[Marxism] Irving Milchberg, Smuggled Guns Under Nazis’ Noses in Warsaw, Dies at 86

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 27 13:27:06 MST 2014


NY Times Jan 27 2014
Irving Milchberg, Smuggled Guns Under Nazis’ Noses in Warsaw, Dies at 86
By JOSEPH BERGER

Irving Milchberg, who as a plucky Jewish street urchin escaped transport 
to concentration camps three times and sold cigarettes to Nazis in the 
heart of occupied Warsaw while smuggling guns and food to resistance 
fighters, died on Sunday in Toronto. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by his son, Howard.

Mr. Milchberg’s improbable saga was chronicled in a 1962 memoir by a 
Holocaust survivor, Joseph Ziemian, called “The Cigarette Sellers of 
Three Crosses Square.” The square was in the heart of a Warsaw district 
that German authorities had taken over. A nearby Y.M.C.A. had become a 
barracks for SS troops, another building was a German gendarmerie, and a 
third building housed Hungarian soldiers collaborating with the Germans. 
A Gestapo secret police office was nearby.

The square itself was bustling and noisy, and much of the racket was 
contributed by about 14 cigarette sellers, most of whom were orphaned 
boys and girls hiding their Jewish identities and sleeping either on the 
streets, in cemeteries or with nervously accommodating Polish families.

For a year and a half, Mr. Milchberg and the other children hustled, 
sometimes fighting among themselves over customers, who included not 
only Poles but also the hundreds of Germans who could shoot them on the 
spot if they discovered they were Jewish. The fact that Mr. Milchberg 
had sandy hair and blue eyes made it easier for him to pass as a Polish 
gentile.

“This group of Jewish children, wandering around under the very noses of 
a thousand policemen, gendarmes, Gestapo men and ordinary spies, 
constituted an unexplained and inexplicable phenomenon,” Mr. Ziemian wrote.

Mr. Milchberg, who had taken the Polish name Henrik Rozowski but was 
known by the nickname Bull, was a leader of the group.

Born Ignac Milchberg on Sept. 15, 1927, into a Warsaw housewares 
merchant’s family, he saw his fairly comfortable world begin to crumble 
after the Nazi invasion in September 1939 and the walling off of a 
Jewish ghetto about six months later. The family was assigned to a room 
over an abandoned grocery store, and Ignac and his father were sent to 
work in a lumberyard outside the ghetto, sometimes bartering for food 
that they would sneak back.

In 1942, his father, while on the work detail, was killed by a Gestapo 
officer who found him hiding bread, then ordered him to run before 
shooting him in the back. Ignac, who had been working nearby, managed to 
slip back into the ghetto to bring food to his mother. When he returned, 
the body had already been taken to a mass grave.

One day he was seized in the street and taken to the Umschlagplatz, 
where Jews were put aboard trains to the Treblinka death camp. But 
during the night he scaled a fence, fled and returned to the ghetto. 
There he encountered an empty apartment. His mother and three sisters 
had been sent to Treblinka.

He made it out to the Aryan side and joined another work detail, but 
those workers, too, were taken at gunpoint to the Umschlagplatz and put 
aboard a train. When the train was stalled, Mr. Milchberg managed to 
break the bars of a car window and scramble out, roll into a ditch and flee.

“To tell you the truth, I never thought much,” Mr. Milchberg said in a 
2013 interview, trying to explain his daring resourcefulness. “If I had 
to do something, I did it. I didn’t have time to analyze it.”

He took a series of jobs that allowed him to move between the Jewish 
ghetto and the outside world, and he smuggled in food. While they were 
loading coal for a railway, his mother’s brother, the family’s only 
other survivor, put him in touch with rebel fighters. Not yet 16, Mr. 
Milchberg, according to the Zieman memoir, smuggled guns to the ghetto 
in hollowed loaves, twice by spiriting through the sewers.

For several weeks in April and May 1943, as the last remnants of the 
ghetto were being “liquidated,” the fighters, armed with guns, grenades 
and Molotov cocktails, staged a quixotic revolt in what became known as 
the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a milestone of Jewish resistance. Mr. 
Milchberg, who had visited his uncle for Passover but did not actually 
fight in the uprising, was rounded up and put aboard a train to the 
Poniatowa labor camp. But when the group was switched to another train, 
he mingled with a crowd of Polish boys selling water and escaped.

He made it back to Warsaw’s Aryan side, but he badly injured his leg 
while running from a gendarme. He managed to persuade a Polish doctor he 
had known before the war to treat him. He ran into some youths he had 
met before, who were now hanging out with the cigarette sellers of Three 
Crosses Square, and joined the clique. The boys had nicknames like 
Conky, Hoppy, Toothy and Frenchy.

According to Mr. Milchberg’s son, surviving meant balancing “extreme 
fear and extreme hubris.” And indeed, some boys perished. The boy known 
as Frenchy was flattered by the attention of an SS man, thinking that 
might be an advantage, but for reasons they never learned, Frenchy was 
taken to the Gestapo and never heard from. Fearing that Frenchy might 
expose them all, the cigarette sellers scattered and went their own ways 
until the Soviet Army liberated the city.

In 1945, Mr. Milchberg made his way to Czechoslovakia, then Austria, 
then to a displaced persons camp in occupied Germany, where he learned 
watchmaking, his lifelong occupation. In 1947 Canada allowed 1,000 
children to immigrate, and he became one of three cigarette sellers who 
settled there, while most went to Israel.

He ended up in Niagara Falls, where he opened his own jewelry and watch 
business. In 1953 he met his wife, Renee, who had survived the war 
because an aunt placed her in a Russian orphanage. She had come to 
Niagara Falls as a tourist.

In addition to their son, Mr. Milchberg is survived by a daughter, Anne, 
and three grandchildren.

In old age, Mr. Milchberg wound up in Toronto, in a neighborhood of 
survivors who met regularly over tea or coffee in a courtyard and traded 
jokes and stories of the war.

In 1993, he took a trip to Poland with his son for the 50th anniversary 
of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and visited Treblinka.

“He completely broke down,” his son said. “I’d never seen him do that 
before.”




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