My Childhood in the Shadow of the Holocaust
by Mali Haimovitch-Hirsh
Chapter 1. Childhood I want to tell you about the years of my
childhood; I must tell about them. They are flowing in the blood of my veins and
I feel that writing about them will help me to extinguish my desire for
vengeance and will pacify me.
I was born in Radevits (Bukovina,
Romania). The Romanians call it Redeoots and in German it was Radaoots - a small
Jewish shtetl, cut in two by the railroad track. Jews settled in a part of the
shtetl and opened little shops, stores, workshops, built prayer-houses and even
a big synagogue. There were Jewish workmen, Jewish physicians, Jewish lawyers
and plenty of Jewish children.
There was a brook - Toplitsa - not too
clean, but it froze in the winter– and we children could skate there on the ice.
We lived near the Rabbi. I recall I was about five years old and Mom
sent me to the Rabbi with a slaughtered chicken, wrapped in a piece of cloth. I
gave it to the Rabbi and asked him if it is kosher. The Rabbi took the chicken
and asked me: "Whose daughter are you?"
"Of Moshe Hirsh, the
shoemaker's", did I answer.
The Rabbi returned the chicken and said: "Go
home to your mother and tell her that it is kosher and all right."
I was near the door, I heard the Rabbi speaking to the beadle: "If I had said
that it is not kosher, the whole family wouldn't have had what to eat on
Sabbath. . ."
Next time Mom sent me to the Rabbi with a big knife for
meat. She lent it to a neighbor and it was used for dairy products. The Rabbi
said to me: "Go, girl, and ask your neighbor, if she has another knife in her
When the Rabbi orders, you must go. In a moment I was back and
told the Rabbi that there is another knife for dairy in the kitchen. Then the
Rabbi ordered me to stick the knife for meat into the earth for three days, and
do not forget to make a sign there, to find it easier.
Once I met a
priest in the street. I knew very well that in this case you have to throw a
straw after him, but I couldn't find one around me. I came home very frightened,
and Mom asked me "What happened?"
"Nothing, I'm tired".
sleep the whole night. In the morning, I ran to the Rabbi. He didn't finish his
prayer and he made a sign for me to wait. After he finished davening, he asked
me what happened. I started to cry, and sobbing I told him the story about the
straw. He then asked me: "What kind of straw?"
"Children pretend", said
I, "that you have to throw a straw after a priest."
"Garbage", said the
Rabbi. "The next time you meet a priest, say to him good morning and don't seek
I was a very wild child. All bad things in the world happened
to me and quite often I got in trouble. People said to me that a Jewish girl has
to be calm and cool, and not as I, a wild goat.
I was raised up at my
Granny's. My grandparents owned an orchard. They also grew gooseberries and
currants, and I liked to eat them green. I remember the two apple trees, that
just by looking at them my mouth became sour. On the contrary, the pears were
sweet, delicious. To make a pear drop, I used to throw stones at them; sometimes
I was lucky and sometimes the stone fell down on my head, and I had a great deal
to do with it.
Once I climbed up on a cherry tree with black, sweet
cherries. Granny came out from the house and scolded me: "It doesn't fit for a
Jewish daughter to climb trees, even cherry tree!"
Nearby lived a
Christian family with two girls of my age. We spent plenty of time together. In
their courtyard was a swing. I remember one winter day I was in their house and
played with coverlets. In the middle of the room there was a pine tree,
decorated with bulbs and silver paper, which I liked very much. The family sat
around the table and I was also invited to eat. My mom came in suddenly and
called me home. Walking with Mom, I told her about the tasty foods, that I just
ate. Mom became horrified: "What, you ate pork?"
In our home, Mom told
all to my Dad; I got nauseous and vomited all that I ate.
day, Mom gave me a nice dress to put on and we went to the Rabbi. When the Rabbi
realized what I have done, he took up his eyeglasses and began to scream: "You
have eaten pork?"
I began to cry and stammered: "No, Rabbi, I ate food.
"In this case, since you didn't know, it will not harm you", said
the Rabbi finally, and he got up from his chair.
He definitely was a
saint, this Rabbi, and maybe even one of the 36 hidden righteous.
older and began to attend the school. I did very well, but Mom wasn't too glad
about it: "A Jewish girl", she would say, "has to know cooking, baking,
cleaning. She shouldn't be an erudite."
I had a friend in my class, her
name was Sarah-Leah, and she also did well in class, and between us there was
always a competition, who will have to carry the catalogue into the school
office. Our teacher decided that once I will carry it, and once Sarah-Leah.
Once our teacher gave me the honor to carry to her home a bunch of
notebooks and an inkwell. Thus, I was walking with pride and thinking: who is
equal to me? And I am already at the door, wiping my shoes and ready to enter.
The floor at the teacher's house was of parquet, covered with wax and glossy.
When I set my foot down on the floor, I slipped and flew to the wall. I was
helped up and seated at the table. I was lucky that the inkwell remain unharmed.
I was served a cup of tea. On the table there were two jars. I took from one of
them two teaspoons and put them into my tea. I sipped and made a wry face.
Instead of sugar, I have put salt into my tea. Out of shame, I swallowed the hot
salted tea with tears in my eyes and ran home, right to the well. Finally, I got
rid of the salt from my mouth and throat.
I remember my father having me
on his knees and telling me about himself, his father and grandfather. His
grandfather married at twenty. When his spouse bore a boy, he drove out to
announce the good news to his mother. On the way, in the Bukovinian forests, he
was attacked by brigands, robbed and murdered. Thus, the newborn was given the
name of his killed father --Israel. My paternal grandfather had the same
destiny. He married a girl from Dorna (south Bukovina) at nineteen. Therefore my
father was called like his father: Moses the son of Mendel the son of Israel
Kohen. My grandmother, a young widow, married again a Jew, who wasn't willing to
take into his home her child. Thus, she gave this child - my father - to her
maternal grandparents. Grandpa was a melamed (Jewish teacher) and granny - a
sickly person. Therefore, my Dad had a difficult childhood with them. When he
was eleven years old, he was given as an apprentice to a shoemaker. He grew up a
nice guy, with red hair and blue eyes. When the first World War started, my
father was sixteen years old. He presented himself as a volunteer to the
Austrian Army, saying that he is older. They believed his words and he was
immediately mobilized. He never forgave his mother that she gave him away as a
My maternal grandpa had seven daughters. He was a very pious Jew
and was sitting and studying in the Synagogue day after day. He was asked: "Reb
Baruch Hirsh, how will you manage to marry seven daughters, may no evil eye hurt
He answered always: "After I will have married the youngest,
people will be asking for another daughter of mine."
And it came this
way: after the youngest was married, arrived the Shadchen (matchmaker) and asked
for another daughter to marry. They were nice girls, my grandpa's daughters,
very clever and active women, and good housewives.
In our home there
were two children: I and my brother, six years older than I. His name was
Israel-Mendel, like his grandfather's, but we called him Muniu. He inherited our
Mother's calmness and neatness. He was my opposite, because I wasn't very
friendly with neatness and I was far from being a calm child. I used to play
tricks and Dad had to rescue me. He used to say that I am the daughter of a
Kohen (descendant of the historical Jewish priests).
My father was a
shoemaker. People used to call him "Moses with the golden hands". Despite the
proverb that the children of a shoemaker walk around barefooted, I had the
nicest shoes. My Dad was also a good singer; he used to conduct the services in
the synagogue and was an erudite man. In general, our home was a joyous one: my
mother sang very well, my brother played the violin and I - the mandolin. I
remember even today how I was punished because the strings of my mandolin always
used to crack.
For two years I studied modern Hebrew and the ancient
Holy Language in a Jewish school. I remember how we used to celebrate the Jewish
Holidays in this school, how the children took part in nice performances. Once I
played the role of Queen Esther, another time I sang in the big hall. People
congratulated my Mom with my success, but Mom wasn't happy: "Is it possible, do
I need a singer?!
It happened in the years 1922-1923, when Jews used to
emigrate to America, "where people find dollars on the streets". Two of my
mother's sisters departed and Mom had to go after them too. But, she wasn't
willing to leave her home and she gave the ticket to another sister. It was the
will of the destiny: the sisters in America lived until their eighties, and my
Mom died at fifty.
The destiny turned all over: for instance, my brother
was studying in a yeshiva, and Dad was hoping that he would become a Rabbi. Not
only didn't he become a Rabbi, but he connected himself with the communists.
Plenty of Jewish young men dreamed at this time that communism will put an end
to anti-Semitism and to riots against Jews. My brother got at some place a
typewriter and with some of his friends he printed a few communist manifestos in
our basement. Soon, one of them was caught by the siguranza (the Romanian
intelligence service), and he was questioned regarding the origin of these
manifestos. He answered that he got them from Muniu Hirsh. The police came and
found the typewriter, and my brother was arrested.
Dad was beside
himself. He first thought that it wasn't true, that it was a false accusation.
Is it possible that his son, the Yeshiva student, is a communist? He couldn't
Chapter 2. War WWII began in 1939. In June 1940 the Soviets occupied
Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Czernovitz became Soviet and my shtetl Radautz
remained on the Romanian side. It still belongs to Romania.
Romanians didn't try my brother Muniu because he was a minor. But, as he was
afraid of a new arrest, he ran away to Czernovitz to the Russians. There was no
joy anymore in our home. Mom used to cry softly while lighting the Sabbath
candles. She couldn't live far away from her son. The Russians opened the border
for a few days, to give the opportunity for families to come together. Thus, Mom
began to prepare herself for the journey. Dad wasn't willing to leave his home;
he had laid potatoes in the cellar for the winter and wood for heating in the
closet. He wasn't eager to leave his environment, his Synagogue, where he was
respected. But, all that was of no avail to him. I remember that he ordered a
horse drawn wagon, where we loaded all our mobile assets and departed to the
Russian border. We met the Kohen family there. Mr. Kohen was a carpenter, and
one of his two sons was my best friend. He used to carry my schoolbag, and
children teased me: Madam Kohen. Their second son also ran away to Czernovitz
with my brother and now his family is driving after him.
We arrived to
Czernovitz and Muniu met us at the railroad station. There were kisses and tears
of joy and grief.
I found Czernovitz a big and nice city with tall
buildings, streetcars, water supply; all this impressed me intensively. My
parents began to look for an apartment, buy some furniture and try to find work
for making a living.
I had my own troubles: I was registered in an
Ukrainian school. I didn't known Ukrainian like the other children. And all was
difficult for me. The grammar teacher laid an eye on me and called me every day
to the board. Once he gave me as a punishment to learn three pages by heart. I
was sitting and studying and I knew the three pages fluently.
soon as he called me the next day to the desk, I forgot it all completely. He
ordered me to stretch out my hand, and when he discovered a little ring on my
finger, he screamed: "Bourgeoise!"
Then he took a ruler and struck me
over my palm. I came home with a swollen hand and Mom applied cold water
compresses. I ceased attending school. Later Dad enrolled me in a Yiddish
school, where I was among the first students. Here I found new friends and I
used to promenade with them on the streets of the nice, big city.
was surprised by the Czernovitz big temple on the temple-street. Dad bought
tickets for the High Holidays for himself and Mom and he couldn't admire enough
the beauty of the temple, the crystal lamps and the first-class cantor, who
conducted the services.
As a bad omen, a mentally ill person walked over
the streets and screamed: "A crack, a crack!"
The Russians meanwhile
eliminated all old Austrian and Romanian monuments and replaced them with red
stars. They changed the "Central Plaza" into "Red Plaza". The Soviet soldiers
sang popular songs, which I still remember. Life followed its new course.
My brother was working at the local newspaper "Radianska Bukovina",
where he used to write his socialistic articles. But once, my brother Muniu went
home and said: "The Germans are coming! I have a truck from my workplace, let us
pack all our belongings and run away from here!"
I remember what my Dad
answered to him: "I will not go after your head."
Then my brother said:
"If you're staying, I will stay too. We should not separate. Whatever is going
to be, we must stay together."
The Germans marched in, and among their
first achievements, was the arson of the temple. I stayed on the roof of our
house, watching the temple burn. It burned for a long time.
Germans, the Romanians came in, and they immediately took it upon themselves to
settle accounts with the Jews. A shortage of food began. Only with difficulties,
was Dad able to buy a sack of potatoes and a sack of flour. All males from 15 to
55 were taken to compulsory labor, to sweep the streets; among them the
Czernovitz Jewish intellectuals, physicians, scientists, writers and composers.
After a short time the Jews were driven into the ghetto. We hardly found
space in a little room, where we were living in a horrible narrowness and big
anxiety, because we didn't know what the next day would bring.
soon announced that because Czernovitz was on the front lines, we would be
transferred into more "quiet" places. And we believed that it was really for our
sake...Mom even baked cookies for the journey. We put on two pairs of trousers
and two dresses, in order not to carry too much luggage.
They drove us
first to the "Sammelplatz" (gathering place) and from there to the railroad
station, where the cattle wagons already waited for us. We rode in these locked
wagons in a horrible confined space a long time. Even now, the hammering of the
wheels that night awakes me from sleep. I remember that we broke out a plank in
the wagon and covered the hole with a bed-sheet, because there weren't any
hygienic conditions and the air was thick and stinking. So we arrived to the
shtetl Ataki, on the shore of the river Dniester.
When the wagon-doors
opened we simply fell out into the sticking mud. It was raining and you could
hardly drag your feet out of the mud. Such kinds of mud we had never seen in
Radautz. We were soon carried over the Dniester on large platforms, and we
arrived to Moghilew-Podolsk, which belonged to the territory called by the
Romanians "Transnistria", and was under Romanian administration.
city was almost destroyed by the recent battles and also through the floodings,
when the Dniester went over its shores. We could hardly find a ruin, where we
could lay down our heads and fall asleep. We were tired from pains and cold.
Thus, we began a new battle to remain alive.
At first, there wasn't any
trade in Moghilew for money. All things were bartered. For a piece of garment or
another item that we brought with us, we could get a loaf of bread or a few
Chapter 3. Holocaust Years I'm feeling that I must make here an
intermission and relate, that not long ago I wrote a book in Hebrew with the
title "To Transnistria and Back". I sent it to the president of Israel, to
Premier Begin, to "Yad Vashem", to the kibbutz "Lokhamaj Hagetaot" and other
institutions, from which I received nice responses. Only some of my countrymen
were not satisfied. They argued that I should have consulted them, that I forgot
plenty of things and some things were distorted. I'm confessing: I wrote down
only what I have experienced, in what measure the misfortune hit me personally,
I'm not pretending that that's the history of the pains that Bukovina-Jews
suffered in Transnistria. I'm sure that if my twin-sister would have written
about that time, it would appear otherwise. I want only to beg forgiveness from
all those who perished in this Holocaust, from Auschwitz to Transnistria, whom I
consider as Martyrs, killed for the sanctification of God's Name and I also want
to beg forgiveness from the survivors, whom I see as Heroes.
I do not
remember all what happened and I didn't write about all. Right here I want to
recall my friend from Radautz, Sarah-Leah was her name, with whom we met in
Moghilew. She was driven out of Radautz later than we from Czernovitz, and we
met in Moghilew.
Sarah-Leah's father was the owner of a tavern in
Radautz. When the Radautz-Jews were driven out, a Non-Jew came over to
Sarah-Leah's father and asked to give him the keys of the tavern. The Jew argued
that he absolutely couldn't leave the place, because his wife is sick and can
not leave her bed. Then the intruder took out a pistolet, went over into the
chamber and shot Sarah-Leah's ailing mother. Father and daughter immediately ran
away, arrived to Berschad-Transnistria, and from there Sarah-Leah started on a
journey through the fields to the Russian partisans, where she showed a lot of
She returned after the war to Radautz, went over to the man who
appropriated her father's tavern and shot him down on the place. This was the
revenge for the death of her mother. I envied her strongly for that.
arrival to Moghilew didn't mean the end of our wanderings. From there they drove
us farther to Petshora, into a big forest, once the property of Graf (Count)
Potocki, where people with pulmonary diseases used to come for healing. The
journey there, under rain and cold was a death-march. It began snowing and along
the road plenty of people froze and remained lying under a pile of snow. Our
leader, of approximately 400 people, was a sleepy soldier on a little, lazy
horse. Somebody said, if we would throw just our hats on him, he would be
killed. But, we didn't kill him, because there was no place where we could seek
refuge. A sky of lead hung over our heads and the ground was covered with deep
snow. We were let into a ruin in the village of Lutshintshick, where Mom got
some food for a few items from our wardrobe. Suddenly a Ukrainian-drunkard with
a glass in his hands appeared, and declared that he wanted to drink Jewish blood
from this glass. I will never forget his drunken physiognomy. We ran away. Dad
went first to trample a path for us, to make it easier for us to go. In the
evening we came to a sugar factory. Again, Mom gave away a few items for
permission to stay overnight. Early in the morning, the Ukrainian woman awoke us
and said to go away, because she was afraid that the workers of the factory
might realize that she had hidden Jews.
Thus we went farther in the
snow. We were exhausted. I used to beg Dad to give me some rest, but he asked me
to strengthen myself until we arrive to some place.
Suddenly we heard
the noise of a truck. This was a rarity that time in that region. Dad stopped
the car and offered some money to the driver for taking us with him. He wasn't
interested in money, but for a few items, which were yet in our possession, he
agreed. I was seated in the cab, near the driver, Mom, Dad and my brother
climbed onto the back of the truck. The vehicle brought us back to Moghilew.
Near the city we saw a new group of Jews being driven, who knows where. We hid
ourselves in the snow. When the danger passed, we entered into a house, where a
family with three children was already living in one single room.
Moghilew, Dad went to work at cleaning the city from the dead, and my brother
Muniu - to seek some bread in exchange for clothing. Suddenly a heavy Ukrainian
woman entered our room. She started to speak and told us that all peasants are
obliged to deliver warm gloves and socks for the army. Whoever doesn't comply,
they will come and take away the last ducks from the courtyard. She had heard
that Jewish girls are good in knitting, thus she was looking for a girl to do
the work for her.
At that time, I was a specialist in knitting. I worked
nicely and quickly. I had even knitted a dress for a world-exhibition. The
peasant promised good food and - after finishing my work - a bag of food for the
whole family. Mom was reluctant to let me go, but she agreed finally, because
some food for the family could simply sustain our lives.
Thus I went
with the peasant, not far away from Moghilew. In her house it was lovely warm. I
got some wool and began to work. As soon the peasant saw that I was scratching
myself, she understood that I was lousy. Then she warmed water, seated me into a
tub, washed me, combed my hair and besmeared it with kerosene. She washed my
clothes and gave me food to eat. I slept on the warm stove and I was happy. Then
I heard my hostess speaking to her husband: "She's a nice girl, it would be good
to leave her with us. . ."
I got afraid and I begged to be carried back
to Moghilew, because I'm longing for my Mom. The weather was very bad, a
snowstorm began and the peasant said that I'd have to wait a few days. Meanwhile
I knitted a pair of socks and a pair of gloves. The peasant brought me to her
neighbor, to work for her too.
This neighbor's house was freshly smeared
with clay and it was obvious that they celebrate some kind of a holiday. A few
young married couples arrived, two sacks of sunflower-seeds and vodka were
served. The hostess treated everybody with egg-cake. I was also given a piece of
cake and a glass of vodka. I fell asleep immediately and awoke in the morning
near a hill of sunflower-seeds husks. I knitted for the housewife a shawl, and
on the second day she filled for me a bag with butter, eggs and other good food,
that I could hardly bear. Then the young peasant went with me and helped me
carry it. On our way she suddenly ordered me to sit down and not to move. We saw
soldiers coming from afar. She covered me with her skirt until the danger was
over. She rescued me for sure this time and herself also. I thought how proud
Mom would be when she sees the bag of food that I earned with my hands.
But our destiny decided it otherwise. I came into the house where we
lived and found an empty room. I realized that there was a new group gathered to
be sent further from Moghilew and people were simply seized from the streets.
Thus, my Mom and my brother were also caught.
The representative of the
Judenrat of Moghilew (called there "coordinare") was every month a Jew from
another city. Just then a Jew from Radautz was the representative. I ran to the
place where the group was gathered and met there my father, who couldn't find a
way to redeem my mother and brother. I then turned to the representative, saying
that I'm from Radautz and begging him to help redeem my mother. First I spoke to
him German, and then I passed to Russian. The representative grasped me at my
nape and chased me away crying:
- You're not from Radautz, you're a
liar, away from here!
I couldn't even justify myself and explain why I
People waiting to be driven away with the new transport
were seated with their heads bent down. I looked for my mother, but I couldn't
find her. Then it occurred to me, that my mother saw me and didn't lift her head
on purpose, that I should stay away. This way she rescued me, and this way I
I went home with my father, both of us embittered. Father said
that he couldn't stay, he must go after her and find her. He took a little bit
of food from the bag that I brought in and said to me that I should wait until
he comes back.
At that time young boys used to organize themselves; they
would buy a horse and wagon and follow the exiles. Sometimes they succeeded to
ransom somebody. They did it for money, naturally. I had no money, and then I
undressed my shoes and gave to them, that they try to rescue my mother and my
brother. After a day or two, the boys brought me a note from my brother, written
in German: "The boys will tell you what happened to our mother. I will return
after 4 days. If I'm not back, send a wagon for me to Shargorod".
boys told me, that our mother was lying down frozen and my brother couldn't take
her with him. She was swollen. I think now maybe he wasn't willing to take her
with him . . .
I waited 4 days and I had a bitter feeling like a gall. I
read and reread my brother's note, I wanted to understand what he didn't or
couldn't write explicitly. Did he not have the courage to write that mother was
dead? How could he imagine that I had the possibility to send a wagon for him to
Shargorod? He was already 20 years old, not a child anymore.
weeks of waiting to no avail, my father arrived. His appearance frightened me.
He was dressed in rags, and bore a long beard. He didn't recognize me. My
father, who never spoke to me German, suddenly asked me: "Wer sind Sie?" (who
are you) and collapsed. I never realized what my father experienced in those
three weeks and in what manner he could manage to come back.
I went to
the "coordinare" and announced that my father was dead. They sent soon two
people with a coffin on wheels. They put my father in the coffin and carried him
to the graveyard of Moghilew. It was far away, and I couldn't walk. Then the two
men seated me down into the coffin, near my dead father. At the graveyard they
dug out a grave, put in my father, covered with earth and said Kaddish. They did
it this way because they knew my father.
They left, and I remained near
the grave. I found a big stone and with my weak power I rolled it over the grave
and started to speak to my father: "I will never hear your voice anymore,
father, and nobody will call me his 'little crown' any longer. Please have pity
with me and take me to you. I'm sure you were a righteous man and you are
certainly in the paradise . . ."
Finally, I left. Humans are nothing
more than animals, which struggle for their small piece of life.
carried me to the orphanage. As I was staying outside and thinking should I
enter, I heard a song from inside. I asked somebody what do the singing signify,
and I was answered the children of the orphanage celebrate the second Chanukah
candle. So lasts in my memory the day when my father passed away and I remember
I knocked at the door and found there a stepbrother of
my father; his name was Betsher. I told him the whole story and sat down for
Shiva (seven days of mourning). I was sitting for an hour. Suddenly Mr. Betsher
arrived and said that I shouldn't sit on the floor. If I get sick, nobody will
help me here. He sent me to the big girls in a hall, and I sat there near the
door, at the passage. I was sitting on the path, people scolded me, or simply
asked: "Whom are you awaiting?"
I answered: The Angel of death." I was
told to sit on the wall, like other children. Thus I was sitting there
congealed, with my head bent down and speaking to my mother: it's your fault,
mother, you always preferred Muniu, he was ever smarter and nicer in your eyes.
Why did you select me to remain alive? I don't want it!
There were eight
girls lying in one bed. The bedclothes were stained with blood and purulent.
Thus I remained laying on the floor, covering myself with my mantle. Who could
imagine that this little mantle would rescue me?
The winter passed. When
it became warmer, the beds were cleaned, the dawn from the pillows thrown away
and the cases washed. All was disinfected in the "doobe", a closed boiler.
Some orphans wrote songs. I remember one of them:
I'm a typhus
louse, and I stay outside
Nobody let me in,
Because it's quarantine.
A year ago it was a paradise,
I could bite everybody.
Wants to roast us in the doobe
Thus I'm crawling away
you, children stay healthy!
Dr. Kohen was a military physician before
the war. He wore high, black boots and everybody respected him. He made a kind
of ointment out of fat and sulfur in two big pails. He anointed the bodies of
the girls with it. I saw a row of skeletons, naked children, passing past him.
When my turn came to be anointed, he looked at me and said under his mustache:
"You will maybe become a human being."
I don't know whether it was the
ointment, which was too sharp, or my skin too sensitive, but I awoke the second
day covered with blisters. I ran about like a poisoned mouse with heavy pain.
We didn't have a normal life in the orphanage. Death hovered over us
permanently. I saw the dead orphans lying in the lobby and I felt nothing, as if
I was a beast. Every day orphans died and every day others came into the
orphanage. I remember having borrowed from a girl a piece of bread, and she died
at night. I recall it with shame: I was satisfied that I will not be obliged to
return this piece of bread.
My health situation worsened from day to
day. My right hand was covered with wounds. Dr. Kohen said that my right hand
has to be amputated. Beside of this I had an abscess on a finger. Dr. Kohen
called me into his office and I saw him taking out his pocketknife to open my
wound. I pulled my hand back, out of fright surely. Then the Dr. struck me in my
leg, and I got spilled upon with blood. I ran away from his office and heard him
yelling: "You will come to beg me, but I'm not going to help you."
Outside I tore the abscess open with my teeth, let the pus trickle down,
and I felt relieved. A miracle happened to me. But, as the writer Ephraim Kishon
said, telling about the camp where he was, one miracle wasn't enough to remain
Not far away from our orphanage, a second one was opened, where I
was transferred. There was an elderly physician; his name was Rabinovitz, a
genuine righteous man. He examined my hand and decided to put compresses. He
tore down a sleeve from his shirt, dipped it into water and applied to my
wounds. He washed off the dirt and ordered me to sit under the sun, that the
wounds may heal.
Once, when I was sitting under the sun, a girl, the
daughter of a Rabbi, asked me if I could knit. And she told me that in Moghilew
there is a family of gold-traders; in order to have free movement outside the
ghetto, they have to get a special passport. To declare gold trading was
dangerous. Then the merchants declared that in their house were knitted sweaters
for the soldiers, and in this way they got the passport.
permission to leave the orphanage, to be able to work at the gold-merchants as a
knitter. The director of the orphanage, Mr. Frenkel, although he was thought of
to be a kapo, helped me. He gave me permission and I started work. I got paid
for a day of knitting a half of an "occupation-mark", for which I could buy a
piece of bread. Before the holidays, my bosses gave me two marks, and I bought a
three-kilo bread. This bread was called "kirpitsh" (brick in Russian), and was
baked from rye bran and straw. I was so hungry, that I ate at once the whole
brickbread and wasn't filled to satiety.
I remember the young Rabbi who
came to us on Yom Kippur. He said: "Before the war, I used to send the children
out from the Synagogue during Yizkor (the Memorial Service); now I must call
them into the Synagogue, to say Yizkor".
He also begged us to speak the
mother tongue, i.e. Yiddish, not German, the language of our murderers, despite
the truth that the language is not responsible for the fact that the Germans
were the killers.
A delegation from Romania came at that time and made a
list of children to be rescued from Transnistria and brought back to Romania.
Its representative was Fred Sharaga. He also visited the orphanages, and as he
saw the semi-naked skeletons, he swore not to have any rest, until he wouldn't
rescue all the orphans.
Wagons with clothes came in from the JOINT
(Jewish Distribution Organization). A part was brought into our orphanage. One
got a trench coat, another - a pair of shoes. I received a dress of velvet. My
weight then was less than 30 kilo, and the dress was for a heavy woman. It had a
belt fortunately, and I drew it together on my emaciated body.
the Moghilew orphanage former inmates, who's living now in Canada, on a visit to
Israel, was asking for some survivors. He was given my name: Mali Hirsch. But,
he could recall me only when he was told: the girl in the velvet dress with the
The next winter new lists of children under 15 were compiled,
to send them back to Romania. I was among them. First of all, we were brought
into a steam bath to wash ourselves. I remember the heavy pain I suffered, when
warm water came over my wounds. During the disinfection of our clothes, one of
my shoelaces, made by myself from a piece of a girdle, got lost.
recognized among the children one of my childhood-friends; his name was Lejbu.
He looked like a skeleton. He told me that his mother died and his father with a
brother ran away with the Soviets. He didn't even know where they were. I told
him in what manner I lost my parents and my brother. It appeared that he was
also in "my" orphanage #1, but we never met there.
February 1944. The
snow is melting. During the night the water freezes. During the day, you trample
in mud. I threw away my rag-shoes and have been walking barefooted over the ice.
At the beginning I felt cold, then I ceased to feel my feet.
were brought into desolated barracks - a very far distance for our weak feet.
Whoever managed to arrive at the place, immediately sat down and fell asleep. I
was also very tired, but I felt like a thousand needles were pricking me in the
feet. Then I rubbed them energetically until they became a little bit warmer. We
were told that we're going home. I had nowhere a home, neither in Czernowitz nor
in Radautz. When I came to Transnistria, I was a joyous child with long braids,
with parents, with a family. Now, when I was going to leave this cursed country,
at my return to Romania, I was a broken orphan, without Mom and Dad, without my
brother, without my whole family.
We were called by our names, placed
into railroad wagons, where we drew near to each other, to stay warm. They
brought us over the Dniester and we arrived to Ataki. I remember somebody
brought in a sack with onions and we emptied it in a moment. Then, we also got
bread and meat. We were eating the whole time.
In our wagon were also
two delegates: Dr. Yonas Zeyl, a representative of the Jewish Congregation from
Bakeu, and the lawyer Pinku Rothenstein. It was difficult to breathe in the
wagon, because of the stench. The delegates breathed through their
handkerchiefs. We did our natural needs during the train stops, but sometimes we
couldn't restrain ourselves until the next stop.
The orphans were
assigned to different locations in Romania. I was sent to Bakeu. We were brought
into a school, already equipped with beds and mattresses. I remember that in the
first moment I had hidden two loaves of bread, because I was afraid that
tomorrow there will not be what to eat.
Two women welcomed us and they
treated us with sweet cocoa. I remember that I drank out of one cup, asked for
another and was waiting for a third one. We were washed and dressed with clean
clothes. Physicians came in who undertook to heal the wounds on our bodies.
Local Jewish families used to visit us in the evenings, bringing sweets, hearing
our stories and crying.
Several weeks passed by and the congregation
couldn't sustain any longer 161 problematic children. It turned to Jewish
families, asking to take children home. First the younger were taken and then
the older. I was taken by the Rothenstein family. He liked the songs I sang
during our journey from Transnistria. I can't forget how strange it was to me to
see a tablecloth, a spoon and fork, when I was invited for the first time to
eat. I really came from the wilderness.
We heard soon that the Germans
suffered a decisive defeat and the Soviets approach the Romanian border. Some of
the rescued orphans were sent to Konstanza and from there with ships on the
Black Sea. A friend of mine from Moghilew persuaded me to leave Romania. The
Rothenstein family persuaded me also to depart. I wasn't eager to leave. I
claimed that I'm fine at the Rothenstein's, nevertheless a small knapsack was
packed for me and I went to the railroad station. When I climbed the stairs into
the wagon, I said to Rothenstein, who came to bid me farewell: "I know that I'm
going to my death."
As soon as he heard this, he ordered me to descend:
"Come down", he said, "we know that you remained alone from a whole family, and
because the time is not quiet, nobody knows what will be. We persuaded you to
depart. But if you are not eager . . ."
The Russians started to bombard
the city of Bakeu. Bombs fell round about; all ran to the trenches. Sitting in
the trench, Mrs. Rothenstein recalled that she had forgotten to close the door.
I went up into the apartment, took some items, locked the door and started to
descend the stairs. All of a sudden I felt like I was flying in the air. A bomb
exploded nearby and the air compression lifted me up. A miracle happened again
with me: I'm again alive, rescued!
It didn't last long and the Soviets
marched in. We have seen German prisoners, who were quite different from those
German murderers, of whom we were so afraid. These were entirely broken
creatures. All of a sudden I became a translator from German into Russian and
from Russian into German. I recall a Russian officer to whom I told what we came
through in Transnistria. He suddenly said: "We're nowhere welcomed!"
Thus I realized that he was Jewish.
Once a Jew with a white
beard came in to us. I didn't recognize him. It was the father of my friend
Lejbu. He told me that he became a widower, that his older son was in the Red
Army and now he's seeking out his younger son, Lejbu.
I knew that Lejbu
perished on his way to Israel, with the ship "Mercure", but I lacked courage to
say this to his father. After that I had plenty of sleepless nights, thinking
that if he knew the truth he would cease to ride about from city to city seeking
The Rothenstein family decided to move to Bukarest and they,
naturally, took me with them. The war finished, it's joyful in the streets, and
people are singing and dancing. But my own struggle wasn't finished yet.
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