Harry & Kela Zarembo
A Brief Biography
Harry Zarembo was born on May 3, 1908, in Wilno, which was then in Poland and is now Vilnius, Lithuania. He owned and managed a lumber yard. He was married to a woman named Eta, and they had three children: Sima, born in 1937, Meir, born in 1938, and Mordechai, born in 1939.
Kela Lastowska was born May 10, 1917, in Wilno, the daughter of Shmuel and Chana Lastowski. We know that Kela was married and had children, but we do not know any of their names.
(Passages included within quotation marks are taken from the article on the Vilna Ghetto in the Holocaust Enyclopedia on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)
"Under the terms of the German-Soviet Pact, Vilna, along with the rest of eastern Poland, was occupied by Soviet forces in late September 1939. In October 1939, the Soviet Union transferred the Vilna region to Lithuania. The population of the city was 200,000 at this time, including over 55,000 Jews. In addition, some 12,000-15,000 Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland found refuge in the city. Soviet forces occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and in August 1940 incorporated Vilna, along with the rest of Lithuania, into the Soviet Union." For over a year both Harry and Kela lived under occupation by Russians and other Soviets.
"On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked Soviet forces in eastern Europe. The German army occupied Vilna on June 24, 1941, the third day after the invasion." Harry and Kela were in Vilna when the German army occupied the city.
"In July 1941, the German military administration issued a series of anti-Jewish decrees. During the same month, German Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) aided by Lithuanian auxiliaries killed 5,000 Jewish men at Ponary forest, eight miles outside Vilna. A German civilian administration took control of Vilna in August 1941. At the end of the month, Germans killed another 3,500 Jews at Ponary." Harry spoke of the difficulty of living under the anti-Jewish decrees of the Nazis and of watching people being taken out to Ponary to be killed.
"The Germans established two ghettos--ghetto # 1 and ghetto # 2--in Vilna in early September 1941. Jews considered incapable of work were concentrated in ghetto # 2. In October 1941, German Einsatzgruppe detachments and Lithuanian auxiliaries destroyed ghetto # 2, killing the ghetto population in Ponary. Lukiszki Prison served as a collection center for Jews who were to be taken to Ponary and shot. By the end of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen had killed about 40,000 Jews in Ponary." We know for sure that Harry was kept in ghetto # 1 because he was capable of work, and that made it possible for him to survive. We do not know for sure where Kela was kept, but she survived and so was also more than likely kept in ghetto # 1. Harry's mother, Mary, and his wife Eta, along with his three children, were probably kept in ghetto # 2, because we know from Harry that all five of them were killed in the Vilna ghetto. Harry says that his mother took care of the two older children while Eta took care of the youngest child. Eta was probably capable of work but she had a child attached to her and that may have doomed her. Harry told friends in Mobile that Eta was raped and that he had been forced to watch her being raped.
"The Jews in ghetto # 1 were forced to work in factories or in construction projects outside the ghetto. Some Jews were sent to labor camps in the Vilna region. In periodic killing operations, most of the ghetto's inhabitants were massacred at Ponary. From the spring of 1942 until the spring of 1943, there were no mass killing operations in Vilna. The Germans renewed the killings during the final liquidation of ghetto # 1 in late September 1943. Children, the elderly, and the sick were sent to the Sobibor killing center or were shot at Ponary. The surviving men were sent to labor camps in Estonia, while the women were sent to labor camps in Latvia." Harry and Kela both survived until the final liquidation of ghetto # 1. Harry says that they knew each other in Wilno, but we don't know if they knew each other before the time of the ghetto are if they met only in the ghetto. What is apparent is that at the time of the final liquidation, they were separated. Harry went to a labor camp in Estonia, and Kela went to a labor camp in Latvia.
"In September 1943, in an attempt to destroy the evidence of the killing of Jews at Ponary, the Germans forced detachments of Jewish laborers to open the mass graves and burn the corpses. Jews from nearby labor camps continued to be killed at Ponary." We do not know if Harry was involved in these activities, but he could have been because he may have been in the ghetto at that time.
(Passages included within quotation marks are taken from the article "Deportation to Camps in Estonia and Latvia" on the website of Yad Vashem.)
There was a series of deportations from the Vilna Ghetto.
1. "On the morning of the 6th of August hundreds of people who had not gone out to work were arrested and taken to the ghetto prison... The prisoners were freed in order to avert a violent confrontation and thousands left the ghetto to go to work. When about 1000 of the airfield workers reached their places of work they were surrounded by Estonian soldiers. The workers began to flee and to attack the soldiers who were shooting those who fled. About twenty people were killed on the spot... About 100 workers of an ammunition base were caught by the Germans on their way to work and brought to the train station... About 1000 people were sent to Estonia to the transit and concentration camp Vaivara."
2. "The German authorities demanded an additional 4,000 - 5,000 people for work in Estonia .... Some people presented themselves willingly and others had to be taken by force. On the 24th of August 1943 the second transport was sent to Estonia, it contained about 1,500 men, women and children."
3. "On the first of September the Germans demanded another 3,000 men and 2,000 women for work in Estonia. The ghetto leadership struggled to gather the number of people demanded. Jews hid and a confrontation ensued between the German security forces and the underground. That day 1,300-1,500 men were taken from the ghetto and sent to Estonia."
4. "On the 23rd and 24th of September the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated. 1,600 -- 2,000 men were sent to camps in Estonia and 1,400 -- 1,700 women were sent to Latvia."
We do not know on which of these transports Harry went to Estonia, nor do we know on which one Kela left the Vilna Ghetto.
(This next passage is taken from the book, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union by Yitzhak Arad, p. 331.)
"During January and February 1944 the Soviet army arrived at the Estonian border and stopped there to redeploy for attack. The evacuation of between 8,000 and 9,000 Jews from Estonian camps began in April. The Jews were evacuated from the camps Lagedi and Kivioli and others and sent over the Baltic Sea to the concentration camp at Stutthof. The liberation of Estonia began on July 23, 1944, with the conquest of Narva in the country's northeast. At the end of July, massacres were carried out in all the camps in Estonia; all prisoners who appeared incapable of work were murdered. In mid-August some 2,500 Jews who had previously been concentrated in Lagedi were brought to Tallin, loaded onto a ship, and sent to Stutthof. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Jews were evacuated from Estonia." According to Harry's testimony, there were two ships. The first ship was loaded with Jews, brought out into the middle of the bay, and sunk. The other ship was loaded with the remaining Jews as well as Germans who wanted to return to Germany. That ship made it back to Germany. Harry says that he was put to work in several places, including Stutthof and Danzig, and he ended up in Bergen-Belsen.
(This next passage is taken from the webpage, Stutthof: Testimony of Miriam Bell, on the website ot the Los Angeles Museum of The Holocaust.)
"Miriam Galperin Bell was born... in Kaunas (Kovno) Lithuania... She was taken to a ghetto in Slobatka, not far from Kovno... She was eventually put onto a cattle train that ended up in Estonia... Many months later she was taken to Stutthof concentration camp in Poland with other women in Estonia, on a ship that was originally intended to be sunk. As the Russians advanced, Miriam and the women couldn't stay in Stutthof anymore, so the Germans took them to a slave labor ammunitions factory in Hamburg. Later she was taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp." Could this have been more or less what Kela experienced? We know that Kela ended up in Bergen-Belsen, and we get a glimpse of one of her experiences, probably at Bergen-Belsen, from the following story, told by a friend. While living in Mobile in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Kela needed to have a pacemaker put in. The doctors explained that the patient is not put to sleep during a pacemaker procedure, and Harry objected. She has to be put to sleep, he said, because she had had experiments performed on her, and they were done without anesthesia. The doctors ignored this request, and when they began the procedure, Kela screamed so loud that her screams could be heard all around the hospital. They ended up administering anesthesia to her.
Harry and Kela were both in Bergen-Belsen during the final months of the war. What was happening in the camp during that period?
(This next passage is taken from the webpage, Scrapbookpages.com.)
"In December 1944, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp under the command of Josef Kramer, the former Commandant of the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau. A section for sick prisoners, who could no longer work in the Nazi forced labor camps, was set aside at Bergen-Belsen in March 1944. In 1945, when World War II was drawing to a close, civilian prisoners were evacuated from other concentration camps as Soviet troops advanced westward; thousands of these prisoners were brought to the Bergen-Belsen camp which was not equipped to handle such a large number of people. Finally, Bergen-Belsen itself was right in the middle of the war zone where bombs were falling and Allied planes were strafing the Autobahn and the railroads. British and Germans troops were doing battle on the Lueneberg heath right outside the camp. In February 1945, the situation at Bergen-Belsen became catastrophic when a typhus epidemic broke out in the crowded camp."
On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was surrendered to the British. Harry and Kela had been liberated. Harry spent six months in a hospital.He and Kela stayed some time in Bergen-Belsen and were married there on February 17, 1948.
Harry and Kela Zarembo came to Mobile in 1949 because Kela had relatives in Mobile. Harry eventually got involved in the home rental business and became rather well off. Among their philanthropic endeavors, Harry and Kela contributed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and they donated an ambulance to the State of Israel. Kela died in 1995, and Harry died in 2000. They are both buried in the Congregation Ahavas Chesed Cemetery.
Mobile Register (AL) - Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Holocaust survivor Harry Zarembo dies
Native of Poland owned Harry's Grocery in the Down the Bay area Staff Report
Harry Zarembo, a native of Wilno, Poland, and Holocaust survivor, died Sunday in a local nursing facility.
Zarembo, a longtime resident of Mobile, had owned Harry's Grocery in the Down the Bay area of Mobile. He was a member of Congregation Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, the Chevra Kadisha and the Leisure Club.
He was also well-known for buying and fixing up rental houses in the Virginia Street area.
Irvin Grodsky said that Zarembo was a "crusty" and "independent" fellow who always insisted on collecting the rent himself, even when he was well up in years.
But "the people who rented from him certainly cared about him," Grodsky said. "They cared more about his safety and health than he did."
His fearlessness may have been a reflection of the years he spent in Poland during the Holocaust, where he lost his first wife and three children.
In April 1945, he was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 37 weighing a mere 68 pounds, according to Zarembo 's account of his wartime experiences featured in a 1998 Mobile Register story.
The article described his account of how life began to change - the indignities Jews were forced to suffer, the taking of their valuables. He told of Jews being rounded up and herded into the center of the town of Wilno, now Vilna, Lithuania, where they were forced into a ghetto behind a wall at the end of one of the streets.
He was eventually sent to a labor camp in Estonia, until the Russians closed in, and he and other prisoners were forced on a 300-mile death march to ships waiting to take prisoners back across the Baltic Sea. One ship was sunk during the crossing, killing thousands. Zarembo 's ship made the crossing, but he ended up in Bergen-Belgen.
Zarembo told the Register that life in the concentration camps was so hard, he and others would wish that "maybe somebody will come from America or Russia and bomb us. Let us die together with the Nazis. It's better than to have them come and take our children and put them in the ground."
But Zarembo and other European refugees made it to the United States in 1949, and soon he and his second wife, Kela, also a Holocaust survivor, settled in Mobile and opened a small store.
"Kela was his softness," Grodsky said. "She provided his human compassion side." Kela died in 1995, according to his obituary notice.
Zarembo 's survivors include a niece, Lucja Sadykiewicz of London, England; a great-niece; and two great-greatnieces.
Graveside services are set for 4 p.m. today in the Congregation Ahavas Chesed Cemetery with Radney Funeral Home on Dauphin Street directing.