Veteran Stories:
Rita Tate (née Holdengräber)

  • Corporals Dave Murrie (left) and Andy Jansen chatting with Polish refugees, St. Quentin, France, 16 August 1944.
    Credit: Lieut. Michael M. Dean / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-129190
    Restrictions on use: Nil
    Copyright: Expired


    Canada. Department of National Defence collection / Library and Archives Canada / e005176210
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"My mother said to me that it is not enough to be safe, and have enough to eat; one must do something to fight the invader."


The Polish, not Jewish, Polish-Catholic underground consisted of two main factions, Armia Krajowa, the land [Home] Army, which was the main thing, unfortunately, very anti-Semitic; [and] Armia Ludowa, which was mine, which was left-wing, okay, supported by the then communists in Russia but much smaller - however, not anti-Semitic. We were in the eastern part of Poland, a city called Lwów, which today is west Ukraine [L’viv].

And of course, it was bad. There were about sixteen or eighteen people in one room and we had a bucket and it was really bad. There was terrible hunger, terrible dirt, I remember it distinctly. And there were some members of the family, meaning my grandmother - my mother’s mother - her sister, two uncles and another sister. And they could see what was coming because the ghetto walls were not yet up. But Jews were being crammed into a smaller and smaller area within the city of Lwów. And I heard myself the phrase more than once, “the child”, meaning me, “must be saved”. And everyone agreed that the child must be saved and then the second question was, who will save the child, we cannot all go. Well, the mother. So it was the family decision that my mother and I would go away and try to save ourselves.

And we went to another Polish town called Tarnów, T-A-R-N-Ó-W, where lived our friend, dear friend who saved our life through some priest, who was connected to the Polish underground and some other people; he managed to get us those superb Polish documents. He then rented us a very nice apartment, I remember gorgeous house and you’re talking again hundreds and hundreds of years old houses with walls so thick, this kind of thing. And got my mother the job in the German Club.

My mother said to me that it is not enough to be safe, and have enough to eat; one must do something to fight the invader. And she was speaking the way a Polish patriot would speak. This foreign army invaded our country, meaning Poland, and she even asked me, do you agree? I said, yes, yes, yes. And then she talked about forests and animals and it sounded almost like a fairytale about bear and deer and something else, in forests -and wolves! And she said, of course you like animals? Yes, of course. Well, do you think you would like to live in the forest? Yes! I’m ten years old.

The decision was made, we’re going to Warsaw. What I did not know at that time was that my mother had a friend, a Polish woman, who lived in Warsaw and was a member of this Armia Ludowa, this underground organization. And within a short time, we went to Warsaw, my mother and I, with our perfect documents. And yes, with some money, decent clothes and we could pass for, you know, middle-class Poles. And we went to a place, it was a large apartment. I remember that there seemed to be many people who lived there who were coming and going. It was a very busy place in the city of Warsaw in a district called Koło, which means “wheel” but whatever. And this is where my work began.

I had very thick braids, long hair, very long and two very thick braids. And my mother did my hair every morning and inside the braids, went tiny little bits of paper, like cigarette paper, very very thin, with something written on it. I didn’t know what. But she used to hide it inside my hair, my braids. And she would tell me to go to a certain address and that’s all, just knock on the door or ring the bell, whichever. And I would go to the given address where they obviously expected me, where they knew just what to do and they instantly undid my braids, took out the message, stuck another message in and gave me another address. And this was my courier job. I was going from place to place to place with little bits of paper in my hair.

I remember later on and in all the subsequent years, how very level-headed I was, how almost unafraid I was. Part of it was ignorance and part of it was conceit. Because as a little child, my parents used to tell me that I am the most intelligent, the smartest, etcetera etcetera, and I was playing chess at the age of five. And clear thinking was something my parents demanded of me at a very very early age. It came in handy. And that was from October of 1942 until middle of March 1943, when they took my mother. And that was that.

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