Two who survived, without Schindler: Not all the Jews in Krakow's ghetto were on Oskar Schindler's list. Reggie Nadelson meets a brother and sister who were there when the Nazis came; and with them watches Spielberg's film

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In the dark of the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square, watching what passed for his youth and her childhood, are Joseph Fischler and his sister, Janina Martinho. They have come to see Schindler's List, the film that tells the story of Krakow's Jews during the Second World War, and of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who rescued 1,100 of them. Although Joseph and Janina were not among the 'Schindler Jews', as they came to be known, they were there. In Krakow. In the ghetto with its crowded rooms, hungry children, and killing. In the concentration camp at Plaszow, a Krakow suburb, on the run. Like the Schindler Jews, they survived.

In the cinema, mostly they sit silent, barely moving, watching. Then Joseph murmurs 'That's the manhole, in Krakusa Street.'

On 13 March 1943, the Nazis liquidated the Krakow ghetto and sent the remaining inhabitants to Plaszow or Auschwitz. Joseph and Janina Fischler escaped down that man-hole, into the sewer.

'We came out of our room on the morning of the 13th and went into the street holding hands and were sucked into the panic-stricken human tide,' Janina says. 'The whole of the ghetto's population seemed to be in the main thoroughfare. Shooting into the crowd had already begun.' Suddenly, they found themselves in a deserted side street. Men, women and children were disappearing down a man-hole.

'Joseph jumped in without a moment's hesitation, then held up his arms for me. I jumped. He caught me and said: 'It will be all right.' ' They emerged beyond the ghetto wall. 'There was not a soul about, except for a small group of slime-covered Jews.'

Once outside the ghetto they separated, and did not see each other again until after the war.

JANINA and Joseph Fischler were born and raised in Krakow; their father played football for a local team. It was a middle-class family of very modest means. 'Our life was hard. One reason I survived is I was streetwise,' she says. The Fischlers were secular, assimilated Polish Jews. There had been Jews in Krakow for nearly six centuries. There was always anti-Semitism, though.

'Even before the war, the Poles wanted to get rid of the Jews,' Joseph says. 'The nightmare could have only happened in Poland. Psychologically, geographically, Poland was perfect.'

Had the family considered leaving before the war, I ask.

'There was,' says Janina, 'an attachment to things. So long as you had your wardrobe, your handbags, if you had your bed linens, life was bearable.'

'We had no idea what lay in store for us, even when we got inside the ghetto. It was in easy reach of the railway station, but we never thought,' Joseph says.

In March 1941, Krakow's 75,000 Jews, a third of the city's population, were forced out of their houses, jammed into a walled ghetto, 16 square blocks of slum. Food was scarce, although in the ghetto you could get anything if you had money or connections: there was always a black market, always barter. In a scene in Schindler's List, a family stashes diamonds in hunks of bread, then, when the Nazis come, stuff the bread in the kids' cheeks.

Janina and Joseph had no money. In June 1942, their parents and little brother were 'resettled'. Sent to a camp called Belzec. 'It was known among the German cognoscenti as the laboratory,' Janina says.

'I knew they weren't coming back. But in those days you thought only that you were still alive. You thought only of the next five minutes.' She and her brother have never talked about their parents, she adds. 'About everything else, yes, but not that.'

The 'resettlement' actions continued. By October, the whole Fischler family - parents, brother, grandparents, cousins, aunts, friends - were gone. The ghetto shrank. Janina shared a room with 11 people, 'minds clogged with dreams of food and escape, bodies unwashed, hair teeming with vermin. The stench of squalor and hunger clung to our tattered clothing.' She envied a little girl whose parents planned to buy her out of the ghetto. 'She would live, live, live] I, too, wanted to live]' All Janina had left was her brother.

Then Joe was deported. Loaded on a cattle car. Obsessed with survival, he made calculations. The window was unbarred: was it long enough, wide enough to admit his shoulders? He decided it was.

It was night. Within half an hour, he was through the window, hanging on to the outside of the train. As it went faster, he jumped. Bleeding, he made his way across occupied Krakow back to the ghetto; he had promised his parents to take care of his sister.

'It sounds incredible. Who would believe talk about escapes from windows? I've never talked about it,' he says. There is a kind of hierarchy of suffering among victims of the Holocaust, some say; survivors often do not talk much or easily.

IN Schindler's List, a long, detailed sequence chronicles the liquidation of the ghetto. March 13 1943. During it, I can see brother and sister, watching, completely still. She cries silently. And occasionally, each raises a hand, to his or her face, as if to shield themselves from the pictures, as if to fend them off.

After the liquidation, and the sewer, Joseph was sent to the Plaszow concentration camp; at 19 he was on a labour camp list, as a healthy Jewish male he had no choice. The commandant at Plaszow, Amon Goeth, took target practice from his balcony overlooking the camp by shooting Jews at random. Joseph remembers Goeth, the watchtower, the barbed wire, the deportation of the childen on a sunny day while a loudspeaker played a cheery German tune. It is all in the movie.

Janina, too young to work, was not on a list. She set off alone, disguised as a Christian orphan, because the alternative was the death camp at Auschwitz. She was 12. 'In Poland,' she says, 'it is felt that if you look after an orphan, God will take it into account in the final analysis.'

'I survived because I had a copper-bottomed Aryan appearance.' Her assets for survival were pretty meagre, though, for a kid on her own in the middle of a war: 'Blue eyes, straight nose, and speech in which there was not the slightest hint of a Yiddish intonation,' she says. But she was also a born story-teller: she could invent, an entire past if necessary. The tale-telling that had got her in trouble with parents and teachers before the war now became vital.

'Nobody ever guessed I was Jewish. I came out of the sewers. I went to Olsza, a Krakow suburb I knew. It was so peaceful. What struck me was how ordinary it was. I thought: I have come here from hell, yet people are living normally.'

Taken in by Polish peasants for a while, she also lived rough, alone, often in winter. The lack of emotional support was worse: 'In two years, no one showed me any affection. I missed it because I was a loved child,' she says. 'After the war, if someone made a gesture of affection, it caused me physical pain.'

During all this, Oskar Schindler was busily employing Jewish workers at his factory in Krakow. Schindler, the voluptuary who palled around with Nazis, the war profiteer, his aim to make loads of money and have lots of fun; there was nothing like a big juicy war for either activities. Somehow, something snapped in Schindler: he began saving lives. Rumours of his craziness spread.

In the film, Schindler, joking with some Nazis on the railway platform at Plaszow, cons them into hosing down a train headed for another concentration camp with cool water. He bribes the guards to supply drinking water at every stop. On the train that boiling summer day in 1944, was Joseph Fischler. 'The roof of that train was literally red hot. We were dead without Schindler's water.'

According to the closing credits on Schindler's List, only 4,000 Krakow Jews survived: 1,100 were Oskar Schindler's employees. Two of the others were Janina and Joseph Fischler.

Then the film is over. In the dark, I worry that this is too intrusive, this looking for reaction, observing other people's pain. Is it some kind of misplaced Jewish guilt, the kind that goes with not having been around in the war, not having suffered? Some kind of Holocaust tourism?

Joseph and Janina emerge from the movie theatre shaken, but happy to talk. She is in her early sixties, he is 70, and they are handsome people, kindly, self-possessed, articulate. And a lot tougher than I am, of course; all I've survived is a harrowing movie.

'It was very realistic. Very realistic. Exactly as it happened. I knew so many of the people in the film,' Joseph says.

'Up to now, it has been almost impossible to convey the fear and terror, but I think this film did,' his sister says. 'It seemed to me, in a way, a work of art,' she adds thoughtfully, turning her phrases, an elegant user of words. 'I was very moved. I found some things unbearable: the screaming in the showers at Auschwitz. How the parents were cheated of their children.'

'The mind works in such odd ways. In the film, when the train drives into Auschwitz, do you know what I thought of?' she asks. 'I thought of Anna Karenina arriving at the Moscow station. That, too, was an ill-fated train.'

After the war, in Krakow, there was a Jewish house where lists of survivors were posted. 'I used to go every day,' Joseph says. 'Then, 10 o'clock one morning, suddenly she appeared. Janina had on a flowered dress.'

They went to Edinburgh, then London. She became a teacher. He went into business. Both married. Each has a daughter, both grown now. And although they read the literature and see the movies about the war, they do not talk to their children about it.

'I have never talked about it to my daughter,' Janina says. 'If you have pain, and my pain is for life, you do not wish to pass it on to those you love. I wish the pain to finish with me.'

(Photographs omitted)

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