Pessia Polak is the daughter of Jonas (Yona) Markowicz and Rywka Welner. Jonas Markowicz was born in Zawierce, Poland on August 5, 1908 to Shulem (Shalom) Grossman and Reizl Markowicz. Shulem passed away shortly after Jonas' birth, so Jonas assumed the last name of his mother. After growing up an orphan in the Zaglebie region of Poland, Jonas went to work in a shoe factory in Katowitz. Rywka Regina Welner was born in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland on September 15, 1921 to an Orthodox Jewish family. Her father Mordechai (Mordka) Welner was a merchant and her mother Pessl (nee Grossman) was a housewife. Rywka had two sisters and two brothers. She attended a Polish school and later worked at the Rechnitz metal factory. Rywka and Jonas married in 1939, only a few months before the start of World War II. Jonas, having heard what had happened in Germany under Nazi rule, was determined to leave for the east and tried to convince Rywka's family to join them. They refused, convinced that Jonas' worries were over-blown. Rywka and Jonas fled alone despite her misgivings about leaving her family. Having no work and running out of their small financial means, they had to sell many personal belongings, and Rywka lost many more, including her family photos, when she dropped her knapsack while crossing a river or lake by foot. By the end of 1939, they reached a kolkhoz (collective farm) in the USSR where they worked as cotton pickers, but both fell ill with malaria. They next were recruited to work in the coal mines of Ordzhonikidze, located in the Stalino district of the Ukraine, (USSR). In 1941 they traveled to Bukhara in Uzbekistan and remained there for the duration of the war. Despite hunger and disease, Rywka became pregnant and on May 15, 1942 gave birth to a son. Unaware of the situation in Poland and believing that her family was still alive, she named the boy after her great grandfather Benjamin. Rywka found a local Bukharin Jew to circumcise the baby according to Jewish ritual, and the young couple found lodgings with a Bukhari Jewish family who became surrogate grandparents to their baby. Jonas worked in the Sparta shoe factory manufacturing shoes for the Red Army. Though his work exempted him from army service, he was arrested on the street and accused of draft dodging. After several days Rywka managed to free him by bringing his exemption papers to the authorities. Jonas returned home with his hair shaven, stripped of his clothes and shoes, and wearing lice infested rags, but overjoyed to reunite with his small family. They faced other difficulties as well. As Yiddish speaking Jewish refugees, the local NKVD at times suspected them of being German spies. Therefore in order to blend in Jonas and Rywka introduced themselves as Ivan Ivanovitch and Raya Ivanovna. They also faced danger from local Uzbek criminals who on several occasions robbed them of their food and belongings at knife point. However, on the other hand, the family enjoyed an active social life with other refugees, members of the local Jewish community and even non-Jewish co-workers, and they grew to enjoy the local culture and food. In 1946, after the war ended, they returned to Poland to look for relatives. After Rywka learned that all of her immediate and extended family had perished in the Holocaust, she and Jonas fled Poland with the help of the Bricha. In July 1946, they arrived in the Mariendorf DP Camp in Berlin where Jonas worked in the food storeroom.. Later on they met Rywka's first cousins Hana and her brother Tuvia (Teddy) Grossman, both concentration camp survivors, who lived in the nearby Schlachtensee camp. On June 15, 1947 Rywka gave birth to a daughter Pessia, who she named after her mother. Once Tempelhof closed in August 1948, the family moved to the Herzog camp. They first had planned to follow Rywka's cousins to America. However, after the establishment of the State of Israel in May of 1948, they decided to move there instead. In January 1949 they boarded the ship the Atzmaut in Marseilles, France and sailed to Israel. Upon arrival they were sent to live in a tent camp in Pardes Chana but later moved to Tel Aviv. As the economic times were difficult, Jonas accepted the first available job offer, paving roads. With the boiling summer heat and not being used to physical labor on the exterior, he suffered a heart attack on his first day of work. After being released from the hospital, he found work in the shoe factory belonging to people from his hometown in Poland. Jonas later started his own small ladies shoes factory in Neve Zedek. Benjamin immigrated to the United States in 1965 after completing his army service. After Jonas passed away in December 1966 at the age of 58, Rywka and Pessia joined him for a few years before returning to Israel.
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