attended a public school where she attended classes for both Jews and Christians.  Her curiosity for secular studies proved to be helpful later on in her life.     

            Even before the war began, Dorothy was aware of anti-Semitism.  For instance, her family avoided displaying their menorah in front of a window before the non-Jewish Poles.  Nonetheless, Dorothy managed to have a few non-Jewish friends.  She recalls playing with her neighbors in their backyard before the war began and yet a barrier always remained among them.  In 1934, her family made preparations to move to Palestine; however, they were not granted permission to due to financial reasons.  Her father was willing to sell his title at the federation as a judge as well as the two apartments he owned but once the war commenced, his plans never transpired. 

Dorothy was eight years old, in second grade, when the Nazis invaded her hometown.  Before their arrival, her community made several preparations, such as digging trenches, constructing long fences, buying gas masks, and storing food.  Upon the arrival of the Nazis, her family was forced to turn in their radios, eliminating their main connection to obtain news about the war.  Secondly, the Jews were forced to give away their fur coats.  Dorothy’s mother was especially saddened by this but her husband maintained an optimistic and hopeful attitude, promising to buy her a new and nicer coat once the war was over.  Dorothy also recalls her family surrendering all of their leather goods, including belts, gloves, and purses.  She was left with uncomfortable wooden shoes. 

Jewish rituals and practices were forbidden, making it quite difficult for her father to perform his role as a shochet in the community.  Her father wanted to continue to slaughter meat in the kosher manner yet knew the Nazis were aware of his profession.  Consequently, he derived the plan for Dorothy to carry a knife behind the tracks where they would convene and he would slaughter animals in a proper way so the community would have the opportunity to eat kosher meat.

The conditions in the newly formed ghetto were frightful.  Eight people were cramped in a living room and kitchen.  Prohibited from bringing any furniture or silverware, Dorothy’s family left everything behind.  She specifically recalls falling asleep hungry on uncomfortable straw mattresses and yet she was going to be forced into more uncomfortable situations for years to come. 

Dorothy considers herself to be lucky due to her physical features: blue eyes, light hair, and a perfect Polish accent.  As a matter of fact, Dorothy currently speaks six languages but at the time, she spoke Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew.  Due to her young age when the Nazi’s initially invaded, Dorothy also did not have to wear the Magen David on her clothes, allowing her to pass off as Polish.    

Only the entrances of the ghetto were watched by Nazis, not the borders itself.  Consequently, Dorothy would sneak in and out of the holes of the borders of the ghetto when necessary.  For instance, she had to sneak out of the ghetto in order to bring medication to one of her older sisters who lived in the Warsaw ghetto.  Dorothy was forced to go to the market to buy potatoes, bread, salt, and cabbage when the Nazi’s prohibited the Jews from buying their own food.  She rode the electric train without anyone questioning her Jewish identity.    

Dorothy remembers the day the Nazis wanted to “resettle” her family.  However, the term “resettle” was not synonymous with a simple move to another ghetto.  “Resettle” meant that the Jews were being transported, like cattle, to concentration camps.  Most of the Jews in the ghetto were not privy to this piece of vital information.  Therefore, when Dorothy’s older sister Rachel was called upon to be “resettled,” Dorothy’s father took action.  He no longer passively watched the Nazi’s ruin their lives.  He was no longer an optimist.  He insisted that each one of his daughters go into hiding in different Polish homes. 

The Polish family took Dorothy in, giving her food and a place to stay for the night.  However, at six in the morning, the family asked her to leave, claiming that the Nazis were not in the area.  They did not want to risk their own lives to save her.  Returning home to her parents, Dorothy’s father patronized her and commanded her to leave the ghetto immediately.  Dorothy’s immense respect for her father prohibited her from even thinking twice as she ran out the ghetto once again.  She felt her mother’s eyes watching her as she ran away.  That was the last time she saw her parents.  Climbing over the fence of a ghetto, a Nazi grabbed her by the hand.  Due to her Polish features, he did not think she was Jewish and even assisted her over the fence.  Dorothy believes that had her mother helped her over the fence, the soldier would have shot them both. 

Dorothy ran to her sister Rachel, who was hiding with her family friend, the sergeant.  The two sisters hid in the outhouse, otherwise known as a bathroom.  During the day, the Nazi’s generally remained on the Polish perimeter.  However, once curfew began, the Nazi’s would search the streets for Jews in order to obtain a reward.  While attempting to catch some shuteye in the outhouse, Dorothy specifically remembers the sounds of the German Shepherds, gun shots, and people dying.  Ultimately, the outhouse proved to be extremely beneficial to the sisters because the German Shepherds could not smell them among the stench of urine and feces. 

Running from house to house, Dorothy always believed that Poland was a beautiful country.  However, the country’s beauty was stripped away after it became filled with Jewish blood.  Taking the advice of the sergeant, the two sisters took a train to the Jewish ghetto.  Upon their arrival, Rachel got sick and stayed in the hospital for a few days.  Dorothy stayed with random Jewish strangers and after two weeks, the Polish sergeant warned the sisters about the “resettlement” of the Jews in the ghetto.

Not knowing where to go, Dorothy and Rachel were desperate.  They approached a random farmer and said “We are two Jewish girls.  Can you please save us?”  The farmer reluctantly lets the two girls stay in his barn, without checking up on them once.  For two full days, they survived without food, water, or use of the bathroom.  Similar to situations in the past, the farmer got scared and kicked the two girls out.  Rachel decided to return to her hometown Otwock in hopes of gaining assistance from her Polish friends.  On the train, a random lady asks Rachel “What are you doing with a Jewish kid?” referring to Dorothy.  Fearing their lives, they immediately got off the train with a change in plans. 

Walking by foot, the two girls attempted to look for their brother Isaac in the labor camp.  Her other brother, the rabbi, was able to leave the camp and return to the ghetto due to his albino features.  He was mocked because he refused to eat the non-kosher food and constantly prayed his tfilot.  Rachel left Dorothy in the camp with her sister Tamara, seventeen years her senior.  Tamara was one of the two female cooks in the camp.  Tamara’s husband Marek and her brother worked in the camp for years.  At age eleven, Dorothy hid in the barracks of the camp for two weeks.  When the Nazis made their rounds at night, she would hide underneath a blanket while the laborers would lay on her like a pillow. 

Dorothy believes in two types of angels: spiritual and physical.  One time, a German shepherd saw her laying in the barrack but refused to bark.  Dorothy believes that an angel was watching her and at that point, she knew she had to leave.  Before her departure, Tamara made Dorothy memorize the name of a farmer and his address.  She informed her younger sister that she would stay there if she somehow escaped the camp. 

Dorothy stayed in the home of a random farmer that night.  Attempting to sleep in the attic, she cried for the first time since the war began amid the frightful sound of gun shots.  The farmer’s wife told Dorothy to stay in the corn patch during the day where she would visit her to bring her food.  Although it was cold, Dorothy had her sister’s overcoat, a hand-me-down that proved to be very helpful. 

In the corn field, a German shepherd led a forest ranger to Dorothy.  He accused her of being Jewish, threatening to turn her in to the Nazis but Dorothy refused to admit her identity.  As the dog growled and barked, he pulled her by the collar and dragged her down a path parallel to the field.  While he yelled “All Jews have money.  Give me your money,” a miracle happened.  The farmer’s wife appeared.  With a finger in his face she yelled “You call yourself a good Christian.  I see you in church!  Put the child down!”  Once again, she was saved by an angel. 

She ventured into the forest where the thick trees prevented her from seeing the sky.  She took off her wooden shoes as she walked so she could not be heard and began to cry “Father told me to save myself the best I can.”   Wandering throughout the forest, she was petrified to see a patch of land where the ground was moving.  “But Poland does not have earthquakes,” she thought to herself.  Only later did she realize that the Nazis buried Jews alive underground.  She continued to think of her father. 

Lacking a true destination, Dorothy wandered out of the forest and luckily straight into her hometown of Otwock.  She turned to her family maid, who took her into her home.  The maid threatened to kill her own children, who were ages seven and eleven, if they were to even mention Dorothy’s name in order to create fear in their eyes.  With fleas and bugs constantly biting her, Dorothy hid underneath a straw mattress, afraid to sneeze, cough, or scratch herself.  With little food in the house, the maid made Dorothy leave after a two week stay. 

Dorothy knew she could not remain in her hometown.  After all, she was known for being the youngest of the Rabbi’s ten children.  She decided to turn to the farmer her sister Tamara earlier mentioned in hopes of reuniting with her family or having a place to stay.  On her way there, two men knocked her down and removed her underwear, trying to rape her.  One of the men asks “How come you do not have any pubic hair?”  Dorothy was just a child at the time.  She quickly responded, claiming that she is returning from the hospital where she contracted a disease and the men left her alone.  Although she was young, she was quick on her feet. 

She arrived at the farmer’s house but did not want to ring the doorbell in broad daylight.  She waited in the garden until it became dark and rang the bell.  Low and behold, Dorothy reunited with her sister Tamara, Marek, and her brother Isaac once again!  Before they were sent to the labor camp, Isaac made a small hiding place in the farmer’s house.  It was narrow, dark, and the three had to whisper at all times.  The farmer’s children had no idea they were hiding Jews in their own home for one and a half years.  They ate sour kraut and stale bread for months. 

Tamara gave Dorothy some money and sent her to the local church to obtain a birth certificate.  However, the nun refused to do so because Dorothy was too known and instead sent her to the cemetery in Warsaw.  By the cemetery, a group of Nazis were performing their exercises but Dorothy kept a firm face and walked right by them.  She found a tomb stone of a child about her age and memorized her name, parents’ names, and date of birth.  With this new information, she entered another church requesting a birth certificate.  Initially, the nun refused but Dorothy was always a sharp thinker and feigned an excuse.  The nun sold her the certificate for two cents. 

With her new Polish name and looks, Dorothy had hopes for survival.  In Autumn of 1942, she bought a Warsaw newspaper for five cents in hopes of finding a job as a mother’s maid.  Flipping the pages to the classified section, she walked to the first advertisement she saw.  The Polish lady automatically claimed that Dorothy was too young for the job.  However, Dorothy’s sharp tongue responded, “Let me work for you for one month and I will not charge you” and she was hired.  Although she was not accustomed to housework being the youngest child in her family with a maid, Dorothy worked very hard for her new boss.  Two weeks passed and her boss came home early from work one day and asked Dorothy if she is Jewish.  Although Dorothy denied it, using her birth certificate as proof, she feared her life.  The next day, she cleaned the house, took her overcoat, birth certificate, and fled. 

Once again, Dorothy bought a newspaper and walked up seven flights of stairs to the first advertisement she saw.  For a second time, the lady, who happened to be a doctor, said, “But you are only a child.”  With the same previous proposal, Dorothy was hired.  One night, she dreamt of her father, who had a prayer shawl over his head.  In the dream, she yearned to follow him but he refused to take her with him and said “Devoraleh, do not be afraid.  I will protect you.”  Although she did not know it, at that point, her father had perished in Triblinka.  Dorothy firmly believes that a person’s physical body rots after death but the soul remains forever. 

Shouting in her bed, the owner of the house woke her up.  Dorothy feared that her boss heard her speak Yiddish in her sleep.  However, the boss claimed that she only heard yelling and was not able to make out any of the words.  Dorothy was forced to feign her dream as well as her family background in order to ensure that her secret was safe.  She tried to erase Yiddish out of her memory in order to prevent the incident from happening again. 

She worked for the family for two years and they took good care of her.  When she got her period at age twelve, her boss explained to her the process of becoming a woman.  Dorothy even felt comfortable enough to tell the father of the household about her Jewish identity during the Polish uprising.  He never disclosed her secret.  During the bombings, she stayed indoors for sixty-three days without water, electricity, gas, and barely any food.  She ate dry bread and mustard for months.  As a matter of fact, her boss gave her an equal ration of food as the rest of the family.  While the family stayed in the basement, she felt safer underneath her bed, which was on the seventh floor of the building.  Once again, Dorothy believes an angel was watching over her. 

Once the bombings came to an end, she left the building with nothing but the clothes on her back.