By Itzick Simon
In 2008, my daughter Lir Simon went on a trip to Poland and came back haunted by the name of one 7-year-old girl that was killed in the Kielce cemetery massacre in Poland: Lily Mintz.
Since then, Lily became a part of us all, and as a family we made an effort at every opportunity to give this young anonymous girl a face and personality, and to commemorate her.
When I suggested to Lir and to my Internet people to build this page, they didn’t understand how it was related to a website that deals with insurance for contractors and contract work.
To me, the connection is clear and natural and pertains to our vision: to be good at what we do, to make a positive impact, to be connected to where you are, to society and to the country, to be a part of a lengthy chain - and to remember.
To remember who we are, where we came from, what we want to give - and mainly: to always remember to be human.
Here is the story of the late Lily Mintz, and at the end I will explain how everything is also related to me somehow.
The Search for Lily Mintz
The Story of Lily Mintz - an unknown girl who was killed in the Holocaust My search for Lily Mintz
By: Lir Simon
October 25, 2008. Kielce, Poland. This is the final day of my trip to Poland with my school Ami Assaf.
I, a 12th grader, walk along the cemetery paths, which hold so many murder cases.
Yehuda Yaron, the guide, leads us to a corner of the cemetery. There is a small monument there with a lot of names engraved on it, and next to each name - a number. Most of the numbers have one digit. We stood in front of the monument. There was silence. Yehuda began to tell us the story of Kielce’s 45 remaining Jewish children.
How every last one of Kielce’s Jews were rounded up, those that still remained as forced labor. Among them were 48 children. And while they were standing and facing the Nazi German police, an order was given to herd all the children into the building in the corner of the field. A heart wrenching spectacle. The children were taken from their parents. Parents whose role is usually to protect their children stood by helpless and couldn’t do a thing. Three children managed to hide in the building’s attic, and the rest were taken in a truck to the cemetery and there, next to a pit that was dug in advance, they were shot and killed.
I realized that the names engraved on the monument were the names of the children that were murdered.It wasn’t easy to hear this terrible story. A lot of us cried.I think that many of the group members felt that this story touched them because almost all of them have a relative in that age range (from 1 to 13 years old), and it’s impossible not to think about children you are close to at such a time.And then Yehuda read all the children’s names and ages that were engraved on the monument. When he finished, he asked us to take a minute or two, to look at the children’s names, to choose one name and to try and imagine - who was this boy or girl, what did they look like, how did they dress, what sort of a life did they have, what did they like to play with, and so on.... To try and invent a life for them in our imagination.
My eyes were glued to the name Lily Mintz. Seven years old.
I decided that it was she I wanted to imagine, that I wanted to remember. I recited the name to myself but at the same time I couldn’t imagine her. Even when we got on the bus and started driving, I couldn’t, even though I tried with all my might, I simply couldn’t do it. And it haunted me.
I had to know: Who was Lily Mintz?
These questions preoccupied me all day (it was the last day of the trip) and up until we got back.
A day or two after I got back, I started searching.
I first searched on the Yad Vashem site - Page of Testimony. I found it. But this Page of Testimony could be summed up in one brief sentence - “Lily Mintz was born to Regina in 1935 in Kielce, and was murdered on May 29, 1943 in Kielce.” It wasn’t enough for me. Even though at the time I hadn’t yet decided what I was looking for exactly, and what I wanted to do, it was clear to me that I wanted to know more.
I tried to find a lead, and I did. The Page of Testimony was written by a woman named Sara Krebel from Kiryat Ono. I started looking for her.
I called 144, and looked for a woman names Sara Krebel from Kiryat Ono. I didn’t find her, but there were 3 other Krebels from Kiryat Ono. Maybe they were her relatives? I called them all, and none of them knew who Sara was. I was really disappointed, but it only made me more motivated to investigate the matter further and look in other places.
After much deliberation, I called Yehuda, my guide, and told him what I was doing. I told him that I was haunted by Lily Mintz and that I had to know as much about her as possible. Yehuda told me that he would be happy to help me and right away gave me a few places to start from. Since then, Yehuda and I have been in touch, he has supported me the entire time and mainly given me hope.
At this stage I still hadn’t found anything and in order to continue, I felt that I had to set a goal for myself.
My goal was to find Lily Mintz - the girl. In other words, to find out as much about her as possible - what she looked like, what she liked to play with, was she shy or feisty? Did she celebrate birthdays? What was her favorite color? All of these details that would help me create an image of the real Lily Mintz. I wanted to commemorate her, but not only in name. In other words, that if I were asked who Lily Mintz was then I would be able to give real details about her life and personality, and not just recite a sentence about her from the Page of Testimony. She was more than just a name, she was a living breathing little girl. With likes, dislikes, and dreams - a world unto herself.
I knew that it was likely I could get such details from living testimony, from a friend or acquaintance of hers that would agree to tell me about her personality. But how could I find someone like that?
I kept telling myself and my mother - there’s no way that there was this girl - Lily Mintz, and no one in the world knew anything about her! That she simply disappeared off the face of the Earth and left behind her nothing but dates.
Of course, this is possible, after all there were so many people that didn’t even leave a name behind. But I had a feeling about this girl that there was something I was missing, and that’s what caused me to say it and to believe it and not to give up.
I looked high and low, I made a list of people I contacted, how they helped me and also gathered the meager information I managed to collect.
During one of my conversations with Yehuda, he suggested I pose a question in the “Poland Guides” forum online. I wrote a message on the forum explaining what exactly I was looking for. I should mention that I really didn’t think this would get me anywhere, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt...
Over the course of two days, numerous guides wrote to me and advised me to do things that I had already tried.
Until... One guide, Oded Altschuler, wrote that someone that lived in his town, Karnei Shomron, is one of the children from Kielce that survived. He also said that he already called her and asked her if she knew Lily Mintz. In response, she answered - “She was my best friend!”
Her name was Tzilla Lieberman. Oded told her about me and said that she was waiting for me to call her. I simply couldn’t believe it! I was so excited, and I couldn’t wait to speak to her.
A few days later, I knew she would be home to take my call. My teacher gave me permission to leave class for a few minutes so I could speak to Tzilla. I waited until all the pupils were in class, found a quiet spot and said “it’s time”. I called her and we spoke. She said that she had been really excited for the past few days because of me, and that she would love to meet me. She told me that at first she didn’t understand who was taking such an interest in Lily, since so much time had passed and Lily had no relatives that were interested in her.
We agreed to meet on the evening of Sunday November 23, 2008, at her home in Karnei Shomron, and that she would tell me whatever she could about Lily. Our conversation made me really happy and excited. Up until then, I had never done anything so meaningful in my life, and it really excited and moved me.
The special day arrived, and we drove to see Tzilla. I think she was also looking forward to it. She prepared all sorts of photos and other memorabilia before we came, and she even gave me a copy of her book, with a special inscription from her. She was an incredible woman, very nice, with good energy.
We started talking and she told me everything she knew. And she knew a lot.
Tzilla Lieberman tells the story of Lily (Lilka) Mintz
“I was born in the town of Kielce in Poland. Until the age of 6 or so, I had a normal childhood. I had one brother and a nanny.I studied in 1st grade at the school in Kielce. Later it turned out that this was the only year that I was fortunate enough to learn at a normal school... school ended in June and in September 1939 the Second World War started and my school career ended.
In 1942 the Germans decided to liquidate the ghetto. It took them a week to transfer most of the Jews from the ghetto to Treblinka, on trains. We didn’t realize that they were being moved to a death camp,
we thought that maybe they were being moved to Germany and things would be better for them.
In the end, the Germans left 2000 people in the ghetto, us included. The people that were left in the ghetto were those that had work permits, like my parents and brother.
At this stage the liquidated ghetto had shrunk in size to three streets and from this point on was called “the little ghetto”. We lived on one of the three streets that were part of “the little ghetto” so we weren’t forced to move apartments.
Now less than fifty children were left in the ghetto, including me and Lily Mintz.
In fact, at this stage me and Lilka met and became friends. Our paths crossed when the ghetto was liquidated in 1942 until Lily was murdered in 1943.
Lily was 7 years old and I was 11. We, Lily’s friends and acquaintances, called her Lilka. In fact, no one actually called her Lily.
Every day we stayed in “the small ghetto” where, as I mentioned, less than fifty children remained, and the range of ages was from one year to 13.
I befriended three/four girls that I spent my time with at the ghetto.
One of them, Danka, introduced me to Lilka. Danka told me that Lilka was an unfortunate girls whose mother was depressed. We called it “battle shock”.
Lilka was 7 years old.
Her face has slowly faded in memory but I remember her as being a pretty girl, blonde, with sad light blue eyes. She was the only child to parents who were very affluent before the war.
Her mother was a famous pianist and opera singer. Her father worked, I don’t remember doing what.
Lilka’s mother probably lost her sanity and spend her days sitting by the window of her apartment, like a statue, not speaking a word and just gazing outside all the time.
Lilka was in charge of caring for her mother when her father was at work. I remember that she used to beg and plead with her mother to eat by stroking her and saying soothing things.
Later we heard the story of how Lilka’s mother lost her sanity - she, her husband and Lilka were on the train that was supposed to travel from the Kielce ghetto to Treblinka. One of the Germans that saw her said to her “You, Regina Mintz - get off” the German who recognized Lilka’s mother as a famous artist actually saved her, but after that, Regina Mintz never spoke and sank into a depressed state.
Because of the mother’s condition, Lilka could not leave home because she was in charge of keeping an eye on her mother, so I and 2 other friends - Danka and Irenka, would come over to her place to play.
Initially we recoiled from the mother, but we quickly realized that it was just how she was. We used to chat, laugh, and play. Lily played the piano very nicely. I remember that on the holidays we used to remember, we would come to Lily and she would play holiday songs for us and sing in a voice that was so much like her mother’s. Lilka wanted to be like her. “I’ll be an opera singer like my mother”, she would say and look at her mother, but she would get no reaction.
One of our favorite games was chicken fights.
There was one episode I remember well - I knocked Lily down in a chicken fight and then her mother, who probably thought that someone was harming her daughter, got up and gave me a stinging slap on the face. Lilka, who was only 7, hugged her mother and explained to her that it was fine, that it was only a game. At first I was alarmed, but then I realized that it wasn’t her fault for being like that.
One day, about a year after the ghetto had been liquidated, they forced all the remaining Jews in “the small ghetto” to come with their belongings in the early morning to the large field in the ghetto, that we, the ghetto inhabitants, considered the “field of death” because this field, which was a long rectangular shape, was where one year earlier almost all the ghetto inhabitants were herded up and shipped off to Treblinka.
Numerous Jews were murdered in this field because anyone that dared turn their head, was shot.
I remember that on that same morning, we were led to that field and we were shaking with fear! The field was full of German soldiers and dogs that wouldn’t stop barking.
One of the senior soldiers started calling out the Jews’ names and instructed them to move to the other side of the field, but without the children.
When the time came for the families with children to move, the children were forcefully separated from their parents and dragged to a white house adjacent to the field.
We watched the horrible spectacle, while our family name had not yet been called. My mother, who never went anywhere unkempt, rubbed some of her lipstick from her lips on my cheeks, and put a handkerchief on my head so I wouldn’t look like a little girl.
However, they realized that we didn’t have a chance of staying together, and they said to me “come Tzillinka, we’ll go to the white house together with you”. My brother, who had already moved to the other side and saw that my parents were walking with me toward the white house, darted over to us and asked my parents - “Why are you walking with her and leaving me alone??” My parents just held his hand and all of us walked together until we reached the guard.
My father tried his luck and asked the guard to let him take his children to “the good side” - the side where the people were going to work.
The guard asked “how old”? And my father courageously lied “15 and 17”, even though I was only 11 and my older brother was only 14. The German jerked his thumb as if to say “pass”, not once lifting his head or even looking at us. We passed. I couldn’t believe my good fortune!
As soon as we passed we had to line up in fives, like soldiers.
We were only four, so someone joined us so that I was in the middle, between 2 adults on one side and two adults on the other side. At that moment, my brother’s friend, who was standing in the row behind me, put a bag under my feet and told me “stand on this and don’t ask questions”. I did what he told me to. And it saved my life.
Later, a soldier came and removed the children that had snuck off to the adult’s rows of five.
The entire time we heard terrible screams from the white house - “Mommy! Daddy!”, the parents cried quietly and couldn’t do a thing.
I thought about my friends that were inside and I knew what their fate would probably be. We were not naive.
And here, one row in front of me, a girl turns her head to me - Lilka! “Oy, Lilka, it’s so good to see you here! You must live!” Lilka gave me a little smile and she whispered something, I think it might have been a prayer. Her sad eyes reminded me then of her melancholy mother’s eyes.
And suddenly, one of the German soldiers came, grabbed her forcefully by her clothes and tried to pull her out, and she threw herself on the ground.
Her mother saw what was happening to her daughter, approached the German and started to twist the shiny button on his uniform. He got angry and took out a gun to shoot her, but her husband, Lily’s father, came between her and the German and explained to him that she was mentally ill, that it wasn’t intentional. The German put his gun back in the holster, grabbed Lilka again and dragged her on the ground the entire length of the field, to the white house, with her screaming and shouting, but not “Daddy! Mommy!” like everyone else. She probably already knew that they couldn’t help her. She shouted at him “Don’t you have any mercy?!” and “I know how to work!!!”
It didn’t help, and eventually she was also put in the white house. And that was the last time I saw her.
From there, later, they took them in a truck to the cemetery and shot them.”
End of story
From this story, which Tzilla told me, I deduced that Lily was a very special little girl, talented, quiet, mature, responsible and devoted.
She loved to play music and sing, she was surrounded by friends and also probably suffered from the burden of her mother’s mental illness.
Life in the ghetto and during the war robbed all of these children of their childhood. The children became little adults that were wise beyond their years, as was Lily.
I can actually see Lily. I feel that I have come full circle, it’s really important to me.
I really appreciate the people that helped me with it. Special thanks, of course, to the late Tzilla Lieberman, who thanks to her I now know who Lily Mintz was.
Thanks to my parents for their support
And again - to Yehuda Yaron - thank you so much!
The surprising email from Paula from Sweden
The big day arrived - The 30th anniversary of my father, Itzick Simon’s, insurance agency - the leading construction insurance agency.
We prepared a long time for this event and as a producer, I need to be 100% focused.
The reception area quickly filled up and you could hear the sound of cheerful chatter, the clatter of cutlery and plates, and people laughing.
Suddenly I saw Miri Levhar, VP of the agency, striding quickly toward me, her mobile phone in hand. “Look what we got”, she says to me. “This was emailed to the office”. “What is it?” I asked. “We got an email from someone from Sweden who happened to see what you wrote about Lily Mintz on the Itzick Simon insurance agency’s English website. She wrote that she knows Lily’s mother!”
I didn't understand.
“What do you mean, knows her??” I glanced at the email, feeling the tears start to well. “I don’t know, that’s what she wrote. Isn’t it amazing??” She says to me, while I start crying from both excitement and confusion.
Ten years. Ten years have passed since I read Lily’s name on the monument in Kielce. Ten years, during which time I wrote, was interviewed, and recounted the story of Lily Mintz at countless opportunities. The girl from the Holocaust, whom I pledged to remember and commemorate in the world. That little girl whose memory shaped the perception of my Holocaust remembrance. The one who taught me so much about myself and about life - and also about death.
So today, ten years later, a woman from Sweden who I don’t even know, wrote to me that she knows Lily’s mother, Regina Mintz? How is that possible?
All of these thoughts are running through my head while I’m wiping away the tears and saying to Miri, “Yes, it’s amazing. We’ll talk about it later; the guests need to be taken down to the hall”.
A day later, I already wrote an excited email in response to the woman from Sweden.
The woman from Sweden is named Paula Kodran. She is completely unrelated to our family, my father or the insurance agency, but it turns out that as a young girl, she knew Lily’s mother - Regina Mintz. Yes, the same Regina Mintz, a famous opera singer who was became mentally ill in the ghetto. The one who Lily devotedly took care of until they were separated. The one who Lily wanted to be like her when she grew up. Regina Mintz - Lily’s mother.
Again, there were so many questions running through my head, but Paula was patient with me and told me everything I wanted to know about Regina. So after a few lengthy email correspondences with Paula and reading the documents she translated for me from Swedish, I was able to write down a portrait of Regina Mintz's fascinating and solitary character. And perhaps to reconnect her with her daughter - Lily.
Regina Mintz was born in Poland on April 24, 1909, as Regina Proshovska Bekiltza. Both her parents were doctors. After high school, she studied music and poetry. She became a school music teacher, and later she became a famous opera singer. She married an engineer named Arnold Mintz and in 1935 they had a daughter - Lily.
When the war broke out, Arnold and Regina tried to escape from Kielce with their small family - but they didn’t manage to in time.
Over the years, Regina lost her entire extended family in the Kielce ghetto.
Her mental health deteriorated greatly, and she became depressed and apathetic. Her daughter Lily, who looked up to her, had to take care of her; To feed her, wash her, take care of the household chores - before she was even seven years old.
After the Kielce ghetto closed in May 1943, Arnold and Regina were separated from their daughter Lily and sent to Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz the couple was separated. Regina never knew what became of her husband and daughter.
After a year in Auschwitz, she was sent to another camp in Poland, and from there, in the Spring of 1945, she was liberated by the Red Cross. That’s all that’s known about Regina’s experiences from the war.
Right after the war, the “White Buses” started operating. These were special Red Cross buses that transferred Scandinavian concentration camp inmates back to their countries of origin. A small portion of the prisoners they transferred were Polish. Regina was among them.
Regina Mintz’s Life in Sweden
Regina Mintz was transferred in a very poor mental condition to a refugee camp in Sweden, and from there - to a psychiatric hospital. The only thing that stirred any excitement in her, however small - was music. There was a piano at the hospital, which Regina would play and sing. For a while she was even sent to a Swedish family twice a week to play the piano and sing to them.
Regina spent the remainder of her life in Sweden, without a family and with very few friends - Paula’s parents, the woman who wrote to me, were among them.
A doctor who treated Regina introduced her to Paula’s parents in the hopes that the relationship would help her - and indeed it was the case. Regina got a job at the same factory Paula’s mother worked at, and that’s how they grew closer. But Regina could not hold down her job because of her mental state.
Also, when she stopped working at the factory, Paula’s parents kept in close touch with Regina and visited her frequently at the psychiatric hospital - sometimes together with Paula, who was a small girl back then. They would often take walks through the park or the city with her.
Paula remembers Regina as a very sad woman. She recounts that she had a hard time communicating with Regina, since she insisted on speaking in Polish - even though she had already learned to speak Swedish. However, she was a beautiful woman with an impressive presence that turned heads. She was always made-up, wore a stylish hat on her fair hair, an elegant suit, and high heels.
Over the years, Paula’s parents had a hard time keeping up with the visits, since Regina became increasingly more depressed. At some stage they didn’t even know what to say to her anymore, she tended only to stare vacantly, or to murmur to herself. She tended to speak a lot about how famous she was and that she needed to be treated as an artist. They knew that Regina had a husband and daughter, but that’s the extent of what they knew, since she never spoke about what happened to her during the war. Paula’s parents tried to find out what happened to her relatives, but they didn’t find any more information.
Years passed, the hospital closed down, and Regina was given her own apartment. At this stage, Regina had also lost touch with Paula’s parents.
Regina Mintz died in August 1980.
She was buried only about a month after her death, at a Christian cemetery, without a funeral, without a gravestone, and probably without anyone to mourn for her.
Paula and her family found out about her death only long afterwards.
From these records and from my conversations with Paula, I can picture Regina clearly, even more clearly than I can picture her daughter, Lily.
A woman who had an extremely hard life, often intolerable. A woman who suffered immensely from the war and lost her entire family. A woman who never told anyone about her experiences from the war.
Despite all this, and perhaps because of it - she was a beautiful, impressive, and obstinate woman who knew what she wanted. A talented musician until her last day, whose only moments of grace in her life were thanks to music and her devoted friends, who were genuinely concerned for her.
Maybe it's the spirit of Lily and Regina who came down here, so that we could help them get their lives in order. After all, Regina never imagined that she would die alone as a sick woman, and not as an internationally renowned opera singer. She never knew what became of her daughter.
Now we’ve been given an opportunity to unite them, if not in life, then in death. A mother and daughter whose lives were so tragic.
But we can also see a fascinating woman and a courageous girl, who fought with all their strength (and they had a fair amount of it) for the right to be who they were.
Many ask me, “Why is it so important to you? How did you decide to research an anonymous family from the Holocaust, as if they were your own family?”
For years, my answer was always commemoration. I felt that I was able to give life to a girl who was a world unto herself. I told her story, which touched so many people.
Commemoration alone is reason enough to remember.
In recent years, when the historical events are moving farther away from us and only their memory is left, I ask myself - what do I want to remember? What does a memory mean, beyond commemoration?
I think that the most significant thing that we can learn from the entire story, is not the life Lily had. But rather the life she could have had.
Can you imagine the life Lily, or her mother could have had, had Lily survived the war? A few details could have changed in their stories.
If only one person had taken responsibility. If only one police officer had turned a blind eye. If only someone could have helped. If only...
If only we look around us and help whoever needs it - imagine how different people’s lives could be. How different the world will be.
Let’s remember to help.
he names of the children that were killed at Kielce, on the night of May 29, 1943
Lolek Eisenberg - 5
Leah Alex - 11
Fred Bogair - 5
Menachem Borenstein - 12
Hannah Borenstein - 10
Manos Berkovich - 7
Aharon Goldblum - 1.5
Yashayahu Goldblum - 7
Zola Goldberg - 2
Sigmund Gurevich - 3
Paula Grossberg - 10
Sharinka Groybard - 5
Zeev Greenberg - 4
Yosef Greenberg - 7
Ania Hoffman - 8
Feliush Weinberg - 2
Carol Wald Liffrent - 1.5
Fimush Zoyberman - 1.5
Dora Zilberstein - 12
Miliusha Zilberstein - 5
Israel Hamilentzki - 3
Rozia Hamilentzki - 4
Miatek Harson - 2
Esther Yazvitzky - 13
Hannah Yazvitsky - 9
Shmuel Yazvitzky - 10
Rishia Katrielvich - 8
Sharinka Lederman - 4
Mina Lander - 9
Sharinka Lex - 6
Lily Mintz - 7
Hava Mandelboim - 5
Mertzel Sapir - 3
Tzashia Pinmeser - 5
Frantzek - 14
Irena Proshovesky - 7
Yitzhak Friedman - 5
Bronik Tzipros - 7
David Klinberg - 5
Hannah Klinberg - 11
Gisella Krebel - 15 months
Gisella Rosenzweig - 5
Yanoshik Rosenzweig - 6
Zoshia Reiter - 7
Menachem Recht - 5
May their memory be a blessing
By Itzick Simon
Lily’s story is also somehow connected to me.
I grew up in Or Akiva and in the Aloni Yitzhak Youth Village. When we were kids, my mother, the late Florence Simon, used to take us during the summer break to get our schoolbooks and supplies at a store that was well-known by residents in and around Hadera: Lieberman Books. The owners of the store were the late Tzilla Lieberman and her husband.
It turns out that I had unknowingly met that woman several times. I thought or imagined to myself what a life story she must have, what her life was like and how she survived, until the meeting at her house in Karnei Shomron, where she moved later in life to live closer to her grandchildren.
Another turning point in gathering some information about the people involved - see this link