Nomberg-Przytyk, Sara

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Nationality: Polish. Born: Lublin, 10 September 1915. Education: University of Warsaw. Family: Married Andrzej Przytyk; two sons. Career: Teacher, Białystok, before World War II. Lived in the Białystok ghetto, 1941-43; prisoner, Stutthof and Auschwitz. Worked as a journalist, Lublin, after World War II. Forced to leave Poland, 1968; moved to Israel, 1968-75, then Canada, 1975-96. Died: 1996.



Kolumny Samsona [The Columns of Samson]. 1966.

Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land, edited by Eli Pfefferkorn and David H. Hirsch. 1985.

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Born in Lublin, Poland, on 10 September 1915, Sara Nomberg grew up in a Hasidic family. Her grandfather was renowned throughout Poland as a Talmudist and for several years was the headmaster of a yeshiva in Warsaw. He later moved to a small town near Lublin, where he served as the rabbi for the community. Many of her other relatives were also rabbis. Living in the Jewish area of Lublin, she came to know the meaning of poverty at an early age. The sight of Jewish children dying of malnutrition and of Jewish women growing old before their time made a deep impression upon her. Her experience of Polish anti-Semitism was equally powerful, and she came to associate Jewish poverty with Polish anti-Semitism.

Nomberg attended gymnasium in Lublin and then enrolled at the University of Warsaw. While living in Warsaw, her strong sense of social justice led her to become involved in the communist movement; she simply could not see how the religious tradition of her upbringing had made life any better for the Jews and others suffering from injustice. As a result of her political activities, she was incarcerated for five years as a political prisoner. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, she fled to the Soviet-occupied East, to Białystok, where she had taught school before the war. Shortly after Germany's move against the Soviets on 22 June 1941, she was rounded up with the rest of the Jews of Białystok and confined to a ghetto. She remained in the Białystok ghetto until August 1943; when the ghetto was liquidated, she was sent to the concentration camp at Stutthof. On 13 January 1944 she was transported from Stutthof to Auschwitz.

With the help of fellow communists, Nomberg managed to get assigned to work in the infirmary in Auschwitz. There she came to know the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, well. In January 1945, as the Russians approached Auschwitz, she was sent with hundreds of others on the death march to Ravensbrück. From Ravensbrück she was transported to Rostock. On 1 May 1945, the Germans fled from the Soviets, who were advancing on Rostock, and she was free.

After her liberation Nomberg returned to Lublin. There she married a magistrate by the name of Andrzej Przytyk and worked as a journalist until October 1968, when she was forced to leave Poland. Before leaving, however, Nomberg-Przytyk had written two books. The first was Kolumny Samsona (The Pillars of Samson ), which was published in Poland in 1966; it relates the story of the Białystok ghetto up to the time of its liquidation. Her second book was the volume for which she is best known, Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land (1985), translated from an unpublished Polish manuscript titled Lydzi w Oswiecim. She had an offer to publish her Holocaust memoir in Poland on the condition that she remove all references to Jews, but she refused.

When she was forced to leave Poland in 1968, Nomberg-Przytyk went to Israel, where she placed the manuscript of her unpublished work in the care of the archives at Yad Vashem. In 1975 she left Israel to settle in Canada with her two sons. She died in Canada in 1996.

—David Patterson

See the essay on Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land.