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Oral Histories: Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust

Cyla Stundel.Cyla Stundel.
Cyla Stundel

Name: Cyla Tine Stundel (1921 – 2009)

Birth Place: Czartorysk, Poland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1949, Milwaukee

I think you call it zombies — like living death. That's what I think we were.

— Cyla Stundel

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.

Biography

Cyla Tine Stundel (also found as Sztundel) was born in Czartorysk, Poland, on March 5, 1921, to a family of Orthodox Jews. They later moved to Maniewicze, which the Soviet army occupied in September 1939. The Jews lived there in relative safety until the German invasion on June 22, 1941.

In September 1942, the Germans segregated the Jewish residents into a ghetto and, within days, murdered them all. Cyla and a younger brother escaped death by fleeing into the forest the night before the executions. The rest of her family perished.

Cyla and her brother lived from day-to-day, stealing food and sleeping in the underbrush for more than two years. They emerged from hiding in 1944 after the Russians recaptured the Ukraine. In the Ukrainian city of Rovno, they were befriended by Abraham Stundel, whom Cyla subsequently married. The three traveled westward by train in search of safety. In early 1945 her brother died of tuberculosis. Finally, in December 1945, Cyla and her husband reached the Fernwald displaced persons camp near Munich, Germany. Their son, Ksiel, was born there in 1946.

In 1949, while Cyla was in her eighth month of pregnancy with their daughter, the family immigrated to the U.S. They arrived in Milwaukee on June 13, 1949. Her husband found work as a carpenter and Cyla devoted herself to raising the children. Cyla also became an active member in her neighborhood Jewish community. She continued to lead the life of an Orthodox Jew in a Polish shtetl in Milwaukee, speaking the Yiddish language and surrounding herself with friends of a similar background. Cyla eventually moved San Francisco where she died in 2009.

Audio and Transcript Information

Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions


Listen to Cyla's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Cyla's family and childhood in Maniewicze, Poland
  • Shtetls and pogroms in Poland
  • Traditional Jewish life in Poland before the war
  • Outbreak of World War II
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Anti-Semitism and Zionism during Cyla's youth
  • Religious life and living conditions in rural Poland in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Russian occupation of Cyla's village, 1939
  • Religious and mystical stories
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Germans invade Maniewicze, 1941
  • Mass murder of Jewish residents, 1942
  • Cyla's chance escape with her younger brother
  • Hiding together in the woods for two years
  • Cyla meets her future husband, 1944
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • Cyla's marriage in December 1944
  • Life in Kiwerce, Poland, at war's end
  • The family's difficult journey westward toward Munich, Germany
  • Displaced persons camp at Fernwald
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • Life at Fernwald after the war
  • Immigrating to the U.S., 1949
  • First impressions of New York and Wisconsin
  • Starting over in Milwaukee
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Life as a new immigrant in Milwaukee in the 1950s
  • Establishing herself in the city's Jewish community
  • Cyla's subsequent children and family life
  • Her husband's Holocaust experiences
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Cultural and religious life in Milwaukee's Jewish community
  • Cyla's attitudes toward American culture
  • Americans' understanding of the Holocaust
  • Cyla's attitudes toward Israel and the U.S.
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Anti-Semitism in Milwaukee
  • Cyla's feelings about Jews in American society
  • Cyla's feelings about Israel and Germans
  • The role her experiences played in shaping her later life
Download Audio (MP3, 17 minutes, 15.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 450 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by archivist Sara Leuchter during two sessions at the Stundel apartment on February 20 and March 9, 1980.

    The first session lasted 90 minutes. It ended at Cyla's request due to great emotional pain. As she discussed her escape to the forest, she grew more distressed and broke down completely when speaking of the death of her brother.

    The second session was conducted in a two and one-half hour taping. Cyla was often animated and at times very entertaining. She speaks with a very thick accent that can at times be difficult to understand.


Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Feb 20, 1980; Mar 9, 1980
  • Interview Location: Stundel home, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Interviewer: Archivist Sara Leuchter
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 5 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 2 interviews, total approximately 4 hours
  • Transcript Length: 80 pages
  • Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.

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