"Children grew up immediately. Basically, I became an adult within a few months," said Marian Kalwary in conversation with Magda Łucyan, a reporter from "Fakty" TVN and the author of series of interviews with ghetto survivors entitled "The Ghetto". He added that he still remembers some images from the district closed off with walls and fences - children begging in the streets and dead bodies lying on the pavement "or actually skeletons, were being covered with newspapers".
The series of conversations with the Warsaw Ghetto survivors was conducted to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that falls on the 19th of April.
Marian Kalwary was taken to the Warsaw Ghetto in early October 1940, together with his mother. He was 10 years old at the time. He spent 2.5 years in the ghetto.
"I was taken to the ghetto as a young boy, I was barely 10. I treated all of it as a sort of adventure, as any child would," Marian Kalwary recalled.
Mr Kalwary pointed out that "in the beginning, the ghetto didn’t look that terrible". "People still had some resources and the influx of Jews from the towns surrounding Warsaw didn’t yet start. In the early days it was still possible to walk around the streets, the trams were operating, there was electricity and there was more food," he said.
He added, however, that "it gradually became much worse". "Dead bodies were lying around in the streets. There were scores of people with exposed body parts, ulcers, swellings, with flies flying around and lice roaming all over," said Mr Kalwary. In his opinion, "a normal person cannot possibly conceive such horrible things in their minds".
The survivor added that: "the ghetto became much more congested and the only force regulating the number of Jews living there was death".
"The worst thing I remember, and I guess for anyone who was in the ghetto, were the dead bodies that were being placed in the streets in the mornings or at night. Those bodies, or actually skeletons, were being covered with newspapers or some papers," Marian Kalwary said. "The people who died at the time, in my opinion, had it better. They may have died a martyr’s death, but still a natural death and at least there were people who somehow took care of their bodies," he added.
Marian Kalwary shared three images that especially stuck in his memory. One of them was a little girl, a street dancer. She "danced along to the music her father was playing. He played a violin. Why did it catch my attention? She was dressed in a balet dress, which I had never seen before. The second image was a boy who was playing a violin. He played beautifully, he was so sad," he remembered. "He must have been younger than me; he must have been around 8. A lot of people listened to his music, but rarely anyone threw any money to his can," he said.
"What stuck in my mind the most was a little girl, maybe 6 years old. She was sitting on the pavement and had this sheet of grey paper on which she displayed shoe insoles, meant to keep your feet warm," said Mr Kalwary. "With that singing voice of hers, she was advertising her stock: 'Insoles! For men and women! Very warm!', and so on. That singing voice of that 6- or 7-year-old girl selling insoles was especially touching. Later on, I returned to the place where I had seen her but she was no longer there," he added.
He also explained that "in the ghetto, it was more about staying alive, while on the other side you could just get killed. On the Aryan side, you would feel like an animal running from hunters". "This railroad fate of my mine has been haunting me," Mr Kalwary admitted and told Magda Łucyan about a terrifying situation he had found himself in: "I was on a train in a compartment and this conductor came over, looked at me and said: 'You’re a kike, aren’t you?' We stopped at Jędrzejów station, he grabbed me by the hand and took me outside on the platform. He called on people: 'Listen people! I caught a Jew, call an officer!' People immediately gathered around and were saying things like: 'Oh look, they caught a Jew!', but miraculously there was no one at the station, no blue police, no Germans. The train was departing and the conductor had to go Kielce, so he let me go and said: 'You’re lucky that I’m on official business, otherwise you’d remember me!'"
The ghetto survivor was asked about the message he would like to pass on to the younger generations. "Not only I would like to address young people, but also older. We must stop the rise of neo-fascism that is resurgent," he said. "Being soft on any nationalistic tendencies, leads to tragedy, a tragedy for people," he underscored. "When we glance back at 1930s, when Hitler was gaining popularity, they were just a bunch of hooligans, people who didn’t matter, but look how that escalated," said Marian Kalwary.