Ben was one of four children born to a religious Jewish family. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. After the Germans occupied Warsaw, Ben decided to escape to Soviet-occupied eastern Poland. However, he soon decided to return to his family, then in the Warsaw ghetto. Ben was assigned to a work detail outside the ghetto, and helped smuggle people out of the ghetto—including Vladka (Fagele) Peltel, a member of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), who later became his wife. Later, he went into hiding outside the ghetto and posed as a non-Jewish Pole. During the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943, Ben worked with other members of the underground to rescue ghetto fighters, bringing them out through the sewers and hiding them on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw. From the "Aryan" side of Warsaw, Ben witnessed the burning of the Warsaw ghetto during the uprising. After the uprising, Ben escaped from Warsaw by posing as a non-Jew. Following liberation, he was reunited with his father, mother, and younger sister.
The entire sky of Warsaw was red. Completely red. But the flames were so concentrated around the whole ghetto that it illuminate the whole city. The next week, the same week was Palm Sunday. I couldn't be anymore in the...in the...with my parents, in the hiding [place]. I walked out on that Palm Sunday and I went to Plac Krasinski where there was a church, a very old church, and I felt that my safest place is in the church. I went to that church and I attended the Mass and the priest spoke. Not a word was mentioned that across the street people are fighting, dying by the hundreds, and fire. I was just like a good Christian listening to the whole sermon. Then it is, uh, traditional in Poland that when the, after the services, the priest goes out in front of the church and he greets the parish...the people, probably is practiced here in every country the same way, but in Poland it is a traditional thing. And he greeted all the Poles and across the street was a carousel with a playground and the music was playing and the carousel was...the people took the children on the carousel, beautifully dressed. Sunday. Palm Sunday. And...uh...music was playing and I was standing in that group watching the other side of the block, of that burning ghetto. From time to time we heard screaming, "Look. Look. People are jumping from the roofs." Others will make remarks, uh, "Jews are frying." That's just a free translation from Polish. But I never heard any sympathy voices. Maybe there were people who looked in a different way, but I never heard it. And it was very heartbreaking for me that here I am, helpless, I can do nothing, and I gotta see and watch, and I cannot even protest, I cannot even show my anger. Sometimes I felt in tho...in there that I have to do something physically, even have to pay with my life, start screaming, but I didn't do it. I didn't scream. I didn't do anything. I just was hurt. But that scene will probably remain with me for all my life.
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