A Story of Survival, Memory,
A Story of Survival, Memory,
An online Exhibition by the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków, Poland
Richard Ores was born to a Jewish family in the center of Kraków. He was fifteen years old when the war broke out. He survived and spent most of the rest of his life in the United States. Even though he lived there for more than fifty years, he continued to feel deeply connected to Poland. He made dozens of trips back to his hometown, often bringing his family with him.
This exhibition tells the story of Richard, his family, and their relationship to Poland over nearly a century. Richard was fascinated with photography and filmmaking his entire life, endlessly documenting his experiences and the people around him. In creating this exhibition, we relied on many of the photos and videos Richard created, as well as interviews with members of his family.
My dad was also a photographer, so we had a darkroom in our house, and I don’t know how many cameras he owned: twenty-five, thirty cameras. He always loved cameras.
JESSICA: He always took pictures of us, every single place we went. He liked to document everything. He was one of those people who’d say, “Okay, stand here, stand there. Oh, what a minute, I didn’t take the lens cap off.” And it would just take forever.
NINA: And then he would develop them and put them away and then not let us touch any of them or look at them. So we have boxes and boxes of photos where we don’t even know who half the people are.
He had a Rolleiflex, a thing that you look down into it, like a square box. He took a lot of pictures like that. He would take pictures of us and we were horrible to take pictures of, because of the camera and the light and the technology, you had to actually stay still for a minute or two, which is like six hours to a kid, so there’s not one single spontaneous picture of any of us. He had a film camera, too, it must have been a 16 or an 8mm, he’d film wacky things, he did that a lot.
Twenty years ago, approximately, I was at his house and he showed me photos, the photos that he had hidden in a jar in Płaszów, of his family and friends, the photos he had taken during the war, 1939 about, 1940, I don’t know how late, after that he couldn’t do it anymore. He remembered the names of everyone in these photos, he remembered if they survived the war, he remembered everything about them.
On the eve of World War II, Jews made up nearly 25 percent of Kraków’s population—56,000 people in a city of about 250,000. They lived mostly in the neighborhoods of Kazimierz (the historical Jewish quarter), Stradom, and Podgórze. Some well-off, assimilated families moved to the newer and more prestigious parts of the city.
In Kraków in the 1930s, there were several Jewish cultural organizations, political parties, social clubs, and dozens of newspapers. Jewish religious life thrived in the old synagogues of Kazimierz, the progressive Tempel synagogue, and smaller prayer houses scattered throughout the city. There was also a significant population of secular Jews.
Krakow's Jews were an integral part of the city's community and actively participated in its life. Many of them had a significant impact on the cultural, social, and economic face of the city.
The Second World War broke out on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. In a rapid campaign, the German forces, more numerous and much better equipped than the Polish Army, quickly captured one city after another.
The first bombs fell on Kraków in the early morning of September 1, 1939. Five days later, on September 6, 1939, German troops occupied the city.
Almost immediately after the invasion of Poland, the Germans started introducing anti-Jewish laws. In September 1939, they required all Jewish residents to register with the authorities, and one month later they introduced separate identity cards for Jews and conscripted Jews for forced labor. Starting on December 1, 1939, every Jewish resident was required to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David on their right arm. From the beginning of 1940, Jews were not allowed to move out of their homes and had to abide by a curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
In March 1941, the German occupation authorities decided to create a ghetto in Kraków, where Jews who received a permit to stay in the city were made to reside. The rest had to leave Kraków. About 15,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto between March 3 and 20, 1941. From October 1941, leaving the ghetto without permission was punishable by death.
We don’t know what exactly was contained in the glass jar that Richard Ores buried on the grounds of Płaszów, where he was a prisoner from February 1943 to January 1945. We know that there were photographs taken before World War II, photographs taken during the early years of the year, and some taken inside the Kraków Ghetto, which was created in March 1941.
The jar was located and dug up after the war, in 1945 or, at the latest, 1946. According to different accounts, the jar was recovered by Richard himself, by his friend and future wife Irena Keller, or by the two of them together.
Richard’s parents: Paulina Gartenberg and Ignacy Ores. Paulina came from a well-off, religious family—her father owned a kosher sausage factory in Kazimierz, the historical Jewish district. Ignacy was born in Lwów and grew up in Kraków. He held a number of jobs and started several businesses, including a store off the Main Square that sold radios. Paulina and Ignacy divorced when Richard and his sister were young.
Richard was born on November 8, 1923; his sister Antonina was born three years later, on December 16, 1926.
Paulina had a big family, with Gartenberg relatives living throughout the country. Richard’s family spent summer vacations at the Baltic Sea in Sopot and winters in the mountains of Zakopane. For middle-class families in prewar Poland, these were typical holiday destinations.
Richard attended, at different times, both secular public school and Jewish school. He was also in a Jewish scouts group.
Richard and his friends before or shortly after the outbreak of the war.
Richard and his friends after the outbreak of the war, but before the establishment of the Kraków Ghetto—most likely in the summer of 1940.
Over several months in 1940, Richard took an accelerated nursing course offered by the Jewish hospital.
Richard and Irena Keller, who would become his first wife after the war. Irena also took the nursing course, and they worked together in the hospital in the Kraków Ghetto and in the infirmary barracks in Płaszów. They married in Israel in 1949 and divorced less than a year later.
During the first years of the war, Richard was conscripted for forced labor, as were most Jews in Kraków. In 1941, he moved with his family to Prokocim, a suburb of Kraków where he was forced to work on a farm and for the Wehrmacht.
Richard and his friends in the Kraków Ghetto. These photographs were taken with the ghetto wall in the background or on a hill overlooking the rest of the ghetto. Richard and his family arrived in the Kraków Ghetto in late 1941 or early 1942. The last of these photographs was likely taken in early 1942.
A photograph of Irena Keller that she gave to Richard. The note on the back reads: “The afternoon you went to the barracks. For when you’re sad…” It’s dated February 22, 1943, suggesting that’s the day Richard was transferred from the Kraków Ghetto to the camp in Płaszów. He was sent there as punishment for helping a patient escape from the ghetto. Three weeks later, on March 13–14, 1943, the Germans liquidated the ghetto. During the liquidation, about 2–3,000 people were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, about 2,000 people were killed on the spot, and the remaining 8,000 or so prisoners were marched to Płaszów.
Between 1946 and 1954, about 140,000 Holocaust survivors emigrated to the United States, nearly half of them settling in New York City. In the immediate postwar years, they sought both to commemorate their lost families and communities and to embrace the postwar American optimism around them. While survivors held and attended small ceremonies and gatherings, most Jews in America were not talking publicly about the Holocaust (a term for the genocide that wasn’t in wide use until the 1960s).
Having survived concentration camps, the gulag, forced labor, and years of hiding, they arrived in an America that was experiencing a period of incredible growth—the baby boom and the Golden Age of American capitalism. The contrast between what they had endured and where they now found themselves could not have been greater.
I remember kind of small unrelated bits and that’s because what he told me—he never really said, “Sit down, let me tell you about the war.” That never happened. And it wasn’t mentioned obliquely, wasn’t discussed. My dad never spoke about the war in a narrative way, like, “This happened.”
My father would tell us many funny stories, practical jokes they played on each other, things we laughed about, but the stories were taking place in concentration camps. And if you asked him questions about the Holocaust he would get very depressed. He didn’t really want to talk about it. Now we think it would be good to have those stories, but back then the feeling was: “How do we move on as quickly and as best as possible?”
We were at Birkenau, and there's a giant smokestack that's fallen. And he said, “I was being marched out of this camp when that fell.” Like, “I saw that happen.” So he would drop these little bombs of really interesting stuff, so I learned to not really ask anything and just kind of stay with him and walk through and see what he would reveal.
I was fourteen, fifteen. I was very interested in their Holocaust stories, I constantly would sit with my grandparents and talk about the war and make family trees and figure out who’s who. That was my common ground with him—but that was my doing. I was asking him these questions.
In 1954, Richard married Celia Nuwendsztern, a Jewish woman from Dubienka, a shtetl in today’s eastern Poland. Celia and her family escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Soviet-occupied Poland, from where they were deported to a gulag in Siberia. While in Siberia, Celia’s younger brother Józef died from meningitis. In 1942, Celia and her parents were sent to Kazakhstan, where they spent the remainder of the war. After the war, Celia and her parents were able to reach the American occupation zone of Germany, where they lived in a displaced persons camp until they received passage to the United States in 1949. While in Germany, Celia’s parents gave birth to a second daughter, Frances. The family settled in New York City.
Richard and Celia met while at medical school in Bern, Switzerland. They moved to the United States in 1956, living at first in Brooklyn, New York, where they both completed medical residencies. Celia became a pediatrician and specialized in cystic fibrosis; in the late 1960s, Richard took a position at the Veteren Affairs Medical Center, where he worked for most of the rest of his career.
Richard and Celia had three children together: Pauline, David, and Michelle. They moved to Leonia, New Jersey. Their marriage ended in 1967.
Richard began a relationship with Lynda Gittings, from Birmingham, England, and they married in 1970. They had two children: Jessica and Nina. Lynda became a nurse in 1980 and still lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, in the home they shared together.
Richard with his children from second and third marriages: Pauline, Nina, Michelle, David, and Jessica, ca. 1973
It’s all in retrospect, you know? So the fact that our pantry had dozens of cans in it, the eternal soup, the not wasting anything ever. You had to peel a potato in a certain way, so you wouldn’t waste any. Turning food into other foods. We made farina sticks out of leftover farina, which were amazing. We never put food in the garbage.
But it’s in retrospect—the not having relatives, you don’t realize that till you’re older. Hundreds of my relatives were murdered.
My dad talked like Count Chocula. My parents spoke Polish on the phone, and people came over and they spoke Polish. But they only spoke English with us, they didn’t teach us any language. I imagine they wanted us to not be Polish and ostracized and picked on. Coming to America in the fifties, they didn’t want Polish Jews. So they spoke English to us. My father was saying things like “make the light” instead of “turn the light on.” And I think he used us to learn English.
Our family was quite social. We traveled a lot. We didn’t stay home on the weekend, and daddy pushes the lawn mower—not that American life. And the other thing was anybody who wanted to come to America could come live in our house and my father would find them a job. So we almost always had someone living in the attic who didn’t speak English. And then lots of people would come over, they’d make food, and they’d roll up the rug, and end up dancing. So definitely more of a European kind of life.
We were left to do whatever we wanted. The only rules he insisted on were: one, he didn’t want to hear any screaming, and two, he really didn’t want to see me in stripes, striped pants, that kind of thick stripe.
JESSICA: I was complaining about something about work and my dad was like, “Just tell them yes and then go to your room and do whatever you want.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s such a good idea.”
NINA: He gave me that advice when I was like nine years old. And I’m like, “I can’t do that. It’s my principal, it’s school.” And he’s like, “Just tell him yes and do whatever.” I think he lived his life that way. He just kind of did whatever he wanted, and he didn’t really care what the consequences were. And he never really had consequences. It feels like everybody just kind of rolled with it.
Until I was thirty, forty, and got older, I didn’t understand what it meant to be a son of a Holocaust survivor. Like your garage could burn down and he’d be like, “Well, do you want that pickle?” It wouldn’t enter his head as a problem. The threshold for my parents to have a problem, in retrospect, was usually high. Like you can’t complain about anything that’s going to be to that level. You could have your arm cut off and it wouldn’t even raise to that level. They didn’t slaughter your whole family, so just relax, you didn’t get your ice cream. But as a child you don’t know that.
We traveled a lot, so we were in Europe every summer and I remember being in Poland, I remember being in Israel, I remember being on a farm outside of Bern, Switzerland, where Richard and Celia went to medical school. So I remember living on the farm for a summer, I remember living on a kibbutz in Israel one summer, I remember Kraków, I remember being in Germany, we were in France, we were in the South of France, we traveled all over Europe every year and he would take us out of school to travel, that was more important to him than anything.
Only 10 percent of Polish Jews survived World War II. The vast majority of the survivors left Poland in successive waves of emigration, from 1945 through the 1970s. Likely fewer than 30,000 Jews remained, concentrated around the largest cities.
The attitude of survivors abroad toward Poland was often complicated. On the one hand, they cultivated an idealized memory of prewar life. On the other, many considered their country of origin to be a cemetery, full of ruins and hostile people. These two images of Poland were difficult to reconcile.
Many survivors completely cut themselves off from their Polish heritage. Their children were to be Americans, Israelis, Swedes, or French, with no ties to their parents’ homeland. Many refused to visit Poland for decades, or even forever. There were, however, some exceptions.
For his entire life, Richard Ores maintained relationships with a range of Polish artists and intellectuals. He often hosted them in his home in the United States, and also exchanged letters with many of them.
He kept up with a group of friends in Kraków, and regularly met them during his visits. These included Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish pharmacist who owned the Eagle Pharmacy, which operated in the Kraków Ghetto, and Dr. Julian Aleksandrowicz, a hematologist who ran the hospital for the chronically ill in the ghetto and later became a physician in the Polish resistance. Dr. Aleksandrowicz also helped save Richard’s life in the ghetto. For many years after the war, he was the head of the Hematology Clinic at Jagiellonian University Medical College in Kraków. Richard was directly involved in the development and growth of this clinic, mostly by fundraising and supplying it with medical equipment from the US.
Until the end of his life, Richard was friends with Dr. Aleksander Skotnicki, who took over the hematology clinic after the death of Dr. Aleksandrowicz. In 1992, Dr. Skotnicki organized a photographic exhibition about life in occupied Kraków, which included some of the photos in Richard’s collection. In 2012, a year after Richard died, Dr. Skotnicki published a book about him.
My father loved Kraków. I mean he just had a love for that city, which he shared. And he certainly liked Polish food, his tripe and his sour milk. In 1967, Poland was really depressing. But my father was very excited to show us the square, and the castle, and the two brothers, and “this is the knife,” and where he went when he was a kid. He just so loved Kraków, he thought it was the most beautiful city in the world.
NINA: He went all the time. My dad went to Poland—I’m not gonna say every year, but it seemed like every other year or every few years, for sure. I think he just loved Poland. He liked sharing that with people, he wanted other people to appreciate it. He definitely felt ties, and connected…
JESSICA: To the culture. And that square in Kraków, I don’t know what it’s called. But, it’s really beautiful and he wanted to show us how beautiful Poland was.
I think he just identified as being Polish. He had a very forward-thinking way about him, he really loved Kraków, he went all the time. I can’t remember a year he didn’t go—two, three times a year. He was very engaged with Polish life there. He had a lot of friends who were not Jewish—most of his Jewish friends were killed—but he still had a lot of Jewish friends who stayed on, so he’d see them.
Photographs from Richard's
collection showing places
connected to his life in prewar
The building at 4 Grzegórzecka Street, where Richard spent some seven years of his childhood.
The PKO building at the corner of Wielopole and Dietla Streets, near Richard’s home on Grzegórzecka. In his memoir, he writes that local nannies, his own included, often gathered here with their charges.
29 Krakowska Street, where Richard’s grandparents owned a kosher sausage factory.
5 Brzozowa Street, formerly the location of three Jewish schools: the Hebrew Elementary School, the Chaim Hilfstein Gymnasium, and the Men’s Trade School.
The hotel, to make money in dollars, sold Rice Krispies in big boxes, imported American food, it was strange. Poles couldn’t purchase it, so we bought lots of it to give to Polish friends as gifts and to eat ourselves. I remember we had to get up early, to go to Zakopane or somewhere, it was like five in the morning, and people were lined up to go into this butcher shop. And you went by the window of the butcher shop, and it was more gristle than meat. Anytime we ate out in a hotel or a restaurant or something, it really was like Soylent Green in brown water, completely inedible.
Richard with his children Michelle, David, and Pauline, Kraków, 1967
Richard’s children David and Michelle at Kościuszko Mound in Kraków, 1967
And these long lines of people waiting in the cold to get in, to whatever they were getting into. And they wore black, there was no color. I’m from the United States, so it was just freaky. It was like going to Disneyland, and this is the theme park of the Polish Jews in Poland, the people starving in Poland, because the economy was useless. And all those stores were still communist, and so all those stores were named the same thing. It was the People’s Kitchen, or the People’s Restaurant—it was always the same. And then in the restaurant they had this thin broth with little bits of—it might have been chicken, I don’t know, I didn’t ask. But identical in every place, there’s no distinction. Literally the same piece of bread, the same bowl of soup, the same glass of water in every place you went.
NINA: In every picture we look miserable because we weren’t allowed to smile in any photo that’s taken in Poland. Because he felt that was disrespectful.
JESSICA: We’d be just talking and laughing about something else and he’s like, “Don’t smile, don’t laugh.”
Nina and Richard in Krakow, 1990s
I remember my dad took me to the apartment where he was born in Kraków. I don’t remember where it is, but I remember we took a piece of tile from the floor. I think he just kind of wanted that connection to where he’s from.
I have a piece of paper where he wrote down where he lived and drew little pictures of where his bedroom window was, and which I still have, and every now and then I go to those locations.
Richard and Michelle at the New Jewish Cemetery on Miodowa Street, Kraków, 1996. Richard was involved in the restoration of Jewish heritage in Kraków, primarily the Tempel Synagogue and the New Jewish Cemetery.
My most interesting memory of my father in Poland is: I was in Poland in 1996 and my father happened to be there. We walked around Kraków, he showed me where he lived. We also went to the New Jewish Cemetery and he showed me where his grandfather was buried and a plaque he had made for his family, which is still there now. And we were walking to the New Jewish Cemetery and there’s an overpass there and someone passed us, his neck was bent to the side, and my father told me that he was shot by Amon Göth when he was in Płaszów and that’s why his neck was like that. It was fascinating because I had spoken to my father about the Holocaust many times but I’d never as an adult been back in Poland with him.
I do remember getting a dog in Zakopane—somehow a dog appeared, a little white dog, about a foot long, that grew into a 140-pound dog. His name was Brysia. It was a Hungarian sheepdog and we smuggled it out with us in the car. I remember being in the car at a checkpoint. A serious checkpoint, like an East-and-West-Berlin kind of situation. I remember they rolled mirrors under the car, and what they’re looking for is people. I didn’t realize that. I thought they’d be looking for cocaine, heroin, cash, you know? But it wasn’t, it was people trying to get out. And we had this little dog and I was petting it. My father said, “David, keep the dog quiet.” My father never said anything without a really good reason, so you didn’t have to question the reason.
We went to Zakopane. I think his family had a winter house there that he worked hard trying to get back because it was taken during the war. But he never was able to get custody of it again.
Fragment of footage shot by Richard in Muranów, a district of Warsaw built after the war in the area of the Warsaw Ghetto, in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. A few decades later, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews will be built in the large empty square opposite the monument.
Film taken by Richard in 1970 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum—then called State Museum Oświęcim, as indicated on the information panel that appears in the film. Richard and his third wife Lynda appear in the footage. On trips to Poland, Richard often visited sites of the Holocaust with his loved ones.
Bełżec was one of three death camps created to fulfil Operation Reinhardt - the planned murder of Polish Jews in the General Government. Odilo Globočnik, the SS and Police Leader in Lublin, was put in charge of organizing these systematic killings, and established Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka to carry out this extermination programme. Bełżec was the first of these death camps to be constructed and was located in south-eastern Poland along the Lublin-Lviv railway line. The first deportees to Bełżec arrived on train on 17 March 1942, from the ghettos in Lublin and Lviv. Polish Jews were immediately killed on arrival in stationary gas chambers. Deportations began from Krakow from June 1942.
In total, around 450,000 Jews were deported to the camp from around 440 different towns. Only two are known to have survived, including Rudolf Reder, who is the only survivor to give testimony of his time at Bełżec. As part of the Sonderkommando, Reder was forced to assist in the disposal of corpses from the gas chambers. He described his experiences in Bełżec, a book which was first published in 1946. In December 1942, the Germans began the liquidation of Bełżec. In an attempt to erase all traces of genocide, mass graves were exhumed and the bodies of murdered Jews were burned. Today, a memorial, built in 2004, stands at Bełżec to commemorate all who were killed at this camp.
Nina, David, and Jessica in front of the monument at Bełżec, 1993.
Richard and Irena Keller, his first wife, in front of the monument at Bełżec, ca. 2000.
Richard praying in a tallit at Bełżec for a scene in The Man Who Wasn’t on Schindler’s List, in the mid-1990s.
Fragment of footage Richard shot during the March of the Living. The first March of the Living was organized in 1988, and it is held every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Ha’Shoah). For many participants, it’s a deeply moving experience, as young Jews from around the world, Holocaust survivors, and Polish state officials walk together from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In addition to the march itself, many groups also visit other Holocaust sites in Poland and some travel to Israel as well. Richard participated in the March of the Living with his children David and Nina in 1990.
There was a thing called March of the Living and Richard was invited to go to Poland with about 150 Jewish kids. They go to Poland for a week and then Israel for a week. To learn about the Holocaust and then see Israel, etc. And I went along too with him, as his son, and I remember being in Auschwitz with him. There was one of those smokestacks and it was knocked over, you could see it just kind of fell over, and I go, “Look, that smokestack.” And he goes, “Yes, I was here the day they blew it up.” So that was kind of: “wow, that was weird.” And also when we went there everything was beautiful. The pathways were manicured, there were tulips and flowers everywhere. And he said, “It wasn’t so nice when I was here.” So he said things like that, kind of odd...
NINA: I went with him on a trip when I was sixteen, the March of The Living, it was like the first one. And that was pretty…
NINA: Impactful, yes. It was interesting. And he would speak more about his experiences if he was in Poland. In a camp. He never really liked to talk about it at home. And even if you asked him he would just kind of shut you down.
JESSICA: Remember when we went to Poland and David was trying to find out...
NINA: He was trying to film him and interview him, and he was not having it.
JESSICA: Every time he would start talking, and then David would throw a microphone on him, and he would just stop talking.
In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List arrived in cinemas and immediately became an important reference point for Holocaust survivors and their families. The film’s popularity demonstrated a great public interest in the history of the Holocaust, and many survivors point to the film as one of the catalysts that led them to speak more openly about their experiences during the war.
I became very engaged in learning more about the Holocaust in my twenties. I realized my parents had this unique history, my grandparents were getting older. I interviewed my grandparents, I interviewed my mother, I got my mother and my father to do the Yale archives. I knew it was important to get it down.
My mom says my grandmother didn’t really talk the war when she was growing up. And then she started having grandkids and she started talking about it more. That happened with a lot of people—they want to preserve the stories, pass them on. Also they retire, their headspace isn’t so occupied with work and things, they start thinking about it more.
I recorded my grandmother’s testimony several times, but never Richard’s. Growing up, I knew there was a recording of him out there somewhere, but I wanted to bring a camera to his house and ask him questions and record him myself. But he died when I was sixteen and I just hadn’t done it.
The day I saw “Schindler’s List” I called him. He saw it the same day I did, we saw it in preview. I couldn’t even breathe. I said, “How are you doing?” And he said, “That was nothing, that didn’t even come close.” The Ralph Fiennes character he thought was not even close to how cruel Amon Göth was.
Richard at the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem. This photograph was taken on May 28, 1993, at a meeting of Jews from Kraków organized by Steven Spielberg. Included in this group were some of the Jews rescued by Schindler—the Schindlerjuden—and the cast and crew of Schindler’s List, which would be released later that year. Though Richard was not rescued by Schindler, he met him soon after the war in Switzerland. As a survivor of the Kraków Ghetto and Płaszów, he also consulted on the film.
Here, in this bank, was the office of Jewish Social Self-Help Organization, called JUS: Jüdische Unterstützungswstelle. And in this building the Gestapo and SS gave out stamps and cards, the so-called “blue cards,” which granted permission to stay in the ghetto...
Clip from: The Man Who Wasn’t on Schindler’s List, 1996
Director: Michał Fajbusiewicz
Courtesy of: Telewizja Polska S.A. Oddział Terenowy w Łodzi
Fragment of Richard’s testimony for the Fortunoff Video Archive
for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, 1994
I was the youngest in the hospital personnel and I didn’t look Jewish at all. Amon Göth was coughing and he asked the commandant of the camp hospital, Dr. Gross, to send him something for coughing. Then Gross gave me some codeine tablets and asked me to bring it to his villa...
I corresponded with the Arolsen Archives, the US Holocaust Museum, and some of the camps, which I also visited. I put together a sort of timeline of where he was almost week-by-week during the war: He arrived in the Kraków Ghetto in late 1941 or early 1942, and was taken to Płaszów on February 22, 1943, where he worked in the infirmary barracks until January 14, 1945. He was marched from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau, about 60 kilometers away, and from Auschwitz to Gleiwitz II, a subcamp some 50 kilometers farther. On January 18, the men at Gleiwitz II were sent by train to Sachsenhausen, a journey of about ten days. From Sachsenhausen he went to Flossenbürg, where he arrived on February 6, and two weeks later he was taken to Obertraubling, a subcamp of Flossenbürg. On April 22, he was registered in Dachau, not as a Jew but as a political prisoner, and he was liberated there on April 29, 1945, by the Americans. Tracking all of this down—it was like following a detective story. Some details didn’t add up, some names and dates changed. It wasn’t just “here’s the history, this is exactly what happened,” but you have to work to figure it out. I’ve been to Flossenbürg, to Sachsenhausen, to Dachau. Now I give tours in Płaszów, where he spent two years.
Soon after the war, Richard prepared this list of concentration camps and other locations he passed through in those years, with approximate dates, likely for the purpose of attaining residency in Switzerland or registering for reparations from Germany.
Table of contents of the manuscript of Richard's memoir. It's impossible to say when exactly he started writing it. After his death, his family found the unfinished text among his possessions
Excerpt from “Dachau and Liberation,” the final chapter of Richard’s unfinished autobiography
Richard Ores shortly after being liberated in Dachau.
After being liberated from Dachau by the Americans, a sick and exhausted Richard was taken to a US Army evacuation hospital, and he later went to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. He returned to Kraków likely in late 1945 and by the end of the year was in a displaced persons camp in Gailingen, a German town on the Swiss border. He chose Switzerland as his temporary home and soon began his studies in Bern.
Excerpts from the first chapter of the manuscript of Richard's memoir.
The photographs depict (from the left): Paulina Gartenberg (Richard’s mother), Antonina Ores (his sister), and Sabina Bardach-Ores (his paternal grandmother). The photos were most likely taken at the beginning of the war and were affixed
to documents required by the German authorities.
Paulina and Antonina were deported to the Bełżec death camp, where they were killed. Sabina was taken in an earlier deportation, and she may have been killed there as well, or in Kraków. Ignacy, Richard’s father, was most likely killed in Lviv in 1942.
I wasn’t particularly aware about Bełżec. It’s a very sad place. And his whole family pretty much died there on the same day. They were just taken and they used car exhaust to kill them.
Having his ashes scattered over Bełżec, for my grandfather makes some sense: it’s him being buried by his family essentially, they were turned to ashes. It would be a way to be close—geographically, physically—to his family. So I suppose that’s the relationship. Everything I hear about him is that he did not think about the past, that he was focused on the present, on the future. So I do think that it implies a much closer relationship to the Holocaust, to the murder of his family specifically, than we would have known, than we would have guessed.
I don’t feel Poland is my country because I wasn’t raised in Poland. I went there three or four times in my life to visit. Lovely country, lovely people, but I feel the same way about France and Italy. All of my relatives were murdered. I would have fifteen thousand, seventeen thousand, twenty thousand relatives by now. Then I would have Polish heritage, and I would go to Poland, and hang out with all of them every five years at the Ores family barbecue. But that’s not true. Genocides kill generations. That’s four generations now. To me, it’s going to a graveyard— going to Poland is going to a graveyard. So in that sense you can say, “Oh, this is my graveyard.” It’s not the loving, fun party. Going to a graveyard of all your dead relatives and what happened there.
I think the first trip to Poland I took as an adult was when I went in ’96. I had a lot of baggage. I was very resentful—everything seemed like an antisemitic remark. And then I went back in 2004 and met people, and learned their stories, met people who were finding out they’re Jewish, and people engaged in Jewish heritage and culture. In the 2010s I started coming here a lot more, and every trip I lessened that resentment a little.
I’d consider myself Jewish-Polish-American, I guess. With probably 50 percent American, 35 percent Jewish, and 15 percent Polish—that’s probably how I’d break it down. I think it’s hard with the Jewishness and the Polishness, it’s so overlapping. But I think the story has always been told from a very Jewish angle, rather than a Polish national one—my history of Poland really starts at the Holocaust, or just before it, with my grandmother’s childhood.
Building at Grzegórzecka 4
Photographed by Adam Schorin
I lived in Kraków for two years. That’s where my grandfather grew up. And for most of the time I lived there I was a three-minute walk from the apartment he lived in the longest before the war: Grzegórzecka 4. The market I went to was right across the street, I passed his building all the time. Even so, I wasn’t constantly thinking about it. I was just sort of aware of where it was. Like how if you live in New York, even if you’ve never been to the Empire State Building, you can always point in its direction.
I didn’t go inside the building until a year after I’d left Kraków. Someone buzzed me in, and I went looking for the pattern of the tile he had—I guess to confirm that it actually came from this building. I don’t want to just buy in to the family story, the legends of these objects—I want to go and look and be sure. At least, that’s part of the impulse. But when I went into the building, the floors had all been renovated, modern gray and black tiles. I went upstairs, hoping at least to see the door of his apartment. But then on the landing between the first and second floors, there it was—not the door, but the only patch of tiles that hadn’t been renovated. And they were the same design as the one he had.
Staircase of the building at Grzegórzecka 4
Photographer by Adam Schorin
The site of the Płaszów concentration camp, in Kraków, photographed in 2020 by Richard’s grandson Adam, who regularly gives tours of the site.
Visitors ask me all the time about Polish collaboration during the war, Polish guilt. Many tourists are primed to be anti-Poland, I think, especially Jewish tourists who maybe grew up with stories about Polish antisemitism. I had a tourist who complained that another guide was a nationalist. And I think this guide is really good—also, he’s very left-wing, there’s no way he’s a nationalist. But she said that he was talking about how hard it was for Poles to save Jews during the war, justifying how Poles behaved. So I said what I imagine was basically the same thing he said, nothing too controversial, just some context: There was a death penalty for sheltering Jews, it took several people to hide just one Jew—someone to provide a hiding space, neighbors to look the other way, people to bring food, etc. And there were people who at one point perhaps saved Jews and later or earlier in the war turned other Jews over to the Germans. It’s hard to do a simple moral arithmetic here. So I say all this, and she goes, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” I think because I have an American accent, because I’m Jewish, Jewish visitors sometimes seem to trust me more.
In the questions we were preparing for the interviews for this exhibition, there was a line about “how Poles behaved during the occupation,” and my mom emailed me: “the occupation”? I said, that’s how it’s referred to, and she was annoyed that it wasn’t being called the Holocaust.
I think it’s generational, I think it’s whether you’re Jewish or not. Poland was occupied, no doubt about it. The Germans came in, the Polish government went into exile. In my mind and in my world, it’s the Holocuast.
Is Poland important for the Jews and for me? I think yes. Very important. We had such a significant impact on this country’s history and culture and we’re a big part of that community. I know it was essentially wiped out for the most part, but it’s there, it really is there. It’s surfacing with this next generation, who’s uncovering what was there. But without the help of outsiders, it’s not going to happen. So for us to be resentful and not go and say they’re hateful and they’re all antisemites—that’s not going to help. I’m always fascinated by people who say, “My parents are from Poland, but I don’t know what town.” How can you not know what town?
I think my father was able to give up this resentment very early on, even just after the war. I’ve done that just in the last ten years. So I’m constantly defending Poland. People are always asking me, “How can you go there? How can your son live there?”
For more information about the Galicia Jewish Museum, visit:www.galiciajewishmuseum.org
For more information about the Richard Ores’ collection, visit:photosfromthejar.com
A Story of Survival,
Memory, and Returns
This online exhibition was created thanks to the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Poland
This online exhibition is based on “Sweet Home Sweet. A Story of Survival, Memory, and Returnes”, an exhibition by the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków, Poland.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the help and involvement of the family of Richard Ores.
The Galicia Jewish Museum is grateful to Michelle Ores and Nina Ores for providing the objects and photographs from the family collection.
For the interviews included in and created for the exhibition we would like to thank Dr. Celia Ores, Michelle Ores, Adam Schorin, Paul Schorin, Marc Schorin, Pauline Ores, Dr. David Ores, Lynda Ores, Nina Ores, Jessica Ores, and Dr. Agnieszka Legutko. Our thanks as well to filmmaker Oren Rudavsky for conducting and filming the interviews.
We extend our gratitude to Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Dr. Edyta Gawron for their invaluable advice and input, which contributed to the final shape of the exhibition. We thank Dr. Agnieszka Legutko for her insights into contemporary Polish-Jewish relations.