“My mission is to educate people on what happened, so it does not happen again.”
Stan was five years old in 1939, and spent each day with his German nanny, subsequently, German was the first language he spoke, even though he lived in Poland. When he wasn’t working on his alphabet and early readers, he was running around the Krakow neighborhood with the other boys, throwing balls and digging up bugs. An only child, he was well spoiled by his loving parents and was fortunate in many ways. After a long work day, his mother, who was a pharmacist, would often bring home treats for little Stan and spend evenings reading together. His father worked long hours, as an accountant at the local bank, but each Friday evening he would make sure he was home in time for Shabbat dinner.
Stan would “help” his nanny prepare the meal. He will always remember the dinners which usually consisted of thick loaves of challah bread and salted butter. There were roasted potatoes and herb roasted chicken and he always saved room for babka for dessert.
Life as everyone knew it in Krakow was about to change. News spread fast about the Nazis taking over towns, cities and countries. As the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, many Jews began to devise escape plans for their families. Stan’s family decided that his father, uncle and oldest cousin would make their way to what was then the Soviet Union. Once settled there, they were to bring Stan and his mother, aunt and other cousins to join them. The two families were to later make their way to Palestine, today, Israel, wait out the war, and come to the U.S. Unfortunately, in a border city between Poland and the Soviet Union; Stan’s father was arrested by the Nazis, and was deported to Auschwitz, where his mother learned in the spring of 1941, from an International Red Cross postcard, that he died.
As conditions deteriorated and stories of atrocities were becoming increasingly more common, Stan’s mother decided to leave Krakow. She packed what she could carry and left for her brother’s house, in a town outside of Krakow. He owned a successful hardware business and his large house easily accommodated Stan, his mother, his aunt and his youngest cousin. Life was “bearable” even though the town was under German occupation.
In the winter of 1940-1941 the SS moved in and took over the town from the German army. Stan, now just over six years old watched as the SS erected a wooden shack in a park in front of his uncle’s store. They filled it with a large number of Jewish men, women and children. Locked it, sprayed it with gasoline and set it on fire, burning these victims alive!
With conditions worsening in this town, Stan’s mother contacted the Polish underground for help. They got her a job as a maid in Krakow, in a Polish Catholic household, man and wife, no children. The family didn’t know that she had a child, so she smuggled young Stan into that apartment. “Living” conditions were a closet right off the kitchen, with an army cot on which she slept, Stan slept underneath. It was pitch black! Food consisted of scraps. Stan’s mom managed to smuggle a couple of books for him to read by candle light. One was Shakespeare's Hamlet in German and the other Catechism 101.
Their stay here ended abruptly as several SS took over the apartment throwing the owners out! They quickly showed up in the kitchen of the apartment where his mother was working, and they asked her for something. Suddenly, as she was about to give it to him, the SS officer noticed the door to the closet and as he was about to open it, Stan’s mother distracted him, gave him what he came for and he left. Stan was hidden in that closet, and although he couldn’t see all that was happening, he knew to keep still and very quiet. Stan’s mother knew this was no longer safe enough and once again, with the assistance of the Polish underground, they were transferred to a new safe house, hidden by a Polish Catholic couple. As Stan and his mother made their way to the new safe house, they witnessed an elderly Jewish couple being summarily shot and killed by two Nazis s in the middle of the day and on a busy thoroughfare.
Two years later, 1943, Stan is now about eight years old and still living in the same safe house when they receive news that a neighbor has become suspicious of the people who are harboring them and them as well. So on Easter Sunday, the four of them go to Easter services and young Stan takes Holy Communion, ”Catechism 101!!!.” Shortly after that, the hosts evict them and they managed to hook up with a guide and other Jews waiting to be smuggled out of Poland and into Hungary. In the dead of winter, ‘43-‘44, on a very cold night, Stan and his mother embarked, on foot, to begin an almost 600 mile trek to save their lives. The guide occasionally managed to find them relief, getting a ride on horse drawn wagons. During the trek they had a six week stopover in Slovakia, where they were hidden in a barn.
With the aid of the Hungarian underground, they finally made it to Budapest, to be hidden in a rat infested cellar outside the city. After many months enduring the cellar and eating very little, they felt tremendous joy as they were liberated by the Soviet army, in January 1945.
Shortly after the end of the war in Europe, May 1945, Stan and his mother are incarcerated /detained in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp for almost six weeks. A Jewish organization (HIAS) intervened on their behalf and contacted their relatives in the U.S. Grateful to the generosity of this organization and their relatives in the US, they were taken out of this camp, moved into Paris where they applied at the American consulate to come to the U.S. With the advent of the cold war, a decision is made to leave Europe. Stan and his mother arrive in Montreal, Canada in early 1949. In 1951, the visa comes thru and they finally come to the US and to NY., where with the financial assistance of their relatives they settle.
Stan was seventeen when they finally arrived in New York and had missed a traditional American education and the necessary high school prerequisites, so it wasn’t surprising that his application to college to study mechanical engineering was denied. Stan immediately signed up for night school classes to fulfill the requirements needed to gain admission. He reapplied, studied, and graduated from the department of Mechanical Engineering and with an MBA, only to unexpectedly run into anti-Semitism in the work force. He was turned down at a job interview with the telephone company after finding out he was Jewish, June 1958. Eventually Stan lands a job and becomes quite successful, He went on to have a successful career in marketing and won numerous top sales and advertising executive awards. He married, raised two kids and moved to Port Washington, LI, NY where they still live today and has been a member of The Community Synagogue for more than 50 years.
Stan has spoken to almost 20,000 students in middle schools, high schools and colleges , including adult groups and in service courses for teachers. A widely recognized and sought after speaker he is the recipient of several awards. Ronell’s passion is to fulfill the legacy of “Remember” left by the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis, and thru education, to ensure that a Holocaust never happens again!
He challenges students to think deeply about the impact of the Holocaust and inspires them to continue to educate others around them. A recent dedication from one such student praises Mr. Ronell for speaking about his story of survival; providing an opportunity for this next generation to hear from an eye-witness and helping them to NEVER FORGET.