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William & Rosalie

A Holocaust Testimony

William and Rosalie Schiff and Craig Hanley

Publication Year: 2007

William & Rosalie is the gripping and heartfelt account of two young Jewish people from Poland who survive six different German slave and prison camps throughout the Holocaust. In 1941, newlyweds William and Rosalie Schiff are forcibly separated and sent on their individual odysseys through a surreal maze of hate. Terror in the Krakow ghetto, sadistic SS death games, cruel human medical experiments, eyewitness accounts of brutal murders of men, women, children, and even infants, and the menace of rape in occupied Poland make William & Rosalie an unusually explicit view of the chaos that World War II unleashed on the Jewish people. The lovers’ story begins in Krakow’s ancient neighborhood of Kazimierz, after the Germans occupy western Poland. A year later they marry in the ghetto; by 1942 deportations have wasted both families. After Rosalie is saved by Oskar Schindler, the husband and wife end up at the Plaszow work camp under Amon Goeth, the bestial commandant played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. While Rosalie is on “heaven patrol” removing bodies from the camp, William is working in the factories. But when Rosalie is shipped by train to a different factory camp, William sneaks into a boxcar to follow, and he ends up at Auschwitz instead. Craig Hanley powerfully narrates the struggle of the couple to stay alive and find each other at war’s end. Now in their eighties, William and Rosalie come to terms in this book with the loss of their families and years of torture at the hands of Nazi captors. Unique among memoirs from this era, the book connects directly to the present day. The Schiffs’ ongoing and highly effective campaign against prejudice and discrimination is a heroic culmination of two lives scarred beyond belief by racism. William & Rosalie artfully combines biography with timely lessons on the nature of mass hate, a stubborn phenomenon that continues to endanger every life on Earth.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Contents

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pp. iii-

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Preface

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pp. v-vii

In a roundabout way this book began a year before I met William and Rosalie Schiff. In the summer of 2004, I was watching the news on CSPAN. The main story involved Israel and viewers, as usual, were encouraged to phone in their thoughts. Fans of this particular program are accustomed to the occasional caller who cannot control his or her political ...

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one: “When will people stop hating?”

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pp. 1-20

On this lovely Thursday at the end of summer the citizens of Krakow move as usual through some of the finest architecture in Europe. Towering gothic churches, stately Renaissance homes and trendy cafes with gilt lettering crowd together around the main square. The true heart of the city ...

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two: “In this ghetto we were married”

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pp. 21-38

Amber was big business in Poland long before the country had a name. Primitive people thought the sunshine-colored tree resin they dug up out of the ground could bring them luck and make them young again. When Roman nobles started buying the pretty stuff, the Vistula was already part of the ...

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three: Plaszow: The first camp

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pp. 39-54

In a valley between two sterile hills a hulking man stands on a gallows. He fills a meticulously tailored gray uniform with a high black collar. A silver eagle and skull adorn his hat. Six-foot four without the hat, he is not dwarfed by three noosed men standing on chairs beside him. The giant glares ...

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four: “It has to have an end”

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pp. 55-64

One hundred and twenty people can barely breathe, so tightly is the boxcar packed. Down the tracks it lumbers under a quarter moon past farm fields ready for harvest. Some prisoners sleep standing up; one pinned against the wall next to Rosalie looks like he’s asleep. His body will be offloaded soon with others gone breathless. ...

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five: “I wish I could have helped more people”

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pp. 65-82

Outside the front gate at Auschwitz a dead man is bound to a post with ropes around his chest, thighs, and throat. He wears dull gray pajamas with fat navy stripes. Over his heart an upside-down yellow triangle points to a hole in his pajama top that matches the hole in his back. From these holes, a gallon of dark stain has drained into the uniform. While rows ...

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six: “Remember how I lived my life, Rose”

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pp. 83-92

It’s four in the morning at Camp Skarzysko. Rosalie sleeps with two other women on a bottom bunk shelf. During the winter of 1944 shared body warmth has been a lifesaver in the drafty barrack. Mania sleeps on one side of Rosalie and their friend sleeps on the other. Lately a bad case of dysentery has ...

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seven: Three days in the grave

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pp. 93-103

The locomotive engineer who pulled his train off the camp spur at Auschwitz onto the main line three hours ago had a much simpler life before the Reich took the railroads over and painted swastikas on everything that rolled. The German train system had been the pride of Europe, 33,000 miles of beautiful tracks and 700,000 people with sane, productive ...

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eight: One hundred miles of rapists

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pp. 104-112

The Jasna Gora monastery is not far from the HASAG plant where Rosalie now spits up blood every day. She and Mania chew their bread crusts close to the shrine of the Black Madonna in the monastery chapel. Art experts say the icon of the Virgin is the handiwork of a Byzantine master. Many ...

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nine: A human being

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pp. 113-124

Fiery noon sunshine shocks his retinas as the guards toss the boards aside. The blinding flash of sky is interrupted by dark figures in helmets who reach down, grab him and jerk him back up into the world. Blinking, raw from bug bites, and covered with soil, he is too weak to stand. The soldiers hold ...

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ten: Ghost town

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pp. 125-141

Against a late afternoon sky full of dark snow clouds Rosalie spots the three towers of Wawel castle. She has hiked a hundred miles in shoes that keep her feet dry but make her toes bleed. Three miles outside the city, she and her companions stop to rest. ...

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eleven: On the border

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pp. 142-156

In his suicide note Adolf Hitler tried to shift the blame for the six years of pain he forced on the world by invading Poland. The day before he dictated the note he learned that Heinrich Himmler had betrayed him. A radio brought the news down into the bunker. When Hitler heard that Himmler ...

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twelve: The future of hate

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pp. 156-162

Warsaw ghetto fighter Alexander Donat did not consider the Holocaust the last chapter in the book of human cruelty. He saw it as the preface to a future age of total chaos. With great passion and urgency Donat warned that a new generation would destroy the world with nuclear war unless mankind could keep hate from seizing power again. ...

Key to Inter-Chapter Photos

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pp. 163-164

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Further Reading

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pp. 165-102

For an overview of the broader political context, Richard J. Evans has been deservedly praised for The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power (The Penguin Press, 2003 and 2005). The Jews of Krakow by Eugeniusz Duda (Wydanictwo, Hagada and Argona-Jarden Jewish Bookshop) is an outstanding cultural history and provided especially helpful ...

Family photographs

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E-ISBN-13: 9781574413847
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412376

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series

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Subject Headings

  • Kraków (Poland) -- Biography.
  • Schiff, William, 1918-.
  • Schiff, Rosalie, 1922-.
  • Jews -- Poland -- Kraków -- Biography.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Poland -- Personal narratives.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Texas -- Dallas -- Biography.
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