Rosalie and William Schiff, who lost everything in the Holocaust, will tell their story of surviving the atrocities of the Nazi regime at a free appearance Thursday at the Sulphur Springs Library. "Every day that I don't tell my story is a day wasted," Rosalie says.

William and Rosalie: The story that should never be forgotten

Holocaust survivors to bring their true story of the nightmares of war, torture and utter loss to Sulphur Springs Thursday

By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor

July 6, 2008 - Polish natives Rosalie and William Schiff lost everything in the Holocaust during World War II. Their homes, their families and their freedoms were ripped from them when the German army occupied their hometown of Krakow.

You'd think that once the war was over and the couple began a new life in Dallas, they would want to put the nightmares of war, torture and utter loss behind them.

You would be wrong.

"Every day that I don't tell my story is a day wasted," Rosalie said in a telephone interview. "I don't want my parents to have died in vain."

The Schiffs will share their experiences during a free appearance at the Sulphur Springs Public Library, at 1 p.m. Thursday, July 10.

  • Who: William and Rosalie Schiff, survivors of The Holocaust
  • When: Thursday, July 10 at 1 p.m.
  • Where: Sulphur Springs Public Library
  • Tickets: No admission charge
  • Contact: 903-885-6920 or 903-885-3953.
Editor's note: Because of the graphic nature of the Schiff's stories, the program is recommended for children from middle school up. Copies of the Schiffs' book will be available for sale during their appearance.

What they endured is unimaginable. Reading their book, "William and Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony," (University of North Texas Press, $19.95, 165 pp) written with author Craig Hanley, is like taking a harrowing journey through hell. The horror the Nazis rained down on European Jews is one of history's most graphic examples of ethnic cleansing. An estimated 6 million Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation.

The couple's book, released last year, is the result of over 100 hours of interviews the Schiffs gave to Hanley.

"We conducted most of the interviews in the writers' room at the Dallas Public Library," Hanley said in a phone call from his home in Butte, Montana. "Then, we spent about a year checking all the facts."

After spending time with the couple, Hanley, a graduate of Harvard with a degree in English literature, was appalled.

"The level of pain and suffering they went through was so surreal," Hanley said. "It's a wonder how a human can emotionally and physically survive. They were not broken by it."

Before the war, Rosalie Baum's life was pretty cushy. Her father was a successful businessman, providing firewood to bakeries and homes in Krakow. William's father was a barber.

They met at a dance. All the girls liked William because he was such a good dancer, but he only had eyes for Rosalie.

After the Germans invaded Krakow, Rosalie's father fled to Russia. William's father became a broken man after trying to make the trip to Russia. Thus, it fell to William to take care of his family, his girlfriend Rosalie and her family.

Once the Germans took over the city of Krakow, the Nazis began stripping the Jews of all rights.

"Bank accounts are frozen, safety deposit boxes are rifled and valuables confiscated from homes. Jews can only keep a small amount of cash and are forbidden to own automobiles or to ride public transportation. Schools are closed, pensions cancelled, telephones disconnected, and hospital treatment denied."

When Rosalie's mother discovers a tumor in her breast, she undergoes a mastectomywithout anesthesiabecause the Germans had confiscated all of it.

Official ID cards are required to get work. Without them, Jews are forced to leave Krakow.

"Suddenly my girlfriend is an illegal alien in the city where she was born and raised," William says in the book. "Every day you felt more helpless."

Food was rationed. According to the Nazis, each German was allowed 2,600 calories per day. Poles received 700 calories. Jews got 184.

"We would have starved to death without the extra food William brought us," Rosalie writes. "To make these deliveries he had to take off his Star of David armband, sneak out of the ghetto and walk several miles on roads patrolled by German soldiers. This was a serious violation of the racial laws, punishable by death."

William's mother sewed pockets on the inside of a large overcoat so he could smuggle chickens into Krakow from the country.

On June 7, 1942, the worst happened.

Nazi soldiers showed up to take Rosalie's mother and brother away, but not before she made William promise to marry her daughter. Rosalie was 19. William was 23. Their futures were anything but certain.

The rest of the story is William and Rosalie's to tell.

Three local women who saw the couple at Texas A&M University-Commerce in February arranged the Schiffs' appearance at the library. Debbie Price, Lisa Preuss and Jan Spencer were so touched by their story that they decided to invite them to speak here.

"Their story was so moving," Preuss said. "We went up to Rosalie after the program and asked her if they could come to Sulphur Springs."

According to Preuss, Rosalie responded immediately. "She said she would go anywhere at any time and talk to anybody," Preuss said. "When we called her on the phone later to work out the details, she seemed surprised that we followed through on our request."

According to Preuss, the main reason they wanted to host the Schiffs here was so they could bring their message of tolerance and human kindness.

"This is not about religion," Preuss said. "It's about teaching our children about the dangers of prejudice and hate."

The author who helped put the Schiff's story on paper agrees. "Rosalie feels that she has a moral obligation to help youngsters not get caught up in prejudice," Hanley said.

Rosalie is now 85. William is 89. They have three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. After working as a janitor and sewing machine repairman when they first arrived in Dallas, William retired from a successful career in real estate.

They continue to make appearances because "maybe we can eliminate hate," Rosalie says. "We'll talk to 500, or 100 or even one or two people. It's important to talk about it, especially to the children."

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