I was now walking through streets whose houses had been totally destroyed. Very quickly I became uncertain of exactly where I was. I saw no one, not even a dog or cat. I felt as if I were in a graveyard and my heart told me that under the ruins were wrinkled corpses like I had seen in the Warsaw ghetto. Fear took hold of me and I hurried back to where I was among living people. While I was walking, the events of the last few hours passed through my mind and became a little clearer and terrible feelings of guilt assailed me. I was guilty of everything that had happened. In a thoughtless step I had caused much suffering to Maria, who had been so friendly towards me, created an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for the manager of the factory, and above all, I had received a heavy blow which had put me in my place. Why hadn't I realized that as a Jew, I was forbidden to become involved with a Polish girl? Maybe, though, it was all for the best, that my eyes had been opened to the truth. Within a short space of time I had become distanced from my Jewishness. From morning until evening, I was among Christians. In the evenings, I was among very few Jews, who, like me, were in a process of assimilation within the Polish society and I retreated from Jews whom I met in the street, to say nothing of the fact that I had fallen in love with a Polish girl, a Christian. If what had happened this morning had not occurred, who knows where things may led me - I, whom fate had decreed should be the last remaining member of my entire family, becoming far away from everything that was dear to them. In any case, how dare I desert my people? I was ashamed that I had to be reminded of who and what I was by Poles. And now - what must I do now? How can I change course? If I want to be among Jews, then I must separate from Harry and Ula. It will hurt them a lot. They both treat me so very well, with complete and utter dedication. Under their roof, I had received everything that I could possibly need. How can I explain it to them that I love them, that its good to live with them - but that I must leave?
I began to feel hungry and went home. They both knew what had happened at the factory - the manager had telephoned Harry and told him - and were already worried when I didn't return home. When I walked in I was met by Harry, Ula, Joseph and Mrs. Schumanski, all of whom looked at me silently and worriedly, and it made me feel like a little boy who had done something wrong. Ula came towards me quickly, hugged me and kissed me, chattering, while her tears dampened my face: Thank God you've come home, my child.
The tension began to lessen and very quickly an argument began between us on anti-Semitism and the best way to combat it. Joseph said that the Poles had always been anti-Semitic and always would be. Nothing had changed, nothing would help; in his opinion, all surviving Jews had to leave that country. The others disagreed. Harry spoke earnestly to me and told me not to worry, he had thought of buying a knitting machine for me, that I could operate myself. The Meister said you had learned the trade well, he said.
But I had already sailed, in my thoughts, to other ports.
The following day I went to the Komitet and again scanned the lists, wandered among the crowds and listened to stories of people who had come from Russia, from Germany and from Austria. Apart from those who had come from Russia, most of the others had come only to seek their relatives, with the intention of returning westwards in a few days, to Germany. According to them, camps had been created in Berlin and other German cities, operated by the International Organization for the Rehabilitation of Refugees - UNRWA - to accommodate refugees, and the big American-Jewish relief organization -The Joint Distribution Committee - known universally as the 'Joint'. The Jews sitting in these camps were waiting for the chance to go to Palestine, and there are those among them who have relatives in the United States and want to emigrate there.
From the Komitet I went to Zawadzke Street where Jews were standing and arguing about the situation in Palestine, on the struggle of the Hagannah and the IZL, on the policy of 'The White Paper' of the British, who had locked the gates of Palestine in the faces of the Jewish refugees, and on the emissaries from Palestine who had come to Poland in order to organize the Jews leaving Poland for Palestine. In the street I again met the couple from Sobibor, Eda and Yitzhak Lichtmann, whom I had met at the reunion in Lublin, where they had told me that they had fought with the partisans. Now Yitzhak had opened a shoe-repair shop in Lodz. I also met another fellow that I had met in Chelm and he invited me home with him, where he introduced me to his cousin. The apartment of this acquaintance was big, furnished with expensive furniture and full of a variety of expensive object. He told me that he goes back and forth to Berlin, smuggling gold and dollars there, and bringing back with him American clothes and cigarettes on the return journey. He offered me the opportunity of working with him and living in the apartment. That same day I learned just how much I had become estranged from the Jewish world, and in one fell swoop I had returned and felt myself belonging to it, swearing that I would never again cut myself off from it.
In spite of the fact that I had decided to leave Harry and Ula, I delayed actually doing it from day to day. They were so close to my heart, there was no way I could see myself standing in front of them and saying: Well, good-bye, I'm leaving! In the meantime, in the midst of feelings of guilt that I was indeed going to leave, I tried to do everything I could to help them. I brought flowers home and scarce fruits and I volunteered to run errands. Ula radiated happiness saying:
The child's gone crazy! She spoiled me as only an only child can be spoiled, and I found it so difficult to cope with that eventually I took my courage in both hands and said to Harry and Ula that I was going to leave Poland and go to Palestine. When he heard that a broad smile lit Harry's face. He sat down facing me, looked at me seriously and was silent. For a few days, I had practiced a speech for this moment, and now only a few words of it came to my mind. To my surprise, after a few minutes, the smile returned to Harry's face and he said that he, too, wanted to go to Palestine. We can go together, he said, but there's no need to hurry. It's worthwhile waiting until things sort themselves out and there are reasonable conditions there. In the meantime, I've got a proposition for you. There's an empty shop in the house. You can open it up as a shop for textiles and knitted goods. I've got good connections with many manufacturers and they'll flood you with stock. Like that, you can make some money, until its time to go. And just so that it won't be too difficult for you, I've even got a partner ready for you. Mrs Kazia, Ula's sister. She's a good woman and the two of you will get on well together. By the way, in the meantime don't tell Ula that you want to leave, and think about my offer.
Harry's suggestion that I open a shop drove the sleep from my eyes that night. To leave home and undertake a major journey without a farthing in my pocket wasn't the wisest of steps to take. The chances of earning a bit of money and the challenge of being a shop owner excited me a lot and I decided against my intention to leave Poland at the earliest possible moment.
Next morning I told Harry that I accepted his suggestion and from that moment I devoted my full energies to the preparation of the shop, which was standing completely empty and seemed far too big. All day long I went into and out of different shops to see how they were arranged and organized. Harry brought a carpenter and painter, bought stock for me, which we stored for the time being in the apartment, and introduced me to a few manufacturers of ladies' and gentlemen's underwear and stockings and socks. I asked Mrs. Kazia, in the meantime, to register every item in a notebook which I had bought for the purpose. After about ten days the shop was ready to open. The night before the opening, I couldn't close my eyes from excitement. Fear also consumed me - together with the stock, I, too, would be on public display, and supposing I don't succeed in making a good impression on the clientèle and they laugh at me? Or perhaps I won't know how to sell, as already happened to me at the market in Chelm. I got up before dawn, chose my clothes very carefully, stood in front of the mirror inspecting every detail of my appearance, and ended up dissatisfied with myself. I quietly left the house, went down to the shop, entering by the back door. I checked that everything was in order. It was good to see the shop clean and tidy and all the goods laid out nicely, on the shelves. On the counter were a notebook, a pencil and an ashtray. Nothing was missing. When I got back to the house, Ula checked me over from head to foot and expressed her satisfaction and immediately made me sit down to eat because later on there wouldn't be time for me to do so. Mrs. Kazia, my partner, came in dressed as for an event, her face with too much make-up, all smiles and satisfied with herself. She bent down over me and kissed me and a strong aroma of eau de Cologne engulfed me. Aren't we a terrific couple? she asked. Even though she was a Christian, Mrs. Kazia resembled a Jew - she had black eyes and brown hair, caught up at the back. During the Nazi period she had been arrested several times on suspicion of being Jewish.
At exactly eight o'clock, I raised the heavy iron shutter and opened the shop. All the residents of the house came and brought flowers, or a bottle of some drink or other. Ula brought a cake and a bottle of vodka. The shop, which had seemed so large when empty, was now filled up and seemed small. Passers-by stopped and peeped in to see who the new shop-owner was. The owner of the barber's shop opposite came in and asked who the new owner was and, shaking me by the hand, wished me luck. He was our first customer, buying a pair of socks. He was also the first to say that he had never seen such a young shop-owner.
Pardon me for asking you, he said, but how old are you?Everyone laughed. He again shook me by the hand and went back to his barber's shop. For about an hour, Mrs. Kazia and myself remained alone, behind the counter, waiting for customers.
I'm already over eighteen, I answered.
And I thought at the most sixteen.
Many people stopped at the window and glanced at the display, looked inside the shop and continued on their way. Another hour passed and not a soul came in. Why? Because of the way I looked? In despair, I smoked cigarette after cigarette, while the patient Mrs. Kazia tried to calm me down. All of a sudden, three women came in, one after the other. The counter filled up with goods. Two of them paid according to the price I had asked. When they went out I hugged Mrs. Kazia with satisfaction and kissed her on the cheek. During the day, the number of customers increased and the hours passed quickly; the compensation was not bad.
The period just after the war was quite good for trade. People were hungry for all sorts of goods and because not much faith was given to the new currency which was being printed by the Government, they purchased goods with whatever came to hand. The movement of customers in our shop increased from day to day and the stock disappeared from the shelves. The problem was not to sell, but to acquire stock in ever increasing quantities, to replace what had been sold. With the help of Harry's connections and a few places that I had discovered for myself, I managed to get stock, some of it from the legitimate market, with invoices and receipts, some of it totally without registration or documentation, without the knowledge of the authorities. The profits were well above what we had estimated and within a short period, I reaped a 'fortune'. I hadn't imagined to myself that it was so easy to earn money and it became clear to me that I was capable of managing a business. But the business swallowed up all my time, from dawn until night-time. Mrs. Kazia was pleasant and willing to do everything, but she wasn't successful at gaining the customers confidence. She would tell me quite often of customers who had come into the shop, in my absence, asked disappointedly where was ..the young owner? and leave, saying they'd come back another time. I was so completely immersed in the running of the business, that I had, literally, no time for anything else at all - not even to enjoy the money, and I wondered what I needed all that money for, although the shop wasn't just a money-making machine for me. I, who had always thought that I couldn't do anything, managed a shop with success, enjoyed the daily contact with tens of people, from the trust that they put in me when they asked my advice and acted on it and from the praises which I heard from them, especially the women, which more than once brought a blush to my cheeks.
One day, the door opened and in walked Zosia. She approached with hesitant steps and stood in front of me, her usual smile, which seemed to be bordering on tears, on her face, her cheeks aflame. How on earth had it happened that I could have so completely forgotten her since leaving Chelm? Since then I hadn't thought about her for a moment, and since arriving in Lodz, had not searched for her. Was it because in these last years, I had become used to never seeing again people from whom I had parted?
Zosia stood in front of me in a summer frock, with bare arms and legs. I knew her from the winter and remembered her all muffled up in a heavy coat and wearing boots. Now she seemed to me almost naked and infinitely more beautiful.
Zosia! I managed to get out.She, too, managed only Bolek! and we both sensed that we were renewing our friendship.
We began to tell each other what had happened since we parted a few months ago. I left Mrs. Kazia in charge of the shop and went out into the street with Zosia. We wandered around for hours together. A new happiness flooded me in her company. She told me that she was a member of a Zionist organization - 'The Ihud' ('Union'). In the evenings there were all sorts of activities - lectures, Hebrew lessons, sing-songs and dances. That same evening, she said, her group was meeting in the branch office and she insisted on me accompanying her. I agreed and we arranged that I should pick her up at her house. From the moment that I parted from her, I became unsettled. I was fearful of meeting a youth-group whom I didn't know. Can I assimilate into the group? Would I disappoint Zosia there? The shop was completely forgotten. Suddenly, I realised that I hadn't got anything to wear. I decided to buy myself some clothes. I looked in the mirror and saw the beard that had begun to sprout on my cheeks. I had wanted to shave for some time now but everyone had told me that there was no need. At home, I had a new razor and everything else I needed but I had never used them. I thought perhaps I didn't know quite how to use them and went across the street to the barber's shop. I was embarrassed to ask for a shave alone, in case they'd laugh at me, so I asked for a haircut as well.
All the people working there received me very well. The owner himself came to attend to me and opened a conversation. He told me about himself, occasionally asking me a question - sometimes delicately: Are you Harry's and Ula's son? How did you find them? and so on. While he was cutting my hair and shaving me a girl brought a small table alongside, with a lot of instruments on it, sat down next to me on a stool, asked for my hand and looked at it and only then did I realize that she wanted to give me a manicure. Thank you very much, I said, but there's really no need, I only came in for a haircut and shave. But she smiled and said:
Don't be afraid, Sir, I won't put nail-varnish on your hands, but your nails are very neglected and need attending to. I'll just get rid of all this cuticle.I regretted coming in to the shop, but it was done now and there was no going back. I surrendered and let them do what they wanted. The barber dedicated a full hour to my haircut, afterwards laying hot towels on my face and I thought I was going to choke, but I kept silent, again surrendering to my fate.
This is the first time that the gentleman is shaving, I heard the barber's voice saying, I'll bet you've got an important date with some girl......I didn't answer and he went on:
Everyone starts shaving like this. Afterwards, he sprayed some eau de Cologne on my face and combed my hair for a long time. When I got up from the chair they all examined me from every angle and expressed satisfaction. When I peeked in the mirror at the new me I saw myself as someone with a different appearance. I gave a generous tips to all of them and went out.
In the evening, I went with Zosia to 'The Ihud' where she introduced me to all her friends and members of the group, all of them seventeen-eighteen years old. All of them were well dressed and they appeared to be from comfortable families - not one of them resembled the boys and girls I had known in Chelm immediately after the war. In Chelm, all of them had been sole survivors, with whom, on the spot, I felt an automatic companionship and belonging arising out of our common fate and from out of which sprang a friendship. Here, in Lodz, it seemed to me that these youngsters came from another world, which was not my world. If it hadn't been for Zosia, I would have left there immediately.
A slightly older fellow, began to talk about the situation in Palestine, telling us about the British closing the gates of the country in front of the Jews, about the underground movements The Hagannah, IZL and LEHI, which had again begun operating against the British; on the protest movements which had sprung up round the world, demanding that the British Government open the Gates of Palestine for the survivors of the Holocaust, and of the British-American committee, which had been created to examine the problem of Palestine, where the survivors wanted to go.
From time to time, I read in the newspapers articles about what was going on in Palestine and opinions against British policy, but the survey that I heard in 'The Ihud' meeting, painted a far clearer picture and strengthened my ambition to get to Palestine as early as possible. At the end of the lecture, the group sang Hebrew songs, the like of which I had never heard before, and afterwards they formed a circle and began dancing - boys with girls and girls with boys - all dancing together in a circle - holding each other on the hips and changing partners from time to time. The dance seemed a bit silly and childish to me and I hoped that no one would choose me, but when it came to Zosia's turn to dance, she chose me and I jumped with her, around the circle and when it was my turn, I chose another girl. Afterwards we all danced the 'Hora' together and they dragged me into the centre of the circle, although it was difficult for me to fit my steps to those of the other dancers, who knew the dance well. We danced until we were all bathed in sweat. When we left the hall, we were all together and I invited everyone for an ice-cream.
I continued to go to the meetings with Zosia and became active and accepted by the group. Later, I began to take part in the activities of the slightly older group, most of whose members were students, studying at the University of Lodz or the Technical College. They, too, accepted me into their circle, perhaps because of the money that I always had in my pockets and was ready to take out, while they were generally without a penny.
The circle of my friends and acquaintances grew larger. I was invited to parties, we went to shows together for entertainment, to the cinema, cafés and restaurants - There wasn't one evening that I didn't have something to do or somewhere to go, and more than once I came home a little drunk. Ula always waited up for me with a glass of milk and a piece of cake - and, as always, a bowl of warm water and towel to wash my feet before going to bed. A thousand and one times, I asked her not to wait for me, but to no avail. In the end, there was nothing for me to do except to have mercy on her and give her a 'good-night' kiss.
When at last I was alone in my room, I would sink into my armchair to have a rest from everything. My throat would close up on me and my eyes start to well up with tears like a spring beginning to flow. And thus I would sit and cry silently without knowing why. The shop, which up until a short while ago had been my whole world and to which I had dedicated all my time and thoughts, interested me less and less. I was fed up with and tired of the meetings with manufacturers and agents. I preferred to go out and enjoy myself, without worrying in the slightest who chose the goods in the shop. Mrs. Kazia saw how I neglected the shop and looked at me sadly, but could do nothing.
One day, I was travelling in a cab with some of Harry's goods, taking them to one of the shops, as I had done tens of times. When the cab stopped outside the shop, up popped two young fellows from the doorway and introduced themselves as policemen. They asked me where I had brought the goods from, who sent me, and where I lived.. I knew that at home there was more stock and if it were found it could possibly get Harry put into prison. I said I worked for Mrs. Kazia - the shop was registered in her name - and she had sent me with the goods to this shop. When they asked me where I lived I told them that I lived at her house. I assumed that when I see Mrs. Kazia I'll tell her what I had said to the police, and that she'd confirm it, thus they wouldn't go to our house and wouldn't find the rest of the goods. The police took me to the house, but in spite of me wanting to go to Mrs. Kazia's apartment, they wouldn't let me. One policeman stayed with me, while the other went upstairs and asked Mrs. Kazia if she had sent the shop-boy with goods to another store. She, not knowing anything of what was happening, said no, she hadn't sent anyone with anything to anywhere. The policeman came back boiling with rage that I had misled them. Now they took me to the police station where I was further questioned. Again I was asked from where I had brought the goods and again I said that I had brought them from that same house. When the policeman said that was not possible, because from that house no one had seen me take anything, I replied that I do live in that same house, but not in the same apartment.
The two policemen were again enraged:
Why didn't you say so when we were there? they shouted.The two gave up on me for the time being and one said:
Because you didn't ask. I replied.
Tomorrow we'll get the truth out of.I was ordered to turn out my pockets, take out my shoe-laces and remove the belt from my trousers. During the search, they found my wallet with dollars inside.
Such a young fellow and already wandering around with dollars! They took everything, led me below, put me in a small room with bars on the door and locked me in.
I remained alone in the arrest-cell, feeling a little relieved that they had left me to myself, that I didn't have to answer any more of their questions and feel degraded by the situation. The chill of the cellar cooled the sweat on my body. The arrest cell was completely empty. On one side a blanket was spread, which stretched the whole length of the cell and half its width. In a corner, near the door, stood an empty bucket. A weak light filtered into the room from the corridor. I strode up and down in the tiny cell trying to evaluate my situation. There had been much written in the papers, of late, about the war on the black market and there had even been a few staged court cases, in which those charged had been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Will that happen to me as well - and I'll rot to death in a Polish prison? I was even more sorry for Harry and Ula. It wasn't hard for me to imagine how they were suffering that their Bolek was sitting in prison under arrest.
This time I couldn't find anything with which to blame myself for what had happened. It had never occurred to me in my life that I could go to prison. I recalled the group from 'The Ihud' - those same youngsters who danced those childish dances - how will those children react to my arrest? And Zosia, herself! What will she think of me? Will she come to visit me in prison? In my imagination I could already see the whole group setting out on their journey to Palestine - while I remain behind, in prison. But when I continued to think, I became convinced that I would quickly be released from here. Harry wouldn't allow me to remain here in this situation; He would overcome the problem and find a way to get me out - unless they catch him as well!
I don't know how long I stayed in the cell, because my watch had been taken from me. The cold slowly deepened and crept into my bones. The blanket on the floor reeked of urine and disinfectant. I stood and shivered until eventually I became too tired to stand and sat on one corner of the blanket and covered myself with the rest of it. I continued to shiver and was totally unable to fall asleep. Suddenly I heard a woman shouting. Two policemen were dragging her along the corridor by brute strength. She had wild hair and a torn dress and was, apparently, a little drunk. She was resisting with all her strength and was pouring out on their heads an unending stream of curses. It was all I could do to stop myself from bursting into laughter hearing them. She was locked in the adjoining cell and even after they had left her, she continued to let rip at them in a way that I had never heard in my life before. I forgot everything else. My whole interest was in the woman. I was entranced - captivated - by the richness and originality of her collection of unbelievably crude words and listened intently to every syllable emanating from her mouth. After a time the curses stopped and she began to cry with a bitterness that could only awaken sympathy and pity for the poor woman. Slowly the crying became whimpering and the whimpering turned to heavy, aggravating snores. Eventually and unbelievably, I, too, fell asleep.
When I awoke a policeman was standing next to me telling me to go with him. He led me upstairs to the same room where I had been questioned the previous day. Outside it was already light and a sunbeam penetrated the window. Behind the desk sat a police officer I hadn't seen before, writing something on a report sheet laid in front of him. He raised his eyes to me for a moment and told me to sit down. I was sure that this police officer had come to interrogate me and braced myself in preparation for it, thinking to myself how to answer his questions. While I was occupied with these thoughts, another policeman came into the room and laid on the table all my personal belongings. The thought flashed across my mind that they were going to transfer me to some other place. The officer finished whatever he had been writing, turned his attention to me and said shortly:
You're free to go!He placed the form he had been writing on in front of me, asking for my signature. It was a statement agreeing that I had no complaints against the police for their treatment of me while under arrest, and that I had received back all that had been taken from me.
I just couldn't believe my ears and continued to sit there until the officer repeated himself and said, You're free to go! I took my things and left the station. On the other side of the street standing and waiting for me were Harry and Ula. Within twenty-four hours their faces had changed completely - unrecognizably, as if old-age had overtaken them out of the blue. I was full of compassion for them.
Harry never answered my question as to how much he had paid to get me out of there, but it could only have been an immense amount of money.
It was at this time that Ignacz, Harry's brother, returned from Russia and brought with him a heavy kit-bag which he carried on his back and a heavy, wooden suitcase. His clothes were poor. The neighbours all made jokes saying that he had brought a lot of property but his elder brother, Joseph, said that in the kit-bag and the suitcase there could only be stones. When Ignacz himself was asked what he had brought, he replied:
Ah! I have very expensive items in there: very rare books which were extremely difficult to acquire. Everyone broke out laughing and Harry said if indeed he had brought books, rather than other items it was entirely like his brother to do so. Harry and Ula made a big welcome-home party for Ignacz. The whole surviving family took part and the friends living in the house. The party was a great success - there was plenty to eat and drink and I drank glass after glass and was happy for, and with everyone. I saw the three brothers who had survived, each in a different way, the cousin, Erika and her saviour Mrs. Schumanski, and a few more distant relatives, celebrating, all together round the table, remembering together events from their home, before the war and I recalled my own family, from which no one except me survived. A picture of Sobibor came up in front of me. I saw my mother and my little brother Yankeleh walking there between the two fences of barbed wire, to the gas-chambers. I saw them being burnt on the pyres, with the fire and smoke reaching heavenwards. I saw my brother Mottel, killed in a field. I saw my father's body in the cemetery at Pruszkow and the smell of the rotting corpse returned to me and went up my nostrils. Suddenly I didn't see a thing from the reality around me ...only the terrible scenes. I burst into uncontrollable sobbing which cut through the noise and silenced everyone round the table.
Within seconds, the blink of an eyelid, I returned to reality. I saw the people round the table, silent as if turned to stone, everyone's eyes fixed on me, and I realised what an unfair thing I had done. In one movement I got up and ran out, sitting in the empty dark courtyard. Within a minute Mrs. Schumanski was standing next to me, asking permission to sit down. In the company of that woman, who, now and again exchanged a sentence or two with me, and whom I almost didn't know, and who didn't know me, to whom I owed nothing and who owed me nothing - I felt myself free and open, rid of all feelings of shame, embarrassment and fear. She sat next to me, gently rested her hand very lightly on my shoulder and I began again to sob. She said nothing, didn't try to comfort me, didn't ask me to stop crying, and I cried on her shoulder until there were no more tears to cry......
The following day I was embarrassed to look those who had been at the party, in the eye. For a long time I never forgave myself for my behaviour that evening. I was especially embarrassed about Ignacz, in whose honour, after all, the party, which I had spoiled, had been held. What on earth can that man, who doesn't know me at all, think of me? What a spoiled, selfish, little brat! - for sure.
But when he came to live in my room, together with me, it transpired that, not only was he not angry with me but he showed me much affection. We quickly became friends. It further became clear to me, that Ignacz was a very special kind of person, with wide horizons and knowledge, from whom I could learn much. During our first evening together, in our shared room, he asked me to tell him what had happened to me. I related to him my story well into the late hours of the night and could sense the depth of his attention to everything I said. He wanted to know everything and wouldn't allow me to skip a single detail. Here and there I felt as if he were interrogating me to see if I was telling the truth, or not - he simply refused to believe that everything that I told him could really have happened. Again and again, he repeated the same sentence: Who can believe that the German people, with such high cultural standards, well-mannered and courteous, would degenerate to such depths as these, and become a nation of murderers? Our whole culture and society is worth nothing - absolutely nothing, if we were unable to have prevented the Holocaust.....
When I finished, and became silent, he said:
Bolek, you are a very valuable person: you are an eye witness who has seen everything. You have to write it all down for the sake of history. It would be a further tragedy if a single detail is lost or forgotten, because if so, they won't even know where millions of people disappeared to!He later added:
Bolek, You're not only incredibly lucky that you stayed alive. You're absolutely unique in that, after everything that has happened to you, you remain normal.....Ignacz decided to cram into me knowledge from every sphere of learning. He explained everything that we came up against in our conversations and in our daily lives, whether it was abstract or material, technical or spiritual. Like a specialist in everything, history, geography, art, music and theatre, on one side, mechanics and electricity on the other - he explained it all from basic principles on up and didn't stop until he was sure that I had understood everything that he had said. My empty head absorbed his teachings like a dry sponge brought into contact with water. That man, who commanded seven languages perfectly, had travelled much in the world. At one time he had stayed in Palestine for two years and knowing of my intention of going there, decided to teach me Hebrew and English, both languages which he was sure, were important for me to know. He bought a blackboard and hung it on the door, facing our beds, and on my return home, I would find written upon it words and sentences, in English and Hebrew, on alternate days. Every day he spoke to me only in the language written on the blackboard and I had to read, write and speak that language. In the beginning, I saw it as a kind of amusing game - but interesting, as well, After a short time, I became aware that I had acquired a respectable vocabulary in both those new languages and was even able to hold a short, easy conversation in each of them. That awareness caused me to relate with even more respect to my new studies.
Ignacz told me about life in Palestine, the kibbutz, the moshav, about Tel-Aviv and Haifa, about the Galilee and the Jezreel Valley, about Jerusalem - a city Holy for three faiths, about Sephardim and Yemenite Jews. Life in Palestine, he told me, is hard, but you'll love it. And in any case, for us, the Jews, there is no other place for us to live except Palestine. Don't wait for Harry and Ula. Harry truly wants to go to Palestine but if you wait for him and Ula, you'll never get there.
Autumn came. The streets were carpeted with the falling, brown and yellow leaves which the strong winds blew off the chestnut trees. Torrential rain fell without let-up. In the meantime, the Soviets consolidated their grip and their authority on the countries they had liberated from the Germans and created within them Communist régimes to their liking. A year had not yet passed since the end of the war and on the western borders of counties in the Soviet bloc, an 'Iron Curtain' came down which quickly sealed off the east of Europe from the west. The British, who had won their hard war against the Germans, began to see their Empire quickly disintegrate and the loss of their Colonies in Africa and Asia, which arose and claimed independence and sovereignty. They wanted to retain certain areas of highly strategic importance, in their hands, among them Palestine, where they put into operation an anti-Jewish policy, which caused an uprising in the Yishuv, especially because of the closing of the gates of Palestine against Jewish immigration.
At the end of the war, the Jewish Agency sent members of the Hagannah to Europe, teachers and intellectuals, whose task it was to organize the remaining refugees, the surviving remnant of the Holocaust, who were sitting in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany and Austria, in readiness for their immigration to Palestine, legally or illegally. The survivors who returned to the countries of eastern Europe from the concentration camps, from the forests where they had hidden like hunted animals, or fought in partisan units, or from the cellars of noble spirited people who endangered themselves and their families by hiding fugitives, or those who passed the war years in Russia, who, at the time, had opened her borders to the escapees from the Nazi conquest, thus saving thousands of Jews - all these found, virtually, not one single relative alive; their property destroyed or stolen, their homes in the possession of others; the local populations didn't welcome them in return willingly or with understanding; their homelands had become vast Jewish cemeteries. The overwhelming majority of the survivors and returnees had no desire to remain and those who did want to resettle in their original location, were met only with problems from the population and the authorities, at one and the same time. anti-Semitism reared its head. Attacks on Jews in Poland, especially murder, became a daily occurrence in towns and villages and reached its peak in a pogrom which took place in the Polish town of Kielcza, where forty-two Jews were murdered.
How childish of the Jews to think, during the German conquest, that after the war, the remnant from among them would be welcomed with open arms. No, the spirit of war was still in the air. The survivors had not yet had time to count their dead and here they were, again being hounded. Most of the Jews in Poland were living out of their suitcases, searching for ways to get themselves out of the country without any thought as to what would come afterwards. Most of those I spoke with, told me that they weren't staying in Poland, they were only waiting for the right opportunity to leave. Thus began, almost as if of itself, the process of masses of displaced persons, wandering from place to place, all over the face of western Europe, from eastern Europe to central Europe and from there southwards to the Mediterranean ports - before it became too late, before the borders were completely closed and sealed. From out of this movement arose the Escape organization, which spread over the whole of Europe, under the command of the Hagannah, manned by members of the 'Jewish Brigade', emissaries from Palestine and hundreds of dedicated, local operatives, all financed by Jews in the United States.
Involved in this gigantic operation, which transported under cover hordes of people over thousands of kilometres, by foot and car, through forests and snowed-under mountain passes, were border-runners, forgers, border-guards, military- and police personnel, railway station managers and local Government officials of all ranks. Thus migrated from eastern Europe, the residue of the persecuted, from the Valley of Death, not a few in the guise of returning German and Austrian refugees, to the Displaced Persons camps which had been opened in Germany and Austria after the surrender. There they sat, months - sometimes years - until it was their turn to travel to their longed-for Golden Destination - Palestine!
By all accounts, I should have been happy. Everyone told me how lucky I was. Youngsters were jealous of me that I lacked nothing; I had been adopted by a wonderful family, which did everything it possibly could for my advancement and education; I was the owner of a business that brought me in tremendous profits, I was well-dressed such as only a few could allow themselves to be - with winter coming on I had ordered a pair of boots from one of the best shoe-makers in the town and when I put them on, there wasn't a man who didn't follow me down the street admiring them. I even bought an expensive leather coat - my circle of friends went on growing larger, I was accepted by all and invited to parties and events without number; I went out to entertainments of one kind or another every evening until a late hour, I had a steady girl-friend, beautiful and sweet, whom everyone stared at and admired. What more could I want?
But in spite of all this, I was a man in pain and miserable with myself, lacking in self-confidence, my past crouching over me and troubling me like a dark shadow, without let-up. The scenes from 'there' accompanying me without end during the days and in my dreams - again and again I had unbearable nightmares, in all of which I returned to Sobibor, and at the end of all of them I was killed and woke up terror-stricken and bathed in sweat, my whole body shaking. Even while awake, I found it difficult to believe that I had survived, that I won back to life, that I was not decreed to die shortly. I felt myself empty and deprived. I was utterly convinced that I would never be like other people. I found no flavour in living, I didn't know what to hope for. More than once I regretted that I had survived and time after time the thought of suicide rose in my mind.
As time passed Harry's and Ula's ties to me became stronger and stronger. Ula, especially, acted towards me as if I were her only son. I couldn't cope with the situation, which caused me to feel alienated from, and traitorous to the memory of my own parents, as if I had chosen new parents instead of them. At the same time, I felt that I was being unjust to my adoptive parents, for allowing them to think of me as their son, that I should live under their roof for a long period, when I already know to myself that I am determined to leave them and Poland on my way to Palestine.
Every time that I thought about the relationship between me and between Harry and Ula, which I permitted to develop and deepen, I hated myself. The shop, which Harry and Ula had allowed me build, the source of my pride and the money I had accumulated, collapsed quickly, only because I had neglected it. I became fed up with it without knowing how or why - perhaps because it was an obstacle to my plans to leave Poland? In the end, I decided to let Mrs. Kazia, who wanted to turn it into a buffet, have it.
In my relationship with Zosia, something strange occurred - when I was with her for an extended period, I would feel the need to be free of her, but after a day or two of separation, I would again be attacked by feelings of longing. Out of this situation a sort of war, or game of nerves gradually developed - sometimes she couldn't cope with the separation and she'd come to me, sometimes the opposite, I would rush round to her, in the hope that she wouldn't send me away. During that period, Mrs. Schumanski's cousin came from a small village, to stay with her aunt, in order to study in the big city. Halina - that was her name - was a typical Slav in appearance - long, very fair, flaxen hair, gathered together at the back in one braid, a high forehead, even a little unsightly, blue-green eyes, white-faced and round-bodied. She was blessed with a unique sort of beauty, the like of which one sees only in the countryside. After the affair with Maria, I had become very cautious of contacts with Polish girls, but there was no way in which I could ignore this girl, living so close to me and whom I saw all the time. Every time I saw her, it was as if a current of electricity flowed through me and I immediately became embarrassed and confused, and as far as I could determine, she, too, was similarly affected by me. Very quickly, in the struggle which raged inside me between the commonsense and reasonableness of my relationship with Zosia my Jewish girl-friend, and the strong attraction that I felt for the beautiful country-girl, whose eyes invited me, the country-girl won and I found myself visiting Mrs. Schumanski's apartment more and more frequently. I concocted all sorts of excuses to tell Zosia, why I couldn't meet her on the evenings when I was with Halina, and Halina, quite openly gave me affection and all her attention in great measure. Everyone in the house very quickly knew that Halina was in love with me and I was overtaken by anxiety - Am I really going to complicate my life with a Christian girl again, and, moreover, a relative of Mrs. Schumanski, so admired by me? Logic and feelings are not the same - I couldn't break the connection with Halina and even got used to dividing my time perfectly between my two different loves, neither of whom knew of the existence of the other. From both of them I learned something of the facts of life. Zosia, always surrounded by admirers ready to inherit my position, loved and encouraged the competition for her favours between her male friends and I had to fight for her constantly, again and again; When I won, she was happy, when I lost - more than once I failed in these conflicts because, after all, I wasn't all that experienced in the rules of the game, she was enraged. The truth of the matter was, I couldn't understand why Zosia didn't just leave me and choose for herself one of the other fellows, more polished and practiced than I. Halina, on the other hand, had never looked at another fellow from the moment she knew me, waited for me day and night, and every time she met me with a smile. She was prepared to give me everything that I asked for unquestioningly, without expecting something in return and did everything she could to please me. Even though she was always tidy and arranged, every time I appeared she would leave the room for a minute or two and return freshly and neatly combed. Halina absorbed every word that I spoke, agreed with everything that I said and never argued with me. But one failing of mine she noticed very quickly - I didn't know how to court a girl. I would 'start' but didn't know how to 'continue'; my hands and tongue became as if paralysed and didn't know how to fulfill their required function, even though I longed for her with every fibre of my being. Sometimes I was attacked with a mood of aggressiveness, awkward, clumsy and exaggerated, and once I treated her disrespectfully and she was very hurt but quickly forgave me, only correcting me by saying:
One doesn't behave like that to a girl. You, you've got no idea what love is. I felt that that moment was exactly like the times I had felt when I visited my grandfather, and he'd ask me questions about the weekly passage, read in the synagogue, from the Scrolls of the Law and when I didn't know how to answer, he'd tell me off. After Halina added: Don't worry, Bolek. I'll teach you how to act with a girl if you want to win her. I was ashamed and angry with myself because of my animal-like behaviour and that I hadn't been able to control my impulsive behaviour. In spite of her forgiveness, I didn't feel myself worthy of her pardon and thought that I would never be able to look her straight in the eye again, but my heart was drawn to her even more and I soon returned to her. To this day I'm grateful to Halina for the lessons she taught me.
The American-British Committee was preparing to visit Lodz in order to sound out the mood and feelings among the remnants in the city. In the branch office of 'The Ihud' there was much preparation and collection of evidence from the refugees. When the Committee arrived it stayed at the 'Grand Hotel' and the two flags of Great Britain and the United States were hung from its flag staffs. The Zionist organizations put on a demonstration against 'Imperialist Britain' for which purpose they had received a permit from the Authorities.
Early in the morning, organized groups, from all the different movements, each with its own flag, assembled in Zawadzke Street and with them many other Jews who joined in to show solidarity. The crowd was large and the demonstration impressive. We marched the length of Piotrkowska Street carrying placards calling for the opening of the gates of Palestine for the refugees, denouncing British policy and stating that the Jews had only one home - Palestine. It was the first demonstration in Poland since before the war. Passers-by stopped in their tracks in amazement, asked what the march was all about and refused to believe that the Government had given permission for it to take place. Among the spectators was Halina, who, when she saw me among the demonstrators, approached me and asked what the connection was between me and the marchers. Zosia, who was marching not far from me, noticed Halina come over to me with familiar openness and receive an explanation on the significance of the event. I hoped that Halina would go away, but when she understood what it was all about, she said that she identified with the marchers and was joining me until the end of the demonstration. She strode alongside me to my right, while behind me came Zosia, her look making me feel anything but comfortable. In front of the 'Grand Hotel' we stopped and began shouting slogans in chorus, with great enthusiasm : We want Palestine! We want Palestine! Halina shouted together with me and with difficulty did I stop myself from kissing her. The members of the Committee came out onto the balcony of the hotel, waving to us with their hands. Our shouts became louder and louder until the Committee agreed to receive a delegation representing the demonstrators. To Zosia, I explained afterwards, that Halina was a neighbour, who had asked me the meaning of the demonstration and had joined in out of sympathy and solidarity. Zosia listened to my explanation, but it was clear that she suspected that there was something behind it.
No sooner had I finished my business with the shop and transferred it to Mrs. Kazia, than I became determined to get out of Poland quickly and get to Palestine. And now, a fellow called Marian, a relative of Harry, who for some time had also been living in the house, made me an offer of a partnership in opening a work-shop manufacturing sweaters, and succeeded in persuading me that it was important to get to Palestine with a trade or a profession and moreover we could earn ourselves some money, as well, in the meantime, since there was a great shortage of sweaters. I was attracted to the manufacture of sweaters - I had grown up in it, after all - and delayed my plans for immediate departure. The relationships with Marian and his wife Eva were excellent and this time, not like with the shop where virtually all the work was on my shoulders, Marian carried all the load, responsibility and worry - buying, working and selling - while I only invested the money and did a little work. Marian's prediction proved correct. The goods were snatched from our hands as soon as they were ready and sold at a good price. We could have sold any amount that we manufactured, but we didn't want to extend or expand the business, only to exploit the season and liquidate it at the end.
The winter months passed with me in the sweater business, spending my evenings with my friends in all sorts of activities, or sharing them between Zosia and Halina. Withal, I was not at peace with myself; I was not free of the feeling of insecurity that constantly chased me and filled me with a sense of guilt that I was 'living it up' after the whole of my family had been exterminated. My heart told me that it was impossible that I should be alive; one day, and it's getting closer, my hour would come and I would die, as well. The nightmares, which were a mixture of past and present, and nearly all terminated with my violent death, wouldn't allow me to escape my past. Again, and yet again I found myself not knowing what, in my life was reality and what was dream.
With the spring a new wave of Jews making the exodus from Poland arose and this time included all levels of society, all sections of the population. The men of Escape increased their operations. Organized groups of young people and adults left Lodz secretly, for towns close to the border and were smuggled from there westwards, mainly to areas in Germany conquered by the Americans. Families and individuals made contact with various smugglers and paid a lot of money to them to get them across the border, out of Poland. Every day I heard of acquaintances, who only yesterday or the day before, I had been in their company, who had now gone from the city - disappeared in the middle of the night! Everyone asked each other: So, when are you going? or What! Are you still here? The desire to leave Poland was in the air.
And what about me? What had awoken in me to cause this overpowering urge to get out. What was it that I feared in leaving the paradise in which I lived wrapped in love and affection, in order to cast myself into loneliness and a vague fate. But in the end, I knew that I must put an end to these restricting ties which were throttling my personality and my independence - with my beloved adoptive parents. I had to free myself, to search for and to find, by my own efforts, my own way in life.
We liquidated the sweater business but Marian, who kept on saying that he wanted to leave Poland, decided to remain for a while longer and offered me a partnership in a new business - buying and operating a coil-making machine.
I refused quite decisively. My life in Poland had come to an end. When I told Halina that I had decided to go to Palestine, the Land of the Jews, I supposed that she was going to be angry with me and try to persuade me to stay with her and build my life in Poland. To my surprise, she said without hesitation: 'Bolush', I'm ready to come to Palestine with you!
I explained that life in Palestine was very hard and dangerous, that the Jews were in a struggle with the British but she was adamant:
If that's a good place for you, then it's a good place for me, too.I wasn't prepared for that reaction, at all. Halina understood that my place wasn't in Poland but in Palestine and like Ruth, the Moabitess, she was ready to follow me, and therefore it was appropriate that I take her with me. But to where? I myself didn't know where my path would take me - how can I take on my shoulders the responsibility of a Polish girl? I kissed her and told her that she was the most wonderful girl in the world, that I was crazy about her. She didn't ask me if I'd take her with me.
And Zosia? Zosia told me that her parents had decided to emigrate to Argentina where they had some family; she was going with them. Her not going to Palestine broke her away from me completely. We still went out together but a strange wall had come between us. Once she said to me that she knew I loved the Schiksa who had walked next to me in the parade - and I remained silent.
It needed a few frenzied days and sleepless nights to summon up the courage to tell Harry that I was leaving him and Ula, and even that I did without looking him straight in the eye and with a shaking voice. He was not surprised. He had known for some time that it was my intention to go, and this was not the first time that I had spoken about it, but for all that, the final announcement, given in such decisive tones, just between the two of us, shook him. He paled. His smile was a little strained and unnatural. He said:
I knew this day would come. I can't say if it's a good thing or not. The situation is not normal and it's difficult to say what a Jew should or shouldn't do. Although I also intend to go to Palestine, but for us I don't feel the time is quite ripe. You must do what your heart tells you to do.I didn't say a word in reply. I knew that anything that I would manage to say now would be silly and childish.
Harry told me that he would tell Ula, and help me in any way he could. He also advised me to keep it to myself, until the last moment, because there was no knowing what obstructions may be put in my way.
Difficult days, they were. Ula cried all the time and I had nothing to say which could comfort her, only that I would write to her and soon we would be together again. I didn't know what to do about Halina. To tell her - and to add that I didn't want to take her with me, that I didn't want to stay with her? Was there any excuse for what I was doing to the girl who loved me? I felt that I loved her, but if so, how could I be prepared to abandon the one I love? I felt that I was afraid to tell her, in case she influences me to change my decision.
Harry and Ula bought me some new clothes to take with me, even though I explained to them that I didn't want to take heavy luggage with me. My money I changed into gold coins and my friend Yitzhak, the shoe-maker from Sobibor, hid them in the heels of my boots. I also bought some expensive jewellery and Harry and Ula gave me an expensive gold- and diamond ring, as a present, which was easy to hide. I packed a ruck-sack with necessary clothes and chose a route for myself from the ones I had heard about - to go to Szczècin (Stettin) and from there to Berlin.
From the moment that I had decided to move, I entered into a race against time. Every additional day that I was forced to remain in Lodz seemed like a year. I tried to bring forward my departure as much as possible, in case some event or other brought about a failure or hold-up to my plans. All doubts and feelings of guilt that I had previously, receded and disappeared. One thing only occupied my thoughts - to get out of Poland, and one thing alone bothered my peace of mind - Halina. I couldn't find within me the strength and courage to stand in front of her, face to face, and say: My love, I'm leaving you! I was also afraid that at the very last moment, I wouldn't cope with my own decision and at 'the moment of truth', cancel all my plans for going.
Early in the morning, before dawn, like a thief in the night, I lifted my ruck-sack, into which I had also put a large loaf of bread, a long sausage and a bottle of vodka, onto my back, and without further parting from those dearest to me, nor from my beloved Halina, I left the house with quick steps, without looking back. I crossed the street rapidly, as if I were being chased. I got on a tram and went to the railway station. The train to Szczècin was scheduled to leave in about an hour or more. I wandered around here and there in the station impatiently, already feeling myself alone in the world. But a way back - there was none. And, like when I was escaping from the ghetto in Warsaw, I felt a certain pride inside me now, as then, in facing up to what the future held in store.
Policemen, patrolling the station, backwards and forwards, eyed me curiously a few times and then came up to me, asked to present my papers, wanted to know where I was going and what the purpose of my journey was. I did as they asked and in my mind was the memory of the night I had spent in the station in Warsaw, then full of Germans and I, hiding from them. Then I had left my home and my loved ones against my will; my mother had ordered me to escape from the ghetto in order to save myself from death by starvation. Now I was leaving of my own free will, a home full of comfort, love and people who love me, and I am going on a journey to who-knows-where, to a world different and unknown. And unlike when I left the ghetto, this time I didn't want to return, this time I didn't regret for a moment that I had left. On the contrary, I was content that I had stood by my decision and was not worried about what the future held for me. With unbelievable speed, everything that was connected with Lodz - friends, the house, Harry and Ula, Zosia, even Halina, receded to a distance far away from me. They all seemed so far away from me across the ocean of time - but in spite of that, I looked for the image of Halina among the passengers........
Szczècin, which had been annexed by Poland on Russia's initiative, lords of the area, looked like a ghost town. Most of the German residents had either flown or been expelled. Destruction and abandonment were everywhere and ruled everything. The streets were empty - almost to the last man. The few Germans who remained in the city were too few to be conspicuous and the Poles had only just started to settle the province. In Lodz, I had been told about a house, not too far from the station in Szczècin, where a few families of Jews were living together. There, I paid a man, to whom I had been directed, a tidy some of money and he promised me that by tomorrow, I'll already be on my way to Berlin with a group. In the meantime, he directed me to go to another house where I could rent a room for the night.
A woman of about fifty-years of age opened the door and addressed me in German. At my request she willingly rented me a room. It was already twilight. It was dark in the house. The woman asked me to wait for a moment in the living-room and she soon returned with a lighted oil-lamp in her hand. She explained that since the battles which had taken place in the town, there had been no electricity and she's trying to save paraffin-oil, which was very expensive. In the light of the lamp, I could see a room full to overflowing with heavy furniture, plaster statues, and family photographs, pictures and drawings hung on the walls. I disappeared among the quantity of articles in the room. The woman, the lamp in her hand, showed me to my room in which I found a huge, wide bed, covered with a quilted eiderdown. On one side of the bed stood a chest-of-drawers on which was a family picture. On the other side was a window covered with a heavy curtain. There was no doubt that this was the master-bedroom of the house. The woman invited me to a cup of tea in the living-room. I was hungry and thirsty. In my ruck-sack were bread and sausage, but I put off eating until later, until I was alone in my room. I entered the living-room and sat in one of the deep armchairs. The woman brought tea and with her, a young woman of about twenty entered the room. The woman introduced her as her daughter. We sat, the three of us, drinking tea at the table. Me! - in a German house, drinking tea with German women! The woman began to relate to me her tragic story. Her son, aged twenty-five, was killed at the front. Her husband disappeared on the Russian front and she had heard nothing from, or about him for a long time. When the Russians entered the city, they pillaged the house and there was nothing left from which to exist. And now, she said, crying, we're hungry just for a piece of bread. And I, instead of the sweet feeling of revenge, saw in front of me two starving women. I forgot for the moment that they were Germans. I went into my room, brought the bread and sausage and gave her half of the loaf and half of the sausage. The woman was absolutely dumfounded, then got up from her seat and came to me, and taking my hand kneeled in front of me and kissed it.
The moment of pity left me very quickly. I was angry with myself that instead of taking vengeance on the Germans and killing them, I was actually feeding them. I was deeply ashamed of myself and, frustrated from what I had done I got up from my place and went to my room.
Not many minutes passed and there was a knock on my door. The door opened and the daughter entered, dressed in her night-gown, her hair loosed. She said her mother had sent her to turn down the bed. She did so, smoothing the pillows and replacing them, just so. I tried not to notice her; I was still full of anger with myself that I had given her and her mother food to eat. But the girl didn't leave the room. She wandered around me as if waiting for something and eventually stood in front of me and said:
Do you want me to stay here with you tonight?I looked at her, not believing my ears, and she rested her hand on my shoulder saying: Don't worry about my mother, it's O.K.
For a second I struggled with my desire to sleep with the beautiful girl who was actually asking to enter my bed - but to make love to a German girl? It was as if to forget everything that they had done to us!
No! Get out of here! I shouted. The girl, shaking, hurried out.I was very tired. The previous night I had not slept a moment. I lay in the big bed, with the two big pillows at its head, side by side, as if someone was supposed to come and lie next to me. A bed, clean and white as snow, with the scent of the soap rising from it a and I felt as if I was lying in filth. I couldn't close my eyes. That same day, in the morning, I had still been in Lodz, living my normal life, surrounded by love and friendship - and in the evening, I'm stuck in a strange city, full of ghosts, sleeping in a German house, eating an evening meal with a German family, talking German, and a German girl asks to go to bed with me. Is it possible that it's all really happening? And suddenly I realised, that it was the mother who had sent the girl to me! Is such a thing possible - that a mother should send her own daughter to sleep with a stranger?
In the morning, I took my ruck-sack and paid for my night's lodging. The woman asked me to stay for breakfast, at least for a cup of tea, but I couldn't look the two German women in the eye. I was ashamed of them and for them, and left the house.
In the smuggler's house a number of people were already congregating. One group had already gone on its way. A Russian military vehicle stopped near the door, a Russian officer came in and shook hands with the owner of the house and then looked us over as if he were going to buy us. We climbed up onto the truck, which was half full of packing-cases and sacks. We were put up front and the packing-cases and sacks placed in such a way as to hide all of us from sight, then the canvas flap was lowered over the back end of the truck and - we were on our way. We couldn't see a thing and we didn't know where we were. We stopped several times and I heard voices asking for documents; a few times we stopped and the driver and officer left the vehicle for a time. From the sounds we heard, we guessed that at various times we were passing through small villages and towns until suddenly we sensed, from the noise around us, that we had entered a large city, with the noise of many heavy vehicles and the sound of tram bells all around us. The truck slowed down, turned round and stopped. The canvas flap was raised and blinding light flooded over us. We were taken off the truck next to a large building, old and beautiful, surrounded by a wall. When we asked where we were, we were told: Berlin!
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