WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Have hope. Help others.
That is the message a 99-year-old woman who survived the Holocaust wants you to hear.
Edith Kozlowski grew up in Radom, Poland. It was a town of about 100,000 people, of whom almost a third were Jews. Kozlowski and her family had a comfortable and happy life in the Radom Shtetl.
Radom is about sixty miles south and slightly east of Warsaw, the biggest city in Poland. The Kozlowski's began to suffer from discrimination and antisemitism around 1933.
Radom was attacked on September 8, 1939, and occupied by German Nazis on September 9, when Edith was 17 years old. The Nazis closed down her parents’ grocery store and her school.
“They said if we go to work, we might survive,” said Edith Kozlowski.
She and two younger sisters took jobs sewing Nazi uniforms. Then one day the Germans didn’t let them go home to their parents.
“And so we slept there. And the crying and the screaming… it was near the train station, was unreal,” she said.
She didn’t know what was happening. She later learned the Jewish people in her community were put on trains and taken to be killed.
“Somebody escaped from there and let us know that they took them to Treblinka. Took them there, put them in the shower, and from the shower to the ovens,” said Edith.
Treblinka was a village in Poland. During the German occupation, the Nazis built a work camp and an extermination camp there. It is estimated that between 700,000 and 900,000 Jewish people were murdered there.
Edith’s mom, dad, and grandmother are three of about one hundred relatives she says were killed there. The German soldiers told her and her sisters, that their family was gone.
“They took us to the ghetto to show us that nobody and nothing is there now. This was our home now,” said Edith.
For six years she and her sisters worked in concentration camps, the last three, in Auschwitz, the largest German Nazi concentration camp. There, soldiers forced them to dig ditches, where some of the more than one million people who lost their lives there were buried. They lived in filth.
“No bathroom. No food. Water and a potato maybe, daily. Rats. It is hard to describe,” said Edith.
One day she heard cheering and learned they were liberated, but the trauma stays with her.
“I couldn’t smile,” she said.
She has struggled for years to smile.
She and her sisters were granted visas to come to the United States in 1947, as they had family here.
She married Marvin Kozlowski, who also survived the concentration camps. She says he understood her anxiety, her sleepless nights, and the emotional burden she lived with. Edith and Marvin were blessed with three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She misses him.
“I had him for 72 years. He lived to 100. He died two years ago.” said Edith. “I was the worrier. He believed in everything, that it would be fine.”
“My mom was always home when we returned from school to help with homework, prepare dinner and shower us with love and attention,” said Jay Kozlowski, Edith and Marvin’s son. “My dad was a tailor and as I was starting my senior year in high school, he opened a small clothing and tailor shop. My mom was his helper and partner in the business.”
Their daughter Ruth Kozlowski says she watched her parents every day show kindness to others, and inspired to spread love to fight hate.
“If there is anything she can do to show love and give, that is her reason for being,” said Ruth Kozlowski.
When asked what she wants people to learn from her story, Edith Kozlowski said, “Be good to each other. It pays in the long run.”
Edith Kozlowski now lives in West Bloomfield. She turns 100 on September 20th. Her children say birthday cards make her smile. They are asking you to show love to her and send her one. It is a way to let her know we all will never forget what happened to her and so many others. Kindness will prevail.
If you would like to send a birthday card, address it to:
Edith London Kozlowski
c/o Jay Kozlowski
3950 Maple Hill Street W.
West Bloomfield, Michigan 48323