Rose Chrustowski (born March 18, 1923, Strzemieszyce, Poland) was the oldest of five siblings, two girls and three boys. Her father owned a small shop making men’s shirts and a small dairy store. Neither enterprise could support his family, so he worked for the city as a bookbinder. As were most of the Jews in her town, Rose’s family was observant, although Rose attended a public school. She remembers that the Jews were discriminated against. She remembers that even before the Germans arrived, the Poles expressed active anti-Semitism with frequent property damage.
From thirteen until she was sent away, at age sixteen, Rose participated in a Zionist youth group, where she learned much about Israel. There were about 75 people in the group.
Because her town was so close to the German border, Rose’s town was the first invaded by the Germans. The situation for the Jews immediately became precarious. Rose remembers people being shot daily just for crossing the street. Things became progressively worse as Jews were not even permitted to be on the streets; they had to wear the yellow star; Jewish stores were confiscated; and then the ghetto was created with the Jews crammed into the small area.
The Germans told the Jews that if each family sent one member to work in Germany the rest of the family would be fine. Rose volunteered. In February 1942, she was taken away to a work camp. Unbeknownst to Rose, her mother, siblings and grandparents were taken to Auschwitz within two months. Her father was taken to Buchenwald at about the same time.
Four months before liberation, in May 1945, the prisoners were walked to Flossenburg (Czechoslovakia) and then to Bergen-Belsen, where she worked burying the many dead.
On April 16, 1945, the English army liberated the camp. She was suffering from typhus, so they sent her to the hospital to recover. While in the hospital, Rose learned that her father was still alive in Buchenwald. She went there and found him, but a few weeks later, he died. In Buchenwald, Rose met her husband and married.
They received United States visas in 1949, arriving on October 1, 1949, settling in Milwaukee. Their oldest child was then almost four; two additional daughters were born in Milwaukee. Rose celebrates the four generations of her family, including six great-grandchildren.
Rose’s message to the world: Always stand tall with your head up. Be strong. Have a smile on your face. Be proud of who you are; do not hate; be hopeful; raise a family.