escape from the train
“Our house was always the place where people congregated. Our doors were always open to strangers.” Thus begins the tale of Regina Gruskin Kugler as she recollects her happy childhood in Poland.
Regina, her sister and three bothers lived a peaceful life surrounded by a strong extended family. This came to an end when the Nazis invaded her town on June 22, 1941. First the Nazis confiscated Jewish property, then they relocated Jews to a ghetto. Finally, the Nazis started deporting Jews to concentration camps.
Rumors were rampant in the ghetto. Some residents escaped the ghetto, including Regina’s brother Meyer. The rest of the family remained until the ghetto was liquidated in November 1942. When the ghetto was closed, Regina and her family boarded trains for what they were told were “labor camps.” But as the train pulled from the station her father, Abraham recognized that the route led to the Treblinka extermination camp.
As word of their destination spread throughout the train, the passengers had only one chance to survive; to jump out a window of the moving train. At the urging of her father, Regina joined 12 others and jumped from the train. She made it to safety in the dense forest but the rest of her family died in the crematorium of Treblinka.
Amazingly while hiding in the forest Regina found her brother Meyer who had escaped from the ghetto. “We tried to find help but no one would help us.” After months of hiding in the forest Regina finally found refuge with the Catholic Kuscinski family. They hid her in their barn until the end of the war, at a great risk to their own safety. After liberation Regina and her brother Meyer were reunited, the only two family members to survive.
“Millions of people lost their lives in the Holocaust because ordinary people failed to live up to the accepted moral standards. I was one of them that was helped.” Yet, Regina says, “I don’t have a solution of why I survived and so many worthy people didn’t. Perhaps I survived to tell the story of the great tragedy and hope that it will never be repeated.”