As an 11-year-old boy, Zev Kedem was one of the 1,100 Schindlerjews whose life was miraculously saved by German industrialist Oscar Schindler. Kedem, now over 60 years old, is a documentary filmmaker. He consulted on and appeared in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning epic Schindler's List.
Germany invaded Poland in 1939, when Zev Kedem was 5 years old. The family abandoned a vacation and headed to Kedem's grandparent's home in Krakow. "It was dark and, as a five-year-old, I was fairly afraid," Kedem later recalls "Little did I know then that this darkness that surrounded me would surround me for six years."
Little Zev learned to keep his emotions to himself, when his grandparents both attempted suicide to avoid murder at the hands of Nazi soldiers.
Within a year, Zev Kedem's family was rounded up and brought to the Crakow Ghetto with 30,000 other Jews. Barbed wire surrounded their world. In the spring of 1943, the final deportation of Jews from Crakow began. Zev, his older sister and their grandparents hid in a padlocked pigeon coup as Germans inspected the abandoned ghetto.
"It was a very panicky situation," he says. "As an eight-year-old, I understood very well that unless I was silent, we would be killed. There were no illusions."
Zev could hear the sirens blaring out warnings of death to those Jews who did not give themselves up. He heard dogs barking and people being shot. He heard the voices of his neighbors being shipped off on the trains. He heard shots ringing from the hospital nearby. "I have no doubt that the Germans were executing children in their hospital beds that were too weak for deportation," Zev says.
Later Kedem's mother bribed a Nazi truck driver to smuggle her son into a camp so as to avoid having him scrutinized by Nazi guards, who would have unquestionably sent Zev immediately to the gas chambers.
So he hid among the older boys, working in a brush factory were he sat on a box at the worktable to appear taller than he was. "I soon became quite competitive and made more brushes than anyone else," Zev says, "That was my only defense — that I was as productive as a grown-up person."
Once he was spotted by a Nazi overseer, but talked his way into survival by virtue of a large supply of brushes in front of him ...
Zev Kedem passed through several more concentration camps - then Oscar Schindler came into the picture with his "most wondrous of plans to create a fictitious factory in Czechoslovakia." At the age of 10 years, little Zev was put on the list - selected to go to Czechoslovakia to work at Oscar Schindler's textile-turned-armament factory.
But an old-style Nazi guard at the Schindler factory almost ended that for him. Mindful of the regulation that all children under the age of 13 were to be killed, the guard rounded up all the children and their fathers, and deported them to Auschwitz. This was the last transport sent to Auschwitz.
A short while after his arrival, Zev was accompanying an acquaintance to the latrine outside the building. From a distance, Zev saw his mother and sister for the first time since they had been separated during deportation. "We saw a group of women taking shelter from the cutting, freezing wind. We discovered they were the Schindler-women, and amongst them were my mom and sister," Zev says. During the war only one man managed to get prisoners out of Auschwitz - Oscar Schindler arrived in time and saved the Schindler-Jews ...
not show a hint of emotion upon knowing his family was alive. He did
manage to show his mother that he was issued a number, to try and ease
her worries. And his life was spared, although he did not understand why
until years later. The day before his arrival, the Germans gave orders
to destroy all the crematories and dig up the mass graves due to the
advancing Russian Armies. So the inmates were marched to German
concentration camps farther from the front lines. Zev was marched from
Poland to the Austrian concentration camp Mauthausen.
An army unit setting up
displaced persons camps adopted Zev Kedem after he spent a few months
wandering around and desiring only shelter, food and his life. He was
sent to England to live in a British orphanage. He later studied briefly
at Oxford University and received a degree in engineering. Then he
married and moved to Israel, where he settled with his family, which now
included four children, in a 400-year old home.