'Warsaw Ghetto Cigarette Seller' Dies Aged 83

Jorek Plonski sold goods in city markets during WWII, thanks to his Aryan appearance.

Between medical treatments for cancer, Jorek Plonski, 83, used to travel from his home on Kibbutz Megiddo in the north to Givat Haviva, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, to help create a museum commemorating typical Polish towns before the Holocaust and tell young people about his time in the Warsaw Ghetto and his experiences as one of a group of Jewish children who sold cigarettes in the city's Three Crosses Square.

"He didn't give up, despite the cancer," said Graciela Ben-Dror, the director of the Moreshet Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center in Givat Haviva, where the new museum will be located. The museum is slated to open on April 21, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Plonski - who Ben-Dror said "represented what happened to the Jewish people in the 20th century, the Holocaust and the redemption, the bereavement and the struggle for the founding of the state" - died on Saturday. He will be buried at 4 P.M. Monday in the Megiddo cemetery.

Plonski was born in 1926, and he lived with his family outside Warsaw. When World War II broke out, he sold goods in the city markets with his sister, thanks to their Aryan appearance.

In 1940, when the Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto, Plonski became the family's sole breadwinner.

"At the age of 13 he already became an adult," said Ben-Dror. "Thanks to the potato or two he smuggled in, he supported his family."

In his testimony at the Ghetto Fighters' House, Plonski said he was persuaded to join the underground resistance group in the ghetto after his parents and two siblings were taken away by the Nazis - apparently to the Treblinka death camp - in August 1942.

"I was left alone and didn't know what to do with myself," he said. When an acquaintance proposed that he join the underground, he agreed.

"I was well-acquainted with the crossing points from the Aryan side to the ghetto, so I smuggled food and weapons for the fighters," Plonski said in the testimony. "I took part in the rebellion in April 1943. I was one of the last ones in the ghetto, and I left in July 1943 through the sewage system to the Aryan side. After I made contact with people on the Aryan side, I went back through the sewers to take out what remained of the fighters from our group."

Plonski survived by using false papers, selling cigarettes and sleeping in a Catholic cemetery until that hiding place was discovered, too, at which point he hid in the basements of destroyed homes. The story of the young cigarette sellers was described in Joseph Ziemian's 2005 book "The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square."

After the war, Plonski helped search for Jewish orphans, moved to Israel, fought in the War of Independence and became one of the founders of Kibbutz Megiddo. There, he met his wife Alexandra, also a Holocaust survivor, and they had three children. One of them, Eitan, was killed in the Yom Kippur War while attempting to rescue wounded soldiers.

"The murder of his family in the Holocaust ... and the death of his son are two open wounds that he carried with him his entire life," said Ben-Dror.

Plonski is survived by his wife, two daughters and seven grandchildren.