Anna (Angie) Suss Paull was born Andzia Szpilman on September 8, 1922, in Lodz, Poland, to David and Lea Miller Szpilman. Her sister Bronya, now Barbara, was two years older and her brother Motus was two years younger. (See also Barbara Szpilman Mand). They came from a family of klezmer musicians. (Szpilman in German means player.) Her most famous relative was Wladyslaw Szpilman, a concert pianist and composer, whose story was featured in the book and movie The Pianist.
Lodz was a major textile center where her parents had built up a successful wholesale and retail outerwear business which they ran from their large apartment. Angie attended public school and dreamt of becoming an accountant. Religiously observant, the family led a comfortable, assimilated life until WWII began. On September 8, 1939, the day Angie turned 17, German troops occupied Lodz and their lives changed dramatically. The family’s business was taken away and the children could no longer attend school.
By May, 1940, a ghetto was formed in a run-down section of the city. Jewish families struggled to live crammed into one apartment. The Szpilman family worked as forced laborers: Angie in a straw shoe factory, her brother in a the ghetto office, her sister and mother sorting vegetable, and her father as a tailor. While Bronya was transferred to work in a textile factory, Angie’s mother eventually remained at home and found ways of supplementing their meagre diet by growing some food in the ghetto. Without a work permit, however, in September 1942, she was selected for deportation and believed sent to Chelmno Concentration Camp where she was murdered.
Angie’s brother Motus received a letter to be deported on August 8th, 1944; however, that night, the police, announced the immediate and complete liquidation of the ghetto. The family boarded a cattle car for Auschwitz. Upon arrival, men and women were separated and a selection took place. Angie learned that her father was killed immediately, and her brother three days later. Just before they were separated, her father told his children that anyone who survived should emigrate to the United States to reunite with family there.
Angie and Barbara, now the family’s sole survivors, were sent to the barracks in Birkenau where they stayed for ten days, only to be put back onto cattle cars and shipped to Bergen-Belsen. After six weeks, they were sent to an ammunition factory in Salzwedel, Germany, where they were forced to work for the German war effort, manufacturing bullets. After a few weeks, Angie was chosen to be at the factory’s control desk inspecting the bullets. The German mechanic who worked there encouraged her to engage in sabotage, sending defective bullets to the German front.
As the war was coming to an end, French prisoners, working in a POW camp nearby, overheard that the German guards were given orders to electrocute the girls because the American army was eight miles away. The Nazis did not want to leave any Jews alive as witnesses. Instead of following these orders, the French factory workers cut the power lines, thereby saving the girls who were liberated soon thereafter. Angie and Barbara traveled back to Lodz hoping against hope to find other family members alive. They returned to their former apartment, but found it occupied. Attempting to retrieve some jewelry, silver kiddish cups and English pounds their father had hidden in the wall beneath the window sill, they were threatened by the new residents and consequently grabbed some jewelry and ran. Leaving Poland for good, the sisters returned to Germany hoping to emigrate to the United States. They were placed in a displaced persons’ camp in Landsberg and later Feldafing where Angie met Jacob Suss. He proposed in September 1945 after knowing her for only six days. Her sister Barbara met Hermann Mand, whose family owned a shoe store in Lodz the girls used to frequent. The sisters were married in a double wedding ceremony on March 24, 1946.
The Suss family settled in Marktredwitz, Germany, where their first son, David, was born on June 2, 1947. Six months later, they emigrated to New York City to join Angie’s father’s family. After working there for several years, and having one more child, Ted, born April 25, 1953, they moved to Rochester where her sister Barbara and Herman had settled. Jacob established a successful furniture manufacturing business Jacob Suss, Inc. He and Angie became active volunteers in their synagogue and in the Jewish community. Jacob passed away on June 27, 1969. In 1972 she married Milton Paull who worked for the Gannett newspaper.
In 1987 Angie began sharing her story with school groups throughout the greater Rochester area and beyond. Although originally shy, she found the courage to speak as a way of memorializing her family. Students, who lovingly nicknamed her Angie, found her an engaging speaker. They encouraged her to write her memoir which eventually was published in 2003 and reprinted in 2006 as Angie’s Story. Angie passed away on September 3, 2007, a few days shy of her 85th birthday. By this time this proud mother of two boys had five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Adapted from Angie’s Story as told to Barbara Appelbaum and Peter Marchant
Photograph by Louis Ouzer