In late June or July, 1944, Bella, Sonia, their brother and uncle, to whom Bella owes her life, were sent to Czestochowa, a hard labor camp. She mentions that an SS officer named Bartenslager threw hand grenades into a group of adolescent children. In January 1945 Bella's brother was sent to Buchenwald and never heard from again. They were told he is buried in Mauthausen. A short time thereafter Bella, Sonia and Uncle were liberated by the Russians. On January 16, 1945, they returned to Demblin only to find Polish General Wladyslaw Anders army enlistees were killing Jews. Bella, at a reunion of survivors in December 1986, learned that many children committed suicide after the war and that many survivors have suffered nervous breakdowns.
Bella Silbernagel was born Bella Kofczyk in December 10, 1926 in Demblin, Poland. In addition to her parents she had an older brother, born in 1922, an older sister, born in 1924, and a younger sister Sonia, born in 1928. There were two other siblings of toddler age. The family was very religious.
Bella's interview supplements her sister Sonia's recollections of their struggle for survival (see also Sonia Kofczyk Mantelmacher)
Bella remembers on September 1, 1939 the sudden German bombing in her hometown. She ran out of the city to another town with her mother, father and the two young children, hoping to reaching Warsaw. The plane flew overhead they they sought shelter in an orchard where the owner provided some shelter. The family soon returned home only to find looting there by the Poles.
Seeking food, her mother went to her brother’s farm and returned with food to provide for their large extended family. Later on the Jews were forced to work for the Germans, even Bella and Sonia, at the age of 13 and 11. There was a railroad station where they helped unload trains and do other odd jobs. This went on until 1941 when Bella contracted typhus. By this time her father, brother and sister were in a forced labor camp working at the airport. Her brother worked loading bombs for the Germans who beat him badly.
In May 1942, she tells how her mother, at age 38, was taken away with the two youngest children to the Sobibor death camp, never to be seen again. In September 1942, Hannah was also taken away. Before July 1944, in a "death camp” young people were beaten constantly by the SS. All girls reported to one SS who were dressed like doctors, strapped them naked to a table and performed internal examinations.
Biography written by Rona Poss and Professor Paul Morris