The stories of Jan Kurz-Bernstein and Lola Waxman
Jan Kurz-Bernstein 1909-1985 and Lola Waksman 1918-1992
This is the story of two Polish Jewish families, the Kurz and Waksman families, whose lives tragically changed when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
Jan Kurz-Bernstein was born in 1909 in a town called Mielec. When Western Poland was taken over by the Germans, he escaped the Nazis by travelling East, but was arrested by the Russians. He barely survived hard labour in Siberia but after recuperating, he joined the Berling Army that in 1945 helped to liberate Warsaw. His father, Shaya Kurz, was not so lucky. Having lost his wife, Estera Bernstein, in 1925, Shaya was murdered on 9th March 1942, when all the remaining Jews of Mielec were deported.
Lola Waksman was born in Lublin in 1918. The family moved to Warsaw for economic reasons but were then confined in the Warsaw Ghetto. With her sister, she made a daring escape from the ghetto and they took on the identities of two Polish Catholic girls to survive on the Aryan side. The fact that they spoke an unaccented Polish allowed them to do this successfully. Their parents Isaac and Nesha Waksman, however, were murdered on 3rd November 1943 after being deported to the forced labour camp of Trawniki.
Jan and Lola met in Warsaw after the war and married in 1947. However, after realising they were under surveillance by the Communist authorities, they managed to escape Russian-controlled Poland and arrived in England in 1949.
Through photos and voice recordings, their daughter Noreen tells their stories of courage and resilience – how they succeeded in building a happy life in England, but never forgot the loss of their dear parents, Noreen’s grandparents.
Presented by Noreen Plen
Noreen Plen is a retired pharmacist who enjoyed a varied career holding down managerial posts in the areas of Retail, Hospital and Industrial Pharmacy. She enjoyed both the clinical aspects and the interaction with patients, which gave her empathy with the sick and elderly.
She owes her education to her parents, Jan and Lola Berstyn, who both survived the Holocaust in Europe. Her parents emigrated to the UK in 1949, choosing to live in Newcastle upon Tyne where an uncle (Lola’s brother) was based. They arrived as penniless refugees and their aim was to give Noreen, their only child, the best education possible as they could not promise to leave her material goods.
In this they succeeded and she is grateful to them for making a good life for all the family. Sadly, Jan and Lola both died young, before it became popular to take survivor testimony, and Noreen is motivated to tell their stories instead. She wants there to be recognition that they lived and for their memories to endure. Their legacy will live on in their descendants who are already aware and proud of their history.